Brian Southall is an EMI insider. A PR Exec during the Pistols 91 day reign at EMI from October 1976 to January 1977, there can be few people better placed to write such a warts and all, methodically researched and insightful account into the politics and machinations that caused the Pistols to be signed in the first place to then being unceremoniously dumped off the label barely 3 months later.
Recent years have seen a slew of books being produced on punk and especially the Sex Pistols. With only a few notable exceptions most are poorly researched and written with few new facts or insights - generally they just recycle the same old quotes and supposed facts. Southall has clearly gone back to the source material, much of it previously unpublished, and most importantly used his connections from his time at EMI to write a brief but fascinating guide to the bands time at EMI. He also does a good job of putting the whole episode into perspective.
The music industry in the mid 70s was a very different animal from today with EMI records forming a significant but by no means dominant part of a long established, traditional global conglomerate with fingers in many pies ranging from Arms to Hotels to Medical Devices. They even owned 50% of Thames television - the London based station that broadcast live the infamous "Today" show with Bill Grundy and the band. It's these background facts that help the reader to understand why the label did what it did after coming under enormous pressure from senior executives in the post Bill Grundy tv show media fueled circus that wrecked the Anarchy tour and effectively short circuited the chances of the band having a long recording career with EMI.
The book includes some excellent quotes from a fans including those later to be successful artistes themselves including Steve Strange, Siouxsie, Boy George and Marc Almond as well as others who became successful in very different fields like Jimmy Nail (actor) and Stuart Pearce (footballer).
The story develops on a day by day chronological basis capturing the initial euphoria of the band, their management and the label's A&R team upon signing, through to recording the Anarchy single and the very chancey circumstances of the band effectively substituting for their labelmates Queen on the "Today" show. This resulted in a brief but memorable drink fueled (presenter as well as band and fans) live tv interview that gave the band more newspaper coverage than they could have dreamed of over night but which ultimately brought about their untimely demise.
The final circumstances of the termination of the contract make fascinating reading 30 years on. An early morning call to an Amsterdam hotel room where the band played the night before with the announcement to the label's tour rep and Malcolm McLaren that EMI were ending the contract with a press release to be issued later that morning, despite nothing having been signed or agreed on regarding the terms of the split. 30 years later it seems, by current day standards, incredible that this could happen without a team of lawyers negotiating long and hard over the terms of the break up but it was, in so so many ways, another time and era.
The book concludes with the views at the time of the EMI staff who worked with the band as well as their views now with the benefit of over 30 years hindsight on the break up. The A&R team especially were worried that no new bands would want to sign with EMI (a worry that turned out to be needless) with the major ironies being both the Rich Kids (Glen Matlck's post Pistols band) signing to EMI later in 1977 and in 1980 Malcolm McLaren's new protegies Bow Wow Wow also appearing on the label.
For anyone interested in the music industry of the 1970s and/or the story of the Sex Pistols this book is an absolute must read.