The Queen’s Silver Jubilee national holiday fell on June 7th 1977. It was a day of street parties, flag waving and wall to wall TV coverage of our monarch’s big day.
It was also the moment that, for some of us, popular culture split in two forever. For those of us of a certain age, the flags and figureheads of the Silver Jubilee had morphed into punk symbolism. Repurposed by artists such as Jamie Reid, the union flag and the Queen’s face had become entwined with a new cultural sedition, and records that urged us to make up our own minds and reject compliance with the mainstream, were our current go to sounds. No matter that we were 12 years old, we understood the message perfectly.
On May 27th 1977, The Sex Pistols released a new national anthem.
‘God Save The Queen’ with its Jamie Reid designed cover was released to coincide with the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations that were currently taking place in the parallel universe that was mainstream culture. As the tables were laid for the street parties, and soft buns were spread with Princes meat paste, the radio played that week’s chart singles. Despite huge record sales and being declared the Jubilee number one in the NME charts, both the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority both refused to entertain the Sex Pistols, and like magic the new number one was declared to be Rod Stewart’s tepid ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’ leading to bitter accusations that the charts were somehow ‘fixed’.
With the authorities visibly shaken by what they saw as sonic treason, the Pistols ‘God Save the Queen’ was silenced across all channels.
On Jubilee Day itself, instead of attending one of the many community parties or grand parades, the Sex Pistols set off on a Jubilee boat trip along the river Thames in London.
Malcolm had hired a river cruiser appropriately named ‘The Queen Elizabeth’ to leave Charing Cross Pier at 6pm in the evening. It was timed to coincide with the height of the nationwide Jubilee celebrations taking place up and down the country. On board were friends, faces – including SEX shop assistants Jordan, Debbie Juvenile and Tracy O Keefe, journalists a huge PA system and the Sex Pistols. As the sun went down the band took to the improvised staging and in a surge of feedback they launched into a ferocious set;
‘The atmosphere on the boat was paranoid and claustrophobic, but also very exciting. They were by far the best I ever saw them that day. You can’t beat the Sex Pistols, jubilee weekend, “Anarchy In The UK,” outside Parliament.’ – Jon Savage
They continued to blast out ‘God Save The Queen’, ‘No Feelings’ and ‘Pretty Vacant’. Not surprisingly, the boat drew the attention of the river police and was soon surrounded, the power was cut, the party was over and the boat was docked.
‘I remember ranks of police were thundering up the gangplank. McLaren stumbled and got to his feet and rather dramatically raised a clenched fist and shouted: “You fucking fascist bastards,” at which point he was dragged off, beaten up, arrested and thrown in a police van.’ – Allan Jones
Many of the entourage including McLaren were carted off to Bow Street police station. The boat trip seemingly ended in disaster and Branson lost his £500 deposit. The authorities congratulated themselves on stamping on this new breed of high treason against Her Majesty, particularly on her special day.
If anything, the Sex Pistols jubilee boat trip served to send a clear message that the institutional pomp and pagentry had little to do with the future that lay in store for the ‘little people.’ From the decaying inner cities to the forgotten small towns, to rising unemployment and grinding day to day poverty, the Pistols vented what so many of the young and working class were beginning to understand. Without change there really was ‘No Future’. If the day was about celebrating anything, it was about our own liberation, and if we needed a figurehead to look to then the Jubilee Day cemented that it was Lydon, and not the Establishment who we’d be taking any further advice from. As far as we were concerned, they could keep their national anthems, drab compliance and Rod Stewart records, we’d had enough.
Recommended reading ‘England’s Dreaming’ by Jon Savage