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

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.

Jeremy Diggle

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.

Glen Matlock

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.

Glen Matlock

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.

Paul Madden

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!

Glen Matlock

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.

Paul Cook

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.

Paul Madden

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.

Steve Jones

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.

Glen Matlock

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.

Adam Ant

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 Madden

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.

Glen Matlock

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.

Paul Cook

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.

Nick Wells

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.

Jeremy Diggle

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!

Paul Madden

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."

Robin Chapekar

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.

Pat Collier

I vaguely remember a fracas at the end but I had gone to the bar by that point.

Robin Chapekar

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.

John Lydon

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

Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice