Tuesday, 5 August 2014

June 1979

The Spoiler
Part Two

‘I was born into a wealthy Jewish diamond-dealing family and brought up in a rambling Victorian mansion in Clissold Park, Islington. My second cousin is Danny Kaye and I believe the spectacularly ugly Marjorie Proops is some kind of niece of mine. Anyway, she was brought up in the same house.

'My grandmother was extremely middle class. She taught me a lot and told me wonderful stories about how she used to sell fake diamonds to pawnbrokers and how she and Agatha Christie were the greatest of friends. My mother was man mad and my father, whom I hardly ever saw, was involved in the second-hand car business. I haven’t seen my mother for twelve years. Last time I heard she had suffered a heart attack. I never did care much about family ties.’

The family eventually moved to Hendon and Malcolm remembers cleaning Bob Monkhouse’s car because he lived in the house opposite. ‘At the age of thirteen I was a real West-Ender. I used to go to a club where lesbians would copulate on brass bedsteads. My mother was a snob so she insisted that my first job should be a wine-taster. I became a real expert and they asked me to go to Portugal. But I didn’t fancy that so I left.

‘I then went from job to job à la Brook Street Bureau and finally ended up working for an accountancy firm in Devonshire Street, W1, a few doors away from Stephen Ward during the Christine Keeler affair. The milkman used to tell me about the goings-on he often saw.’

There followed a short stint at Fyfe’s bananas where he booked people into cabins on their cargo lines.

‘Then my mother decided it was time for me to learn French so she packed me off to Cannes. Upon my return I entered an art college and got involved in graphic design.

I started hanging around with beatniks in coffee bars and stayed out all night on one occasion. There was a blazing row when I got home so I left. I was seventeen.’

For the next six years he attended a succession of art colleges all over the country. ‘I used to obtain grants under different names. I even married a French Turk when I was twenty for fifty pounds to enable her to stay in Britain. I found myself working in galleries with people like John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

‘I got involved with the French riots of ’68 and helped create a huge festival when I was at Goldsmiths College in London during the week of Brian Jones’s death.’

It transpires that McLaren ‘gave up’ listening to rock music between 1964 and 1976. ‘I knew everything there was to know about rock ’n’ roll between ’58 and ’64. People like Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, they were the ones. The fifties was one of the most anarchistic decades in history. But then the industry took control and throughout the sixties and early seventies music meant nothing.’

The day the music died for him was when the Beatles arrived on the scene. ‘They were the worst thing that ever happened to rock ’n’ roll. All that nice-boy-from-an-industrial-wasteland nonsense. In fact, when the Pistols started being compared to the Beatles in terms of their importance their days were numbered. The Pistols’ nearest equivalent was the anarchistic fifties, not the lukewarm sixties.’

He had built up a collection of over five thousand rock ’n’ roll singles and they were his only contact with music. ‘But then I thought it time to pick up on the music I’d refused to listen to. I used to go around stalls in the markets listening to things like Velvet Underground. It was awful.

‘Then I went to see the movie Woodstock and I started to realise there was a rock ’n’ roll revival in the air. I thought the time was ripe to create an oasis in this hippie desert. I would walk down the Kings Road looking very Elvis Presleyish and one day I was grabbed by a guy who ran the Paradise Garage. We started selling fifties clothes and I would bring my records to the shop to provide the right background music. I started getting acquainted with the new rockers, the Rod Stewarts, the Faces. I did all the clothes for the David Essex movie That’ll Be the Day and then the shop really caught on. Even Lionel Blair came in one day to buy a drape suite.’

He was now aware that he was in on something big. ‘My ideas were strong − but they were also revivalist. I decided it was no good being retro. I had to get the feeling of the day. So I started the Sex shop. It was so obvious. There were all these designers trying to make people look sexy. All I had to do was take the crudest points of this − like tight black plastic trousers, bondage gear and so on − and adopt sex as an attitude. I needed the music, though. I needed vulgar music. Oh, sure, there were some fairly interesting things around at that time, like Iggy Pop, but it still wasn’t right. So I split to New York and managed the New York Dolls for six months.’

When he came back to London he was still searching for the ‘right’ sound. ‘I had all these kids in my shop who looked Bowieish and Ferryish, but they really didn’t want to be either. Then Steve Jones and Paul Cook walked in one day . . .

‘I used the expertise I had obtained from working in the shop to create this band. They didn’t possess much musical ability, but I realised that didn’t matter. It was simply a question of selling an attitude in as hard a way as possible. I thought it must be better to make a success out of a group who couldn’t play rather than a group that could − and I did.’

Er, isn’t that a little callous? I venture, as he lifts his fourth cup of tea. He casually places it back in the saucer without taking a sip.

‘But I am callous,’ he assures me. ‘It’s my job to be callous. I don’t set myself up to be portrayed as a nice guy. In fact, I much prefer to be portrayed as a gangster. I don’t want to be associated with the Mick Jaggers and the Rod Stewarts of the world. They’re another kind of gangster – the gangsters of love. They take love away; I leave it where it is. I’m more money-orientated. Those people are the music business.’

I tap my crème brûlée. It has a hard surface with a soft, creamy interior. I wonder if the soul across the table is simply a human crème brûlée.



Are you . . . No, it doesn’t matter. We sit awhile in silence. So, now he’s told me his motives, though I have a sneaking suspicion that he’s devoid of such artifice. Maybe it was purely a game, y’know, the one I mentioned at the start. Some he wins, some he loses. He doesn’t like losing: that’s why he’s now talking so freely. Losing sixty grand would leave me very bitter.

And he’s also told me his life story. Now seems the appropriate time for his views on one Sidney Vicious, punk of this parish, deceased…

Next: More Malcolm

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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