Ex-Sex Pistol and Beverly Hills resident Steve Jones talks to Jason Holmes about the imminent boxset re-release of the album that changed the landscape of popular music on its release in 1977
"I've always been proud of Never Mind The B*******,' says Steve Jones. 'When it came out, it reflected the dissatisfaction British youth felt for the country, the Establishment and the recession of the day. But it's funny how it's all come about again. It's a similar time now, with people experiencing financial hardship and job losses. It's weird how we're kind of back where we started."
Never Mind The B*******, Here's The Sex Pistols was released in October 1977 on Virgin Records and immediately caused controversy. As the only official album released by The Sex Pistols while Johnny Rotten was a member of the group, it was a musical assault on the perceived hypocrisy of the British Establishment.
When asked how he thinks Never Mind The B******* has stood the test of time, Jones enjoys a long pause. "It's hard to say" he says. "All I know is that when we recorded it we intended it to be a work of art. We never made it to make money. We were naïve. We had the songs written. It is what it is."
And what it is is a record which, for this reviewer, possesses perhaps the most insightful line ever written by a British band. Amid the cacophony and punk anger on the song God Save The Queen, Rotten sings the line: "There is no future/In England's dreaming". The Sex Pistols saw the future. Saw then how the UK would fail to come to terms with the end of Empire and would stagger culturally moribund into the vacuous age of X Factor, with Union Jack bunting still in place, and successive gurning royal couples taking turns to forever wave at the masses from the balcony of Buck House.
Never Mind The B******* resonated with British youth and peaked at number 1 on the UK albums chart in 1977. "There is a pureness in the record" says Steve. "We did it as teenagers, and that pureness still comes across. We had no agenda when recording it other than to be able to say what we wanted. And we managed it on one album."
Who came up with the title? "Me" he says with a laugh. "It was something that a lot of people used to say back then in London, on a working class level. There were also these guys who sold hotdogs in Piccadilly Circus who'd use it too. One day I heard them saying it, and it just stuck in my head, and I thought that that would one day be a great title."
When talking of the current music scene in the UK, he's dismissive. "It possesses no threat and there is no movement like there was in 1976. Everything is nice and packaged and lovely. But I wish there was a movement now. I wish, in a way, we weren't talking about what we did 35 years ago because there should be some new kids who are causing a stir now. It's pretty much the same in the US and everywhere."
Steve, of all people, must know how to right the wrongs the music business has committed upon itself in pursuit of profit. I tell him that Alan McGee is considering re-establishing Creation Records to give a kick up the music industry's arse: "Well, good luck to him. It's a lot different now compared to what it once was."
"In '77 there was no internet, there was no Twitter or Facebook, and I think that, without being some old git who hates anything new, people's attention spans are too short. Back then you had Top Of The Pops and Melody Maker, and you had to make the effort to go to a show so that you absorbed the culture of music. Now you go click click click and you're onto the next thing.
"I mean, I like the convenience of being able to listen to something new by downloading things from iTunes, but the downside is that things are too available. People are no longer discerning."
Steve raises his voice, a bit of the old punk rage perhaps asserting itself again after all these years. "You had to work to go and see a band back in '77, had to get off your arse and go to a gig, and then go to a record store to purchase the product. There was a lot more work involved. Now it's just mindless consumption."
Never Mind The B******* changed everything. Never had a record served as such an affront to the musical mainstream, nor has one since. The re-released boxset comes as a timely reminder that the music business today barely has a pulse. It truly is a blast from the past.
Does he still see the other Pistols? "None of the band really talk anymore" he says. "I call Johnny on his birthday, but we don't really talk a lot. The only one I talk to every few months is Cookie [Paul Cook]."
Steve has been living in California for 30 years, longer than he ever did in England. "I haven't lost my accent. I dunno why, but I'm in good health. I've been doing some acting of late and I've got a radio show here in LA where I play new music on Sunday night on KROQ [radio station]."
Does he miss Blighty where he's looked upon as a survivor of an era that saw some of his contemporaries fall by the wayside early on? "I miss the pie and mash shops," he says quickly, food on his mind.
"The Sex Pistols was a part of my life. Just a small part. I was 57 on 3 September and I've definitely slowed up a bit, but I'm well.... Heinz 57, my friend!" he jokes. "I still like to play the guitar, but I rarely have anything to do with the music business these days. I mean, there is no music business anymore, is there?"
Is he married? "...nah, leave it out," he quips. "I've been sober now for 21 years. I don't smoke, I don't drink. I live in Beverly Hills. I don't want to live in a council flat in London just so I can make a few trainspotters happy, you know?" he says, still aware of his west London roots.
With his place in the rock history books a special one, how at peace is he? "I am who I am, man, and I'm not hiding behind any image," he says. "That was then, and this is now...and then you die.
"I just want to be true to myself" says Steve finally with a small sigh, a man at ease beneath the blue Californian skies.
LP cover courtesy of Universal Music UK: photograph of The Sex Pistols and a policeman by Barry Plummer; photograph of Steve Jones on the Jubilee boat party in 1977 by Dave Wainwright
The super deluxe boxset of Never Mind The B*******, Here's The Sex Pistols is released on 24 September through Universal Music UK