The spirit of the Sex Pistols

The Sex Pistols stood together
Dennis Morris
Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 6 July 2022

The first time I saw the Sex Pistols was in a tiny little cabin in London. I knew right away that they were special – they were electrifying onstage. I hadn't been as excited about a band in a long time. The first song I heard was Anarchy in the U.K. It was extraordinary - disruptive, powerful, and like nothing I had ever heard before. I immediately wanted to sign them to Virgin Records.

You may have seen the Sex Pistols story in Danny Boyle’s new TV show. The Sex Pistols were signed to EMI at the time, but quickly dropped due to their controversial behavior. They then signed with A&M Records. Bassist Sid Vicious celebrated by trashing A&M’s offices and so they were dropped by that label too after just one day.

A black and white image of the Virgin Records store front

When they finally got to us, they had earned quite the reputation and we were the only ones eager to work with Johnny Rotten (John Lydon), Sid and the rest of the band (Steve Jones, Glen Matlock and Paul Cook). We signed them to Virgin Records in 1977 and I’m very glad we did - they helped to transform Virgin Records into what became the biggest independent record label in the world.

Some of our adventures together have become the stuff of legend. From being arrested for selling Never Mind The Bollocks and winning an infamous court case, to sailing down the River Thames during the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, there was never a dull moment.

One person on the boat with us was my friend Dennis Morris, a celebrated photographer. Shortly after The Sex Pistols played God Save The Queen, the police raided the boat and caused complete chaos (you can read more in my blog post about it). Before that happened, Dennis took this photo of The Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McClaren with me and Joan – that brought back some memories.

Dennis Morris
Dennis Morris

It is included in Dennis’ new exhibition, in collaboration with street artist Shepard Fairey. Called SID: Superman Is Dead, it focuses on some of his most famous photographs of Sid Vicious. The exhibit, at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Wall of Fame in London until 15 July, features photographs from that party that really capture the moment. The exhibit also includes a recreation of the Chelsea Hotel room that Sid destroyed – I’m glad we didn’t have Virgin Hotels in those days!

It’s been fun looking back at Dennis’ photographs from the Sex Pistol’s heyday. He even took the first official shots of the Sex Pistols upon their signing to Virgin Records, at Johnny Rotten’s request. Sid was at the heart of it all, a true punk rocker who really encompassed what was happening in the music scene during those years. But he could also be a smart and gentle young man, who every now and then turned up on my houseboat for a chat. Dennis did a wonderful job at capturing Sid’s spirit.