On the 12th of October 1976 the Sex Pistols played their only Scottish gig in Dundee as a young punk band intent on shaking up the establishment. They were to return to Scotland during the 1996 Filthy Lucre tour but it could be argued that by then they had effectively become their own tribute band. Their connection with Dundee is also notable however for two dates that they didn’t play in the city later in 1976.
It’s only too easy to believe that it’s forty years since Punk music started to move out of its London strongholds to take over the whole country given how much the social and cultural landscape has changed. In 1976 Dixon of Dock Green with its homespun wisdom had only just ended its long run. The Black and White Minstrel Show was seen as acceptable wholesome family fun and the F word had only been heard twice on National TV, both times on obscure late night arts programmes.
The Sex Pistols played at the Dundee College of Technology’s Union, more commonly known as the Bowling Alley by the locals. The band, still including original bass player and songwriter Glenn Matlock played that night to a mixed crowd. You might imagine a hall full of punks but outside of London the punk scene was very small. Most provincial crowds had a majority of curious long haired music fans, perfect for the young John Lydon to noise up.
On the 8th of October EMI had signed the Pistols and their first single, Anarchy in the UK was released on the 26th of November. Malcolm McLaren had put together a punk rock package tour to promote the record during which it was planned to play a second gig in Dundee, this time at the Caird Hall. The tour proved to be somewhat shambolic, a TV appearance on a tea time television show sparking a wave of outrage that was to see many of the gigs cancelled. The Dundee date was to be one of them but rather curiously we seem to have two dates for the gig that never was.
On the 1st of December the Sex Pistols appeared on Thames Television’s Today programme, a tea time show hosted by Bill Grundy. By the end of the live broadcast the use of the word fuck on national TV had doubled. The fallout from the show was to effectively end Grundy’s career and punk rock and the Sex Pistol’s in particular were to be on the receiving end of a media and political backlash. During the show Grundy had goaded both the band and their followers, the Bromley Contingent including Siuoxsie Sioux into bad language. It was an invitation they weren’t going to turn down. Despite the fact it was a show only being seen in London it caused outrage nationwide. The Daily Mirror couldn’t resist stoking the fire and their Filth and Fury headline has gone down in punk folklore.
The story in Dundee goes that the band were due to play at the Caird Hall that same night and that they had cancelled the gig in order to appear on TV. There are easily obtained facsimile posters for sale that seem to confirm that this was indeed the case. Evidence elsewhere suggests otherwise though.
The New Musical Express had published the tour dates for the Anarchy in the UK tour on the 27th of November and it showed the Dundee gig as being due on the 16th of December. The Pistols had been rehearsing for these dates when the last minute call to replace label mates Queen, who had to cancel due to illness, on the Tonight Show came. The Anarchy Tour was originally to have seen the Ramones accompany the Sex Pistols as they travelled the UK but the American bands management pulled them out due to what they saw as rushed planning by Pistols’ manager Malcolm McLaren. It’s possible that the gig organisers had been giving a provisional date leading to the famous 1st of December Dundee posters being printed. The actual line up for the tour ended up as The Sex Pistols, The Damned, The Clash and the Heartbreakers from the States.
As it was no further gig was to take place in Dundee. The high heid yins on the City Council decided that Punk should be effectively banned. It was a situation repeated all over the UK. At least though the former patrons of Dundee’s Bowling Alley have the satisfaction of knowing that the band did take to the stage there once giving them a small place in the history of a band that will continue to be talked about for decades to come.