On This Day in 1977: Sid Vicious uses a bicycle chain very irresponsibly

Wednesday, June 15, 2016
On This Day in 1977: Sid Vicious uses a bicycle chain very irresponsibly

40 years ago today, one of the most infamous incidents in the all-too-short life and times of Sid Vicious took place within the walls of a legendary London punk club.

Having spent the initial months of 1976 slowly but surely building up their reputation as one of the premier punk bands in London, the Sex Pistols found themselves returning to the famed 100 Club in London for the fifth time. At this stage of their career, Glen Matlock was still the band’s bassist, but the aforementioned Mr. Vicious was very much one of the Pistols’ regular hangers-on, and he was hanging out with them that very night.

Also in attendance for the band’s performance: Nick Kent, a rock journalist of some note at that point, thanks to his work in New Musical Express. A few years earlier, however, Kent had become acquainted with Malcolm McLaren, and while he was spending time with McLaren, he played a few songs with an embryonic lineup of the Pistols –one prior to Johnny Rotten entering the mix – and reportedly helped shift the band’s musical template away from the Small Faces and toward the Stooges and the Modern Lovers. (Mind you, Kent’s the one who reported it.) Kent also spent some time in a relationship with Chrissie Hynde prior to the forming of the Pretenders, but per Hynde’s remarks in Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming, he had a problem with jealousy, one which ultimately led her to leave the UK for Paris…ah, but that’s a story for another time.

That night at the 100 Club, things were tense between Kent and the Pistols, a situation which Lydon indicated in his autobiography, Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, was due to Kent having spent no small amount of ink making disparaging remarks about his status as the band’s singer. “He apparently rehearsed with the band sometime before and told people I shouldn’t be up there,” wrote Lydon. “Then [he] would constantly slag me off in the press, so when he turned up at our gigs, I would have something to say to him along those lines. Maybe the discussion continued and was pursued by Wobble and Sid.”

(The Wobble in question is Jah Wobble, who would go on to become a member of Public Image Limited. But you probably already knew that.)

The moment that still lives in infamy 40 years later began when Kent – who had come to the club with Howard Thompson, A&R man for Island Records, and Michael Beale, the graphic designer for pub rock heroes Eddie and the Hot Rods – found himself in a position where Vicious was standing directly in front of him.

“I tapped him on the shoulder and I said, very careful: ‘Could you move over?” Kent recalled in England’s Dreaming. “Sid immediately pulled his [bicycle] chain out. He made some remark which he thought was insulting like: ‘I don’t like your trousers.’ The guy next to me immediately makes a motion towards Vicious and then pulls his knife out and he really wants to cut my face. Years later I find out his name is Wobble. This was a real speed freak, and this is when it got very unhealthy. I remember putting my hands up and not moving a muscle, and then Vicious tapped him on the shoulder and he disappeared immediately. It was all set up: Vicious then had a clear aim and got me with the bike chain.”

Wobble was remarkably dismissive of the incident with Kent in his conversation with Savage (“Sid wasn’t a rucker, but he lashed him with a chain and then I had a go, but we were just mucking about”), and to be fair, even Kent himself admitted that it wasn’t painful, just really, really bloody. Still, it was an incident which is perpetually cited in nutshell retellings of Vicious’ life story, and if you enjoy a good ironic ending for the events that took place 40 years ago today, here’s one that’ll make your day: Vivienne Westood, McLaren’s significant other at the time, came up to Kent after the violence had concluded and said of Vicious, “Oh God, that guy’s a psychopath. He’ll never be at one of our concerts again, I promise that!”