UK Punk Rock 40 : 1976-2016

Would Punk have happened without McClaren & Lydon?  

2016 marks forty years since Punk Rock began in the UK.

Happy Aniversary punk rockers!

Louder Than War is built on Punk foundations.  John Robb compiled the Oral History of UK Punk which sits on the shelves next to Englands Dreaming -Jon Savage’s London-centric ‘of course it was all-over by the end of ’77’ definitive work.

The mysterious PunkdotLondon have planned Boris -approved festivities for 2016 whilst punks-for-life like Rebellion, Undercover and Another Winter of Discontent have their regular punk-gatherings planned throughout the year.

Louder Than War similarly (John Robb, myself and others) will be casting our eyes and ears back over Punk’s History (and Her-story) on this site, with the help of as many of the people who were a part of it as are willing to talk to us.  Are there any stories that haven’t been told or angles that haven’t been explored before?  ( Let us know)

To start with though…. a hypothetical question…

‘Would Punk Rock in the UK have happened at all if Malcolm MacClaren and John Lydon/Johnny Rotten not been around?  

( For the sake of this hypothosis Malcy met his end in 1974, so never opened Let It Rock/SEX and Johnny never recovered from his childhood menigitis )  So No ‘Sex’ No Vivienne Westwood, (consumed with grief she joined a nunnery)   No Pistols.

If there was no Pistols then of course there would have been No Clash  or at least Strummers Road To Damascus moment as a 101-er wouldn’t have happened.

… and no Free Trade Hall gig(s) – No Buzzcocks, No Madchester !

It’s a simple proposition but complex as there were literally hundreds of bands who would not have been sparked into existence were it not for the Pistols.   BUT – if you dig deeper….. Take 2 people out of the equation but LEAVE all of the others….. so  in the Imaginary 1976 we have :

In the USA ;  the Ramones, the Void-oids, Blondie, Television etc

In Australia;  Radio Birdman, the Saints

In Scotland – the Rezillos.

In Manchester – Slaughter and the Dogs

In London – Eddie & the Hot Rods, the Vibrators, Bastard / the Damned,  Johnny Moped, Eater,  the London SS ( Tony James / Mick Jones / the Boys )  the 101-ers, Bazooka Joe  not to mention people like Twink, Lemmy, the Count Bishops, Kilburn and the High Roads, the Motors, the Only Ones…..    and importantly the Stranglers and the Jam.

(all of these acts existed before, or in-isolation-from the Pistols I believe…)

So  – Would Punk Rock or a Different Kind Of Punk Rock still happened ?  Would it have been very small-scale, pub-rock and longer-haired?  It wouldn’t’ve EXPLODED thanks to prime time TV exposure courtesy of Bill Grundy but may have been a slower, more gradual rise of street-level  rock’n’roll.

It wouldn’t have McClarens magic word ‘Anarchy’… so subsequently Crass and the whole ‘anarcho’ ilk wouldnt’ve formed.

But look at what you are left with –  In the City, Grip, New Rose, Can’t Stand My Baby, Whips & Furs and Stranded  for starters.

And we still have Peel in this hypothetical re-imagined 1976 so would bands like Doctors of Madness and Dead Fingers Talk had more success without the Pistols getting all the coverage.

I’m certain in my mind that without the Pistols the world would have been a far duller place but they weren’t the be-all and end-all of punk surely?

Punk without the Pistols – Could It have Happened?  A Longer-haired,  worse-dressed, non-Anarchic  Rock’n’Roll ?

Maybe its a stupid question.  A ridiculous unanswerable proposition –  but  I wonder……..



All words Ged Babey.


Previous articleSyd Barrett’s family mark his 70th birthday with publication of unseen photos and more
Next articleFrank McHale: Love is Stronger – album review
Ged Babey is 56. from Southampton, has written since 1985 for Sound Info, Due South, various fanzines and websites, contributed to Record Collector magazine and was sole author of 'Punk Throwback' fanzine -the name of which was taken from an insult hurled at him by the singer with a young band he managed for a while. Ged believes that all good music and art has a connection with punk rock.


  1. That really is an interesting question. I never saw them live (unlike the thousands and thousands who say they did!) but the Pistols undoubtedly changed the way the public looked at punk – they were the most public (and ‘hated’) of all the UK’s punk bands and a real focus of media attention. But there was SO much going on, with so many great bands, I am not sure they defined the genre – and they were so short lived and in such a McLaren bubble of nonsense I am not sure in real terms what their real contribution was. Oh, apart from a great album and some great singles and some real attitude. Is that enough words? I am a multisyliabic bastard after all.

  2. I think something was definitely going to happen with or without the Pistols. Working it’s way through Glam and Pub Rock in the 70s, there was a natural path of faster, louder and less grandiose music. It would have been a different beast without the Pistols, but a beast nonetheless

  3. No – there had been bands like those mentioned since the 60s but operating in isolation and that’s what they would have continued to do without a movement which the Sex Pistols brought about. Other bands mentioned did form in 1976 because they’d seen or heard about the Sex Pistols. It was the clever media games of Malcolm McLaren and the cartoonish aspects of his band and the explosion straight to front page status in all the national press so that everyone in Britain had heard of the group within a couple of days of 1st December 1976 and Bill Grundy that saw the movement become more than a 9 day music press wonder.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here