Culture

Rare photographs from Sex Pistols’ infamous Caerphilly gig up for auction

06 Nov 2021 8 minutes Read

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David Owens

Photographs taken at the infamous Sex Pistols’ gig in Caerphilly are up for auction and expected to fetch several thousand pounds.

The gig has now passed into the annals of punk folklore for the protests that took place outside The Castle Cinema on Tuesday, December 14, 1976.

Religious protesters thronged the gig, outraged that this ‘vile group who intended to corrupt their children’ were playing in their town.

It was the perfect preparation for the firestorm that was to follow the punk legends around.

Local church leaders and councillors queued up opposite the venue to condemn the Pistols as morally corrupt and a terrible influence on the youth of the day.

The Sex Pistols, Caerphilly, December, 1976 (Credit: Dave Smitham)

While churchgoers sang hymns and Christmas carols a crowd drawn by curiosity rather than anarchy trudged into the gig.

“It was so small and silly, singing hymns and hoping God would strike us dead. It was ridiculous,” Pistols frontman Jonny Rotten would comment. “There were barely 200 people in the hall. There were 500 outside singing Hosanna in the Highest.”

The Sex Pistols were playing the town as part of the infamous Anarchy In The UK tour alongside The Clash and Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers.

Caerphilly was silly

Less than half of the planned 20 dates went ahead as the Pistols were banned from so many venues.

“It was a good precursor though to when we first came to America,” Rotten said. “The Texans, when they religiously demonstrate against you, they’re doing it with guns.

“So when I remember that I look back fondly at Caerphilly. Caerphilly was silly.”

Now a collection of wonderful images taken by Welsh photographer Dave Smitham at the show are up for auction.

The auction, with specialist rock ‘n’ auction house, Omega Auctions features a set of 22 original photo negatives, depicting the Sex Pistols and support acts The Clash and Johnny Thunders on stage, as well as the crowd during the Caerphilly date on the ill-fated Anarchy In The UK tour.

The auction listing reads:

The images depict the Sex Pistols in full colour, and were taken on 14th December 1976 by local photographer and fan David Smitham who remembers the gig well:

“The little valleys market town braced itself for the arrival of riotous punk hordes. No chance of a pre-gig pint – all pub doors were locked and windows boarded up in anticipation of mayhem. Hastily-scrawled signs directed regulars to back door entrances. “Having survived… demonstrating carol singers, the few who turned up… shivered in a ragged queue. From the opposite car park, against the backdrop of Caerphilly’s ruined 13th century castle, a vengeful Pentecostal preacher spat fire and brimstone, threatening eternal damnation to those who dared watch the spawn of Satan.”

Similarly to the Manchester Free Trade Hall concerts of the same year, the Caerphilly concerts were also important to cultural development in South Wales and would inspire attendees Steve Strange of Visage fame and Chris Sullivan who would later open influential nightclubs Hell, St Moritz and The Wag.

The images are offered with full copyright. The photographs have an estimate of £2,000 – £2,500.

You can view the auction listing HERE

The Sex Pistols, Caerphilly, December, 1976 (Credit: Dave Smitham)

Dave Smitham on The Sex Pistols Anarchy Tour gig in Caerphilly

“So, you Mummies and Daddies let you come to see us …” sneered Johnny to his audience slouched in faded crimson cinema seats, “WELL GET OFF YOUR FUCKING ARSES – AND FUCKING DANCE!” In a gloomy side aisle, a youthful Steve Strange commenced a desultory pogo throttling his mate as the Pistols slammed into their next song / the front rows gathered to pose menacingly before the low stage.

Early December 1976 the Anarchy Tour was in ruins after city councils across the land reneged on their contracts – in direct consequence to tabloid outrage at the Pistols’ tea-time television exposure. Unperturbed by Cardiff’s Top Rank cancellation, local promoter Andy Walton hastily rearranged the Anarchy gig a few miles out of town at Caerphilly’s Castle Cinema – a privately owned venue he’d previously used for small-scale Welsh bands. Led by churchmen and town councillors, a heated campaign in the South Wales Echo to ban the concert ensued – but the gig survived, thanks in no small measure to the Castle Cinema’s elderly lady owner who refused to be bullied by Caerphilly’s worthies.

Like a scene from a spaghetti western – the little valleys market town braced itself for the arrival of riotous punk hordes. No chance of a pre-gig pint – all pub doors were locked and windows boarded up in anticipation of mayhem / hastily scrawled signs directed regulars to back door entrances.

Having survived a gauntlet of demonstrating carol singers, the few who turned up to the 1930s white-painted Cinema shivered in a ragged queue. From the opposite car park – against the backdrop of Caerphilly’s ruined 13th century castle, a vengeful Pentecostal preacher spat fire and brimstone, threatening eternal damnation to those who dared watch the spawn of Satan.

Willing to shell out a few quid for a Tour t-shirt or poster? No chance – no promotional stalls were to be found in the Cinema foyer! Valleys punks and the curious gathered themselves in the cinema’s front seven rows – row upon row of empty seats tiered to the back of the unheated seedy auditorium, a more cautious few made it to the safety of the upstairs balcony. A subdued buzz preceded the Clash setting up. In marked contrast to the anticipated mayhem, everyone was exceedingly well behaved – these were the days before appreciative gobbing. Punk garb was in rare evidence – some zips and safety pins, some graffitied (Army and Navy Store surplus) fatigue jackets, definitely no mohicans … but one exotic Merthyr punkette in black plastic trousers and pink t-shirt.

The Sex Pistols, Caerphilly, December, 1976 (Credit: Dave Smitham)

“One, Two Three, Four!” A gob to the left from Paul Simonon / a huge wave of abrasive electric noise, and the Clash opened the evening with a twenty minute rush of three minutes songs. Joe Strummer sported a hand stencilled Social Security £9.70 green shirt. Mick Jones displayed a ‘Red Guard’ armband – Paul Simonon wielding his Pollock paint dripped bass. Don’t ask me what they sang, I couldn’t make out any lyrics with vocals barked like angry dogs … and all delivered with Ramones intensity, so much faster than on their first album.

The Heartbreakers appeared next (the Damned of course had been thrown off the Tour), and between each set, a DJ played reggae from the central aisle. In the interval before the Pistols took to the stage, I shared the Gents with Johnny Thunders – pissing next to a legend!

Thirty years on – my strongest memories of the Sex Pistols performance was brain numbing noise … and a clear sense of threat from the stage – never before or again experienced at a concert. Dressed in a black bondage suit festooned with pins and zips, Johnny shambled up to the microphone – and although he never left the stage, his implied menace contravened any agreed barrier between performer and audience.

The Sex Pistols, Caerphilly, December, 1976 (Credit: Dave Smitham)

You felt any moment he might leap into the stalls and threaten physical violence! The entire band were amazing, and Johnny was a mesmeric frontsman – in a class of his own / he commanded attention. Between songs he leered from the microphone and abused, heckled and threatened his audience. Songs were spat out with a vitriol that exceeded the car park preaching. The Pistols set will have consisted of most of what was to be Never Mind the Bollocks and the early covers.

I left the cinema as the Pistols went into their second encore – the last train to Cardiff left around 10:30. My ears buzzed from the noise assault all through the next day – it wasn’t until a full thirty-six hours later that my hearing returned to normal!

No nostalgia or boasting intended, but I still feel extremely fortunate to have participated in this event … sitting in the sixth row of a small cinema experiencing the Clash, Heartbreakers and Sex Pistols live for a mere £1.75!

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Mike Thomas
Mike Thomas
23 days ago

I was 16 at the time and just getting into the punk scene. I would have loved to have gone into to the gig but one of my very religious neighbors and her church were protesting outside and I was scared she would tell my parents, ha, ha. Went to loads of punk gigs afterwards mind you, mainly in the Top Rank in Cardiff Queen street and the Stowaway club on Stow hill in Newport.

Keith Griffiths
Keith Griffiths
22 days ago

Sounds pathetic now but my dad wouldn’t let me go. I was 17 at the time and lived around the corner. My ‘local’ pub, the ‘Boars Head’ was next door.

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