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John Lydon’s got to grow up and move on – the show ain’t about him…it’s about me, says the Sex Pistol’s Steve Jones

John Lydon’s got to grow up and move on – the show ain’t about him…it’s about me, says the Sex Pistol’s Steve Jones

NEVER mind the court-room bollocks, here’s the Sex Pistol with a jaw-dropping life story.

He’s Steve Jones, whose autobiography, Lonely Boy, has been turned into Danny Boyle’s TV series, Pistol.

HandoutA new documentary is set to air telling the story of the Sex Pistols[/caption]

Guitarist Steve Jones is the inspiration for the new Pistol documentaryHandoutRedfernsJohn Lydon has hit out as he is not involved in the production of the show[/caption]

Calling me from his adopted home town of Los Angeles, the guitarist says: “I’ve been a hippie, I’ve been a skinhead, I’ve been a rocker, I’ve been a mod . . . and I’ve been a punk. I’ve done it all.”

In 2019, the self-confessed hellraiser had a heart attack. “I wasn’t looking after myself so it was a big wake-up call,” he reports.

“Now I’m a lot better and the old ticker’s doing good. I’ve been working out and looking after myself . . . although it has left me with a bit of what-you-call it, er, PTSD.”

But in time-honoured fashion, all the headlines around the upcoming docu-drama have been grabbed by Mr Angry himself, John Lydon (known in Pistols context as Johnny Rotten, of course).

The snarling singer fought Jones and drummer Paul Cook in the High Court to prevent the series using the punk trailblazers’ music . . . 

Anarchy In The UK, God Save The Queen, Pretty Vacant and the rest.
Lydon lost the seven-day trial, much to the relief of Jones, who takes this opportunity to set the record straight.

“I’m 66 and I ain’t got time for all that crap any more,” he affirms in his strong London accent unaffected by years in the California sun.

“You’ve just got to grow up and move on. The show is about me, it ain’t about John, even though he is obviously a big part of it.”

Jones can’t understand what’s making Lydon so upset. “He’s portrayed great (by Anson Boon),” he says.

“And I’ve said from day one that if the shoe was on the other foot, no one would have had a problem.

“If Danny Boyle wanted to do John’s book, every-one, me, Cookie and Glen (Matlock, the original bassist) would be thrilled.”

‘I give John his due…the lyrics, the look, the attitude’

He believes the series would be “disastrous” without inclusion of the Pistols’ visceral, unflinching performances of their own songs.

“You get these two-bob documentaries about bands and they can’t use the music, so they make up some crap and they’re awful,” he says.

Jones also acknowledges the huge, make-or-break contribution of Rotten, with his spiky dyed hair, bulging eyes and menacing delivery of his twisted lyrics.

“I give him his due,” he says. “It all changed when John joined the band, no question about it, and I’d never take that away from him.

“He had the lyrics, the look, the attitude. He’s a sharp cat and he was really on the ball, very observant.”

That said, it’s all about the Pistols’ brash, unvarnished sound for Jones.

“I don’t even listen to lyrics most of the time. I really don’t, I go for vibe,” he says. “I’m more into the music, the combination of words and the power-house instruments driving them. That’s what makes it brilliant.

“If it was just lyrics, say as poetry, it wouldn’t have the same effect, would it? And that sound was an original sound at the time.”

If you read Lonely Boy: Tales From A Sex Pistol, you instantly clock what attracted director Danny Boyle, who has long been infatuated with the seedy underbelly of British culture and revered for his Trainspotting tour de force.

Given the role of executive producer, Jones is chuffed with the six-part Disney+ series. “I think it’s brilliant. How often does that happen to a person, especially the guitar player?”

He continues: “I was over the moon that Danny wanted to direct it. I don’t see any cringey or cheesy moments, where I go, ‘Oh, that’s a bit two bob’.”

He also thinks actor Toby Wallace has done a “great job” portraying his jack-the-lad younger self.

“He’s Australian, so he had to have a coach to talk like me but I can’t find a flaw in him,” he says. “I got to remember what I was like back then. I was pretty much illiterate and he got that down to a tee.

“He ain’t as good-looking as me, but you know . . . ” (Cue much laughter.)

Jones had a tough, poor West London upbringing involving sexual abuse from his horrendous stepfather, a failed education, a spiral of thieving, a year in a remand centre, a penchant for dogging and, of course, mountains of drugs and oceans of booze.

I saw a sweet side to Sid. He was thrust into a tornado and he couldn’t play his bass. But him and
John together on stage looked unbeatable

At the same time he got into music, with laddish the Faces, trashy New York Dolls and arty Roxy Music among his biggest influences.

When he started a band with Cook, named The Strand after a Roxy song, he couldn’t afford the equipment and even resorted to stealing David Bowie’s microphones and amplifiers from the back of Hammersmith Palais.

Jones also developed a passion for fine clothes, most of which he nicked, and this led him to SEX, the subversive, super-cool King’s Road boutique run by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren.

There he met shop assistant Chrissie Hynde, becoming close to the future Pretenders star and, as you’ll see in Pistol, sharing a bed with her on occasion.

“She was a tough nut and she liked a laugh,” says Jones. “She wanted to be in a band but I didn’t really take her seriously. And just look what happened. She’s so brilliant and still a friend. She wrote the foreword to my book.”

At SEX, the seeds of the Pistols phenomenon were sown, with McLaren becoming the Svengali-style manager.

“Malcolm meant a lot to me,” says Jones. “I wouldn’t say father figure, but him and Viv looked out for me. For a period I was staying over at their flat in Clapham, anywhere but being at home with my s*** stepdad.”

Dazzled by the glitz and glam, Jones was only too happy to join the party set, following in the wake of the larger-than-life impresario with his distinctive mop of red curls.

“Malcolm showed me a side of life that I knew nothing about,” he says.

“I was from a council flat and there I was hanging out at the Speakeasy and going to these poncy Chelsea parties.

“I couldn’t get enough of it. I was also driving him around in a Mini, often over to the East End getting material for the shop.

“At the end of the day, I was just hoping we would get somewhere and do something. I lived for that and I owe him a lot.

“Was Malcolm a good friend? I don’t know. Did he have any good friends? I know I loved hanging out with him, we had such a laugh.”

Jones credits McClaren and the Pistols with saving him from a life on the wrong side of the tracks.

He says: “When the band started, everything changed. I didn’t really have time to be messing about with my old ways.”

‘Cookie was my best mate from age of ten, he still is’

To begin with, the line-up was seen as a vehicle for Jones, who was joined by old mucker Cook on drums and Glen Matlock on bass.

McLaren even dubbed them Kutie Jones & His Sex Pistols. “You could say I started the band,” he says. “But when John turned up, I didn’t see it as my band. I was just another member.”

Jones accepts he wasn’t much of a singer or frontman and that the abrasive Rotten was the crucial, missing piece, leaving him to concentrate on honing his guitar skills.

Always by his side was “Cookie”, who he still holds in great affection despite calling him the band’s Mr Safe.

“He was my best mate from the age of ten and was my best mate in the Pistols. And he still is.”

Jones adds: “Cookie’s a great drummer. Me and him playing together is solid. It’s like Keith Richards and Charlie Watts . . . when we lock, it works because we know each other so well.”

It’s strange to think that the band only made one proper album, but what a great and mischievous one it was. Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols is 38 minutes and 44 seconds of all killer, no filler.

“I’m sick of it, to be honest,” admits Jones. “But it is one of them brilliant albums and it has brilliant artwork.

“It always gets put in the top blah- blah-blah chart someone comes up with. One of those little capsules in time.”

The album is a full-on blast that stands the test of time.

Jones says: “There was never going to be a ballad and we never thought, ‘Oh, here’s a hit single’. But Pretty Vacant, Anarchy and God Save the Queen were catchy stuff.”

Even as they were recording the album, though, The Pistols were on the path to self-destruction. Jones marks out the band’s infamous, expletive-laden appearance on Thames TV’s Today programme with host Bill Grundy on December 1, 1976, as the “beginning of the end”.

He remembers downing three bottles of Blue Nun wine from the green room fridge before turning the air blue.

Two years, one album and we’re still talking about
the Pistols. I’m sick of Never Mind The Bollocks to be  honest, but it’s   one of them brilliant albums

His exchange with the telly host got heated when Grundy suggested he might meet up with Pistols groupie Siouxsie Sioux after the show.

The face-off, broadcast live at tea-time, went like this: Jones: “You dirty sod. You dirty old man.”

Grundy: “Well keep going, chief, keep going. Go On. “You’ve got another five seconds. Say something out-rageous!” Jones: “You dirty b*****.”

Grundy: “Go on, again.”

Jones: “You dirty f****er.”

Grundy: “What a clever boy!”

Jones: “What a f***ing rotter.”

The next day, the Pistols were front- page news, a source of national outrage.

“The Filth & The Fury” screamed one headline. “Were the Pistols loaded?” asked The Sun.

In 2022, the laugh-out-loud scene’s protagonist says: “It was wild. Once that happened, it was never the same. Great publicity, you can’t deny that.

The next day me and Cookie came out of where I was living on Denmark Street and the Press were going berserk. “We were thinking, ‘What the f*** is going on here? We had no idea about all the mayhem we’d caused.

“We had become household names overnight but it was too much too soon. Then Glen left (fired, to be more accurate) and Sid (Vicious) joined.

“We went to the States, playing places that weren’t your normal rock venues. We were all slowly starting to hate each other and pull apart. The Pistols were destined to fail at that point.”

Other bands like The Clash carried on much longer but Jones remains philosophical. “It is what it is . . . pretty cool,” he says.

“Two years, one album and we’re still talking about it.”

A punk icon to this day, Sid Vicious, died of a heroin overdose aged 21 in 1979, just months after his American girlfriend Nancy Spungen was found dead with a stab wound.

Jones retains a lot of sympathy for his fleeting bandmate. “I saw a sweet side to Sid,” he says.

“He was thrust into a tornado and he couldn’t play. I was assigned to show him where to put his fingers on the bass.

“I did my best and, God bless him, he tried to play along.

“As time went on, he got more concerned with how he looked than playing the bass properly.

“But he looked amazing. Him and John together were un-beatable.

“You couldn’t get better than that image of him and John standing on stage next to each other.”

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I guess Jones won’t be having a Holiday In The Sun with Lydon any time soon but as the Jubilee approaches, I’m sure they’ll both echo the chorus of another Pistols classic . . . with no vitriol or irony this time!

“God save the Queen. We mean it, man. We love our Queen.”

Click News and MediaThe Pistol documentary is set to be screened on Disney+[/caption]

News Group Newspapers LtdThe Sex Pistols’ TV row made front-page news[/caption]

Anson Boon (Rotten), Louis Jacob (Vicious), Toby Wallace (Jones) and Jacob Slater (Cook)[/caption]

Corbis – GettyThe documentary is directed by award-winner Danny Boyle[/caption]

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