Although his name is not as well known to you as John Lydon or Sid Vicious, Alan Jones is an important footnote in the history of the beginnings of Punk Rock in the U.K.
As an employee at Sex—the clothing store owned by Sex Pistols manager Malcom McLaren and future fashion guru Vivienne Westwood—he saw Punk Rock literally unfold in front of him via the band hanging around the store and seeing their first gigs.
In the present day, Alan is considered an authority on horror films via his film criticism and as a co-curator in the English based film festival FrightFest which is in its sixteenth year.
Green Room Radio gave a call to Jones in London to ask about his times in the infancy of punk, his time writing about Horror films in his country’s “Video Nasty” era and his possible involvement in naming pioneering U.K. punk bands.
WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY OF A PUNK ROCK SCENE BUBBLING UP IN LONDON?
That’s about 1974. You could feel a real swell of something going on musically. People were really dissatisfied with the whole Glam Rock period. At that time, I wasn’t working for Malcolm McLaren or Vivienne Westwood, but I was in their universe and I could see all the people who were coming around; the artists and the musicians. So, you knew there was something going to happen and Malcolm and Vivienne made it happen essentially when they opened up the shop Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die which transformed into Sex and that’s where I come into the picture because I actually worked for them there. That’s the place where the future members of The Sex Pistols gravitated towards and became the band you know them to be now.
HOW DID YOU GET THE GIG WORKING AT VIVIENNE AND MALCOLM’S STORE?
Accidentally really! You didn’t go for an interview for anything! In 1972, when they opened the shop under the name Let it Rock, I would go there and buy all the clothes. At that time, the clothes were considered very outrageous and it was quite a fashion statement to be making back then. So, they just said to me “Why don’t you come work here if you want?” and I thought, “Oh great, this is a way to get free clothes”. I worked there for about a year.
SO WHERE DO YOU REMEMBER MALCOLM’S IDEA OF THE SEX PISTOLS COMING INTO PLAY IN ALL THIS?
It’s weird to be asked that sort of question, because it really did just sort of happen. One day, there were a group of guys hanging around in the shop and the next day they were on stage at a pub called The Nashville doing one of their very first gigs and we’re looking at them going “Oh, this is now something that’s happened!”
I can remember that first Sex Pistols gig like it was yesterday. It was so unlike anything anyone had ever seen. They were talking to the audience from the stage and waving at us. It was just great. They might have been musically undeveloped, but you could see it was going to go somewhere. I brought my journalist friend with me named Caroline Coon and she was the very first person to write about the punk movement in London.
WAS THERE IMMEDIATELY A SMALL GAGGLE OF PEOPLE WHO UNDERSTOOD WHAT THE SEX PISTOLS WERE DOING?
There was the Bromley Contingent who got it right away. Bromley is a part of London that for some reason seemed to have more punks per square mile than anywhere else. They were the same people who would be coming to the shop and buying the clothes. Every Saturday, they’d come to the shop and make it more of a youth club than anything else to be honest. No one was buying anything; if anything they were shoplifting and I turned a blind eye because I didn’t care. I wasn’t a shop assistant; I was just there as a conduit between Malcolm, Vivienne and the group. I wouldn’t call us groupies, but we were friends who followed them around. So, that’s what it sprung from and then more and more people got along to the gigs and that’s how it grew.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE OUT OF THOSE EARLY SEX PISTOLS GIGS?
One of my absolute favorite times is when Malcolm took over this strip club in Soho called The El Paradise Club. It’s particularly a fond memory for me because I was there to DJ. I was taking money from all the punters coming through the door and then going up on stage and spinning the records and going back to take more money and then going backstage to make sure the band was OK. The dressing room was three disused toilets. It was so horrible!
OUT OF CURIOSITY, WHAT RECORDS WERE YOU SPINNING?
There were very few to choose from at the time. I specifically remember “White Punks On Dope” by The Tubes being playing quite a lot. At the time, it was just the stuff in the charts because there was really nothing else. It was a very challenging DJ stint; let me put it that way!
WHAT WAS YOUR INVOLVEMENT WITH THE SEX PISTOLS FILM, THE GREAT ROCK ‘N’ ROLL SWINDLE?
When Malcolm did the Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle movie, he asked me specifically to be in it and I said “Sure!”, so I went and did an audition for Russ Meyer, the great sex flick king who was supposed to direct. He eventually got the axe and Julian Temple took over who said I could still be in it. I did a lot of violent, sexual scenes that were eventually cut out of the movie because they weren’t considered appropriate, I got paid for them so I didn’t care.
AND WHAT WAS YOUR ROLE IN ALEX COX’S FILM SID AND NANCY?
Alex got to me and asked me a lot of my memories about Sid who was a neighbor and that ended up in the film. That whole Sid and Nancy situation with their drug addiction was alarming to say the least. When I look back at it, I think we all should have done a bit more, but those were the times. Things were different then.
THE INITIAL WAY YOUR NAME ENTERED MY WORLD WAS THROUGH YOUR CONTRIBUTIONS TO SHOCK XPRESS; A HORROR FILM FANZINE PUBLISHED IN THE U.K IN THE 1980’S.
Oh my god! Shock Xpress! How’d you know about that in the U.S? Well, I’ve always been a horror film fan. I’d like to take some sort of credit for Siouxsie calling her band Siouxsie and the Banshees after me supplying her with the poster for the film Cry of The Banshee. Shock Xpress was one of the things I just wrote for. My major outlet in the 70’s when I first started out was my favorite magazine based out of Chicago called Cinefanastique which was edited by Frederick Clarke who was my mentor. Shock Xpress was one of the many things I wrote for which that translated into a film festival in the late 80’s called Shock Around The Clock.
NOW, THE OTHER THING I REMEMBER FROM READING ISSUES OF SHOCK XPRESS IN THE 80’s WAS A PERIOD WHERE HORROR MOVIES WERE UNDER HEAVY SURVEILLANCE IN THE U.K.
That was called the “Video Nasty Era” in this country. A lot of companies in this country just bought up any trashy movies from America and Europe. I’m talking about films like Ilsa: She-Wolf of the S.S. and Cannibal Holocaust. Since there was no real legislation about what would arrive on video tape into this country, there was no censorship and ratings system so kids started watching them here. That became a huge scandal and I actually did a really good documentary here called Video Nasties by Jake West which was very well done and put that whole era in perspective. Looking back now, it’s fairly ridiculous and you can’t believe they were taking these things seriously. But it was quite a nasty period for all of us where my only defense on what I was watching was that I was journalist and therefore, I couldn’t be open to any prosecution.
AS SOMEONE WHO SAW PUNK ROCK UNFOLD IN FRONT OF YOUR EYES, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON ALL THE DOCUMENTARIES AND BOOKS THAT CLOG THE CULTURE IN THE PRESENT DAY?
My take is if people ask me to appear in these documentaries or books, I want to know what the angle is and if they will use what I say. Sometimes, I’m asked to do stuff and half way through, the program has changed to a different angle and makes me look absolutely stupid. A lot of people from that time aren’t around anymore, so I want people to know what it was like. I want people to know the truth. I read and see so many people say complete lies about what it was like and I was there and I know what happened and I will tell the truth. So, if people want to know that, fine. But I will not fit into anyone’s agenda.
FROM DOING A LOT OF INTERVIEWS WITH PEOPLE FROM PUNK’S PAST, YOU BUILD UP A GOOD BULLSHIT DETECTOR. TO ME, SOME PEOPLE ARE JUST HAPPY ANYONE WANTS TO TALK TO THEM, SO THEY MAKE SHIT UP TO KEEP PEOPLE’S INTEREST.
Yes! Exactly! But for me, it was a very important time. It set the seal on my future career in many ways. It hardened my personality and attitude towards a lot of things. When I look back on that, it’s quite extraordinary for somebody of my age to go through all that stuff. I have no regrets.
SO DO YOU SEE A CONNECTION ON WHERE YOU ENDED UP AND WHERE YOU STARTED? PUNK AND HORROR HAVE A CONNECTION IN MY MIND.
(Laughs) I suppose in a way. It’s all about shocking in a way, isn’t it? When I look back to what I used to wear, I can’t believe it. There I was walking around in full Nazi regalia because Vivienne told us the swastika wasn’t really anything particularly awful and it wasn’t a symbol. Of course, I bought that stuff and when I look back I feel so stupid. People have always found me a bit full-on and a bit hard to take and I think that’s what Horror movies are. So, I guess I found the perfect career really!
AGAIN, OUT OF CURIOSITY, DID YOU EVER TAKE ANY PUNKS TO SEE ANY CLASSIC HORROR MOVIES?
I remember taking the boys in the Sex Pistols to see Carrie. Things like that are extraordinary memories.
WHAT ARE YOU UP TO IN THE CURRENT DAY?
I just come off one of my biggest projects which was writing the book The Act of Seeing with the director Nicolas Winding Refn which was a great project. We did a global tour last year starting in Austin, Texas and went through other film festivals. I’m currently writing a new book on Disco. One of my biggest selling books ever was called Saturday Night Forever: The Story of Disco. While I was involved in punk, I was into disco anyway. I was never exclusively a punk person. Many people have found that quite fascinating that I could go between the two genres, so I’m expanding that into a book called Disco Mania.
EVERYONE THINKS AS THE ‘77 ERA OF BRITISH PUNK AS A “YEAR ZERO” THING, SO IT’S INTERESTING YOU COULD FLIT BETWEEN PUNK AND DISCO AT THAT TIME.
We didn’t have any internet or anything else then. I find today’s younger generation completely shameful in the fact they buy anything they’re told to on Twitter. They watch whatever reality show is on and that really drives me crazy. They should be out there creating their own music and causing a revolution. They should be changing things for the better and not listening to Rihanna or Taylor Swift. What’s that all about?