Mary Harron on New York vs London Punk

In 1976-1977, punk evolved in different ways. The popular belief is that New York punks tended to dress in black; London punks were more diverse and colourful.

If you’re looking for evidence of this, you can look for photos. CBGBs seems to follow the black clothing generalisation.

1976 Patti Smith at CBGBs – Photo: David Godlis
Image result for new york punk 1976
Debbie Harry at CBGBs – Photo: Lisa J Kristal

With most amateur photographers working in black and white, it’s more difficult to find pictures that suggest that London was more in-yer-face colourbomb compared with NYC. The range of clothing sold by McLaren/Westwood in London shops Seditionaries and Sex brought bright red and a range of ‘shocking’ colours into the London mix.

Debbie Juvenile photographed by Sheila Rock
Debbie Juvenile – Photo:Sheila Rock
Johnny Rotten & Glen Matlock
John Lydon and Glen Matlock

But aside from the look, there was a profound difference in the purpose of punk between the two cities across the Atlantic. New York punk was all about art-school experimentation and living a more exciting and edgy life. London punk, on the other hand was about ‘no future’ – the British class struggle and a visceral political anger.

Canadian filmmaker and screenwriter Mary Harron is well-placed to comment on this. She lived in both cities in the late 1970s and was an important writer for Punk magazine. Her interviews with The Ramones and Talking Heads were the first to be published and she was the first US journalist to interview the Sex Pistols.  She describes the thrill of being part of the CBGBs scene:

“Every day my heart would race as I walked towards the club … it was this wild, wild night-time place.”

Image result for Mary Harron Punk magazine

In this interview with George Stroumboulopoulos, Mary Harron talks about the difference between the two scenes.

“When I went to London… I thought ‘oh Christ!  Oh boy! They take this really seriously.’ I realised they had a social anger and a violence; an intensity and a brilliance that the New York scene didn’t have”



Mary Harron is more well-known for her films, including ‘I Shot Andy Warhol’, ‘American Psycho’ and ‘The Moth Diaries’. In the UK, she’s also known for dating future prime Minister Tony Blair, when both were students at Oxford University. Ms Harron is another one on our list of punkgirls we want to interview.

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