Which is why my fingernail stopped its slide down the small ads column : a music teacher was offering tuition in punk singing.
Could this be serious? Punk was entirely about breaking rules. Yet the ad implied that chaos could be worked upon, could be improved, could be good or bad. Intrigued, I made an appointment and travelled to Edgware, to the music room of Sybil Esmore.
Sybil, whose main love is grand opera, knows Pavarotti. His inscribed photograph sits on her piano - indeed, she is an honorary member of the Pavarotti Society of Great Britain. She also believes that the Sex Pistols 'definitely had something' - and she maintains that the techniques of good singing are applicable to all the forms of music she teaches, from punk to opera.
For the first hour or so, she taught me how to breathe. I expanded in the area of the diaphragm, I learnt how to control the air I had just inhaled. There were scales and other vocal exercises. Very quickly, I realised that her teaching worked: I was sustaining notes as I had never done before.
Then it came to the song. For me, there could be only one choice: the tune - if you can call it that - that started punk, 'Anarchy in the UK'. 'Oh yes,' said Sybil, in a refined voice, 'I've got the Never Mind the Bollocks LP.'
During the next hour, she proceeded to strip away my Received Pronunciation vowels. 'No,' she said 'it's not 'I (rhyming with eye) am an Antichrist', it's 'Oi yam an Antichrist-tuh'. Similarly, 'I wanna be' became 'Oi wanna bay', 'Coming' became 'Comin' and so on.
She then emphasised that I needed more contrast in my version of Anarchy - I was becoming too uniformly horrible in my singing. 'I would do the 'Oi wanna bay' a little less heavily,' she said. 'The important word is Anarchy.' By the time we had been through the whole song I was as rotten as Johnny.
I cleared my throat.
Scientists refer to a ceteris paribus change when they alter just one factor in their experiments. Sybil did something similarly scientific with me: we kept the song exactly the same - the only difference was that I would now be singing Anarchy in the UK as an operatic recital. Sybil made me sustain every note and perfectly pronounce every word. 'Cos Oi wanna bay' became 'Because I want to be'. At times it was hard to shrug off Rotten's influence. 'You've got a bit of an 'Oi' in there,' said Sybil.
My lesson ended with an flourish on the last word of the song - 'Destroy'. Sybil had proved her point about the universality of singing techniques. And I realised the truth about the Pistols: forget the public statements - Rotten & Co had nothing to do with chaos and everything to do with music. Good music.
Contact: Sybil Esmore, 081-958 9323
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