Rock: Never mind the Beatles, here's the Sex Pistols (again)

Nicholas Barber
Sunday 23 October 2011 08:17

THE Nineties has been the decade of rock-band reunions, of monstrous egos deciding that the stage might be big enough for the both of them after all. But even as Television and The Velvet Underground told the press that it was time to exorcise ghosts, reclaim their leg- acy from imitators, and, oh all right, make a few quid while they were at it, those of us with nothing better to talk about in the pub declared that there were two bands that would never kiss and make up: the Beatles and the Sex Pistols. So much for the Beatles. Still, the Pistols ... Sid Vicious was dead, John Lydon (aka Rotten) wished that Glen Matlock was dead, and the band hated rock dinosaurs almost as much as they hated each other. Their past was untouchable. And so, at the 100 Club on Monday, Lydon said: "When someone says something's so sacrosanct that it can't be touched, I wanna touch it."

The 100 Club is where Vicious half-blinded a girl with a broken glass (allegedly). Now, a notice in the doorway advertises The London Swing Society: "Stompin' dance music from the Thirties/Forties/Fifties. Learn to jitterbug." Downstairs in the club, drag artists carried trays of smoked-salmon bagels. The ironies were everywhere, but Lydon is so fond of irony, contradictions and flouting expectations, that it's impossible to turn any of them against him.

The only real difference between this and any other press conference was that it was entertaining. At the Beatles Anthology launch, there weren't even any Beatles present. At this one, promoting a tour, a live album, but no new material, there were four Sex Pistols, hundreds of laughing journalists, and at least two spluttering with rage.

The band sat behind a lectern festooned with an updated Pistols flag. (Diana replaced the Queen at the centre of the Union Jack; the trademark blackmail-note lettering across her eyes read "Queen of Tarts".) John Lydon was immediately recognisable as the one who has been living in America. Hair like a plate of spaghetti, he wore a designer Captain Scarlet jerkin over a white shirt. Paul Cook was a Bash Street Kid, Steve Jones an old greaser, and Glen Matlock the Respectable One, with a suit beneath his leather jacket. Sid Vicious, who replaced Matlock on bass, died in 1979. As his ashes are drifting around Heathrow airport, said Lydon, the band would have needed a Hoover to bring him along.

If Lydon's looks have changed, his attitude hasn't. A Finnish journalist said that last time round, the Pistols weren't allowed to play in his home country, and this time they are. What does that say about progress? "It says nothing at all. Nobody cares about Finland." What should we call him, came another question, Rotten or Lydon? "You'll call me `sir'." Green Day, the American neo-punks, were written off as "childish prattle", the Buzzcocks as "geriatrics". Fergie is "The Clash of the Royal Family", The Clash are "The Clap", and they would reform next year: "They always did everything a year after us."

I left with surprisingly positive feelings about the reunion. Maybe I'm too young to remember how "important" the band were - I was only a few years out of nappies when people put safety pins through their noses. All I know is that the Pistols talk a good fight, they refuse to be boring, and they are as funny as ever (they were always very funny). Prepare for stompin' dance music from the Seventies. Learn to pogo.

Romo is the new pop movement hyped religiously by the music weekly Melody Maker. Tired of scruffy Britpop bands in Adidas tops, the Maker's journalists decided that rather than seeking out other forms of music, they would invent their own. They took the early Eighties New Romantics as their inspiration, and advocated a style based on a child's view of what pop stardom is all about: lots of make-up, bleached haircuts, making stadium gestures in front of crowds of 20 people, designing your logo and slogans before you've written your songs.

A few of the groups that fulfil these requirements have been on a package tour, cutely titled Fiddling While Romo Burns. As the Maker's rival, the NME, reported gloatingly, the tour has failed even to catch light. On Wednesday the LA2 was busier than the other venues on the itinerary have been - London being the town where the scene originated - if emptier than I've ever seen it before. But to be fair, what do you expect? The bands on the bill have just one single out between them. Those bands were Viva, who play decent pop fronted by a Tony-Hadley lookalike; Dexdexter, who steal the jerky, quirky Wire and Blondie tracks left behind by Elastica; Hollywood, a sombre synth-disco duo who resemble the female singers in the Human League; Orlando, whose grasp of Boy Band melodies merits them the epithet The Ugly Take That; and Plastic Fantastic, who begin with early Roxy Music art rock with hyperactive monkey vocals, and slide depressingly into a bog of psychedelic prog rock. These Romos: if they believe in glorious Technicolor pop, why are the songs so long and gloomy? If they want to be modernist, why are they so old-fashioned? And, more bafflingly, why do the lead singers keep holding balloons over their heads?

Still, none of the bands lacks talent. Given time to develop separately from each other, and preferably separate from demanding journalists, they could all be the stars they imagine themselves to be.

Finally, just room for my monthly mini-plug of Moloko, who infected London's Subterrania club with their hallucinatory trip-hop on Thursday. Mo- loko (Russian for milk, and also the drink in A Clockwork Orange) are a Sheffield duo mutated into an eight-piece live band: guitar, keyboards, jazzy electric piano, dub bass, funky drums, and three of Royson Murphy's multiple personalities.

Murphy is already a star. A clumping Bride of Frankenstein, her chilling voice morphs from seductive alien to demented duchess as she spouts her polluted-stream-of-consciousness lyrics. If Portishead produce music for noir films that haven't been made, Moloko are soundtracking Troma schlock- horror flicks - and still managing to sound like a commercial pop group. Buy their album: you know it doesn't make sense.

Sex Pistols: Finsbury Park, N4 (0171 344 0044), 23 June; Glasgow SECC (0141 248 9999), 16 July.

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