Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Sex Pistols - Punk, subversion and refusing to turn a blind eye.

Last night, I watched the documentary 'Never Mind The Baubles: Xmas '77 with the Sex Pistols', which was broadcast on BBC4 on Boxing Day.  It was directed by Julien Temple who was also responsible for the films 'The Great Rock and Roll Swindle' and 'The Filth and the Fury', both focusing on the rise and disintegration of the Sex Pistols.  I could give you a potted biography of the band but if you made it beyond the title to this blog, you already have some idea of the importance of this band.  Whether you like or hate them, they still resonate within the UK culture and are one of the more influential bands.  The documentary focusing on Christmas Day in 1977 where the band holed up in a Huddersfield nightclub all day, performing a live set and helping to host a party for the children of striking firemen in the afternoon and in the evening, performing a live set for the adults was fascinating and helped to reveal a more sentimental side to the band.  Now the live footage in this documentary of the Ivanhoe's gigs and the afternoon party are something else.  Seeing John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) cutting up cake for the kids and seeing the kids pogoing to songs such as 'Bodies' (the lyrics slightly changed to make them a little less aggressive.  Having said that, the irony of singing a song about abortion to a group of kids cannot be escaped).  John Lydon's comment that children understood the music of the Sex Pistols was quite revealing.  He is right, the energy of the music is infectious and if you consider the context in which the songs were performed and released, the importance of the band cannot be underestimated.

The 70s were not the best of times for anyone.  Strikes were the prevalent feature of day to day like in the United Kingdom.  The fireman's strike was one of many long running strikes during a decade that also saw the gravediggers, refuse collectors and miners on strike over pay.  The fact that the Punk movement popped up in the mid 70s was in many respects, a release for the pent up frustrations that had been bubbling under the surface.  The fact that the movement seeped into fashion, youth culture, music and literature could be seen as a necessary scream against a society and Government that had lost touch with the people it purported to support.  The fact that the movement also helped to create a sense of equality between formerly disparate groups should also not be overlooked.  The movement was a celebration of difference, diffidence and innovation.  Like every thing else, it should not be seen in isolation as the Punk ethic was apparent in the USA, particularly within the music scene.  The likes of the Ramones, Blondie and Patti Smith were channelling equally potent energies of apathy and rage.  It also surfaced around Europe.  Of course, as is the case with many sub-cultural groups, it was absorbed into the mainstream within a comparatively short time frame.  The original subversive basis of the movement rendered as meaningful as a stick of chewing gum to be sold.  Having said that particularly thanks to the bands that continued to appear throughout the 70s, the bad decisions made by the Government of the time and the effects that they were having on the general populace continued to be highlighted.

Back to the Sex Pistols, I feel that their music is still relevant and I long for the emergence of a new cultural movement to counterbalance the apathy that pervades the UK culture.  In an age of 'we can make you famous' TV talent shows, high unemployment rates, no pay rises and a coalition Government that is so out of touch with the voting public and its opinions, surely something has to give?  Let's hope it happens soon or else let's make it happen!

Barry Watt - 29th December 2013.


'Never Mind The Baubles: Xmas '77 with the Sex Pistols' is available on BBC iPlayer until 2nd January and is well worth a watch.

The Sex Pistols' seminal album, 'Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols' is available from Virgin Records.  Upon this gem of an album, you will encounter the aforementioned 'Bodies' and may leave your inhibitions at the door.


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