Punk: Out of Bondage

Whatever happened to all those punks who scared the tabloids and upset the Queen with their safety-pin fashions and calls to anarchy? As a new book is published celebrating this unique moment in British culture, Jonathan Dyson tracks down those who made it all happen. Original photographs by Ray Stevenson. Portraits by Florian Jaenicke

One June in 1977 I walked into WHSmith's in the Arndale Centre in Bradford and, adopting an air of studied disdain, asked for a copy of "God Save the Queen". At the time this was no mean feat: the Sex Pistols' iconoclastic first hit was not deemed suitable for open display. It was not even listed on the Top 30 board behind the counter - there was a blank space at number two. Plus, I was a mere 12 years old.

The single was sleeved in royal purple with a silvered print of the Queen wearing a safety pin through her nose, gleefully subverting the self-congratulatory tone of the Queen's Silver Jubilee, then in full swing. The revolution had begun, or so it felt for someone on the verge of adolescence. But, for the few dozen people who had been in at the start of punk, a year earlier and who contributed to the forthcoming, Vacant, A Diary of the Punk Years, this moment marked the end of a period of intense creativity, musically, socially and in fashion. By mid-1977 the Pistols had become comic-strip tabloid baddies, banned from Radio One, banned from touring, while big business was busy turning every aspect of punk into just another youth commodity.

Nils Stevenson who, with his photographer brother Ray, produced the Vacant book, worked with Malcolm Maclaren and Vivienne Westwood at their King's Road clothes shop Sex, and with the Pistols, Malcolm's band, before managing Siouxsie and the Banshees. "Prior to punk," he says, "youth culture had this linear progression. You could almost predict what would happen next. Things were getting more and more highly produced. Then punk came along. It was do-it-yourself, a return to basics, a moment when the kids had control and the media had little to do with it. It was a last gasp before everything returned back to normal and became corporate again."

For a movement which lasted only a short time and involved relatively few bands, punk has a powerful resonance down the years. Even now, there are two major film projects in the pipeline: Don Letts' on The Clash, and Julien Temple's on the Sex Pistols. Nils believes that now, more than ever, we are yearning for some of that old anarchy. "We've cut through the veneer of Tony Blair and New Labour," he says, "we've seen through cool Britannia and Britpop. We've realised it was all just a marketing ploy. People are starting to get critical again. It's time to react against the mediated mediocrity of youth culture."

For Nils it has all come full circle. For nearly two decades he worked on and off with Maclaren on a bewildering array of projects, many of which never saw the light of day. Finally, a few years ago, Nils came back to London from LA, dried out, cleaned up, and is now managing a new up-and- coming band, Sweetie, and once more doing the rounds of dark, sweaty, raucous London gigs, trying to shake it all up again ...

`Vacant: A Diary of the Punk Years 1976-1979', is published on 12 April by Thames & Hudson (pounds 9.95). Ray Stevenson's photographs are at the K Bar Gallery, 84-86 Wardour Street, London W1, from 14 April.

Soo (Sue) Catwoman was a close friend of Sid Vicious. She created an archetypal punk look, and saw her character recreated for the Pistols film, `The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle'. She lives in Hounslow, south-west London with her two children, Shem, 13, and Dee, 11, and Dee's rat, Foxy. She is currently writing her memoirs.

"The catwoman look wasn't a fashion statement: it came from inside. When I was young I'd always been this little girl in a frilly dress, but I never felt like a little girl, so it was kind of, `Don't tell me I've got to wear a flowery dress: I don't want to be pigeonholed.'

The look was also very boyish. I think that was because my dad had 12 boys and I was always pushed into the background and told to go and make a cup of tea. I suppose I wanted to be noticed by my dad. I got to know Sid before the Sex Pistols. The first time I met him was in a club called Louise's in Poland Street. Sid came up behind me and kicked me up the bum and he said, `Can you play bass?' and I said, `No, I can't,' and he said, `That doesn't matter, do you want to be in a band. We're called The Flowers of Romance?' I said, `I dunno, I'll have to think about it,' and he went off. And then at the end of the evening he came over and said, `Oi, you, phone me at Sex or I'll push your face in,' and I just thought he was wonderful. None of it was offensive really.

Eventually Sid came to stay with me in Ealing after he got out of Ashford Remand Centre for glassing someone at the 100 Club, but I think the police picked on him because he looked so unusual. I suppose I mothered him: he needed it. I sowed his jeans up - the screws had ripped them in Ashford. The nicest thing Sid ever said to me was when he was at the door when he finally left my flat. He said, `It's been nice poncing off you these last few months,' and I said, `Oh Sid, do you really think that's what it was all about?' I said,0 `What about the company, what about the fact I had someone to be with and someone to buy me a beer and buy the fishfingers when I was skint, do you really think I was getting nothing out of it?' And he stopped and scratched his head like Stan Laurel and he said, `Well, that changes everything, I thought you were a cunt and you're not.' And that was a real compliment from Sid. Fond memories.

I was asked to be in Malcolm's film, but then I wanted to see a script and I never heard anything again. I saw the film eventually, and I have to say I've never been naked with Malcolm Maclaren in a bathroom, and midget Ellen didn't cut my hair, but it'll all come out in the end when I write my book. For me punk was over in a matter of six to nine months. It had changed. Change is a part of life: I'm not suggesting it should have stayed how it was, but it was sad. It did lose something and it became a bit of a sell-out for some people. It sort of dilutes the message when you have to worry about the bank balance.

I never wanted to live a rock'n'roll lifestyle. I want to be who I am. I think that is the most important thing for me and that was what punk was all about. It was about self-expression, and if you're being true to yourself it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks."

Don Letts ran the Acme Attractions shop in the King's Road, was the DJ at The Roxy punk venue and briefly managed The Slits. He later became a member of Big Audio Dynamite with ex-Clash member Mick Jones. He is now a pop video producer and film-maker, and is currently completing a feature film about The Clash.

"Before punk rock came along I was into all this white music and it never really had any of my culture in there, whereas with The Clash I could hear me in there, whether it be bass line or subject-matter. Music can communicate ideas, and punk was really good at bringing that back in.

With the previous generation of white bands like the Stones who were into black music, it was really removed from their experience, like it was some old Blues guy living by the Mississippi delta. Whereas The Clash, the Pistols, The Slits, we grew up in the same backyard, with our cultures directly intermingling. We were turning on each other through our respective cultures. Down at The Roxy at the start I played a lot of reggae, but that was sort of by default because there wasn't any punk records because it was so new. I just played what I liked.

Eventually I wanted to have a go: I wanted to get more involved. That was the thing about punk. It made you want to be involved, not a spectator. But the stage was full up, so I picked up a super-8 camera and started filming the bands. I'd never had any training. The Clash asked me to do their first promo, London Calling, and I did all their promos after that. The bands used to come back to my flat in Forest Hill that I shared with three other Rasta guys. And there'd be some of The Clash, some of the Pistols, Banshees, Slits, Adverts, Gen X, all in my living room at the same time, partly to partake in special effects but mostly to watch the films of their performances so they could get their acts together.

I'm very very proud to have been associated with the whole punk thing but I don't like looking back. When you look back it means you ain't doing nothing. I hate revivalism, I hate bands reforming, I'd shoot 'em all. Longevity ain't the point. I think the spirit which punk encapsulated has actually existed for a long time. I guess Mozart was a punk rocker. It's kind of a rebel thing, a rites of passage that every generation has to go through, and in '77 it happened to be called punk rock. In the early Eighties it happened to be called hip hop: in the Nineties we've had things like drum'n'bass.

The blueprint of punk I still use on a day-to-day basis: the DIY ethic, using what you've got to get what you need, the making up your own rules instead of playing the game, but that's not just the domain of punk and I swear there's gotta be something new round the corner musically, with all this boy and girl band stuff, it's the beginning of the backlash."

Tim `TV' Smith and Gaye Advert first met at art college in Torquay 25 years ago and then founded the The Adverts. They now live in a flat in west London (on the road where `Stellar Street' is filmed). TV Smith still performs solo, but Gaye is now a manager at Hammersmith and Fulham Council.

TV Smith: "There was absolutely no scene at college: it was all bands doing covers of Free records. There was no chance of doing anything original. My own band insisted on doing a Jimi Hendrix cover and I refused and they threw me out. Then I started teaching Gaye bass. I guess the first hint something was happening in London was a Pistols review in the NME with pictures of them throwing chairs around. We came up to London in '76 and started looking for other members for a band."

Gaye: "We moved into an attic room in Hammersmith on a three-week holiday let, with rain leaking through the ceiling over the lightbulbs and on to the bed and rats running around. We ended up staying three years. Me and this girl from work went down to Sex in the King's Road and I got a pair of vinyl trousers. I wore them to the Marquee and it was really hot and sweaty, and I realised if you go to the loo you can't get them off, but I had them till they crumbled. They kept going mouldy in the wardrobe."

TV Smith: "Our first gig was The Roxy. It was amazing timing for us, we just fell into it at the right time. Within a couple of gigs we were being offered a record deal. I don't think we realised how lucky we were. `One Chord Wonders' came out and we went on tour with The Damned and got a manager and moved over to a bigger label. Then we released `Looking through Gary Gilmour's Eyes', got on Top of the Pops, all in around six months. But the other side of the coin was that it was an awful lot of pressure, particularly for Gaye, being the number one punk sex symbol."

Gaye: "I didn't like it, particularly being on tour. I wasn't bothered for being on stage. I was always quite shy, really. And I couldn't stand all that hanging around and travelling and being cold. Our families were quite proud: my dad used to keep a scrapbook."

TV Smith: "The punk thing all started turning a bit cartoon while we were on tour. Everyone had to wear the uniform, the leather jacket, safety pins - and suddenly the gigs are full of people who want to fight, punks and skinheads, and then the audiences started spitting, which The Damned actually encouraged. We were once playing and getting showers of gob coming up sporadically and it would just stop and then start again, and we had no idea why, and then we looked round and Rat and Captain from The Damned were popping up from behind the amps with a sign, `Gob Now'. They were real gob enthusiasts."

Gaye: "We got this place we still live in with an advance from RCA. That was for the second album, in '81. That was the first time we really saw any money and that was when the band was virtually dead on its feet. I think we got two grand each."

TV Smith: "It was a very intense period for us. It was very difficult to hold any kind of direction when the media were pumping it up and saying it was all about outrage and anarchy. We didn't think it was about being outrageous and aggressive at all. What it was about was people being able to express themselves. Punk was the only musical form that allowed me as an ordinary bloke to get into a band and be part of something that was happening. Before punk there was you and there was Emerson, Lake and Palmer and there was no ground in between. I'm still writing songs, still going out in front of people, but now I'm totally directed doing what I want to do on my own without the gimmick of a band."

Gaye: "After we split up, I just did ordinary jobs. It's nice to know you can work and go home and get paid - it's all so easy. I still like going to gigs. I really got back into music when Nirvana came along. We saw them in Los Angeles in 1991 and I thought, `Who is this band?' and I started listening to more stuff."

TV Smith: "I keep getting money offered for Adverts revivals, but Gaye hasn't played guitar since the last day of The Adverts, the drummer lives in Iceland and the guitarist died last year."

Simone describes herself as the Pamela Des Barres of punk rock. She now lives alone with her cat Zorro in north London. She is currently working on her memoirs.

"I was 20 when punk started. I'd been married to Genesis P Orridge from Throbbing Gristle, but I wasn't really ready to settle down yet. I really got into punk when I saw The Damned and then I started going out with the drummer Rat Scabies, which brought me into the middle of the whole scene. I could never go out with someone who had a job in a bank, unfortunately - I would be better off.

I never had any money but you didn't seem to need money, you could just go out and get off your tree. In those days we didn't have videos and telly ended at 11, so I suppose kids started to do things for themselves, getting out fanzines, getting bands together. We created our own entertainment and I don't know if that could ever happen again.

In the beginning the punk look was whatever you could find in the wardrobe. I remember being at Hampstead tube station one night and I was wearing a little dog collar with fake diamonds, a T-shirt with all the zips in it and a 1950s skirt with a drape jacket and very high-heeled spiked shoes with studs in. I'd just got off the tube and I heard this, `Oi slag,' from behind me and this Teddy boy and this Teddy girl got off and the next thing I know they grabbed hold of me by my head and smashed it against the wall and ripped a great big thing out of this drape coat, which didn't actually belong to me. It was from this shop called Bus Stop in Kensington. It was quite dangerous, really, going out, you either got beaten up or had your picture taken. When the punk thing started to die off, I went over to rock'n'roll. I started getting attracted to men with quiffs, but the scene was quiet by comparison.

My last husband was in Hanoi Rocks. He was the rhythm guitarist, Suicide, so I became Mrs Suicide. I think what first attracted me to Hanoi Rocks was they reminded me of punk in the early days, but they were actually a Finnish band. I toured the world with them. They were very debauched, total sex and drugs and rock'n'roll. They fell apart when the drummer Razzle got killed in a car crash in '84. Me and Suicide split up four years ago. He went back to Finland. I think he's a schoolteacher now. He changed, he got boring. Getting divorced was hard to adjust to: one minute I'm living this rock'n'roll lifestyle in Hollywood and now it's just me and Zorro.

I'm the black sheep of the family. My mother now says she really admires me, but my sister disowned me years ago. My dad was very Victorian: he always wanted me to be a certain way and I always wanted to be different. I still go out but it's lost the edge. I find younger people now seem quite dull. It's like they've turned into our mums and dads. It's a shame. Everything's so work-oriented now.

We didn't think about tomorrow. We lived for today. I don't feel any different now from back then, maybe punks don't grow old."

Alan Jones worked in Sex and the punk hang-out, the Portobello Hotel. He was arrested for wearing a Sex T-shirt. He is now a journalist, a horror film specialist, and has just finished writing a history of disco

"I was into glam rock at first, in the early Seventies, living in London. I was always wearing awful, ridiculous clothes. I used to go back home to Portsmouth and get changed on the train about five times trying to work out which outfit would annoy my mother the most. Then punk came along. You could see it all bubbling away: there was a whole strata of people I knew who were bored stiff. At

first there was a hardcore of us, about 20 people.

I worked in Sex for six months. It was nightmare, but we had a good laugh. I was very in people's faces in those days. I remember going to the opening night of A Chorus Line at the Drury Lane theatre and sitting on the front row in my punk outfit and wearing a swastika armband. They stopped the show. The people I was with were really embarrassed. All I did was turn the armband round and then the show started again. The day I got arrested I was walking down Piccadilly wearing Vivienne's Tom of Finland T-shirt with two naked men on it. Malcolm and Vivienne said, `Don't worry, it's all going to be OK,' but they never even turned up in court.' I pleaded guilty to gross indecency.

The turning point for me was the Queen's Silver Jubilee boat party on the Thames, which was a publicity stunt for the Pistols. I just hated that. There we were on that boat, the police surrounding us, and then we got off and everyone was being beaten up by the police and arrested. I just thought, fuck this, this is getting life-threatening, and then I got into disco."

`Saturday Night Forever' by Alan Jones and Jussi Kantonen is published in April by Mainstream (pounds 9.99).

Mark Perry started the cult punk fanzine, `Sniffin' Glue', set up the Step Forward record label and formed the group Alternative TV, which is still occasionally performing. He is currently working on a `Sniffin' Glue' installation and looking for a new, regular job.

"I was from Deptford in south-east London, which was probably the most street-cred place for a punk to come from because at that time - it had a very, very bad reputation. In 1976 I was 19 and I was working in a Williams & Glynn bank in South Kensington.

Up to that time I'd been into Bowie and a lot of progressive rock but I didn't see music as being anything to do directly with my life, but then The Ramones came along, and then I heard about the Pistols, and I thought, wow, I could be part of this, this is more to do with me. I did the first issue of the fanzine in July 1976. I spent a weekend typing out all these record reviews and blurb and using felt-tip pen for the headings. It cost 15p. My girlfriend printed it up on a photostat machine at her work. The name was from a Ramones song, `Now I want to sniff some glue, now I want to have something to do ... ' I also wanted to be a bit shocking, which it was, a lot of people were upset about the name. I finally left the bank in the September of 1976. My mother was really worried because she didn't understand about alternative lifestyles because they were quite conservative and working-class and all they knew was, you got a job, you got married.

I was still living at home when we started doing the fanzine. We used to get all these weirdos coming around. By the last few issues of the mag in '77 I was losing interest. By this time I was doing my own record label, and we were putting out people like The Models, The Cortinas, The Fall, and I'd formed my own band, Alternative TV. And by then everyone knew about punk, the Sex Pistols were in the charts, there wasn't any need for a fanzine.

Issue 12 was the last issue, in the summer, and we put our profits into giving away a flexi-disc: it symbolised the end of the fanzine and the start of the group. As a band we were trying to break out of the restrictions of punk even then. We used tapes, we had songs which lasted 15 minutes. We put our first album out in early 1978, but we changed formats again quite quickly. Sounds really slagged off the second album: they said it was an insult to Deptford, and other people said it was a work of genius. We took it on tour and we got bottled off stage.

By 1982 Alternative TV was finally dead and I retired from the business. I was going to become a nurse but then I decided it was too much like hard work doing three years' training. I wish I'd done it now, I'd have had the qualifications to have had a career. I put the band back together in the late Eighties as a part-time thing, with a new line-up, but people would just shun you back then if you were associated with punk. In '86, '87 we got 50 people turning up at gigs. Now we get 300 or 400. When the nursing fell through, I started working for Lewisham Council as an assistant in the highways section. I'm looking around for something else now, it might be something to do directly with the music business, I feel like maybe getting involved again."

Jordan (Pamela Rooke) worked in Sex and starred in Derek Jarman's punk film `Jubilee'. She later went on to manage Adam and the Ants. For the past 15 years she has lived with her father in Seaford in West Sussex where she breeds championship-winning Burmese cats and works as a veterinary nurse.

"I was always looked on as a bit weird. When I was 15 I had my hair dyed red and pink, which caused a lot of problems as school. But I wasn't someone who looked in magazines for ideas, it was just me. I think I saw myself as a work of art. When I went up to London the first time to visit Vivienne's shop I was wearing gold stilletos, a see-through net skirt and I had my hair in a big white bouffant. When you look like that you're very lucky if can find somewhere where you fit in and feel comfortable. I ended up working in Sex for years. It was my time.

Magazines started writing about us, and they would say, go and see the shop assistant, which was me, but I used to just stare at people until they left, and others were too frightened to walk in. It was the same with relationships, because of how I looked and behaved: people would be too frightened to speak to me. They would much rather stand at the side of the shop and fantasise or write me letters.

We got done under the 1864 Obscene Publications Act. The police came in the shop and said that the items in the window were obscene and it was illegal to show things like that in public in case children saw them. They just wanted to get us for the T-shirt of the Queen with the safety pin through her nose. After that we had to keep T-shirts in a toilet in the flat upstairs and bring them down four at a time in case the police turned up and confiscated the lot. Jubilee started off as a documentary of Derek going down the King's Road. He came in the shop and he asked me if I would help him and then two or three weeks later he came back and said, `It's all changed, I'm not doing a documentary, I'm making a feature film. Will you be in it?' It was a bit harrowing because you've got to learn lines, but he was great to work with. The whole bunch were really good, except for Toyah.

I'm not really into nostalgia as such. I think punk is so anti-nostalgia, the thought of people trying to reproduce it is pretty amazing. What fashion has done for the Sixties and Seventies I don't think they could do that with punk, it was too emotionally charged, it was about how people walked, it was how people looked at you, how people talked. It was just amazing to get music and fashion coming together like that. I never really thought it was a true political movement, I think it was purely about freedom, letting people do what they wanted to do.

It was a great time. I've been really lucky, I've done things I wanted to do, and things worked out again when I came back home. I'm really pleased I returned because I didn't realise my mum was going to die and if I hadn't come back I wouldn't have had those years with her, and now I've got my old dad. There were a lot of other things I could have gone on to, I suppose, but I can only do what I believe in".

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