Mick O’Shea is the author of Anarchy In The UK published by Famous Seamus. Recently he spoke with Bob ‘the voice’ McKenzie about that difficult second album……
Was this always going to be a trilogy or was it one book that exploded?
Only Anarchists Are Pretty was my first attempt at writing anything longer than a postcard since leaving school so I’d be lying if I said I was looking at a trilogy. There was no guarantee that Anarchists would even be published; I started writing it on the promise of a mate (Alan G. Parker) that he would find me a publisher. We had a couple of false dawns, but Alan remained dedicated to finding Anarchists a home and the book was published by Helter Skelter in October 2004.
It wasn’t until the glowing reviews started appearing in NME, Mojo, Classic Rock et al that people began asking when the sequel was coming out. Sean Body, the owner of Helter Skelter was amenable to the idea of a sequel and I set out writing one more or less straight away. Everyone expected the sequel to cover the Sid-era Pistols, but Anarchists finishes on the day of the Today show on 1 December 1976, and Sid didn’t officially join the band until February 1977. Those three months saw the Pistols were pilloried in the media, went out on the ill-feted Anarchy Tour, and were dropped by EMI, and I decided that period was worthy of a book. Sean sadly fell seriously ill with Leukaemia around this time (he died in 2007), however, so the unfinished manuscript went on the backburner.
The Sex Pistols have had millions of words written about them over the years . . . it must have been a daunting task to bring something new to the party?
I’ve been a Pistols fan since the age of 15, and Never Mind The Bollocks was the album I ever bought. Millions of words have indeed been written about the Pistols and I’ve read most if not all of them. It was never my intention to add to those millions, and Anarchists only came about owing to Glen Matlock calling Alan while we were on a night out in Blackburn circa November 1999. “See what happens when you write a book about ’em,” he said, flashing his phone at me (Alan’s Satellite book had recently come out). When the call ended I said something along the lines of, “Well, I wish I’d written a book about them then he (Glen) might ring me up.” “Do it,” Alan fired back, “and I’ll get you a deal.”
Alan had forgotten about our exchange by the time he was taking the head off his next pint, but a seed had been planted. Like you say, bringing something new to the party was the stumbling block to my literary aspirations. I wasn’t a face on the 100 Club scene, I didn’t have any inroads to the Pistols, and I didn’t have a roll of film of previously unseen photos tucked away at the back of a drawer. I can’t remember now exactly when the eureka moment struck (most likely when I was under one influence or another,) but because I knew the Pistols history, and had played in bands myself, I hit upon the idea of writing about their rise to infamy using my own experiences to recreate the situations that any band faces when starting out.
The book gets right inside the chaos & downright lunacy of the era . . . is it fair to say that Punk was very much a one off?
I would say the Pistols were a one-off, and that Punk – or UK Punk – was a scene spawned in their wake. The Pistols didn’t set out to be the vanguard of a movement. If anything, they acted independently from what became known as “Punk”. But then the Pistols were only a one-off owing to John Lydon. Steve, Paul, and Glen were noodling around playing Faces and Who covers before his arrival in August ’75. Much of the chaos and lunacy that surrounded the Pistols was merely the knock-on effect of Malcolm’s wilful mismanagement of the band.
Why do you think the Sex Pistols freaked out the establishment so much?
In The Filth And The Fury film Lydon says the Sex Pistols happened ’cos they were meant to happen. What he means is that the country was on its knees and it was only a matter of time before someone stood up and said enough is enough, we’re not taking this crap anymore. The so-called “Establishment” was woefully unprepared for anyone daring to challenge the status quo. But by banning the Pistols’ records, and from playing live they gave the band publicity that money couldn’t buy. Whether a band like the Pistols could “happen” now in 21st century Britain is a different story, of course.
There are lots of great stories in the book …. some bizarre , some hilarious….were there any that shocked you ? Or did you expect such debauchery & filth?
I know the Pistols story so well that nothing really shocks me, but I still get a kick out of discovering things I didn’t know about them (it does happen occasionally lol). Of course, a lot of the tales about the Pistols were overegged by the media, but Malcolm was never one to let the truth get in the way of a good story.
So, you are reaching the end of the road with this epic trilogy …. what’s in store in the final part?
The final book in the Pistols trilogy will cover the Sid-era Pistols, from Sid’s joining the Pistols in February 1977 through to the band’s acrimonious break-up in San Francisco in January 1978 at the end of their debut US tour. And it will be fun to write, given the storyline covers the furore surrounding “God Save The Queen”, the SPOTS Tour, the recording and release of NMTB, Sid’s descent into heroin hell with Nancy, the legendary Ivanhoe’s show of Christmas Day 1977, and the fateful US tour. (I am also toying with the idea of writing a fourth book covering Sid and Nancy’s time in NYC, her murder, and Sid’s death)
‘Anarchy in the U.K.’ is available now.
Anarchy In The U.K.