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Mind my Fs and Qs. Dan Davies gets into the punk spirit with Don Letts


This year punk celebrates 40-years with a series of events across the capital as part of Punk London. In addition to exhibitions about the aesthetics of punk, there are plenty of gigs and film showings about the youth movements roots and legacy. Punk wasn’t solely concerned with smashing things up, the DIY independent spirit carried into all corners of culture.

As a London born rasta with a small clothes shop, Acme Attractions, on the Kings Road, Don Letts was more zoot suit than bondage-trouser wearing. But Joe Strummer and his band The Clash, saw a kindred connection with rebel music that had come before punk. Through weed-osmosis, politics and danceable baselines they gave punk more lyrical breadth and musical depth.

For Letts, hanging out with The Clash allowed him to indulge in his own independent development. He filmed and interviewed the band as they rose to international stardom and the resultant footage allowed him to punch through the film industry door. In August he presents Punk on Film at the BFI Southbank, a series of showings not only about punks but also the other parts of culture that clashed together at the time.

Despite all of this commendable work, I couldn’t resist the punk urge to challenge convention myself. I thought it might be a good idea trying to channel my 16-year-old self trying to be a 19-year-old Johnny Rotten in order to liven up an e-mail interview.

I asked Letts to imagine that every time I put something in quotes that I’m sneering my top lip and staring in a incredulous Rotten manner. Even putting the Lydon-butter to one side, there’s something delicious about the idea of the proto-punk teenager fixing a withering glare at punk as it heads into middle-age. Letts, it has to be said, confronts the questions head on and largely ignores that I’m being a dickhead. As with punk, confidence and ‘can do’ wins over cynicism.

Dan Davies: So punk is “celebrating” its fucking-ancient-bastard-40th, how does it feel to be a "dirty" old man?
Don Letts:
You’d have to ask one...

Dan: Do you reckon that if punk music is clean then you’re not doing it right?
I thought not doing it right was the point!

Dan: 40, it’s just a number innit? Rebel and roots music goes back much further. Who were the young punks that were “punk" before punk for you?
I’ll be showing my film 'Punk: Atttitude' at the BFI's Punk on Film in August - 'nuff said.

Dan: When Joe Strummer and the boys first turned up at Acme and started to “dig" your sound, what went through your head?
Who the fuck are these guys?

Dan: What do you think The Clash saw in reggae?
Rebel music with a wicked bass line (they didn't mind the weed either).

Dan: What did you think when Branson made that “Virgin flight” over to Jamaica and bought up all of those reggae and dub stars for Island?
Thanks for picking up my plane ticket and hotel Richard.

Dan: Yeah, I’ve seen your "Westway” film, will you be showing that in your “little” run of films at that B-Fucking-I cinema?
: It’s a rock n' roll parable with a kick ass soundtrack - of course I'm gonna show it.

Dan: You’ve got some of the classic punk films in your "little" selection but why Texas Chainsaw and Taxi Driver? There's only one “mohawk" in Taxi Driver...
Nothing comes out of a void - these are just a few of the films we were referencing back in the day - if you're looking at mohawks you're missing the point.   

Dan: It’s good that you're sticking up for "the girls" in your film selection, what do you think?
The 'girls' I know don't need sticking up for - sisters are doing it for themselves.

"Here to be Heard: The Story of The Slits" Full Trailer 2016 from Molasses Manifesto on Vimeo.

Dan: I haven't bothered yet but I’m “quite interested” in that “other film” you made 'Punk: Attitude', do you think that the punk look was useful to kick things off in this miserable conservative cunt-ry?

Don: It ain't about a look it's about an attitude - any fool can buy a look but you can't buy attitude (although you can accessorise!).

I made that film to show that punk is the birth right of all young people - it's not some weird anomaly that happened in the late 70's - it has a heritage and a tradition and if you're brave enough and you've got a good idea you can be a part of it to.

Dan: I went to watch Slaves the other day right, and no-one, fucking no-one had bothered. One of the support twats on stage were in their fucking pyjamas. Does it matter that they don’t have "the look"?
Don’t know about 'the look' 'cause I don't know what that is - where I'm from its about 'style'.

Dan: I “enjoy" your “little” radio show on "Radio 6” - moving away from "just guitar bands" - who have you been listening to recently that you think carries the punk spirit?
Since you've been listening to my Culture Clash Radio show on BBC6 Music you should know - for those that don't, you now know where to go.

Dan: Given the fact that we’re sliding back to a similar political mess that was so “popular” before punk came and smashed it up, who do you think will man the barricades on the lyrical front?
The brave and the foolish.

Dan: Do you have any advice for the young cunts?
Draw fast, shoot straight and don't hit the bystanders (metaphorically speaking of course).

Dan: Do you have any advice for the old fuckers?
Don’t trust anybody under thirty!

Don Letts


Don Letts presents Punk on Film at BFI Southbank
August 2016 - details to be announced soon!

Punk London
runs throughout 2016