Daydreaming England was about to be rudely awoken as punk emerged from the London underground scene. A nation dropped its dinner in its lap when the Sex Pistols swore on primetime television. Punk had finally found its enemy- the establishment. In Manchester, the Buzzcocks’ self-released Spiral Scratch was a clarion call for a do-it-yourself generation, while the Clash’s White Riot tour took punk’s message across Britain. Moral outrage followed the Pistols around the country, effectively outlawing punk – but there was one refuge for the music. Nestled in the wasteland of 70s Covent Garden, the Roxy was punk’s cathedral. Punk interlopers the Jam raised the bar for lyricism, challenging punk’s London elite.
Punk also began to extend its three-chord vocabulary through an alliance with reggae, memorably captured by the Clash on White Man in Hammersmith Palais. With their second single, God Save the Queen, the Pistols scored a direct hit at the establishment in summer ’77, but a disastrous PR stunt on a Thames barge would mark a turning point. The darker underbelly of the summer of ’77 would see race riots in Lewisham. This street turbulence was the backdrop for a rawer, working class sound. If the Pistols and the Clash had been the theory, a second wave led by Sham 69 was the reality.
By ’78 punk was becoming a costume – the very pop orthodoxy it had originally sought to destroy. For many punk ended when the Pistols split, beset by internal problems, following an abortive tour of the USA in January ’78. Those practitioners who would go on to enjoy sustained success sought to modify their sound to survive, such as Siouxsie Sioux. Punk had shown what it was against, now it was time to show what it was for in the post-punk era.
With John Lydon, Mick Jones, Siouxsie Sioux and Paul Weller. (BBC 4)