I’m not sure the Sex Pistols had “available for children’s parties” on their press release, but on a cold and grim Christmas in 1977, that’s exactly what happened. While many Britons were settling in for a warm yuletide, the Pistols decided to host a party/benefit for the children of striking firemen and miners at a venue called Ivanhoe’s in Huddersfield, UK.
It turned out that this afternoon gig, along with an evening concert with full-grown punks in the audience, would be the Pistols’ final UK appearance. In a few weeks the band would fly to America for a set of ill-fated gigs and then break up. Soon after that Sid Vicious would be dead.
At the children’s concert John Lydon handed out t‑shirts, buttons, records, and posters. There was a pogo dancing competition with a skateboard as a prize, disco music on the sound system, and a gigantic cake with “Sex Pistols” written on it. (A food fight not only broke out, but was encouraged.)
Understand that by December 1977, the Pistols were pretty much banned from playing anywhere in Britain, so the announcement of this benefit show was a big deal, and what we would now call “community outreach” was the opposite of the monstrous image that the British gutter press had whipped up against the band.
But Lydon knew they weren’t monsters or any threat at all, except towards the establishment. And his memory of the day is nothing but sweet.
Fantastic. The ultimate reward. One of my all-time favourite gigs. Young kids, and we’re doing Bodies and they’re bursting out with laughter on the ‘f*ck this f*ck that’ verse. The correct response: not the shock horror ‘How dare you?’ Adults bring their own filthy minds into a thing. They don’t quite perceive it as a child does. Oh, Johnny’s used a naughty word. ‘Bodies’ was from two different points of view. You’ll find that theme runs through a lot of things I write like ‘Rise’ – “I could be wrong, I could be right”. I’m considering both sides of the argument, always.
Film director Julian Temple caught the entire gig on a “big old crappy U‑matic low-band camera” and while clips from the footage have been used in various docs beforehand, it was only in 2013 that the entire footage was shown on British television, along with reminiscences from the adults who were children at the time of the gig.
In the Guardian interview with Temple, he looked back at the footage and commented on the strangeness of a UK Christmas in 1977:
“In a way, the Pistols seem the only thing that’s connected with today. Everything else seems halfway into the Victorian period, whereas the Pistols seem very modern and aware of what’s going to happen. Hopefully, there’s resonance in the fuel bills and firemen’s strikes of today. Even though it’s a different planet, people face the same problems.
“The sound with just one camera is raw and searing. I hope kids watching it today will go: ‘Fuck me, bands like that just don’t exist.’ ”
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.