Ok as a writer Nick Kent was not unsung in fact if anything he’s been somewhat over romanticised but to point out his limitations as a writer is a bit like stating all Marc Bolan’s songs sound the same. Kent’s writing was of its time and being in the heart of the action was every bit as important as the literary output.And that’s why Kent is important in the birth of punk, he was there, a mover and shaker as much as an observer. It must be said that Kent is not exactly a reliable witness being off his face on heroin and assorted other drugs for a large part of the decade but let’s assume that his assertions, taken from his book ‘Apathy for the Devil’ are true as it’s a lot more fun.
In 1974 Kent had struck up a friendship with a certain Malcolm Mclaren owner of a shop at the rougher end of the King’s Road called variously ‘ Let it Rock and the ‘Seditionaries’.Mclaren, a lover of all things 50’s had lost interest in rock culture as the 60’s progressed and apparently hadn’t really got a clue about the 70’s. His role model was the 50’s entrepreneur Larry Parnes and his stable of young male rock and rollers such as Billy Fury and Vince Eager. This had been a fairly lukewarm proposition in 1958 and wasn’t going to get Mclaren far in the mid 70’s. Kent took it upon himself to educate Mclaren in the ways of the 70’s. Lo and behold the ginger shop owner went on to manage the New York Dolls (fairly abysmally) and then to return to blighty to look for a British equivalent.
And this is where Kent’s second significant act of punk generosity comes in. Mclaren recruited a couple of genuine working class ner do wells namely Paul Cooke and Steve Jones with Glen Matlock, an art student now working in Mclaren’s renamed shop SEX and a guitarist Wally Nightingale. He invited Kent over to see them rehearse which led to the prompt firing or Nightingale and the instatement of Kent as guitarist. Kent was an, all important, couple of years older than the remaining band and his bludgeoning Junkie status meant that he wouldn’t be a Sex Pistol for long but he claims that his friendship with singer Jones lead to the latter picking up guitar where he was taught the basics (major chords only). The necessitated the recruitment of a new singer, welcome Johnny Rotten.
Finally Mclaren tried one further attempt to get the increasingly unreliable Kent involved in music by creating yet another band from currently directionless musicians. Kent was teamed up with his ex-girlfriend Chrissy Hynde and no less than Mick Jones. The name of this band ? Masters of the Backside (really)This was a fairly hopeless project from the name to the execution. Kent and Hynde were not exactly comfortable together and after a blazing row Kent was no longer in the band.Kents next venture was backing his girlfriend at a gig in Wales,Chris Miller who had been supposed to be the drummer in Masters of the Backside offered to help out and so future Dammed members Captain Sensible, Brian James and Rat Scabies became the Subteraneans and the band lasted one gig (a feminist benefit where the band played songs such as the Stones’ ‘under my thumb’). Keen students of punkdom will have of course realised that her we have the genesis of the Dammed and The Pretenders and even a little bit of The Clash.
And such is the random nature of history, there’s a good case to be made (and I will do so in a future post) that without Mclaren Punk would not have happened, but possibly, and only possibly, without Nick Kent Mclaren would have remained locked in the 50’s and spend the decade selling brothel creepers to ageing Teddy Boys instead of planning a revolution.
Being the sort of person he was, Mclaren was to seek to destroy his past. Kent was viciously attacked by Sid of the same name. Being a naturally fairly feeble individual and further weakened by a junkie lifestyle Kent became an open target for any punk wishing to prove their credentials and he spent the next couple of years being assaulted with varying degrees of seriousness. He eventually made his way to Paris overcoming addictions to heroin, methadone and Valium.
For a person whom I assumed had welcomed the birth of punk Kent now comes across as a person who went out of fashion almost overnight. From being part of the inner circle of the Stones and Led Zep he had become a hated hippie junkie by 1978.
Before the decade was over however he did get to record a single, a good single in fact, here it is