I started working with the Sex Pistols after striking up a friendship with Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood in the mid- Seventies. At that time I had a stall in Beaufort Market, Chelsea, a few doors away from their shop, SEX, where I was selling a potpourri of winkle-picker shoes, leather jackets and teddy boy drapes. One evening at the beginning of 1976, Malcolm suggested I work with him on the "new Bay City Rollers". I didn't hold out much hope that they would be to my taste. None the less, I went to see them at the Marquee Club in Soho. The small crowd was there to see Eddie and the Hotrods, who were headlining, and the Sex Pistols were already playing when I walked into the club.
Guitarist Steve Jones, drummer Paul Cook and bass player Glen Matlock were wearing clothes from SEX, while their singer, Johnny Rotten, had customised his own drag. He was in a pink school blazer with chains and slogans written across it, baggy blue jeans and a yellow Pink Floyd T-shirt on which he had scrawled "I Hate." His hair was short, orange and, like his personality, "spiky". The group's music (such as it was) merely provided a backdrop for Rotten's manic performance. He threw chairs around, sang from the audience and attacked Jordan, the shop assistant from SEX, while the band struck classic rock-'n'-roll poses. Rotten's antics were so impressive that I took Malcolm up on his offer, closed down my stall and began designing the group's graphics, arranging gigs with Malcolm and driving them to dates around the country. My brother, Ray, began taking their photographs.
In the beginning, we worked from the small flat in Clapham that Malcolm shared with Vivienne, their son Joe and Vivienne's son from her previous marriage, Ben. Vivienne was keen on organic vegetarian food and collected sunflowers from the local common for salads while the boys would skip out for fish and chips. Malcolm and I, likewise, would tend to grab some dead thing to eat when Vivienne wasn't around. There were outrageous rumours that Vivienne used to lock Malcolm in the closet if he displeased her.
In order to tighten up the outfit while looking for a record deal, the band was put on the pub rock circuit that was the domain of rhythm and blues groups like Roogalator and Dr Feelgood. In this way we managed to find work for the Sex Pistols all around the country, though generally north of Watford and away from the critical eyes and ears of pop pundits and A&R men.
The audiences on our provincial excursions expected benign pub rock. Instead, they found themselves the objects of a tirade of abuse from Johnny Rotten, who would often wind up the crowd to such an extent that we were threatened with violence. On more than one occasion I had to demand police escorts, and I learnt early on to get the money up-front, whenever possible.
We stayed in cheap bed-and-breakfasts that I secured beforehand while dressed respectably. Rotten was always very concerned about the cleanliness of the boarding houses and ritually ran his fingers along mantelpieces looking for dust and moaned if the beds had nylon sheets. But he could always turn on the charm when necessary, having a way of endearing himself to landladies by playing up his sickly demeanour.
It was a terrible struggle making ends meet - but sometimes we pocketed as much as £10 each after a week on the road, and the band did become tighter. Their rapid progress was marked by performances in London venues such as the Nashville Rooms and 100 Club and before long they had attracted an interesting collection of low-life freaks and fashion victims. The presence of flamboyant characters like Steve Severin, Siouxsie Sioux and Billy Idol at every London gig enhanced the impression that the Sex Pistols were the leaders of a scene, whose edginess was confirmed by the arrival of a number of prostitutes who bought their paraphernalia from SEX, thieves and Rotten's psychopathic friends.
Our first front page coverage came in April, when a photograph of a fight at the Nashville - involving Vivienne, Malcolm, several members of the audience and all four members of the band - made the cover of Melody Maker. It bore the banner: "Don't look over your shoulder but the Sex Pistols are coming." It was a sign of things to come.
Things really started happening during that year's summer heat wave. Malcolm had left Vivienne and moved into a small flat in Bell Street off Lisson Grove with Helen Wellington Lloyd, a South African with whom he had had a brief fling when they were at Goldsmith's art college. Her flat became the band office, where we spent afternoons sticking bits of paper, photographs and letters together to make the Sex Pistols handbills which were photocopied and distributed in Kensington Market and along the King's Road.
I, meanwhile, had been forced to move out of the comfortable house in Richmond that I had been living in and found myself instead in the stinking rehearsal studio in Denmark Street, which I shared with Steve Jones. We lived on stolen food - baked beans, baked beans and more baked beans - while by night Steve would drop black bombers to stay up all night practising guitar. I discovered that Jones was, among other things, a sex maniac. Once, having locked him out of the flat, I looked up from the bed in which I myself was having sex to see Jones's desperate face pressed against the studio window. I was shocked not so much because he was watching as because we were on the first floor.
It was at about this time that we became friendly with a professional dominatrix called Linda who lived opposite Scotland Yard. We started staying at her luxury pad. It was clean, there were no mice running around as there were in Denmark Street, nor was the toilet outside and permanently clogged. Before he became a Pistol, Rotten's friend Sid Vicious also liked to stay at Linda's, and there were also working girls who seemed to enjoy cavorting with budding young rock stars and their tour manager. Over time, most of the walls became covered with graffiti, and all of the delicate furniture was broken.
The sexual liberation promised in the Sixties came of age in the Seventies. Pre-Aids, it seemed impolite to refuse the offer of a shag and, not wishing to offend anyone, I did my bit: in toilets, in clubs or on the floor of the studio, in back alleys, with the girlfriends of my best friends and with complete strangers. Everybody seemed to be shagging everybody, particularly Steve Jones. Yet, despite the fact that Rotten was "the face" and could have had anyone, he didn't have anybody. The juxtaposition between the asexual Rotten, who was repressed and full of Catholic guilt, and the nob on legs, Steve Jones, who would literally bang anything, contributed a great deal to the group's bizarre character. Rotten's most passionate song, "Bodies", is a testament to his attitude towards sex at that time.
And then there was speed, lots of speed. The poor man's cocaine kept us going as well as thin, because if you weren't thin you didn't have a prayer. Unfortunately, the police found some sulphate on Rotten that summer while we were walking through Soho and he was carted off to the local nick, booked and subsequently fined.
Malcolm, appropriately, set up a gig at Chelmsford prison. We were quite wary when we drove into the prison compound: there was always the possibility that we wouldn't get out. Once on stage, however, the group didn't tone down their performance one bit. Rotten ridiculed the cons for getting caught and cast aspersions on their sexuality. It became very tense. But gradually an understanding developed between the group, who would soon become public enemy number one, and their captive audience. They started to laugh, taunt and heckle each other in a good-humoured way, each faction enjoying taking its frustrations out on the other.
By the end of the summer we had been dubbed "punks", which inspired Ron Watts, manager of the 100 Club, to put on a Punk Festival, which was to run over two nights. There weren't enough punk groups to fill a two-day bill, so Siouxsie was encouraged to form a band for the first night, which the Sex Pistols were headlining. Sid Vicious was enrolled as drummer, Steve Severin played bass and Marco Pirroni was on guitar. The following evening the Clash headlined, supported by the Damned and Chris Spedding. Sid was arrested for, allegedly, throwing a glass which shattered and blinded a young girl in one eye. Although we were doing a provincial date at the time, we were banned from the 100 Club.
By November we had our own television special, on the London Weekend Show, featuring interviews with the prime movers in the punk scene as well as footage of the Sex Pistols at NÃ¿tre Dame Hall in Leicester Square. We had also appeared on Tony Wilson's So It Goes show in September, which resulted in Rotten exchanging insults with Clive James and me throwing chairs across the stage and trying to rip off Jordan's clothes (that footage was censored in the broadcast). It would be Clive James's last dalliance with youth culture. We felt we were sorting the wheat from the chaff.
The press came thick and fast, and by December the Sex Pistols were signed to EMI and we were all put on wages. Then, while we were rehearsing in Harlesden for the "Anarchy in the UK" tour, a call came through that Queen had pulled out of a scheduled interview with Bill Grundy on the Today show. EMI, in their infinite wisdom, had arranged for the Sex Pistols to appear in their place. The group were unwilling to do an interview on such a square programme, so I bribed them by assuring them that their wages would be withheld if they didn't do it. They reluctantly went off to the studio in the EMI limousine, while I continued with preparations for the Anarchy Tour, oblivious to the historic events that soon began to unfold on the prime-time evening show. That night I met up with Malcolm and the group and they described the event to me in all its hilarious detail: Rotten sheepishly saying "shit", Grundy egging the band on to be "outrageous" and Steve Jones responding by calling the old hack a "dirty sod" and "a fucking rotter." It seemed very funny.
The next morning the incident was reported in shock horror style on every front page. The Daily Mirror ran with the banner "The Filth and the Fury" (the title of Julian Temple's new film on the Sex Pistols), and Malcolm became hysterical. He thought it was "all over" and that EMI would terminate the contract.
In fact, a nation of bored teenagers and "misunderstood" adolescents read reports about our persecution and rallied around "punk". Suddenly, reverence towards anything, even previously hallowed pop stars, became unfashionable. Kids all over the country felt empowered and started ripping up their T-shirts, spiking and dyeing their hair, producing fanzines, starting record labels, designing graphics and forming groups.
Over the following two years, punk blew away the cobwebs in ye cozy olde England, clearing the way for a new technologically-driven age designed by the young for the young. It might well have happened anyway, but, for better or worse, punk sped up the process.
Finally, after a gig at the Paradiso in Holland, EMI did, as Malcolm had anticipated, terminate the contract. I left the Sex Pistols shortly afterwards to manage Siouxsie and the Banshees. A month later, Glen Matlock was replaced by Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten would find himself competing with his best friend for the punk crown. Rotten's old refrain of, "I'm the star, fuck off," would never cut it with Vicious. There was a spanner in the spanner in the works. *
Nils Stevenson is author of "Vacant: a Diary of the Punk Years" (Thames & Hudson, £9.99). Ray Stevenson's photographs can be seen at www.i.am/ raystevenson. "The Filth and the Fury" will be released in cinemas in May.Reuse content