How Punk Changed My Life

For some, the anarchic music scene defined by Malcolm McLaren and the Sex Pistols was terrifying. For others it was an inspiration. They tell their stories to Rob Sharp

Saturday 10 April 2010 00:00 BST

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas



Lead singer with The Vibrators, played at the 100 Club Punk Festival along with the Sex Pistols in 1976.

John "Eddie" Edwards, our drummer, was there when the Sex Pistols played their first gig at St Martin's Art College in November 1975. The pub rock band Bazooka Joe were supporting, and Eddie had been driving them around on tour.

I'd been in a few bands already and Eddie and I decided to have some rehearsals with our guitarist John [Ellis] in Eddie's garage. We were into the Velvet Underground and Iggy Pop; Eddie liked the Rolling Stones. We started the band soon afterwards, first with covers, then doing our own songs.

But I don't think the punk sounds, in my case, came from the Pistols. I'd always done that aggressive stuff – I think it's in my nature. But we were included under that umbrella term punk rock. Punk was a big deal – you got a lot of attention because of it. You'd get work because you were in a punk band. It was a shame that the press chose to write about all the violence, though that came much later. There was that gig at the 100 Club where a girl lost an eye. That wasn't so great; the music was supposed to be fun, but that gave it a nasty edge.

People think the Sex Pistols set off the trend for the clothes, but a lot of people, like the Ramones, were wearing leather jackets already, though I suppose Malcolm McLaren made it exciting. It's great that we're still playing punk. It's still going on.

Wherever you go in the road, if you meet another punk you can go up to them and have a conversation. It's a great community.

I sometimes get the impression when you see punk music emerging in these horrible countries with totalitarian regimes that they are on the way to having democracy.

Princess Julia

ex-punk, DJ

I was 16 and living in London when punk exploded. I was working as a hairdresser and used to save up my tips and buy clothes from Sex; I had a pair of bondage trousers. It was the coolest shop really. A girl I worked with called Kiki was going out with Paul Cook, who was in the Sex Pistols, so we'd go to punk gigs.

That look was the main source of inspiration for the style I still have now. I remember seeing the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie Sioux being interviewed by Bill Grundy in 1976; it was really exciting. It was all part of this wave of culture, starting in the early 1970s with glam, then Ziggy Stardust and all the rockers and Teddy boys. But when punk came along no one really called it punk; all the people I hung around with were at art school or were involved in fashion, or creative people interested in rebelling. It was complemented by the music but the actual scene didn't last very long. It did, however, send big ripples across the pond. Then people started getting into the charts and the New Romantic scene was made up of a lot of people who were originally punks. It was a time of experimentation, especially with the music. Then there were those who did punk by numbers. But it was still a great time.

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Alan McGee

Music industry executive, former head of Creation Records

If it wasn't for Malcolm McLaren bringing punk over from the US in 1975, [fellow Glasgow musician] Bobby Gillespie and I would never have got out of Glasgow.

We played in a punk band together for a short while, the Drains. It was all part of the same impetus to take control: it made Creation Records, my label, possible, something people like Bobby Gillespie and I were the driving force behind. We attracted like-minded souls like the Gallagher brothers. Without Malcolm, Bobby and I wouldn't have had a job, and I wouldn't have ended up launching the biggest band in the world.

Malcolm was clever, although I'd always appreciated it from afar. I met Malcolm for the first time way after punk had finished, in 1995. He was a complete visionary. He was talking about MP3s taking over the music industry about 10 years before it happened – that was punk all over.

As a kid I was into The Clash but punk only became an obsession, bizarrely, when I got older. At the time I didn't really appreciate it. Now it's much more important to me. I can quantify it. Then I couldn't really understand how significant it was. With Malcolm, though, he always believed in it, and that spoke to a lot of people. Punk was an important cultural paradigm.

Eugene Butcher

Editor of Britain's leading punk and hard rock magazine Big Cheese

I first came across punk in 1977 when I was living in New Zealand. We'd always hear about everything after everyone else; we'd wait two months for the new Clash video or a copy of the NME arriving by boat.

But we'd head down to the second-hand shop and get a knackered old jacket and put safety pins in it. I got a job, working in the advertising department of a newspaper, but every evening I would put on my leather jacket and my drainpipes and we'd go off and listen to the Sex Pistols or I'd get together with some mates and try and bash out some tunes. We were copying what was going in England; in a way we had similar trouble. In between playing our gigs, we'd have to avoid being beaten up by the local Maori gangs because we stood out like sore thumbs.

The music was always the key. It was teenage rebellion; we wanted to rally against the system like most teenagers do. We saw all these bands, like the Ramones, and it made us want to move to London. I arrived in the early 1980s and went straight to the 100 Club where the remaining punk bands would play.

I still consider myself a punk; I'll consider myself a punk rocker until the day I die. It's a lifestyle choice, like mod culture, and biker culture; if you fall in love with something, that's it. I still go to the Rebellion festival in Blackpool – there you'll find punks from six to 60. Malcolm McLaren and the early purveyors of punk opened people's eyes to the fact that there was something different to Led Zeppelin – you could have your own limits and everything has value.

Chris Sullivan

Co-editor of anthology, Punk

In the early 1970s I arrived in London from south Wales. Life was no picnic. Even to have short hair would mean you'd get into all kinds of violence.

My friends and I were from a small town, and we were bored – we'd started looking further afield, in Cardiff, then Newport, then ended up in London. I was only 16, and was walking down the King's Road when I happened on Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood's shop, Sex it was called. Then things all changed. Malcolm and Vivienne were always encouraging people to hang out.

In many ways, the music was immaterial. It was all about doing something different. It was about being opposed to what everyone was feeling in England in the mid-1970s – a pretty beige place. There is this caricature of punk – you know, people with pink hair – but very few of the original punks adhered to that. They were more a bunch of individuals who hung around together. Now, I still haven't got a proper job.

Punk gave people a DIY ethic. That way of living has permeated my entire life and that of so many others, people like Jonathan Ross and those who created ID and The Face. It was a period that opened the doors and said, "Do it yourself". All that stuff like being in a band, being a writer, filming pop promos seemed liked it was out of the reach of the working class before then. Coming from south Wales you felt like you'd cracked it if you became a plumber or electrician. That's why the 1980s were such a creative period. Punk told you not to take orders from the man, though I hate that phrase.

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