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Super 8 Camera Footage

Exclusive God Save The Sex Pistols Interview
July 2018

Conducted by Carlos Lopez

Glen Sheehan

Glen Sheehan was witness to one of the most famous rock 'n' roll concerts of them all, the 'final' ever Sex Pistols show which took place at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, 14th January 1978. Not only was he in attendance, but he had the foresight to take his film camera with him.
In this exclusive interview, Glen relives the evening as well as his motivation for being there.

Carlos: I read that you played in a punk band and attended film school in San Francisco. What were you doing with a Super 8 camera at Winterland, working or recording as a fan?

Glen: In the winter of '78 I was going to film school at S.F. State and playing in a band that had started with a bunch of high school friends and went on for a few years. The DIY movement of the punk scene grabbed a lot of us. It was about expression, creativity and just doing something to connect. I was playing in a band that started out of a couple of cliques of friends ​from high school, DV8. Michelle, our singer and I were friends with Jenny Anderson (aka Jennifer Miro of The Nuns) in high school; we were a little outside of the hippie, woolly Grateful Dead scene of Tam High. I was also going to film school at the time. First at College of Marin, that's where I met Alejandro Escovedo and Jeff Olener. Alejandro was in my class and Jeff was, I think, just hanging out sometimes at school. The Nuns were originally formed as a band for a film Alejandro was making at the time.

Glen (2nd from left) with his band DV8

The Ramones had been through town a few times, along with a couple of other N.Y. bands. But the news coming from England about the social revolution and the scene there was a bit wilder and seemed more creative. The noise around the Pistols represented a lot of the rebellion, the anti-establishment, not just of government but also of the music business and the pomposity of a lot of the big bands touring.

Even getting your hands on the Pistols first album took effort and resourcefulness. Calling the local record shops to see who would have the first imports shipped over well in advance of any US distribution. I believe I got one of the first discs in S.F. that came into Odyssey Records. I had been harassing the manager about when they would have a shipment, and finally he called to let me know they would have it and my girlfriend (now my wife) and I hightailed it down to the Sutter store and grabbed one of the 100 copies they had. As we drove back west to the Richmond we were blocked by a motorcade passing, we could see in the limo Prince Philip, a bit of irony to punctuate our adventure.

The news that the Pistols would come to San Francisco was a big deal for many of us. And also a symbolic inflection point. The call-ins to radio had a lot of "classic rock" fans up in arms, they took offense to what punk represented and there was a lot of bluster about how they were going to come just to shut down the show with boos and laugh at it all. My best friend Tom, my girlfriend and I all got our tickets and were pumped up to see the show. With great excitement about what this represented as the validation of our music taste and lifestyle, and for the local bands The Avengers and The Nuns, making the bill. I figured I would take my Sankyo Super CM 300 camera and four rolls of Kodachrome film and shoot the evening.

Super 8
Sankyo Super CM 300

Did you arrive early at the gig to see the band arrive or soundcheck? How was the atmosphere inside Winterland? From your vídeo I can see that you recorded from lots of angles. How did you manage with the camera around the packed audience that night?

Glen: Like all shows at Winterland we went to, we arrived a couple of hours before the show to line up so we could get close to the stage. You could hear soundchecks booming out of the closed side exit doors. I remember hearing The Nuns do Suicide Child, and The Avengers do The American in Me, but I don't recall the Pistols soundcheck happening prior to entry. The scene outside had a buzz, the usuals you saw around the city at clubs and shows were there in full regalia, but there were also the Zeppelin,Yes, and other fans there out of curiosity and animosity. Just gawking and a few taunts shouted out.

Security at shows was different then, they would frisk you, but it was a bit more casual and if you knew the tricks and even knew the style of the different people at security you could get stuff through. This night though had a bit of tension with the opposing tribes wanting in for very different agendas. Bill Graham had a few extra security folks and as I recall it was a bit slower than normal getting into Winterland. Once in we grabbed our spot in the crowd maybe two or three people deep from the stage. For The Avengers and The Nuns we all just held our space, and I stayed put. There was crap being shouted from the balcony seats, the gawkers, the curious and the offended. The crowd was excited, but not tough during the opening bands. There was a bit of push, shove and pogo, but nothing like a show at the Mab or Temple Beautiful.

After the openers were done, I wanted to really get out and shoot the show, so I left my friends and went to grab angles from behind the first riser of seats on the floor, to the side of the stage where you could shoot through the wire that was between the speaker towers and then up to the balcony behind the band. I went back to where my friends were, but the scene down there had gotten a bit rougher. Punks slammed and pogo'd with a sense of fun, but there were now a few hooligans that wanted to slam and do a bit of damage and they were the ones mostly lobbing garbage and other crap at the band. So I shot a bit in Pogo Vision but then backed out and worked my way around the show.

How was it for you seeing the Sex Pistols live, not knowing it was their "last" show ever? Did you feel "cheated" or elated by their performance?

Glen: Going to see the Pistols come to America and play in our town was a validation of my generation. My sister had the hippie and new age and this represented a shift in sensibility of art, of society against injustices and maybe even more - our taste in music and art. It felt like a coming out party that we were going to. That it would mark a point in time, an inflection. It was that, but maybe not the way we had hoped. The day itself was a little like the buzz of going to a horse race. That build up, the hum of anticipation and excitement that happens as the horses head to the gates of the first race. What happens after that is often tied to the fortune of the horse you chose to get behind. And in some ways this was no different. We had all heard the reviews, seen the picture in Rolling Stone and elsewhere about how the tour was going. That Sid was literally a bloody mess and the bookings were in odd and tough places for any band to succeed.

The first splash of lights and noise as they opened with God Save the Queen was electric and visceral. What became apparent quickly was the chemistry or lack of it on the stage. Paul Cook and Steve Jones were powerful, Sid was a mess, and Johnny while appropriately acerbic and confrontational seemed tired, over it and just burnt out. Sid had a bass hanging on him, but barely played. Sid had the look and the theater of it all with his windmills, but that was all he had.

By the end, we were still excited to have seen them, but they did not bring the power that a great band has to win the day. I can't say we were disappointed, we saw the Pistols, but we also felt like they let the myth down of themselves and what a transformative rock concert can be. But we also have been able to say we got off our asses and went and saw them. We witnessed a bit of rock history and marked a moment that yeah, punk had arrived, but maybe not with the style and power we had hoped.

Never Mind Winterland

What made you release part of the footage after all these years? When did you digitize the footage and what source of audio did you use for your film? Any plans to release the complete concert footage in the near future?

Glen: I had cut the footage back in '78 into a 5 minute or so bit of film, silent. I actually only have a few strips more than what I re-edited this year. I had been sitting on this, knowing it was in a pile of film that also included student films, complete and incomplete.

So last year I tasked myself to get this stuff digitized, knowing that the Pistols footage had an audience that would appreciate it. There was no motivation for $$$, just to share and give a new perspective to a moment in time (complete videos exist with better imagery). So what you see is what I have. I just listened to the CD from the show (Never Mind Winterland) that I bought in London some years back on a business trip, and Holidays in the Sun was the best candidate (I also have the KSAN broadcast on cassette). I had the footage of the lights and crowd and needed a track that could set that up and create a bit of that feel of the buzz of the show. I just cut it as best I could to sync it up as it is footage shot over multiple songs, and give the feel of what the band was like that night. I took the famous words from Johnny and cut that into the end of the song to bring the title to life and punctuate the piece. There really is no other footage.

Any other memories or thoughts you might want to share about that historic night in Winterland?

I do love seeing this footage again, because it does pull up the underlying tension between the rebelliousness we often look for rock and roll to bring us, that sense of the wild and dangerous, but it also makes us remember how self-conscious the commercial manipulation of the music often is. While it represents anti-culture, it really was a form of marketing in the end, posing as art. But damn, I love the music and the attitude and strength it brought. So I am fine if it manipulated me a bit. So maybe this goes in some tidy little time capsule someday and people can wonder what was that all about?

Thank you Glen for your time and sharing your memories and historic footage.

Winterland Soundcheck Interview >

Text © Carlos Lopez / Glen Sheehan 2018
Thanks to Carlos Lopez for conducting the interview

God Save The Sex Pistols ©Phil Singleton / 2018

God Save the Sex Pistols

God Save The Sex Pistols ©Phil Singleton /