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Anarchy in Aberdeen? Sex Pistols artist Jamie Reid reveals north-east links in final interview

Jamie Reid told The Press and Journal about all things anarchy, politics, art and his fond memories of Aberdeen two months before he died.

Sex Pistols artist Jamie Reid and the cover art for God Save The Queen.
Jamie Reid is taking part in Nuart 2023. Image: John Marchant Galleries.

His controversial art is known all across the globe – from piercing the late Queen’s lip with a safety pin to Nazifying Donald Trump with swastikas.

Provocative and unafraid to speak his mind, Jamie Reid was no stranger to scandal and used his creative voice to send shockwaves through the status quo.

The British artist and anarchist will remain in history as the man who came to define the punk rock music scene of the 1970s with his iconic artwork for the band Sex Pistols.

But more so, as the one who was never afraid to challenge the norm and rise against political issues.

Whether made specifically for Sex Pistols or as a separate piece, Reid’s work was always witty, ethically motivated and unabashedly rebellious.

Image: John Marchant Gallery.

On Tuesday, the punk artist died aged 76 – leaving behind an enormous legacy.

And as millions mourn the loss of the legendary Jamie Reid, we look back at his final interview, as he planned a typically controversial display in Aberdeen.

As you will see, he remained defiant to the very end.

We took a deep dive into the artworld, political beliefs and controversial opinions of Jamie Reid:

  • Reid revealed a surprise personal connection to Scotland and how he created his first ever artwork for the Sex Pistols in the north-east.
  • He explained what drives his artworks and where he stands on current politics.
  • Refusing to mellow with age, he told us his work now was “more relevant than ever”.

First ever Sex Pistols artwork printed in Aberdeen

Almost 40 years of Reid’s work was splashed on the city’s Crooked Lane in June as part of the Nuart street festival.

This was a “spiritual homecoming” for him after nearly 50 years, having had his big break in Aberdeen in the mid-70s.

Sex Pistols – ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ and ‘God Save the Queen’ record covers. Chunk of Punk exhibition at the Barbican, London. Image: Shutterstock.

Speaking to us, Reid didn’t hesitate to proudly say “he is Scottish” as his dad is from Inverness and a DNA test recently confirmed he is actually 70% from the north-east.

“It’s a little Deja Vu for me with Aberdeen,” he told The P&J. “It’s unbelievable really…the first image that I ever did for the Sex Pistols was here in Aberdeen.”

Reid was living on the Isle of Lewis at the time, working for the left-wing weekly newspaper West Highland Free Press whilst involved in community politics.

One day, he received a telegram from legendary music manager Malcolm McLaren – a friend he had made at Croydon Art School – asking him if he could do the artwork for a new band.

The first artwork for the Sex Pistols was printed in Aberdeen. Image: Jamie Reid.

On his way back to London, Reid stopped in Aberdeen to print an idea at Peacock Press – and just like that the first ever poster for the Sex Pistols was created.

Little did he know at the time that while this particular piece would never be used, it would pave the way for the legendary work that would define a generation.

Jamie Reid: ‘My work is more relevant now that it’s ever been’

His signature newspaper-cutting graphics in the style of a ransom note have become synonymous with the spirit of British punk rock music.

Reid’s most iconic artwork for the Sex Pistols includes God Save The Queen, Pretty Vacant, Anarchy in the UK and Never Mind the B******s, Here’s the Sex Pistols.

These are just some of the prints and posters covering the wall on Aberdeen’s Crooked Lane as part of a big montage collage of his work.

Jamie Reid's cover art for the Sex Pistols' single Anarchy In The UK.
Vivienne Westwood exhibition at the Palazzo Reale in Milan, Italy, in 2007. Image: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Shutterstock.

Although different, they are all driven by the same beliefs instilled in him by his politically active family – social justice, love for nature and rebellion against aristocracy.

“I believe that you can actually change things,” Reid said. “It is possible.

“People might go in for the nostalgia but they will also see how my work can be overly political and slightly spiritual. It’s more relevant now that it’s ever been.”

An artwork of political agitation

Political activism has always been the driving force behind Reid’s art, having created his ransom note style while running the radical political magazine Suburban Press.

The fire in his belly burnt strong until his final days – with his latest work partly inspired by the connection he had formed with a radical group called Eat the Rich.

Reid was never shy to express his opinions, saying “there are some weird things happening at this time, politically. It’s such a strange time”.

In disbelief of recent shock revelations about the SNP, he admitted he has always been pro independence and was full of praise for Nicola Sturgeon.

Staying true to his punk nature, he said: “She [Sturgeon] brought about stability in Scottish politics and now it’s just gone overnight.

“I loved the way she stood up to that public school a******e Boris Johnson.”

Reid never turned Scotland down’

The artist closed off with regret that he wouldn’t be able to attend the Nuart festival in person due to his declining health.

With a slight giggle, Reid said that if he was 10-20 years younger he would have moved to Scotland – “but Liverpool is not that bad either”.

Artwork by Sex Pistols artist Jamie Reid.
Image: John Marchant Gallery.

And when he was approached to join the world-class line-up of artists gearing up to “rewild” Aberdeen for Nuart, he didn’t have to think twice.

He said: “I’ve never turned Scotland down. I love it here.

“However, the rewilding theme is close to my heart.

“When I think about all that we have done to this planet in the last 300 years, it’s beyond belief. Maybe it’s too late. Maybe the planet will decide humans are bad news.”

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