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Glittersnipes and Gutterati - a tribute to MALCOLM McLAREN (1946-2010)
By Cardinal Cox


Write Dope on Pnuk part 74

Malcolm McLaren was brought up by an eccentric grandmother, and after an intermittent education attended various art-schools. In the late ’sixties he became, through his association with King Mob (which also included artist Jamie Reid) well versed in the theories of the Situationist Internationale. Founded in the ’fifties as a response to the prevalent trends in poetry and art, the slogans of the SI had found a new resonance with the Paris uprising of 1968.

Malcolm was supposed to be making a film about the history of Oxford Street, but allegedly pawned the camera to provide money for his and Vivienne Westwood’s first shop, Let it Rock. (The film The Ghosts of Oxford Street, was finished in 1992). Let it Rock supplied clothes and music for the stragglers of the Teddy Boy scene in the early ’seventies, because Malcolm was interested in the outsiders of society. In 1974 he was in America managing the glam-rock band New York Dolls (who were heavily influenced by the Rolling Stones, who had drawn their inspiration from old blues singers). McLaren got Westwood to dress the band in red patent leather and had them photographed against Soviet flags. The band fell apart during a subsequent tour of the Bible belt.

Back in London and in their shop (now called Sex) Malcolm put together and managed a band called Sex Pistols, you may have heard of them. He fictionalised this time as the movie The Great Rock and Roll Swindle, novelised, though published in a newspaper format, by Michael Moorcock.

The shop changed its name to Seditionaries and Malcolm offered advice to Adam Ant about his sound and look. For his fee Malcolm took £1000 and the members of Adam’s band to provide the backing to a fourteen year-old girl he had discovered in a launderette, Annabella Lwin. This new band was Bow Wow Wow, their first single in 1980 was a hymn of praise to home taping. The follow-up EP was released as a cassette only. Even Boy George got to appear with them (as Lieutenant Lush).

During Bow Wow Wow’s tour of America, McLaren first heard hip-hop and so in 1983 he released his own first album Duck Rock that mixed hip-hop, world music and country sounds. This was re-released in 1984 as D’Ya Like Scratchin? and in 1990 as Round the Outside, Round the Outside.

Not content with that, the album Fans (1984) crossed classical music with pop and blues. Then he joined CBS Theatrical Productions as head of development and in a few short months (before it all folded) had twiddled with such ideas as Jason Donovan playing Robert Plant in a Led Zeppelin biopic and a beauty and the beast fable set around fashion houses. (Comics writer Alan Moore is supposed to have delivered a script for that one).

His next classical music inspired album Waltz Darling (1989) included Bootsy Collins and Jeff Beck amongst its cast. This was followed by Paris (1994) that was remixed, as an ambient dance album, as The Largest Movie Houses in Paris (1996). A couple of years ago he narrated a documentary on Salvador Dali for Radio 4.

After his death some newspapers spoke of him as the godfather of punk which I would disagree with. Not even the architect of punk. What I think his position should be seen as is as the New Town planner of Punk. He took what he’d seen as a small number of rough musicians in New York, backed it up with some smart slogans and let it go on a British public desperate for something away from either the teeny-bop bands or the political greyness of the country. Then he did the same with a pirate-style New Romanticism to a Burundi beat. Then with a joyous black celebration a world away from the gangsta rap or RnB we’re saddled with today. Perhaps one day we’ll even be ready for his re-imagining of classical music (some of whom were as revolutionary in their time as any musician today).

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