Reissue CDs Weekly: Sex Pistols | reviews, news & interviews
Reissue CDs Weekly: Sex Pistols
Reissue CDs Weekly: Sex Pistols
Another outing for the seminal ‘Spunk’ bootleg
Sex Pistols: Spunk
For an album that was never meant to be widely available, what’s become known as Spunk has had a surprising afterlife. The bootleg Sex Pistols album first became available in selected shops around three weeks before the release of Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols, the band’s debut album proper, issued on 28 October 1977. Knowledge of Spunk’s existence was pretty instant as the weekly music paper Sounds wrote about it that October, as did the monthly music magazine Zig-Zag the following month.
Never Mind the Bollocks was less an album, more a greatest hits set. The A-sides of all four singles the band had issued to date were included, which meant "Anarchy in the UK", issued on 26 November 1976, was almost a year old. As a single, “God Save the Queen” had hit the shops on 27 May 1977. The tracks heard on the album had been recorded at various sessions in October 1976, March, April-May, June and August 1977. Whatever its undoubted merits, Never Mind the Bollocks did not capture the moment and was hardly in keeping with the lightning speed at which British punk rock moved.
Spunk was different. Obviously pressed by persons unknown as a spoiler for Never Mind the Bollocks it, in the main, drew from two recording sessions. The first five tracks on Side One were recorded in July 1976 by the band’s soundman Dave Goodman at their rehearsal studio in Denmark Street and mixed at Riverside Studios the same month – the same group of recordings also spawned “I Wanna be me”, the B-side of “Anarchy...”. Side Two drew from January 1977 sessions with Goodman at Gooseberry Studios which were mixed later that month at Eden Studios.
'Spunk' had a verité lacked by 'Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols'
All the tracks bar one were recorded when the band were without a record contract: either before they signed with EMI in 1976, or between EMI ditching them and before their short liaison with A&M. The rights to all these tracks were not held by a label. The version of “Anarchy…”, Side One’s closer, had been produced by Goodman as a potential debut single in October 1976 but was rejected. Sex Pistols had signed to EMI on 8 October 1976, and this version was recorded shortly after the ink on the contract had dried. Unlike Never Mind the Bollocks, Spunk was not only sequenced chronologically in order of the recording dates, but was largely dedicated to two sets of individual sessions. This had a verité lacked by Never Mind the Bollocks.
The bootleg was clearly not meant to be a mainstream release, but was nonetheless first issued on a bonus CD with a 1996 reissue of Never Mind the Bollocks and then initially released as a stand-alone CD release in 2006. This new vinyl-only version was issued to coincide with Record Store Day 2015, comes on white vinyl and is limited to 2,500 copies. A black-vinyl edition is out on 7 August.
Appropriately, considering the album’s irregular history, reissues of Spunk have modified how it was originally presented. Spunk was not the title of the album, but the name of the band supposedly heard on the bootleg, a play on the words Sex Pistols and punk. Originally untitled, the album came in a plain white card sleeve. In time, the untitled bootleg has become known as Spunk by Sex Pistols. It was manufactured at Lyntone, a legitimate north London independent pressing plant, and presumably mastered and prepared for production by someone close to Sex Pistols with access to Goodman’s tapes. The imprint it came on was named “Blank”, and the image on the label was of a joke gun firing a flag upon which was written “Bang!” (pictured left). Their then label Virgin probably didn't share the joke.
Back in 1977, the band’s identity was barely hidden. Some songs which had been issued by then were retitled for the track listing: “Anarchy…” as "Nookie"; "I Wanna be me" as "Just me"; “Pretty Vacant" as "Lots of Fun". “God Save the Queen” appeared as “No Future", the title it was composed under. "EMI" was retitled “Who Was It", perhaps to put Sex Pistols' former label off the scent. But the subterfuge hardly mattered as the album was instantly covered in the music press.
Its continued availabity is double-edged. While it is good to have this essential part of Sex Pistols' history for purchase, the release does not represent how it was originally presented. As well as the after-the-fact sleeve seen above, the original labels are not reproduced.
The original bootleg was a rougher, spikier and more impactful listen than the reissueAs for the music, what’s heard is raw, very much more so than Never Mind the Bollocks. The early “No Feelings" is hugely more energetic than the originally released version, and the January 1977 "No Future" (i.e. "God Save the Queen"), while not fully formed, is a blast from start to finish. For the few people who saw the Sex Pistols’ Glen Matlock line-up live, this must be an accurate representation of their unfettered power.
With the sound, there is one caveat. While the mastering is good and not too biased towards the high end (it is clearly from a digital rather than tape source), a comparison with an original pressing of the bootleg reveals that remixing must have taken place before it became the sell-through item of today. Paul Cook’s drums are louder than on the original, and the sharper edges of Steve Jones' guitar have become rounded. Johnny Rotten’s vocals have been brought back in the mix. The original bootleg was a rougher, spikier and a consequently more impactful listen.
Perhaps Goodman’s original tapes are out there somewhere. And perhaps, at some point, the so-called Spunk can be reissued in a form which represents what was heard in 1977.
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