Michael Henderson

Anarchy in the EU

Paul Cook on fame and notoriety, patriotism and the EU

It is 40 years since the band in which Paul Cook banged the drums, the Sex Pistols, detonated a bomb called punk in post-war Britain. The shards are still visible. ‘We didn’t have a manifesto, but we wanted to shake things up,’ he says. ‘We didn’t know how much we would shake things up. Music, art, design, films, books. Punk is part of our social and cultural history.’

We’ve come a long way from 1976, when Johnny Rotten and ‘Anarchy in the UK’ put the pestilential Pistols on the front pages, and a prime-time television exchange with Bill Grundy, the celebrated ‘fucking rotter’ interview, kept them there. The band were banned from concert venues, denounced in every bully pulpit, damned as ‘illiterate sub-humans’. The work of the devil, no less.

The teenage Cook was an apprentice electrician at the Stag brewery in Mortlake, trying to find his path to freedom. ‘Get a trade, that’s what they used to say. And when you were done, you’d get a gold watch. I’m not disrespecting that life, but I wanted to be free of those constraints.’

A Shepherd’s Bush lad, Cook was pally with Steve Jones, the band’s guitarist, from childhood. They attended (sometimes) the Christopher Wren School on the White City estate, where he enjoyed himself, particularly on the football field (he was a good amateur player) but, like many intelligent working-class children, formal education passed him by. The son of a carpenter, ‘though I don’t make a big thing of my working-classness’, he read Alan Johnson’s autobiography, This Boy, about a similar west London upbringing, with admiration. ‘Though I didn’t have things as hard as he did.’

Cook and Jones ‘were pretty sharp kids. We loved music and fashion, as you do. It was all part of working-class life.

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