Turns out my dad was at a secret Sex Pistols gig

I speak to my dad about how his past came back to haunt him via a 1977 music video.

My dad (bottom left) watches the Sex Pistols on stage at The Winter Gardens

My dad, David, always said that he had rubbed shoulders with a few famous musicians. He’d played pool with Lemmy, seen The Ramones and Talking Heads play a double bill, even deliberately given Queen the wrong directions to a gig. If he’d grown up somewhere more urban I might have believed him, but this apparently all happened in Penzance. Penzance. Cornwall’s most westerly town. A town which is on course to turn its biggest nightclub into a Premier Inn. A town whose nightlife will then consist of a retro bar above a WH Smiths. It was a stretch for me to believe that all these acts not only played in my hometown, but that they all apparently played in the same venue, the Winter Gardens.

Now converted into a garage and a Thai restaurant, it’s difficult to imagine that an unassuming building next to an angling shop used to host some of the biggest bands in music history. Although my dad assures me that not only was the Winter Gardens Elvis Costello’s favourite venue, but that it had the best dancefloor in Cornwall thanks to hundreds of tennis balls layered under the boards which gave it extra bounce.

The admittedly grotty place with a stage so small that it forced 10cc to cancel a gig seems to be the perfect venue for the Sex Pistols, who performed in the Winter Gardens as part of their secret 1977 tour.

Thanks to a recently released recording of the gig shot by film director Julien Temple, it’s now possible to see the legendary performance kick off, and watch my dad headbanging in the front row. To discover more about this momentous night I got my dad to share his memories of the evening.

My dad today

What can you tell me about that night?

Came straight home from work, having been at work since half past seven, threw down some food, had a shit-shower-shave, then went to meet my girlfriend at the time. As we queued up we were having a joke with other people who had gone to see the group. Punk hadn’t long been on the scene and it was all because of the Sex Pistols appearing on London Weekend Television. If it wasn’t for the fact that it was all over the papers that they had caused such an outrage on that TV programme, I don’t think they would’ve caught on so much as they did. The Winter Gardens was advertising ‘a mystery group’ and everyone knew who it was.

How did you know?

Well people had said it was SPOTS (Sex Pistols on tour secretly), but we all thought it would be a laugh if it turned out to be Val Doonican or someone like that. It was a pretty damp evening. One of the people setting up the stage was running wires or something and he fell through the ceiling.

What was the crowd like?

Heaving. And when they came on stage and started playing everyone just started spitting at them. It was like a rainstorm of spit flowing down. It was a brilliant night, I really enjoyed it. It was just really like a ‘wow’ evening. And then afterwards, because me and my girlfriend knew John Adams [owner of the Winter Gardens], we went backstage and met them.

How did that go?

They were really good fun to talk to. Just like normal people. And Sid Vicious goes ‘what do you do for pleasure in this town?’ I just said sometimes we hang from the fire escape and drink beers upside-down, so he says come on then let’s give it a go. Trying to drink beer upside-down is not an easy task! I think most of it went up my nose and down on the floor. But no it was good fun, there was no violence, nothing like that, just spitting. I remember reading the following weekend in a local South West paper, and a guy in the paper said that the Winter Gardens should have disinfected our money because we’d paid to see such a group, and you think how bloody wrong that is? I found that really annoying.

Throwing spit

In the video you’re waving your arm at them. What’s that about?

Yeah, I remember spitting on my hand and flinging it and catching Johnny Rotten. And I’d forgotten that until I saw the film. I thought ‘what am I doing there’ and suddenly it dawned on me what I’d done. I can’t believe I did stuff like that. You think ‘yeah alright, don’t I look like a moron?’

You didn’t want to give them the v’s?

Yeah cos I thought that seemed like so Rik from the Young Ones. It was just so pretentious. Especially the idea of anarchy, forget it. That’s not what it’s all about. I wonder what the other people there think when they look back on it. ‘Uh yeah I was punk,’ no you weren’t, most of you were soft-asses who if you went down there on a Saturday night would get your asses kicked.

So when did someone first go, Dave, you’re in the video?

Well, it’s from one of their DVDs years ago. And people told me I was on that. Only brief glimpses mind and I was like oh ok. And I never saw that. But then there was a release of unseen footage on YouTube and somebody told me I was on that and I thought I’ll only be on it for a couple of seconds, a quick glimpse. And I was at a mate’s place and he says ‘let’s have a look’ and we bring it up on the computer which was connected to this great big TV screen and I thought ‘Oh fuck! Oh shit! Oh no!’

You weren’t happy?

I was quite amazed to be honest but still oh no, oh god what do I look like? It was so embarrassing. Especially seeing as your mum was next to me and the ex-girlfriend was there on the film. It was just like oh Christ, no, not her! That’s bad news.

Dad and his then girlfriend

You’ve got over the shock now though?

I’ve settled down now yeah. But people still ask if it was me on the video. And I’ve been amazed where I’ve been asked it to. At parties for teachers and farmers, and it’s the last thing you expect, for people to come up to you and go ‘excuse me is that you on the Sex Pistols video?’ In fact I was in a shop a couple of weeks back and I got recognised. I couldn’t have changed after all these years! In a way it’s flattering thing that people can recognise that it’s me.

You’re not exactly dressed up like a punk so you’re still recognisable.

No, but that was all a media thing. We couldn’t afford all the fashionable gear or the designer stuff, we were buying our clothes from charity shops and Oxfam. And the media depicted it as like you had to be wearing this that or the other, which is not what it was all about. Punk was all about how hard up people were, and suddenly you had all the designer wear that cost an absolute fortune in the shops going ‘this is what punks wear’ and you go ‘no they don’t!’ People who like punk rock music, they can’t afford all of that stuff, or a punk hairdo that costs a fortune. Proper punks didn’t have all the spiky hairdo and all that stuff. Proper punks were either people who were unemployed or in jobs with low wages and were just out to have a good time.

Your parents obviously knew you were clocking out to see this gig, did they have any idea what the Sex Pistols were like?

Oh yeah they knew. And my parents realised that was what it was all about. I mean they didn’t want to come and see the Sex Pistols. They were like, go on and don’t get into any trouble. And that was the thing. They knew you were going out, and it was like have a good time, if that’s what you’re into, go for it. They didn’t expect to understand it, they just knew that that was what being young was all about.

Outside where The Winter Gardens once stood

Bands that big didn’t come down when I was growing up, so what happened to the Winter Gardens, when did it close?

It was probably back in the ’90s. They managed to shut the place down because it was too much noise. And the people that shut it down were supposed to be so trendy and they were going ‘oh no it’s too much noise.’ And you think, yeah, when I was a youngster I made the noise, people before me when they were youngsters, they were making noise, since when did this become a retirement centre? Everyone was young once and made some noise, that’s what you did, and that’s what youngsters still want to do. And there’s nothing like that now. But then again I don’t know if there are groups around that would do that sort of stuff. And I suppose there’s not enough live venues for gigs nowadays anyway.

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