04 May 2020

BLOG: The day the Sex Pistols played at Abertay

BLOG: The day the Sex Pistols played at Abertay

A close up of a drum kit

Ruaraidh Wishart is an Archivist at Abertay University. He is part of the Abertay 25 project, delving into more than a century worth of history. 

When I’m asked about what I do as a job, I always feel the need to clarify “I’m an Archivist”, with another statement: “not an anarchist”. I don’t have a natural tendency to spread chaos wherever I go (although some people might disagree…), but because the words “Archivist” and “anarchist” sound vaguely similar. It also happens to be one of the terrible jokes that are popular amongst our profession.

There is of course another reason for introducing you to bad archival humour, and that is that it neatly introduces another Abertay First that was discovered late last year, relating to a rather famous band in the 1970s.

It had been a long few days going through newspaper cuttings looking for references to our association with jute. A job like this is always interesting when you make discoveries, but it can be tiring sifting through the more mundane articles looking for relevant material. However, this sort of work sometimes produces surprising discoveries that have the danger of leading you off on a completely unrelated track. This turned out to be one of those days.

I turned page after page through the 1976 section, making the occasional note, taking the odd photograph, and then turned over to see this headline in a cutting of 2 December 1976 from the Evening Telegraph:

“Caird Hall Violence Feared: TV Shocker for Rock Group Booked for Dundee”

The first question in my mind was that this subject bore no apparent relation to the work of the Dundee College of Technology (now Abertay University). Why cut the article out and file it with our other cuttings? So I read on.

The article opened up reporting on an interview of the notorious punk rock band The Sex Pistols on ITVs “Today” programme the night before. Their appearance turned out to be equally notorious, with the presenter Bill Grundy goading the band to “say something outrageous”, prompting several expletives (unheard of on TV in those days) and a subsequent place in the history of broadcasting and punk rock history.

The public was outraged. According to the Telegraph, “One man was so irate he kicked in the screen of his £300 colour [TV] set.” The next morning Dundee District Council announced they would be looking into arrangements for the band’s future concert in the Caird Hall on 16 December, over  fears that violence might break out.

The organisers, the Dundee College of Technology Students Association, stated that the previous performance by the band at the College on 12 October had not been offensive. They thought there would be little chance of violence in the Caird Hall and intended to go ahead. However, the agreement for the booking also involved the owners, Dundee District Council, and it decided to cancel the booking.

So what this means is that Abertay University is the site of the Sex Pistols first and only gig in Dundee! A fact confirmed on the band’s official website.

This wasn’t the only rock concert the Students Association organised in its history. An article in an earlier students magazine of 1970 proudly made the following statement:

A former student also got in touch with us reminiscing about his time on the Students Representative Council, saying “All the top bands in the 50s played at the 'Hops' in the room immediately to the right after coming up the outside stairs and through the doors [of Old College].”

The evidence suggests our students have a proud history of organising concerts by up-coming top bands in the country going right back to the 1950s. We’d love to know more.

Do you have any memories and stories from gigs you were at, or involved in organising at the University or its predecessors? Or were you in a student band yourself, playing covers or writing and performing your own music?

We’d love to hear from you, and to see any photos or memorabilia that you might have. If you’d like, you could record some audio or video telling us your musical memories of Abertay.

Please contact archives@abertay.ac.uk to let us know your story.

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