Sex Pistols - MEN Arena, Manchester

And so we went to see the Sex Pistols. In Manchester. In a big chuff-off arena.

Let's declare an interest here: I think the Pistols are the greatest band in the history of rock 'n' roll. They are not my favourite band - because other artists have all kinds of sentimental baggage associated with them that make you overlook their faults and just love them blindly - but they are the best band ever and no-one will convince me otherwise.

Rewind a few months and I was listening to some Pistols demo tracks and they were so thrilling, so alive that I actually pondered on why I would ever listen to anything else. Why bother seeking out new music for increasingly small morsels? Why not gather the tracks that continue to send a shiver down the spine and spend the rest of your days knowing that you didn't waste them on Smashing Pumpkins b-sides? That would make sense: just listening to truly great music. But we don't. Because we're human and when do we ever make the right decision about such matters?

So we wound our way into the belly of the MEN, through the corridors and down the steep steps onto the floor to join the terribly inebriated crowd. One fellow spent the evening stumbling back and forth, apparently spotting people he knew and regularly raising his right arm, Nuremberg-style. That's what it looked like at least, but he was very drunk and we gave him the benefit of the doubt.

For the Pistols have a strange sense of patriotism about them. From the flags of St George on the amps, to Dame Vera Lynn over the PA. John Lydon, you presume, recognises that this is the patriotism of an Englishman abroad. Nonsense, then. But then all he did was do what we all would, given the chance. He escaped to the sunshine. "Please don't be waiting for me!" he once squealed. Quite right too.

Brief Moment of Existential Angst ...

Was this really the Sex Pistols? Does that corporate identity continue to exist no matter what? The wife, entirely unprompted, echoed this thought: "Perhaps this is just the four people who were the Sex Pistols 30 years ago playing those songs?" Such pithy insights are - partly - why she is The Wife.


Was that all this was?

The Men Who Were the Sex Pistols Thirty Years Ago played the songs. Just about all of them too. And they played them well. You could question whether even those riffs - and oh, what riffs! - could ever fill a dome the size of the MEN, but it was a valiant attempt nevertheless.

The frontman was funny and self-deprecating and is turning into the Old Man Steptoe he always promised and less the forced motormouth of the 80s and 90s. Messrs Jones, Cook and Matlock remained mute, concentrating on replicating that wall of sound and keeping an ear out for when the singer occasionally went astray.

But now I'm sure. The Sex Pistols ceased to exist on a night in San Francisco 29 years ago. No amount of re-unions or subsequent re-packaging or merchandising can alter that fact. Nothing that the Sex Pistols PLC ever do can change what happened or how beautiful the Pistols were: the band that threw provincial councils into chaos and brought the good people of Wales out to sing hymns in the hope of keeping these devils at bay.

But it didn't work, because even the valleys would throw forth their own guttersnipes and urchins. "Stay Beautiful" they sang. And in our own way, maybe we did. Just with added cake.

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