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  • Writer's pictureMark Howitt

The Filth and the Fury


The sixties have been given notice tonight.

Those kids have assassinated all hope. They're the fucking future.

The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi, 1990

I'm part way through watching Pistol, the Danny Boyle dramatisation of the rise and fall of the Sex Pistols. Episode 3 is titled Bodies so I had an idea that the subject matter might be the song of the same name.


I never used to listen to lyrics, not actively concentrate on them anyway. It may have been that they lyrics of the music I was listening to were incomprehensible. It's only now with the benefit of the internet that I can work out what Simple Minds' Jim Kerr was singing on Love Song - and it wasn't worth the 40 year wait. Even some of my beloved © Dexys lyrics are hard to make out (sorry, Kev).


I've always either liked a song or not liked it, I don't need to sit down and study the lyrics to make that decision. If I'd done that I'd never have got into The Fall and who knows what direction my life might then have taken. To quote the late Hamilton Bohannon "the message is in the music".


But with Bodies you can't fail to hear John Lydon's snarling voice tell the wretched tale of Pauline. "She was a no-one who killed her baby / She sent her letters from the country" Played with a fury that suggest that the Fab Four (Lydon together with Steve Jones, Glen Matlock and Paul Cook) thought this was their last day on earth or - at the very least - were in a rush to catch the last bus home, it powers along for 3 minutes with velocity and venom in equal measure.


It never crossed my mind that the song was inspired by true - but tragic - events. And of course it may not have been, but the TV show creates a compelling back story.

***

I was 12 when the Sex Pistols' God Save The Queen was released and was edged out from the number one slot by the distinctly un-punk Rod Stewart. I doubt I heard it at the time since it wasn't played by the likes of the Dave Lee Travis ("The Hairy Cornflake"), David "The Kid" Jensen or any of the other talentless buffoons who somehow gained employment at BBC Radio 1.


My introduction to the Sex Pistols was probably The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, released in 1979, a soundtrack album to the film of the same name. But by this time, it was all over; Glen Matlock had long since been replaced by Sid Vicious, John Lydon had effectively brought an end to the Pistols by walking offstage in San Francisco in January 1978 and the album - a double album no less! - is a mishmash of half-arsed cover versions, demos which should never have seen the light of day and pointless orchestral versions of Pistols originals. Rather inconveniently - or perhaps from the perspective of the Pistols maverick manager Malcolm McLaren, highly conveniently - Sid took his life 3 weeks before the album hit the shop shelves.


It was the equivalent of flogging a dead horse. In fact, Flogging A Dead Horse was the name McLaren gave to the Pistols third album, an even sorrier collection of previously available material, released in February 1980. During his lifetime Malc got a lot of stick but god loves a trier.

***

If you search online for a Sex Pistols discography, you'll find that they have "recorded" almost 20 albums. But once the soundtracks, compilations and live efforts are dicarded we're left with one: Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols.


By the time Never Mind The Bollocks was available for sale in the few shops that would stock it in October 1977, it was already all over anyway. Glen Matlock always seemed - to me, an accountant, so not best placed to judge - the least punk of the four of them. Nevertheless Sid Vicious (a) couldn't play bass and (b) was a complete tool. In contrast Matlock (a) was an acomplished bass player and (b) co-wrote most of the tracks on the Pistols debut (and only studio) album. Kicking Matlock out of the band and replacing him with Sid was the most cynical thing McLaren ever did.


All that remained after the album's release were a few concerts in the Netherlands and England, the Christmas Day benefit matinee for children of striking fireman of Huddersfield (brings tears to my eyes every time I watch it) and the catastrophic tour of the US ending up at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. Ever feel you've been cheated?

A shambles. But we have Never Mind The Bollocks to remind us of the filth and the fury. Such was the outrage from the establishment at the time, McLaren had to hawk it round six record companies until Dickie Branson agreed to release it on Virgin Records. It's glorious and 45 years on still sounds utterly mental. No other album stops me in my tracks when I hear it and while in later years Lydon was unable to believe it wasn't butter, he was spot on about the monarchy:

God save the Queen

She ain't no human being There is no future In England's dreaming

***

So, is the TV show Pistol any good?

Lydon is reportedly upset about the use of the Pistols music and there will be many old skool punks (I know one) who will criticise the glamourisation of the scene. There's a Carry On feel to it right enough, but punk was never to be taken seriously.

I'm enjoying it, in particular joining the dots between everyone else who was around at the time. I didn't know for example that Chrissie Hynde worked at McLaren and Vivienne Westwood's SEX boutique and was chums with Steve Jones. Although he hasn't been name checked I wasn't aware that Julian Temple was involved in documenting the Pistols from such an early stage and I was saddened to learn at the end of episode 2 that Jordan (the original Jordan that is) died earlier this year.

Toby Wallace as Steve Jones seems a bit lumbering but in fairness I don't know what Jonesy (was he really called Jonesy?) is/was like in real life. Anson Boon is superb as Lydon, and Talulah Riley & Thomas Brodie-Sangster were surely born to play Vivienne Westwood & Malcolm McLaren. All in all, top notch entertainment.

In the UK Pistol is being shown on Disney+, the home of Mickey Mouse. Malc would have loved that.

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