The Right Stuff: Terry & The Idiots
"So, who's your favourite punk band then?"
It's a question I've been asked on numerous occasions before.
The Clash? Almost certainly. Saw them live a few times, the first at the Lyceum with Futura 2000 spray-painting a backdrop for the greatest live band in the world; an introduction to graffiti, the maestro joining the band at the end to perform The Adventures Of Futura 2000. But, you know, that's the answer you expected, isn't it?
The Sex Pistols? Erm, ruined by Sid's nihilistic idiocy, as well as McLaren's post Bollocks bollocks, even if God Save The Queen is still the finest seven inch from the era…
Crass? Or one of their anarcho-punk contemporaries?
Subway Sect, "opposing all rock and roll"? Wire? Could be…
And another contender: Terry and the Idiots. On reflection, it's probably Terry and the Idiots.
They played one gig, to a crowd of disinterested punters in a pub in Hackney, and then unceremoniously split up. But you ask anyone in the know, or rather, anyone who's seen legendary punk film DOA A Right Of Passage, who the greatest punk band of all time are, and they'll tell you: Terry and the Idiots.
As essentially as pointless as the rest of the arse-end of punk, they were as far removed from the fashionable end of Chelsea habituated by Vivienne Westwood, Malcom McLaren and the fashion conscious types who populated their store or attended the first Pistols gigs as possible.
Bored out of their minds with only at best dead-end jobs or worse still the dole as the way ahead… For these people, not just the Idiots, but all the idiots around the UK, there really was no future. The Situationist politics espoused by the original flag bearers were long forgotten, these were as much part of punk as they were juvenile, smutty Benny Hill humour, with either glue, cider or a bunk-up as a way out.
Their No Future was expressed in badly rendered cover versions, pitiful posturing. Hopeless and pointless, it’s also inherently funny. I've been obsessed with Terry and the Idiots ever since the early 1990's when I first saw DOA. The film was due for its first ever UK release then, on VHS (I still have my advance, timecoded review copy), but was subsequently pulled over assorted rights issues which have dogged the film since it was completed sometime in the early 1980s.
The film is, in part, a chronicle of the Sex Pistols’ first – and last – tour of the US, a horror-inducing trip across America’s Deep South bible belt before ending in LA and San Francisco, where Sid’s worsening drug addiction, John’s bitterness and disaffection as well as Malcolm McLaren’s scamming and scheming helped deliver the fatal blow to the band.
In addition to live footage of the band, director Lech Kowalski, himself sneaking into gigs to film the band, also interviewed fans and protestors outside the concerts. As hilarious as any of the teenyboppers filmed for Bowie’s Cracked Actor, these alone, before Terry and his Idiots have turned up, are worth the price of admission – watch as Americans get punk completely wrong! Laugh as repressed rednecks threaten to turn “Johnny and his pal Sid” over…
To flesh out the film, funded, strangely enough, by US pot periodical High Times, Kowalski headed to the UK to find out more of these punks.
As legend has it, he asked a cab for a lift to punk central, the Kings Road in Chelsea, only to get taken instead, thanks to strange inflections and misheard and misunderstood directions, to Hackney’s Kingsmead Estate. Walking around with expensive camera kit was not advisable in the barren 1970s, a fact that a young punk remarked upon to Kowalski and his cameraman.
“We’re looking for punk bands,” they said.
“I’m in one,” the young punk – Terry – told them, fibbing outrageously.
Arrangements were made to film a gig the next night, setting Terry off on a quest to find a venue, a band and some songs.
The result features in DOA, alongside interviews with Terry, talking about boredom, the life of a punk and, er, shagging and stuff. His Banana Bread Recipe poem, recited amid much tittering, is still hilarious almost 40 years later.
I must admit to a vested interest – I’m not only a fan, but I wrote the booklet for this outstanding Blu-ray release, including tracking down one of the original Idiots. Malcolm Joseph has gone on to become a session musician of some note, playing for, among others Grace Jones and her band.Being an Idiot, at the tender age of 15, he told me, set off the spark that ended up with him touring the world.
After the Idiots were filmed at their first, and only gig (they fell apart shortly afterwards), Kowalski managed to secure bigger and better known bands, giving the London half of DOA some punk-era street cred from the likes of The Clash and X-Ray Spex, making it even more essential.
I remember an old punk pal (one who sadly, followed his hero Sid into an early grave) in the early 1980s telling me he could bite the top off a Holsten Pils bottle, then demonstrating it to me. “That’s excellent,” I told him, genuinely impressed but equally baffled. “But why do you do it?” He shrugged his shoulders and laughed: “Something to do, innit?” And that, essentially, is why Terry and the Idiots are so ace.
Here’s an exclusive clip from DOA A Right Of Passage, featuring Terry and the Idiots. Arguably the greatest punk band of all time.
• DOA A Right Of Passage is out on dual format DVD/Blu-ray and new-fangled digital downloads on September 10 courtesy of Second Sight
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