So it's already 40 years ago when the movie The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle by Julien Temple was released. I can still remember the first time I saw that movie. Someone had managed to get a pirated VHS copy of the film, which was then shown in a punk bar. Of course the picture and sound quality was very bad, but it didn't matter.
The film tells the story of the Sex Pistols from the one-sided perspective of their then manager Malcolm McLaren, who probably wanted to make a monument for himself with it. The film belongs to the genre of mockumentary. A fictional documentary film has been created from archive material and additional scenes shot in 1978. Above all it is a film about the Sex Pistols and a contemporary document of those exciting years when punk became important. 20 years later Julien Temple made the documentary The Filth and the Fury which tells the same story, but this time from the band's point of view. Two anniversaries from the same director about the same thing, the story of the Sex Pistols.
The former art student Malcolm McLaren and his wife, an amateur dressmaker and later fashion designer Vivienne Westwood had a boutique together on King's Road in London in 1972. At the end of 1974 Malcom McLaren went to New York for over a year, where he worked as manager of the New York Dolls and was responsible for their stage outfits. At the beginning of 1975 he returned to London and decided to rename the boutique he ran with Vivienne. The boutique Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die which has always been the meeting place for special youngsters (Teds, Rockers) should from now on only have the three striking letters SEX above the shop door. The existing range of rocker clothing was expanded with eroticism, SM articles and T-shirts with provocative texts. Now all that was left to do was to find a band to promote Malcom and Vivienne's boutique and its collection.
Steve Jones was one of the youngsters who regularly hung out at the store, and he had the band The Strand with Paul Cook and Wally Nightingale, whose practice room was also on King's Road. Malcolm took over the management of the band and traded the too-behaved Wally for his boutique helper Glen Matlock. The last member to join the band was John Lydon, who couldn't sing, but had the necessary charisma for the band. The Sex Pistols as they called themselves now, started to practice and gave their first small concerts at the end of 1975. The first bigger gig was February 12th 1976 as support band of Eddie & the Hot Rods at the Marquee. This gig was everything else than the audience expected from a band. The Sex Pistols provoked the audience, spat at them and fought.
First record deal
Punk had now arrived in the scene and bands changed their music style or were still being formed. On September 20th 1976 the Sex Pistols performed with Clash, Damned, Vibrators, Buzzcocks, Siouxsie & the Banshees and other groups in the 100 Club at the first Punk Festival. The positive reviews about the performance of the Sex Pistols, drew the attention of the major label EMI. EMI should regret this later. Malcolm Mc Laren signed the contract with EMI and on November 19th 1976 the first single Anarchy in the U.K. was released.
The Grundy Show
On December 1, 1976, things were to really take off again. The group The Queen was supposed to give an interview on ITV television, but they cancelled at short notice. As a replacement they had chosen Sex Pistols because they were in London. So the station brought the Pistols and their friends who were in the rehearsal room at the time into the studio. The whole thing got a bit out of control at prime time. That was probably also because Bill Grundy, the host, filled them all with alcohol beforehand and drove the whole group crazy. He was then accused of this misconduct by some of his colleagues.
The year 1977 has just begun and since the Sex Pistols have been in existence, a punk scene has formed which will later trigger a whole movement. The punks had developed their own DIY style, cut their own hair, punched holes in their shirts and painted them on, pricked a safety pin through their ears and cheek, released fanzines themselves and the first alternative record labels like Stiff Records were founded.
At the Pistols', the first argument came when Johnny Rotten introduced his lyrics of God Save The Queen to the band. Bassist Glen Matlock refused to play the song and Johnny asked the all-decisive question: Either him or me? Since Johnny had manager Malcom McLaren on his side, it was clear who would go. In February 1977 bassist Glen Matlock left the Pistols. A replacement was found with Sid Vicious, an old buddy of Johnny's and of exactly the same caliber. Sid could hardly play bass, but his image suited the band.
Steve Jones is said to have said: Now all this shit's gonna start all over again. I could have handled John on my own, but now there were two of them.
Second record deal
Meanwhile Malcolm, after being fired from EMI, started looking for a new label. They finally agreed with A&M, where the contract with the Pistols was signed on March 9th 1977. The single God Save The Queen was recorded in the studio, but Sid's skills were not needed and the bass was played by guitarist Steve Jones.
At a meeting with the record bosses of A&M and the Pistols everything went wrong again. The drunken Pistols were raving and the managers got first doubts. Other musicians who were under contract with A&M didn't want to put themselves on the same level with these punks and started protests as well. A&M finally cancelled the contract and the single God Save The Queen was not delivered.
Problems with the bass
Sid Vicious belonged to the group of people who can do everything, but nothing right. He was the drummer by Siouxsie and the Banshees and then singer from The Flowers Of Romance, a band that never played live and never released a Single. The female members of this band left because of Sid and later formed The Slits, which went down in punk history as an all-female band. Sid was eventually offered the bass for Glen Matlock at the Sex Pistols, although he couldn't play the instrument. He tried really hard to play the bass and wanted to learn it. Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead supported him, gave him lessons and was desperate.
So it happened that all bass parts were recorded in the studio by guitarist Steve Jones afterwards. The bass recordings of Sid were not usable even after the editing.
Performance ban in England
After the release of the second single God Save the Queen the Pistols were banned from performing in England and they decided to do a small tour through Scandinavia, where they mixed their bass more quietly at the concerts.
Back in England, the Pistols themselves approached private clubs and tried to arrange a secret gig with the owners. Under secrecy the S.P.O.T.S. (Sex Pistols On Tour Secretly) gigs were planned. There were posters and flyers, but on none of them the name Sex Pistols was mentioned. The Pistols and the promoters were aware that the mouth to mouth propaganda would be enough to fill the clubs. The Melody Maker got wind of it and published the dates of the live performances. After the first shock, they realized that fortunately all dates and venues were wrong. All concerts took place and the tour was a great success despite the ban on performing and no official announcement.
The third record deal
McLaren was still looking for a bigger major label after the Virgin deal he had made for the release of the second single. At the beginning of May he signed another contract with the French label Barclay Records. When all studio recordings for the LP were available, a competition for the release of the LP began. Virgin was of course aware that an early release of the LP in France would also disrupt their business in England through imports.
The first thing that came up was the bootleg spunk, which contained recordings of Dave Goodman, then commissioned by EMI. He had secretly recorded a lot of test recordings while recording the Anarchy in the U.K. single. Barclay Records recorded Submission as the twelfth song on the record, which in turn caused delays at Virgin Records. So it happened that the first 10,000 Virgin records had only eleven tracks on the cover, although there are 12 tracks on the LP.
Barclay released the longplayer a week earlier, but this didn't have a big impact, because there were already 125.000 pre-orders for Great Britain.
On 28 October 1977 Virgin Records released the longplayer Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols. After one week the album was at number one in the British album charts and a censorship measure by the London police began. Because of the word Bollocks the Virgin Record Stores are threatened with criminal proceedings for indecency if they don't remove the advertising. This is tantamount to indexing and means that the sale can only take place under the counter. The press is happy about a scandal again and makes this public under the headline Police Move in Punk Disc Shops. As a result, other large record dealers refuse to include the LP in their assortment and many small independent record shops seize the opportunity. In court the Pistols later won and the album was not renamed to Never Mind the Stones, Here's the Sex Pistols as Johnny suggested.
While the Sex Pistols' first album is being released all over the world and is storming the LP charts, Sid Vicious gets into trouble as Nancy Spungen enters his life. Nancy Spungen was a New York stripper who came to London in 1976 in the luggage of The Heartbreakers. She was heavily addicted to heroin, schizophrenic and a suicide candidate in whom Sid found his great love and misfortune in November 1977. Nancy had got him hooked and even his best buddy Johnny Rotten could not change that.
The short success
After the album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols released in October 1977 and also the secret SPOTS tour through England was a success, there were more concerts in the Netherlands, Belgium and the new year should start with a US tour. Sid Vicious was now a heroin addict and the efforts of Johnny Rotten and the band to get rid of the ominous Nancy Spungen were of no use anymore. Sid was caught between his beloved Nancy and the devilish heroin.
The dispute begins
Malcolm McLaren and Johnny Rotten are now avoiding each other because Johnny accused him of not being a good manager and of paying them all badly. Malcolm, on the other hand, now sees himself as the master of all things, because he wants to go down in history as the inventor of punk and father of the Sex Pistols. He always saw himself as the creator, and the Sex Pistols were his creation. To crown this thought, he planned to make a movie.
Who Killed Bambi was to become his film, a monument to his work, in which the Sex Pistols had only one film reel. As director he hired Russ Meyer, who became famous for his actresses with their luscious tops.
The director, who has since become a cult figure, was of course the wrong choice for this project, although he naturally seemed perfectly suited for the provocation. Johnny Rotten was not at all enthusiastic about this choice, which supported the already existing arguments with Malcolm even more. The film project kept getting off track and was never finished, at least not with Russ Meyer.
In early January 1978, the US tour of the Sex Pistols began and all the negative events described above were constant companions on the tour, which came to a sudden end at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. From the beginning Johnny Rotten was annoyed by the tour and his best friend Sid turned more and more into a heroin zombie. Although Nancy was not taken on this tour, even the persuasion of Johnny could not change anything. The whole US tour was a disaster. Steve Jones and Paul Cook avoided it in their own way, clinging to Malcolm. So John & Sid travelled in the tour bus and Steve & Paul with Malcolm in the plane to the venues.
The movie and Johnny goes
In the Winterland Ballroom the last concert of the Sex Pistols takes place on 14 January 1978. Johnny Rotten asks the audience at the end: Ever get the feeling you've been cheated? The next day he gets on a plane and flies to London.
Malcolm hadn't even noticed that the whole band had broken up before his eyes in the last few weeks. He was busy with his film, for which he had now hired Julien Temple as director. Julien was no stranger, he had previously made a short documentary film about the Pistols, consisting of interviews and concert recordings. So they used some scenes from the Russ Meyer stock, the script was revised several times, the film title was changed to The Great Rock'n'Roll-Swindle and new material was shot about which Johnny was not informed.
After the failed US tour Malcolm flew with Steve and Paul to Rio de Janeiro. It came to music and filming with Ronnie Biggs, a mail robber living there in exile. In June 1978 the single The Biggest Blow was released with Ronnie Biggs and on the B-side My Way sung by Sid.
Sid goes forever
After the departure of Johnny, Sid was proclaimed front man and singer of the Pistols until the final breakup. Sid then made a short solo career and released 3 singles and a longplayer on Virgin.
On October 12th 1978 Nancy Spungen was found stabbed to death with the drugged Sid Vicious in New York's Chelsea Hotel. Sid was arrested on suspicion of murder and released on bail on February 1, 1979. One day later he died of a heroin overdose in the same room at the Chelsea Hotel where Nancy also died. Nancy's murder was never solved, as well as rumours about Sid's death whether his mother gave him the lethal injection.
This was the final end of the Sex Pistols and its history.
Sid Vicious (John Simon Ritchie)1957 - 1979
Malcolm McLaren (Malcolm Edwards)1946 - 2010
If you are more interested in this true and exciting story of the Sex Pistols, I recommend the two films by Julien Temple, because the story is viewed from a different angle each time.
The films are a contemporary document with many documentary shots of that time. The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle and The Filth and the Fury were released on DVD and are available in stores.
*The pictures are DVD and record covers photographed by me.