The Anarchy Tour Returns
The Sex Pistols (Experience) in Caerphilly.

Thirty five years ago the Anarchy tour was in full swing. At least it should have been, but due to the Pistols infamous appearance on the Bill Grundy show, one by one venues started to cancel their bookings. Ultimately only three gigs actually took place and one of the many to fall by the wayside was their proposed concert at Cardiff Top Rank.

However, an enterprising promoter saw the gap in the market and on December 14 1976, the most notorious band in Britain was booked to play Caerphilly Castle Cinema, along with The Clash, The Damned and Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers. The locals, whilst not revolting, were none to pleased about matters. The small crowd in attendance had to pass through protests that included carol singers and representatives from the town’s Pentecostal church. The latter handed out leaflets warning all those that entered the venue that they were “clearly part of the fulfilment of Jesus' prophecy that before his return to earth, wickedness would multiply beyond all previous limits". Heavy stuff indeed!



Whilst the gig passed off without incidence, the effect it had on the local youth in attendance was immeasurable. Many went on to start bands and have their own tilt at stardom, the most famous being Steve Strange, later to have a modicum of success with Visage.

Sex Pistols – Caerphilly Castle Cinema 1976

And so three and a half decades later I find myself heading (with my wingman The Pitman) to the mean streets of Caerphilly to celebrate one of the seminal nights in Welsh rock history. Whilst the venue has long since gone, Caerphilly Working Men Club makes a passable replacement, especially as it too appears to have at one time been a cinema. Local promoter Punky Galore had gathered together a stellar line up for the night including the Broken Hearts (a band containing Billy Rath of the original Heartbreakers), Clash tribute band Rebel Truce and the World’s foremost Pistols impersonators the Sex Pistols Experience.

Back in 1976 the protests had been led by Councillor Ray Davies. However in the interim he has confessed his remorse at his actions and apparently was to open proceeding tonight with a speech of reconciliation. However, he was a no-show and we had to make do with a rather inaudible statement of regret.

So after a rather underwhelming start to proceedings, first band the Broken Hearts ambled onto the stage. Most band members of the Heartbreakers have succumbed over the years to untimely, chemical related, deaths. And in truth, from my vantage point at the back of the venue, it appeared that the years had not been too kind to Billy Rath. Matters were not improved as his bass amp initially failed to work and I wondered how he must feel, effectively being support to two tribute bands.

However, once the initial teething problems were sorted out, a youthful looking lead singer Steve Dior (ex of seminal early US punk bands The Idols and later in the London Cowboys with original Sex Pistol Glen Matlock) got things going. Ably assisted by Paul Crook of the Sex Pistols, the band made a cacophony of noise, with more than their fair share of rock posturing. I’m not too familiar with many not the tracks but certainly recognised “Born to Lose”, “Get off the Phone” and “Chinese Rocks”. The American influence on the early UK punk is often overlooked (except for the Ramones), so it was good to see two stalwarts still giving it their all and being recognised for the part in the punk lineage.

Whilst ostensibly this was to be a celebration of the Sex Pistols, one of the reasons I had looked forward to the night was to reacquaint myself with Rebel Truce, the excellent Clash tribute band. The inter band rivalry between the two big hitters of punk extended to their fan base at the time. Indeed whilst innocently eating chips outside the venue I was approached by an affable middle aged punter who wanted to know if I was a Pistols or Clash man? My reply, as always, of the Clash seemed to be not the desired reply and he exited in a huff. It seemed bizarre that two generations on from the original gig your band allegiance would matter so much.

I had previously seen Rebel Truce in Cardiff, several years ago and clearly remember being impressed with not only their musicianship, but also attention to detail. Well, all I can say is that they are now even better. Sticking to the 1976 theme of the night, they played only tracks from the Clash’s eponymous debut album, plus their Cost of Living EP and various early singles. In the latter days of the Clash their back catalogue of songs was so extensive that early album tracks were rarely played and therefore it was electrifying to hear numbers like “What’s My Name”, “Hate and War”, “Janie Jones”, “Career Opportunities”, “Remote Control” and “I’m So Bored with the USA” again.

They sported authentic threads, albeit more from the London Calling era, and blasted through one Clash classic after another. Having seen the Clash several times back in the day I can attest that they are the nearest you are now going to get to hear Messrs Strummer, Jones, Simonon and Headon in their pomp. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up when they played true punk classics such as “Complete Control”, “London’s Burning”, “White Man in Hammersmith Palais” and “I Fought the Law”. It is difficult to put into words the enjoyment that can be had from hearing songs that you loved so much, done in such an authentic way. They didn’t even rely on the anthemic “White Riot” to close out matters, but finished off with a blistering “Clash City Rockers”. I can say without fear of contradiction that somewhere in the ether a certain John Graham Mellor (aka Joe Strummer) smiled on approvingly. Joe RIP.

And so to the headliners. Having seen them several times previously, I can categorically state that the Sex Pistols Experience are the Sex Pistols circa 1976. They look, and more importantly sound, like the band who galvanised British music in the late 70’s and in so doing spawned a culture that still influences global rock music today.

I’ve often thought that over the years that John Lydon has become a cartoon caricature of his former self. Certainly for me his vocal style has changed and that’s what makes it so refreshing to hear lead singer Johnny Rotter spit out lyrics to songs like “Liar”, “EMI” and “No Feeling”, just like they first appeared on the “Bollocks” LP. Given that he also looks scarily like a young Mr Rotten, it makes the illusion even more complete.

Rotter meets Rotten

Bass player Kid Vicious similarly bears more than a passing resemblance to the former enfant terrible of the band. He even has his moment (if not holiday) in the sun by stepping forward for vocals on “Something Else”, “C’Mon Everybody” and “My Way”.

Kid Vicious

Special mention should also be given to the two remaining members of the band Steve Clones and Paul Crook – who whilst not facially resembling their counterpart are easily their equal as musicians.

It seems pointless to list the songs played as anyone with a passing interest in the Sex Pistols will know all the favourites listed on the setlist below. However given the somewhat dilapidated venue being an old cinema, the liberal attitude to smoking inside, beer only served in cans and the sheer brilliance of the Sex Pistols Experience, it really felt like a punk gig in the 1970’s. Obviously the big numbers of “Anarchy”, “God Save the Queen” and “Pretty Vacant” got the loudest crowd reception, but the band are so darn good that somewhat lesser numbers were still a joy to behold.

So will we all be reconvening in 35 years time to do it all again? Well maybe not me as I’m sure I’ll be pushing up daises by then, but I have no doubt that the influence of punk bands like the Sex Pistols and Clash will still be felt and maybe there will be one or two youngsters present tonight who can tell their grandchildren they were present when the Sex Pistols Experience played Caerphilly in 2011.

Footage courtesy of GP Promotions Ltd