Wednesday, September 27

The year Queen Elizabeth II became a punk icon

Elizabeth II’s silver jubilee happened in 1977, the quintessential punk year in the UK. But perhaps it should be said the other way around: punk emerged in 1977, among other reasons, also because of the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the reign of Elizabeth II. Her face, and the face of punk, would be hybridized forever.

Fred Vermorel, Sex Pistols biographer: “As much as people wish it, punk will not repeat itself”

Know more

Jamie Reid, as artistic director of the Sex Pistols, is to blame. At that time he was 30 years old. He was older than the group his friend Malcolm McLaren managed, and he also knew what he was doing when he photocopied the queen’s face and scratched out her eyes and mouth, replacing them with words cut from other sites that read “GOD SAVE THE QUEEN” and, below, “SEX PISTOLS”. That decollage was used on the single cover God Save The Queen / Did You No Wrong published by Virgin in May of that legendary year. There was no literal insult in that illustration, no obvious criticism. Her feat was simply putting the queen there, right at that moment, and pasting the name of the group on her mouth. She blinded her gaze with the words of her own hymn. A wilder version, created by Reid, shows the same image of the queen with a safety pin between her lips and swastika trails over her pupils. (The eye buttons-swastikas would reappear in a more recent work by Jamie Reid on Trump’s eyes). In an indirect way, the elements that censor the face of the queen are calling for the abolition of the monarchy. “God save the queen, he is not a human being,” the lyrics of the song say.

A few minutes before the death of the Queen of England is known, this newspaper gets in touch with John Merchant, Jamie Reid’s gallery owner and custodian of his archive. At that moment, they are together. Before asking any questions, Merchant cautions: “I can guess what the interest is. Jamie simply says ‘no comment’. A little later, Reid adds a somewhat longer message: “Come on. Get over it. New Horizons”.

In 1975, England lives with an inflation rate of 26%. Although in 1977 it has already dropped to 15% and economists explain that the country is recovering from the crisis with a policy of “salary moderation” and spending cuts, the punk youth, with Jonny Rotten and the others at the head, They think there is no future. Taking advantage of such an important moment for British society as the jubilee – which has been celebrated again in 2022, this time in platinum – Reid covers the queen’s eyes to denounce that she does not look at what is happening on the street.

how it was done

Reid used, flipped, a photograph by Peter Grugeon taken two years earlier by one of the queen’s official portraitists, who died in 1980. The artist cut it out of a February 6, 1977 issue of the Sunday People, collated under the slogan “Nice Work By A Nice Lady.” of a good lady). She was, without a doubt, the most recognizable image of the queen: smiling, crowned, bejeweled.

The words were cut from newspapers and, in addition to the urgency and reuse of other materials, the message also brought a memory to ransom notes from kidnappings.

At 286 Portobello Road there was a sheet metal shop called Better Badges, opened a year earlier by Joly MacFie and would be used by all punk bands to make badges. There, MacFie had an old copier, a process camera which Jamie Reid used to create the lithographic plate with which to reprint the image.

This is how the first originals were created and one of them was selected for the cover of the 7” vinyl single. When the graphic arts workers who had to print the copies of the cover received the commission, they were offended by the use of the image of the queen, according to the documentation kept by the Victoria and Albert Museum, and initially refused to print it. History, however, would prove him wrong and that cover, that image, is probably the great symbol of the punk movement. In fact, in 2001 the prestigious —but now defunct— magazine Q chose it as the best album cover of all time.

Reid put the illustration to various uses, aside from the single cover, which was printed in blue. he created flyersposters for the interior of a later album release, a design on the Union Jack flag in color, and even printed t-shirts in 1977. Variations were made by pasting on the queen images of teacups, potted roses, the aforementioned swastikas—a symbol frequently used by punk—and a knife. The image appeared everywhere, including a campaign on buses to promote the departure of the single.

Not long ago Jamie Reid learned that his name appeared in the files of MI5, the British Security Service. Due to this work, they had classified him as a “traitor” and studied whether they should accuse him, him and the others involved in the image of the single of the Sex Pistols, of disloyalty to the Crown. By 1981, the established art structure had already assimilated punk and Victoria and Albert Museum bought his collection of designs for the Sex Pistols for a thousand pounds.

Who is, as far as anyone can tell, Jamie Reid

His art gallery defines him as “an iconoclast, anarchist, punk, hippie, rebel and romantic.” He is, in short, an icon of agitprop, the artistic political strategy of agitation and propaganda.

Jamie became interested in the Situationist movement, created by Guy Debord, while studying Fine Art at Croydon. Later, he traveled to Paris following the path of the Situationist International and in search of neo-anarchists, with the good fortune that the trip happened in May 1968. And there he was with another student friend of his, Malcolm McLaren, who took note of everything and later he would become manager of the Sex Pistols and instigator of a lucrative but oppositional movement. On his return, Reid and McLaren encouraged supportive protests in Croydon, a suburb of London ravaged by political corruption and property developers. Which gave them foot for their campaigns.

In the few months that the Sex Pistols were active, Jamie lived with Sophie Richmond in London, the secretary whose indispensable diary is part of God save the Sex Pistols, Fred and Judy Vermorel’s book. She joined the project Reid created with two friends in 1970, the fringe publisher Suburban Press.

Reid has always been dedicated to activism and has campaigned against, for example, a community tax that was neither progressive nor proportional to the citizen (the Poll Tax). In a recent campaign against British Heritage, which he said in an interview “represents everything conservative and the worst of English history”, leaving out a “story untold and unrecorded”, he painted Boris Johnson as a Roman emperor, Trump as a cowboy and Putin as a czar. In addition, he has made posters for Occupy London, Pussy Riot or the climate emergency activist group Extinction Rebellion. But he also worked in the music industry and created designs for Dead Kennedys, Boy George or Transvision Vamp.

Jamie Reid has an important spiritual aspect and dedication to nature, which he has delved into in his most recent works, which runs in his family. His great-uncle was George Watson MacGregor Reid, socialist, trade unionist, and… druid. Reid is also inserted within this neopagan practice and one of his latest works is a project consisting of some 700 works based on the Druid calendar.