My Pop Life #113 : God Save The Queen – The Sex Pistols

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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.

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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.

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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.

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 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.

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  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.

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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.

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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….

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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.

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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 :

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My Pop Life #110 : Dreams – Joe Walsh

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Dreams   –   Joe Walsh

…off to waste the day plunging headlong…

For some reason it always feels indulgent to write about Lewes Priory school 1970 -75  and my teenage musical passions.  See for example My Pop Life #78 – a eulogy to Blue Öyster Cult.   I’m not embarrassed about any of the music I listened to then – or since – and I deride the notion of ‘guilty pleasures’ when it comes to music, as if there is a canon of excellence that we must worship publicly and then privately enjoy our own rather suspect taste.  The Alan Partridge joke about liking Abba and Wings – because they’re “not cool”.   In this scenario the supposedly “cool” bands are usually skinny white guys playing atonal miserablism.  My taste has widened considerably since 1973 but my enthusiasm for The Velvet Underground (and those they influenced) still hovers around ‘lukewarm’.

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But this song is still an unalloyed joy for me.  The Joe Walsh LP  “The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get” was released in america on my birthday, June 18th 1973, and three months later in England.  I have no idea from whence it came among my friends, perhaps the opening track Rocky Mountain Way caught somebody’s ear, or perhaps Andy Holmes just went ahead and bought it after sitting on a beanbag with headphones on in Virgin Records at Brighton Clocktower.  Or perhaps I did – but where I got the idea who knows ?  I don’t remember Rocky Mountain Way (Joe Walsh’s most famous song) being played on the radio.  Anyway – there is was, this amusingly-titled LP which acknowledged our new favourite past-time (getting stoned) with a brightly-coloured cover design and a selection of rather brilliant songs.  I associate this whole LP with happiness.  Sitting somewhere rolling a joint on the LP cover, glueing rizlas together, burning hashish  (invariably – grass was very rare in 1973) into little brown worms and sprinkling them evenly among the Golden Virgina, Old Holborn or Players Number Six cigarette broken down.  The music washing over us as we pass the joint among us, people nodding, agreeing on stuff, giggling, being witty and honest.  The best kind of getting high, when there’s simply nothing else to worry about.

Featured imageThere’s a section in the middle :  “she’s easy on my mind…she thinks my jokes are funny, makes me feel fine..” which reminds me of Miriam Ryle whom I started going out with halfway through the lower sixth.  My first love.  She wore Diorella and flower-print dresses.   I think that’s a great lyric, the idea of a girl being “easy on your mind”.   But the lyric also reminds me of my wife now, Jenny, who still laughs at my jokes.  I try to make her laugh every day, and if we’re not having a punch-up I succeed.  Makes me feel fine.

The song is a beautiful homage to being relaxed in a way that seems impossible today.  Having nothing to do.  Sitting on the grass somewhere.  Going for a walk.  Going for a drive, nowhere in particular.  The music has a marvellous lazy laid-back feel, minimal instrumentally but hugely effective and evocative of an endless summer’s day when time seems to stop and allow you to step off for a while.  Where did those days go?

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Joe Walsh’s band at this point were called Barnstorm – they’d done one album previous to this which is also brilliant, called “Barnstorm” and also produced by the great Bill Szymczyk.  How do you pronounce that? Kenny Passarelli played bass. Rocke Grace joined on keys. But Joe Vitale on drums, synths and flute was a particularly important collaborator for Walsh, and wrote and co-wrote some of these songs.  His influence is very musical, as opposed to the rocky flavours of some of the rest of the LP – but to be fair, Joe Walsh has a huge musical palette and always has.   He emerged from various east-coast bands to join The James Gang in 1968, recording three studio LPs with them including the tracks Funk#49, Walk Away, Collage and Ashes The Rain & I.   All tremendous.   After The Smoker You Drink LP, Walsh was asked to join The Eagles and they proceeded to record Hotel California, Walsh sharing guitar theatrics on that song with Don Felder.  I saw this line-up live in 1976 at Wembley Arena, thrilled to bits to be witnessing one of my teen idols live.  They played Rocky Mountain Way and possibly one more (Time Out?) but it was an Eagles concert and so they remain the only two songs I’ve ever seen Joe play of his own.

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However I just bought two tickets to see him at The Beacon Theatre New York City on October 1st 2015.  Unbelievably he is re-united with Joe Vitale for this show. This is a big deal.

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Joe is a hugely likeable person by all accounts – he visits the same AA group in Hollywood as one of my friends – and his other big hit “Life’s Been Good” is testament to his sense of humour about money, fame and success.  As a rock guitarist I don’t think he’s ever been bettered with the sole exception of Jimi Hendrix but like Jimi he also has a gentle lyrical side and a beautiful delicate touch, none more so than on this song, a wistful evocation of plunging headlong into a relaxed endless day where you will do absolutely nothing.  Taking the time for dreams…  

My Pop Life #59 : Looks Is Deceiving – The Gladiators

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Looks Is Deceiving   –   The Gladiators

…old time people dem used to say when short mouth tell you, you can’t hear

so when long mouth tell you, you must feel it feel it…

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What we used to call a cracking tune.  1979 and Virgin Records released a sampler LP of Jamaican roots reggae called The Front Line, with a fist holding barbed wire, blood trickling down the wrist.  It cost 69p.   This was one of the tracks – there were two from The Gladiators, the other being the mighty Pocket Money which I also tag below because youtube has the great 12 inch version complete with Dub Version.   Weird to think now how influential reggae was in the late 70s, how much was played on the radio – John Peel in particular was religious about it, and people bought the records too, in 12″ format and albums – not just Marley who was huge, but Culture, Burning Spear, Dennis Brown, The Mighty Diamonds, Augustus Pablo, Lee Perry, U-Roy.  Much weed was smoked to accompany this music, indeed Dub in particular turned out to be the perfect music to get stoned to, perhaps because the people making it were themselves stoned.  A kind of perfect circle.  Heady righteous days.  Home-grown reggae was having its moment too from Black Slate to Aswad to Misty in Roots and Steel Pulse.  Linton Kwesi Johnson would appear in 79.

At the end of my 3rd year at LSE I had scored a pretty average 2:2 degree in Law, due to not studying particularly hard, which meant I was an LLB or Bachelor of Law.  And so I would remain for all eternity because this marks the precise moment when I turned my back on the law and became an actor.  I had promised that I would.  Except that :  I didn’t.   You see, I had this rather harsh image of acting being rather like a pedigree horse-race where I was the horse, wearing blinkers, running, running, racing.   I thought to myself, probably while stoned : I’d better have a look round before I put those blinkers on.  And so it was that I moved into the flat at Tower Mansions, 134 West End Lane where Pete Thomas and Sali Beresford had two rooms to let.  I’d met them through LSE Ents, gigs, drugs, college events, but mainly musical sympathies.  The other flatmate was Nick Partridge (now Sir Nick!) who’d been at Keele, an amiable knowledgeable and sweet man. We were all out of college and on the rampage in North London.   We were in a bit of a gang too : Colin Jones, red hair, glasses & fuzzy beard who taught me how to drive, Tony Roose an old mate of Pete’s with whom I went to Belfast in 1981, John Vincent, shy and sweet but deadly with a frisbee, Andy Cornwell, alpha groover, edging towards the Legalise Cannabis Campaign and permanent tickets for all gigs in London.  All from the LSE except for Nick, who fitted in without a hint of catching up or “fitting in”.  And of course Mumtaz, my girlfriend, who’d left LSE 3 years earlier and was now almost an actual solicitor.

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I became a painter and decorator over that summer, working in Pinner for a businessman and his wife.  I think that’s when I became addicted to amphetamine sulphate in the form of blues.  But I rather suspect that’s for another story,  we’re on the weed and the reggae here.  The evening sessions rolling joints on record sleeves like More Songs About Buildings And Food by Talking Heads or One World by John Martyn, inhaling, passing to the left, listening to reggae, loving it a lot, playing backgammon, talking politics and music.  Out of the window, West End Lane -and three railways lines.  I had a plan – to save up enough money to take another year off, travelling – this time with brother Paul through South America…

The song Looks Is Deceiving is a series of Jamaican sayings that are received wisdom from the elders, older than the Bible (and rastafarians are really fond of the bible).  Don’t under-rate no man.  Don’t watch the tool what him can do – watch the man that behind it.  The man laugh first – him no laugh, the man laugh last – catch it full.  The cow don’t know what him tail for til the butcher cut it off.  

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The Gladiators, being rastafarians, are making their records in Babylon, so they give it to us in a parable.  On Pocket Money – another outstanding slice of roots reggae – they take the Old Testament and preach – from Genesis to Exodus…my sheep heard my voice… hypocrites evil doers, beware of those unseen eyes…then you feel like running away from yourself…Jah will cut you down !  A good friend is better than pocket money…

At this moment in time The Gladiators – Albert Griffiths on lead guitar, Clinton Fearon on bass, Gallimore Sutherland on rhythm, (all three singing) were backed by a stunning Studio One session band with Sly Dunbar on drums, Lloyd Parks on bass, Sticky Thompson on percussion, Ansel Collins on keys and Earl Lindo on synthesizer.  The great Joe Gibbs mixed, Tony Robinson produced for Virgin.   Pure greatness.