This month marks the 40th anniversary of the pivotal 100 Club Punk Rock Festival, a two day event that featured then-unsigned bands such as The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Buzzcocks, The Damned and Siouxsie and the Banshees – bands that would eventually make a lasting impact on music and a legacy that endures today.
According to accounts, music promoter, Ron Watts, approached Sex Pistol’s manager, Malcolm McLaren, to headline a festival of punk bands. Ron saw the impact “The Pistol” and other punk acts had on audiences – a cacophony of chaos and sometimes violence. He understood that something new was emerging. His instincts were correct and understandably so, as Ron was, by then, was already a veteran of the music industry. He had worked with bands such as King Crimson, Hawkwind and Marc Bolan’s T-Rex, witnessing the rise of progressive and glam rock.
Ron would later recall in his autobiography, Hundred Watts, “I knew the festival would be big, but I never dreamed that it would go on to become such a legendary event.” That night, Ron thought The Clash and The Sex Pistols’ brought the house down and considered The Pistol’s performance to be their best ever.
The Banshees’ performance was perhaps the most important for helping inspire female-fronted punk bands. At the time the music industry did not take female leads very seriously, especially a woman like Siouxsie who was assertive and looked more like a dominatrix than “the girl next door.” Seeing a woman take control of a stage set a precedent for others who would follow. Notably, those who were there in the audience watching Siouxsie included Viv Albertine (later The Slits) and Chrissie Hyde (later The Pretenders). However, their performance was described more as performance art as it was spontaneous and unrehearsed. Siouxsie recalls in her biography Entrance, “I wanted something apocalyptic – I taped three microphones together, that would automatically make me three times louder than anyone else.” Furthermore, she described the punk scene as, “punk wasn’t a calculated movement. It was a complete fluke in a post-glitter world where Bowie had retired…”
Ron Watts passed away in June after a long illness battle. There is no denying that he was an integral part of the punk movement and the music industry as a whole. “Many people claim to have been at the 100 Club Punk Festival, including Paul Weller (later The Jam/Style Council), ” mentioned Ron Watt “and if he was he was just another face in the crowd then.”
The punk ethos was meant to confront social norms, political exploitation and the status-quo through music and uninhibited self-expression. Also, it embraced a do-it-yourself atttitude that permeates in many aspects of our culture today, albeit usually water-downed and superficial, but should still be celebrated when sincerely expressed. It’s always those outlier movements that move society forward.