Watch the Sex Pistols Play a Gig on a Thames River Barge During the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, and Get Shut Down by the Cops (1977)

Get­ting your gig shut down by the cops is always excel­lent pub­lic­i­ty–just ask the Bea­t­les. But there’s a world of dif­fer­ence between the 1969 rooftop con­cert and this June 7, 1977 boat par­ty to pub­li­cize the Sex Pis­tols’ sec­ond sin­gle “God Save the Queen.” It shows how quick­ly the hip­pie dream of the ‘60s had cur­dled into the grim eco­nom­ics of mid-‘70s Lon­don, where race riots and police bru­tal­i­ty, along with numer­ous nation­al strikes, had made the UK fer­tile ground for the birth of punk.

This film above, low in qual­i­ty but a marked improve­ment over oth­er ver­sions cir­cu­lat­ing, is the longest doc­u­men­ta­tion yet of the infa­mous and antag­o­nis­tic trip.

The brain­child of man­ag­er and provo­ca­teur Mal­colm McLaren, the riv­er boat ride was a satire of the Queen’s roy­al riv­er pro­ces­sion that was due to take place two days lat­er, cel­e­brat­ing the Queen’s Sil­ver Jubilee. The flotil­la was just one event in a jubilee year that had been going on since Feb­ru­ary. It was all pomp and cer­e­mo­ny, and many saw it as an insult­ing dis­trac­tion from the real prob­lems fac­ing the coun­try.

But there was the oth­er rea­son, one that ani­mat­ed McLaren: The band had been dropped by EMI and then picked up by Vir­gin. The sin­gle had been banned and kept out of the offi­cial BBC charts and radio, despite sell­ing enough to send it shoot­ing up the charts. They were already con­tro­ver­sial, and McLaren want­ed to stoke that fire.

On board the Queen Eliz­a­beth, the band and their man­ag­er, music press writ­ers, fel­low artists, punk fans, and a film crew direct­ed by Julien Tem­ple set off in the after­noon, with some pub­licly avail­able beer to drink and some speed to do in secret.

Jon Sav­age, who would go on to write one of the sem­i­nal books about the Pis­tols and punk, England’s Dream­ing, was on board and pro­vides one of the best descrip­tions of the day:

The atmos­phere on the boat was para­noid and claus­tro­pho­bic, but also very excit­ing. They were by far the best I ever saw them that day. You can’t beat the Sex Pis­tols, jubilee week­end, “Anar­chy in the UK,” out­side Par­lia­ment.

While the sun was up and peo­ple milled about, it was just like any oth­er relax­ing cruise up the Thames. You can hear the lilt of reg­gae being played over the P.A. sys­tem. Also see some great pho­tos from the day here.

But once the sun went down, the Sex Pis­tols were ready to rock, and so they did, blast­ing out a furi­ous set, releas­ing a lot of built up ten­sion, not just per­son­al­ly, but as Sav­age sug­gests, all the frus­tra­tions of that year.

It wasn’t long till the police sur­round­ed the boat on the water and forced it back to dock, and then pulled the pow­er. Despite protes­ta­tions the par­ty was over, and the police took out their own frus­tra­tions on a com­bat­ive McLaren, beat­ing the hell out of him before arrest­ing him and cart­ing him away. (The Pis­tols escaped in the chaos.)

(The video ends with a fas­ci­nat­ing record­ing from Capi­tol Radio explain­ing why, despite being num­ber one, the sta­tion can’t play the song.)

It was per­fect the­ater for McLaren, who was always a Sit­u­a­tion­al­ist at heart. And along with the sin­gle it announced the main­stream arrival of punk music, despite the establishment’s protes­ta­tions. Punk was nev­er meant to last. And in a bizarre cap­per on events, the son of McLaren and punk fash­ion design­er Vivi­enne West­wood set fire to around $8 mil­lion of punk mem­o­ra­bil­ia in 2016…on a barge in the Riv­er Thames.

Joe Corre, the man in ques­tion, explained it this way: “Punk was nev­er, nev­er meant to be nos­tal­gic.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch the Sex Pis­tols’ Christ­mas Par­ty for Children–Which Hap­pened to Be Their Final Gig in the UK (1977)

The Sex Pis­tols’ 1976 Man­ches­ter “Gig That Changed the World,” and the Day the Punk Era Began

When the Sex Pis­tols Played at the Chelms­ford Top Secu­ri­ty Prison: Hear Vin­tage Tracks from the 1976 Gig

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 and/or watch his films here.

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