How did we get here? Punk.London: 40 Years of Subversive Culture reignited at The 100 Club

By Richard Moss | 20 January 2015

A year-long celebration of Punk Music in London has launched with a celebration at the 100 Club

a photo of a group of teenage girls with punk haircuts, mohicans etc
A grooup of punk girls pose by the river, London (1980)© Chris Parker / PYMCA
If, in 1976, you had told Johnny Rotten that an organisation called the Heritage Lottery Fund would one day stump up £90,000 for a year-long celebration of punk rock in museums and galleries, he'd probably think you had been sniffing glue.

The wild incongruity of Punk and the HLF is something that may well amuse those who were there in '76 and it’s not lost on many of the organisers of Punk.London. But this year-long celebration of the year punk broke in the capital boasts an impressive roster of partners from the V&A to the Rough Trade Shop and you can’t help but admire the chutzpah of those who dreamed it up. 

Such is punk’s place in the fabric of the nation; it’s now as British as a cup of tea or God Save the Queen – whichever version you choose to sing. 

So what’s happening in Punk London 2016? A year of exhibitions, screenings, gigs, punk heritage trails and parties celebrating design, politics, fashion, hair and, of course, music in places as varied as the Roundhouse and the British Library - all of it revealed to a packed 100 Club last night.

Old punks (several of whom seem to have turned into punk versions of Arthur Daley) milled with hacks, PRs and liggers for a night of readings, performances, punk rock and reggae (courtesy of DJ Don Letts) with free pizza and punk-themed craft beers thrown in to get the party swinging.

a photo of a band on stage with a young woman in a dress playing guitar in the foreground
Punk spirit: Skinny Girl Diet at the 100 Club© Photo: Richard Moss
The 100 Club was, as any self-respecting muso knows, the scene of the first international punk festival in 1976 with the Sex Pistols, The Damned, The Clash, The Buzzcocks, Subway Sect and Siouxsie and the Banshees all in attendance. For one man who was there in 1976, 100 Club Manager Jeff Horton, it was a transformative moment.

“Punk was one of the greatest institutions Britain has ever invented and it still has relevance,” he said from the famously low 100 Club stage. “It’s about an attitude. Without punk, England and the UK wouldn’t be as colourful a place as it is. Its resonance goes on and on.” 

The manager of the Clash, Bernie Rhodes, pointed out that it was the cartoonist Ray Lowry who nailed another important part of it all when he said “Great hair begat great art."

“Where’s the mayor with the hair when you need him?” he added, referencing the irony of Boris Johnson’s backing for the year-long celebration. Where was BoJo in 1976, I wonder? 

“The past is an irrelevance” said Rhodes. “But here we all are. Punk spread through the media like a dose of the clap – like social media today, questioning everything, out loud, upfront...now it’s the next generation’s turn.”

a photo of a man with long hair and a suit speaking into a microphone
How did we get here? Dr John Cooper Clarke at the 100 Club© Photo: Richard Moss
Teenage riot grrl, punk trio, Skinny Girl Diet, duly obliged with a blistering set of screams, beats, riffs, hooks and distortion that took us back to the short lived punk girl revolution of The Slits before John Cooper Clarke closed proceedings with the opening words “How did I get here?”

Good question. How did we all get here? And what is punk’s ongoing influence and legacy? You have a year of events to enjoy and maybe even figure it all out.

Five events and exhibitions to see during Punk London: 40 Years of Subversive Culture

Tattoo London at the Museum of London, January 29 – May 8 2016

Like Punk, tattooing is one of London’s most influential subcultures and the two have long been associated. Tattoo London gets under the skin of what it’s like to be one of the capital’s top tattoo artists and see bespoke London-inspired tattoo designs.

Lost in Music at the Print Space Gallery, February 5-17 2016

The Photographic Youth Music Culture Archive showcases a photographic monument to the subversive and transformative nature of club culture and the hedonistic revolutionaries who continue to fuel a sub-culture.

a photo of a two girls back combing their hair in a toilet
Shelley and Di, in the Ladies, The White Swan, Crystal Palace (1980)© Anita Corbin, Courtesy Photographers' Gallery
Dennis Morris: PiL - First Issue to Metal Box at the ICA, March 22 – May 17 2016

It’s all in the design - the iconic PiL logo, as well as their first single, album and famous Metal Box, are explored as part of an exhibition focusing on the seminal work of Dennis Morris with John Lydon’s PiL between 1978 and 1979.

Punk 1976-78 at the British Library, May 13 - September 19 2016

Starting with the impact of the Sex Pistols in 1976, punk’s early days in the capital and its remarkable influence across music, fashion, print and graphic styles nationwide is explored via a range of fanzines, flyers, recordings and record sleeves from the British Library’s collections. Alongside are rare material from the Jon Savage Archive at Liverpool John Moores University.

Punk Weekender at The Photographers’ Gallery, June 23-26 2016

Just a stone’s throw from the 100 Club, this weekend celebration includes an exhibition of iconic images from photographers Derek Ridgers, Anita Corbin and the PYMCA Archive, plus an exclusive performance from punk legends The Raincoats.  Talks and events celebrating the spontaneity, spirit and diversity of punk culture and its presence within Soho complement the programme.

a black and white photograph of three laughing girls with punk haircuts with the central girl flipping a V
Three punks with mohicans, Cheslea, Kings Road, London (1970s)© Ted Polhemus / PYMCA

  • For more information, listings, events, punk heritage trails and information on how to get involved visit punk.london.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Three museums for music fans

Dimbola Museum and Galleries, Isle of Wight

The display includes rare posters and photographs of these legendary festivals. One photograph in particular is a panorama from Afton Down which gives an idea of the audience of 600,000 who gathered to watch Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Taste, Miles Davis and Joni Mitchell to name a few.

Saatchi Gallery, London
Taking over the entire two floors of the Saatchi Gallery with nine thematic galleries, Exhibitionism: The Rolling Stones will combine more than 500 original Stones' artefacts, with striking cinematic and interactive technologies offering the most comprehensive and immersive insight into the band's fascinating 50-year history. Runs April 5 - September 4 2016.

Handel and Hendrix London
Jimi Hendrix’s bedroom has been carefully restored to its look when the rock star made it part of “the first real home of my own” following a £2.4 million, two-year restoration turning 23 Brook Street into the only one of the rock star’s former residences open to the public. Opens February 10 2016.
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