KEEPING YOUR END UP
STEVE JONES ON BEING AN EX-PISTOL
BY GARRY BUSHELL
PIX BY CHALKIE DAVIES
(Sounds March 31st 1979)
LAST WEDNESDAY an 18 year old kid called Paul Howe ran out of an Essex pub where he'd
been holding a man hostage. With a bandolier of bullets slung across his chest, he wildly
aimed a pump action shotgun at the armed police outside. They fired back and he died from
a chest wound. The night before, his voice thick with emotion, Howe told News At Ten, "I
have never had nothing in my life ... I may as well go up now in a puff of smoke". And he did.
From nonnentity to media star in one wish fullfilment blaze of glory.
The Pistols did it much better.
'The Pistols reflect life as it is in the council flats, not some fantasy world that most rock artists create.
Yes, they will destroy, but it won't be mindless destruction. The likes of Led Zeppelin, Queen and Pink Floyd need to be
checked in the 'classical' music section. They've got to make way for the real people and the Sex Pistols are the first of them.
' - Mark Perry, Sniffin' Glue, January 1977.
'My name is Malcolm McLaren. I have done many things in my time but the most successful of all was an invention of mine
they called punk rock. Let me start from the beginning. Find yourself four kids. Make sure they hate each other, make sure
they can't play. . . I called them the Sex Pistols. With our line' up complete we immediately put our plan into effect - to
swindle our way to the top of the rock 'n' roll industry. A plan that within two years was to bring us close on a million pounds
... ' - Malcolm McLaren, 'The Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle' soundtrack, February 1979.
'Two sides to every story, so somebody had to stop me, I'm not the same as when I began, it's not a game of monopoly. . .'
John Lydon, 'Public Image' October 1978.
'People said we couldn't play, they called us foullmouthed yobs, but the only notes that really count are the ones that come
in wads . . .' - Steve Jones, Paul Cook, 'Swindle' soundtrack, February 1979.
AND so the stories ges they wore the clothes, and did
the things that people thought improbable, the whale
of a high like the hope it was. Two sides to every
story, at the very least, and you want it all in black and
Sex Pistols! Controversies resolved! Answers on a
Aw, look what did the Pistols mean to you? Did they
change the way you dressed? The way you lived?
The way you thought? The records you bought?
Whether you, like me, prefer the first Clash album to
'Bollocks' is neither here nor there. The Pistols were
the most important rock band this decade, probably
ever. And when you bought that single on the first day
it came out, rushed it home, nervously slipped it out of
its plain black packet and banged on the stylus, again
and again and again, letting the speakers vibrate full
volume with one of the angriest, truest, most powerful
working class frustration anthems ever committed to
vinyl, you just knew that they had to be real.
It's gotta be redundant to run through the history in any details:
Swankers/Wally/Sex/100 Club/EMI/'Anarchy'/Grundy/ A&M/Matlock leaving/'God Save The Queen' number one in Jubilee
Week/'Pretty Vacant'/'Bollocks'/ America/The Bust Up ... and then PIL, and Biggsy, and 'Biggest Blow', 'Swindle', Sid dying ...
These things everyone knows, or should do. And somehow a reiteration of the parts seems to lessen the concrete effects of
the whole: that these snotty brats who had nothing but their anger and their music changed the face of an industry by
capturing the imagination, and unleashing the energy, of a generation. The punk generation.
Maybe we're still too close to '76 to measure accurately the impact the Pistols had. At the very least they paved the way for a
new establishment. At the very least they lit a live music fuse that's still burning in poxy clubs and pubs up and down the
country. At the very least they made some people question things, everything from mellotron bondage to government systems.
Sadly, but inevitably, the Pistols died, shot down by personality and policy clashes in the States last year, and immediately the
vultures clustered round. The theorists began to reshape the past. The Pistols were Matlock we were told. Then, the Pistols
were Johnny. And because we all hated Malcy for turning our group into a circus we wanted to believe. We did believe.
But the bankruptcy of the Rich Kids and the PIL albums made everyone 'except the most blinkered rethink the past and realise
that no one was the Pistols. They were John, Steve, Paul, Glen, Malcolm and Sid, like it or not.
'And despite the vitriolic 'fat zero axe hero' slaggings of Steve Jones from certain quarters, his guitar sound was as much the
Pistols as Johnny's vocals and words -. 'Silly Thing' is a great rock song, but it's no more the Pistols than 'Fodderstompf' -
though he always seemed to have less suss than JR. Steve and Paul always seemed to be Malcolm's yes-men. Reason
enough to get 'his side' of the story I'd have thought.
THE ACTUAL Steve Jones formative years
novelette, his prowess as a teenage tea leaf who
led the Shepherds Bush rock band The Swankers
on amp nicking forays and hung about in McLaren's
Kings Road Sex boutique, has been related at
length elsewhere and it seems a bit pointless to
More interesting to me is Jonesy's involvement in
McLaren's pet 'Pistols' film project, which apart from
the odd Greedies gig and work with a past-it
Johnny Thunders, seems to have occupied his
'Swindle', the album of the film of the manager of the
group etc., hit me on two levels. On one level it's
funny and I've played it a lot, but on another level
it's annoying. If the intention is to present the whole
Pistols explosion as one man's cleverly constructed
moneyÂmaking con trick, then not only is it patently
false, it's also extremely insulting.
"Yeah, but it's not that we made cunts of the public,"
Steve Jones is at pains to explain, "it's the record
companies we made cunts of, and anyway that's
just the soundtrack from a film and you gotta see
the film to understand the album."
You saying it's not meant, to be the truth?
"The swindling thing ain't true, that's just McLaren's little kick of making out he's conning
everybody. It's 'is ego, y'know. I mean, he's saying he got us together, but he didn't. He didn't do
half the fucking things. F'rinstace, Rotten was Rotten when we first seen him, spikey 'air and
ripped up t-shirts, nothing to do with McLaren.
"That's another thing, 'e didn't write the film single 'anded either, it was about four people. Tell
you the truth I ain't got a clue about how the film goes 'cos I ain't seen the finished version. I
know there's lots of early film footage of us playing live."
OK, let's deal with some of the other' controversies' then. Like 'Belsen'.
"Well Sid writ that originally. He wrote all the words. Personally, I don't give a fuck what any lyrics
say, I just put a tune to 'em ... anyway, it's true, millions of Jews were killed. What's wrong with telling people about it in a
Yeah, but don't you think 'Belsen Is A Gas' is irresponsible, the implication is that the gassing was good?
"Yeah, s'pose so. But it's not meant to mean anything. It's just a snidey way of saying it was cuntsville the way they killed them
In truth, the tape of our beery conversation at times tends towards sounding like a 'Derek And Clive' outÂtake, never more so
in fact than on the much pumelled topic of 'Friggin' In The Riggin", which on a purely pedantic level Steve messes up by
getting the words wrong - even the chorus ...
"Everyone kept sayin you must remember that from school but I 'didn't. First time I heard it was about a month ago, 'cos I
bought this book and copied the words out."
How about that protracted version of 'Johnny B. Goode', how did that come about?
"We were in the studio at Wessex when we was doing
'Anarchy', and we done about 100 different takes and
we just started fucking about. It's like when there's four
of you in a police cell and at the start you're pretty
straight and about five hours later you start going a bit
nutty. That's what it was like for us when we'd been in
that studio for a day and a half."
Steve grins at the memory, and I get to thinking how
unchanged he seems by it all. Just like a guy you
could meet in any pub any time, a straight, young, and
incidentallty not at all fat working class geezer. If you'd
seen him riding down the road to our office on his
pushbike you probably wouldn't have given him a
SO HOW MUCH money did you make out of the
"Well, I got a flat for 14 grand and I've had 60 quid a
week for about two years - which 'as stopped now with Glitterbest going bust.
And a couple of grand to spend. It ain't much really considering what we done.
'Bollocks' is still going up the charts, but we've only seen one lot of royalties.
Branson ain't paid us 'cos of this court case." (Lydon v. Glitterbest over the use
of the name Sex Pistols, and royalties.)
And talking of court cases and related personality clashes, how does Steve feel
about the Pistols splitting and the personalities involved?
"Tell you the truth I was really relieved when we split up. I think we went to
America too soon, we was getting on top of one another, (Nice - Cowboy Ed)
what with Rotten being a real prima donna and having to keep an eye on Sid all
the time. It was a real drag when 'e died, 'cos I liked Sid, he was a great geezer.
But he always said 'e wanted to die before 'e was 21. At least he was one of the
geezers who meant it. "
You don't blame anyone for the Pistols split then?
"Listen, it was no-one's fault and it really pisses me off when as soon as people
do interviews they start slagging me off. I don't hate Malcolm, I really like him,
we've just both realised we don't wanna carry on working together. I don't hate
Rotten either. It's just that whenever the Pistols were mentioned they 'ad a picture
of 'im, so I s'pose it's only natural he started believing he was the Sex Pistols.
That Public Image album's a load of toss, if Joe Bloggs had done it it wouldn't
even 'ave got reviewed."
Seen. Glen Matlock still comes in for a lot of abuse though, Jonesy viewing him
as "just a middle class cunt". But enough bitchery, I hear there's an enormous
mass of punters out there just itching to find out how you've been spending your
"Well, there was the Greedies gigs. We're gonna do a couple more over here
and a few in France. We're cutting a single with Joan Jett (see pic below) this
week - if all goes well we'll go over there and do an album with her now the
Runaways have split.
"Socially I've bin shagging as usual. As many birds as I can - I don't think I'll settle
down till I'm about 40, 'cos, see, I've never met a bird I can 'ave a decent
conversation with. I ain't bin ligging this year, it was a bit over the top this year.
But I still nick the occasional bit of stuff out of supermarkets just to see if I can
still do it, just for a laugh really. When I think what I used to do . . . I'd be shit
scared to do it now."
What about musically?
''Well I know Paul wants to form a group 'cos he loves playing but, 'y'know, I
keep thinking about it and then I get pissed off' cos I think why the fuck should I
wanna play, we done it once. I'd prefer to do songwriting and producing.
"That's what a lot of punk groups lack, good songs and good sounds, which is
what they need to keep the punk movement going. I mean the only' reason rock
'n' roll lasted so long was because the songs were so good. That'd be a better
way for me to contribute than touring round the fucking North for months on end.
"There's a few groups I'd like to do something with. The Skids, they're good. The
Clash are all right but they wouldn't let me produce 'em. I could do some group in America called the Avengers. It was me who
produced Sid's single. I'm still into the wall of sound thing, and if I did produce anyone that's the sort of sound I'd use.
"I'll tell you why I'm not sure about gigging again. When I think back to the Sex Pistols, the best gigs were the ones at the 100
Club, when every week you could see more kids coming, and you'd see one week they'd be there with long hair, next week
you'd see 'em with short hair, and you felt like you were doing something, starting something and it was great 'cos there hadn't
been nothing for ages.
"There was a reason for doing it then, we was creating something. And if we was doing it now I know I'd get pissed off after
about ten gigs and pack it in 'cos it wouldn't be the same.
"And also in a way I feel a bit fucking old. I remember
when we first started we was always slagging Boring
Old Farts as they called them, and I don't wanna be
called a boring old fart. You walk down the street now
and see little punk rockers about 13 and they don't
even recognise me. They've never seen the Pistols.
That's one thing about Public Image, all these little
kids go to see him thinking that's what we must have
bin like and it ain't, and that pisses me off."
Then again Steve, and I also get that same fear of
fossilisation. I'm the same age as you now, and it's all
gone so fast. I just hope that when I get to feel
apathetic about music and not wanting to go to gigs
any more I'll give this job up because I won't deserve
it any more .
In the meantime the Pistols music lives on in vinyl,
though I still believe, despite PIL, that Rotten is
capable of greatness, and I know Cook and Jones,
despite the HM jibes, are capable of coming up with
ballsy, poppy punk chunes.
Then again they could all retire now and no one
would blame them. Their legacy true - is carried
strongly by their 'established' predecessors, the
Clash, the Jam, Sham 69. And in their wake hosts of
groups are keeping the flames burning, the Upstarts, Stiff Little Fingers, The Skids, The Ruts, the UK Subs.
101 vital names.
Punk will live or die with the new qeneration. You kids of 16 or 17 reading this who still feel the need to get up there and
switch on week-old Woolies guitars. And as long as I can go out any night and see dozens bands - last night The Chords, a
great little group - rock 'n' roll for all its contradictions is not dead and will not die. Don'cha just know it!
(Sounds March 31st 1979 - reprinted from the Don't Care archives with added pics)