Memorable recitals abound in history for various reasons, but there is one, in particular, that managed to spark a new countercultural movement that would later make history and change the course of popular music in England and then the rest of the world.
On Nov. 6, 1975, a tiny club of music enthusiasts filed into the Common Room of Saint Martins School of Art. Most were there to see the headlining act, Bazooka Joe, but it would be the opener, a band called Sex Pistols, who’d go on to make music history.
There are thousands of concerts that marked history, from the first stadium concert by the Beatles at Shea Stadium in New York in August 1965, to the 1985 LIVE AID mega festival, which was held simultaneously at Wembley Stadium in New York. London on one side and the John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia on the other; or the same Rolling Stones in Havana, Cuba, which occurred a few months ago.
All these shows marked the memory of thousands of attendees and other generations who read about the impact of these events, which serve as a before and after, either in social awareness or in the way of enjoying shows in an ultra-massive way.
But what happened in the Room of Saint Martins School of Art 45 years ago, was very contrary to what would be classified as a “super concert.”
This was the first appearance for the upstart punks, composed of singer Johnny Rotten, guitarist Steve Jones, drummer Paul Cook, and bassist Glen Matlock. It was Matlock, a student at Saint Martins, who had obtained the gig.
Everything got off to an unpropitious start, as Sex Pistols appeared for soundcheck with instruments but no equipment. “They pleaded with us. All they had was their guitars, and they wanted to use our amps and drums,” recollected by Bazooka Joe guitarist Robin Chapekar in an interview with The Independent. “We felt sorry for them, we related to them, it had happened to us before.”
Throughout their set, Sex Pistols carried through a set of cover tunes, including the Who’s “Substitute,” the Small Faces’ “Whatcha Gonna Do About It” and “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” which was made prominent by the Monkees. “We set up and played for 20 minutes,” Cook recalled. “Total chaos. None of us knew what we were doing.”
“I’ll never forget it,” added Stuart Goddard, Bazooka Joe’s bassist who’d later change his name and became famous as Adam Ant. “They came in as a gang; they looked like they couldn’t give a fuck about anybody.”
“It was fucking wild,” Jones recalled. “I was so nervous I took a Mandrax. When we started playing, the Mandrax was hitting me and I cranked the amp up. It was a 100-watt amp in a little room with no stage, and it was great. Everyone was looking at us. It seemed like millions of people at the time.”
Estimations of the actual audience size have varied – though it surely wasn’t millions. Most consider the crowd was around between 20-40 people.
Reaching to the side was Danny Kleinman, Bazooka Joe’s guitarist, who wasn’t particularly dazzled with the opening act. “There was a little bit of not-too-competent playing,” he explained to GQ. “They seemed okay until they started smashing up our equipment.”
Granted, it took only a few lyrics for Sex Pistols to start into the antics they grew popular for. The punks started destroying the equipment they had borrowed from the headliners, much to the embarrassment of their fellow performers. “I was watching from the sidelines, and Johnny Rotten turned around and started kicking the speaker cabinet, which we still hadn’t finished paying for,” Kleinman remembered. “I was thinking, ‘What’s going on? You’re not Pete Townshend, mate.’”
Rather than sit back and see their gear get slaughtered, Kleinman did something about it: “I got a bit irate about it and ran in and manhandled [Johnny Rotten] a bit just to stop him kicking our cabinets.”
The story of the conflict between Sex Pistols and Bazooka Joe developed over the years.
“It was like one of those school-playground kind of fights,” opined Paul Madden, a photographer who attended the show. “The antagonism had been building up all afternoon, mainly due to the fact that the Pistols had borrowed Bazooka Joe’s backline. Their attitude was so snotty that Bazooka Joe had said, ‘Get your own amplifiers.’”