My life in punk (1/2): How it found me and growing up with it

JONES: You dirty sod. You dirty old man!

GRUNDY: Well keep going, chief, keep going. Go on, you’ve got another five seconds. Say something outrageous.

JONES: You dirty bastard!

GRUNDY: Go on, again.

JONES: You dirty fucker!

GRUNDY: What a clever boy!

JONES: What a fucking rotter.

It was nearly 47 years ago, 1st December 1976, that the above words brought to an end a live interview with the Sex Pistols on the Today show, Thames Television’s regional news programme shown in the London area. The interview (by Bill Grundy) and the hysterical press aftermath not only cemented the Pistol’s status in TV folklore but also catapulted punk rock into the consciousness of teenagers all over the UK and ultimately the world.

As a 17-year-old living in Portsmouth at the time I found the whole furore very exciting, never mind the swearing I found it incredibly funny that Steve Jones had called Grundy a “rotter”, who on earth used terms like that in 1976?

At that time, it was difficult to even hear punk music. There was no social media like today, no playing of punk music on daytime radio in case it offended listeners, the only person playing punk music on the BBC was the immortal John Peel. Between the hours of 10.00 pm – 12.00 pm I, like many others, would be glued to the radio with my tape recorder ready to tape the latest punk releases off of the Peel show.

The main place to buy punk records in Portsmouth was at HMV in the city Centre. Every Saturday I would make the trip there to see what new records they had in. If we were really lucky, my mate’s mum would let us pile into her car and drive to Southampton, where the Virgin record shop had a much larger and rarer selection of discs on offer. Any new releases were quickly snapped up, there were more and more punk bands forming, the Sex Pistols were obviously head and shoulders above everybody else but there were other great bands making records such as The Clash, Buzzcocks, The Damned, The Adverts and X Ray Spex. One of my particular favourites was Television Screen by the Irish band Radiators From Space, 1 minute 50 seconds of complete punk thrash and chaos, for me this song encapsulated everything I wanted punk to be.

As I said there was no social media or internet at this time, any information about bands we got through the music press. At the time the music press consisted of a number of titles, New Musical Express (NME), Sounds, Melody Maker and Record Mirror. All of them supported and reported on punk except Melody Maker who were a bit snobbish about it and preferred the real, grown up acts. Every week I would be at the newsagents buying all the titles (except Melody Maker) to find out who was releasing a record or touring. Buying a ticket for a gig was also much easier back then. You found out where a band was playing and simply went to the venue box office (or local record shop if they sold tickets) and paid for the ticket, no booking or admin fees involved unlike today.

The great thing about punk was that it was a fairly broad church and opened the doors for many quirky bands such as The Rezillos (sci-fi pop punk from Edinburgh) and Wreckless Eric who may not have gotten the attention otherwise. I also started to explore the American side of things, I loved the Ramones (who didn’t?) but also developed a lifelong addiction to Johnny Thunders and his Heartbreakers, was blown away by the first Suicide album (so many years ahead of it’s time) and was captivated by punks first real pin up Debbie Harry and the band Blondie.

Punk clothing was also hard to get hold of (unless you lived in London of course), I could get drainpipe trousers from a stall in the market that sold Teddy Boy clothes and I persuaded my mum to let me get a leather motorcycle jacket from her catalogue for which I paid her monthly. You would see adverts in the music press for punk clothes, I bought a couple of items, but they were of questionable quality so the easiest thing to so was make your own. Get a t shirt or jacket, paint slogans on it and customize it with zips.

Going out dressed in your punk finery was a bit of a gamble at times, at best you would be verbally abused (which happened most of the time) or at worst physically attacked. It was therefore important to find like-minded people to go out with for a bit of mutual protection. Contrary to popular belief at that time, punk gigs were not particularly violent (unless you went to see Sham 69 which was very scary at times) just a lot of kids out for a good time and enjoying themselves.

Throughout 1977 the Sex Pistols ruled supreme, God Save The Queen, Pretty Vacant and Holidays In The Sun were all formidable singles, GSTQ causing great controversy at the time of the Queens Silver Jubilee. It was banned from all radio play, and there is a school of thought that there was a conspiracy to stop the single reaching number 1 in the music charts.

The Pistols also parted company with bassist Glen Matlock who was replaced by Sid Vicious. Replacing someone who could play with someone who couldn’t was not a good move. Sid’s propensity to cause chaos wherever he went also did not help the band, especially when he began using heroin. At the end of the band’s USA tour in January 1978 they disintegrated, Sid heading off to hospital, Johnny off to contemplate a future with PIL and Cook and Jones off to Brazil to record with Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs (punk does have a sense of humour).

The second album by the Clash, Give ‘Em Enough Rope was released towards the end of 1978 and signalled that the band were moving away from conventional punk constraints as they started to explore different styles which culminated in their tour de force London Calling double album in 1979. The Damned went on what seemed to be a merry-go-round of splitting up and reforming before releasing the critically well received Machine Gun Etiquette album in 1979.

As punk headed into the 80s it seemed quite fractured and Two Tone was taking over the world and its youth. In the UK, punk was hanging on and mutating into different styles. I found myself losing faith in punk, some of it was getting quite silly and far away from what punk originally stood for. I really could not identify with groups like Splodgenessabounds singing Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps please.

How my experience with punk continued over the 80s and how I feel about the scene you can find in part 2.

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