Tuesday, 29 October 2013

July ‘78

The Ex-Pistols

Steve Jones is wearing nothing more than a skimpy towel and a few soapsuds when he opens the door.

‘All right Baz. Just ’avin’ a baff. I’m going out later so to save time I fort we’d do the interview while I’m ’avin me baff. Don’t worry,’ he laughs, ‘the baff’s full of fuckin’ bubbles. You can’t see nuffink.’

No one is innocent − not even plebian pistolero Steve 'Calorie Counter' Jones.

It appears this young blade, often spotted arm in arm with Paul Cook doing the Continental at London's fashionable tête-à-tête nite spots, has rather a dark past.

In fact, Steve has had no less than thirteen brushes with the Old Bill for burglary, shop breaking and ... peeping tomfoolery!

He admits his criminal adolescence while soaking away the day's cares and night's traumas in a bubble bath at his rock-star pad in the Waste End.

‘I was eighteen when I got done for being a peeping Tom. I wouldn't mind but I was only trying to break into this house without realising there was some bird changing next door.

‘She thought I was looking at her tits and rang the police. I was nicked and got fined fifty quid.’

Steve was a member of that exclusive members-only club when he first joined the Pistols − the Order of Probationees. No subscription required, merely an unfortunate tendency to get caught a lot and an uncontrollable urge to drive around in stolen Rolls-Royces.

‘I was in Northolt one night − not that night − when I downed a couple of mandies and nicked a Rolls,’ recalls Steve, while gazing lovingly at the rubber duck floating merrily on his bubbly tum.

‘I was skidding all over the place − but I pulled a darlin' bird.’

But, Steve, I mean, didn't you have any, well, qualms about stealing other people's property?

‘Nah. Anyway, I never used to break into council houses − just places where it was obvious the owners had plenty of dough. I did a year in approved school once for taking and driving away.’

Why did you do all this?

‘Boredom, I guess, I dunno. I never knew me ol' man. He was a boxer who ran off before I was born. Then this geezer moved in with me mum. He never liked me so he refused to let me have a key for the front door. He used to lock me out of the house when I came home late from the boozer. He made life a misery for me. One night it all came to a head.

‘I came home late as usual and he just wouldn't let me in. I began to bang on the door and swear and he finally came out. Before I could say anything he went for me. We started fighting and Mum came rushing out, screaming and crying.

‘I left home that night and never returned.’

Steve didn’t see his mum again for years.

‘She was working in a hairdresser’s and I happened to be passing. "Doing all right for your-self then son?" she asked. But I don't think she cares much either way. Maybe she feels a bit proud of me now − but she should have felt like that ages ago.’

He's covered from head to toe in soap – not a commodity you would usually associate with those grubby, gruesome Sex Pistols. But then Steve ain't a Pistol any more, and neither is his flat mate Paul Cook, the blonde rapscallion skinsmaaan who has just joined us in the mirrored bathroom.

These two guys, the quiet ones in the Rotten camp, have undergone a unique change over recent months. The chintzy ragamuffin chicanery − it was considered both unethical and unprofessional for either of them to be seen out at one point − has vanished, making way for a softer, boy-next-door image.

They got fun, they got videos, they got sixty pounds a week, they got their own hit records. And they got each other. You mean they're… no. Strictly hetero. Metro heteros enjoying their reputations.

‘When we’re seen in nightclubs,’ says Paul, ‘everyone immediately says, "Oh, yeah, street credibility slashed." But we ain’t got no money. Sure, we’ve got a video, a hi-fi and a flat, but no hard cash. We ain’t even got bank accounts. We’re just two healthy young fellers trying to enjoy ourselves. What’s wrong with that?’

‘Right,’ splashes Steve. ‘Why should I sit at home every night crying my heart out? I wanna enjoy meself.’

Unfortunately, ahem, Steve does tend to overdo it a bit. ‘I seem to get VD every week. But it ain't nothing to be embarrassed about. I can't help it if I like screwing. I’ve never been in love. Hold it. If being in love means you want to keep seeing the same bird all the time then, yeah, I think I might be at the moment. But generally women are all right when you’re pissed.

‘Don't get me wrong, I like women's company, but I'd rather be with blokes. They've got a better sense of humour. You can't have much of a laugh with birds − and you couldn't nick cars with them around!’

I guess you couldn't describe him as a Casanova − more a legova. But he's happy. And he's more than happy that the Pistol pressures on him and Paul have vanished.

‘I just woke up one morning and felt so free after I finally realised that the Sex Pistols were no more.’

‘But,’ interrupts a slightly melancholic Paul, ‘it's sad when you look back on the whole thing. The scene seems to have gone back to where it used to be. There's nothing, nothing. People won't let us die. Why can't they realise that the Pistols simply don't exist anymore.’

‘There will always be a Sex Pistols,’ says Steve, defiantly. ‘I don't want it to die because the kids don't want it to die. We started so much.’

‘I'll never regret anything,’ says Paul. ‘There was no other way things could have gone. Everything just happened so quickly. The whole episode has made me more wary of people. I'll never trust a soul again as long as I live. I may have been naïve once − not anymore.’

Do they still see Rotten? ‘We've seen him once since we came back from the States,’ says Steve. ‘I ain't got any grudges against him. I hope his new band works out − but he's gonna face a lot of problems. Still, our record company seem to think a lot more of him than us.’

So let's just leave Jones & Cook Ltd. with the shaky finances and the flaky scruples in that soapy bathroom in that smart flat in that grubby block in that side street they call home. No one could argue that they've earned the right to indulge themselves.

The Sex Pistols may be the ex-Pistols but the malady lingers on.

Dina is visiting Cyprus. The switchboard girl at Record Mirror is an incurable romantic and when Dina rings from a phone box near her mum’s house − her family still don’t know about me – she takes the number, rings it back, puts me through and we talk for half an hour. Wonder if anyone ever checks the phone bills? There is a limit to the number of Cypriot bands in the UK charts, i.e. none, so a phone interview a day to an unspecified Cyprus number should ring a few bells.

Dina’s away for three months. It’s the first time she’s gone back since becoming a refugee after Turkish troops rampaged through her village in 1974. Why do I keep getting the feeling she’s not coming back?

As I’m living at home, I’m sticking away over a hundred quid a week! The only bills I get have pictures of the Queen on them, exchanged for travellers’ cheques at Heathrow while I’m waiting for flights to New York and any place else where a big band could get it on in front of twenty thousand hot dogs with mustard on the side.

I’m a PR’s dream. Get me an interview and I’ll hit you with my rhythm stick – the triumvirate of Record Mirror, Daily Record and Evening News, plus the odd My Guy, Smash Hits, Revue (the new Reveille) and another monthly retainer from Jam, a Japanese version of Rolling Stone, in return for being their UK correspondent. I’m a one-hit wonder, spreading my interviews like NSU. The days of writing in different styles at Marlborough Street magistrates’ court are finally paying off.

After the wine and the crème brûlée come offers of flights to five-star hotels in far-flung cities to see rock legends play and talk to them about life, the universe and everything for an hour or so in a room with a view.

It’s the stuff of dreams and I’m turning Japanese.

I really think so …

Next – Flat caps and Joan Armatrading

Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain
© Barry Cain 2013

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