When The Sex Pistols Played Northallerton
by Andrew Graham Stables
They may not be everyone’s cup of tea but on Wednesday 19 May 1976, just a few months before their notorious appearance on the Today Show with Bill Grundy, the Sex Pistols performed at Sayers nightclub on Elder Road in Northallerton, where Club Amadeus now is (at the time of writing).
They became infamous after being goaded to swear on national television by the presenter soon to fade into obscurity – Bill Grundy. The front pages of the newspapers were reflecting the moral outrage with aghast headlines including the Daily Mirror’s ‘Filth and Fury’ classic and much used in later band publicity. This story broke punk to the masses and, as the establishment feared, the more rebellious kids embraced it.
The Sex Pistols line up consisted of Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones, Glen Matlock and Paul Cook; it would be another year before the notorious Sid Vicious joined the group. They were supporting a headline act called Doctors of Madness who are described as a ‘protopunk band’ from South London led by frontman Richard Strange, known as Kid Strange. The Doctors of Madness had limited commercial success even though they produced three albums on the Polydor record label, but the Sex Pistols spiralled to fame and sold millions of records.
Punk bands at the time were struggling to find venues to play and the Sex Pistols had not played much out of London at this stage until they took on Northallerton, then The Penthouse in Scarborough, followed by Middlesbrough Town Hall and a venue in Lincoln. These small venues were unlikely places to host the next big musical trend to hit Britain. Prior to the Sex Pistols, the Northallerton venue had hosted acts of yesteryear such as Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders and The Searchers.
“Undercurrent of menace”
The DJ at Sayers was Brian Simpson, who is reported as remembering people leaving the club when the Sex Pistols began playing. He had commented, ‘Northallerton was suddenly at the forefront of punk rock but we had no idea that we were. It was about two weeks later when I saw their picture in one of the music papers that I realised I’d seen them play.’
Part of the entourage was Cindy Stern, who attended these northern gigs with his then girlfriend Pauline Murray (who later became the lead singer of County Durham band Penetration) and his camera. He had been a regular in Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s shop on the Kings Road and was told the Pistols were playing a short northern tour. Stern described: ‘The Northallerton venue was tiny but as there were just 10 people there, that was hardly an issue, and of the 10, eight of them were just there for a drink!’ His photographs captured some history of when punk was still a few months from the headline news it was to become, but the undercurrent of menace and violence at these early gigs as drunken punters reacted in a hostile manner to the Sex Pistols’ confrontational stage presence was apparently there to see.
The date 19 May 1976 goes down in history as the day Northallerton was at the forefront of musical change in the country, and soon the world. The movement brought many great bands to prominence including Blondie, The Police and The Clash.
It also dragged other great bands along with it like The Stranglers, Dr Feelgood, Elvis Costello and Ian Dury to name but a few. With a certain sense of irony, I noticed the 1823 Gazetteer mentions a William Grundy as the landlord of the White Horse in Northallerton – could this be a relation?
Article from ‘Secret Northallerton’ by Andrew Graham Stables, published by Amberley Publishing, £14.99 paperback
Top image: “Sex Pistols in Paradiso”, by Koen Suyk from nationaalarchief.nl, licensed under CCO BY 1.0.