Malcolm McLaren was a student at Goldsmiths in the late 1960s and spent his time there perfecting the skills as a cultural provocateur that he was later to put to use as the manager of The Sex Pistols. In 1969 he had his first go at ‘the Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle’ when he advertised a summer free festival at Goldsmiths with claims that Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones and John Lennon were ‘awaiting confirmation’. Naturally they didn’t turn up, but thousands of people did. The local paper reported the event with the headline ‘Free festival, free beer, free shambles’ and made much of the presence of ‘dolly birds’ and ‘girls [that] seemed to strut about with an ‘I’m groovier than thou’ expression’. There was some music, including ‘Local folk singer and guitarist Gordon Giltrap’ and ‘local folk trio the Strawbs’ (Kentish Mercury 10/7/1969). A debate featured radical psychiatrist RD Laing, the Scottish writer Alexander Trocchi and others, as recalled in this critical account:
In his book, ‘Lipstick Traces: the secret history of the 20th century’, the US music critic Greil Marcus makes a great deal of the influence of the Situationist International in the conception of The Sex Pistols. The SI was a revolutionary organisation whose highest point came in the May 1968 uprising in France, when Situationist-inspired slogans such as ‘take your desires for reality’ and ‘beneath the paving stones the beach’ appeared on the walls.
Malcolm McLaren and Sex Pistols sleeve designer, Jamie Reid, were on the fringes of the English pro-situationist group, King Mob. Whether the Sex Pistols represented the application of the situationist critique of culture, as Marcus would have it, or its recuperation as a money-making exercise is open to question - I would say a bit of both. But what’s all this got to do with New Cross? Well living in New Cross in the late 1960s was one Fred Vermorel, a friend of McLaren’s who had been in Paris in 1968. In his book ‘Fashion and Perversity: a life of Vivienne Westwood and the Sixties laid bare'’ he writes: ‘I introduced Malcolm to situationism at the 36 bus stop, just outside Goldsmiths College in Lewisham Way. Goldsmiths was where he had enrolled in October '68 in his continuing quest for a grant. I produced two copies of the SI magazine... Malcolm reacted in the way many others did. He was nonplussed and irritated, yet anxiously excited'.
I don't believe McLaren ever lived in New Cross - I think he was living with Vivienne Westwood in the Oval and then Clapham in this period - though Fred Vermorel told me that Malcolm was a frequent visitor to his flat in Jerningham Road.