Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Conceptual Art: 'Bring Back ... Punk'

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

Over to Pete...

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A year after the last 'Bring Back...', Justin Lee Collins, who, in hindsight, should’ve really thought a lot longer and harder about this, decides that an ever-so-slightly controversial episode on punk is the way forward to revive this ailing TV format (and his career). Similarly to previous versions, he plans to locate the main players, interview them and ideally arrange a performance at the end. However, rather than focus on one specific band, JLC recognises that a collection of UK punk veterans would not only provide more screenable material, but ultimately would create a bigger draw than any previous comeback tour.

Naturally, the first of this ageing super-group to be approached by Collins is Johnny Rotten. There is a mutual desire to rescue the latter from a retirement of spreadable butter commercials and the singer recognises that even the occasional Sex Pistols comeback tour doesn’t bring home the bacon. Nevertheless, the first step towards disaster is taken when the producers, keen to get him on board and happy to allow for possible controversy, agree to Rotten’s request that any later performance takes place live and without any time delay.

The next few weeks sees the bearded presenter waylay various members of UK’s early punk scene in his usual hilarious fashion. Much like previous shows, not all the interviewees are keen relive their brush with punk fame in this manner. Some, like Howard Devoto turn him away, whereas some, such as Pete Shelley and Mick Jones, agree to be interviewed, but decline to take part in the performance.

Hugh Cornwell, ex of the Stranglers, initially agrees to play, but then a week before the live gig wisely decides to pull out. Collins and the show’s producers, while reluctant to have more than one member from one particular band, are left with little alternative but to approach Steve Jones to replace him on guitar. The rest of the line up is made up by the The Damned’s Rat Scabies on drums and Paul Simenon on bass, both of whom regard this as a one-off jolly get-together.

With the filming in the bag and the line-up in place, there’s time for some last-minute rehearsals and the short set list for the evening is agreed: one song from each of the respective members’ bands, so that the sold-out Forum and the TV audience have got something to look forward to after having watching a bearded idiot make a fool of both himself and the subjects of his film for an hour.

Rumours of a wild-haired old man hanging around the venue with a large black bag shortly before the gig are discovered to be true, but the man in question merely turns out to be Malcolm Maclaren, who is waved through by security after the former pleads to be let in, apparently to reconcile himself with John Lydon.

The first part of the show is much as expected: it follows the story of Collins’ efforts to reunite the remaining founding fathers of UK punk, along with a variety of interviewees providing anecdotes interspersed with mild swearing about numerous on-tour escapades, brushes with the law and the censors, gobbing on the audience, as well as the inevitable clip of Steve Jones mouthing off at Bill Grundy.

Sadly, for punk lovers everywhere, the chance to see some greats in action soon disappears into thin air. Minutes into the live performance, the programme is pulled when Johnny Rotten, clad in a T-shirt with obscenities scrawled all over it, reveals that he has well and truly reconciled himself with his old manager. Before someone sensibly switches to adverts, it becomes clear to the horror of everyone else present and those watching at home, that Rotten has taken Maclaren’s advice that that it’s better for an old punker to burn out than fade away and adapted the lyrics of ‘God Save The Queen’ to incorporate the most extremist vitriol against pretty much any population group you would care to mention.

At the same time as the Channel 4 switchboards and the careers of everyone involved in this farce go into meltdown, a mobile phone clip filmed backstage briefly appears on Youtube before being withdrawn, suggesting that a cackling Malcolm Maclaren made it up into the rafters above the stage with what looked the skeletal remains of either Sid Vicious or Dee Dee Ramone.

Collins is led away in handcuffs, the venue is cleared by riot police, but only after fighting a running battle with the audience and a hundred tabloid journalists duly work themselves into a frenzy before settling down to write a series of inflammatory articles blaming music for corrupting the nation’s youth.

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Thanks to Pete. Lydon and JLC - what a meeting of minds that would be...

Next time (Monday 2nd March): Swiss Toni


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