Photos: The Sex Pistols’ Anarchy Tour in 1976.
Above Photo: The Sex Pistols play Caerphilly in Wales, December 1976 ( © Dave Smitham)
“The boredom. We didn’t know what the fuck was going on…”
As mentioned in my Punk and New Wave Memoir, Bombed Out!, the Punk scene may never have ignited up and down Britain had the Sex Pistols not done three things in quick succession:
- Released their ‘Anarchy in the UK’ single in November 1976;
- Swore on live TV in the same month, then:
- Embarked on their infamous “Anarchy Tour” in December 1976.
The tour left local authorities quaking in their boots and had Tabloid newspapers dribbling with delight as they crapped out sensationalised newspaper headlines about the social and political dangers posed by Evil Punk.
The net effect was that the bands on this tour, which also included The Clash, The Heartbreakers (and briefly, The Damned) were banned from playing in almost all the local venues they’d been booked to appear in.
I recently found an excellent account of the Anarchy tour contained in a Mojo article from 1996, which I’ve edited and added photos for illustration to below.
I’ve also been given permission by Dave Smitham to use some of his incredible and rarely-seen colour photos taken at one of the Anarchy tour gigs in Caerphilly, Wales, in December 1976. More of Dave’s outstanding Punk images (including some great Slits photos) can be seen at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/64993138@N08/sets/72157627145316778/with/19024295746/
© Mojo December 1996:
“Contrary to legend, the destination board on the (tour) bus did not read Nowhere. It was blank. The Sex Pistols, Heartbreakers (from New York), Clash and managers, promoters, roadies and photographers all got on board. The warm interior of the bus with its comfortably upholstered seats was a luxury. They were about to embark on the first full-scale punk tour of the UK.
It was during rehearsals for this very tour – 2 days earlier – that the Pistols appeared on Bill Grundy. Anarchy In The UK had been released a few days previously. The Pistols actually arrived for the programme in a chauffeur driven limo. It was the first serious TV that the Pistols had. Malcolm McLaren’s reaction: “Fucking hell, the band have just sworn on live TV.”
But all was not well with the band. The Damned’s CAPTAIN SENSIBLE says: They looked utterly miserable. After the show, McLaren tore into them. He was convinced they’d blown it. He was appalled. “You fucking idiots, you’ve ruined everything. We’re finished” He was apparently in tears.
Malcolm convinced EMI that they’d been set up by the programme, and they in turn asked that he keep the Pistols in line… A press conference was set up with the comment: “we feel that in many cases the media deliberately provoked this act. In no way does this affect the group’s relationship with EMI”.
When Malcolm returned to the offices of his company, he found that – due to all the ensuing headlines – promoters were cancelling gigs. The tour was due to start the next day.
Malcolm marched into the rehearsal room, arms laden with new clothes from his shop. GLEN MATLOCK: We felt like the cat’s whiskers in our new togs – it was going to be fun, like we were actually going somewhere for once. We were on the front of all the papers, we had our first single out and we were headlining a tour with three bands supporting us… However, he was to later discover that Malcolm charged the band for their clothes.
The Damned were also on the tour, but didn’t get on the bus with the others. Stiff records couldn’t afford it, so they had to stay in bed and breakfast places and travel in a Transit van.
Record packers at EMI’s factory refused to handle the single and the BBC banned it. EMI’s view was that the last thing they needed in December was a dispute at the factory, because that’s when the Christmas singles are being pressed and LP sales are at their highest.
The opening gig of the tour at the University of East Anglia Students Union was among the first to be cancelled, even though the students held a sit-in protest. So the bus headed for Derby, where they were booked to play the next day at King’s Hall.
The bar at the hotel was so full of journos that the bands had to stay in their rooms. And, tensions had started to rise between band members…
GLEN MATLOCK: I was rooming with Mick Jones from The Clash. Neither of us realised it at the time, but it was causing some friction in both bands, largely I think because of John (Lydon) not liking Joe (Strummer)
It seemed to irritate Rotten that the pair got along so well – sharing seats in the bus, eating together in the evenings and strumming songs to alleviate the tedium of the unfamiliar hotel environment.
Tony Parsons, an NME rock scribe, was struck by how unexpectedly innocent the touring party actually was: While the mass media were discussing what it all meant – basically the end of the world – Jones the Pistol and Jones the Clash were discussing what it was like to stay in a hotel for the first time.
Pistols guitarist STEVE JONES: I loved seeing our pictures on the front of the daily papers. I thought, this is it, it’s all happening now. But once we was on the road, it was all these cocksuckers from the press following us everywhere.
So they arrived in Derby only to be told the local council would let the other bands play, but not them – unless they were granted a private screening first. Malcolm knew that if they actually saw the Pistols play, they’d say no. But, if they refused to audition, they’d still be refused to play. Whatever, they still needed money to pay for the hotel.
So, the roadie and sound man got everything ready to make it look like they’d be appearing. Meanwhile Malcolm managed to persuade EMI to pay their bills. Malcolm announced: “We’re not going to encourage censorship. If we perform for these idiots we’ll end up doing matinees for every council in the country”
Everyone got back on the bus and Malcolm announced that Newcastle City Hall had been cancelled, to quote a councillor: in the interests of protecting the children. So the Anarchy tour was headed for Leeds… (ominous dot dot dot)
First of all the Damned left the tour. Their tour manager had said that they would audition for the council. The Sex Pistols were not happy when they heard about this. And, as a result, they got booted off the tour.
MALCOLM: I sacked The Damned because they were no fucking good…
CAPTAIN SENSIBLE says: When they asked us to do the tour, they needed us. We had been gigging a lot, so we had a reputation and a following. After the Grundy incident, the Pistols were the big deal and really didn’t need us to help sell tickets, so they dumped us.
The tour had now been reduced from 19 to just 3 dates and the Pistols checked into a 4 star hotel. The Clash’s PAUL SIMONON: The tour turned into a cause, in a way. Us kids just wanted to play. We were stuck in hotel rooms for a couple of days waiting to play, then we’d be told the gig was cancelled, so we’d wait another 3 days in the hotel room.
While the Pistols waited, they rang room service and ordered triple decker sandwiches and beer. Until they realised it was coming out of their EMI advance at which point they lived off fish ‘n’ chips.
The Pistols were brought to the Press and Malcolm revealed that the highlight of the evening’s entertainment would be an as-yet unrecorded song beginning with the line “God bless the Queen and her fascist regime” When one reporter encouraged the band “Go on, do some damage” they obliged. A rubber plant was ripped from its pot, and the earth scattered on the carpet. As the Pistols retreated they shouted “don’t blame us. That’s what you wanted. Send the bill to EMI”
Malcolm wanted front pages to sell records and tickets, but he couldn’t stop the band from going too far. He refused to let Yorkshire TV interview them directly and answered questions for them, though they were there, acting daft behind him.
YORKSHIRE TV: What kind of example are the Sex Pistols setting to children by being sick onstage?
MALCOLM: People are sick everywhere. People are sick and tired of this country telling them what to do.
The crowd began to gather outside Leeds Poly. Few of them looked like punks. Outside of London they didn’t have much of a fan base. This was the tour that was going to carry the punk thing out of London. In Leeds, the kids had come because they’d seen Bill Grundy.
The Clash opened the proceedings at 8pm with JOE STRUMMER observing: I’ve been going around for 2 days thinking Big Brother is really here… They played a powerful set with not much audience reaction. The other bands played (The Damned’s last gig before leaving the tour)
And then JOHNNY ROTTEN clasped the microphone, wearing red waistcoat, skinny trousers and black tie with safety pins. He opened a can of beer and shrieked: ever felt like you’ve been conned? “Fuck off scum” came the reply. Peering into the crowd, he retorted “Don’t give me your shit, because we don’t mess” Dedicating the first song to “a Leeds councillor, Bill Grundy and the Queen – fuck ya!” they did Anarchy In The UK. Unexpectedly when the song ended, the stage lights dimmed. The sound of breaking glass and abuse filled the darkness until the lights went up again, revealing a Rotten covered in eggs, flour and putrid tomatoes.
JOHNNY ROTTEN taunted the punters: You’re not wrecking the place. The News Of The World will be really disappointed. Someone giggled. So he spat at them and screamed “I ‘ope you ‘ate it! You don’t like it, then you know where the exit door is!”
Back at the hotel, the media were at the bar, bands went off to their rooms. GLEN MATLOCK: we were getting used to the idea of spending long periods in our rooms, drinking beer, watching TV and reading about ourselves in the papers.
In Glen and Mick Jones room, there were 14 musicians and assorted hangers on. Someone rolled a foot long spliff. As soon as it reached Johnny Rotten, he kept hold of it. He had to be held down to remove it from him. Later that night, Heartbreaker Jerry Nolan kicked a hole in Mick Jones door, in an effort to drown Johnny Rotten in the bath.
EMI decided: if they continue to behave so deplorably, they become a liability to this company both morally and commercially. Johnny’s reply: tell him to go fuck himself.
Instead of Bournemouth, the bus headed for Sheffield Uni, to find that the PA system was in Berkshire. The Clash were now close to despair. JOE STRUMMER: I hated it. It was the Pistols time. We were in the background, locked up in the hotel room with the Pistols doing nothing.
The pressure was getting to everybody. JOHNNY ROTTEN: there was a falling out with the Clash because they wanted better billing or some bullshit. They decided to travel separately.
They needed another band for the Manchester gig and got the Buzzcocks in. PETE: Malcolm phoned me up and asked us to come round… We walked into reception and saw Glen Matlock there on his own. It didn’t occur to us at the time, but he was probably on his own because he was on the way out already.
Although Glen Matlock remained with the Pistols into the next year (77) he confirms that undisguised antagonism was already the norm between him and Johnny Rotten: he would create arguments with me out of nothing, but then we were all pretty fed up. JOHN LYDON: The things I was led to believe about Glen, and I’m sure Glen was led to believe things about me… Somebody told us a Fucking crock of shit and it was nasty, evil, spiteful, vindictive and manipulative.
GLEN: Malcolm’s whole game was to divide and conquer and he did anything he could to perpetrate that.
The Electric Circus was once a thriving picture palace but now stood overlooking wasteland surrounded by large, council housing blocks that had been decaying since the 30’s. This would be the site of the Anarchy tour’s second gig. From inside the dressing room, they could hear the chants: get the punks, kill the bastards. Angry football fans surrounded the club and the police were losing control. They harassed punk fans who turned up to see the gig. Some of them got in the hall and went round asking people if they were punks. When they’d say yes, they’d hit them.
Among the punks in the audience were members of Stiff Kittens, later to become Joy Division, then New Order. Steven Morrissey turned up too, mainly to see The Heartbreakers. In the next issue of Sounds, he placed an ad: Dolls/Patti fans wanted for Manchester based punk band.
The Clash played really well and did 2 encores. The Pistols on the other hand were shit. AN EYE WITNESS says: it was easily the most terrifying concert I’ve ever been to. There was a violent element in the crowd and the glasses and bottles soon started flying… For the Pistols this was becoming a way of life. After the gig they had to get away through the crowd outside. The Pistols and Joe Strummer got into a nearby car and van and were pursued through the back streets of Manchester. They took refuge in a Chinese restaurant. They thought they’d got away with it but a group of thugs recognised them and they had to call their body guard from the hotel. When they got back to the hotel, because of press harassment, the owner decided they couldn’t stay the night. So they headed for London.
The next day when Malcolm tried to contact people at EMI everyone was “not available”. In the press office he saw a memo informing the PR team that they no longer had authority to answer any queries relating to the Pistols.
JOHNNY ROTTEN: Not gigging turned the Sex Pistols internally against each other. We became frustrated and began looking at each other suspiciously. We were bored and at each others’ backs.
Even the letters pages of the music press offered little respite: The likes of the Sex Pistols have yet to prove that they are only worthy of a mention in a publication dealing solely with fashion… declared a missive to that week’s Melody Maker… and if the music they deliver live is anything to go by, I think that their audacious lyrics and discordant music will not hold their heads above water when their followers tire of torn jumpers and safety pins. It was signed Steven Morrissey, Kings Road, Stretford, Manchester.
STEVE JONES was becoming distrustful and suspicious of his manager: like, those gigs what we was getting banned from. I got the feeling he’d called up the gigs and said it’s going to be fucking hell there, and then the guys would get scared and not put us on.
The 4 star hotel bills had mounted to £10,000. Bristol cancelled. And onto Wales… A gig at the Castle Cinema in Caerphilly… which looked like a ghost town. Shutters on shop and pub windows, all of which were closed as if in anticipation of a full scale riot. The local paper had called the Pistols “Satan’s children” and a crowd gathered across the road from the cinema to sing hymns. A minister shouted through a loud hailer “you will be redeemed if you come out now”
JOHNNY ROTTEN: you can’t be angry or upset with people like that. They amused me greatly.
GLEN MATLOCK was intrigued to discover that “of all places, there was already some kind of punk scene in place in Wales. I knew about it because a kid called Steven Harrington, who later became Steve Strange, turned up at Caerphilly to see us, and he was wearing all the gear from “BOY” which I would never have predicted”
The next 3 dates (Glasgow, Dundee and Sheffield) were cancelled.
Paul Cook’s mother in the Daily Mail: “FOR FOUR YEARS MY BEDROOM HAS BEEN FULL OF DRUMS. I WOULDN’T MIND IF HE PLAYED TUNES, BUT IT’S JUST BANG, BANG, BANG. My hall is full of Sex Pistols dirty washing and my husband has temporarily left home because he can’t stand the rows. I’M GOING TO MAKE A VERY NICE LITTLE DINING ROOM OUT OF PAUL’S BEDROOM. I don’t think I really want him back.”
The NME held their Christmas party and the Pistols, Clash, Damned and Heartbreakers turned up for the free food and drink.
The next day, as Guildford cancelled, the tour returned to the Electric Circus in Manchester. AN EYE WITNESS: it was just a riot. There were so many football fans and lunatics throwing bottles from the top of the flats. It was really heavy, a horrible night. Punk had been completely underground until Grundy. After that, it was completely over the top. There were so many of the punks getting battered.
Birmingham Town Hall – cancelled so they went to Cleethorpes. The very last date in Harlesden was also cancelled. Malcolm heard that the overworked and underpaid roadies were planning last minute revenge on the management, and slipped away quietly to London. The bands travelled to play the last 3 dates of the tour, first to Plymouth where they played a good gig. AN EYE WITNESS says: it started with the Clash putting in one hell of a set and refusing to end it until Johnny Thunders enticed them off by waving a huge joint at them from backstage.
The tour almost over and the single was climbing the charts. Torquay and Paignton cancelled, so they played another night at Plymouth, to less than 20 people. GLEN MATLOCK remembers the second Plymouth gig as: the best of the whole tour, probably because we were all so happy that it was finally over. We didn’t even bother to change into our stage clothes, just played for eachother. Each band got up and played and then, as they came off the stage, handed their instruments on to the next band. Ed: so now you know the Clash played with the Sex Pistols instruments.
As they headed back to the hotel, the road crew were “deep in an unusually animated debate” They hadn’t liked the way that the Clash’s manager had treat them during the tour and they were planning their revenge.
NEVER MIND THE TOUR IT’S… THE FINAL NIGHT PARTY
Which consisted of an 11th floor water fight between the Pistols and the Heartbreakers. Both bands, minus Steve Jones, staggered down to the bar drenched. Something even stranger happened… the lift doors opened to reveal Steve Jones naked. Outraged guests summoned the hotel manager. As he ran towards the lift, the doors parted to reveal a very angry Clash manager demanding to know who had done something disgusting to his bedsheets.
The manager closed the bar hoping to contain things to the bands rooms. It was easy to tell which rooms belonged to Anarchy tour members. They were the ones with plates of trifle stuck on the doors. Then Steve Jones noticed that the gate to the pool was unlocked… They all dashed down, jumped in and had a free-for-all. Sunbeds and tables were thrown in the pool. Then, the hotel manager arrived with the police…
The Pistols never got any free sex on the tour. They were given £15 each by Malcolm at the end of the tour and instead of getting something to eat like the others, Steve spent his on a woman.
JOE STRUMMER was not going to have a happy christmas: I was really destroyed because after a few days you get used to eating. We were eating hotel rubbish but it was 2 meals a day. When I got off the coach I had no money and it was just awful. I felt twice as hungry as I’d ever felt before. I had nowhere to live and I remember walking away from the coach deliberately not putting on my woolly jumper. I walked all the way up Tottenham Court Road and it was really cold but I wanted to get as cold and miserable as I could.
Joe would not miss the arguing or the endless hotel rooms but: I just felt like it was the worst thing in the world that the tour had ended. I wanted it to go on and on. The coach had been like home and I didn’t want to get off.
MICK JONES: I learned that there’s no romance in being on the road. The Pistols suffered quite terribly. It was really tragic, but we learnt so much from it. You knew the time had to come.
EMI dropped the Pistols, not because of lack of record sales but because they were making headlines in the US, which could have affected their other investments (in x ray machines).
In his 1990 autobiography, GLEN MATLOCK says: everybody thinks the Anarchy tour was Hey! Hey! Hey! but it wasn’t. The main thing I remember is the boredom. We didn’t know what the fuck was going on.”
Buy a signed copy of Bombed Out! here: http://www.bombedoutpunk.com/buybook.php
(For more great Punk photos visit Dave Smitham’s site at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/64993138@N08/sets/72157627145316778/with/19024295746/)