Barry Cain was the last person
to interview the Pistols
before their explosive 76 TV interview,
which led to the 'Filth and Fury' headlines the next day
-- the book is about a year as Record Mirror's punk correspondent
touring and interviewing The Pistols, Damned, Stranglers, Clash,
Heartbreakers and lower league players.
It is the best punk book I've ever read. -- Dave Collins
If Nick Cohn's Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom is
Ye Olde Testament of Rock, the New (Wave) Testament being Jon
Savage's Englands Dreaming, then Barry Cain's 77
Sulphate Strip is surely the Dead Sea Scrolls, revived and
risen again from the russet coloured copies of his Record
Mirror reports, reviews and interviews, and scrapbooked against a
lip-smacking-ace-tasting-page-turning-eye-bulging micro dot-to-dot diary
of the key moments, movers, groovers and shakers of 1977. The year
that groups of grey-faced, straight-laced politicians and hair flare
bunches of prog and pop stars went twelve rounds against a fistful of
prickly punks. 365 days with more dynamics, dramatics
and dualility than any year since pop records began.
After his stretch at Record Mirror, Barry went on to launch Flexipop, one the snappiest music mag's ever published, I found a few copies in the loft recently and had forgotten how they crackle with facts, fun and features - including a genius parody of The Face's famous '82 'Hard Times' cover - 'Really Hard Times' starring two turps glugging tramps which perfectly burst The Face's snoot-nosed, yell and bellow bubble .
So some questions for Barry Cain
77 Sulphate Strip is one of only a handful of rock books I've read without any acknowledgment or nod to The Beatles -
it's like they never existed. Was this the mood at the time?
No. The Beatles meant everything to me and most my mates throughout the sixties. They were my teenage idols and helped take the sting out of those years. There's an unsubtle homage in the names of the characters in Streatham Locarno at the beginning of Strip. I stopped dancing to The Beatles after Rubber Soul because that's when they started inviting me back to their place - via the Pye Black Box in my bedroom - where I could listen to their darkest thoughts. They changed the way I thought, simple as that. And thank you, for your very kind words. They mean so much. Incidentally, one of the 'Hard Times' tramps in the picture is my dad who will be 91 this year and was, I guess, my fifth Beatle. I was an only child and my parents (my mum is 81) have had four dogs all dying tragically and leaving my mum and dad desperate and bewildered. The last one, Bobby, a cute black poodle, died a week ago in my dad's arms, and it's eating them both alive. I buried Bobby in my back garden alongside the previous two and that nearly fucking killed me.
I felt like some canine-killing version of Fred West.
Sorry to veer off the path , it's just worrying me right now. Pray, continue.
How did you go from being part of a Motown loving Boot Boy and Suede head set to becoming Record Mirror journalist?
Pure genius! If you came from a council estate in London at the time, you became either a straight, a skinhead or, if you took a lot of hallucinatory drugs, a working class hippy. It got interesting when the skinheads got into hallucinatory drugs in the late sixties, but that's another tale. It was rare to stay on at school after 16 but I went to a grammar and emerged, at 18, with two low grade A Levels. I always kept my school friends and my flats' friends far apart. As a result, I became, around 15, two people - schoolboy and coolboy. Two heads are better than one and after a bit of luck and a lot of graft, I went from trainee court reporter to indentured journalist on a local paper to entertainments' editor to Record Mirror. That's a Yellowbrick Road a lot less travelled these days.
Your first meeting with Rotten reads like a snake charmer being hypnotised by the snake - have you met any other performers with a similar charisma?
Malcolm McLaren. He and Rotten both possess the ability to paint stark pictures with barrages of meticulously chosen words that give delight and hurt not. They're in a class of their own. Joe Strummer was a little boy lost who dug his way out of his nightmare with remarkable songs and a hunk of devotion that swept me away. Paul Weller was hopelessly devoted to rue, the secret behind his genius. Hugh Cornwell and Jean Jacques-Burnel were deepsea divers in the psyche and there was nowt more challenging than a Stranglers interview. The Damned had collective charisma - they were the commie punk band. Who else? Barry White, Bob Marley, Paul McCartney? Heaps of charisma. But not a patch on Malcolm and Johnny.
In '77 the Pistols were possibly the most hated band in history. It wasn't just the older generation or other youth movements that were anti-Punk, but politicians, musicians, record exec's, DJs and almost everyone who wasn't directly involved with the Pistols (or Punk) that seemed to despise them. Do you think
it's possible we'll ever see such international outrage caused by a single rock act again?
Impossible. Music has popped its cork. It's no longer the force of nature it was (what an old git). Outside the X Factor comfort zone, records just don't sell that much anymore. That's why TOTP was dumped. That's why Smash Hits, RM, Sounds, Melody Maker all fell by the wayside. How many generations to go before music is just a bowl of cherries? Before life gets in the way? Before its portability and a few billion options make it futile, obvious, an easy lay? I give it twenty years, tops. My kids' kids will give the odd flying fuck for a stunning song. Their kids? Different world. Different ballgame. Different tune.
For a movement that was all momentum and 'of the moment,' punk styles, sounds, designs and influences are still with us and everywhere
from US metal to Top Shop clobber. What do you think has kept Punk (and New Wave) enduring without dating?
Punk was all about bright minds in bondage who wanted to fuck off out of old Durham Town. Sleepy time girls and the boys of summer dancing to a '77 beat. Punk's callous, disruptive demands - an anathema to Joe Public - could dislodge reality in exciting minds and create innovation. Originality breeds contempt and contempt breeds originality. It was a vicious circle that has continued to spin unabated like a flaming Catherine wheel shooting flames in every direction. And you didn't need a voice like Sinatra's to make the punters sway. Lapsed punks haunt the corridors of power.
I loved the piece about your mum and dad and the pub scene with the piano players, costermongers and comedians having a sing-a-long.
Do you think the real seventies get overlooked with all the novelty nostalgia and 'Abbafication' of that decade?
I don't think there ever was a real seventies. It was the itsy-bitsy-no-focus post Beatles decade kicking off with dross, glam, Philly, dross, New York disco, dross and ABBA. It welcomed punk with open arms, shook hands with high-street ska, gave birth to the New Romantics and invented Freddie Mercury. If you were in your late twenties in 1970 the next ten years meant fuck all really. You wouldn't get it. The seventies had to be 'Abbafied' because the sixties were too sad.
McLaren once said "I have brought you many things in my time" which
included breaking Punk, World Music and Hip Hop, but equally there's a
trail of broken relationships and bad blood." What's your take on him -
genius or jinx?
Genius. I mentioned in the book that Malcolm asked me to 'ghost' write his autobiography in 1979. I got to know him as well as anyone after countless interview sessions in my living room over a three-month period. He made me dance all night and still beg for more. He's the Brian Clough of pop who should've managed England. Knowing Malcolm, I think love got in the way - he's an incurable romantic. But we should all be thankful he turned the world dayglo.
In the book, the music press seem just as hardcore and heavy living as the bands - almost like The Sweeney with press passes rather than police badges. Were there a few juicy nuggets, tear ups and tales you couldn't include?.
If you could beam back to 1977 and take someone aside for a word of advice - who would it be, and what would you say?
It would be me, I'm afraid, and I'd say, 'Don't get married, keep your finger on your trigger and put all your money on Man Utd winning the FA Cup, Red Rum winning the Grand National and The Minstrel winning the Derby'. Oh, and to Sid Vicious I'd say, 'Go for it'.
The Damned, The Buzzcocks, The Stranglers, The Wolfmen (Marco from The Models and Adam and The Ants new band), Carbon Silicon (Tony James and Mick Jones) have all released new albums over the last few years. Have you heard any of the original Punk players' new songs?
I saw Hugh Cornwell play live a year or so back - great show at Scala - and downloaded his impressive Hoover Dam album, but that's about it. I don't listen to much music these days and when I do it tends to be through headphones attached to my laptop as I write. Usually, it's Michael McDonald's tribute to Motown, which is just wonderful, interspersed with Steely Dan. I'm a dude. Hey dude, don't make it bad. Just let it out and let it in.
You were involved with Flexipop, are there any plans for an 80s sequel to 77 SS using Flexipop as source material?
Writing it now. Starts in 1978 when I resigned from Record Mirror, teamed up with then PR guru now PR mogul, Alan Edwards, running a punk PR company out of a Covent Garden squat, discovered I wasn't cut out for a career as a publicist, became a freelance writer and spent the next two years travelling the world with rock stars, doing big, fat, hairy interviews. It ends 20 years later with the death of pop. Don't worry, there's not much to tell after '84. I launched Flexipop together with my ex-partner Tim Lott (now, of course, a hugely successful novelist) in 1980, and after three bizzarre years I found myself alone, publishing mainly one shot poster mags on pop's latest flames which I continued to do for the next decade and a half. Got myself a family, a house, a Porsche. Cost myself contacts, desire, drive. Naturally, I blamed everyone but myself for those sad losses - complacency is a cancer of the spirit. But if you catch it early, the prognosis is good. Life can be groovy again Oh, and there's a few twists and a fucking shitload of watusis. The book should be available this time next year, if anyone has any money by then....
If you were a Record Mirror reporter in 2008 - what would get you picking up your pen and pad, and who would you be trying to interview or avoid?
The song Distant Dreamer made popular by Duffy, who rocked my boat when I saw her perform it at Glastonbury. The version by MC Almont & Butler is a work of art. Pop music at its finest. I think Leona Lewis has an incredible voice. I'd love to interview her. And Duffy. Shit, I sound like an old perve. Who else? Paul Weller, for old times' sake; Eminem., for Pete's sake; Alex from Big Brother, for fucksake. That's five cracking interviews. Never avoided an interview in my life.
And finally, are there two tunes one Pop, one Punk that sum up 1977 for you?
Anarchy In The UK and Anarchy In The UK.