When the Sex Pistols crashed Queen Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee with an anarchic boat concert

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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.
Jon Savage

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Sex Pistols' Silver Jubilee
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Sex Pistols' Silver Jubilee
LONDON - JUNE 1977: English punk rock group the Sex Pistols aboard the Queen Elizabeth on the River Thames on June 7, 1977 during their Silver Jubilee Boat Trip. The group in teh centre of the shot are L-R Johnny Rotten (John Lydon), unknown, film maker Julien Temple (back to camera), artist and designer Jamie Reid, film maker Doug Smith and cameraman John Metcalfe. (Photo by Brian Cooke/Redferns)
LONDON - JUNE 1977: Steve Jones (centre) of the English punk rock band the Sex Pistols aboard the Queen Elizabeth on the River Thames, London, on June 7, 1977 during their Silver Jubilee Boat Trip. (Photo by Brian Cooke/Redferns)
LONDON - JUNE 1977: Steve Jones of the English punk rock band the Sex Pistols aboard the Queen Elizabeth on the River Thames, London, on June 7, 1977 during their Silver Jubilee Boat Trip (Photo by Brian Cooke/Redferns)
LONDON - JUNE 1977: Johnny Rotten (John Lydon) of English punk rock band the Sex Pistols being interviewed aboard the Queen Elizabeth on the River Thames on June 7, 1977 during their Silver Jubilee Boat Trip. (Photo by Brian Cooke/Redferns)
LONDON - JUNE 1977: Paul Cook of English punk rock band the Sex Pistols with manager Malcolm McLaren on the right, aboard the Queen Elizabeth on the River Thames, London on June 7, 1977 during their Silver Jubilee Boat Trip. (Photo by Brian Cooke/Redferns)
LONDON - JUNE 1977: L-R Steve Jones, Paul Cook and Sid Vicious (John Ritchie - 1957 - 1979) of English punk rock band the Sex Pistols aboard the Queen Elizabeth on the River Thames on June 7, 1977 during their Silver Jubilee Boat Trip. (Photo by Brian Cooke/Redferns)
LONDON - JUNE 1977: John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) singer with English punk rock band the Sex Pistols, with film maker Julien Temple behind him, aboard the Queen Elizabeth on the River Thames on June 7, 1977 during their Silver Jubilee Boat Trip. (Photo by Brian Cooke/Redferns)
LONDON - JUNE 1977: Paul Cook (left) and Sid Vicious (John Ritchie - 1957 - 1979) of English punk rock band the Sex Pistols aboard the Queen Elizabeth on the River Thames on June 7, 1977 during their Silver Jubilee Boat Trip. (Photo by Brian Cooke/Redferns)
LONDON - JUNE 1977: Thames River Police boats circle the Thames cruiser the Queen Elizabeth during the English punk rock band the Sex Pistols' Silver Jubilee boat trip on the River Thames, London, on June 7, 1977. (Photo by Brian Cooke/Redferns)
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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.
Jon Savage

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.
Jon Savage

As the band ferociously plowed on through "God Save the Queen," "No Feelings" and "Pretty Vacant," police boats encircled the noisy vessel.

17 PHOTOS
Queen Elizabeth II's 1977 Silver Jubilee
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Queen Elizabeth II's 1977 Silver Jubilee
The Queen talks to crowds of well wishers celebrating her Silver Jubilee in 1977. (Photo by � Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip on the North East Leg of The Jubilee Tour 1977 to celebrate the Silver Jubilee - A line of schoolboys enthusiastically applaud the Queen as she leaves Durham Cathedral (Photo by NCJ Archive/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip on the North East Leg of The Jubilee Tour 1977 to celebrate the Silver Jubilee - The Queen during a walkabout at Washington Recreation Centre (Photo by NCJ Archive/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip on the North East Leg of The Jubilee Tour 1977 to celebrate the Silver Jubilee - The Durham crowds have a special message for the royal couple (Photo by NCJ Archive/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip on the North East Leg of The Jubilee Tour 1977 to celebrate the Silver Jubilee - A hand pushed towards the Queen in Eldon Square with a small posy (Photo by NCJ Archive/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
1977: Livery-clad coachmen accompany the State Coach bearing Queen Elizabeth II on her Silver Jubilee. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II is greeted by crowds in London during celebrations of her Silver Jubilee, 7th June 1977. She is accompanied by the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Robin Gillett (right). (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The Queen is touring Scotland as part of her Silver Jubilee celebrations. 23rd May 1977 (Photo by Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip on the North East Leg of The Jubilee Tour 1977 to celebrate the Silver Jubilee - A hand pushed towards the Queen in Eldon Square with a small posy (Photo by NCJ Archive/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip on the North East Leg of The Jubilee Tour 1977 to celebrate the Silver Jubilee - The Queen with Sir Derman Christopherson, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University during her visit to Durham City. (Photo by NCJ Archive/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip on the North East Leg of The Jubilee Tour 1977 to celebrate the Silver Jubilee - greeted by children in Hartlepool (Photo by NCJ Archive/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
Lynn Tucker holding two mugs approved for sale by a special committee at the Design Centre, London, to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, 11th January 1977. At 75 pounds, the black basalt mug by Wedgewood is the most expensive to be selected (left). On the right is the cheapest, made by Burgess and Leigh. (Photo by Peter Cade/Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
A group of Fulham residents show their support for Queen Elizabeth II's twenty-fifth year of reign by waving enthusiastically under strings of banners. (Photo by � Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II greets crowds of wellwishers in Scotland , as part of Royal Jubilee Tour, HRH Silver Jubilee celebrations, Tuesday 24th May 1977. (Photo by MSI/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
FIJI - FEBRUARY 01: Queen Elizabeth ll arrives at an event during her Silver Jubilee Tour of the South Pacific on February 01, 1977 in Fiji. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)
June 1977: Queen Elizabeth II talking to well wishers in Camberwell during her silver jubilee year celebrations. (Photo by Graham Wiltshire/Getty Images)
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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.
Allan Jones

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.

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