The Sex Pistols were probably the single biggest cultural influence in my life – David Bowie would come equal first place for this title if it wasn’t for the punk rock phenomenon that grew directly from The Sex Pistols (also Bowie’s descent into making too many crap records in the 80’s.) I don’t really remember hearing the first two Sex Pistols singles as they weren’t played much on Radio 1 (the only decent radio station at the time) – I do remember being confused at the blank no.2 spot on the charts in the shops when God Save The Queen was banned. It was Pretty Vacant that got the most airplay and it was a revelation to me, then Holidays In The Sun (which even my mum liked!) Then the boldest album I’d ever heard in my life – Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols. I played it and played it and got to know every word, every chord, every drum beat. It’s probably one of the most amazing albums ever made – you don’t get many albums which change a whole culture! Every song is a perfect pop attack of teen anger emotions, social comments or shocking stories – Johnny Rotten’s childhood and teenage angst coming pouring out and connecting with a generation of like-minded young people.
But the music was only half the story – the short hair (EVERYBODY had long hair then – even middle-aged men), the drainpipe trousers, the irreverence for the accepted culture was all a big draw for teenagers desperate for some feeling in an ever-becoming corporate, homogenous world. Johnny Rotten’s rants in the press were as if he were a scrawny wise grumpy old man locked inside a young man’s body. Someone saying “I Wanna Be Me” in a world where it was dangerous to be different. He was a Pied Piper without a doubt and the world was a fresher place with his input – his bile targets were anyone from priests to politicians to rock stars.A lot of the friends I have today I met only because of the movement that started when the Sex Pistols started making waves. I am hardly in touch with anyone I went to school with. But those I met at the 62 Club in Aberdeen when I was 15 years-old are still friends today – we have a bond which seems to transcend other friendships and time doesn’t seem to diminish it. And for a movement with such a violent and anti-social reputation, the punks I know have gone into a variety of caring and community careers – from nursing and social work to teaching and dog-walking – some have trades and work on building sites or on off-shore oil-rigs – they have had the common societal problems of alcoholism, drug addiction, marriage break-up and depression. But they are the best group of people I have ever been involved with – no pretence, no back-stabbing – and support when you need it.
For me, the thing was the community it engendered – the bringing together of a group of kids ready for something away from the factory jobs and ready to challenge the way people should look. It did lead to some problems of course – Aberdeen wasn’t ready for such ostentatious looks and behaviour and I remember getting chased, insulted and ridiculed, even beaten up – and I wasn’t even that outrageous, short hair and ripped t-shirts,pink sunglasses, PVC trousers.
Johnny Rotten left The Sex Pistols after one album and the following releases of singles and a movie were a laughable attempt to cash-in on their popularity. By 1979-80 there was a new generation of punks allied to the newer groups which took a basic grasp of the original energy of punk and made a cohesive unit out of the movement – bands like Discharge and Cockney Rejects – some political, some even disgustingly far-right but all with a fast punk template. This was great for the young kids getting into punk for the first time – but for us older punks (wiser by a mere two or three years) the essence of punk was the developing new music that came out from Indie record labels like Rough Trade. The innovative bands that would make interesting music over the next decade or so came from ex-punks like Julian Cope, Joy Division/New Order, The Fall, Orange Juice, Adam Ant, Siouxsie Sioux and of course, Public Image Limited, Johnny Rotten’s life in music since The Sex Pistols.
After playing punk music for a few years in groups in Aberdeen, The Sex Pistols music was ingrained in me, Tom and Adam. So much so that when Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols bass player) came into a Jasmine Minks rehearsal studios to borrow something, we’d break into Pretty Vacant or God Save The Queen instantly – he probably laughed his socks off, hearing it as he walked out to the studio down the corridor. Me and Adam once asked Matlock to produce a Jasmine Minks single and he loved the idea. But it never happened – pub talk I suppose.