SEX PIS­TOLS

Mojo (UK) - - Contents -

1977 was the year punk rock faced the full wrath of Bri­tain’s es­tab­lish­ment. John Ly­don and other lead­ing com­bat­ants re­live a year in the eye of the storm.

n the morn­ing of novem­ber 24, 1977, john ly­don woke up in room 715 of the al­bany ho­tel in not­ting­ham and pre­pared him­self for what would be­come one of the most sig­nif­i­cant court tri­als in rock history. the sex pis­tols’ singer had been drink­ing un­til 4.30am, and was badly hun­gover, but man­aged to don a natty out­fit of tar­tan bondage trousers and south amer­i­can straw topee hat. half a mile away, at not­ting­ham mag­is­trates court, a hear­ing to de­ter­mine whether or not the ti­tle of the group’s de­but lp, never mind the bol­locks, here’s the sex pis­tols, was “in­de­cent” was al­ready un­der­way, and ly­don – alias johnny rot­ten – was de­ter­mined not to miss the spec­ta­cle of emi­nent de­fence lawyer, john mor­timer qc, ar­gu­ing the pis­tols’ case.

“I loved the whole thing,” re­mem­bers Ly­don to­day. “My at­ti­tude was to get the best fucker we could [ie Mor­timer] to snap back at the pros­e­cu­tion. Who has the right to tell us what words we can and can­not use? I thought the whole point was that we were hu­mans and had cre­ated lan­guage. Peo­ple telling you what you can and can­not say is un­ac­cept­able.” Ap­pear­ing in the dock that morn­ing was Chris Seale, the 28-year-old man­ager of Not­ting­ham’s Vir­gin record store, who was ac­cused of con­tra­ven­ing the In­de­cent Ad­ver­tise­ment Act 1889 by dis­play­ing the Never Mind The Bol­locks art­work in his shop win­dow. For the three lo­cal mag­is­trates try­ing the case, Regina v Seale was, su­per­fi­cially, a parochial mat­ter con­cern­ing the pro­pri­ety of the city’s re­tail out­lets; but ev­ery­body present in Court 12 knew that the out­come would have mas­sive ram­i­fi­ca­tions for the Pis­tols, punk rock, and the fu­ture of artis­tic free­dom in Bri­tain. If the ver­dict was guilty, the Pis­tols would not only con­tinue to be banned from per­form­ing live in the UK, but their records would be re­moved from sale. It would al­most cer­tainly sound their death knell.

“It wasn’t ‘bol­locks’ on trial,” says mu­sic jour­nal­ist Caro­line Coon, who ap­peared as wit­ness for the de­fence, “it was the Sex Pis­tols. They’d be­come too in­flu­en­tial. The pow­ers that be wanted to crush them – just as they had tried to si­lence bands like The Rolling Stones a decade be­fore.”

n a bright af­ter­noon, mojo is en­joy­ing a drink at a west lon­don bar with ly­don, vis­it­ing the uk from his la home to pro­mote mr rot­ten’s song­book, a cof­fee ta­ble tome of his col­lected lyrics. the singer, now 61, is all too aware that the words con­tained be­tween its cov­ers in­clude some of the most ex­tra­or­di­nary in rock, from the sex pis­tols’ god save the queen, an­ar­chy in the uk and bod­ies, to pil’s low life, death disco and home. the bulk of his pis­tols lyrics were writ­ten in 1976, when ly­don was just 20 years old, mak­ing the un­holy stink they caused even more re­mark­able. “i never thought they’d be taken so se­ri­ously, and dis­cussed in par­lia­ment un­der the trea­son act, or in court,” he says. “they were the words of a kid. it was just an opin­ion and it turned into [the spark for] the punk move­ment or what­ever you want to call it. it wasn’t a fash­ion state­ment. a lot of peo­ple felt the same way as me – dis­en­fran­chised, dis­as­so­ci­ated, un­in­volved.” the song that ar­guably caused the great­est hoo-hah was god save the queen, re­leased in june 1977 as the first sin­gle on the pis­tols’ new la­bel, vir­gin, the band hav­ing al­ready been dumped by both emi and a&m for their toxic be­hav­iour – in the lat­ter case, the newly re­cruited sid vi­cious lashing out with a bro­ken beer mug at an as­so­ci­ate of ra­dio dj bob har­ris, in­flict­ing a wound that re­quired 18 stitches. the tim­ing of the sin­gle – with its im­mor­tal line, “god save the queen/she ain’t no hu­man be­ing” – couldn’t have been bet­ter de­signed to cre­ate moral panic. al­though first sched­uled for re­lease on a&m three months ear­lier, it was now due to hit the shops just a week be­fore the queen’s of­fi­cial ju­bilee cel­e­bra­tions be­gan on june 6. mal­colm mclaren’s stunt to pro­mote the record – char­ter­ing a plea­sure boat called the queen elizabeth to per­form the song as they chugged past the houses of par­lia­ment – fa­mously ended in a po­lice board­ing party and his and part­ner vivi­enne west­wood’s ar­rest. the pub­lic­ity gen­er­ated helped the sin­gle top the charts; but it also in­duced an at­mos­phere of roil­ing anti-pis­tols ire. the first sign that the band and its en­tourage risked phys­i­cal dan­ger came on june 13, the day af­ter a sun­day mir­ror front-page de­clared “punk rock ju­bilee

Thomas claims that “John knew his at­tack­ers”, but when MOJO asked the singer about the episode in 2007, he was cir­cum­spect. “We went to a lo­cal pub, and it’s kind of my manor down there,” he re­called. “It’s all Arse­nal ter­ri­tory, but as you wan­der down [to­wards the Pe­ga­sus, now an in­te­rior de­signer’s] it gets a bit West Ham-my. Whether you like it or not, those things do come into play, in that coun­cil flat way. “They prob­a­bly thought, ‘Fuck­ing hell, they’re in­vad­ing my ter­ri­tory! They look like aliens!’” he added. “God Save The Queen was well known. It was what it was, and then it went away. No big deal.” Yet the at­tacks – in­clud­ing one on Paul Cook that same week­end, when he was chased by Teddy Boys and beaten with an iron bar, and an­other un­pro­voked as­sault on Rot­ten at Ding­walls in Cam­den on June 22 – would mark a tip­ping point in the band’s re­la­tion­ship with McLaren, and the start of Ly­don’s years as a reclu­sive star, un­able to en­joy an or­di­nary so­cial life. For Thomas, the episode at least demon­strated that his other em­ployer cared. The rea­son Bol­locks was recorded at week­ends was that, through­out the early sum­mer, the pro­ducer had been work­ing week­days with Paul Mc­Cart­ney on the sound­track of the Wings Over The World tour doc­u­men­tary. When news of the Pe­ga­sus fra­cas be­lat­edly

made the front page of the Daily Mir­ror, Macca in­structed his of­fice to phone round Lon­don’s hospi­tals to see if Thomas had been ad­mit­ted. “I walked into the stu­dio and Paul said, ‘Hey, I thought you’d been in­jured in the at­tack on the Sex Pis­tols?’ I said, No, Paul, that hap­pened at the week­end. I didn’t think to men­tion it…”

n the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the god save the queen tu­mult, rot­ten grew ever more fu­ri­ous at his man­ager’s seem­ing in­dif­fer­ence to the group’s safety. mclaren’s sec­re­tary, so­phie rich­mond, found the singer a flat in chelsea clois­ters, a shabby man­sion block in sw3, but its gloomy at­mos­phere (he com­plained it “smelled of old lady’s fan­nies”) did lit­tle to al­le­vi­ate his anx­i­ety; nor did his new flat­mates: vi­cious and his hero­inad­dicted amer­i­can girl­friend nancy spun­gen. mat­ters reached a head on mon­day june 27, when both rot­ten and vi­cious, com­ing down off speed, de­manded that mclaren get them out of the coun­try. his re­sponse was to ar­range a two-week tour of scan­di­navia, be­gin­ning on july 13. the sense of a group in cri­sis was am­pli­fied by the relentless bick­er­ing in the days lead­ing up to the tour, stirred up by mclaren, whom rich­mond felt was do­ing “the wrong thing by jump­ing in so strongly [against rot­ten] on Steve and Paul’s side” at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity. The fault lines widened when McLaren left for Los angeles for a se­ries of meet­ings about a pro­posed Sex Pis­tols film, with which none of the band was par­tic­u­larly en­am­oured. Be­fore leav­ing, McLaren had failed to re­solve an ar­gu­ment with Vir­gin boss richard Bran­son over whether or not the promo clip for the band’s next sin­gle, Pretty Va­cant, should be aired on Top Of The Pops. The group agreed it shouldn’t, but it was nev­er­the­less broad­cast on July 14, with Bran­son claim­ing that “it was too late to get the tapes back” from the BBC. That rot­ten had lost faith in McLaren’s abil­ity to man­age the Pis­tols was clearly com­mu­ni­cated in a show he recorded with Cap­i­tal ra­dio’s Tommy Vance, just be­fore the group left for Den­mark. Billed as ‘The Punk and His Mu­sic’, it pro­vided the pub­lic with their first glimpse of the ‘real’ per­son be­hind the gnarly rot­ten cara­pace, one with broad mu­si­cal tastes, rang­ing from dub and folk to glam rock and the avant-garde. among his ex­quis­ite deep cuts were Tim Buck­ley’s Sweet Sur­ren­der, Bobby Byrd’s

Back From The Dead, Peter Ham­mill’s The In­sti­tute Of Men­tal Health, Burn­ing and Ken Boothe’s Is It Be­cause I’m Black. “That was just me be­ing me,” says Rot­ten. “What did peo­ple think I was go­ing to do, play The Clash? (Laughs) Mu­sic was al­ways im­por­tant to me and I wanted to show that. Mal­colm didn’t like it be­cause he wanted to present me as some­thing I wasn’t. He was play­ing a game, and I was al­ready wise to that.” The real bomb­shell, how­ever, was his on-air cri­tique of McLaren’s man­age­ment tech­nique – or lack of it. “It’s fash­ion­able to be­lieve Mal­colm McLaren dic­tates to us but that’s just not true,” he told Vance. “What re­ally amuses me is the way they say he con­trols the press, a me­dia ma­nip­u­la­tor. The point of it all is that he did noth­ing.” When the show aired, nei­ther McLaren nor Rot­ten were in the coun­try, but the dam­age done would prove ir­repara­ble. Mean­while, the Scan­di­na­vian tour – the Pis­tols’ first proper out­ing since a three-day visit to Hol­land in Jan­uary – suc­cess­fully dis­tanced them from the trou­bles in Lon­don. Un­able to find drugs to feed his grow­ing heroin habit, Vi­cious was less un­pre­dictable and ob­nox­ious, and per­form­ing live once more bonded the group. There were other ben­e­fits, too. “That [tour] was a real laugh,” re­called Jones. “Gor­geous crum­pet… knew ev­ery­thing. Not like English birds, all fat and sweaty, th­ese were lit­tle blonde beau­ties.” “You could be raped and have a sauna at the same time,” con­curred Ly­don. The only down­side came in Stock­holm, where the lo­cal biker gang, the Rag­gare, beat up fans, and the Pis­tols had to high­tail it from the venue in a po­lice van. By now, vi­o­lence had be­come such an in­te­gral part of the Pis­tols’ ex­is­tence that the episode was shrugged off; Rot­ten even ad­mired the “hard and bru­tal” at­ti­tudes of the Nordic peo­ple, liken­ing the gigs to a “Vik­ing beer mon­ster’s tea party”. Back in Lon­don, there was more drama, though this time of an in­tensely per­sonal kind. While Rot­ten was away, his new part­ner (now his wife) Nora Forster, mother of The Sl­its’ Ari­ane (aka Ari Up), had mis­car­ried their child. The loss com­pli­cated an al­ready prob­lem­at­i­cal time for the 21-year-old singer, now liv­ing with Sid in what amounted to a safe house on Suther­land Av­enue in Maida Vale. Since the at­tacks at the Pe­ga­sus and Ding­walls, Rot­ten had grown ever more wary of walk­ing the streets un­ac­com­pa­nied. The added threat from Teddy Boys be­daz­zled by the prospect of an all-out Teds v punks war, as pro­moted by clashes that sum­mer on the King’s Road, now meant he needed to be con­stantly mob-handed. John Tiberi, the Pis­tols’ road man­ager and con­fi­dante, re­calls that af­ter the at­tacks, “It was John’s re­ac­tion to have all his mates round, his lit­tle gang, with John as Pinkie in Brighton Rock.” Chief among them were old friends John Gray and John ‘Rambo’ Stevens, plus 18-year-old Jah Wob­ble, whose cre­den­tials as a teenage psy­chopath had been en­shrined by his as­sault with Sid Vi­cious on NME jour­nal­ist Nick Kent a year ear­lier. “I just didn’t want to go out and so­cialise with any­one,” Ly­don ex­plains. “That was the mo­ment when I just wanted to be my­self. You’re put un­der a mag­ni­fy­ing glass and ever y move you made could be mis­judged by oth­ers. So I be­came a very re­tir­ing per­son. The

vi­sion from in­side the Pis­tols look­ing out was very dif­fi­cult. There was too much to cope with at such an early age. I was leap­ing into some­thing that I didn’t fully com­pre­hend – none of us did, we were just ba­bies.”

n The early weeks of au­gusT, the pres­sure to fin­ish an al­bum was in­ten­si­fy­ing. The sex Pis­tols may have been punk’s undis­puted fig­ure­heads, but mu­si­cally their im­print was wor­ry­ingly slight. while The Clash, Jam and Damned were now all veter­ans of uk tours, and each had an al­bum un­der their belts, the Pis­tols had re­leased just three sin­gles. There was now a man­i­fest dan­ger that punk would burn it­self out be­fore some of the very tunes that had in­spired the move­ment had been com­mit­ted to vinyl. with Thomas now free from Mc­Cart­ney du­ties, work at wes­sex stepped up. Bill Price had nailed most of the ba­sic back­ing tracks ear­lier in the year, leav­ing Thomas to fi­nesse the gui­tars and vo­cals. “steve and Paul lived in the same place and when­ever they were bored they’d run through the set, so they played fault­lessly,” re­calls Thomas, whose stel­lar CV al­ready in­cluded The Bea­tles, Pink floyd and roxy Mu­sic. “so the back­ing tracks were usu­ally Take 1, then steve would over­dub two rhythm gui­tar parts, then add bass. It was all done to the same recipe, the only al­bum I’ve made where that’s the case. sid couldn’t play well enough to be on the record – we ended up ban­ning him from the stu­dio any­way.” rot­ten found the close at­ten­tion to Jones’s gui­tar work a con­stant source of ir­ri­ta­tion. “all the gui­tar over­dubs!” he says. “It wasn’t steve’s fault. Chris Thomas was look­ing for a gui­tar hero. we had Queen next door, with Brian May din­gling away. some­one’s ears may have in­ter­cepted some flight­sof-fancy gui­tar ac­tion. Peo­ple came in and out. Des o’Con­nor was there at one point.” Thomas: “I re­mem­ber the Pis­tols go­ing in to hear what Queen were up to. They were do­ing the stomp­ing stuff for we will rock you in the main stu­dio, and we were mix­ing next door in stu­dio 2. a lovely bit of graf­fiti later ap­peared in the up­stairs room near the pool ta­ble: it said ‘sid loves fred­die’.” as the al­bum neared com­ple­tion, a de­bate raged over whether it should in­clude the group’s three a-sides, to­gether with a fourth, hol­i­days In The sun, sched­uled for re­lease in septem­ber. Bran­son was adamant they should be fea­tured; rot­ten, con­cerned that fans would be ripped off, ar­gued not. aware of their lack of un­re­leased record­ings, the group set to work on a new song, Bod­ies – the most bril­liantly nox­ious and chal­leng­ing broad­side they’d ever de­liver. rot­ten’s lyric con­cerned abor­tion – a sub­ject rarely broached in rock’n’roll – and, for the first time in a Pis­tols song, he felt com­pelled to un­leash a string of ex­ple­tives. To­day, he re­gards the track as a paradigm of what he was seek­ing as an artist. “I didn’t write it to cause a com­mo­tion,” he main­tains. “It was re­al­ism. My mum had a lot of mis­car­riages when she was young, and as the old­est child I had to carry the bucket and flush it down the out­side toi­let. some­times it took sev­eral flushes, and some­times there’d be recog­nis­able body parts. “There was a girl called Pauline who did turn up at my front door with an abor­tion in a clear plas­tic bag. so all of that, and all of the ex­pe­ri­ences from my past, came flood­ing in [to the lyric] in an in­stant. none of it was ab­stract or in­tel­lec­tual; for me, it was work­ing-class life at its grimmest. It was a sub­ject which I thought should be dealt with.” Thomas was over­awed by the song, and recorded the

back­ing track with Sid play­ing some bass (his only con­tri­bu­tion to the al­bum). The pro­ducer also claims a small part in its devel­op­ment. “John was singing it orig­i­nally in the first per­son,” he says. “It went, ‘I don’t want a baby that looks like that…’ Then he did it in the third per­son: ‘She don’t want a baby…’ I said, Why don’t you mix it up?, fully ex­pect­ing a beer bot­tle to come fly­ing past my ear. But John liked it. So we edited the two to­gether.” Dur­ing the last two weeks in Au­gust, the group let off steam with a clan­des­tine and hastily ar­ranged UK club tour as the S.P.O.T.S – the Sex Pis­tols On Tour Se­cretly. Once again, play­ing live helped them set aside their per­sonal dif­fer­ences, and ec­static au­di­ences, re­signed to never see­ing the coun­try’s most no­to­ri­ous rock act in con­cert, were over­whelmed. “It was the best time,” re­called Jones. “Those shows were fuck­ing great.” By mid-Septem­ber, Bol­locks was mixed and ready to go, but Bran­son pro­cras­ti­nated over its re­lease, partly due to an on­go­ing row with McLaren over for­eign li­cens­ing deals and the pro­fu­sion of Pis­tols im­ports on the French Bar­clay la­bel. To goad the Vir­gin boss into ac­tion, McLaren sanc­tioned the in­fa­mous Spunk boot­leg of Bol­locks demos. Even­tu­ally, af­ter he’d signed a Pis­tols film and LP deal with Warner Brothers in the US for $750,000, the record was de­liv­ered to the shops that had agreed to stock it on Oc­to­ber 28, 1977. Within a few days its “in­de­cent” ti­tle – and Bod­ies’ chilling lyrics – would be the sub­ject of a pros­e­cu­tion that threat­ened to close down the band and crim­i­nalise one of the English lan­guage’s finest curse words.

n SATUr­DAy nOVEM­BEr 5, 1977, PC Julie Storey was alarmed to dis­cover that not­ting­ham’s Vir­gin record store was plas­tered with sleeves of a lurid-look­ing LP with the word “bol­locks” in the ti­tle. Be­liev­ing that “bol­locks” was an ob­scene word, she asked the shop’s man­ager, 28-year-old Chris Seale, to re­move the of­fend­ing dis­play. His re­ply was, “What about free speech?” Seal even­tu­ally ac­qui­esced; then, as soon as Storey left, he put the dis­play back up again. Four days later, and af­ter four more warn­ings, he was ar­rested by Sgt ray­mond Stone un­der the In­de­cent Ad­ver­tise­ment Act 1889 – the only of­fence on the statute book that seemed rel­e­vant to the mat­ter. By then, there had al­ready been sev­eral other of­fi­cial ob­jec­tions to Bol­locks. First, Con­ser­va­tive Shadow Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter norman St John-Stevas had com­plained to the press about the lan­guage used in Bod­ies; sub­se­quently, the In­de­pen­dent Broad­cast­ing Au­thor­ity had banned all ra­dio ad­verts for the LP. Vir­gin’s re­sponse – since sales of their prod­uct were be­ing hit – was to hire one of Bri­tain’s most cel­e­brated bar­ris­ters, John Mor­timer QC, to de­fend Seale in court. Mor­timer, au­thor of the rumpole Of The Bai­ley books, was well-versed in cases in­volv­ing free­dom of speech, hav­ing de­fended pub­lisher richard neville and his as­so­ciates in the Oz Trial of 1971, af­ter the un­der­ground mag­a­zine had pub­lished its no­to­ri­ous ‘schoolkids’ is­sue fea­tur­ing a porno­graphic car­toon of ru­pert The Bear. In fact, Bran­son had first em­ployed Mor­timer around the same time, when the fu­ture Vir­gin boss was

pros­e­cuted for pro­duc­ing a Stu­dent Ad­vi­sory leaflet re­lat­ing to the treat­ment of vene­real dis­ease. To bet­ter un­der­stand his brief, Mor­timer ar­ranged a con­fer­ence with Rot­ten, the only Pis­tol in­ter­ested in the case. Re­mark­ably, the up­per­crust silk and coun­cil flat punk got on fa­mously. “I loved his hon­esty, and his in­ter­ro­ga­tion,” says Ly­don. “The bloke wouldn’t sit there and put up with sup­port­ing a lemon. You had to jus­tify your cor­ner. I re­ally re­spected him as a hu­man be­ing; he was only in­ter­ested in the truth. For me, men­tally, I be­gan to ap­pre­ci­ate the whole bar­ris­ter thing. It was like. ‘Do you want to win or lose?’ I want to go on with [the case]. It was a big learn­ing curve.” Bran­son ad­vised Mor­timer to call Melody Maker’s Caro­line Coon as a wit­ness for the de­fence. As one of the Pis­tols’ ear­li­est cham­pi­ons, she was well placed to ar­gue their artis­tic and cul­tural worth, but also had the at­trac­tion of hav­ing ap­peared in court on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions, via her work with Re­lease, the charity she founded in the late ’60s to help drug-busted hip­pies. To­day, she be­lieves that the dark forces of the state may have had a hand in the pros­e­cu­tion. “Peo­ple in high places were ob­vi­ously keep­ing a close eye on things,” she says. “It’s un­likely God Save The Queen had gone un­no­ticed. Ques­tions were be­ing asked by Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment.” The idea that the state con­sid­ered a guilty ver­dict cru­cial is sup­ported by the fact that, to counter Mor­timer, the Crown en­gaged its own star bar­ris­ter, David Ritchie QC. That they were set to do bat­tle in a provin­cial Mag­is­trates Court, more used to try­ing speed­ing of­fences and fin­ing drunks, fur­ther ex­posed the deep im­pli­ca­tions of the mat­ter. What Regina hadn’t banked upon, how­ever, was the de­fence’s se­cret weapon – one Pro­fes­sor James Kins­ley, the 55-year-old Head of English Stud­ies at Not­ting­ham Univer­sity. The Pro­fes­sor was greatly tick­led by the idea of prov­ing in court that, far from be­ing ob­scene, ‘bol­locks’ was a ro­bust and in­of­fen­sive Anglo-Saxon term for ‘small balls’ or tes­ti­cles. More­over, in the phrase “Never mind the bol­locks”, it sim­ply meant ‘non­sense’ – this, ap­par­ently, be­cause Vic­to­rian cler­gy­men were col­lo­qui­ally known as ‘bol­locks’ and, as they gen­er­ally talked a lot of rub­bish, the word ac­quired this sec­ond def­i­ni­tion. On the morn­ing of the trial, Novem­ber 24, Mor­timer, Bran­son and Caro­line Coon caught the early train to Not­ting­ham and awaited Kins­ley’s ar­rival. When he ap­peared, much to their amuse­ment he was sport­ing a dog col­lar – it tran­spired that the Pro­fes­sor was also a prac­tis­ing Angli­can priest.

The ac­counts of the trial that sur­vive in the con­tem­po­rary weekly mu­sic pa­pers make fas­ci­nat­ing read­ing. Mor­timer’s open­ing gam­bit cen­tred on the no­tion that the Not­ting­ham po­lice couldn’t pos­si­bly find the word “bol­locks” up­set­ting, since The Guardian had used the word – and the al­bum’s cover – in a front­page story, and no lo­cal newsagents had yet to his knowl­edge been ar­rested. He ar­gued in­stead that what re­ally of­fended the po­lice was the Sex Pis­tols them­selves. While cross-ex­am­in­ing Caro­line Coon, David Ritchie QC lost ground when he strug­gle to de­ter­mine whether or not the LP fea­tured the word ‘fuck’, a sub­ject on which Coon proved de­light­fully vague. (Re­ally, he should have lis­tened to the record.) But it was the dog-col­lared Kins­ley’s lo­qua­cious dis­po­si­tion on the noble history of ‘bol­locks’, from Cax­ton’s Bi­ble to well-worn vet­eri­nary texts, to its syn­ony­mous use as ‘non­sense’ that sealed the pros­e­cu­tion’s fate. Af­ter Mor­timer’s clos­ing speech, pas­sion­ately ar­gu­ing that free and vivid use of the English lan­guage shouldn’t be a crim­i­nal mat­ter, the three mag­is­trates, led by the sex­a­ge­nar­ian Mr Dou­glas Betts, retired to con­sider their ver­dict. When they re­turned, Betts had this to say to Chris Seale: “Much as my col­leagues and I de­plore the vul­gar ex­ploita­tions of the worst in­stincts of hu­man na­ture for the pur­chase of com­mer­cial profit… we re­luc­tantly find you not guilty.” Rot­ten, who’d made it to the court­room in time for the sum­ming-up, was mobbed by rap­tur­ous fans in the pub­lic galler y. Out­side in the street, a throng of re­porters and TV crew gath­ered, ea­ger for a com­ment from the vin­di­cated Sex Pis­tols singer. When he ap­peared wear­ing his topee hat and a wide grin, he de­clared, “Great – bol­locks is le­gal. Bol­locks! Bol­locks! Bol­locks!” ITH A SMALL ARMy Of fANS in tow, Richard Bran­son led his tri­umphant team to a nearby pub, the fly­ing Horse. Over pints of Guin­ness and brandies, they toasted their win, but the vic­tory would prove a Pyrrhic one. Though Never Mind The Bol­locks would re­main on sale, shift­ing more than 125,000 copies in its first month of re­lease, the Pis­tols were rapidly dis­in­te­grat­ing. Just a week af­ter the trial, an at­tempt to re­hearse – the group’s first prac­tice in two months – came to noth­ing when the only mem­ber to turn up, re­mark­ably, was Sid. Hu­mil­i­ated, the bassist re­turned to his flat in Pin­dock Mews, Maida Vale and badly beat up Nancy. The other Pis­tols were ap­palled, and tem­po­rar­ily fired him, be­fore re­in­stat­ing him. Rot­ten’s re­la­tion­ship with McLaren, mean­while, went from bad to worse and on Jan­uary 17, 1978, at the end of a dis­as­trous 12-day US tour, he fi­nally quit. The Pis­tols them­selves had done what the au­thor­i­ties and their bru­tal as­sailants couldn’t: smashed the group apart. But, 40 years on, Never Mind The Bol­locks en­dures as a mon­u­ment to their me­te­oric bril­liance. “I’m not a ro­man­tic but there were some great mo­ments,” said Ly­don. “Mak­ing that record was such a dif­fi­cult thing for us to do as a band. I hate it when other peo­ple take the credit for it, ’cos it takes away from the im­mense ef­fort it took to make it. We were lucky to get what we did onto tape.” The re­ver­ber­a­tions of Bol­locks were to prove seis­mic. As a cul­tural arte­fact, it in­stantly at­tained a sta­tus sim­i­lar to that of Rock Around The Clock or Sgt. Pep­per. To this day, it re­mains ar­guably punk’s most pow­er­ful and in­flu­en­tial state­ment – this de­spite ar­riv­ing 18 months af­ter Ramones,a full six months af­ter The Clash and around the same time as the sec­ond LPs by The Damned, The Jam and The Stran­glers. The Bol­locks trial, mean­while, marked an­other im­por­tant step for­ward in the lib­er­al­i­sa­tion of the arts, build­ing on the ad­vances that came with the Lady Chat­ter­ley’s Lover case in 1960, the Oz Trial and the Gay News ac­tion of 1976. Cu­ri­ously, though, Bol­locks’ court vic­tory didn’t un­leash a tsunami of foul­mouthed, taboo-break­ing punk songs or Repub­li­can an­thems; by early 1978, punk’s anger had burned too bright to en­dure much longer. Be­sides, who could ever top Bol­locks? for Ly­don, the lyrics he wrote as a Sex Pis­tol con­tin­ued to haunt him, and long af­ter he’d moved on to the ex­pres­sion­is­tic ex­per­i­ments of PiL he was still the sub­ject of po­lice ha­rass­ment and pub­lic op­pro­brium, driv­ing him out of the spot­light. In 1981, he va­cated the flat in Chelsea’s Gunter Grove he’d bought around the time of the Bol­locks trial and ex­iled him­self in New york and then LA. “In Eng­land, I was al­ways viewed as an Ir­ish­man, and in Ire­land they took me for an English­man,” says this erst­while De­stroyer Of Civil­i­sa­tion. “In Amer­ica, they just saw me as me. And that was very lib­er­at­ing.” M

The 40th an­niver­sary deluxe edi­tion of Never Mind The Bol­locks is re­leased by UMC in Oc­to­ber.

The Stran­glers’ JJ Bur­nel on-stage at The Nashville, Lon­don, 1977: “There were so many punch-ups.”

Buz­zcocks’ Steve Dig­gle in Lon­don, Oc­to­ber 1977: “The coun­try was in mu­si­cal chaos.”

Bol­locks on trial: (from left) Pis­tols bar­ris­ter John Mor­timer and (be­low) ad­vo­cate Caro­line Coon; Rot­ten mod­els his trial topee hat, Brunel Univer­sity; Vir­gin boss Richard Bran­son cashes in. Press­ing con­cerns: (left, top to bot­tom) Not­ting­ham record shop rebel Chris Seale on the front page of The Sun; fruits of the boot­leg mar­ket; orig­i­nal Bol­locks art­work.

Jayne Casey and Holly John­son, Big In Ja­pan, star­tling pun­ters at Rafters, Manchester, Novem­ber 17, 1977.

Rot­ten an­tic­i­pates vin­di­ca­tion, Oc­to­ber ’77: “It was a big learn­ing curve.”

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