I turned 62 last week and my only dilemma was what’s an old punk supposed to wear on the big day.
This might seem a strangely adolescent problem for someone getting free bus travel and a fast pass to the hernia clinic but I remain ready to drown in my shallow belief that surface is depth.
In the end I settled for a t shirt featuring two naked cowboys, a direct copy of the beauty I wore exactly 45 years ago when I discovered punk in 1976.
Then, it’s fair to say it wasn’t only the cowboy’s Stetsons that were at jaunty angles. The looks of disapproval made the wearer feel like an ambulatory bad smell.
Time hasn’t lessened the impact of such blatantly uncompromising imagery.
Vivienne Westwood designed this t shirt to be provocative, and it certainly was – so much so that one of her shop assistants was arrested for wearing it and charged with obscenity.
The recalcitrant, rebellious 17- year- old me knew that particular garment was controversial.
But naked cowboys, the Queen with a safety pin through her nose and Anarchy in the UK deconstructed Union Jack flags still seemed perfectly acceptable clothing to wear while packing surgeon’s gloves in a dead-end factory job on Dunsinane Avenue.
1976 was the summer of punk and I was a fully spiked up, early-doors member of the club.
Punk idols no match for a Dundee mum
That year I had gone to London on a family holiday and wandered the length of the Kings Road with my mother asking workmen where she could find Sex.
This wasn’t the action of a liberated Scottish woman.
Sex was actually Vivienne Westwood’s Chelsea clothes shop, where the punk A- list hung out.
A pilgrimage there was an essential part of acquiring the sartorial correctness needed should you want to elevate yourself beyond Dens Road Market peg- leg trousers and a Harris Academy school blazer slashed to purple ribbons of puerile punkitude.
I felt no shame when my mum barged into Sex, knocking Jordan – the imperiously glacial assistant, known as the fifth Sex Pistol – from her position guarding the door.
After all what could be more punk than a Scottish flame-haired mother striding into the palace of punk cool only to announce loudly that the clothes were disgusting, and walk out again?
The fact that t shirts were £5 and bondage trousers £35 was deemed even more outrageous than the actual designs.
Which is saying something when the first thing Mum picked up was a muslin shirt featuring a stencilled pair of breasts – which Westwood herself helpfully noted looked best worn by a man.
Reader, I was that man.
This was a long way from Burton Menswear and, to use her favourite phrase, my mother was black affronted.
In no way would her beloved son ever be going out dressed like that.
She ended up paying for two t shirts, a pair of bright pink trousers, a pair of brothel creeper shoes and a shirt with a target over my heart.
X-rated to XL but still a punk at heart
The funny thing about these memories is that 45 years have passed, my Mum is no longer with us and my t shirt size has gone from an adolescent small to a wobbly dad down the disco large.
The world has changed immeasurably.
I’ve had a career which has seen me go from being deemed unemployable to working with some of the biggest and best musicians and artists in the world.
I’ve made money, bought houses, moved to France, returned to Scotland and stumbled through a life that seems to have happened despite the lack of any recognisable ambition or even a plan.
And, at 62, I’m still proud to be a punk.
Punk was never about spitting and being violent.
It wasn’t about safety pins through the nose or sniffing glue or attacking the Queen.
Those became totemic symbols of the movement but only when it became assimilated by the media.
Punk, for me, was about freedom and, as such, Quentin Crisp and Oscar Wilde were just as much punks as Johnny Rotten.
Nicola Sturgeon can sometimes be very punk.
Punk values still guide me today
Punk taught me values and attitudes that remain with me today.
The fluidity of punk – sexually, socially, culturally – came from an early scene which was resolutely ambisexual, multi- cultural and gender-balanced.
Punk women were strong, assertive and didn’t need men to give them affirmation.
As such they became figureheads of a movement that would redefine sexual politics for a generation.
This was a time when mainstream media still portrayed women and gays as second-class citizens.
Racism, misogyny and homophobia provided the backdrop for many popular comedy shows.
The working classes were kept firmly in their place at the bottom of a hierarchical system. It’s still in place today.
The Establishment ruled, as they do now.
But punk gave us the belief that people have some power, a feeling I still have today at a time when many of us have never felt so powerless.
— DUA LIPA (@DUALIPA) July 3, 2021
The real punk spirit isn’t Dua Lipa ripping off Siouxsie Sioux’s image for a photo shoot.
It’s Oscar Wilde again, writing: “Disobedience in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been made, through disobedience and rebellion” in The Soul Of Man Under Socialism.
Power remains in our hands
Punk taught me to dig in hard and fight the good fight, for the good of what’s right.
For me that means remaining defiantly anti- establishment, questioning everything and believing in our collective power to change the world.
I try not to do things I don’t want to do whilst making sure my actions and choices don’t impact negatively on others.
I still believe in defiancy and dissent.
That’s punk and we need it now more than ever.