Thursday 3 February 2011

My night with the Sex Pistols

The European Commission’s idea of a “right to be forgotten” sounds a bit daft. Their cunning plan for a revised Directive containing this concept may sound fine in theory, but how on earth will it actually work in practice?

This thought occurred to me as I sat reading yesterday’s edition of the London Metro. John Lyndon (aka Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols) had been interviewed by Andrew Williams. He had been asked: "What’s the worst gig you’ve ever done?"

John replied: "Brunel University with the Sex Pistols. Sid was so out of his mind it took hours to get him anywhere approaching sobriety, there were no monitors on stage so we couldn’t hear what we were doing and the PA couldn’t cope with the hall. There was a huge lack of communication between ourselves, management and the public perception of us. It resulted in us walking into a huge, big f***-up."

John may well want to forget about that night, and remove all traces from the internet.

I don’t.

Actually, I was there.

Picture it. 16th December 1977. Anticipation about the event was at fever pitch, as many local authorities had banned them from performing following the release of their album “Never Mind the Bollocks”. It was a bit rude. And the audiences were known to spit at each other, as well as at the band on the stage. To avoid Uxbridge council from also banning them, details of the gig were only released to us Brunel students the day before it actually happened. This was probably to make sure that as many students as possible attended, rather than lots of local punks. As member of the Student Union, we were well aware that something “big” was in the offing, and that some band or other was going to be playing in that barn of a sports hall, We just didn’t know who it was going to be. I remember joining the hour-long queue for gig tickets even though no-one in that queue actually knew who we were going to be seeing. All we had been told was that tickets would go on sale at 10am (that was really really early for us students) on the Thursday, and that we could buy a maximum of 4 tickets – at £1.75 each – and that the band’s name would be on the tickets. So until the ticket desk actually opened, no-one had a clue about what was really going on. I queued, bought my 4 tickets (for the grand total of £7 - which was a lot of money back then), and got extremely excited when I saw the band's name printed on those precious tickets. I phoned some friends and they joined me the following day to witness the first night of the ‘Never Mind the Bans’ tour, the band’s last ever UK tour. It also turned out to be their final London show.

In his autobiography No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs John Lydon remembered the shambles: The PA wasn’t good enough for a small nightclub let alone an aircraft hanger with four thousand screaming people. You couldn’t hear anything except fuzzy noise. No monitors and no lights. No music playing in the hall beforehand so the audience grew very angry and impatient. Everything ran late. This was apparently the fault of the band’s manager, Malcolm McLaren, for wanting to create a sense of chaos rather than putting money into what should have been a pivotal night in the band’s career.

My memory of the show itself is still pretty clear. I also remember shivering outside in the queue as the doors opened late, and I remember my disappointment that the stage set was just a sheet, spray painted with the slogan ‘Sex Pistols Will Play’. And then they did play. What a noisy, tuneless racket. Talk about mayhem. Their set might even have been cut short. You couldn’t really tell. But I still remember it.

And as I still remember that gig, I really wonder how an EU Directive might be able to require me or anyone else to forget about that event, simply because someone else wants to forget about it.

Like someone who played a much more prominent role in the events of that night.

Even someone like Johnny Rotten.

The image, taken that night, (copyright unknown) was found on the Sex Pistol’s website.¤t_page=5
Images of the tickets – and of T shirts bought at the event (by a fellow gig goer) are at