3AM: You were about 23 when punk came along. When did you first hear about it and why did it appeal to you so much?
JS: Being a pop fan from the year dot: I was a teenager at the height of the mid-sixties pop explosion. Wanting to rock and there being no rock. The countdown to punk was very simple: Nuggets (1972) and Hard Up Heroes (1973) rekindled interest in the hard, mutated sixties pop that you could buy in Rock On [Ted Carroll's record shop] in 73-75 (ie Yardbirds, Kinks, Who, Them etc). Patti Smith's Horses. Charles Shaar Murray's article about the Ramones (November 75). The Ramones' first album (April 76). Television's Little Johnny Jewel.
3AM: I believe you were training to become a solicitor in 1975: did punk save you from a life of tedium like bank clerk Mark Perry, for instance?
JS: Yes. It enabled me ultimately to quit the law and enter the media -- another kind of hell but NOT that particular kind of hell.
3AM: Unlike Mark Perry, you graduated from Cambridge University. Did your social/intellectual background prevent you from feeling totally integrated within the new scene or, on the contrary, did it help you better understand its numerous influences and appreciate it even more?
JS: Um, I would have to say that despite the influence that those three years of University might well have had on me you would have to place 13 years of growing in Ealing and another 8 of being a teenager in Kensington and wandering around central London. I'm a west Londoner and was acutely aware of my pop-saturated environment. So for me NOT to be fascinated by Punk would have been stranger. Plus there is the emotional element (oh sorry, because I have a brain I'm not supposed to have any emotions) and I was TOTALLY pissed off, isolated and alienated, in 1976.
3AM: Why did you pick up a pen rather than a guitar? Did you ever consider forming a band?
JS: No, because to be in a band in 1977 was to go up and down the country in a van getting spat at. I don't think so. Plus I was working in the lawyers' office at the time and so was unable. Steven Lavers and I had a concept band called Para -- I was Para Noia and he was Para Normal -- but that's all it was. If I had been in the same situation 12 years later (like Bob Stanley of St Etienne) then I would have no doubt started tinkering around with samplers.
3AM: When did you start your fanzine London's Outrage? Were you directly influenced by Sniffin' Glue? What were your favourite fanzines?
JS: London's Outrage was done at the end of November 1976: went to see The Clash, saw The Sex Pistols, and did it in two days. I was highly influenced by Sniffin' Glue, Who Put The Bomp, Bam Balam, and, on the visual side, Claude Pelieu and John Heartfield.
3AM: Could you tell us about how you produced London's Outrage, how it was distributed and how many copies you sold?
JS: 50 copies xeroxed. 1000 copies printed. Distributed through Rough Trade -- the first one, I might add. All sold. London's Outrage 2 (all photos and montage set in Notting Hill, Ladbroke Grave and Notting Dale) -- only 50 copies xeroxed and sold.
3AM: I was surprised to discover that Sniffin' Glue actually had an office: did you also have a professional approach to your zine? Did you ever consider turning London's Outrage into a more commercial proposition like Jamming, for instance?
JS: No. I always disliked Jamming because I hated The Jam and the whole point of fanzines was to construct a new verbal / visual language, not to ape the existing music media. I also thought Sniffin' Glue lost its edge when it got 'professional'. Plus I thought Danny Baker was an idiot, unlike Mark Perry for whom I have great respect.
3AM: "Outrage" was a punk buzzword like "boredom" or "anarchy", but why exactly did you call your fanzine London's Outrage?
JS: It was already on the Sex Pistols' flyer (for the Notre Dame Hall gig) that I converted for the front cover. Easy.
3AM: In a TV programme a few years ago, you spoke of the influence of Sheperd's Bush on the Sex Pistols and of Notting Hill / Ladbroke Grove on The Clash: what impact did London have on the punk scene?
JS: Well, it started in London, didn't it? This is too wide a question. The answers are in England's Dreaming. The one thing I would say was that London was so decrepit that 15-25 year olds could leave home and squat or find cheap flats. Obviously, this is no longer possible.
3AM: What were the punk years like for you on a day-to-day basis? Did you hang out at Louise's [where the Pistols and the Bromley Contingent used to hang out] in the early days?
3AM: Were you a regular at The Roxy [London's first exclusively punk club]?
3AM: Did you shop in Sex, Seditionaries, Acme Attractions, Boy or Beaufort Market [all in London's King's Road]?
JS: Yes. In a way that was my introduction because I shopped in Acme and must have been to Sex before I heard the British punk groups. I didn't shop in Boy because I thought it was naff. My friend Poly Styrene had a stall in Beaufort Market so I used to hang out there.
3AM: Who were your favourite bands? Do you still listen to some of them today?
JS: Ramones, Sex Pistols, early Television, early Clash, The Adverts, The Buzzcocks, The Saints, Wire, Penetration, The Slits, Siouxsie, Subway Sect, The Prefects, X Ray Spex -- the distaff side. Still listen to them today, not all the time, but I still like the energy, the humour and the strong emotions. I HATED The Jam and The Stranglers: ghastly retro rubbish, old information. The point about punk was that everything should be new.
3AM: In London's Dreaming, you claim that punk's gay roots were hidden as soon as the movement went overground: how important were those roots?
JS: As important as they are throughout the history of popular culture and artistic movements: damn near central. Many of punk's original participants were gay and much of the original aesthetic was also. There is much about this in England's Dreaming. Gay involvement in pop culture is always downplayed, if not ignored by scared and insecure het boys who can't admit that much of what they love comes from queers. Well it does, so get used to it.
3AM: How did you graduate from the world of fanzines to the weekly music press, Sounds, Melody Maker and later The Face?
JS: Quick pick up of anyone on the scene who had a brain in early 1977: in my case, thanks to Dave Fudger and Vivienne Goldman. For the rest of it, read Paul Gorman's In Their Own Write.
3AM: How did you get on with other young, hip gun-slinging punk rock critics like Tony Parsons, Julie Burchill, Caroline Coon, John Ingham or Jane Suck?
JS: This is the bitching question, right? Pass.
3AM: Much of what you have written (on Joy Division, for instance, or the intro to The Manual) is punk-related: is it still very much an influence for you?
JS: Well, obviously. It's not like I'm sitting here with spiked up hair or bondage strides but I do not regret any aspect of my involvement with punk at all and despise those who, in order to achieve some illusory 'adulthood', deride their adolescent ideals. I think that successful adulthood depends on the INTEGRATION of youthful ideals with mature experience of the world.
3AM: Where does your obsession with pop culture (from Picture Post Idols to house music through The Kinks) come from?
JS: Being a sentient being with quivering antennae in early sixties suburbia. The Beatles hit hard, and then I saw the Kinks on the telly in summer 1964 and couldn't believe that boys could look like girls and make such an unholy racket. Compared to the other great option, sport, this mix of glamour and perceptual subversion was so much more attractive. Football: just a bunch of people in bad clothes running round in the rain getting shouted at. I still loathe sport culture, not the sport. I was 10 in 1963, so the whole parade of sixties pop was unfurled before my greedy eyes. I couldn't get enough of it.
3AM: How did you come to write The Faber Book of Pop with Hanif Kureishi?
JS: His idea. A good one, as it happens.
3AM: Did you like him as a writer?
JS: I liked Buddha, didn't like Intimacy at all. Ultimately, we both want quite different things.
3AM: Why do you think it took so long for punk to have an impact on British fiction?
JS: Because fiction always lags behind music. And because the literary 'scene' in England is SO vile. Example: when in 1975, I left university for the world, my guides were not Martin Amis or Ian McEwan, but Patti Smith and The Ramones. They told me all I needed to know, not the overhyped products of an incredibly small, and inward-looking clique.
3AM: Who are your favourite contemporary British writers?
JS: I don't think in these terms. All my reading is concentrated on my work which is at present located in the 1930's.
3AM: How did the British Film Institute's Never Mind the Jubilee punk season come about?
JS: I was asked by Hilary Smith (National Film Theatre Head) and I said yes. I knew most of the footage because of the research I'd done for ED and Arena's "Punk and the Pistols" programme.
3AM: What impact do you hope it will have? Punk is often seen retrospectively through the black and white photos of the music press: maybe these films will show how colourful it really was. It might also prove once and for all that there were no mohicans back in 77!
JS: Well that's a start! I think seeing beyond the cliches presented by lame thirty/fortysomethings (example: Never Mind the Buzzcocks -- a total travesty; another example, the super-straight Nick Hornby) is extremely important: punk was wild, outcast, vicious and protective at the same time. It wasn't boring, and it wasn't straight (I don't mean this just in terms of sexuality, but in a perceptual sense). It did not, initally, reinforce the dominant values. So if you're pissed off, you might pick up some tips. You might find a bunch of outcasts coming together curiously uplifting. There is, also, some great music there (and that's where I came into all of this). Otherwise: punk is dead. It was 25 years ago: half an adult lifetime. Bye bye.