Pretty Vacant: A History of UK Punk

Pretty Vacant: A History of UK Punk

by Phil Strongman
     
 

London, early 1976. Oxford Street is a sea of long hair and flared jeans; prog rock prevails. But Ron Watts, the 100 Club’s “rock night” manager, has witnessed the impromptu and chaotic gigs at High Wycombe College of Art. He invites the Sex Pistols to start a residency in central London, and over the next eighteen months, everything

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Overview

London, early 1976. Oxford Street is a sea of long hair and flared jeans; prog rock prevails. But Ron Watts, the 100 Club’s “rock night” manager, has witnessed the impromptu and chaotic gigs at High Wycombe College of Art. He invites the Sex Pistols to start a residency in central London, and over the next eighteen months, everything changes.

            Unlike many writers, Phil Strongman was actually at the 100 Club punk festival in September 1976 and witnessed punk’s violent and dramatic rise. After tracing its underground roots in New York and Detroit, Strongman shows how the Sex Pistols and the Clash, along with their confreres, took rock ’n’ roll closer to the edge than any band before them. But after the outrage over the Pistols’ legendary outburst on Bill Grundy’s TV show catapulted the band into the center of a press feeding frenzy, it was swiftly eclipsed by the blossoming of a new movement in time for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Punk had traveled from the underground to the mainstream in the space of six months.

            Based on new interviews with Malcolm McLaren, Jah Wobble, Glen Matlock, Roadent, and many more, Strongman vividly re-creates the punk eruption and charts its spread across Britain and to the West Coast of the United States. Thirty years after its inception, UK punk has found its definitive account in Pretty Vacant.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Undoubtedly valuable."  —Publishers Weekly

"Shocking . . . outrageous."  —Austin Chronicle

"[Strongman] is a talented writer, and even those who have no interest in punk's style or substance will find themselves engrossed in Pretty Vacant storytelling."  —Pop Matters.com

"Entertaining."  —NUVO

"[Strongman is] a visceral storyteller."  —Skyscraper magazine

Publishers Weekly

The latest in a robust lineage of books about the early days of punk music, Strongman's history delivers a straightforward account of the rise of the Sex Pistols and the Clash in the U.K., as well as retelling the story of the New York scene that gave birth to the Ramones and Patti Smith, and the West Coast punk movement that spawned the Dead Kennedys and others. More than 30 years later, the characters that populate these stories continue to amuse and appall with equal ease: John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) performing "a bizarre mewling, puking, hunchback-cringing" rendition of "I'm Eighteen" at his first audition for the Sex Pistols; Sid Vicious spiraling out of control in a violent, drug-fueled nightmare. The Pistols get most of the glory here, as indicated by the book's title from one of their earliest and most famous songs, but Strongman's narrative is notable for its inclusiveness of a diverse group of scenes and bands. While it breaks no new ground in redefining the accepted forefathers (the Velvet Underground) or heirs (Gang of Four, the Fall) of the most famous era of punk music, the book is undoubtedly valuable as a well-researched primer on the events and personalities that defined the records and culture of that world. (Apr.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Skyscraper Magazine
[Strongman is] a visceral storyteller.
Kirkus Reviews
Music journalist Strongman (Metal Box: Stories from John Lydon's Public Image Limited, 2007, etc.) recasts the history of British punk as the story of two bands and a bunch of also-rans. Actually, the Clash don't get that much ink either; Strongman spends the majority of his time making the case that the Sex Pistols and their marketing Svengali Malcolm McLaren were punk's be-all and end-all, and therein lies the rub. Had the book been subtitled something along the lines of The Sex Pistols and UK Punk, it would have been far more legit. Granted, John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten), Sid Vicious and the rest of the Pistols kicked it all off in 1976 at London's legendary 100 Club . . . or did they? Maybe it was the Clash who started things reeling on the other side of town that very same year. Maybe it was the Ramones or Television or the New York Dolls at CBGB in New York City. Or maybe it was . . . well, according to Strongman, it was all Pistols, all the time. But music historians tend to disagree, which means his book has a major, insurmountable credibility problem. If Strongman had been more inclusive, and if he'd used Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain's classic Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk as a template, he might have had something. As it is, this feels like a 300-plus-page magazine article. Sex Pistols fans will appreciate this one, but those looking for a comprehensive history of the era and its sounds should look elsewhere.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781556527524
Publisher:
Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
Publication date:
04/01/2008
Series:
Cappella Bks.
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.65(d)

Related Subjects

Meet the Author

Phil Strongman is a journalist and the author of Cocaine, John Lennon & the FBI Files, and Metal Box. His feature-length documentary, Chaos: The Dave Goodman Story, Volume 1, has been issued on DVD.

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