God Save The Queen – The Sex Pistols
we mean it maaan…
God save your mad parade. The Silver Jubilee, June 7th 1977. I was living in a flat on Fitzroy Street with one other gentlemen, also an LSE student – a Trinidadian indian chap called Mahmood. I had befriended the LSE Ents crowd – bands, weed, politics, journalism. We went to gigs, we got stoned and listened to music, we went on marches and demonstrations, we wrote articles in the student rag. The hair was reasonably long, but by summer 1977 I’d gone punk (see My Pop Life 52 / The Clash / Complete Control) or had I ? Musically we all had – The Clash LP was played endlessly and we’d all been to gigs by people like 999 and The Adverts, Slaughter & The Dogs & The Vibrators. When the hair got cut and dyed I can’t remember, but it was that summer. In fact – that has sprung my memory – I was 20 years old later that month, and I would have felt that big zero number coming like we all do, so I’m pretty sure that once punk was unearthed and discovered from it’s hidden realms – I was surrounded by it in other words – I would have dived in both barrels because this would be my last teenage gang. A nineteen-year old punk is almost too old, but there were way WAY older than me back then dontcha know. Anyway – who cares about the age thing, it’s all bollocks, to use a word we wouldn’t see in day-glo colours until late October. We couldn’t believe how long it was taking the Sex Pistols to release their first album, they’d changed record companies three times and put out four blindingly good singles. This is the second one, and, although Anarchy In The UK (released 26 November ’76) was a statement of intent and a major punk manifesto of nihilism, God Save The Queen was a more thrilling record. It’s not a competition anyway, but by May 1977 The Sex Pistols’ notoriety was at its height.
Posters with the portrait of The Queen with a safety pin through her mouth started appearing on the streets, and many would be vandalised, torn down or spray-painted. The cover of the single was in silver and blue, the Jubilee colours, designed by Jamie Reid, but it wasn’t planned as a comment on the Jubilee. In fact the song was recorded in October & March at Wessex Sound Studios with producer Chris Thomas.
Paul Cook, Johnny Rotten, Glen Matlock & Steve Jones in 1976
Johnny Rotten wrote the song over beans on toast for breakfast one morning, and Steve Jones and Glen Matlock (before he left) helped with the music and Jones played guitar and bass – Sid wasn’t up to recording anything too musical, being mainly ‘the gimmick’. He’d replaced Glen Matlock the original bass player. In fact manager and svengali Malcolm McLaren had contacted Matlock and asked him to play bass on God Save The Queen, and Glen agreed, if he got paid up front. The money never appeared so Jones got the gig.
The single was pressed on A&M Records, but the label then sacked the band ten days after signing them and withdrew the promotional copies. These have become among the most valuable collector’s items in vinyl history – one A&M copy of God Save The Queen sold for £13,000 in 2006.
So when the single was released on Virgin Records in May 1977 it had been around for a while. The coincidental hoopla of the Silver Jubilee – the constant bullshit of bunting, nationalism, false history and doffing the cap to our betters had fed an anti-royal fervour which was there to be ignited.
The record was banned by the BBC and subsequently went to the number One position in the national charts, although officially it remained at number two, behind Rod Stewart. We all knew it was number one on sales, it wasn’t even conspiracy theory. No one had ever dared to question the Royal Family so publicly before in living memory and a thrill ran through public life as the British Establishment responded with threats of arrest and the Tower via Traitor’s Gate. There were attacks on the band and other punks on the streets by nationalist youth, skinheads and other offended types.
Jubilee : On the Thames
And then, when The Sex Pistols hired a boat and played the song on the River Thames across from the Houses Of Parliament, a police boat came alongside, boarded, pulled the plug, shut them down and arrested Malcolm McClaren. It was perfect publicity of course. Everyone played their role.
McClaren arrested June 7th 1977
The other half of the country was cheering them on, revelling in the open defiance of the snotty plebs, two fingers up to her Maj. No Future….
On that day June 7th when the single was Number One (Number Two officially!) and the whole nation had a public holiday, people were encouraged to organise street parties and genuflect, the students gathered in flat 4:1 where Andy Cornwell opened his windows onto the street, we rolled joints and smoked them out of the window, and we played The Sex Pistols “God Save The Queen” all day, off and on, and then at one point for at least an hour, over and over again. Don’t forget that when I say we “played” the single, we actually had a few copies and a nice stereo, and the needle would be placed back to the edge of the seven-inch circle. Those present : Andy Cornwell, Van Morrison devotee; Norman Wilson, Thin Lizzy fan; Lewis MacLeod, Flamin’ Groovies appreciation society; Anton, Neil Young groover; Nigel, Todd Rundgren acolyte; Derek, Joan Armatrading lover; and me, Ralph, Peter Hammill and Gentle Giant collector. Not a punk among us – although I suspect I’d started posing as a punk by then due to the imminence of my 20th birthday – but we all LOVED this single (although memory tells me that Barnsley lad Norman hated punk rock) and celebrated its timely arrival at the top of the charts, but off the radio, on Jubilee Day. We became the radio and made up for all the plays the song wasn’t getting on the BBC. It was a legendary day. Actually we were White Punks On Dope. Stoned out of our boxes listening to the Pistols and dub reggae.
Sid Vicious, Paul Cook, Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones
Later that year I would get word from Stephen Woolley in the Scala Cinema coffee bar where I worked (see my Pop Life …) that the Pistols were playing in London the following night. I can’t remember how I snaffled a ticket but I did, and went up to Birkbeck College in Uxbridge to see them. They opened with God Save The Queen. Mayhem.
Jubilee river boat trip :