HELEN: Can you tell us a bit about yourself, and how old you were at the time of the Bill Grundy incident. Where were you living and what you remember about the impact of the Pistols on the culture of your childhood…
MICK: As I say in the introduction to the book, I was fourteen at the time of the Sex Pistols’ now legendary teatime tête-à-tête with Bill Grundy on the Today show on Wednesday, 1 December1976. I was living in Accrington, Lancashire (where I was born), and so with Today only being broadcast within the London area, I didn’t see the show. I had no real interest in music at that time, other than watching Top Of The Pops on a Thursday evening, and wouldn’t have known a Sex Pistol from one of Disco Tex’s Sex-O-Lettes. And as I was only interested in reading the sports pages of a newspaper, I also remained blithely unaware of the ensuing media witch hunt against the Sex Pistols, which of course left the band’s nineteen-date Anarchy In The UK Tour – to promote the debut single of the same name - in tatters.
Though I heard all about how the Pistols had supposedly called the queen a ‘moron’ in her jubilee year on the schoolyard grapevine, I didn’t get to hear the lyric for myself owing to the blanket-ban on the ‘God Save The Queen’ single. And my ongoing disinterest in pop music, coupled with my dad’s refusal to read anything other than the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Times, meant that once again I was left to form my own opinion as to whom these vile punk rockers might be, and why they were seemingly hell-bent on creating havoc at every turn? I’d no idea what a ‘punk rocker’ was, had yet to see a photo of the Pistols, and therefore assumed that Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious were just two more denim-clad musos a la Status Quo.
HELEN: But something was striking a chord, nonetheless…
MICK: I clearly had some common ground with the Pistols because when Middle England threw a nationwide street party to celebrate Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee – or to paper over the cracks of a crumbling economy, depending on one’s point of view – I purposely boycotted the local festivities in favour of staying home and playing with my Subutteo. And I also refrained from adding my name to those of my classmates in a congratulatory letter which was duly sent to Buckingham Palace along with thousands of others from schools up and down the country.
While some of the mates were now declaring themselves punk rockers, and raiding their dad’s wardrobes for items of clothing deemed acceptable by punk standards (I.e. The Sun’s ‘Top Ten Punk Tips’), I had no intention of sticking a safety-pin through my nose - and yes, I did see some undergo such self-mutilation. No, my interest in the Pistols started with catching their third single, ‘Pretty Vacant’, on Radio One’s Sunday evening chart rundown. And my conversion was complete on seeing the accompanying promo video on Top Of The Pops soon thereafter. From that moment on – while it may be a cliché – my life was truly changed forever. Nothing else mattered. I sold my Subutteo stuff, along with my collection of Burnley FC scarves, to go towards raising the asking price - £3.15, if memory serves – for a copy of Never Mind The Bollocks in its first week of release. I’d had to borrow the shortfall from my mum, who was bemused that her firstborn was showing interest in music. Needless to say, her bemusement quickly turned to incredulity on seeing me pull the distinctive, eye-catching yellow and pink sleeve from the carrier bag. (My dad’s reaction was infinitely worse!)
HELEN: And that’s when you started collecting?
MICK: Aside from trying to decipher the lyrics to the twelve tracks, I began assembling a furtive stash of punk-related accessories such as studded belts and wristbands which I could wear along with my school blazer and trousers - The Jam look as we ‘Plastic Punks’ called it – at the local discos and at weekends. I say ‘furtive stash’ because each week my mum would conduct a raid on my bedroom and toss whatever she found in the dustbin. I’d retrieve what she hadn’t been able to destroy and find another hidey-hole, and the whole process would begin again. Realising they were fighting a losing battle; my parents drew a line in the sand over my hair, which owing to the trend of the day, was shoulder-length. Until then, I’d had to be dragged kicking and screaming to a barber’s, so they knew something was afoot. However, they didn’t understand my determination, and one Friday night while they were out I took a pair of scissors to my locks. By the time I’d finished you could have been forgiven for thinking Stevie Wonder had gone at my head during a power cut. Mum said I looked ridiculous . . . but I took that as a compliment.
HELEN: Wasn’t the still much missed Sean Body the publisher of your first punk book?
MICK: The idea for The Anarchy Tour came about owing to the interest surrounding my first Sex Pistols-related book Only Anarchists Are Pretty which was published by Helter Skelter back in October 2004. Anarchists is a semi-fictional account of the Pistols’ early history from their formation through to their appearance on Today. Thanks to help from Pistols’ bassist Glen Matlock and the Clash’s Mick Jones I was able to ensure that the people, dates, and events are as historically accurate as possible, and I simply added the conversations to the ongoing events. After reading the book Glen told me that while he couldn’t remember who said what to who back in the day, it was close enough as far as he was concerned. The highest accolade, however, came from Malcolm McLaren who, on espying a copy of Anarchists in my bag during an interview for a documentary which happened to working on (and not realising that I was the author), told me how he’d bought a copy in New York and that he’d thought it ‘very good indeed’. I was initially too dumbstruck to speak. I’d been collecting Sex Pistols’ records, bootlegs, books, and other memorabilia for years and so hearing Malcolm say he’d bought my book kind of brought things full circle.
Following on from Anarchists, the idea was of course to pen a sequel to cover the band’s Sid period from February 1977 through to their implosion at Winterland, San Francisco, on the ill-feted US tour in January 1978. However, after being regaled with hilarious anecdotes relating to the Anarchy Tour by Buzzcocks’ Steve Diggle, and former Pistols roadie Steve ‘Roadent’ Connelly (who was employed by the Clash at the time of the tour) over a Guinness or three in the Spice Of Life in Cambridge Circus, I set to work on a book about the tour which I called No Feelings, No Future, No Fun.
HELEN: The Anarchy Tour, inasmuch as it ever really got going, has gone down in punk lore for all sorts of reasons, of course. The mix of bands alone was an interesting one, given various internal relationships…
MICK: What I found particularly fascinating about the tour was that despite the media backlash, which had to all intents and purposes had castigated the Sex Pistols and every other punk band as Public Enemies No 1, the bands were soon at each other’s throats. Owing to Johnny Rotten’s loathing of Glen (and vice versa) the Pistols were heading for an impasse, and Malcolm’s dislike of the Damned’s manager (and Stiff Records co-owner) Jake Riviera, meant the Damned had to pay their own way and travelled separately from the other bands. This, back when mobile phones were still in the realm of science fiction, brought untold logistical problems and resulted in the Damned being thrown off the tour after just one show – Leeds Polytechnic on 6th December. The Heartbreakers, with Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan being ex-New York Dolls, had arrived in London (while the Pistols were in the Today studio) with the intention of usurping the English bands and taking centre stage. Another fascination for me came with why the media whipped up such a storm against the Sex Pistols when anyone who has seen the ‘offending’ interview can see for themselves that Bill Grundy (who was slightly worse for wear following another of his ‘liquid lunches’) wilfully goaded Pistols’ guitarist Steve Jones into ‘saying something outrageous’. It’s only with the advantage of hindsight that we can see that with the then Labour government in something of a tailspin after having to go cap in hand to the IMF (International Monetary Fund) the tabloids – particularly the ‘Redtops’ - needed a scapegoat to deflect the general public’s ire. As far as Fleet Street was concerned, Christmas had come early . . .
Unfortunately, due to the untimely death of Helter Skelter’s owner, Sean Body, from Leukaemia in 2008, the manuscript was left to collect dust on the shelf. Before falling ill Sean had commissioned Alan G. Parker to pen a factual book – Flowers In The Dustbin - on the Pistols, and Alan kindly invited me to assist him in the writing. Again, however, because of Sean’s death the finished manuscript seemed destined to never see the light of day. That was until Soundcheck Books picked up the option for the book from Helter Skelter and published it as Young Flesh Required in July 2011.
HELEN: And The Anarchy Tour book went to Omnibus Press…
MICK: While visiting the London Book Fair at Earl’s Court a couple of months earlier I’d handed the completed manuscript for No Feelings, No Future, No Fun to David Barraclough of Omnibus Press. What I didn’t know was that Baz had been on the lookout for a book on the Anarchy Tour. The only proviso being, that he wanted the book to be one hundred per cent factual. Needless to say, having already pumped Glen, Mick, Steve and Roadent for their recollections about the tour this didn’t prove too much of a hindrance.
Further assistance was kindly provided by one time Heartbreakers’ manager and confidante Leee Black Childers, whom I’d met in New York back in 2008 while filming Alan G. Parker’s film/documentary Who Killed Nancy. The biggest thrill in regard to researching the tale, however, came in meeting up with former Clash manager Bernard Rhodes, who, despite tales to the contrary, was an absolute delight to talk to, and I spent an extremely enjoyable afternoon in his company rambling around Richmond – which included taking tea in an old fashioned tea room while he held court. Typical of Bernard, he wouldn’t let me write anything down or record our conversations so I had to compartmentalise everything he said and then scribble it all down on the train journey home.
HELEN: Looking back now, if you could have been at one of the shows on the tour, which one would it have been, and why?
MICK: Being at any Sex Pistols’ show back in the day – especially those from the Anarchy Tour - would have been an eye-opener, but if I could borrow H. G. Wells’ fabled time machine for an evening I would set the date for Monday, 6 December 1976. Because not only was the show at Leeds Polytechnic the first date to avoid the council chamber cull, it was also the only occasion that the UK punk scene’s so-called ‘Unholy Triumvirate’ - the Sex Pistols, the Clash, and the Damned – appeared on the same stage.The Anarchy Tour is published by Omnibus Press.
Interview by Helen Donlon [photo provided by Mick]