Photo by Davis Factor

An interview with Steve Jones

Guitarist Steve Jones was on the trigger of the Sex Pistols as they began and rode the punk wave in the late 70’s. The Never Mind The B*llocks star talks to Virgin Money about narrowly avoiding prison, dodging missiles on stage and how no modern stars can misbehave quite like he did. His new autobiography, Lonely Boy, is out now.

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The book reveals your misdemeanours as a child – stealing cars, clothes, even a construction digger. How close do you think you were to ending up in prison?
I probably would have ended up in the nick. There was no lightbulb going off in my head which told me to be a good boy now. It wasn’t on the cards for me to turn my life around. I calmed down a bit in the Sex Pistols in some weird way. But even when I came out here to LA, I was still pilfering. What made me behave? I would watch these documentaries about US prison and what they were like. If I’d have gone there, really, I’d have been terrified, because I’m a sensitive bloke underneath all the b*llocks. I’d probably have teamed up with the biggest blokes in there and hoped for the best.

Stealing became an addiction, even from the rich and famous. Can you tell us about that?
It was a daily thing, I didn’t go a day as a teenager without going out and looking for something to nick. I look back at it now and feel guilty that I upset a lot of quite good people. It didn’t even register with me what I was doing. I stole David Bowie’s amp and that made all the papers. Rather like an arsonist who sees a fire he caused on the news – and only he knows he’s done it – it was a little buzz that it was on a radio the next day.

There’s so many myths about your guitar skills pre Sex Pistols. How much practice had you really had before your first gig?
Hey, we thought we were good! I guess it didn’t sound that good because we never practised. John (Lydon) had never sung and Cookie or me had never played in front of a crowd before. The only one out of us who had ever played – and even then I don’t know if he’d done any gigs – was Glen (Matlock). The myth about Chris Spedding (producer of early Sex Pistols demos) playing all the guitar parts bothers me, even though I make light and tell jokes about it. But if we couldn’t play I don’t think we would have made it, right?

Regarding the Silver Jubilee concert on the Thames. What was it like when police pulled the boat over?
The whole series of events was a huge laugh to me – I didn’t understand what we were even doing on the boat. Obviously it was a publicity stunt by Malcolm McLaren, but – actually in there – we had no idea what the reality was, once we pulled into the dock. Everything, however serious, was just a laugh. Anything goes. It was just fun back then.

A lot of your gigs were chaos. How scary did it get up on stage?
The Sex Pistols has that myth about them where anything goes at a punk show. People would chuck pint glasses at us, anything they could. We never had any bouncers. We had a couple of roadies and maybe a friend or two in the crowd. I used to get nervous about it sometimes, but I didn’t know any different. It just all seemed part of this fun, mad adventure. Even when we did the reunion gigs in Holland in 1996, some f*cking idiots threw those big steins they sell there at the stage. We barely escaped! Thankfully I don’t have to go through that again.

The Bill Grundy incident – do you wish more modern chat show guests had a bit of “young Steve Jones” about them?
Yeah they’re kind of boring. It’s good to have people standing up for what they believe in! Thing is, with the Grundy thing, he was obviously asking for it. Interviewers now are all so nice. It’s difficult to go after an interviewer when all they’re asking is sweet, respectful questions. That’s fine, but it’s so drab. Coming from the era I grew up in, everything is so mundane to me these days. Show business has become like McDonalds.

Now you have your own radio show, do you have some sympathy now for journalists/presenters who interviewed you in your youth?
No, not really! I’m on KLOS 95.5 now, but I did have a show called Indie 103.1 which I did for five years. I think my show does well because they come in and they think they’ll be doing a normal radio show and I’m just the opposite. The worst thing, as any interviewer will tell you, is when you ask someone a question all they say is, “Yes,” or “No,” and never want to elaborate on anything. I remember Alan Parsons, the old prog guy, was a bit of a drag. He was that pompous old English dude who was a real music snob.

You mention in the book standing outside someone else’s window just to hear a Jimi Hendrix track. Do you think streaming music has removed some of the joy of discovering music?
I think there is something about savouring it, having to wait for the availability of a track. But, in hindsight, if I’d had a repeat button to play the record again and again, I would have played it to death. I wouldn’t have hung around for two hours just to hear it that’s for sure!

You swapped being a skinhead and then other movements before you settled on punk. Did you think you just wanted to belong to something?
Absolutely. I would bounce around from mods to hippies to f*cking Teddy Boys. I guess the first time I felt I belonged was in the Sex Pistols, yeah. I was part of a whole movement, beyond my control. I was no longer a Teddy Boy traipsing down the Kings Road on my own anymore. So obviously I felt more like I belonged and one of the forerunners with it. But it still didn’t fix the hole. Even after the Sex Pistols, I grew my hair really long. I looked like Fabio (Lanzoni, actor and model). I went to Los Angeles and I created another persona. But it wasn’t deliberately like that, I just did whatever I wanted to do. I have no reason why that was, other than I liked to shift gears a lot.

You confess to a lot of musical guilty pleasures in the book that you had to hide in your Sex Pistols days…
You get these music types who try and present themselves that they only like the ‘right’ thing. But, if you’re a true music fan, you love who you love. I love pop or anything catchy and I can’t help it. But in the Sex Pistols you had to toe the line a bit because you were keeping up an image. Journey and Boston were the bands I couldn’t talk about – I really loved them back in the day. Me and Cookie we were Roxy Music and Small Faces fans, that became the blueprint of the band a bit. You notice the Sex Pistols don’t actually play crazily fast, it’s sort of a four, four beat. John is just John, singing over it!

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