The birth of punk
Thirty years ago this weekend, a group of scruffy kids calling themselves the Sex Pistols blagged their way on to the bill at a college gig. And so began the story of punk. John Robb tracks down those who were there the night rock history was made
Saturday 05 November 2005
It was just another night on the mid-Seventies circuit; yet one more under-rehearsed new band attempting to break through in a music scene that had long gone stale from the fallout from the 1960s, the death of glam rock and the tail-end of the pub rock scene.
What the 40-odd people in the room - most of whom were there to see the main event, Bazooka Joe, fronted by Stuart Goddard, who later became Adam Ant - didn't know at the time was that they were witnessing the beginning of the punk revolution and the first generation gap in rock'n'roll.
Their set was made up of mangled versions of Small Faces and Who songs sung with a sneer that had never been heard before. The band's mod roots were apparent but they had been dredged through a New York Dolls and Stooges blender and dragged bang up to date to a dirtier and meaner time.
Within months, the Sex Pistols had created provocation as an art form and turned themselves into the best live band in the country. Within a year, they had released their first single and were about to go on Bill Grundy. The British music scene would never ever be the same again. and the sheer energy and wealth of ideas thrown up by punk rock remains a musical staple to this day. Here we relive that fateful night with the people who were there.
Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols bassist. Now touring with Glen Matlock and The Philistines)
I set the gig up. I was at St Martins doing a foundation course. In the second year, I was going to be the social sec but over the summer holidays I decided to take the band seriously after John had joined that August, so I gave my place to someone else and, as I left, I blagged the gig with Bazooka Joe.
Mark Helford (key early face on the punk scene who ran The Clash fan club)
I was mates with Glen. I had seen the Pistols rehearsing before the gig quite a few times before John had joined when they still had Wally Nightingale on guitar. At that stage it was very rudimentary - how shall I put it - they weren't the best musicians in the world. They were feeling their way. John gave them another dimension when he joined.
John Ellis (guitar/vocals Bazooka Joe, later played with The Vibrators and The Stranglers)
I was the founder member of Bazooka Joe with Daniel Kleinman. We started as a rock'n'roll covers band like Sha Na Na. Daniel is one of my best friends and he said this band the Sex Pistols are playing with us; people are making a noise about them. I'd left the band by then but I went along to the gig.
Paul Madden (photographer)
I was at London College doing a printing course; a friend in the year below me said he was going to see Bazooka Joe at St Martins. We went down early at half seven. It was on the fifth floor in an open common room with no stage. There were no lifts and it was stairs all the way up. It was empty - no tables or anything - pretty dark. There were no more than 40 people there. They were selling cheap white wine at 20p a cup. It was real throw-down-your-neck typical student ruin, really vile.
Jeremy Diggle (St Martins student)
I kind of knew Glen from St Martins so I knew about the Pistols anyway. I was switched on to what was going on. I'd seen them hanging round Tin Pan Alley. I knew other people who knew them as well. There were gigs there every second week but it was a fairly shambolic organisation. We'd just set up the bar as a sort of social space. We'd have proper gigs in the basement, bands like Kilburn and the High Roads. Bazooka Joe had a small following so they were in the upstairs room.
Nick Wells (St Martins student)
The Sex Pistols were very loud and grubby. They were extremely unpleasant but you couldn't ignore them. It was a tiny little venue with students milling round the bar, no more than 100 at most. It was also very loud, as loud as Can who had been the loudest gig I'd ever been to before then.
Bazooka Joe's gear was set up first and the Pistols dragged their stuff in. I suspect a bit of hassle was going on between the bands, sort of a friendly but sharp atmosphere because bands are sensitive about lending gear.
Robin Chapekar (Bazooka Joe guitarist)
We turned up. We had our own PA and backline. We set up and did a soundcheck and in strolled Malcolm McLaren with the boys. He said: "We've got a problem, our van has broken down with all the gear in it." They pleaded with us. All they had was their guitars and they wanted to use our amps and drums. We felt sorry for them, we related to them, it had happened to us before, so we said: "No problem help yourself, do your soundcheck." We left a couple of guys, our roadies, there and shot off to the Cambridge Arms for a couple of drinks before we played.
What happened was that we were supposed to use their equipment. At the soundcheck, Bazooka Joe, who were a bunch of rich kid rockabilly types didn't like the cut of our jib and wouldn't lend us their gear.
Paul Cook (Sex Pistols drummer)
We rehearsed across the road and wheeled all the equipment down Charing Cross Road at about six in the evening.
So we had to push our gear through the rush-hour crowd. There was a frosty atmosphere and after four numbers someone pulled the plug on us because we were a horrible din and a bit of a fracas started.
Before they came on I thought, "Who's that weird bloke with weird trousers on?" He was wearing peg-leg trousers and it was Malcolm McLaren. The trousers were baggy at the waist and going to nothing at the ankles. Very strange. He stood out a mile. He kept running back and forth. I thought, what's he so angry about? He was trying to start trouble. They had an attitude that was basically "Fuck off, we're the Sex Pistols". They were all going in the same direction at maximum speed.
Eddie (Bazooka Joe roadie, formed The Vibrators soon afterwards)
St Martins is right next to Denmark Street where the Pistols rehearsed. Steve Jones said he couldn't use our Orange amp and went to get his amp with John. While we were waiting we got up and played. I sang "Bonie Moronie", "Johnny B Goode" and some other songs with Paul Cook on drums and Glenn on bass. John and Steve came back and they started. John Lydon had a pullover on, full of holes. He was a startling character. I knew him already from when I DJ'd. He would ask if I had anything by The Stooges, like he was the only person to listen to The Stooges!
A couple of mates of John's were there, John Grey was there (I don't think Sid was there), some mate of John's who was always threatening to commit suicide, also Bill Collins who was the father of Lewis Collins [the actor] and managed Badfinger and rented us our rehearsal room was there, with his missus.
We set up and played for 20 minutes. Total chaos. None of us knew what we were doing. We were very nervous and all over the place. We played "No Lip" ,"Satellite", "Substitute", "Seventeen", and "What'cha Gonna Do About It".
Adam Ant (aka Stuart Goddard, Bazooka Joe bass player)
For their first gig, the Sex Pistols were support group to the band I was in, Bazooka Joe. I'll never forget it. They came in as a gang; they looked like they couldn't give a fuck about anybody. Jonesy was tiny, he looked like a young Pete Townshend. Matlock had paint-spattered trousers and a woman's pink leather top. I watched them play; Malcolm was at the front, orchestrating them, telling them where to stand. Viv was there.
My friend went down the Cambridge to meet Bazooka Joe. I waited for the Pistols to come on and went down the front to watch them. I didn't think they were that outrageous. I liked them, though. I remember feeling jealous: guys my own age who had a good band. I remember Steve Jones had eye make-up on. Being in art college, we all knew about the New York Dolls and Roxy Music. We were inspired by The Dolls visually and David Bowie's Berlin album. In a weird way, the Pistols were the ultimate art-school band.I thought they were not that bad. One thing I certainly remember is that there was no riser for the band; they were on the same level as the audience. They played for about five songs and got told to stop. The Sex Pistols were not proficient players at that time. It was their first gig but they had a confidence in what they were doing, a cheeky-chappie confidence.
It was fucking wild. I was so nervous I took a Mandrax. When we started playing, the Mandrax was hitting me and I cranked the amp up. It was a 100-watt amp in a little room with no stage and it was great. Everyone was looking at us. It seemed like millions of people at the time.
We played "Substitute". We were going to to play "Pretty Vacant" but the plug got pulled. We did "Stepping Stone" and "What You Going To Do About It" and we were also going to do "Did You No Wrong" and "Problems" but that never happened.
Pat Collier (eventually joined The Vibrators; now a successful producer)
It didn't seem like a momentous occasion at the time. As I came in I remember them doing a cover of the Small Faces "All Or Nothing". From their choice of material they seemed like an average punk rock band but I wasn't really watching. A few months later I saw them and they were unbelievably brilliant, perhaps the best band I have ever seen.
There weren't many there, maybe a dozen or so people, Jordan, Michael Collins, Andy Czezowski. They did "Substitute," and "What'cha Gonna Do About It" with the lyrics changed, "I want you to know that I hate you baby." Then John lost interest. He'd eat sweets, pull them out and suck them and just spit them out. He just looked at the audience, glazed.
Paul Cook put down his sticks and said, "Now for the real thing," referring to Bazooka Joe and the Bazooka Joe singer leapt across the drum kit and it turned into a punch-up.
Paul has got a good habit of saying the right thing at the wrong time. We were nervous when we played. Malcolm bought a bottle of vodka and that had kicked in by then as well.
It must have been a terrible racket, because someone pulled the plug on us. There was a big fight. People yelled at us to get off because they wanted Bazooka Joe. We nearly had a fight with them. They thought we were an oddity because of our attitudes. We weren't being nice. That was the main difference between us and them.
Jeremy Diggle, who was the president of the students' union, switched them off, they had done their 20 minutes. It didn't seem that significant at the time.
The whole band had a presence. Glen was in a little pink number, I seem to remember, Lydon was in a ripped jumper. But enough was enough and I unplugged them. They were bloody awful and untogether. I was not expecting anything else. It was something different but they were too loud and the space was not big enough. I'm not being wimpish when I say they were over-amplified; that's why I switched them off. It was chaotic and Bazooka Joe wanted to get on and play.It was more a case of you've had your 20 minutes!
It was like one of those school playground kind of fights. The antagonism had been building up all afternoon mainly due to the fact that the Pistols had borrowed Bazooka Joe's backline. Their attitude was so snotty that Bazooka Joe had said: "Get your own amplifiers."
We were sat in the pub and one of our roadies came running in shouting: "You'd better get back! They're trashing the gear and everyone is leaving in droves." We shot back. They were making a massive noise. They hadn't got anything worked out at all. It was pure punk but I didn't know that at the time. There we were witnessing the birth of punk. We were pissed off! They were kicking the amps, the drummer was trashing the drums. We went over and said: "Enough is enough!" Danny took the mic off John and I took the amp off Steve and pulled the plug on him and a brawl ensued, lots of flailing arms and missed punches and stuff. Eventually they stopped playing. They were frightening the audience away.
I vaguely remember a fracas at the end but I had gone to the bar by that point.
The Pistols were a bunch of chancers really, nothing made them stand out. No one had an inkling of what was going to happen. Later on I bumped into Glen Matlock and he said: "Sorry, mate." He was the calmest out of the whole lot. I said: 'You can't borrow gear and trash it and scare everyone away." I then found out through a few mates that they never had a van with gear in it; they had pulled a fast one and gatecrashed the gig. I thought cheeky bastards but what a brilliant con. Stuart [Goddard akaAdam Ant] didn't leave the band the next day but the gig probably made him decide to get into punk. He went through a big change and eventually embraced punk 100 per cent. He gave all his old clothes away and disassociated himself from his old persona. Good luck to him and he had that tunnel vision of where he wanted to go.
There was not one single hand clap. The college audience had never seen anything like it. They couldn't connect with where we were coming from because our stance was so anti-pop, so anti-everything that had gone before.
John Robb's definitive account of punk, "Punk Rock: The Oral History", will be published early next year by Ebury
Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boymusic
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