Never Mind The Bollocks

By Charles EP Murphy


On the Sea Lion Press Forums, we run a monthly Vignette Challenge. Contributors are invited to write short stories on a specific theme (changed monthly).


The theme for the 17th contest was Different Lives.


So stop if you’ve heard this one before: middle-class kid goes up to uni but really, really, he wants to rock out with his cock out like his hero Jagger. Doesn’t make it, because who does? Plays in a crappy little band of no-hopers who just wanted to meet girls and he does the work, he’s actually learning the words and hauling gear and frontmanning like a bastard, but he’s the only one.


Nothing special, you’ve heard that a million times.


How about this: a boy’s mother dies, badly. He didn’t know how bad it was when he was doing exams, she’d not want him to know. Life, he learns, is short and you have to get what you want now, you have to carpe the damn diem.


So a career can wait a bit. He wants to rock, he’s got to try now, and mean it.


And everyone’s heard this one: Malcolm McClaren is at a club one day and sees this scruff in a band of scruffs , but this one scruff grins like a feral dog and belts out his words and gets everyone worked up, and he knows he has to have this kid in his band, and then he speaks to him backstage and goes “well not if you’re going to sound that posh.”


“Fuck off then,” says Tony Blair, and that’s got him in the Sex Pistols.


That’s the big story.


Then, stop if you’ve heard this: the myths that diverge like myths do, different players and emphasis and morals.


You may have heard: Tony Blair, rechristened Judge Smiley for the band, is a fucking snake in the grass, a poseur, out to undermine McClaren and Westwood, whispering a bit of poison in the ears of Matlock and sometime-jammer Nick Kent. He’s only a tourist, out for what he can get. When things get too rowdy, and of course they bloody get rowdy in fag-end London, he gets cold feet. After a year and two singles, he’s got to be chucked out, and in comes Sid to really make them.


You may have heard: Judge Smiley studied law and he knows enough to spot when he has a bum contract and rewrite it, knows enough to spot when McClaren’s playing silly buggers, knows enough to spot when the band can do better. He’s a threat to making all the money. He’s certainly worried the violence is getting too much, that people might be seriously hurt so a few people can profit off notoriety.


You may have even heard: two bastards wanted control and only one could have it, and one won and the other retaliated.


Either way, Sid’s in, and Smiley and Matlock are out. Then Smiley goes right to EMI and Tony Blair comes back out and a contract is written up. Then he goes out and gets potential-up-and-comer Chrissie Hynde and a reggae band drummer they called Skinny Dave whom you’ve never heard of in your timeline (he ended up as a Woolworths manager by the way).


It’s 1976. Smiley is a canny man. He calls the new band Jubilee.


He debuts his band at the 100 Club Punk Special. Sid Vicious throws a glass at his band.


So it’s war now, “New Punk VS True Punk” as one side will sneer, but Smiley is a canny man and whenever he’s asked, he says he hopes the Sex Pistols do well, he just had a few differences, that’s all. They say “he’s a cunt”. If you’re a punk, that’s a pretty good argument but one band starts to get on Radio 1 more, has the better company backing, can play gigs. One band’s getting that and the other, well, that gets to be the ‘real’ one where fights break out.


Hey, psst, here’s the bit they don’t put in the stories: this is a good deal for both bands. Feuds sell! Both bands are selling a different story to different people, one is challenging your system, one is smashing it with a bomb for kicks. And, ssshhh, don’t let on, half the scene are listening to both bands. They have some bangers. Smiley especially pisses a lot of people off when he digs deep into his family’s Irish roots & the Troubles suddenly cutting him off from old childhood friends and says exactly what he thinks of it.


And maybe this is a story of two bands that knew that their feud sold, or of a frontman and a manager who both knew that.


Problem is nobody told Sid. And one night in 1977, Sid throws another glass because Smiley and Chrissie got married – story goes that Chrissie once tried to get Sid to marry her for visa reasons, and Sid sure seemed to take her marrying his mortal foe personally. The glass hits Smiley. In the fight that breaks out at the club, a lot of fists hit a lot of people.


Bad publicity. Bad blood.


Smiley ain’t ever gonna be able to stop smiling on his left side. He can’t sing no more.


The Pistols hang on for a bit longer but it’s the slow, slow, slow end for them without Sid, and Sid doesn’t do too well in jail. He doesn’t do well at all.

Chrissie takes over as the front for Jubilee, while Smiley writes the songs and slowly starts to take over managing. For a lot of American punks, this is the version of Jubilee, i.e. the one that did the big tour. The true version of the story is the one you hear at 12, y’know.


The band does well on tour. Tony Blair’s mood does not. A right bastard said all political careers end in failure and turns out it’s true for music too, and sooner than he ever thought. He carped his fucking diem and now he’s here. He’s drinking, he’s snorting some things he shouldn’t, he’s not talking to his wife. He’s down the pit. There’s nowhere else to go.


Stop if you’ve heard this one: you achieved your dream and it’s ash, someone else, someone you were close to, has it now. And you can’t do anything else now, it’s too late.


At the tail end of the tour, in 1979, he was wandering New York in a funk and stumbled across one of the hip hop events that were exploding across the place, a whole new thing being born that could need managers and connections and fitted with punk like two angry people hitting a third person.


Stop me if you’ve heard this: it never has to be too late.

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Charles EP Murphy is the author of Chamberlain Resigns, And Other Things That Did Not Happen, published by SLP.

© 2019, Sea Lion Press.

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