CMU Weekly Editor's Letter

Editor’s Letter: Why are The Sex Pistols still the voice of anarchy in the UK?

By | Published on Friday 8 June 2012

Andy Malt

It was the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee last weekend, as I’m sure you noticed. Even if you weren’t being bombarded with TV adverts for Union Jack nappies, then you almost certainly risked garrotting yourself on bunting several times daily. Even I noticed this, and I hardly ever watch TV or go outside.

However, when I booked a few days away to take advantage of the double bank holiday, it genuinely didn’t occur to me that there would be any sort of celebrations going on in my chosen destination, me treating the monarchy and patriotism with the same level of indifference and mild confusion that I assume most of you do.

But, bloody hell, the bunting. It was everywhere. The village I retreated to after an entirely Jubilee-free Saturday at the Field Day festival was about 87% bunting. And before I left on Sunday morning I’d watched about an hour of the BBC News Channel, whose output consisted almost exclusively of various presenters standing next to the River Thames endlessly repeating the mantra, “The Queen will be on a boat here in six hours time, but nothing is happening right now”.

So, it was quite nice on Monday afternoon when my companions and I wandered into a pub in the aformentioned bunting-covered village and noticed a poster with the words “Jubilee free zone” pasted across The Queen’s face. It was still a mention of the Jubilee of course, but this place was as much refuge as we were likely to get, so we took it. Though weirdly, many others wouldn’t. It was about 30 minutes before the first person arrived to defend Liz.

“I’ve just taken that poster down”, he announced to us from the next table.

“Oh”, we shrugged.

“I respect everyone’s right to their own opinion, but I’m not having that. I’m not having someone putting a line through The Queen’s face”, he continued.

I briefly considered pointing out that he didn’t seem to be respecting anyone’s opinion, but thought better of it and went back to my pint.

Shortly afterwards the man was confronted by the barman about the missing poster, at which point he launched in to the tirade he had clearly been itching to unleash. During this he announced that the pub was “racist”. Racist against whom it wasn’t clear, but he seemed fairly convinced.

And this wasn’t an isolated incident – later on another person came and had a bit of a shout, and apparently incidents like this had been fairly common since the poster was put up. But the imagery that angered them so much was based entirely on the artwork for ‘God Save The Queen’ by The Sex Pistols. Imagery that is now 35 years old. The pub’s clientele would presumably know this, given that the next day it was hosting a punk night, presumably to fully embrace the anti-Jubilee spirit and to further annoy the more patriotic locals.

But all this got me thinking, with two questions coming to mind. Firstly, why are people getting annoyed about some 35 year old imagery which is now pretty much part of the establishment? And secondly, why has nothing superseded it?

You’d have thought that people would be so used to seeing those images now that they’d have become meaningless. After all, BBC Four launched its ‘Punk Britannia’ series last week, not, as far as I can see, as any kind of anti-Jubilee statement, but just because the timing somehow seems appropriate – the rise of the Sex Pistols and Queen Liz’s Silver Jubilee being two well documented pieces of recent history that, on one occasion, crossed over.

Is the new found anger because the Jubilee awakened something in some of us that is usually dormant? It’s true the whole thing felt very British, but in a very old fashioned way. It was rather strange and slightly uncomfortable watching London presented on TV screens worldwide as a city inhabited by almost exclusively white, flag-waving monarchists for four days. It was a version of London I only really recognise from TV programmes about 1977, except this time Robbie Williams was there.

So, 35 years from now, will we still be looking back with rose-tinted spectacles at The Sex Pistols’ attempt to throw a spanner in the works during Elizabeth II’s silver jubilee, or re-runs of Gary Barlow’s big tribute to the status quo for her diamond year festivities? The latter seems unlikely, while the chance of punk’s perceived cultural significance earning yet more reverence is a definite possiblity. And the closest I saw to ‘the youth’ dissenting this time was some students telling Channel 4 News that they were only enjoying their street party ironically. You can’t make a nostalgic documentary about that.

Is it, as I’ve asked before, only now possible to get ahead as a controversial musician if you deal in shock rather than opinion? Or has the music industry just realised it’s far more profitable for a lot of artists to play nice than to let one run rogue? Whatever, much as I love watching endless documentaries about late 70s punk, I’d like to think that there’ll be a time in the future when I’ll be able to watch programmes about a more recent moment when music was a force for social change. Though as significant occasions to hang that sort of thing on to go, it looks like we just missed one.

Andy Malt
Editor, CMU

This week’s CMU podcast features a helping of ranting about the Jubilee, followed by discussion of more relevant topics, including Big Machine Records and Clear Channel’s new deal over radio royalties in the US, the RIAA’s latest plea for Google to do more to combat piracy, Beach House’s ongoing battle with VW over a copycat song in the company’s latest advert, and Erykah Badu’s beef with Wayne Coyne and The Flaming Lips.

The podcast will be available here later this weekend.

A significant moment for the US radio industry occurred this week when Clear Channel announced a new deal with Big Machine Records, which will see it pay the label royalties for airplay of its recordings on the media group’s AM and FM radio stations for the first time. Although US radio stations have to pay publishers performance royalties, the same royalties have never been paid to record labels. It’s thought that Clear Channel is testing the water here, as it looks increasingly likely that US Congress, which is currently debating the matter, could pass new legislation making payments to labels compulsory.

Elsewhere in the American record industry, another bugbear was being raised before Congress. On Wednesday RIAA CEO Cary Sherman made a speech as part of a Congressional hearing on ‘The Future Of Audio’. In it, he called on Google to do more to act against piracy, in particular making it easier to remove links to copyright-infringing content that appear in its search engine.

Speaking of blocking access to illegal content, O2 just became the latest ISP to block its customers from accessing The Pirate Bay. TalkTalk remains the only company ordered by the courts earlier this year to stop its customers from accessing the website which hasn’t done so. BT, although not yet under court order, is also expected to follow suit soon.

And finally, Beach House responded to a statement from VW on accusations that it had ripped off one of their songs for a new advert. The company said it was simply a generic ‘dream pop’ song, but the band called this claim a “cop out”.

This week’s interview is with The Hundred In The Hands, who were very chatty about their new album ‘Red Night’. Our playlist came from the less chatty but very discerning Sub Focus. Meanwhile, the Beef Of The Week this week saw Erykah Badu take on The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne. Plus, we made sure to collate all the latest festival line-up updates.

Due to the three day week, the Approved column featured just two bands, the brilliant Ghost Loft and Marconi Union. However, elsewhere there was plenty more new music to check out. Muse trailed their forthcoming new album, which may or may not see them go dubstep, plus there were new tracks from Marina And The Diamonds, Grizzly Bear, Misha B, Andy Burrows, Tune-Yards, Jens Lekman, Beach House, Deus, Clams Casino, iamamiwhoami and Parakeet.

And if you fancy reading something while you listen to all of that, there was a free ebook written by the former frontman of The Planets to be had. Who were The Planets? Well, not the New York Dolls or Kiss, it turns out.