On Feb. 6, 1977, Queen Elizabeth II celebrated the 25th anniversary of her accession to the throne, kicking off a year of festivities: her Silver Jubilee.
Not all of her subjects were keen to celebrate the monarchy, however. On June 7, at the height of the celebrations, a rented river boat, the Queen Elizabeth, shoved off from Charing Cross Pier carrying writers, artists, a film crew — and the Sex Pistols.
The punk band had just released their second single, "God Save the Queen." The boat trip was organized by manager Malcolm McLaren as a provocative promotion for the new record and a mockery of the royal river procession planned for two days later.
The cruise began placidly enough, as Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, Paul Cook and Steve Jones milled around drinking beer and chatting.
Imagine being stuck on a boat for three hours with people you don't like, taking speed, the weather is shit and police are surrounding you – it must have been an absolute nightmare. But they gave voice to what a lot of us were feeling – that England was dreaming.
The atmosphere on the boat was paranoid and claustrophobic, but also very exciting. They were by far the best I ever saw them that day. You can't beat the Sex Pistols, jubilee weekend, "Anarchy in the UK," outside Parliament.
As the Queen Elizabeth lazily made its way up and down the Thames, passengers drank and partied on the dance floor.
The tension slowly rose as the evening went on and the sun went down. At last, the band took the stage for sound check, feedback shrieking from the speakers.
Without bothering to resolve the sound issues, they launched right into "Anarchy in the UK" as the boat passed by the houses of Parliament.
It's like they've been uncaged – the frustration in not being able to play bursts into total energy and attack. Rotten's so close all you can see is a snarling mouth and wild eyes, framed by red spikes.
As the band ferociously plowed on through "God Save the Queen," "No Feelings" and "Pretty Vacant," police boats encircled the noisy vessel.
The power was cut and the boat returned to the pier as police argued with McLaren and Virgin Records founder Richard Branson, who had signed the rental.
The band grabbed their equipment and slipped away as the scene at the dock descended into mayhem.
I remember ranks of police were thundering up the gangplank. McLaren stumbled and got to his feet and rather dramatically raised a clenched fist and shouted: "You fucking fascist bastards," at which point he was dragged off, beaten up, arrested and thrown in a police van.
McLaren and several members of the band's entourage were arrested as the passengers scattered into the night.
"God Save the Queen," seditious lyrics and all, went on to hit No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart.