One of the first blogs i did here was one of those steam fuelled ones about the injustice of Oasis being awarded the Outstanding Contribution to Music award at the Brits at the start of 2007. As a retort I listed five acts/figures who were way more deserving of an outstanding contribution gong. One of those, and prehaps the most influential, Malcolm McLaren, died tonight.
McLaren came from the Art-house end of British art & Pop, being involved with art and fashion. In the mid 1970’s McLaren moved into music management, and found himself managing US Glam act The New York Dolls. It was at this point his magpie instinct kicked in, he began to take notes about the New York Dolls, and other acts emerging from New York like Richard Hell, Television and The Ramones. The look of Richard Hell in particular would be one which McLaren would snaffle as his own, as this look would become known as the archetypal “Punk” look. Taking influences from 1950’s/60’s Garage rock, the above bands and their immediate forefathers The Stooges and the MC5, and tapping into the vibrant Pub-Rock scene spearheaded by Dr Feelgood, McLaren set about creating his own band.
The Sex Pistols, as they were called caused controversy from the start. but crucially they were also a bomb under the moribund British music scene, stifled by Prog-rock and MOR music from America. The Pistols had great records, but were also the band that started things. The Clash got going around the same time as the Pistols, while a gig at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall was attended by Tony Wilson, (who would form the Factory label) Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner (who would form Warsaw, changing their name to Joy Division), Ian Curtis (who would be Joy Division’s singer and lyracist), Stephen Morrisey (who would go on to form The Smiths), and Mick Hucknall (yes, that Mick Hucknall). The explosion of Punk rock was the start of a new golden period of British music, which lasted until 1984.
After the Sex Pistols broke up came the recriminations and the legal writs. McLaren’s next vision was of a type of music influenced by (US) Indian beats, tribal beats with western sounding guitars. After seeing a band play one night he tracked down the musicians and convinced them to ditch their singer. Their new singer would be underage Annabelle Lwin, and McLaren christened the band Bow Wow Wow. Chart success evaded this band untill “Wild In The Country”, when McLaren had become bored with the band. By the way the sacked singer picked himself up and got himsef a new band. For Adam Ant, the rest as they say is history.
McLaren then went into making his own music, going back to America to take notes. This time his notes were day-glo as the new Hip-Hop scene interested McLaren’s magpie instincts. He won the race to work with 1982’s hot producer Trevor Horn, beating off Spandeu Ballet. It was during the sessions for “Duck Rock” that the seed that had planted during the making of Yes 90125 album took shape. A few months after the release of McLaren’s Buffalo Gals single, The Art Of Noise launched, and a British version of Hip Hop based around short samples was born.
For many, Punk was British music’s year zero, where rock was reset back to it’s default settings. McLaren more than most was the orchestrator of those events. The years between 1976 and 1984 still resonate in popular culture today, while in America for 1977, read 1991 the year punk broke across there. Whether as the manager of The Sex Pistols and Bow Wow Wow, or as an artist in his own right, Malcolm McLaren set a template that others followed. British Rock and Pop has probably seen the end of an era.