The Rock’s Backpages Flashback: God Saves the Sex Pistols!
To mark the occasion of our noble monarch's Diamond Jubilee, time-travel along the River Thames with the Pistols and Sounds' Jon Savage, whose account of the notorious punk boat party was first published on June 18, 1977——Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages
Before the police came, it was a great party. Make that a capital G.
Let's take all this sequentially: after an hour of waiting, the Queen Elizabeth left Charing Cross Pier at 6.30, and, after a moment's hesitation, decided to head downstream. If you aren't on the List, you aren't on. Nobody jumps... not even Palmolive. Bye bye.
Begins very restrained — too too vous êtes, but come Rotherhithe, some booze and more food, and everyone gets mellow, if such a thing is possible. I mean it's a nice evening (albeit a bit chilly) and there's space all around instead of tower-blocks, so why be surprised?
The disparate crowd mixes surprisingly well — the only jarring note in fact is the refusal of the bar to serve doubles... never know what these notorious punk-rockers might get up to. Downstream aways, we turn as a banner is unfurled along the length of the boat — Red on yellow, it proclaims proudly 'Queen Elizabeth: the new single by the Sex Pistols 'God Save The Queen', or something similar really low profile.
Inside, the conversation's covering some pretty recherché territory, but, hey, upstairs, in the covered area the tapes start rolling. Dance. Great selection — moving from arcane dub to the Ramones thru Paul Revere and the Raiders. More boozing/dancing/yammering — general party patter — but expectation is heightened. They have to start playing outside the Houses of Parliament.
We repass under Tower Bridge, picking up a police boat on the way — sniff sniff sussy sussy — but it falls behind: meanwhile Jordan's telling me about this group she's managing called the Ants. Upstream it gets chillier — most take refuge in the downstairs bar (big boat this), ostensibly for a film that never happens. There's no pretence now: we're waiting.
More turns (Battersea funfair — for the detail-obsessed) and it's home run time.
The Pistols take the 'stage' — at the back of the raised covered area: the conditions are appalling, and it's amazing that any sort of sound comes out. The main one is feedback — this delays their start and is never fully resolved. Any blase traces are swept away — pulses race/everyone rushed to be the front. Pure mania.
Rotten gives up on losing the feedback and the band slams into 'Anarchy', right on cue with the Houses Of Parliament. A great moment. It's like they've been uncaged — the frustration in not being able to play bursts into total energy and attack. Rotten's so close all you can see is a snarling mouth and wild eyes, framed by red spikes. Can't shake that feedback: he complains, won't sing for the first verse of 'No Feelings', but the others carry on. More frustration to explode.