‘The Anarchy Tour’ of 1976, one of the most famous tours in rock ‘n’ roll history, almost never happened. The historical tour in question featured some of punk’s forefathers in fury, The Clash, Johnny Thunder and The Heartbreakers and The Damned, but there was one band on everyone’s lips: the Sex Pistols.
Documented here in Ray Stevenson’s candid images, the tour would go down in history, not for a run of pogoing good times but because it was overshadowed by a certain Bill Grundy show and a few four letter words.
In 1976 the band at the tip of everyone’s tongue was the Sex Pistols, led by a snarling and confrontational Johnny Rotten the band had released their single ‘Anarchy In The U.K.’ to a hungry London crowd to critical acclaim. The single was proving popular when Malcolm McClaren, the band’s manager and husband of fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, found a spot for them on TV show Today with the host Bill Grundy.
Steve Jones: “You dirty sod. You dirty old man.”
Bill Grundy: “Well keep going, chief, keep going. Go on. You’ve got another five seconds. Say something outrageous.”
Jones: “You dirty bastard.”
Grundy: “Go on, again.”
Jones: “You dirty fucker.”
Grundy: “What a clever boy.”
Jones: “What a fucking rotter”
– Today TV show, December 1 1976
The words would rock through Little England and shock a generation to its core, and in turn, introduce punk to the masses. Malcolm McClaren was quoted as responding simply “Fucking hell, the band have just sworn on live TV.” With a tour on the way, I’m sure he saw headlines and dollar signs.
The band, and some of the founders of the London punk scene The Clash, The Damned and New York’s Johnny Thunder and The Heartbreakers, would pile into their plush new bus and go on a filthy and furious tour across the UK. What transpired after that, however, was not all it cracked up to be, and the mega-tour on the road to ‘Nowhere’ turned into a series of cancellations and scared local councils.
University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich saw the first show of the tour on 3rd December 1976. “A Punk-Rock Evening” on the bill, the tickets cost £1.25 in advance and £1.50 on the door. But like so many others, the gig would never start, as vice-chancellor Dr Frank Thistlethwaite would be the first of many to ban the concert “on the grounds of protecting the safety and security of persons and property.”
In fact, only three of the scheduled gigs saw the bands hit the stage, with four of them later rescheduled with the tour finally beginning at Leeds Polytechnic on 6th December. Further dates at Manchester’s Electric Circus (9th and 19th December), Caerphilly’s Castle Cinema (14th December), Cleethorpes’ Winter Gardens (20th December) and Plymouth’s Woods Centre (21st and 22nd December) would make up the ‘full-scale’ tour.
The pulled shows would see the band spend more time waiting in hotels than playing their music. But still, the band’s fight against censorship and the ironic fever it created by banning them sent waves among the youth of Britain and meant that it remained a seminal moment in musical history.
“We were getting used to the idea of spending long periods in our rooms, drinking beer, watching TV and reading about ourselves in the papers… Everybody thinks the Anarchy Tour was Hey! Hey! Hey! but it wasn’t. The main thing I remember is the boredom. We didn’t know what the fuck was going on.”
Ray Stevenson was there to catch all the moments of pent up energy and perfect posturing. His images show one of the most talked about bands in the country as they straddle the rocket of fame and fortune. Backed by some of punk’s leading lights, the candid images show so much of the explosion of one of music’s most important scenes.