By the summer of 1977, the Sex Pistols were one of England’s most controversial bands. Following a serious of incidents — swearing on live TV and being fired by two separate record labels, among other things — it seemed a given that their record would be banned by records stores around the country. After being picked up by Virgin Records (the only label willing to work with the band at the time) the label began making preparations to release and promote Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols. A week before the release of the second single off the album, “God Save the Queen,” the Pistols coordinated an inspired publicity event, timed to coincide with the Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee celebration.
Assorted journalists, record executives, and insiders were invited to witness the Sex Pistols perform on a boat sailing down the River Thames; the invitation read: “RIVER PARTY. June 7th 1977. Arrive 5.30pm. Boat ‘Queen Elizabeth’ leaves Charing Cross Pier 6.15pm. Return to Charing Cross 11.45pm. To get on board you must present this invitation. It admits one, and one alone. Discretion appreciated.” As attendees boarded the Queen Elizabeth (including Richard Branson, Jon Savage, Vivienne Westwood, and, of course, the Pistols’ infamous manager Malcolm McLaren) they would be have greeted with two large yellow vinyl banners, which Jon Savage described: "Banners have been unfurled down the sides: one reads 'QUEEN ELIZABETH, THE NEW SINGLE BY THE SEX PISTOLS, GOD SAVE THE QUEEN' - distinctly low profile."
By all accounts, the event began slowly, but by the time the Pistols began playing (timed to coincide with the boat passing the Houses of Parliament), the party was getting underway, even out of hand. According to photographer Dennis Morris, who was on board that day: “The boat trip was Malcolm's idea…. [he] wanted to be arrested that day because he wanted to make his statement.” Police boats eventually surrounded the Queen Elizabeth, forcing it to dock. Altercations ensured, in Savage’s words: “We dock. The power is off. The bar is closed. Suddenly no more party. Suddenly a lot of police on the quay. Altercations begin. Nobody wants to leave. The police want us to leave. So does the owner. The owner can terminate the contract of hire at any time. Small print baby.”
Journalist Tony Parsons also reported in NME on the arrests, and McLaren’s antics, relaying: “The scenes that occurred when invading cops broke up their Jubilee Day river party have left me with something that will remain long after the bruises have faded: it’s unlikely that I will ever again be able to look at a member of Her Majesty’s Metropolitan Police Force without feeling sick… after a token protest, we all went quietly into the night. Apart from McLaren, who came down the gangplank screaming in their faces.” McLaren was charged with “Using insulting words likely to provoke a breach of the peace;” then-girlfriend Vivien Westwood with “Obstructing a policeman;” and multiple other Sex Pistols insiders were charged with assault, obstruction, and “threatening behavior.” Westwood was ultimately found guilty and levied a fine of £15. Notwithstanding the legal woes, the event was a great promotional success. As Richard Branson later reflected: “…it certainly did the reputation of The Sex Pistols and Virgin no harm at all. God Save The Queen sales went through the roof and the band’s place in rock ‘n’ roll history was confirmed.”
The Sex Pistols’ 1977 Jubilee Boat Trip was a seminal moment in the history of punk and self-promotion
In 2012, the 35th Anniversary Never Mind the Bollocks deluxe box set included a DVD of the restored Jubilee Boat Trip footage. This is the second banner, identifiable at 0:30.
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