Friday, 21 March 2014

March 1979

Quiet please – it’s a Sex Pistol

Hampstead in the rain smells like the countryside, but there’s not much green down Jones Street.

‘Yeah, come round to me gaff for a chat. I’ve moved up to posh ol’ Hampstead now.’

Steve Jones’ phone words, still ringing in my ears during the solemn umbrella trudge from the tube station at midday, provide little solace since they have to compete with an insidious shoe squelch due to one tiny sole slit.

His newly acquired flat is on the second floor of a large house. I ring the bell for ten minutes on the main front door. No reply. I ring other bells, hoping someone might deign to answer and let me in out of this interminable wet.

Eventually, a little old woman opens the door. ‘You’re looking for Mr Jones? To tell you the truth, I don’t think he’s in, but you can try.’ She leads me along a passage and up the kind of staircase you usually find in thirties musicals, full of lipsticky smiles and top hats. ‘That’s his door.’ I knock. No reply. ‘Yes, he’s definitely out. This happened the other day when a young girl came to see him. And in this weather too.’

I try the flat next door. Another elderly woman answers. ‘Mr Jones? No, I didn’t hear him leave. I’ve been asleep all morning. Besides, he’s such a nice quiet boy I wouldn’t hear him if I was awake.’

‘Yes, our Mr Jones is a quiet chap,’ says the other. ‘I live underneath him and the only sound you can sometimes hear is when he plays his records.’

I leave this distinctly unPistol-like situation cursing the Milky Bar kid but not before bringing in two pints of milk for the first woman. ‘If I see him I’ll tell him you came. But he’s so quiet you don’t hear him come in.’

Can I believe my ears?

When I get back to the office I ring him. ‘Sorry ’bout that. I had to rush out and there was no way of contacting you. Come round again. I’ll definitely be in.’

Take the motor this time. The hole in my shoe just got bigger.

Inside his flat, I take a close look at him. Steve Jones is beginning to look more and more like one of those photographs in the window of a flash barber shop. His hair is remarkably immaculate and enough to make Tom Jones reach for the curling tongs.

Two-tone too. His face is chiselled like Burt Lancaster’s and beneath the T-shirt he appears to have a Charles-Atlas-was-here physique.

All this, coupled with an indifferent attitude of almost swashbuckling proportions, and you have the Adonis-flavoured chewy pop star. He’s as straight as a Yorkie, as interesting as a Topic and as durable as a Kit Kat.

His flat is epic. The lounge is predominantly black with no furniture except a few large cushions and a portable colour TV in one corner. There’s even a stage, which maybe fulfils a certain need in those long gaps between his public appearances (although it was installed by the previous owner).

‘The flat cost me fourteen grand,’ says Steve, as he shows me the rest of the property, which includes a bedroom done out entirely in wickerwork that the handyman did himself. ‘And then it cost me another six grand to decorate. It’s all I’ve got in the world now. I ain’t got a penny in the bank. Whenever I need any money I just have to go and sell a guitar or something.’

The word ‘unfair’ immediately springs to mind. The Pistols sell as many records now as when Rotten and Vicious called the tune and teased the media. There seems little doubt that, had they survived intact, the band would have transcended reputation and gone on to become the biggest selling ever, in this country anyway.

The success of ‘Something Else’ and ‘Silly Thing’ (best routine Legs and Co. have done in years) reinforces the fact that there are still plenty of people around who refuse to forget.

Unless, of course, you don’t remember in the first place.

‘It’s really strange,’ ponders Steve, strumming a guitar he hasn’t sold yet. ‘There’s all these thirteen-year-old punk rockers wandering about who don’t even recognise me. They don’t know how it all started or why.

‘Everything’s really changed now. There’s no fun any more. People are too straight. All these punk bands are writing songs that mean nothing. The reason rock ’n’ roll lasted so long was because the songs were great. But what’s going down now is rubbish, so the bands don’t last five minutes. Some journalist asked me the other day if the Pistols would ever get back together again and I told him I’d never team up with those sods -- for a laugh, y’know. He printed it, and I tell you something, that was the only true punk thing I’d read in a paper for a long, long time.’

Fun is a key word in both Steve’s vocabulary and lifestyle. It’s fun to be a rock star. It’s fun to be dubbed a charismatic cockney Casanova. It’s fun to be young and curly and popular and twenty-three and to frequent bareback skaters’ haunts full of creamy women and write hit songs and appear in movies and---

In movies?

’S right. Steve plays a diligent dick in The Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle. You’ve heard the soundtrack, now wait for the movie when you can …

. . . GASP as Sid jumps out of bed in his underpants.

. . . SCREAM as he rides a motorbike down the high street − ‘It was a three-wheeler ’cos Sid couldn’t ride a bike.’

. . . MOAN as Steve hops into bed with sex queen Mary Millington.

. . . LAUGH as Steve is then pursued by Mary’s screen husband, piano man Russ Conway.

. . . THRILL to Steve as a detective on the trail of Malcolm McLaren.

. . . CRY as they all die.

‘It’s gonna be really funny although I think Malc is trying to make it all too political. He’s rapidly getting away from the point of what he originally set out to do -- have a bit of fun and make a few bob.

‘Rotten’s in a few scenes, like the early days of our gigs, but he didn’t want to know about anything else. Irene Handl is also in the film and so’s that Shaft-like DJ who does that ad for K-Tel records on the telly. I hear the distributors are queuing up for it. I only hope none of this legal wrangling will prevent the film from being released.’

Steve is convinced that people want to know what it was really like in the good old days of the Pistols. ‘They just want to have a laugh, that’s all.’

The movie should also reflect that Steve was, and still is, the original punk beast.

‘It was me who used to get up to all the bother most of the time. Rotten was always pretty quiet. Funny, I knew he’d slag me off when the band split. Same with Matlock. If he got chucked out, everyone was to blame.’

I’ve no doubt that Steve could, if guided in that particular direction, hurl abuse at Rotten all day quite happily. But Pistols’ in-fighting has become rather monotonous, vapid and documented, to tedious length, in other publications. Let’s just say that Steve preferred Sid.

‘He was better than Rotten. I really liked ol' Sid. Naturally I felt sad when he topped himself. It’s not every day one of your mates dies. At least he was one rock star who lived up to the "hope I die before I get old" thing.

‘Paul and me were gonna go over and do an album with him after he got nicked to raise some money for lawyers’ fees. But the day before we were due to fly out we got the news that he was dead. I was looking forward to working with him again.

‘I always knew he wouldn’t last. He couldn’t help but be in bother all the time. Always up to stupid things like fights and getting cut up when he started getting too flash. And what with the drugs … You could never imagine Sid at forty.’

Can you imagine Steve Jones at forty?

‘I suppose I’ll live to be a hundred. I look after myself,’ he says, while chewing into a chocolate bar taken from a bowl of sweets he keeps in the lounge. ‘I don’t go around beating people up. I don’t take any lethal drugs.’

It’s true, he does look the picture of health. He’s lost weight over the last months, leaving a pound or two of sunburned fat on Californian beaches.

‘I had a great time over there. One night I went to a big party where the Runaways were playing and ended up mingling with loads of film stars like Gregory Peck and Zsa Zsa Gabor.’

Didn’t I read that he pulled Miss Gabor? ‘Nah -- she’s too old. I’d like to live in America for a while. They treat rock ’n’ roll totally different over there. It’s much more of a big deal, while here nobody gives a toss. When you play at gigs everything runs so smoothly. Here you always get problems. Like when you travel up north you’re never seen again. All that crap you hear about "friendly" northerners. They hate Londoners. Northerners are so thick . . .’

When he’s not slagging off northerners, Steve is producing records for ex-Runaway Joan Jett.

‘I’ve just done her new single, "You Don’t Own Me", and there’s a chance I might go to the States and do an album with her. It would be great to get away. I hate it here. It’s all so depressing at times.’

Maybe a spot of, er, permanent female company might help.

‘I don’t want to live with a bird yet. I enjoy myself too much.’

Fitting enough finale, I s’pose. I think if I’d ever been a rock star, I’d be a bit like Steve Jones.

And old ladies would love me for my silence.

(Steve has gone on to perform with such luminaries as Bob Dylan, Megadeth, Iggy Pop and Adam Ant. He lives in LA − as does John Lydon − where he was a radio DJ for a while, and has played at all the Pistols’ comeback shows)

Next: A tight Squeeze

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

Check out Barry’s new novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives:





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