On Originality

These days it’s possible to fill a great many column inches on social media posts by wanging on about just how terrible everyone else’s material is. I know this because my most popular articles have been the ones where I’ve picked a fight with some blowhard in a public forum.

Now, this is all very well, but it’s becoming a bit tired. It’s like being a stand-up comedian and trying to entertain an audience by pointing out that most other comedians are rubbish and then copying their material anyway.

Back in the 1980s, you got an easy laugh for saying that Thatcher was a mad old bat. Right now you’ll get a laugh for pointing out that that leader of the free world moves policy on Twitter sitting with his trousers round his ankles in a White House toilet.

Funny? Maybe. Original? No.

At some point, you have to take the lead and put material out there that isn’t knowing, safe and self-referential. Stuff that will get attention on its own merit.

Brits of a certain age will remember the Sex Pistols appearance on the Bill Grundy show in December 1976. Few of us actually saw it live because it went out on Thames Television for a London audience and if anyone tuned on the day they were expecting to see Queen. What they got was John Lydon, Glen Matlock and Steve Jones ably supported by Siouxsie Sioux flushing Grundy and his show down a whisky-soaked toilet. With the benefit of 42 years of hindsight, if you look at the clip now, it’s Grundy who was the offensive oaf – he propositioned Sioux on-air and lost control of the situation by being an arrogant jerk. It’s as if the Pistols and the Bromley Contingent had a time machine and went back from now to the late ’70s.

There’s a nearly as notorious 1979 episode of Jukebox Jury in which John Lydon treats Noel Edmonds in precisely the same way we all treat Noel Edmonds now – just 40 years before anyone else.

I realise now, because I am no longer 13, that to an extent the Pistols were a manufactured boy band. Who wannabes with clothes by Vivienne Westwood and managed by a man, Malcolm McLaren, who knew what he was doing having honed his craft with the New York Dolls. However unlike the dross churned out by “Strictly the X-Factor Voice”, McLaren abetted by Lydon, for a few glorious months produced music and a nascent culture that was genuinely both subversive and frightening for the establishment, this wasn’t three-minute happy tunes and daringly slightly long hair.

As acts of sticking two fingers up at men in suits “Anarchy in the UK” and “God Save The Queen” are masterpieces. “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols” is as influential an album as you’ll ever find. That said, “God Save The Queen” was kept off the number one position in the charts by Rod Stewart who was pretty tired in the summer of 1977 and is still droning on with his mildly homoerotic hits. Innovation has never been a guarantee of commercial success.

So what? Does all this mean that Ivor’s lost it and like a drunk middle-aged man at a dinner party is going to embarrass his partner by telling the host that her choice in music is crap before throwing up in plant pot?

Well, no, or at least not just yet.

I have thought for a long time that riffing off other people’s ideas positively or negatively is lazy. Actual original thought is rare and clearly controversial. The stuff that was said by people about Lydon at the time was far worse than anything he said about them.

Am I going to produce some a punk headhunting business? Dear god no.

But, here’s the point.

To do well, to deliver on your promise, you have to be able to think so far outside the box that you can’t see it without a powerful telescope. Merely copying other people and making stylistic adjustments will make you a living (it explains the Osmonds for instance), but to change the world requires a level of vision and bravery beyond most of us.

Me? I’m not brave enough to frighten the horses, but am I surrounded by hordes of others doing things, er, my way? I think that there are things that I do in my trade that might not perhaps have the mass appeal of Cliff Richard but will make the world a better place for those who might be persuaded to listen.

Posted on: 17th July 2019 by Ivor Campbell

Into his fourth decade of search Ivor has a voice with stories to tell, observations to make and the odd picture to share. Mostly related to the day job.

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