Fascinating new account of punk's emergence as a fashion, musical form, attitude and aesthetic in Britain from 1976 to 1984. Matthew Worley reveals the ways in which punk was constructed, understood and utilised as a cultural medium against the backdrop of a 1970s Britain in deep social and political crisis.
Matthew Worley’s ‘No Future’ obviously takes its title from the Sex Pistols’ second single, ‘God Save the Queen’ which so spooked the establishment that it is commonly supposed that the official UK singles chart was rigged to prevent it reaching Number 1 at the time of Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in 1977.
Worley’s book covers the years 1976-1984 and - as indicated by its subtitle, ‘Punk, Politics and British Youth Culture’ - he is particularly concerned “to explore the extent to which the cultural spaces opened up and inhabited by British punk from 1976 informed and were informed by the wider socioeconomic and political environment of which they were part.” That is to say, he “seeks to determine the politics of punk as a musical form and youth culture.”
Worley faces three major problems in attempting to achieve this laudable aim. Firstly, there is the dizzyingly protean character of punk, which Worley seeks to address by defining punk “in its British context … in relation to people and cultural practices inspired or informed by the Sex Pistols.”
Secondly, there is the related problem that it is easier to say what punk was against than what it was for, so that “members of the far right saw punk’s swastikas and iron crosses as evidence of white youth becoming aware of their racial identity” at the same time as “some on the left saw in punk a formative expression of socialist protest.”
Thirdly, with John Lydon having sold out to become the brand ambassador of Country Life Butter, it’s difficult not to regard punk with a jaundiced eye as at best naïve and at worst as superficial as those ‘fans’ who would festoon themselves with safety pins and the other sartorial paraphernalia of punk in the toilets at the start of a gig and then revert to conventional clothing and accessories as soon as it was over.
Worley has nevertheless succeeded in producing a book which vividly recreates his chosen period and makes out a strong case “that there was something more than image and sales at stake” - that punk amounted to much more than just an attitude expressed with uncommon energy and venom.
Contrary to Johnny Rotten’s superb sneering vocals there was a future for Britain despite the dislocation attending the breakdown of the post-war consensus and it turned out to be not the future of punk’s dystopian dreaming. Punk is lucky to have in Matthew Worley an historian capable of rigorously analysing its times and distemper.