“His clothes, held together by safety pins, fall around his slack body in calculated disarray. His face is an undernourished grey. Not a muscle moves. His lips echo the downward slope of his wiry, coat-hanger shoulders. Only his eyes register the faintest trace of life.”
Those words, written by journalist Caroline Coon, were part of the cover story on the Sex Pistols that ran in the UK music weekly Melody Maker’s August 7, 1976 edition. The Pistols and punk were the talk of the town: London town, to be precise, but increasingly, all over the UK. That feature brought the punk debate into the open for MM readers, more than three months before the Pistols released “Anarchy In The UK” as their debut single.
Bands like The Clash were in the early stages of becoming a live act, the Stranglers were gigging hard, The Jam were completing their line-up and Stiff Records was launched that very month. The release of The Damned’s “New Rose,” widely seen as the first punk single, was only two months away.
The Pistols, formed late in 1975, had had national UK press coverage before, notably in Sounds, who wrote a feature on the band in April 1976 and a review of their famous 100 Club gig in the June. But the piece in the “Maker,” at a time when the national British music press was a widely-read and influential force, was another ingredient in Johnny Rotten and co’s rise to notoriety.
‘Crucial or phoney’?
“Punk rock: crucial or phoney?” was the question posed on the cover, below stories about Eric Clapton and John Lennon. Coon’s essay went on to describe the new punk scene for a readership that was still getting used to the “simple and callow” nature of the music, as the momentum behind the movement grew pace by the week.
Listen to the Pure Punk playlist, featuring the Sex Pistols and all the other important punk names from both sides of the Atlantic.
“Since January, when the Sex Pistols played their first gig,” she wrote, “there has been a slow but steady increase in the number of musicians who feel the same way. Bands like the Clash, the Jam, Buzzcocks, the Damned, the Suburban Studs and Slaughter and the Dogs. The music they play is loud, raucous and beyond considerations of taste and finesse. As Mick Jones of the Clash says: ‘It’s wonderfully vital.’”
As that issue hit the streets, the Pistols were back at the 100 Club, supported by the Vibrators, while the Fabulous Poodles played over at the Nashville Rooms. Pistols gigs came thick and fast, including one on 19 August in the unlikely setting of the West Runton Pavilion, near Cromer in Norfolk. That became a regular punk venue, also welcoming the Damned, the Clash and many others.
If the Pistols shocked the locals there, then just under four months after the Melody Maker front cover, as last-minute replacements for Queen on the Today show with Bill Grundy, they would be shocking the nation.
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