Apple Films One of the great questions about this week in music history isn't…
- Posted on Nov 12th 2010 4:30PM by James Sullivan
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While hardly a household name, were it not for the late Warwick Alan Nightingale, punk might have taken a very different path. Though he's seldom credited, the unsung, fatally pleasant Nightingale was the original guitarist in the group that would become the Sex Pistols.
It was Nightingale who persuaded two schoolmates, Steve Jones and Paul Cook, to form a band. He played guitar. Cook was the drummer; Jones sang. It was 1972, years before punk.
The band called itself the Strand, after Roxy Music's 'Do the Strand.' They went through several transient members, including Cook's uncle, who played bass, and a conga player named Cecil.
Jones, an incurable kleptomaniac, found some purpose in the group for his compulsive behavior. "Instead of nicking cars," Nightingale told a magazine called Rock Compact Disc in a rare interview a few years before his death, "I got him to nick equipment." Jones allegedly stole gear from several of his idols, including Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood. When David Bowie was finishing up his Ziggy Stardust phase with a run at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, Jones and Nightingale slipped past a snoozing security guard and stole the entire PA system.
By then, Jones was hanging around Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood's infamous clothing store in King's Road, then known as Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die (later renamed Sex). After badgering McLaren, who once managed the New York Dolls, to give his group some direction, Jones finally got the eccentric impresario to attend a rehearsal. Though McLaren left unimpressed, he did introduce the group to another regular customer, Glen Matlock, who soon became the bassist.
Shortly after the struggling lineup changed its name to the Swankers, Nightingale was abruptly dismissed from the group he'd founded. He was, according to McLaren, simply "too nice" for the band the manager had in mind. True to form, Nightingale was so shocked that he said nothing. He even went out for a beer with his ex-mates after their rehearsal.
Just six months after Nightingale was dumped, the soon-to-be-notorious Sex Pistols debuted with Jones on guitar and a new singer, a leering provocateur named John Lydon, at the microphone. When Nightingale attended one of the band's early gigs, his former bandmates acted as if he didn't exist.
"After I left, Steve and the others slagged me off in the music press really badly," Nightingale recalled. "I never really knew why. I never did them any harm."
Coincidentally, Nightingale's sole legacy with the Sex Pistols was a song that would appear as the B-side of the group's second single, 'God Save the Queen.' It was titled 'Did You No Wrong.' Nightingale, despite his efforts, received no money or acknowledgment during his lifetime for his part in the song's creation.
"I never got paid a penny for it," he claimed. After years supporting a heroin habit with petty crime, Nightingale died in 1996, on the eve of the Sex Pistols' 'Filthy Lucre' reunion tour.