On June 7, 1977, when the great and the good gathered at the mall to celebrate the silver jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, a small boat decked out in homemade banners stood under Westminster Bridge. On the ship, chaos reigned, a band thrashing through a noisy song led by their vocalist, a little man with red hair and wildly staring eyes. “God save the queen,” he sang, “fascist regime, they made you a fool, potentially H-bomb.”
One of these seemed very British, and the exhibition came to an abrupt end when the police forced the boat to dock and arrested most of the crew. The vocalist was John Lydon (or Johnny Rotten), the band the Sex Pistols, invented by Malcolm McLaren (according to McLaren), and for a brief but spectacular moment was the best of Britain’s founding.
How good they were has always been open to debate, and Lydon single-handedly magnified the obnoxiousness as a kind of art form, but the Sex Pistols were a forerunner of British punk and would be a lasting influence on the bands that would come later.
The story of his fame and rapid explosion is action-packed and has a serious Pistol, a six-part miniseries that debuts next week on Disney+. Produced by Craig Pierce and directed by Danny Boyle, Pistol Starring Anson Boone as Lydon, Louis Partridge as Sid Vicious, Christian Lees as Glenn Matlock and Jacob Slater as Paul Cook.
When I spoke to him via Zoom this week, I was struck by how four young men born long after the Sex Pistols disappeared managed to find a way into this mysterious and almost Dickensian yarn.
“I think it’s testament to the writing and the costume design—and Danny’s direction,” says Slater, “that the whole outside world disappeared every time we came in handy.” You just forgot everything else – it was like we stepped back at 75, 76.”
Boon agrees. “It was very immersive,” he says. “Most of the cameras were hidden, and Danny did a great job of telling us what it felt like, what people were like in the midst of all this. And we were given a bunch of stock footage, archival footage, and We really immersed ourselves in all of that. So yeah, it really felt like time travels on a few days.”
Based on Boyle’s series Guy, the harrowing memoir of Sex Pistols founder and guitarist Steve Jones from his often largely dysfunctional life. Abused as a child, addicted to stealing as a teenager and sex as an adult, he found his calling – at least for a time – with a pistol: he is played in the series by Toby Wallace. .
The most interesting thing about the Sex Pistols was that they were outliers in every possible sense, the immaculate nobles who managed to storm the heartland of British popular culture. He meant that anyone could make it if they were brave enough and lucky enough. All four members were working class, Chippy – to put it mildly, and of dubious musical talent – for many years the fake rumors persisted that they had been replaced by session musicians on their debut album. Never Mind the Bollocks: Here’s the Sex Pistol.
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“I think it’s largely to do with Malcolm McLaren and the image he wanted to project,” says Boone, “but history paints them as spitting, chaotic freaks who couldn’t and never will.” Not found, and in fact none of this is true. John Lydon and Glenn Matlock were really good friends, and this continued through the reunion and all. People fall, that’s just life, but there are some lovely moments in the show where you see that they could really play, and they were really good partners at one point, especially before fame joined in. ,
never mind the bollock was the band’s first studio album, and their last; Partly because it caused such a stink in Britain in the 1970s, and partly because the volatile sex pistol line-up was always prone to bursting. And the whole time McLaren, Punk’s self-proclaimed Fagin, was attempting to pull the strings, and would later claim the whole thing was a blatant hoax, a money-making scheme, though I’m not sure who made more money. In addition to Richard Branson and Virgin Records.
“I think Malcolm was very ambitious,” Boone says, “in a way not different from John. It’s really hard to talk about him because he’s such an enigma, and whatever you go on to say about him.” Well, you find that ‘Oh really, that’s not true’. He was actually a walking paradox, but certainly had a very unique mind. He would bring something into creation, breathe life into it and then burn it will give.”
McLaren, who died in 2010, has long been a deeply divisive figure. It was she and Vivienne Westwood who founded the King’s Road fashion boutique Sex, which would become the center of the London punk scene. In 1974, Steve Jones asked McLaren to manage his rough and ready rock band The Strand: as ruthless as ever, Malcolm sacked original guitarist Wally Nightingale, and staged an open audition for a new frontman. .
In 1975, McLaren colleague Bernie Rhodes spotted Lydon on King’s Road wearing a pink Floyd T-shirt, which he adapted by cutting out two eye-holes and writing the words ‘I hate…’ over the logo. A chaotic audition did not impress the other band members, but McLaren felt that Lydon would evolve into the role, and was right.
Original bassist Glen Matlock was sacked during the recording of never mind the bollock, and was replaced by John Simon Ritchie, a squatter friend of Lydon, who was known to his associates as Sid Vicious. In their brief time together, the band would stage a series of legendary rowdy concerts, harass the establishment at every opportunity, and try their level best to finish their own careers.
Louis Partridge is well cast as Vicious, who died of a heroin overdose in 1979 after being accused of killing his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen. For many, the sneak peek Sid adopted a punk attitude, but it must have been hard for the actor to break through his defensive posture.
“I don’t think people really care to look beyond him,” Partridge says, “and think of him as a human being.” They’ll remember him as this punk icon who was so cool and took all these drugs and died young, but he was really just a kid who was lost in a world he didn’t understand, and lacked attention. wanted the load. So once you get beyond the image, he’s really just another guy who has his own problems and a really tough upbringing. Danny and Craig gave him that story, which is so important.”
Christian Lees, who plays Glenn Matlock, had the advantage of being able to consult the person he was playing. “I felt so fortunate and privileged to have talked to Glenn,” Lees tells me. “He was very generous. He gave me his number, and within 20 minutes of meeting him, he picked up the bass and was giving me lessons. I understand he doesn’t really go back there very much, and those moments It was a weak point for him to go back to some of it, but I also got a sense of how fond he was at the time. He was really fond of those memories and the gang — and John in particular.”
Pistols drummer Paul Cook was equally generous to Slater, who plays him on the show. “I’ve been a fan of them since I was 14 or 15,” he says, “so I knew the songs, and I used to play with them a little bit. I wasn’t a real drummer, you know, I got a basic idea of it.” There was sense, but it was so real that he was hovering over my shoulder and just helping me sort it out. We went on really well, we talked music and stuff, and I really liked the day Was interested to find out some details and dig a little deeper.”
However, Boon had to come to terms with the fact that he was playing someone who didn’t want to be played. Lydon heavily criticized the project, trying to block the show from using Sex Pistols music, and most recently calling its director a “Boyle on the Bomb”.
“It would have been nice to talk to him,” admits Anson, “that would have really been the icing on the cake. Luckily, we were able to talk to Steve Jones and Glenn Matlock, Paul Cook, Chrissy Hynde, Jordan, Julian Temple, who were amazing. was, and they were all very generous and very appreciative with their stories about John.
“So it was great. But you know, we honestly would have loved for him to be on the series. Last night was our premiere, and while I was having the most wonderful night, I told Danny that I was a little heartbroken. Was that he couldn’t be there to enjoy it with us, because everyone would have been just so happy he had to join in. But he chose not to, it’s his decision, and as Danny said, he’s going to attack us And that’s the exact reason we love her, because she’s so vindictive, it’s part of her genius.”
And the Sex Pistols musical, all four artists agree, has really stood the test of time. “They could play,” Boon says. “Yeah,” says Slater, “and yet they never really got the chance because they only did one album. But that’s really the spirit of it, it’s just an unpainted wall of sound, of who they are. Not trying to be anything but, and I guess that’s why.
‘Pistols’ streams May 31 on Disney+