Poor old Pete Best, sacked from the Beatles just as they were about to embark on their journey to the toppermost of the popermost. Best has become iconic in the jettisoning of a founding band member in the pursuit of fame.It’s usually the Drummer who is the Pete Best of the group because good drumming is often more difficult than it looks and in the studio their imperfections are often magnified. Even Ringo who was Pete Best’s replacement wasn’t trusted with the job at first and had to settle for tapping a tambourine while session musician Andy White did the heavy lifting during the first recording session.
Punk had its very own version of Pete Best; and that’s where Wally comes in.
Warwick ‘Wally’ Nightingale had started a band back in 1973. The singer Steve Jones and the drummer Paul Cook were both local lads who went to the same school as Wally and with the addition of Cook’s brother in law on bass they formed a band called The Strand. Wally was the musician of the group playing guitar and singing. Steve Jones was mainly interested in thieving (although this came in handy as he was able to nick most of the band’s equipment) and Cook had an apprenticeship as an electrician (his brother in law had less commitment and was soon sacked from the band)
The Strand were no different from most local bedroom bands, although thanks to Jones they probably had better equipment, it’s probably fair to Nightingale that without him the others would have lost interest. The band apparently played a selection of Faces and Small Faces tunes and also included the mighty ‘Can’t Get Enough by Bad Company’ and more bizarrely ‘Build me up Buttercup’ by the Foundations.
As Steve Jones began to take the band more seriously he began to pester no less than Malcolm McLaren to take an interest which reluctantly he began to do initially uniting them with one of his employees Glen Matlock who could actually play Bass and moved the band up a gear.
The Band had now changed their name to The Swankers, Wally’s father worked at Riverside Studios in Hammersmith and was allowing the band to rehearse in these premises. The actual arrival of McLaren at the studios unsurprisingly changed everything. Nick Kent claimed he was present at this first meeting and when he expressed some misgivings at some of the material Mclaren used this as a reason to sack the hapless Wally in front of his band mates. Apparently by his own account Wally was so shocked he even went for a drink with them afterwards ! He had had a pretty good assessment of the person who sacked him however
“McLaren was devious but clever. He’d see things which other people didn’t see and I suppose that’s what gave him his edge. Malcolm made the Sex Pistols.”
And that was Wally’s small but significant contribution to punk, without him there might have been no Swankers who, of course became the Sex Pistols after Jones had learned a bit of guitar and Johnny Rotten had been brought in to sing.
Pete Best struggled in his role as the sacked Beatle to the point of attempting to take his own life. Things improved, he became a civil servant and ran his own band and even wrote his autobiography. In many respects it was a better deal than being shot by a maniac on the streets of New York.
Wally wasn’t so lucky. He was pretty much shunned by his old band mates although Matlock who was to experience similar problems with the band a few months down the line appeared to feel it was OK to be seen in public with him. Wally roadied for The Clash for a while but apart from that he occasionally appeared in ‘where are they now’ type articles. Through the 80’s he appeared to go off the rails, his father who had been so trusting with studio time was convicted of some sort of embezzlement and was sacked from his job and died. Wally fell further into problematic drug use, particularly heroin which led to his own problems with the law and a period in custody.
His only musical legacy is the song ‘Scarface’ which he claims he wrote the music to and later (with new lyrics from Rotten) resurfaced as ‘Did you no Wrong’ as the B side of ‘God Save The Queen’.
Of course he received no credit of royalties from this. Things didn’t get any better, he continued to struggle with his mental health and died from ‘drug related complications’ aged only 40.
One riff on a Sex Pistols b side isn’t a great legacy but without Wally there would probably have been no Pistols and music would have been very different by 1977.