Tuesday, 17 November 2015

British Punk Rock - Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Truth

What a load of Bollocks!


Believe it or not, my local record shop got around all the fuss about the Sex Pistols album title of Never Mind the Bollocks; here’s the Sex Pistols with a simple, quick fix. Every single record cover and every in single poster in the shop had a hastily prepared label stuck over the offending word replacing it with the words ‘the naughty bits’.


This was England in the late 1970’s. A country where the word ‘Bollocks’ was debated in the high court before the Sex Pistols finally won their case on the grounds that the word is not offensive but a part of our ancient English language.

Thanks to Johnny and the gang, I can now safely use the word without being accused of any undue swearing! This load of bollocks about the record called never ‘mind the bollocks’ was just as much bollocks as a great deal of the bollocks that is written about punk rock today!

So why has, something that was really just a bunch of teenagers annoying the hell out of a very staid and stiff collared English establishment of the time, become a thing of myth and legend? Why do some people write about it like it was a social revolution akin to a popular uprising in a dictatorship?

Well, some of it is true, but not much of it and, if all of the people that now write learned articles on what it really meant to be a punk rocker in the 70s and claim to have been at a Pistols gig, really were at a Pistols gig, then the Sex Pistols could have sold out Wembley Stadium many times over!

So here is an account what punk rock really meant for the vast majority of those of us who are old enough to have been young enough to have noticed or cared. And no, I never did get to see the original Sex Pistols.


British Punk Rock, The Great Rock and Roll Swindle, Sex Pistols
Do-it-yourself Punk Rock
Malcolm McLaren’s film ‘The Great Rock and Roll Swindle’ really was a case of flogging a dead horse. By the time it was released, the Sex Pistols short reign at the top of the punk pile had ended. The film portrays Malcolm as the sole inventor and manager of the entire punk rock scene. Rubbish, of course, but some of what comes out of the film is based on truth. One of the things mentioned in the Great Rock Roll Swindle is that punk rock was a do-it-yourself scene or to use a horrible phrase ‘music by the kids for the kids’.

In the beginning, this was entirely true. Many of the bands, whose names we now recognise, started off from the fan base of the Sex Pistols. The clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Generation X, Adam and the Ants and others all began with members of the Sex Pistols audience starting their own bands. Many of the members of the bands were interchangeable too. Did you know, for example, that Sid Vicious once played drums for Siouxsie and the Banshees? Or that Keith Levine, later of Public Image Limited, was briefly a member of the Clash?

The clothes too were 100% original to start with. That was until the identikit punk look of bondage trousers, Mohican and studded leather jacket came along. To begin with, the punk look was all about being original and it was far from the standardised uniform that it later became. Sadly, what started at as an original anti-fashion statement didn’t take long to become just another fashion.

British Punk Rock, Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, Sex PistolsDo it Different Punk Rock
Far from just another fashion, punk rock started out as a way of being different. If everyone else was doing ‘A’ then punks would do ‘B’.

In a time when most were wearing their hair long, platform shoes so high they could cause a nose bleed and flares so wide that a strong gust of wind could be distinctly dangerous, punks bucked all the trends with short hair, drainpipe trousers and, to start with, flat baseball boots.

The music too was as different as it possibly could be from the norm of the time. For a start it was fast, very fast and tracks were short, very short. A marked contrast to most of the self-indulgent and overproduced rock tracks by the likes of Pink Floyd and Queen.

British Punk Rock, Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten, Sex PistolsShock and Awe Punk Rock
Another key component of the punk rock ethos was the shock element. As a basic guide, if your parents liked it, or could even tolerate it, then it was no good. So, to start us off; bring on the swearing! Swearing on record was virtually unheard of back then so the odd ‘F’ word thrown into the lyrics virtually guaranteed uproar. Mind you, despite all the media fuss, there are actually very few swear words in the early punk music.

Punk also shocked in its clothing with the blatant use of taboos like the swastika, partial nudity, and images even of male genitalia. Shock and horror were the aim and often the aim was achieved.

The media, though, hugely exaggerated the so called debauched antics of punks with stories of bands frequently vomiting on stage or even masturbating on stage, none of which, to the best of my knowledge, was ever true.

British Punk Rock, Gobbing, The RamonesWhy all the Gobbing?
If the band didn’t come off stage drenched in phlegm, then it hadn’t been a punk gig! Spitting at the band did become standard protocol at a punk rock concert, but, where it came from, like so much in puck rock, is debated.

Spitting was ‘fashionable’ even before punk hit the scene in the seventies and you could see groups of youths standing around gobbing on the pavement in every town in the UK. Spiting on the band, though, was pure punk.

Some say that it began because Johnny Rotten has sinus problems and frequently spits on stage, though he says it is never directed at the audience. Others lay the blame firmly at the feet of Rat Scabies of the Damned who once spat in the face of a fan who had thrown a beer can at him.

Whoever can truly claim the first rights to this spectacle, it became the standard procedure at all gigs, which is why you some punk musicians were pictured wearing flying goggles on stage!

British Punk Rock, Johnny Rotten, Safety PinsWhy Safety Pins?
Like the gobbing, the origin of the use of safety pins as an essential fashion accessory in the punk rock wardrobe is hotly disputed. To my mind it was just another example of punks taking something from everyday life and making their own. What better to make a normal person uncomfortable than to take something that is usually associated with holding together a baby’s nappy and pinning it to a dangerous looking punk rocker?

Some say that the look came from Richard Hell, while Johnny Rotten insists that he wore them as a matter of necessity to hold his clothes together. Realty is though, that even though the safety pin has become forever associated with punk, it was actually only worn be few punks and only quite early on in punks short history. It’s the media, again, that made the safety pin a punk icon.


British Punk Rock, Vivienne Westwood, Punk Bondage GearWhy the Bondage Gear?
So, did the bondage gear that punks wore have some kind of deep meaning? Perhaps they are expressing their protest about the bondage that modern society was keeping them in?

Nothing so meaningful I’m afraid. Again, like the safety pin, I’m sure that the bondage gear and straps did have their shock factor. Many people didn’t even talk about bondage behind closed doors back then, let alone wear bondage gear in the street!

The truth is more likely that, before it became a punk rock clothing store, Malcolm McLaren’s shop was called seditionaries’ and sold bondage and fetish gear. The man was no fool, what better way to get rid of his older stock than making it a part of the new punk fashion range that he was promoting!

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