Bottle of Cobra Zero, I’m not a mess
Desperately clutching onto a leaflet on primitive chord progressions
Supplied to me by the London SS
It’s anyone’s guess how I got here
Anyone’s guess how I’ll go
I stopped smoking years ago – pull your Levis 511s up
Fuck off, I’m going home”
It was forty years ago today (or thereabouts: Artistic License Dept.) that Uncle Malcolm taught the band to play, and to mark the occasion with some style, a lingerie salesman from the East End of Old London Town has burnt all his dad’s old stuff in a huff to express his disgust at the memorabilia-fair-come-reformation-parade that Ye Olde Punk Rock has become, on this most auspicious of anniversaries.
All over the land, first wave oldies and bandwagon jumpers alike have thrown their arthritic arms up in the air and raised their asthmatic voices to protest at the allegedly criminal waste of literally millions of pounds worth of vinyl, posters, handbills, t-shirts, mouse mats and coffee mugs. The sound of thousands of COPD affected lungs clapping in unison is more powerful than the strength in a union, these days. Could he not have simply sold it all, and given the money to charity? What about the children? Please don’t forget about the children.
The insults have duly rained in, on Facebook post threads and Twitter feeds, setting social media platforms alight with all the wit and repartee commonly associated with a demographic who continue to see cultural worth in the works of Jimmy Pursey, Billy Idol or Richard Jobson. In wades Bill Drummond (didn’t he burn a wad of cash once, too?), with his customary panache, to nail the debate to the wall, as he has done previously at other anniversarial junctures:
“1: Punk, as defined by The Sex Pistols and The Clash, was a punk focused and framed by two men, Malcolm McLaren and Bernie Rhodes. The punk they focused, framed and presented to the world was from an East End, rag trade, Tin Pan Alley worldview. It was about short-term gain, pile it high, sell it cheap. It was about shock and novelty. There was little difference between it and the vaudeville or music hall a hundred years earlier. Or maybe Larry Parnes with a dash of Guy Debord. And none of what I am saying takes anything away from their creativity, or from the greatness of Johnny Rotten or Joe Strummer and the records they made. And I know it is easy for me to pontificate at several decades distance.
2: But even then back in 1976 and early ‘77 we were experiencing something else in Liverpool. There was another punk. A far more important punk. And this is the one that will never die. This was the one that was born in the imagination of teenagers in box bedrooms on council estates and two-up two-downs, across these islands. Teenagers who would have never stood a chance in previous generations. Teenagers in cities and towns from Belfast to Coventry, from Glasgow to Bristol, from Sheffield to Manchester and of course in Liverpool.
This punk had nothing to do with pink mohair jumpers or tartan bondage trousers. Had nothing to do with Mohican hair cuts or studded jackets. Had nothing to do sneering lips or wild stares. Had nothing to do with power chords played fast and loud. And certainly had nothing to do with the King’s Road. Thus nothing to do with an easily mimicked genre of music or style of fashion. This punk had everything to do with not waiting for permission. Especially permission from London. This punk had everything to do with doing it now, even if you had no idea of how to do it. Or even what ‘it’ was or still may be.
This punk first manifested in Manchester with the release of Spiral Scratch by the Buzzcocks on the 29 February 1977. And it has never stopped. It is happening now. And we would probably not even recognise it if it ran us down in the road tonight. It has nothing to do with the music and fashion from a long gone era”.
Meanwhile, in the words of Ye Olde Punk’s nephews, The Sleaford Mods: “You pretend to be proud of ya own culture/Whilst simultaneously not giving two fucks about ya own culture/What culture?/Fuck culture/The blueprint for all control”. Talking of control, Mark P once said to Alan Parker at some cruddy book launch or other: “Sid would have fucking hated you”. Every time I hear John Lydon, the self-appointed Archdeacon of The Church of Ye Olde Punk (Creative Control Mythology Dept.), spill crocodile tears over Vicious, I can’t help thinking that Sid would have probably hated him, too, had he been available for comment. Listening to the self-styled Richard The Third of Ye Olde Punk bemoan X-Factor-culture as karaoke, after releasing decade’s worth of Public Image Ltd records, provides valuable insight into Lydon’s stunning lack of self-awareness, as well as his limited critical faculties. Having married into one of the richest families in Germany, nee the world, Lydon still has the barefaced cheek to expect his long suffering minions to fund his vanity projects, instead of selling off a condominium or two. The swindle continues. Did you know there are over 303-different pressings of ‘NMTB’ on vinyl? Fuck off!
Can you imagine sitting around in 1976 discussing the relative controversy surrounding the abdication of Edward VIII? Thankfully, 2016 has scraped by with a minimum of this sort of thing, possibly because Ye Olde Punk Rock has had so many anniversaries it’s very anniversary is beginning to demand an anniversary of its own: I only popped into this anniversary to see what condition my anniversary was in. We’ve had the odd ghost-written autobiography (yawn), yet more 4-CD box-sets, just when mainstream culture en masse is ready to dismiss the CD as a dead format. If Ye Olde Punk Rock is to have an epitaph, it will surely be a mountain of CD box-sets, at a car-boot sale, in the rain.
The ideologically optimistic amongst us would doubtless argue: punk changed the world for ever, for the better! Did it, really? We are currently living in fear, in an age of dislocation, where any social movement advocating functional opposition to market forces is crushed by the weight of divide-and-conquer hegemonic dictate, driven by commodity fetishism. Women are still fighting for equality; minorities still rage against discrimination and oppression; the violence has become uber-symbolic; the society of the spectacle is beamed live and direct, into our own homes, at our own expense, at our alleged convenience; the haves-and-the-have-nots are now the haves-and-the-have-yachts; and the majority of the Ye Olde Punk Generation have sold their souls for something far more tangible than rock’n’roll, taking up lucrative careers, leading pseudo-political parties, intent on breaking up the only institution they’ve ever been elected into. That kind of thing. Bankers. The only notes that count are the ones that come in wads. Pensioner punks at bus stops. Blue-rinse spikey tops. Ramones t-shirts in Top Shop. Sex Pistols albums in Sainsbury’s. Seaside festivals. What are they rebelling against? What have you got? Certainly not Rock Against Scapegoating Refugees; Or The Anti-Farage League; Or The Campaign for Neoliberal Disarmament. Selling fanzines on regulated binary options. Drawdowns optional. Trustee liability. Retirement calculators. Fuck off!
As Bill Drummond rightly attests, punk rock “is happening now. And we would probably not even recognise it if it ran us down in the road tonight”. To help you avoid death by road accident, here’s a handy guide to contemporary UK punk rock that isn’t an embarrassing footnote.
Conclusion: “We’re all up in the top room of the pub/Getting heavy with the past that didn’t exist” – ‘A Little Ditty’, Sleaford Mods.
The Lowest Form