The Jam arrived like whippets out of the traps in 1977 with their emphatic debut single ‘In The City’, a song that remains one of the all-time great first releases. Within one track, the trio managed to defiantly encapsulate everything they stood for. However, that same song would inadvertently lead to a fight with Sid Vicious after the Sex Pistols completely stole the chord structure from ‘In The City’.
Weller, just 18-years-old when he penned the anthem while dreaming of leaving his small town behind, recalled writing the track in a reflective interview with Q Magazine 2011: “It was the sound of young Woking, if not London, a song about trying to break out of suburbia,” he said, before adding: “As far as we were concerned, the city was where it was all happening; the clubs, the gigs, the music, the music. I was probably 18, so it was a young man’s song, a suburbanite dreaming of the delights of London and the excitement of the city.”
The track is the sound of Weller living life as a teenager in the shadows of London. In search of more culture, he regularly headed into the big smoke to see the great and the good of punk rock of the late 1970s. “I wrote this after I’d seen the Pistols and The Clash, and I was obviously into my Who phrase. I just wanted to capture some of that excitement,” he once said.
Weller captured that excitement so much so that just a matter of weeks after ‘In The City’ was released, the Sex Pistols replicated the bassline on their track ‘Holidays In The Sun’. This contentious approach to songwriting was common practice in the band even before Vicious arrived, according to former Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock, who left the group in 1977 and replaced by Vicious, gave some background to the incident in an interview in 2002 with John Hellier. He recounted: “I don’t know if anyone noticed, but the bass line on ‘Anarchy In The UK’ was lifted from the Faces ‘Had Me A Real Good Time’.”
Matlock then spoke about the version of events he heard surrounding the physical altercation between Weller and Sid, explaining: “Another nick was ‘Holidays In The Sun’. It’s not Small Faces related and it happened after I had left the Pistols but amusing just the same. That song was a complete re-write of The Jam’s ‘In The City’. Apparently, Sid Vicious approached Paul Weller at the Speakeasy Club one night, shortly after its release, and was taking the piss about having nicked one of his songs. Paul wasn’t too happy about it and ended up landing one on Sid, who finished the evening in the casualty department of the local hospital.”
This sort of tale sounds like the think of music legend. However, Weller has since confirmed it was in-fact true when he answered questions sent in from fans in an edition of Q. “‘Cause he headbutted me,” Weller defensively explained. “It ain’t much of a story, to be honest. It was in The Speakeasy, down Marlborough Street. He came up and nutted me, so I slapped him back. That was it, I got lobbed out the club or whatever. I’m never proud of getting involved in anything like that. But I wasn’t looking for it.”
With Uncut in 2007, Weller played down the incident once again and said he wasn’t the one who started the altercation, just the person who finished it. “He started it, and I finished it,” the former Jam singer told the publication. “I don’t know if anyone can claim any victory. He just came up to me, and he was going on about ‘Holidays In The Sun’ where they’d nicked the riff from ‘In The City.’ I didn’t mind them nicking it – you’ve got to get your ideas from somewhere, haven’t you? Anyway, he just came up and nutted me. So I returned it.”
What you see is what you get with Paul Weller, and there’s no reason to suggest that his version of events aren’t wholly accurate. He wasn’t bothered in the slightest about the Sex Pistols nicking chords that his band had created. Weller was just irritated with how Sid Vicious boasted about the fact and then proceeded to headbutt him before spending the night in the hospital recovering from the repercussions of his actions. Vicious was undoubtedly a vile and loathsome piece of work; an attack from Weller was a drop in the ocean when it came to tasting his own medicine.