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Sex Pistols on Hastings Pier

July 1976

Written By Andy Gunton

Yes, it’s true, the Sex Pistols really did play on Hastings Pier. In fact, it has been said that if all the people who claimed to have been present at that gig actually were, the pier would have collapsed under the weight of them all.

This now infamous gig took place on Saturday 3rd July 1976, right in the middle of one of the hottest English summers on record. That night the Sex Pistols supported Welsh heavy rockers Budgie… a very unlikely pairing. 

So, how did the gig come to take place and how did it go down with the unsuspecting people of Hastings?

The gig promoters were Sceptre Promotions, who ran a series of gigs on Hastings Pier in 1976 including The Glitter Band, Curved Air and Frankie Miller amongst others. Post Sex Pistols they also promoted gigs by Eddie and the Hot Rods and The Stranglers. Sceptre Promotions were led by local man Barry Taylor. 

Barry takes up the story: “I’d booked Budgie for 3rd July 1976 and was looking for a support band, preferably one that provided a musical contrast to the headliners. I’d heard reports of London gigs involving the Sex Pistols, and it was evident that something unusual was happening. I’d not seen or heard them before, but was intrigued and decided to try and book them.

“I managed to get hold of Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren’s phone number from somewhere and managed to book the band through him. I think I paid a maximum of £20 for them.

“I remember when they arrived on Hastings Pier that day. They looked like a bunch of Martians arriving from outer space, complete with safety pins holding their clothes together. I’d never seen anything like it. We all still had long hair and were wearing denim, this was something completely different”

Another person who was also struck by their style of dress was local musician Joe Rytlewski. He can still vividly remember Malcolm McLaren wearing a brown gossamer see through t-shirt, possibly from his own boutique ‘Sex’.

One thing that’s worth pointing out at this point is that, in July 1976, the Sex Pistols and Punk Rock itself were virtually unknown outside of London, hence the reaction to what the band was wearing that day in Hastings. Nobody locally had seen or heard anything quite like it.

The Hastings Pier gig took place six months before Sid Vicious joined the Sex Pistols, four months before the release of the band’s first single, ‘Anarchy in the UK’ and five months before that now infamous Bill Grundy interview on Thames TV. “The Filth and the Fury” hadn’t even started yet.

Although not really known about in Hastings in July, the Sex Pistols’ early notoriety was already preceding them, in some circles at least, as headliners Budgie refused to let the Sex Pistols use their PA system for the gig. Because of this Malcolm McLaren asked Barry Taylor to source a PA for the Sex Pistols locally.

Joe Rytlewski recounts what happened next: “Barry rang me with about three hours to spare and asked if I could supply a PA, mainly for the Sex Pistols vocals. Luckily I was able to take along my own PA, complete with a battery powered mixing desk. This would save us from having to run as many cables across the dancefloor. 
You can probably guess what happened next? Come the Sex Pistols soundcheck and the mixing desk wouldn’t work, the battery was flat! Thankfully, Budgie then relented, and the Sex Pistols were able to use their PA after all.

Afterwards, I went into the Sex Pistols dressing room and apologised for the mixing desk problems to Johnny Rotten. His exact words to me were ‘I don’t give a f*ck mate’. He didn’t care”
So, what of the gig itself and how did the Sex Pistols go down with those present?

Barry Taylor describes it as being “Shambolic, but exciting” and Joe Rytlewski said “It was anarchy. The Sex Pistols just didn’t give a f*ck”

Local guitarist Mick Mepham was there and remembers that “when the Sex Pistols started up they sounded really rather good, powerful and tight. After a few songs though, they started de-tuning their instruments and started taking the piss out of the audience, which didn’t go down too well! It was a shame because they were a good band, but were clearly expected to make as much of a mark as possible and not particularly bother with the music. I guess it worked for them?!”

Hastings Rock DJ Nigel Ford was also present, but didn’t know who he was watching at the time. 
“I must have arrived after they’d started, as I don’t remember them coming onstage, just a small huddle of an audience just in front of the stage. The thing that amused me was this gathering’s enthusiasm for the tuneless trash that was coming from these 4 puny guys onstage and their vile antics of jumping up high and spitting at each other! (Could this have been the famous Bromley Contingent?) 

I stayed well back and after a couple of numbers the vocalist shouted out on the mike, to an almost deserted ballroom, ‘Do you know who we are?’ The front assembly shouted various replies and Johnny Rotten said, ‘Yes, we’re the Sex Pistols’ To which I thought, ‘where the heck did they find this lot for a Budgie support band?’

I must have watched their whole set and remember being thoroughly disappointed with their performance as I couldn’t detect any likeable or memorable hooks/riffs in any of what they were throwing together. However, their followers seemed to greet each track with great enthusiasm. Each time I thought, ‘Ah! perhaps that’ll be a good one then’, only for it to sound as uncoordinated and tuneless as those before!

In the bar during the interval I noticed several young strangers sporting ragged clothes with safety pins in them. A few even had safety pins through their ears and noses, the likes of which I’d not seen before anywhere. We were then amazed to see the band members join these people. Johnny Rotten was the only one I recognised, having stood well back during their set.
My assessment of the situation at that time was... ‘well there’s no way this lot will catch on!’”

But, of course, the Sex Pistols did catch on and are now regarded as one of the most influential bands in music history. Not something that anyone present on Hastings Pier that night would ever have imagined.

After the gig, Glen Matlock (bass player of the Sex Pistols) told Barry Taylor that the band would come back to Hastings and bring their own support band with them this time. Despite Barry contacting Malcolm McLaren in the coming months, his calls were not returned.
So what of the headliners on the night?

Nigel says “Fortunately Budgie were as good as the many previous times I’d seen them”

Mick Mepham remembers “Budgie were their usual spot-on selves. However it was immediately obvious that if the Pistols were a sign of the times, then Budgie were going to be left behind. Which they were, even though they were a cracking band”

Budgie played on Hastings Pier many times, both before and after that memorable gig in July 1976. Although they never had the success of the Sex Pistols, Budgie have always been a well respected heavy rock band. Indeed, bands such as Iron Maiden, Metallica and Soundgarden have cited them as an influence and have even covered their songs.
As for the Sex Pistols, well the rest, as they say, is history.

They were destined never to return to Hastings Pier, despite Barry Taylor’s phone calls. However, we can certainly count ourselves lucky that such a momentous gig ever took place in the town. 
It is well known that the Sex Pistols didn’t find it easy to play UK gigs, especially after that Bill Grundy interview. In fact, outside of London, the nearest the Sex Pistols ever played to Hastings was Guildford. Many towns and cities never had the chance to see such an influential and notorious band. Let’s be thankful that Hastings did.

There are two interesting postscripts regarding this Sex Pistols gig, showing both the influence seeing the band play live had on people and also how early in the history of the UK Punk Rock era the gig took place.

1 – Seeing the Sex Pistols on Hastings Pier that night was a young girl celebrating her 19th birthday. She entered the gig as Marianne Joan-Elliott Said, but emerged as Poly Styrene and put an ad in a newspaper for “young punx who want to stick it together” to form a band. That band was X-Ray Spex.

2 – The following day, Sunday 4th July 1976, the Sex Pistols played a gig at the Black Swan, in Sheffield. The support band on the night were a new band from London playing their first ever gig. That band was The Clash. Two days later, on 6th July, the Sex Pistols played at the 100 Club, in London. The support band that night, playing only their second gig, were The Damned.

With thanks to Barry Taylor, Mick Mepham, Nigel Ford, Alan Esdaile, Sarah harvey and Joe Rytlewski.

Were you at this gig and do you have your own memories, good or bad, of the Sex Pistols’ performance? If so, please let us know.

If you have any suggestions of other memorable gigs that have taken place in the Hastings area over the years, that you think should be included in a future feature, please contact us. 

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