Perhaps the best ever documentary on the Sex Pistols I’ve seen, Julian Temple’s Never Mind The Baubles- Xmas 1977 with the Sex Pistols, caught the band on their last ever UK show of the their original stint weeks before they imploded at the end of an American sojourn.
The footage, with added clips of the decaying UK and interviews with the three surviving members puts the whole affair into a new context. Like a modern xmas carol, it’s a Dickensian romp set in the grinding and rusty late seventies that is heartwarming without ever losing site of the righteous danger and thrilling brilliance of the band whose affect on poplar culture is still being felt to this day and is brilliantly put together by Julian Temple who filmed that momentous Christmas day in 1977.
The documentary, shown during the dire Xmas break- where UK culture seems to be on a permanent 1974 time loop, was quite possibly the best thing on UK TV all year.
In a sea of celebrity bores and X factor nothingness and reruns of Morecambe and Wise it cut through with its acne infested innocence like a picture postcard from the real late seventies with the Pistols being virtually the only TV that connects with the ironically (No) future.
The accompanying footage of the UK with haggard politicians, desperate strikes and the accompanying darkness and gloom of the late seventies makes the Pistols seem like the only people in the UK on fast foreword at the time and whilst the rest of the decade was in decay the band seem to be the only people going fearlessly foreword and have never dated.
Playing a benefit gig for the striking firefighters the Pistols played two shows in Huddersfield on Xmas day 1977. They were banned from most of the UK and sneaking out to play shows under the moniker of SPOTS. They were the four young antichrists facing up to the cultural and moral bankruptcy of the UK who in one gig in Huddersfield managed dispel every single myth surrounding them.
Julian Temple caught the band at their peak four weeks before they imploded at the end of a fractious American tour as they played a righteous, riotous show to the firefighters kids in the afternoon with Johnny Rotten covering himself with Xmas cake and playing the fool quite brilliantly.
The band’s good naturedness and through niceness oozes out and the tabloid 2D version or the Malcolm Mcclaren’s merrie myth making is binned swiftly. The band quickly prove that they were a shit hot rock n roll band with an incendiary performance caught on Julian’s camera with surprisingly good sound quality- the playing is tight, the songs are thrilling, Rotten’s vocals sound fantastic and even Sid is playing is bang on- it’s one of the great all time rock n roll shows and a reminder of the fact that this was one of the great bands and not just a concept to flog clothes or situationist ideas-the whole brilliant concept could not have worked if the Pistols could not deliver the music and the Huddersfield footage is proof of their innate genius and natural charisma.
Temple contextualizes the film with clips of decaying Britain and interviews from the Pistols themselves- with Rotten as the cheeky yet wiser loveable scamp, Steve Jones admitting to his teenage depression and Paul Cook’s straight talking- great interviews that tap into what was once the future is now history.
At the time the Pistols were cast as the anti Christ by the press and TV- the wreckers of civilization but the decades have proven what we all knew all along- that the band were Dickensian waifs pitted against the merciless darkness of the Savile infested mainstream media and the rotten establishment who were coming down on them like a ton of bricks.
The Sex Pistols told their truth and got burned but their legacy has been enormous and as the grainy footage shows a grinning Rotten covered in xmas cake surrounded by dancing kids in the afternoon and then a packed house of thrilled Yorkshire teen punks in the evening he looks likes the pied piper dancing on the grave of the post industrial nervous breakdown of a long lost UK.
The Pistols prove they are not the tabloid pigs of legend- they cut the swearing out of Bodies for the kids, they play a thrilling Anarchy In The UK and even a version of Belsen Was A Gas- mooted as the next single if they had continued and maybe playing the ironic wind up to make a point thing a bit too far.
They never did rock star posturing (so many reports from young fans getting looked after from other gigs of the period) and take great care of their fans and play what must have been their best ever show to a room full of children thrilled that the biggest band in the UK at the time has bothered to come and play to them on xmas day and support their parents strike.
It’s a reminder of the potent power of rock n roll and the brilliance of a band who seemed to get slightly shunned in the modern telling of the punk story in favour of the Clash- who we also love but we must remember were this whole damn drama started and why.
The willful artful and articulate awkwardness of Rotten who rewrote the rule book on how to front a band at his brilliant best is perfectly captured by Julian Temple who is the best story teller from the time in film that tells the real story of punk rock- the community spirited, shit hot brilliant rock n roll and not the spitting, swearing etc tabloid version from a time when bands were allowed to matter- imagine any modern band getting the chance to get on the radio and TV with anything noisier than Mumford and Sons or with any attitude- it just can’t happen now.
A stunning and moving film.