Christmas with the Sex Pistols: Look back at their 1977 benefit gig for the children of Huddersfield
We’re dipping into the Far Out Vault to bring you 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.
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 image. So the Sex Pistols decided to host a party for the children of striking firemen and miners that had been effected in the local community and played a very special 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, unbeknownst to the band or crowd, be their final UK appearance. The band would travel across the pond for an infamous US tour before the band would break-up, only a few months later, Sid Vicious would be dead.
The band, despite their tough as nails image, took the opportunity to show their softer side when welcoming the children. Welcoming the impoverished working-class kids to the venue with all manner of Christmas cheer. 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.”
In a 2013 documentary via BBC Four, the whole event was captured in a really gripping piece, 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 Lydon, and would see the singer depart the band after a treacherous US tour.
Rotten, however, was in fine fettle. 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.