The Sex Pistols notorious appearance on television, appearing on the Bill Grundy show amid a tirade of four-letter headlines, will go down in history as one of the most incendiary moments on British television—but it was on the lesser-known So It Goes in 1976 that the band were formally introduced to their waiting audience over the airwaves.
Hosted by the then-TV personality Tony Wilson, soon to be the owner of Factory Records, So It Goes is a show still highly treasured to this day by those who witnessed it. During its all-too-brief tenure, the local magazine show welcomed some of the music world’s most promising talents and gave them the televisual launchpad to find stardom in music’s unruly universe.
The level of talent to walk through the pokey Granada studios during the show’s brief two years on the air is truly astronomical. So It Goes, named in reference to Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five, saw everyone from The Clash to The Jam, from Siouxsie and The Banshees to Iggy Pop, and everyone in between welcomed and given ample room to do their thing on the show. The latter would actually have a hand in the programme’s eventual demise after his own foul-mouthed rant saw the second series be its last.
Iggy’s unstoppably filthy mouth is a trait that he gladly shares with frontman Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols. The band would see “the filth and the fury” splashed across tabloid front pages after their own dabbling with four-letter words on prime time TV sent Fleet Street into a tizzy on the aforementioned Grundy extravaganza. However, by the time the Sex Pistols and their entourage arrived on The Today Show, punk had already been surging around the country for some time.
During those burning moments of intense and unbridled creativity, is when Tony Wilson, always on the hunt for new talent, made his way to catch a Sex Pistols show. Not just any old gig. Wilson made his way to the Lesser Free Trade Hall show in May of 1976 to catch a glimpse of this new “punk” band who spat at the crowd and bounced up and down like pogo sticks. It would go down in history as one of the most influential shows of all time, with claims suggesting both that show and the one six weeks later had a hand in creating a plethora of amazing Mancunian acts including, Buzzcocks, Magazine, Joy Division, New Order, The Fall, The Smiths, Happy Mondays and Oasis.
The reason for most of those acts and Mancunian institutions like Factory Records and The Hacienda was the fact Tony Wilson attended the show and left with a vision of the future for the music industry. It was a future he intended to be an integral part of too.
Seeing an opportunity to enhance his reputation in show business as being ahead of the curve, the host decided to pursue the new band intensely. He could provide them with a platform if his bosses allowed him. It meant Wilson had some work to do to get the Sex Pistols to make their TV debut. Although he wouldn’t have to convince John Lydon, Paul Cook, Steve Jones or Glen Matlock, he knew that convincing the Granada bosses to let these young punks on the airwaves was going to be a giant mountain to climb.
Wilson was not to be deterred, however, and with his reputation for propelling young musical talent and gaining big audiences while he did, he convinced the team to allow the Sex Pistols their debut TV appearance as they closed out Episode 9 with a performance of ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’ the band’s first single.
“Get off your arse!” screamed Johnny Rotten as the first notes of the iconic song rang out across the studio and into the homes of those watching. With it began the most immediate moment of music in television history, grabbing all who watched it by the scruff of the neck and refusing to let go until you were either emboldened or enraged. The only issue is that not a lot of people saw it the first time around. Thanks to the power of the internet we can grab a glimpse of the landmark moment.
The fast and furious performance of the track would be the first taste of what was to come—a fiery burst of sound that was always too hot to stay burning. This was punk, delivered hot and piping to your door in three minutes or less.
If the Lesser Free Trade Hall show suggested the Sex Pistols could well be the most exciting band in the world, this performance of their courageous and confrontational lead single was all the confirmation you needed. It cemented the band in the headlines and created an inescapable path of destruction for them.
A few months later the band would fill in for Queen on the Today Show after Freddie Mercury got a toothache and all hell would break loose, changing pop culture in the process. After “turning the air blue” the band were front-page news and were locked into their rock and roll rollercoaster. As record sales increased gigs were being cancelled across the country, a situation replicated on the band’s final tour in the US.
By January of 1978, Johnny Rotten left the group, and the band disintegrated as Sid Vicious, who had replaced Glen Matlock in 1977, died a few weeks later. It would provide an all too predictable end for the Sex Pistols and see the band’s name burned into infamy forevermore.
While vague reunion attempts were made to mark the odd anniversary here and there, they could never recreate the unstoppable spark that flashed across the airwaves on ‘So It Goes’ in 1976.