When Punks Fall Out: The Sex Pistols Sue Malcom McClaren (Twice).
Above Photo: Where many Punk and New Wave bands from the 1970s and 1980s ended up: in The High Courts of Justice in London.
After the Sex Pistols dramatically fell apart in 1978 during their US tour, the band went their separate ways, although manager, Malcom McClaren, was involved with Julian Temple in the making of a Sex Pistols’ project film called The Great Rock & Roll Swindle.
In that venture, he was helped by three of the former Sex Pistols, Steve Jones, Paul Cook and Sid Vicious, who recorded music for the soundtrack. Lydon did not co-operate, and instead, after he left the band, he sued McLaren and the Sex Pistols’ management company, Glitterbest, which McLaren controlled.
Among his claims were non-payment of royalties, improper usage of the title “Johnny Rotten”, unfair contractual obligations and damages for “all the criminal activities that took place”.
On 7 February 1979, only five days after Sid Vicious’s death from a heroin overdose in New York, Lydon’s court case began in the High Court in London.
Initially, Paul Cook and Steve Jones were on McLaren’s side, but as it became increasingly obvious in the court documents that McClaren had spent almost all of the band’s income on the Great Rock & Roll Swindle, they switched sides and lined up behind Lydon instead.
Lydon and the Sex Pistols won this case and the High Court put the film and its soundtrack into receivership; which meant it was no longer under McLaren’s control, and that now any profits from them could be used to meet the band members’ financial claims.
Whilst that case was a Sex Pistols’ success in 1979, the judgment still left many legal issues unresolved between the band and their former manager, and five years later, they sued again.
This time they were suing McClaren for non-payment of royalties and other grievances, and on 16 January 1986, Lydon, Jones, Cook and the estate of Sid Vicious were awarded nearly $1.5 million in damages, control of the band’s heritage, including the rights to The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle and all the footage shot for it.
Happily, fallout from these legal battles didn’t stop Lydon from praising McClaren when he unfortunately died of cancer a couple of years ago.
Oddly enough, what sticks in my mind the most about McClaren’s death was an unlikely tribute paid to him by a former member of 1980s band Duran Duran, John Taylor, which really put his musical influence in its proper context. Taylor said:
“Before Malcolm, being a musician in England meant you had to read music, and clock up years of dues and motorway miles, hours of practice and play interminable solos wherever possible. Malcolm’s attitude changed everything. Without him, no punk rock revolution, no ‘Anarchy in The UK,’ no ‘Never Mind The Bollocks,’ no Sex Pistols, no Clash….He was a true artist, and a continual restless source of inspiration. There will never be anyone quite like him again.”
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