Poison In The Machine
Publisher: Reaktion Books
Published January 2017
This will appeal to the academics. Poison in the Machine
dares to be different. Why? It is not another regurgitation of the
history of the Pistols. It aims to place the reader back in the 1960's
& 70's and explore the Sex Pistols phenomenon as it was experienced
in the era that spawned it; one of scant information, sparse news
outlets and very little access to the music. It reminds the reader how
different the world of today is, where Pistols' footage, audio and even
the Grundy show can be accessed in an instant on the internet. Back in
the day, if you didn't see it yourself, you didn't see it. Importantly,
the book helps define how the myth, controversy and enigma of the
Sex Pistols was given oxygen by, ironically, this very vacuum.
It is also the story of how
Malcolm McLaren viewed the world, and his wish to portray the Sex
Pistols as an art project - an extension of himself. This is where the
book comes into its own as he wrestles to control the Sex Pistols, a
band with little interest in Malcolm's artistic and political agendas.
Almost as soon as the notoriety came, he would struggle to exert
influence over his 'project' as the band, and Johnny Rotten in
particular, grew in stature and influence.
Never was this more apparent than
McLaren's obsession with making a Sex Pistols film, bringing him into
direct conflict with John. It became more important to McLaren than the
music - not surprising as he had no input into the real strength of the
Sex Pistols, the ability to make great records. By the time he was
telling the LA Times in July 1977 that the Pistols were a "social
event", the gap between his vision and that of the band's was widening,
soon to become a chasm into which they would all fall in January 1978.
Yet, despite the wreckage, McLaren still pursued his obsession and thus
The Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle was forced into existence.
Beginning with McLaren encountering The Rolling Stones on Chelsea Bridge in 1964, the story
criss-crosses the Atlantic as he flirts with, and formulates, his
increasingly complex and outlandish ideas. You know the story: New York
Dolls, Richard Hell, King's Road and so on; a sequence of events that,
for the purpose of Poison in the Machine, ultimately presented itself
at the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.
Worthy of a place on a university
bookshelf, it's chiefly of interest to those wishing to delve into the
psyche of one the most enigmatic and perplexing mavericks to emerge in
late 20th Century culture. Whatever your view of the man, present day
21st Century culture would be poorer without Malcolm McLaren.
Review by Phil
Oh So Pretty: Punk in
Toby Mott, Rick
Published October 2016
It's going to take something
worthy of your attention to warrant a review in the current climate of
endless punk retrospectives. Here we have a vast (450 illustrations)
random visual mix of flyers, press adverts, fanzine covers and posters
covering a five year period, all collected by Toby Mott. There are
plenty of Pistols items with the odd rarity, but when it strays away
from the more well known, the book comes into its own.
The images are printed in colour and
black and white, dependant upon the original, and presented in their
battered, time faded glory. In presentation terms, it's not a flash
high end affair - it has the feel of a 'zine in many ways, free of
pretence and full of enthusiasm. The scatter gun approach to the
contents give the book a sense of urgency as punk graphics explode all
around reflecting the thrill of the times with band after band, fanzine
after fanzine, appearing with varying degrees of visual success (the
records are secondary here).
To list all the bands and material
covered would be pointless, pretty much everyone gets a look in. On
first glance I was grabbed by a few pieces I'd never seen before, such
as Vibrators/Slits Leeds Poly flyer, rejected Only Ones' Lovers of
Today artwork, X-Ray Spex Man in the Moon flyer, Generation X Marquee
flyer, Clash / Richard Hell Coventry poster, Damned/Dead Boys Liverpool
poster, Buzzcocks / Slits Hanley poster, and how about a flyer for an
Adam & the Ants gig, supported by Human League, Members, UK Subs
& The Pack, tickets £1.50. There's some flyers for Eric's in
Liverpool as well. On & on it goes.
Oh So Pretty gives vast coverage
to the fanzine scene inspired by punk. Raw Power, Sunday Mirra,
Sideburns, Panache, White Stuff, In The City, Ripped & Torn, New
Wave Magazine, Temporary Hording are just a taster. The downside; it
leaves you wanting more than just the covers.
Like any personal collection of
ephemera, it's unique, and a political passion ensures a strong showing
for Anti-Nazi League gig flyers and related cuttings. To set the
visuals in historical context, a portrait of Maggie is here, as is a
Silver Jubilee carrier bag! I confess, I don't see the need for these,
but with a 500+ page count, a spot of self-indulgence is allowed.
A very punk rock book, energetic
and fun, with some politics thrown in. It doesn't disappoint.
Review by Phil
God Save Sex Pistols
A heavy-weight book in every
From the contents to the quality of production, it's a work of beauty.
God Save Sex Pistols is intended as a visual companion to the three
most important, non-autobiographical, Pistols books: Fred and Judy
Vermorel's biography Sex Pistols The
Inside Story, Ray Stevenson's Sex
Pistols File, and Jon Savage's England's
Dreaming. This may be some
lofty claim if it wasn't so true.
with Jon Savage & Glenn Terry
Publisher: Rizzoli. Hardback
Published 11th October 2016
From the moment you peak beneath the
hard back cover, you realise you have in your hands one of the most
important Sex Pistols books ever. It took my breath away.
The narrative follows a 'day-by-day' format. Yes, it's been done before
in various guises, but here events and key moments are augmented by
quotes - some lengthy - by people involved including the Sex Pistols.
It's made clear the interview material comes from the late 1980's when
memories were less distant and distorted. This 'in their own words'
style removes the need for yet more tiresome revisionist opinion and
includes some hitherto unheard viewpoints. While this drives the story,
it's the visual material that takes it to another level and beyond.
I'm not just talking memorabilia
either, I'm talking bonafide documentation and unpublished pictures,
the likes of which you've never seen before. Presented on quality
paper, the wealth of new treasure is so vast it's hard to know where to
I'll jump in with some totally random, never seen before eye-grabbers:
The Swankers in rehearsal, Lesser Free Trade Hall live pictures (yes,
unseen!), 1976 posters, defaced photos from the Glitterbest office, EMI
and A&M sacking documents, Glen's signed termination, Virgin's
marketing plan for God Save The Queen, unused promotional designs, NMTB
Wessex Sound session sheet, announcement of the Scandinavian tour, hand
written lyrics, sales figures, and even a letter from the Gas Board to
shut off the gas and electricity in the Pistols' Denmark Street
rehearsal room in
June 1979. A fitting place to conclude. Oh, and if you want to know how
obscure it gets, how about a memo concerning the number of black
picture sleeves for Anarchy. Brilliant. This is just a tiny, tiny
fraction of what's in store for the reader.
The visuals are often revealing.
Reproductions of letters provide an illuminating insight into the
evolving world of McLaren. Granada TV's Tony Wilson put his
frustrations with McLaren into writing for his refusal to let the
Pistols appear for a second time on So It Goes; Tony's letter cutting
right through McLaren's crap in the process. A spat between McLaren and
Richard Branson over the release of Never Mind The Bollocks is exposed
in a fractious written exchange between the pair. It's absorbing stuff,
not just for fans, but rock historians too.
As one would expect, Jamie Reid's
visuals are well represented throughout, including early 70s work later
revamped into Pistols imagery. The reproduction of source materials
alongside their Sex Pistols counterparts is a nice touch, especially
the 1959 Picturegoer magazine, now better known as Fuck Forever.
Equally satisfying is the Belgium Travel holiday brochure Jamie
utilised for Holidays In The Sun, and the subsequent injunction letter!
Like its "companion" England's Dreaming, this mighty piece of work
concludes in early 1979.
Putting John, Glen and Steve's
autobiographies in a separate category all of their own, God Save Sex
Pistols earns its place instantly as one of the four most important Sex
Pistols books ever. It will explode your knowledge.
I feared the 40th anniversary of punk would be one great re-hash of the
old. I was so wrong.
I've not been this excited by a Sex Pistols book
since.... well, maybe ever.
Review by Phil
Singleton (5 October
This book is an unofficial release and is not sanctioned by Sex
Pistols / Sex Pistols Residuals or John Lydon.
Anarchy In The
Year Zero. The Sex Pistols, The Clash & the Class of '76
Publisher: Route. 336 pages + 16
pages of colour photos. Hardback £19.99
Published 4th June 2016
Another punk anniversary year.
around increasingly fast, as do books & documentaries ad infinitum,
wrapped up in the same old anecdotes which seem to mutate into a
different perspective every time they get trotted out.
Guess what? I like this book. It
excellent, sharp, and lays its agenda bare from the off. Heylin sets
out to avoid those mutated memories and chooses to cherry pick the ones
which not merely serve a purpose, but unashamedly illustrate the true
impact of the formation of punk in the UK. It's anti-revisionist. It
also does not seek to court favour; those guilty of changing views over
time into a falsehood are exposed, with evidence. Eh, Peter Hook?
It's a story that's been told
better than in England's Dreaming, but such is the passage of time - 25
years - since Jon Savage's esteemed publication, the degree of 'new'
insight into the period that has since emerged makes Anarchy In The
Year Zero worthwhile. From December '76, the archives explode in the
wake of the Bill Grundy show. The 12 or so months prior do not afford
such a luxury. This is the period Heylin takes to task. And let's not
overlook the uncomfortable truth that come the 50th anniversary,
memories will have faded further, & the number of available
memories to pick through will have reduced.
That's the 'why' dealt with, but
how about a
new angle? Well, Heylin is insistent & persistent in ensuring we
come away convinced of the greatness of the Pistols as a live act
during 1976. He makes sure the Cook, Jones, Matlock, & Rotten Sex
Pistols are lauded as the fabulous live rock & roll band they
actually were. Outrage on its own is not enough, it leaves no legacy,
& Heylin is right to push his point, one that he backs-up with
ample evidence from the recordings in circulation. He takes us through
the months and around the country, gathering recollections from those
in attendance, and taking to task tales that prove misleading &
downright untrue. Heylin pulls no punches on this front - no matter
what the story teller perceives their own standing to be - such is his
determination in his mission to trash the later, McLaren-esque, view
that they couldn't play. As for the development of the Sex Pistols
themselves, no sides are taken, credit unfolds by way of corroborated
The short & long term impact
scattered pockets of startled youths as the Pistols rolled into all
manner of venues and towns across the country is given life by
priceless eye-witness accounts. The Pistols' look, attitude and yes,
ability, leaving many seeking a new path. This takes the story into new
territories as suburban tales are exhumed throughout those towns &
cities affected; any band worth its salt resulting from the Pistols
nationwide venturing gets covered: The Mekons, The Prefects & so
on. In other words, not just the obvious. Back in the capital, the
emerging inter-related nature of the London scene and its embryonic
bands is brought into focus, throwing fresh light on the birth of The
Clash in particular, with an emphasis on the musical dynamics, peering
through the latter-day myths surrounding them with particular
examination, as with the Pistols, of their live shows.
Shaped by an array of input,
both new and
historic from a vast number of individuals and sources, Heylin guides
us through the birth of punk as it evolved; situations, events and
individuals interacting and creating something life changing and
remarkable along the way. He leaves you wondering how it was possible
for so much to have taken place in 'year zero'. Leaving the
over-intellectualising at the door, Anarchy In The Year Zero provides a
welcome, much needed balance. And does so at a lively, digestible pace,
with a welcome humorous air blowing through making it all the more
enjoyable, oh & readable. Call it a refreshing refresher.
There will be 40th anniversary
publications a-plenty appearing over the coming months. Heylin has set
the bar high.
Review by Phil Singleton (April
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