The Filth and the Fury: 6 Denmark Street (London) and the Sex Pistols

Article excerpt



In spring 2010 a chance remark by a listener to Steve Lamacq's show on BBC Radio 6 hinted ar the survival of an iconic piece of the 1970s' musical heritage. The tabloid press once claimed that early Beatles recordings discovered ar the BBC were the most important archaeological find since Tutankhamun's tomb. The original and intact Sex Pistols (hereafter Pistols) graffiti ar 6 Denmark Street surely ranks alongside this and--to our minds--usurps ir. The immediacy and freshness of the graffiti, combined with the fact that some are hidden behind cupboards and that we had to work to uncover them, meant we could almost feel the Pistols in this place; we could sense their presence as unruly ghosts, lounging on the sofas and writing on the walls. The fact that the graffiti could be considered rude, offensive and uncomfortable merely enhances their status and significance. That, after all, is what punk was all about. In this paper we describe our exploration of this historic site, the methods by which we recorded it and what it all means for archaeology, heritage and recent cultural history.

Punk, archaeology and anti-heritage

In spite of the emergence of archaeologies of the contemporary past (e.g. Graves-Brown 2000; Buchli &Lucas 2001; Harrison & Schofield 2010) and more inclusive, socially diverse interpretations of heritage (Council of Europe 2009), some things apparently still do not quite fit within conventional or even acceptable approaches to the past. Sometimes--though refreshingly rarely--one still hears the refrain 'Yes, but is it archaeology?' or 'What has that got to do with heritage?' Given that we consider archaeology an approach, a means by which to study past human activity through material remains, punk as archaeology is barely contentious. Punk as heritage is a different matter. Even suggesting that punk-related sites or artefacts might constitute heritage will be considered by some an anathema: punk even. Punk was unquestionably anti-establishment (O'Hara 1995). Whatever it was, punks were against it. Anarchy ruled and was represented in what the establishment considered anti-music. Punk's anti-fashion transformed everyday items into accessories with safety-pins worn through ears and lips, razor-blades as earrings and bin liners as dresses (Hebdige 1979). Punks were rude, loud, offensive and working class. They couldn't play their instruments and didn't know how to dress or behave. As Steve Jones of the Pistols put it, "Actually, we're not into music. We're into chaos" (Spencer 1976; Temple 2007). And in December 1976, the final straw: the Pistols swore openly on prime-time television and the inconvenience of punk was transformed into a national scandal. With few exceptions, heritage is of the establishment: for example Smith's (2006) authorised heritage discourse, and perhaps that is why punk cannot fit conservative models of management and appropriation (Schofield 2000). But, as Jon Savage (1991: 541) says in the final sentence of his book, England's Dreaming, "History is made by those who say 'No' and Punk's utopian heresies remain its gift to the world". This, then, is what we might term anti-heritage: it contradicts what agencies and heritage practitioners typically value or wish to keep, and even what we think of as landscape and place. This, despite the Council of Europe's recognition that "heritage processes must move beyond the preoccupations of experts in government ministries ... and include the different publics who inhabit our cities, towns and villages" (Palmer 2009: 8), even those--we would argue--who seek to subvert these places and make areas of them their own.

Music and heritage

There is a view that music is only connected to places because someone wrote about them (e.g. Liverpool's Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane); because they featured in artwork or promotional videos (e.g. London's Heddon Street from David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust album); or because someone lived or died there (e. …