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The people: Jonh Ingham

Watch Jonh Ingham discuss the key figures involved with punk in its early days.
I’m talking to Jonh Ingham who was the first person to write about the Sex Pistols in April 1976 along with Caroline Coon, it was really instrumental in bringing punk to a wider audience. So before you found or saw the Sex Pistols, were you conscious of yourself looking for something else, or did the Sex Pistols come about for you by accident? No. Well, both. I was looking consciously for someone new that was exciting. And I’d been going to see a lot of different bands. And then one day there was a review of this band, the Sex Pistols. I just thought that was the best name I’d seen in ages, it just was a brilliant name.
And then it took me about three months to find out where they were and go and see them. So where was the first time you saw Sid, what do you remember about him? Oh, yeah. First time was at a strip club on Brewer Street and Malcolm McLaren, their manager, had rented it for the night and the first thing you notice is Johnny Rotten. I think it was the first time I’d ever seen somebody who did not want you to like them. He was quite the opposite, he was attacking the audience. It wasn’t a well-formed way, he was just being obnoxious. But it was interesting, I wouldn’t say it was funny.
And the band were interesting, didn’t sound like and it didn’t look like anything you’d ever heard or seen before. I think this is the most interesting thing to me about ‘76 and ‘77 completely, people who don’t really have opportunities through regular channels or they don’t fit into regular channels are just figuring out ways to seize opportunities and do things and see where it leads to. John Savage sometimes talks about it almost felt like time itself began to accelerate in the middle of 1976 into ‘77, and everything just suddenly sped up. And I guess that’s partly because of how quickly punk went from something completely unknown to being punk.
But I think the scale of ‘77 as punk as a movement was very surprising. And that’s purely down to Grundy, because overnight the entire country learned about this thing called punk whereas normally, it probably would have taken the whole year of ‘77 to permeate through the country. And I don’t know, maybe it would have happened on the same scale at the end or not, it’s hard to say. Yeah, it’s impossible But it’s exciting.
If you’re a sort of tearaway, sort of 15, 16-year-old and you’re noticing your parents and all these other people getting really upset about this band, it was like, “Oh, that looks exciting.” Anything that’s against your parents has got to be good. Yeah, the perception at the time and I guess probably I think in sales at the time that the NME was the kind of market leader. Did that in a way allow a bit of space for you and Caroline at Melody Maker to pick up on punk before NME? Caroline and I were writing for competitive papers and I’d met her a couple of times, so I knew her. I said, “Look, we could compete with each other later.
Basically, it’s us two, so why don’t we collaborate and kind of figure out what we want to say to the world and then do it?” Caroline had the disadvantage of dealing with a very establishment set of lads and she was also a staunch feminist in the very early days of the feminist movement. She had a lot of problems getting her work published in the beginning. And it was only as it started to take off I think then Ray Coleman, the editor, started to see that you couldn’t ignore it. And so then she can move forward properly whereas I, on the other hand, “Go do it.” “OK.” And then it was a case of “keep doing it.”
And I thought yours and Caroline’s writing always kind of complemented each other. A bit like you said earlier about you want to write about what it felt like, why it felt new. And she was slightly more sociological, I guess, in how she– Absolutely. Was framing it. So you got that kind of twin track that helped frame what was happening. And she saw it very differently from me in that sense, and I thought that was the really good part, was that it wasn’t very gender-oriented. You didn’t have the chicks, you didn’t have you had to look a certain way if you were going to be a woman in this group. You didn’t have rock and roll chick.
You didn’t have the girl who brought you the bottle of beer and all that kind of stuff. It was very gender free. And the idea that Siouxsie would just get on a stage and start doing what she did at the punk festival and then saying, “OK, that was good, let’s do more of that.” The way she looked was the way she looked. Great, somebody else with a completely new look. X-Ray Spex pop up pretty quickly, and Poly looked exactly like Poly. It was like, “Well, OK. Where did that come from?” It looks great. Same with The Slits.
Here’s a group of women, and they’re certainly not listening to any guy telling them what to do and how to do it and how to look. I felt really positive, amazingly positive that women were coming in that way and dictating it on their terms, and no one else cared. And was it around that time that you began to also think about capturing this nascent punk scene with your camera because in your book it’s an incredible snapshot before it’s all codified before anyone quite knows what it is it captures this moment in formation. Looking around, and really there’s nobody recording this at all.
And if I don’t do it and there’s nobody else stepping up, this is just going to vanish, and nobody will have a record of it. And that’s why I started taking the pictures in the first place, but also why I shot colour, because it wasn’t about selling the picture it was about just recording what was going on.

Jonh Ingham, writing for Sounds and Caroline Coon, writing for Melody Maker were the first journalists to document the emergence of punk.

In this dicussion, Jonh mentions the infamous Bill Grundy interview with the Sex Pistols on the Today Show in December 1976. (Please note that this clip contains some offensive content.)

He also mentions the famous female punk band leaders: Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex, and the band, The Slits.

It’s difficult to imagine what it was like to encounter punk for the first time, as Jonh did. He describes the people as those ‘who don’t fit into regular channels figuring out ways to seize opportunities to do things and see where it led’. What made punks different? Can you think of any examples of other movements that have sprung up and are doing something completely new and different?

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Anarchy in the UK: A History of Punk from 1976-78

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