Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Sex Pistols’ Paul Cook

Does Rock N Roll Kill Braincells? - Sex Pistols' Paul Cook - NME interview

Name the actor who plays you in the 2022 Sex Pistols TV biopic Pistol.

“I’ve got that one – Jacob Slater. He’s got his own band, Wunderhorse, which I’ve been to see.”


“During filming, I went down to the set and ran through a few songs with him to give him some tips. He did a pretty good job overall. I’ve only just started watching the series properly now – I needed to give it time to let it sink in. After the court case [where Cook, along with fellow former Sex Pistols bandmate Steve Jones, sued John Lydon to allow the band’s music to be used in Pistol], it was all a bit raw and I couldn’t watch it, but having finally seen a few episodes, director Danny Boyle’s done a great job. There’s a bit of artistic licence going on – it’s a drama, not a documentary, which a lot of people can’t get their heads around.”

You helped Bananarama record their 1981 debut single, ‘Aie a Mwana’, and acted as a producer on their first album, 1983’s ‘Deep Sea Skiving’. But what is the name of the song that Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren wanted them to record?

Now we’re talking! Was it something a bit sexual like ‘Don’t Touch Me Down There, Daddy’?”

CORRECT. Unsurprisingly, they turned down his suggestion.

As if they were going to do that! That’s so Malcolm! I didn’t realise he was going to try to get involved with them, but they rejected him straight away. But they took the right course, didn’t they? They recorded a cover of [Black Blood’s] ‘Aie a Mwana’, which I helped produce, and got a recording contract off the back of that, and now hold the record for the most singles to chart by a girl group ever. We used to hang out in the same clubs and they didn’t have anywhere to live, so we invited them to move into the Sex Pistols’ old rehearsal room in Demark Street, London. When [Cook and Jones’ post-Sex Pistols band] The Professionals would be rehearsing downstairs, they’d come and do some backing vocals. Pretty wild times!”

What did the rest of the Sex Pistols think of Bananarama’s cover of ‘No Feelings’?

“I don’t think they heard it. That was recorded for the soundtrack of a film called Party Party, and it was a quirky, weird, mad-sounding version.”

Name any two of the aliases the Sex Pistols used during their 1977 ‘The S.P.O.T.S.’ tour.

“Now you’ve got me! I remember it was all advertised as ‘The S.P.O.T.S’, which stood for ‘Sex Pistols On Tour Secretly’, but everybody knew who was playing so it was just the usual chaos! [Laughs].

WRONG. Your fake guises included Tax Exiles, Special Guest, Acne Rabble, The Hamsters or A Mystery Band of International Repute. That was when you were the most notorious band in the UK and couldn’t tour under your own name because your gigs would be shut down…

“In the maelstrom of it, it felt weirdly normal. On the [1976] ‘Anarchy…’ tour, we were going around on a wing and a prayer, turning up to cities and finding that gigs were cancelled. There was press and police following us around. Looking back, it’s bizarre that we managed to survive it all. It was getting heavy and dark on the last American tour going round Southern states, playing cowboy towns where audiences were throwing pig ears and rats at us alongside the usual bottles and cans. Sid [Vicious, late Pistols bassist] was out of control and the band was breaking up before our eyes. We had police with us at the side of the stage, undercover police following us around and the label had hired two ex-Vietnam vets as our security guards to look after us, and we were trying to escape from them. That all culminated in Sid nearly killing himself in San Francisco [in 1978] and that’s when we broke up originally. We just thought: this can’t go on, it’s getting out of control and someone is going to die. That’s when I personally felt enough is enough.”

The Sex Pistols’ 1980 mockumentary, The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, was played at the wake of which Salford-born frontman? (Clue: his band formed after attending Sex Pistols’ famous 1976 Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall gig)

“It wasn’t Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, was it?”

CORRECT. What was it like doing that movie?

“It wasn’t a great time for me. The Pistols had split up [in 1978] and Malcolm was trying to hold it all together and finish off this film that we started. John wasn’t interested in doing it at all, and it ended up as a mish-mash of ideas put together. Malcolm fell out with the director Julien Temple towards the end, and he wiped his hands clean of it. It was a very messy end to the Sex Pistols, and I just remember thinking, ‘This is going off in the wrong direction’. We were holding it together to fulfil a contract. Despite everything, a lot of people still like it.”

You played on Johnny Thunders’ 1978 debut solo album ‘So Alone’. What is the Sex Pistols diss track on that record called?

“’London Boys’.”

CORRECT. It’s a retort to the track ‘New York’ from ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols’, which attacked Thunders’ band New York Dolls.

“Yeah, he was pissed-off about ‘New York’ where John [Lydon] slammed the New York Dolls for some reason. Me and Steve really liked the Dolls, and I think John’s hatred was all to do with Malcolm managing the Dolls a little bit. It was pretty funny playing on Johnny’s response to it. He was having a go at us while we were playing it, stopping singing to shout at us while we’re going, ‘OK Johnny, get it off your chest mate!’ [Laughs]. That was a great experience. He had so many guests on there – us, Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott, The Only Ones’ Peter Perrett and Chrissie Hynde – then ironically called the album ‘So Alone’!”

According to Steve Jones’ autobiography, Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol, which pop star’s grave did he allegedly piss on while on tour with The Professionals?

“That’s the King of Rock ‘N’ Roll himself – Elvis.”


“He can’t remember himself if he did or didn’t [do it], and I didn’t go to Graceland with him on that day, so can’t verify it! [Laughs] Imagine if he got caught doing that down there!”

How did The Professionals compare to Sex Pistols?

“Originally with The Professionals we were looking to get a singer, but that didn’t happen – trying to find a singer to follow in the iconic footsteps of John [Lydon] was tough. So Steve swapped over to guitar/vocals which he wasn’t happy about, but it worked and we got our first line-up together. It was a lot more relaxed: all of the madness had gone from the Pistols, and we had a good run with The Professionals until that all imploded [in 1982] after one album and a tour of America – again! – with Steve going off the rails. I thought, ‘Here we go again! Story of my life!’ So that broke up. Steve stayed in the States after the second tour there. That was the end of The Professionals, until I revamped the band with a new line-up a few years ago. We had a lockdown-recoded album ‘SNAFU’ out last year, which is amazing for me because I’ve always been in bands that split up after one album!”

What is the name of the fictional band you play in in the 1982 movie Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains?

“Ooh, I’ve got that one! The Looters.”


“That was a weird experience. They wanted me, Steve and Paul Simonon from The Clash to do this film as The Looters, with Ray Winstone as the singer, who collide with a girl band The Stains – who were loosely based on The Slits. We thought, ‘Let’s try it’, but we thought it was a bit cheesy when we started filming. It’s now got a cult following from people who think it’s kitsch and funny.”

When Goldie supported the Sex Pistols at Brixton Academy in 2008, how much money did he collect in coins that had been tossed on-stage by your angry fans?

“[Laughs] Did he?! He was totally the wrong support band for us – he was playing loud, deafening drum ’n’ bass. Let me find his number! Is it cheating if I phone him up to ask? Let me guess – £50?”

WRONG. He claims to have made £97.38p

“Well, he did all right there! That was probably more than we got paid per gig! [Laughs] I don’t know why fans feel the need to do that. It’s the legacy of punk where everybody thought they had to spit at everyone or hurl bottles of piss, or throw up all over the place. We never went around doing that stuff, but the press perpetuated that myth and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

You drummed on Edwyn Collins‘ ‘A Girl Like You’. Which chart position did it reach?

“Was it Number 2?”

WRONG. Number 4.

“I was on tour playing with Edwyn when it was released, and every week we were seeing it climb the charts. It’s a great single which put Edwyn back on the map, which he fully deserved.”

Who once paid between £6,000 and £12,000 (according to differing reports) to review the Sex Pistols’ 1996 reunion gigs for NME?

“Is that Alan McGee?”

CORRECT. After NME editors refused to let the Creation Records supremo review Sex Pistols’ 1996 Shepherd’s Bush Empire gig, he bought a full-page advert in the magazine to print it. In his glowing paean McGee enthused that he stood with Noel Gallagher, who told him the Sex Pistols were “better than us”, and concluded by saying: “Britpop? More like Shitpop. You’re welcome to your mediocrity. The band are our alternative Royal Family.”

“Well, that’s very generous of him! That’s a glowing review!”

What do you remember about that 1996 reunion?

“It started off great. The timing was right, and it was a great opportunity to play live and do things properly with less chaos. But then a lot of old resentments came up between band members along the way, and it deteriorated slowly over the course of a year. It wasn’t much fun towards the end. Everyone had a sense of humour bypass and it was all a bit uptight. I was glad when all that finished.”

Is there any chance of another Sex Pistols reunion in the future, or have too many bridges been burned?

“No. There’s absolutely no chance of that happening. I wouldn’t want to do it anyway, especially after the Pistol court case last year, which was a shitshow. Being in the High Court was the last place I wanted to be, with guys in wigs grilling you. It was a horrible experience. I would have preferred to have worked it out down the pub with a couple of pints. I think we’re too old to be singing ‘Anarchy In The UK’ at our age anyway. [Laughs] It wouldn’t feel right!”

Now that a line has been drawn under the Sex Pistols – any regrets?

“One of my big regrets with the Pistols was not doing a second album. We could have made another great album, even with Glen [Matlock, original Sex Pistols bassist] gone [and] when Sid was in the band and all over the place. When we got back together in ’96, we should have tried it then – we did start coming up with some ideas, but John wasn’t enthusiastic about it and it didn’t come together. It’s a shame.”

The verdict: 7/10

“That’s pretty good. I should go on Mastermind with the Sex Pistols as my speciality and earn a few bob!”

The Professionals play at 229 in London on December 19

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Gary Ryan