On 10th March 1977 the Sex Pistols staged a very deliberate publicity stunt signing a recording contract with A&M records in front of Buckingham Palace.As stunts go it was pretty low budget involving little more than a trestle table. The actual contract had been signed the previous day at A&M records so this outing was solely for the press. ‘Anarchy in the UK’ had been released on EMI who after the Bill Grundy fiasco had decided to let the band go. The next release by the band was going to be ‘God Save the Queen’ hence the choice of location for the mock signing.
Post Anarchy Tour the band had been lying low and by the time that they emerged in March bassist Glen Matlock had left and he had been replaced by non bassist Sid Vicious.
And so the seeds of destruction were set. The Pistols had, from their very inception, been a fractious unit. Jones and Cook presented a fairly united front and might even be considered friends. Matlock, ever concerned about the musical output of the band, failed to jell either with the lads club of Cook and Jones or the increasingly vitriolic Rotten. Matlock felt that since Grundygate Rotten had become increasingly egotistic and was just about sick of the bad vibes in the Pistol’s camp.
Without their most musical member the band were going to struggle as evidenced by the fact that they only managed to create two more songs in the rest of their existence. A press statement was issued stating that Matlock had been sacked because he ‘liked the Beatles’ , in fact the bassist had just had enough and was happy to leave.
Just being in a band is a strange existence that owes little to actual musical ability. Resentment and jealousy can fester over years, the main strand that runs through so many band stories is one of betrayal.
The Pistols had very little to betray as most of them were never friends. Matlock had simply had enough, the final straw, apparently being the lyrics to ‘God Save the Queen’ which he felt would be interpreted as fascistic. He had a point, this was a time when the swastika was being freely appropriated and there is no underestimating the stupidity of large proportions of the British Public. The actual song, however was a great one, full of memorable Rotten one liners.
And, of course, the new member of the band was swastika wearing Sid. Vicious was a well-known face on the scene but nor for good reasons. At the first punk festival the previous year he had thrown a grass that had smashed and blinded a girl in one eye, he was arrested and held in youth custody but the matter never came to court. His next bit of recorded violence was an attack on journalist Nick Kent. Mclaren, as usual willing to turn anything to his advantage claimed this was a reason Vicious was recruited into the Pistols.
The real reason however was the fact that he was a long time friend of Rotten’s. At the time of him making contact with Mclaren’s shop SEX Rotten was part of a gang who were all called John. Another member was John Wardle later to become bassist Jah Wobble and John Ritchie, the future Sid. Such was the close knit nature of this group that Vivienne Westwood felt that when Rotten was picked for singer it was a mistake in communication and Mr Ritchie was the one that should have been approached. ‘you’ve got the wrong John!’
Vicious was a complex character, old friends often refer to him as a really funny and sweet, almost an innocent guy. He was damaged goods however, his single mother was a long term heroin addict and had regularly shared her stash with the teenage Sid. There also appeared to be a violent almost psychopathic side to his personality and relatively little regard to his own personal safety.
The general wisdom with vicious is that he was a terrible bassist which is at face value a true fact. This is tempered by his potential as a musician. He had played drums in the very first incarnation of Souxie and the Banshees just prior to throwing that fateful glass. He then went on to form The Flowers of Romance where he played, of all things, the saxophone. Rotten reckons that Lemmy tried to teach Vicious some basics on his new instrument but declared him unteachable, Steve Jones, on the other hand considered him to be the ideal Pistols Bass player as he stuck to the basic root note and never deviated, Jones liked his music simple.
On the rare occasions the Pistols were to play live Vicious seemed able to approximate the role of a bass player to everyone’s satisfaction. It’s highly possible that he could have grown into the role.
Unfortunately music lessons were low on his agenda more. He was more interested in firstly just being a Sex Pistol then in his new girlfriend Nancy Spungen but his real interest was to be heron
Spungen had arrived in town following the Heartbreakers. There must have been good and positive things about her but they are really hard to find, no one has a good word to say about the poor woman. Spungen was a long time New York groupie, addicted to heroin and the possessor of a particularly abrasive personally. As they say up north she wasn’t going to make old bones. Spungen , having been given the bums rush by the Heartbreakers tried to attach herself to other local musicians with not success and eventually ended up with Vicious, the rest is history.
With Vicious in the band they looked more like an identikit punk band and were on their way to becoming a commodity rather than a musical entity. This opened the way for Mclaren to put himself forward as the arch manipulator and the major figure in the Pistol’s story. Jones had seen the writing on the wall, once he was leader of the band, now he was having to play second fiddle not only to Rotten but also to Vicious and eventually Mclaren. Musically the band had come to a dead end, Jones would be called upon to overdub the bass on the Bollocks album and the song writing had almost dried up.
Vicious would go on to become the most famous face of cartoon punk, soon city centres all over Britain would feature a gaggle of Sid lookalikes. Their roles defined as much by The Sun or The Daily Mail as any genuine rebellion.
It’s hard to underestimate the stupidity of large proportions of the British public.