Sex Pistols aim to add a touch of punk to Queen’s Jubilee

LONDON – In the UK there are several traditional elements to this a royal anniversary: Pageants, street parties, the Sex Pistols.

Queen Elizabeth II and the Pistols have been linked since the punk pioneers released the song “God Save the Queen” during the 1977 Silver Jubilee celebrations that marked the 25th anniversary of the monarch’s throne.

The anti-authoritarian anthem – not to be confused with the UK national anthem of the same name – was re-released for Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee, or 70 years as Queen. It’s one of many cultural ties – critics might say cash-ins – Inspired by the royal milestone.


Members of the band who rhymed “God save the Queen” with “fascist regime” and “she’s not human” have softened over the years.

“I’m not against it,” said Steve Jones, guitarist for the Sex Pistols, of Britain’s four-day anniversary extravaganza, which begins Thursday and will include military parades, concerts, picnics and more countless Union Jacks.

“I see the flags are all up,” Jones said while visiting London from Los Angeles, where he has lived for more than 30 years. “I mean, it’s fun stuff. Tourists just love it.”

Sex Pistols singer John Lydon, formerly known as Johnny Rotten, recently told Talk TV that he was “really, really proud of the Queen that she survived and did so well.”

It’s a far cry from 1977, when “God Save the Queen” kicked off on the anniversary weekend with an anarchic Sex Pistols performance on a riverboat – the Queen Elizabeth – that was broken up by London police.


The song sparked outrage; Members of the band were attacked in the street and banned from radio or television programs. It still peaked at number 2 on the charts, below Rod Stewart’s “I Don’t Want to Talk About It” – although rumors persist that the Sex Pistols’ song actually sold more copies.

The band’s record label hopes it reaches No. 1 this time, although it failed to break the charts when it was re-released for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002 and Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

Other cultural institutions are also taking part in the anniversary campaign. Auctioneer Christie’s is selling two Andy Warhol silkscreens of the Queen. Rival Sotheby’s is offering a lightbox portrait of the Queen by Chris Levine and Jamie Reid’s now iconic artwork for the Pistols title God Save the Queen, showing the monarch’s face covered in ransom notes.

Many museums and galleries have special exhibitions and events. Some are quirky, like an anniversary drag queen bingo hosted by London’s Horniman Museum.


The British monarchy has a sometimes uncomfortable but increasingly close relationship with popular culture. Who can forget the Queen’s scene with Daniel Craig’s James Bond during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, which culminated in a stunt double for the monarch parachuting into the stadium?

Pop music – nothing too fancy – plays a central role in this week’s anniversary celebrations. A concert outside Buckingham Palace on Saturday will see the likes of Elton John, Alicia Keys, Duran Duran and Diana Ross perform, while Ed Sheeran will perform the big anniversary celebration On Sunday.

The television series The Crown has dramatized the Queen’s long reign, blurring the lines between reality and fiction for millions of viewers. The Sex Pistols have their own fact-fiction moment in Pistol, a Danny Boyle-directed miniseries based on Jones’ memoir Lonely Boy.


The Sex Pistols broke up in 1978 after releasing an album. Jones says he’s “just had enough. At that point it was so dark and terrible.”

But he’s proud of the band’s legacy, even if he sometimes sounds tired when he talks about it.

“It was an important time in music and I’m glad it came to this,” Jones said. “Because it got people thinking and people were like, ‘Well, I can do that.’ Before that, you didn’t have many opportunities in England.”

But Jones added, “I don’t really listen to punk rock anymore. My taste in music has changed a lot over the years, you know, and I’m 66 years old. I’m not a child anymore. I think it would be a bit silly if I still hoisted that flag.”

“I like Steely Dan,” he said. “Is that bad?”

Pistols bassist Sid Vicious died in 1979 at the age of 21, but the surviving members have sporadically reunited for concerts. Lydon and his former bandmates faced each other in court earlier this year when the singer tried to prevent the group’s music from being used on the television series Pistol.


Another musical reunion – perhaps for the Queen’s 75th anniversary in 2027 – seems unlikely.

“I can’t see it,” Jones said. “But you never know, man. This band – you never know.”


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Sarah Y. Kim

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