Scandinavia takes on the Sex Pistols
Ross Stapleton takes his typewriter
Dennis Morris takes pictures
LAST TIME the Sex Pistols flew out of London they allegedly left behind "a trail of four-letter words" and vomit that filled London's daily papers for the next few days. Whether it really happened the way they breathlessly reported is now irrelevant, but when the Pistols departed for Copenhagen two weeks ago to start a month long secret (sic) Scandinavian tour, they weren't taking any chances. This time nobody outside the group and their record company was aware of their precise departure. Result. The dailies missed joining the flight but they didn't miss the bus altogether.
"Reporters found them at London's Heathrow Airport - and before long the four-man group was hurling seats around in a departure room. Almost every question received an obscene reply . . . and in one of the politest moments Johnny Rotten said: "I ain 't interested in talking to fabricated people": The group threatened to smash the camera of one newsman with the words 'Have you ever heard the sound of smashing glass - like a camera lens?' - Daily Mirror.
Pretty remarkable journalism when you consider that as soon as Sid Vicious, who was running late, arrived at Heathrow he turned straight around and headed back into London to retrieve his passport which he had forgotten. Yet he was supposed to have joined the others in hurling seats around a departure room. Sid was left to catch a later flight, blissfully unaware that he had also been threatening to duff up a cameraman.
The Pistols first live dates for months (discounting the abortive Thames river party performance) came together at the last moment, and for the group which has become increasingly frustrated by an inability to play even Joe's corner hamburger cart, the chance to hit the road was seized on enthusiastically by the band and manager Malcolm McLaren. But McLaren spent the early days of the tour in America, while the band soldiered on.
And, when I arrived in Copenhagen the morning after the first of their two gigs (which comprised the first leg of the tour) I soon learnt that the band was far from happy with how things were going. As I checked into the Plaza Hotel opposite the giant Tivoli Gardens amusement park, I could have been forgiven for thinking that the hotel was an extension of the Tivoli. Up to the reception desk strode an aggressively impressive British business type, a man used to having his own way, and to his special form of snobbery: for punk substitute 'puke'.
"I am absolutely aghast to learn that you have the Sex Pistols staying in this hotel. How could you let them stay here?"
Before the hapless manager could reply our Brave Briton blustered on: "You know they are banned everywhere in Britain. They insult the Queen. My main objection is to the language they use on television. What concerns me most of all is the fact they are British."
The manager told him that many music people had stayed at the hotel including among others Rod Stewart, Bryan Ferry, Abba and Fats Domino. "The Bay City Rollers were the worst we had here, we had to have the police in, but the Sex Pistols have given us no concern for their behaviour."
When guitarist Steve Jones heard about his compatriot's remarks he was interested to know if the good man might still be lodging at said hotel so that they could perhaps arrange a suitable reward for his courteous attention to their well-being. But it was not to be, the man had fled.
Both Rotten and Sid Vicious slept well until afternoon, while Jones and Paul Cook had been up and about since midday. Upon their return they were greeted with the news that they were to appear on Top Of The Pops that night and that Fleet Street thought it stank.
'EVERYTHING WE do is part of what we're about, so if the image does hamper the music then that's tough'
Fleet Street also had been busy running a story saying that Paul Cook was living with the Penthouse Pet of the Year. As Laurie Dunn from Virgin told the Pistols' drummer what the papers said, Cook replied: "I'm what? With whom?" Hardly believing his luck he inquired as to whether he could obtain her phone number and perhaps they could get something together so that the papers wouldn't feel cheated. He was certainly willing, as Steve pondered the fact that she was certain to have giant jugs.
On a more down to earth matter, the band were all agreed that the equipment on the opening night of the tour was well below par and some hasty arrangements were made to change over parts of it so that Rotten's vocal wouldn't be buried as it had on the first night.
While both Jones and Cook seemed to be respponding ding well enough to the rigours of being on the road, both Rotten and Vicious were finding it decidedly unhealthy.
Before the sound check Rotten and Vicious accompanied by Laurie Dunn and myself decided to grab something to eat. As we made our way through the throngs of people heading home after a day's work, it was interesting to note the look of concern, shock, horror and even recognition as our party passed by.
We went into a Danish McDonalds-type fast food factory, but our heroes didn't appreciate the decor or the wait in a queue and decided to sup at the railway restaurant opposite our hotel. During the meal, Sid who had slept for 16 hours straight, still felt unbelievably tired. He said he couldn't possibly last out the tour, and he expected to expire before very many more dates.
WHEN WE arrived at Daddy's Dancehall, its facade resembling an out of work ballet theatre, the interior resembling a tatty night club cum disco with tables and chairs in a U formation around a small dance area, the fans were waiting, but none pounced.
Danish punk fans are a curious bunch. Not as blatantly outlandish visually as their British cousins, where they really fall way behind is in their incredible reticence. As we walked into Daddy's Dancehall not one of the fans approached the two Pistols, never even muttered a word to them, only to each other. When Sid was to say later that he found Danish girls "incredibly ugly" he was probably speaking more from the bitter feeling of not being pursued by fans, despite the odd glaring example to support his view.
Johnny Rotten was also none too keen on their Danish fans. Sid went even further and said absolutely everything in Copenhagen made him sick. Did they think the economically well-off Danish fan could appreciate a band who sings about anarchy and related subjects?
"No one anywhere can appreciate anarchy. They're just following it here because they think it's a big fashion," Sid replied.
'Anarchy In The UK' introduced the Sex Pistols to a surprising non-capacity audience. Virtually straight off Johnny Rotten had trouble with his voice . Indeed after the gig his voice was so shot that by the end of the post-gig meal he found it hurt to talk. It's hardly surprising though with the effort he puts into it.
I was able to witness Johnny Rotten under the microscope of live performance for the first time, and what I saw fascinated me. Even Iggy Pop at his most manic could not compare with J. Rotten for the most chillingly manic, dangerously demented vocalist since even God wouldn't know when.
Rotten tears his throat into a thousand pieces, with his face keeping close time with his eyes which look totally crazed. It scares the shit out of you!
He moves around the stage like some twitching convulsive who seems to be waiting to pounce on the first person who notices his freak condition. Freaky but fascinating and although he doesn't move with the timing of a Jagger or hit the notes of a Plant, Rotten puts more effort into a forty minute set than Led Zeppelin total in a three-and-a-half-hour performance.
His eyes look so glazed, his menace so unbelievably disturbing, that you seriously wonder if there isn't some sort of alien, pathological monster straining inside him to get out.
I don't believe that even in good voice Johnny Rotten will ever be even a good singer in the accepted sense but he's a truly original vocal stylist. Put all that he does on stage together and you have an enigmatic performer able to capture the attention of even the Pistols bitterest musical detractors.
And while we're actually on the subject of the Pistols live performance guitarist Steve Jones' crucial contribution is being constantly overlooked, both on record and on the road. Jones became a guitarist almost by accident but he puts out those big chunky chords that many think Keith Richard has a patent on with the authority of the man himself. Listen to the three singles, particularly the intro to "Pretty Vacant" and you'll hear some of the best no-bullshit playing in a decade.
Paul Cook ain't no John Bonham nor would he want to be and Sid Vicious is at best dead ordinary on bass, but when you mix the raw ingredients all together you have the ballsiest band in Britain.
Considering it was only Sid's fifth gig with the band it was understand able that he should feel daunted by a projected month-long string of dates. His insecurity showed when I asked him if he could foresee a time when the band and manager Malcolm McLaren might part company. Sid replied: "It's me they ought to get rid of first. I'm f-----g useless. I can't do anything."
Despite Sid's modesty he nearly sorted out a couple of people at the front who insisted on throwing bottles towards the stage, by threatening to come down and personally beat their brains in.
The audience was too well dressed and affluent to be a Sex Pistols audience and its luke-warm response obviously affected the band. So when the set finally finished on 'No Fun' with Johnny Rotten adding as the last bar died "and it wasn't", the band's depression was understandable.
'MALCOLM,I honestly hate. I'm going to beat him up when he comes back from America'
ABOUT EIGHT of us trooped off to a nearby hotel for an early morning reviver (Steve Jones and Paul Cook preferred hotel peace and quiet), and after pleasantries had been exchanged about the gig, Rotten and Vicious consented to be interviewed - a rarity, these days.
The current raves the Pistols are winning with the release of 'Pretty Vacant' are being taken with a family size grain of salt. How did they see 'Vacant's critical acceptance?
"Yeah well it's just the big buildup before the come down," John said, "but all that counts is the music - the rest is just bullshit."
"Petty arseholes never succeed," Sid added.
"Apart from Elton John, Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart and Bryan Ferry," John countered.
There is little doubt that people are only just starting to take the Pistols seriously as musicians. Somewhat unconventional perhaps, the group themselves wouldn't rate each other as technical virtuosi, but they do have incredible style, combined with a simply amazing facility for writing blockbuster classic singles, that makes the Pistols Britain's first truly exciting and innovative band of the 70's.
Innovative in that they have helped create the musical revolution of punk rock which has revitalised the whole recording industry.
I think in years to come critics and fans alike will look back and see the first three Pistols singles as the greatest debut singles trilogy of any British band and that includes the Beatles, Stones, Who and anyone else you care to name.
"In 10 years time everybody will all say they bought the singles when they came out," said John.
"Everything we do is part of what we're about, so if the image does hamper the music then that's tough ," Sid thought. To this and a number of other questions Sid frequently added that he 'couldn't really give a shit'.
You keep saying you don't give a shit Sid. It's very easy to say but do you?
"No I don't, no."
"What can you do about it. Go out and beat up the audience because they didn't like you?" John said.
I suggested that at one stage during the gig I thought Sid might do just that.
John made it clear they just didn't fancy bottles being thrown at them by stupid people who thought that's what they expected from their audiences.
"Well, did they like being gobbed on?
"No, who does?" John answered. "What kinda f-----g idiot would like that?"
We switched to the subject of the attacks on Rotten and Cook and Rotten claims he was angry about a press statement saying how the band was seriously considering leaving Britain because it was no longer a safe place for them to live. He didn't totally dismiss the idea of leaving Britain but both he and Sid gave a different reason for possibly departing English shores.
"We are just so bored in England we can't exist. It's impossibly boring. I'm coming to the point where I can't take any more," Sid volunteered.
John considered America as a possibility. It might not be so boring, mainly because they haven't been there yet.
Johnny Rotten can be an impossible person to interview for any number of reasons, all different from those that makes Sid Vicious equally difficult .
Sid's answers tend to mix up what he really thinks with saying something for the sheer hell of it.
John on the other hand is the product of many years of being put down for choosing to go his own way in his own time. He has had to take bumps - he's taking them more than ever at the moment. It has taught him to be cynical even in the face of overwhelming goodwill. When he confronts a stranger he takes his time in sussing them out, and reacts accordingly.
'WE ARE just so bored in England we can't exist. It's impossibly boring. I'm coming to the point where I can't take anymore.'
John Rotten is far more intense than Sid, who is more likely to say something he doesn't believe in.
Sid is there ever a time when you actually say something and mean it?
"Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. It's up to you to interpret."
Didn't he see it as pointless to tell someone something even though he didn't believe a word he said?
Johnny Rotten took up the cudgel at this point. "I do because I've been doing it now for two years and it's sickening. No one ever wants to know do they?"
He actually thought I was sitting there talking to them without really being interested in their opinions?
"I don't know, but some areshole reading this at the other end isn't going to like it. They're just going to pick up bits they want to read, so you might as well give up and not give them anything."
At this point some people started jumping up outside the window to look in over the top of the curtain to catch a squint of the notorious Pistols. Did behaviour like that make them feel like a travelling freak show?
Sid thought they were just stupid and he didn't feel like a freak.
"I just see myself as an ordinary person."
Did they find that people are intimidated by whatever they have read or heard about the Pistols?
Sid said he never picked up on things like that, although sometimes after a meeting, someone else would tell him "you really frightened that person".
"It's not about violence, it's about being yourself and doing what you want to do, and being left alone to yourself," John said.
But didn't he think punks are associated with violence by others?
"It's because people don't know what the hell you're about. They can't understand it."
Steve Jones had said earlier he liked the band to be identified as a punk band, which brought forth abuse. I remarked that from speaking to the various members of the band, and Malcolm McLaren, that depending on who wasn't within earshot, they all dumped on each other from a great height.
"We all hate each other's guts and 'take the piss out of each other," Sid reflected. "But that's what makes it fun though."
Surely they couldn't hate each other's guts or they wouldn't last together for five minutes?
John said he thought it was the other way around.
Sid: "We hate each other so much it works out. After we signed the A&M contract, we were all riding in the back of this big limousine pissed out of our heads. Me and John beat Cook up, giving him a black eye - it was a right laugh. Malcolm's over in one corner screaming "help, help" (affects hysterical high-pitched voice) and we were all beating the f--- out of each other.
"Then Steve got hold of my leg and put it on the floor and he nearly broke both of my legs because he's so strong, and I was screaming my head off.
"It was a right laugh," John recalled.
How did it start?
"I think Cook said something and I tried to hit him and I fell on the floor because I was so drunk and then we both steamed into him," Sid recounted.
If they hate each other's guts how do they get on with Malcolm McLaren?
"Malcolm I honestly hate. I'm going to beat him up when he comes back from America," said Sid.
Any particular reason?
John answered in the negative though when I asked him if he and Malcolm McLaren have competing egos.
Finally we broached the subject of Top of the Pops. Johnny Rotten made it very clear he was most displeased that the 'Pretty Vacant' film was put on. Surely one of the strangest moments in the history of British rock! "they did it without my permission and this I cannot abide. Nobody does something like that behind my back."
Did he have an understanding that it wouldn't be shown, a case of saying sod the BBC we don't want them?
"Yeah. We don't need them and we can exist without that crappy old fashioned...
If they won't take 'God Save The Queen' then they won't have 'Vacant'?
Do you feel you've been let down then?
Who do you blame? Virgin?
I wondered if the band proposed to start filming the Sex Pistols feature length film when the Scandinavian tour was completed?
"If I want," he said.
How about the others, didn't they have a say?
"If they want. I'm just in charge of my own destiny. If I don't want to do it I won't. But it doesn't stop them. They can always get some actor."
A Johnny Rotten lookalike?
"Yes a Paul Newman type."
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