Punk – what the hell was that?
In October 1976, a radical new sound arrived: “Anarchy in the UK” – we were being incited to wave two fingers at the system by four blokes screaming at us.
“I know what I want and I know where to get it!” They were Punks. They were the Sex Pistols.
[Music links below, for anyone interested!]
They wore torn clothes, held together by safety pins, their faces were pinned and pierced too. Doctor Marten’s boots were mandatory; strange bum cloths which attached to the jeans belt loops and dangling braces. They looked menacing.
Funny thing is, I never met a bad Punk.
1977, The Queen’s Silver Jubilee, her celebration of 25 years as monarch; she was greeted by: “God Save The Queen” – “The Fascist Regime, She ain’t no human being, They made you a Moron, God Save the Queen, We mean it man!”
Happy Jubilee Ma’am!
From left: Malcolm McLaren, Vivienne Westwood (now Dame Westwood, Johnny Rotten, Nancy Spungeon, Sid Vicious
The 1970s was a decade of huge upheaval in the UK. The three-day week, the miners’ strike, the winter of discontent, piles of rubbish on the pavement. It was a mess.
People were angry and felt disenfranchised by the Government. No jobs, rampant inflation and a dying manufacturing sector. Add to that a very active IRA and the mixture was highly charged.
Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood; Debbie Harry, lead singer of Blondie on the right
So began ‘Punk’.
Punk was not music; the music was an expression of Punk, along with the clothes, the hair, the piercings and the snarls. Punk was a movement of people who felt downtrodden and wanted to express themselves.
Punk, itself, was a time and a place – 1976-1978, England; it was an expression of anger, rebellion and defiance.
The establishment mocked in derision. Punk sneered back, unintimidated.
[On the left is Meat Loaf as Eddie in the film version of The Rocky Horror Show, 1975]
Was it all about the Sex Pistols?
The ‘Pistols’ epitomised so much of what Punk was – but it was better orchestrated than one might think. Malcolm McLaren, the band’s manager saw an opportunity and exploited the anarchic sentiment which was inflaming much of the youth of England. Vivienne Westwood, with whom McLaren lived from the late sixties to early eighties, was the teacher who became the designer and created the “look”.
McLaren had a clothes shop called ‘Sex’ on the Kings Road, Chelsea, London. This was Punk Central. A major influence behind the clothes was The Rocky Horror Show, a rock musical playing a few hundred yards down Kings Road.
Torn t-shirts and jeans, studded leather, bum bags, piercings (often safety pins), chains and outrageous hair were all incorporated into the Punk expression by Westwood who added the tartan.
[Joe Corré, son of McLaren and Westwood founded the international lingerie company, Agent Provocateur. He burned all his Punk memorabilia in November 2016 – it was supposed to be worth about £5million or $8.5million! Punk does not do nostalgia, he said!]
The Sex Pistols was only ever going to be short-lived. Sid Vicious (bass guitarist) and his girlfriend / manager, Nancy Spungeon, were both soon dead.
Vicious was accused of Nancy’s murder in New York late in 1978; he died of a heroin overdose almost the day he emerged from rehab in February 1979.
Johnny Rotten, the lead singer and front man, had had enough of Sid Vicious long before and ended up reinventing the Sex Pistols as Public Image Limited (PiL). It was a pale imitation and the novelty waned.
The oldest punk sound I have heard is Los Saicos out of Lima, Peru in 1965.
This was not Punk, though. Sure, there was and is Punk Music.
Some of the music that resulted was and is fantastic.
Many bands migrated from Punk into “New Wave” and “Post Punk”: The Clash, The Stranglers, Generation X, Souxsie and The Banshees, Ian Dury and the Blockheads to name a few.