The Sex Pistols in Penzance (Secretly)
1st September, 1977
London : Penzance
Kings Road : Market Jew Street
Seditionaries : Drews’ Gentleman’s Outfitters
The 100 Club : The Winter Gardens, commonly ‘The Wints’
‘The walls were the colour of my ennui’. And they were. YES, ELP, Led Zep with triple albums of cosmic concepts, we waited… and waited… and waited.
The damn must burst and burst it did. Let the zeitgeist be, as we knew it must. The murmurings in NME, the blood spilled from a savaged, McGowan ear, fights and nipples, and bondage and sex, and amphetamines; we picked daffodils, swam and breasted waves, waiting, and waiting.
We’d seen the Who at Charlton and thought, “Who’ll be the new Who…”?
At Poly, I heard New Rose – and some of us went “Yeah” and some went, “Want Deep Purple in Rock”… but really, all these years later, wasn’t it the same?
The Pistols did bad things. The Pistols said bad things. The Pistols said true things, and we recognise the truth when we hear it, don’t we? “Don’t Get Fooled Again”, said the cynic in me, but I liked what I heard and I bought the singles, as I cursed the monarchy and the establishment that kept it afloat.
Banned! Too much truth - not good for democracy, and, anyway, young people need to study and learn and that’s truth too. Teacher, leave them kids alone? Too late, now!
So that summer of ’77, we swam and picked daffs, and got suntans, and drank, and played cricket on the beach, and mingled with Swedish exchange students, and had parties on the seashore.
The Wints: A bar on one side, the stage up front and a capacity of 250. Maybe my memory plays a trick on me, as I grow old, but it’ll do for the truth.
The posters went up round Penzance – S.P.O.T.S. No idea, what that was about, but somebody said the Rolling Stones are doing a warm-up gig, or a new super-group, from the ashes of The Beatles and Cream? What better place than Penzance, with its population of 22,000, its farmer boys and farmer girls…
Like every Thursday, we went, whatever it was, whoever was on… (Leo Sayer apart).
Some good, some bad, and some forgotten… Babe Ruth, Sam Apple Pie, Nektar… S.P.O.T.S.
We had a few beers in the White Lion before walking the half mile down past the granite-lined houses to the Wints, questioning, wondering… nah, no idea, good for a buzz though.
The queue had meandered in, and we were at the end, I mean, the last three to go in… still no idea. The place was packed and don’t let the ignorant claim it wasn’t… crushed in, shoulder to sweaty armpit, and fire rules and regs were shoved to one side for one night.
More drink, discussion, hanging round the bar. No real punks, just the local surfer dudes, the hippies and the students. We made our way to the back, sweat dripping off us.
Showtime! Lights down, amps hum, mutterings, silence, darkness.
“Ladies & Gentlemen… The Sex Pistols on Tour Secretly”!
Wooooaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh – a roar, in the ghosttown that was and is Penzance, and on strolled the band. Torn, shredded, Vicious bleeding, indifferent, sullen, pasty and pissed off, the others ambling on, bored.
The spotlights were pointed at us, like we were in Spandau… conjunctions… The Sex Pistols were on their Holiday in the Sun right here, in sun-blessed Penzance. We were the band, they were watching us!
‘Good Evening, Penzance’, screams Rotten, and, then, as if the absurdity of the situation had suddenly dawned on him, HE BLUSHED: an out-and-out embarrassed BLUSH. Matching the beetroot-complexioned Cornish farmer boys and girls… leaning at 45 degrees against the mic stand, shame-faced Rotten.
Then… straight into Anarchy…
But this wasn’t right.
This was not right!
‘… I am an anarchist…’ – two lines in and it’s gone wrong… what the fuck is this? Is this all the equipment they could afford to bring… GO HOME!!! NO FUN!!!! FUCK YEW!!!!!
We looked at each other, and I felt desperate. ‘No, please, don’t let it be like this’. Amateur hour at the local youth club. ‘Please, no’!
A tinny, puny, vapid sound belched out of the speakers, no louder than the radio I always had pressed to my ear. Deflation, defeat. I thought I may as well get the next bus home – this is rubbish!
Then, just as I’d given way to despair, the cap blew off the bottle; the noise shook and erupted and exploded into the bible-black, Penzance air. Release, victory, a birth-passage into some new religion!
‘…. Passers byah,
I forgot to cry at that moment but in retrospect, I should have. All I could do was feel the sound hit me hard in the guts, and feel my entrails dissolve into mush. Noise, real noise, as if I’d been deaf a thousand years, and this was my release from a world of silence.
Jones had only played the guitar for, like, 3 days, and I’d played it for 7 years and the bastard was making a sound that I knew I’d never, ever get out of my kit. Even if I did upgrade to a proper Gibson Les Paul Sunburst 1958, whatever, and some 4,000,000 watt speakers. Nope, never. Maybe Jones had sold his soul to Malcolm McLaren?
On they rushed, through the singles: No Fun, Steppin’ Stone, Holidays, Pretty Vacant, God Save the Queen, I’m on a submarine mission to yoooo, bay-bee. Vicious’s chest with the trademark thick, blood-smeared wheals, the black jacket, the ripped vest, the strides. Playing his bass like an Aeolian harp, swinging it madly so the wind caressed the strings. Tight, together, contra mundum… The Sex Pistols.
Another version of Anarchy and off. My friends and I just stood, staring, laughing at each other, soaked in sweat, happy.
There are backstage photos from Dennis Morris – as God is my witness, so is Dennis. They did play there, once, too long ago, and for what?
Children, go back and listen to your Will Young, your 50 Cent, your Kaiser Chiefs. The revolution has already been televised. There’s nothing left for you to see, the slaughter is over, the carnival has gone, we can’t go back. Sleep on, little ones, and don’t be afraid: The Singing, Ringing Tree shall ring no more.
Brian Williams – tMx 23 – 02/06