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Anarchy In The Year Zero

April 22, 2016

Clinton Heylin

Route Publishing (2016)

Who knows when they are being historic? Maybe witnessing England at Wembley in 1966, or watching a motorcade in Dallas just after noon on November 11th 1963 you would feel at the time that you were in the epicentre of the world. But what about events which only acquire significance in retrospect? I did not feel historic in 1976 watching the Sex Pistols every Tuesday in May at the 100 Club in Oxford Street. They were just another fine rock’n’roll band playing for not much money in a small club a short ride on the Bakerloo line from my bedsit in Queens Park. I had no idea how important they were to become, and neither did anyone else (including Malcolm McLaren, whatever he said subsequently).

Forty years on it’s all very different. We now know that the Sex Pistols were the accelerant that caused widespread conflagration and consternation. Now commonplace is the punk credo of “if you don’t like what’s on offer, do something better yourself”. Seizing the means of production started with punk bands releasing their own records and has lead to everyone being able to release music, produce a film or publish a novel. Despite this most accounts of the Punk Revolution restrict themselves to recycling the same, over-familiar sources. Despite an appallingly impractical cover, Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming (1991) has thus far offered the best account.

Enter Clinton Heylin. Restricting his focus to the period November 1975- December 1976 gives Clinton a number of clear advantages. Firstly this was the most exciting time, before the journeymen musician cut their hair and attempted to join the party. Punk was essentially a live phenomenon, and this period was the liveliest. Clinton captures the atmosphere of sparsely attended gigs and rapidly-emptying venues very well. Having such a narrow time period to excavate allows him to go beyond the reminiscences of the usual suspects – Coon, Kent, Ingham, the Bromleys – and search out the stories of casual punters, like me and my friends. We stumbled across the Sex Pistols by accident in November 1975. Situationist T shirt slogans meant nothing to us: we were just grateful to find a band playing Substitute and Watcha Gonna Do About It with conviction and attack. Our story is here (pages 39-40) and so is the story of many other early punk fans, thanks to Clinton’s fastidious research and forensic examination of many previously unutilised original sources.

Clinton moves quickly through the year, his pace matches the speed at which the scene develops. Peter Lloyd’s colour photos are equally fresh and look like the type of photos I would have taken at these gigs (had I owned a camera). Imagine – a time when gigs went unrecorded ! The whole book is a glorious reminder of the romance of the pre-internet era, when it was possible to go a gig with no idea of what you were going to see or hear. Around this time I saw the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Ramones, the Jam, the Damned, the Buzzcocks, Subway Sect, Patti Smith and the Banshees interspersed with Neil Young, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Little Feat, Blue Oyster Cult, Roy Harper, the Flamin’ Goovies, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, the Count Bishops, Alex Harvey, Van Der Graaf Generator, Kevin Ayres and The Pink Fairies. It was all just music. There was no punk look and you saw the same longhairs at every gig. Only now can we get some sense of how it all fits together, and the varying significance of the different bands then in action. Clinton and Route are to be congratulated for putting these thirteen months under the microscope and observing the fascinating creatures scurrying around.

 

 

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