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Pretty Vacant: A Punk History

By Phil Strongman

Kings Road, London early 1976. Ex art student Malcolm McLaren and his girlfriend Vivienne Westwood took over a shop at no 430, the district aptly named World’s End. They called it SEX and it became the hangout for disenchanted young Londoners, bored with the flared jeans, long hair and prog rock that had dominated through the 70s. As Westwood began to print t-shirts with graphic images, McLaren knew that something was afoot. He needed a band to spearhead his movement.

He recruited Saturday boy Glen Matlock and ex shoplifters Steve Jones and Paul Cook, and it was Westwood who spotted the charismatic Johnny “Rotten” Lydon, who became their frontman. In a perfect fusion of fashion and music the Sex Pistols were launched and the movement which became known as punk.

Phil Strongman was working at nearby Acme Attractions with future DJ and film-maker Don Letts and, unlike many writers, was actually at the 100 Cub in 1976 and witnessed punk’s violent and dramatic rise. In Pretty Vacant he goes back into the roots of punk, charting the influence of bands like Velvet Underground, Iggi Pop and the Stooges, the New York Dolls, the Ramones and the Heartbreakers. He traces the fortunes of the Sex Pistols and those who followed them into the charts – and the headlines; The Buzzcocks, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Jam, The Damned and of course The Clash.

Based on exclusive interviews with Malcolm McLaren, Jah Wobble, Glen Matlock, Tony Wilson, Dave Goodman, Clash roadie Roadent and many more, Strongman vividly re-creates the punk eruption and charts its spread across Britain, to Europe and the West Coast of the United States. Forty years after its inception, UK punk has found its definitive account.

Phil Strongman was a fixture in Malcolm McLaren’s Glitterbest offices, an extra in the Sex Pistols movie The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle and has known most of the key figures in punk for many years. He is a journalist and the author of John Lennon: Life, Times and Assassination and Metal Box: Stories from John Lydon’s Public Image Ltd and the novel Cocaine. His feature length documentary Chaos: Ex Pistols’ Secret History has been issued on DVD by Universal and broadcast overseas.

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