2002, Virgin Records released this exceptionally detailed collection,
which is essentially the whole Sex Pistols’ recorded output.
By implication, it's the history of their recording. In addition, Virgin collected a wide range of peripheral demos and
alternative versions, many of which were previously unreleased. The
notes are easily the best of any Pistols collection, which you get in the box
containing the CDs.
Thorne’s EMI Manchester Square demos had been the stuff of
legend...maybe they were, maybe they weren’t. At the time, for him it was all in a day's work. The results
wound up on CD here for the first time ever, to startlingly good
reviews. They weren’t intended as records, as the story tells, but they sound
pretty lively. Here is Thorne’s receding recollection of
the scene and the times.
is a catch-all term for the record company department which is the
between the musicians, their music and the rest of the organization.
variously assumed to mean Artists & Repertoire, or maybe even Acts
and Recording. The abbreviation has become more familiar than the
over the past 50 years or more. The functions it embraced and the duties
it carries out have changed profoundly over the same period. Effectively,
we have seen a shut-down of creative and artistic direction within the
large record companies, and a profound change in the music that is
The scale of the major record companies has become
so large that their record releases have dwindled and their resources
are dedicated to a much smaller number of artists than even ten years ago.
Economies of scale apply everywhere. It wasnt always this way.
With the marketing focus now, artists are often
groomed and developed to fit a particular market niche. In the olden days,
the emphasis would be on finding the next big thing, implying that the
record companies themselves didnt have so much influence in the
matter but just had to find the hot spot and the music that was emerging.
An A&R Department was there to spot talent and then guide its development
to the point where an album could be released that might interest the
masses. There was a similar regression to the norm in that there would
be stampedes towards the next big thing that was often the next
Led Zeppelin, the next Eagles or (even more hideously)
the next Genesis. But their aim was to look for something
already there, rather than concocting something to fit a lowest common
denominator and a pre-specified mass demographic.
Post-World War II, the A&R departments were
responsible for practical music production, and directed all aspects of
an artists recorded development. The system could claim success
in handling some very fresh new talent directions. George Martin inhabited
such a department in his massively productive EMI phase, which generated classics from
the Beatles and Peter Sellars (although he left EMI when the bosses refused
to acknowledge his contribution in financial ways beyond his regular
salary). 16 years on, when I showed up at Manchester Square headquarters
(since demolished), the house producer function was defunct in the pop
department but flourishing in the MOR (Middle-of-the-Road) sector. (Music
in those days was conveniently divided into three categories. Classical
also favored in-house production, and was a thriving business.)
Eventually, I was to be a lone throwback to the
house producer when offered the job in 1977, a year in which I would produce
five albums including my first to hit the top 20 and my first gold disk (very different records). However, the
previous year was spent diligently pursuing an A&R career with no
thought to further progress. In the process, I recorded several demonstration
tracks with the Sex Pistols just after they signed with EMI. Half way
to being a throwback to a prehistoric role, I was suddenly working with
a group who were the spearhead of the new punk movement that was efficiently
turning conventional pop music, and the associated received wisdom of
how it should be done, completely on its head. Punk had started as a quintessentially
outsider pursuit. But although it would be wholeheartedly, even overwhelmingly
embraced by the UK population, it took a lot of proving to get it through
to the EMI signing. And lots of demos.
One of the two-page
spreads from the booklet/CD set. This gig was at London's Notre
Dame Hall, off Liecester Square, on 15 November 1976. Sid Vicious
is at far right, (foreground), Thorne second from the right
(in the background).
original set was recorded by their sound man, Dave Goodman, a sometime
musician gone engineer, who captured the raw energy with somewhat erratic
sound but making a set of recordings which, given a little imagination,
showed clearly where the band were at. The tracks subsequently appeared
on several bootlegs and semi-official releases, but are now collected
on this release in all their ragged glory (along with some of Daves
efforts from the first attempt at recording Anarchy In The UK, which were
often used as B sides on the later singles produced by Chris Thomas).
The sleeve notes and the overall packaging contribute to the first ever
comprehensive retrospective compilation that enhances our fading memories
of those raucous times.
Weve seen other compilations, but mostly their opportunism
and scant presentation classed them with the band's memorable great
rock n roll swindle itself. The honorable exception is the
live CD from the Filthy Lucre tour in 1996, whose performances for me
often transcend those of the original Never Mind The Bollocks album. The
original album, even though I have the loyalty which comes from being
the A&R guy on the earliest part of the project, still
seems a little formulaic to me. This contrasts with the live recording
which has such a cheerfully noisy quality closer to the original spirit
of the band despite their passing the old-fart-forties around the same
time. During the latter part of 1976, I saw them perhaps a dozen times.
Each performance remains memorable, not necessarily for musical consistency. My recall is certainly tinted rose, but I get to
enjoy it, thanks.
Daves demos gave the A&R Department the
plot, and in particular my boss Nick Mobbs to whom I took the project
after being the lucky one (the only A&R droog to like the stuff, and the only
one who hadnt seen the band on the cover of the then market leader
Melody Maker, since I neither read the comics nor listened to the radio).
But selling the band to the rest of the company to get their support needed
a more sanitized demo, one with a more conventional musical presentation. Hence the December 1976 demos and backing tracks (recordings for
the band to sing over conveniently for a TV presentation). As it happened, the more familiar rock+roll frame was more appropriate.
Dave has had his tracks sneaked out over the years,
and they have received a deservedly wider hearing. Mine were recorded purely
for internal demonstration, and in order not to preempt the master recordings
I didnt ask the group to record backing vocals to complete any track-as-we-knew-it-then.
At the time, I and my closer friends enjoyed the musically compromised
result, but then new excitement beckoned elsewhere. The masters were to stay on
my shelf for 26 years, during which time I also aged appreciably: I became
nearly twice the age I was when I recorded them. They were broadcast,
I understand, on an Italian radio station and became known as the Italian
demos, but were otherwise left to rot. I have never thought much
of exhuming the corpse when there were live bodies to cozy up to, so I let them rest in peace.
Then came the 25th band anniversary and Queen Elizabeth
IIs Golden Jubilee. Slowly and suddenly, the tapes had become mythical
history while languishing unappreciated in my storage. Meanwhile, I had been designated a grand old man of pop culture facilitation,
a role Im trying to get used to in my own second half century but which
really only fits when Ive had one beer too many and am holding forth
late at night at the bar. Making daft, high-decibel and surprising noises
continues to be preferable to pontificating about the youth of yesterday
and today. And loud is always better. But I was happy and surprised when
a phone call arrived from Glen Matlock (the original bass player and prime
mover before Sid Vicious) asking did I possibly have those old demos that
we all dimly remembered recording on a Saturday afternoon over a generation
ago, under pressure of the social weekend commencement and fenced off
from the rest of the EMI offices thanks to TV transgressions.
When analog magnetic tape ages, it doesnt
only fall apart. Often, it becomes one solid lump of plastic, each wind
sticking to the other. Many masters have been lost in this way, or saved
only because safety copies were carefully made. After 26 years, we didnt
know how solid our demos would be, and we were ready with the baking connection.
(Baking old tapes in an oven can loosen them up for a short time, sufficient
to allow a copy to be made. Then thats it for ever.)
We opened the box, put the tape on and listened without stickiness. Nothing had changed in
all that time on the shelf, the audio same as it ever was. EMI no longer makes professional audio tape.
But they can score one big point, 26 years later.
Thorne, August 31 2002
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Thorne production commentaries
Almond: Fantastic Star
Anderson: Strange Angels
BETTY: Jungle Jane remixes
Bronski Beat: Age Of Consent
Beat: Hundreds And Thousands
Cale: Honi Soit
The Drum Is Everything
It's All In The Game
Purple: Fireball air conditioning
Men: Walk On Gilded Splinters
Ives/Reinhard: Universe Symphony
Reinhard: Ravening remix
Pistols: Anarchy In The UK
Pistols: Jubilee boxed set
and the Banshees: Song From The Edge Of The World
Cell: Non Stop Ecstatic Dancing
Soft Cell: Non Stop Erotic Cabaret
Cell: Tainted Love
Cell: The Art Of Falling Apart
Machine: Alive And Well In Paris
Of Saxes: White Cliffs Of Dover
Roxy London WC2 (Jan-Apr 77)
Shirts: Streetlight Shine
The: Uncertain Smile
Tuesday: Voices Carry
Wire: Pink Flag
I Am The Fly