Pistols at dawn of a new era

Rock of ages: More shock 'n roll in store as Seventies anti-heroes make comeback

David Aaronovitch
Sunday 23 October 2011 09:03

It was the usual thing. Loudspeakers played a medley of patriotic numbers from the Second World War, while six-foot transvestite waitresses passed around bacon-burgers, served from metal film canisters. Much what you would expect from a press showing in the red-walled basement of the 100 Club in London's Oxford Street.

About three hundred of us were crushed into this airless hole - with any distinction between passive and active smoking purely academic - to herald the relaunch of the Sex Pistols. Earnest foreigners, holders of degrees and diplomas in the semiology of British rock, rubbed shoulders and everything else with celebrity journalists, photographers and elderly hangers-on from the demi-monde of popular music.

The Bill Grundy interview of 1 December 1976 (a date that will live in infamy) was being reshown. Only five years of the Osmonds and David Cassidy could possibly have gulled Seventies Britain into believing the Pistols were obscene and a threat to society. The fresh-faced Lydon et al, clearly embarrassed, were manipulated into saying "shit" on screen. The credits told us the producer had been a Tony Bulley.

Downwind, behind a wall of expensive aftershave, leather jackets and bouffant hairpieces, came the first approaching sounds of the boys themselves. "Wherr," it went. And "whoa, wigh, whorr". The crowd parted and a small group of nice-looking chaps in early middle age, clutching beer bottles, made their way to a low dais.

So there they were, the anarchists and the anti-christs: John Lydon aka Johnny Rotten, Paul Cook, Glen Matlock and Steve Jones - together again. Lydon, as ever the sharpest, his hair shaped into a "McLaren", attempting to escape upwards from his head, retains the prehensile upper lip and rodentine teeth of his youth. His slightly bulkier frame was squeezed into a sleeveless red hunting jerkin, decorated with horizontal leather tabs beneath which he wore a flowing white chemise. The ensemble could have been borrowed from Cliff's Wuthering Heights.

If Rotten exuded a mellow acerbity, his mates were genuinely avuncular. Uncles Paul and Steve, with their craggy schoolboy looks, are dead-ringers for Robson and Jerome. Uncle Glen reminds one of Joe Bugner. The threat was potent - if you upset them, they might tickle you.

It was question time. Listings agents wanted to know would they be playing Belfast, Glasgow, Milton Keynes, Amsterdam? They would, except for Holland which could "eff off". A French journalist asked if anarchy was returning to the UK? She was (rightly) ignored. What about Sid Vicious (deceased 1979), asked another. "His ashes were scattered at Heathrow, so we'd need a Hoover," replied Lydon. Why do it all over again? "Since we split up no one has done bollocks all to change the world."A bit harsh on Tony Blair. "Sting, will you be playing `Roxanne'," said one wag.

Finally, what about his loyal fans? Did he have a message? He did. "I want you all to come to Finsbury Park [where they will play on 23 June]. I hope it rains and your wheelchairs get stuck in the mud." I would, Johnny, but I've promised to take the kids to a puppet show.

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