EPISODE SIX: MALCOLM MCLAREN
Sitting here in this time i have begun to think about Malcolm McClaren’s passing last month and thought i should share some personal memories. I was very lucky to have the friends i had in Bromley who were cool enough to seek out the people who were instrumental in the punk scene. We started to go to ‘Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die’, Malcolm and Vivienne Westwood’s shop at the unfashionable end of the Kings road in London in 1974/75, before it became Sex when it sold Teddy boy stuff and baggy peg pants and Vive le Rock T shirts. Malcolm and Jordan and the others that worked in the store had a way about them that was more than just an attitude – they had a way of talking all of their own that is difficult to describe in words. Put it like this .. he/they challenged you to rise above your circumstances as that is what they were doing. Doing the impossible and living it despite what anyone thought or said.
When Malcolm helped galvanize the punk scene by putting together The Sex Pistols we felt like our prayers had been answered for something of our own. A band and a scene that was ours, nothing to do with the complacent muso driven rock scene. Something in fact that would and did terrify the powers that be as they just couldn’t understand it and had nothing to counter it. Malcolm personally measured me for a pair of grey peg trousers long before he knew who I was.
He was the Brian Epstein of our scene but bigger as he had the attitude as well as us and he had political and social reasons for his actions. He mentored us because he was looking for a way forward outside of the mainstream unlike Eppy who wanted to fit into the theatrical world. I took the band I was in at University to audition at rehearsal rehearsals – later the Clash’s rehearsal room in 1975 . He told me I’d never make it and possibly he was right at that moment, but I didn’t take it personally. I knew his standards were high and contained ideas and a rational that only a 30 year old situationist could have.
The store became Sex and the Pistols started to play the 100 club in Oxford street. One Tuesday night, I went with Siouxsie, Steve Severin Berlin and my friend Simon Barker. We had all been Bowie and Roxy music fans but were sickened by the lack of originality in the bands of the mid seventies. The Pistols were our hope for a brighter scene and they fulfilled all our dreams. Malcolm was massively responsible for this . That Tuesday night in1975 there was only a hand full of punters there who had strolled in by accident they usually had long hair and denim on which we abhored. John was wearing the red childrens jumper that he had slit up the side to fit into it – with his carrot top razored hair do, he blared defiance. His foil was Malcolm as they carried on a conversation in between numbers. “Get me a fuckin’ drink Malcolm”, John said. Malcolm would shout back something inaudible. Then John would look at the audience in disgust and say ‘We don’t wear flares or have long hair why don’t you go back to your Melanie records”. Melanie used to put out those candy hippie anthems like ‘Brand New Key’. Malcolm would be standing there at the side of the stage dressed in tartan with a bum flap and a Sex t shirt; people forget he wore the gear he sold that Vivienne created . The Pistols couldn’t afford those clothes and Johnny wore his home made ‘i hate pink floyd t shirt’ with the jacket that really had safety pins to hold it together… the white schoolboy shirt and tie, but it was the look of the future. Glen Matlock had on a Jackson Pollock outfit, white with black paint splatter long before The Clash’s cheesy rip off look. Malcolm was proud of his boys but at odds with them too, but somehow you knew they cared for each other. Jonesy usually wore jeans but with the t shirt with the zips at the nipples and just had that ‘I don’t care what you think’ attitude – for real though, no pose at all. Cookie kept up that solid beat with no fucking around.
The Pistols were doing mainly covers at this point, ‘Stepping Stone’ ‘ Give You No Lip” ‘Substitute’ – if John didn’t know the words he made up his own, they may have been doing ‘Pretty Vacant’ as i think that was one of the first things they wrote. ‘Submission’ ‘ Problems’ – the problem is you, whatcha gonna do’?…(Jonesy would know!) Malcolm egged Johnny on to be anarchic although he didn’t need prompting as it was his natural way of being………I went to a number of the Pistols gigs that weren’t in front of a paying audience like Andrew Logans party, where Jordan cavorted with John on stage. Jordan had the black and white two tone beehive and always wore the Sex outfits even on the train up from Brighton i think were she lived? Attitude? We lived on that – we couldn’t defend ourselves really, we used shock as a weapon, Malcolm would have helped inspire that .. ‘ Be different …think outside the norm….’ Him and Bernie Rhoads who managed the Clash both pushed the envelope of attitude… Malcolm had a lot of sayings that all derided the status quo in society. Situationist in thought, he seemed way ahead of the curve in 1975.
Malcolm put on a gig at a small strip club in Soho i think it was The Paradise. It was a fantastic night as it was one of the last times the scene was truly small and the few followers of The Pistols were all there. The people from the scene from all over London, including two young jewish blokes who always dressed up as circa 1933 nazi brownshirts as a fashion statement. Blokes wearing the Yorkshire Ripper t shirts, the two cowboys t shirts, the embryonic Clash in the form of the London SS’s Mick Jones, were there. The Bromley contingent, John Beverly who was soon to become Sid Vicious. A tiny flea pit that had a mirror behind the stage it showed of the band really well. They really played well and suddenly you could see how powerful they could be. They may have been doing more original numbers now as it was a few months after i first saw them. Jonesy had really come on playing the guitar and wore drawstring leather pants . Fashion was as important as the music. Malcolm said ‘if punk was just about music it would have been dead a long time ago’…..to be cuntinued…….