Tuesday, February 21, 2012

John Lydon, Steve Winwood and the taming of punk

Geoffrey Pearson's hugely influential Hooligan: A History of Respectable Fears was first published in 1983. It argued that concern about unruly youth was nothing new and was, perhaps wrongly, seen as arguing that unruly youth was nothing to be concerned about.

Early on, Pearson showed how, in Coronation year, Teddy Boys had been treated as they personification as all that way wrong with British youngsters of the early 1950s. By the time of the Silver Jubilee of 1977, they had become part of the pageantry of our history.

He quotes a local paper:
Bradford Teddy Boys turned the clock back 20 years on Saturday when they gathered at an open-air concert in the city centre. To the delight of shoppers who stopped to watch they revived some of their favourite dances like the solo bop and the catwalk.
I sense that something similar has happened to punks. In 1977 they represented all that was wrong with Britain. If one of them should appear in a Diamond Jubilee event this summer, it is easy to imagine him being cheered by the crowd.

This reflection is prompted not so much by my recent affection for The Surprises as by the news that a new Public Image Ltd album is to appear in June. As I reported in September of last year, that album was funded by John Lydon's fees for doing those Country Life butter commercials and recorded at the studio on Steve Winwood's estate in the Cotswolds.

Winwood was never part of the stadium rock movement that so enraged punk - by the late 1970s he was playing on the records of numerous other artists' records and issuing a first, slightly tentative solo album.

But as he said at the time:
"He's a very interesting fellow and I like him a lot. We were enemies, so it's ironic that he ends up out in the country recording. You wouldn't have thought we'd have much common ground but we did."
For better or worse, punk has become one more moment in British history.

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