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 towns
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
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 Worlds
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
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. Im 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 Clashs 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
Whats My Name, Hate and War, Janie
Jones, Career Opportunities, Remote Control
and Im 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,
Londons 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 didnt 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 70s and in so doing
spawned a culture that still influences global rock music today.
Ive 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 thats 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, CMon Everybody and My Way.
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 1970s. 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 Im sure Ill 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.