Last weekend, on the 40th anniversary of the release of the Sex Pistols’ ‘Anarchy In The UK’ single, a 48-year-old businessman in
a beret, pinstripe suit and natty cravat took to the River Thames and set fire to a vintage stallholder’s dream haul. An estimated £5 million worth of punk memorabilia was burned
to a crisp by Joe Corré, son of Sex Pistols manager and arch wind-up merchant Malcolm McClaren and iconic fashion designer Vivienne Westwood. The floating bonfire was
a response to this year’s establishment-endorsed
Punk London events staged everywhere from the British Library to the Museum of London – or, as the controversial Corré saw it, punk being “castrated and neutered by the corporate sector and the state”.
Reactions to this 2016 version of The Wicker Man (with fewer virgins and more pairs of Johnny Rotten’s old trousers) have been mixed to say the least, with many accusing Corré of acting like an arrogant, spoilt brat. But while it’s a crying shame that there are fewer Seditionaries T-shirts left in the world, it’s hard to deny that Corré’s media-baiting move was actually punk as fuck. Of course, many have said it might have been decent of him to simply sell the stuff and give the money to charity, but Corré – the founder of fancy-pants pants shop Agent Provocateur – is the son of the man who invented the modern publicity stunt. This was about more than money; this was about causing a scene and getting as many people as possible to watch.
I met up with Corré earlier this year when his plans were announced. He put forward a convincing case, arguing that punk was never about hanging onto artefacts and locking things up in museums for people to stroke their chins over. The very opposite of traditionalism, punk was a deeply DIY movement that anyone, anywhere – my 16-year- old mum in the wilds of Norfolk included – could join. “What was great about punk rock was that you didn’t need any clothes – all you needed was a packet of safety pins,” explained Corré.
When it comes down to it, Corré wasn’t burning the Magna Carta, just some bits and bobs of merchandise – highly valuable merchandise, but merchandise nonetheless. Of course, we’ll never know what McClaren would have made of it all, having passed away in 2010, but Corré certainly had the blessing of his mother, who was present at the burning and used it as a platform to speak passionately about climate change.
But let’s not forget that the greatest thing about punk, the filth and the fury aside, can never and will never be burnt. The music of the Pistols, The Clash, Siouxsie And The Banshees, Crass, The Damned, X-Ray Spex, The Slits, The Vibrators and all the bands they inspired isn’t going anywhere, no matter what stunts Corré pulls.