Music History

Why Punk Deserves to be a British Institution

Um, there’s a debate over this? Really? The Telegraph comes out on the “yes” side–the correct side–of the argument.

It makes perfect sense to give the Sex Pistols’ London home listed status, says Alwyn W Turner

The creation myth of punk rock starts with Johnny Rotten auditioning to join the Sex Pistols while wearing a mass-produced Pink Floyd T-shirt on which he had scrawled the words “I HATE” above the band’s name. As a declaration of intent, it was perfect: a deliberate, inflammatory rejection of all that had come before.

Punk was to be a new era, untainted by the excesses of the past. In time it even appropriated the expression “Year Zero” from the barbaric regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia, which aimed to eradicate the history of the country prior to the 1975 takeover by the Khmer Rouge.

Which is why there is something peculiar about the nostalgia-fest planned for this year, as we mark the 40th anniversary of punk. And particularly when the heritage minister in a Tory government announces that two buildings in London’s Denmark Street are to be given Grade II* listing, in part because of their association with the Sex Pistols. Surely this wallowing in the past is precisely what punk sought to destroy?

Well, perhaps not. After all, this is Denmark Street. Nicknamed Tin Pan Alley, it was the home of the British music industry from the Twenties to the Sixties. And the reason Malcolm McLaren, manager of the Sex Pistols, was renting premises there was because he was in love with the romantic fantasy of the place, the hustling commercialism it once represented. He was embracing, not rejecting, the heritage of pop.

In fact, British punk rather liked the past. In style and sound, it was heavily indebted to the mod scene of the Sixties, while the two major punk films of the era had an even longer memory: Derek Jarman’s Jubilee (1978) shows Elizabeth I visiting Seventies Britain, and Julien Temple’s The Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle (1980) goes back to the Gordon Riots of 1780.

That last was McLaren’s concept of his band, evoking the days of the London Mob. And as the years pass, such allusions seem less fanciful. Punk is taking its place in a long history of dissent, a tradition of provocateurs who have cheeked and challenged social norms. McLaren was right. It’s possible to see in the Sex Pistols traces of the turbulent 18th century: of the satire of Jonathan Swift, the savage fables of Hogarth, the caricatures of James Gillray. And stretching outwards, there are elements of the Levellers, the Luddites and all the other awkward squads that have proliferated through the centuries.

You can read more here. And Denmark Street is just one of the places we’re going to visit on our rock’n’roll tour of London, organized by Flight Centre. You can read all about it and sign up for the trip (which leaves June 4) here.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38573 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “Why Punk Deserves to be a British Institution

  • British Punk deserves to be a BRITISH! INSTITUTION….But PUNK as a musical trend, belongs to AMERICA!


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