We’re taking a look back at a very special performance from those snot-nosed anarchists, the Sex Pistols. The band, who were the villains of rock at the time, put on a special Christmas party for children and took to the UK stage for the last-ever time, leaving behind one of the shortest but most potent legacies in musical history.
Following a year of tour cancellations, newspaper smears, and local MPs berating them everywhere they went, the punks were starting to get a little tired of their self-purported image. So the Sex Pistols decided to act out and rebel against the perception. While others would have to be extremely hostile to make it happen, it was quite a different story for the always snarling band. They decided to kick the trend and host a party for the children of striking firefighters and miners. The workers that had been left destitute and the local community suffered greatly. The Sex Pistols saw their opportunity for benevolence and played an extraordinary gig at a venue called Ivanhoe’s in Huddersfield, UK.
The afternoon gig would welcome children from across the community to be the audience in one fo the band’s legendary punk shows. It would be followed by a more visceral evening performance, which would be their final UK appearance, unbeknownst to the band or crowd. The Sex Pistols would travel across the pond for an infamous US tour which they wouldn’t see the end of. The London punks would break-up after a particularly awful show and, only a few months later, Sid Vicious would be dead.
Despite their tough as nails image, the Sex Pistols took the opportunity to show their softer side when welcoming the disadvantaged parents’ children. Welcoming the impoverished working-class kids to the venue with all manner of Christmas cheer, they showed the public a new facet of their fearsome faces. They “flooded” the school with cake, presents, and Christmas treats before the performance, and even-toned down their language during the show, though John Lydon remembers it differently, albeit fondly.
He said of the show: “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 ‘fuck this fuck 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.”
The event was captured by famed rock photographer Kevin Cummins. Released as a book this year, Sex Pistols: The End is Near 25.12.77, sees the photographer sharing some of the most candid moments from the show. The book compiles every frame that Cummins shot in one single release for the very first time. A book filled with 150 colour and black and white photographs, in which Cummins expertly captures the passion and power of Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, Paul Cook, and Steve Jones.
In a 2013 documentary via BBC Four, the whole event was captured in a really gripping video too, a roughly edited version of which is below. In the documentary looking back at the momentous occasion, the film talks to those that were children when it happened, to some of the punks who attended the evening show, as well as Paul Cook and Steve Jones, and of course, their enigmatic leader Johnny Rotten. In the clip, Lydon explains the ins and outs of the violent protests they faced as a band. He also goes on to talk about the gig in Ivanhoe and how difficult it was to try and have Sid Vicious not behave in his normal posturing manner. He explains, “A child will know when you’re faking it, so you can’t go on and be your ‘worst’ Johnny Rotten, you actually have to be your best Johnny Rotten.”
It was a sentiment the band were struggling to come to terms with, especially Sid Vicious. The bassist was already on his trajectory into the sun and was courting with the tough guy rock star image he had carved out for himself. It was clearly something that didn’t sit well with Rotten, and would see the singer depart the band after a treacherous US tour had pushed him over the edge and it became clear that the music was secondary to the fame.
Rotten, however, was in fine fettle at this show. He clearly connected with the gig’s purpose and was apparently very good with the children, cutting and handing out cake with a joyous glint in his infamous stare, while the rest of the band passed out Sex Pistols badges and handkerchiefs. It’s hard to imagine something like this going on now, mostly because it’s hard to imagine a band having to try so hard to get a gig. But, for us, it shows that even a band as rough and tough as the Sex Pistols have a heart at Christmas.
Watch below an edited version of the BBC Four documentary, as the Sex Pistols play a special Christmas gig for children.