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David Belcher launches his new weekly column in conversation with Johnny McRotten of the Scottish Sex Pistols

''PETER EASTON wrote a great story about us in The Herald the last time, just before our first gig.

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You'll have to be good to do a better one than his, yuk-yuk-yuk.''

Yes-indeedy, I think to myself, turning my perplexed gaze on Johnny McRotten's mocking orange hair, cockily-implausible pallor, and bird-like frame. Six months after their debut, the Scottish Sex Pistols continue to pose awkward challenges for a nation's press, their most troubling question being: ever had the feeling you've swindled yourself, scribbler?

In the past fortnight, you see, the band have experienced the full wrath of Europe's music media following their part in the infamous re-staging of an infamous event: the Sex Pistols' boat trip down the Thames in 1976, a drunken punk-rock serenade of the House of Commons which ended prematurely amid multiple arrests and police heavy-handedness. Two weeks ago the Scottish Sex Pistols -- the tribute band designed to subvert the tawdriness of every other tribute band -- were whisked to London to waive the rules of seamen once more, thus heralding the launch of a new Sex Pistols compilation, Kiss This (on Virgin).

Three hundred journos turned up, fully expecting the original Sex Pistols to have re-formed. ''Instead, they got us. They were most pissed off. We've been wonderful tabloid-fodder up until now, but when the Melody Maker lost a planned centre-page spread on the boat trip, they ran a little picture of me with the caption 'some sad Scottish puckwit with no life.' That's the voice of a person who's been bitterly disappointed.''

Despite the Scottish Sex Pistols doing their best not to disappoint by valiantly upholding punk-rock tradition -- all interviews conducted in character, employing Sid-style grunts and Rotten's caustic whine; beer poured over an MTV hackette's #600 Armani suit when she complained that the band weren't very threatening; a Fleet Street snapper in tears at the destruction of his #2000 camera -- it's been open season on the McPistols in particular and tribute bands in general ever since.

''Yeah . . . 'Those bastards from Scotland -- how pathetic they are.' I'm not keen on tribute bands, either -- but in a recession people aren't overly ready to pay money to see bands they don't know well. It's sad, but a reality.

''I have to admit that what we're doing is depressing, too, but at least with us people get unpredictability. Bjorn Again make lots of money by taking the piss out of themselves, which is fine -- but they do it with the same show and same audience reaction every night.

''Our gigs are always different, our audiences a bizarre mix. I always have a good look because I need to spot the bottle-throwers, and on Sid McVicious's side it's usually all women; my side's bampots, and Steve McJones's is bewildered people. You get nineties neo-punks, and '76-style ones wearing authentic slice-of-toast ear rings. Plus there's loads of original old punks in suits who've come straight from work.''

Speaking of which, you met original old Johnny Lydon in his current working clobber of Flamengo F. C. shirt plus long leather overcoat, with sewn-in goggles in its hood, didn't you?

''John was supposed to pop in the night before and tell us what to do, before having a beer and then going off to do whatever spokesmen-for-a-generation do of an evening. Instead, we spent eight hours running up a #750 drinks bill and arguing about football. He's an Arsenal fan, rabid. I told him Arsenal were a shower of shit, and the English Premier League was a Mickey Mouse set-up respected solely by xenophobic English commentators . . . he went mental, which was a surprise. 'So you're into football violence,' he said to Paul McCook, and Paul said 'No, but I like a good fight.' That shut him up.

''It was OK after he'd sussed us out. 'Right, let me see you do Johnny . . . aaah, he's blushing,' he said early on. I think he ended up liking us. He was certainly impressed by our capacity for alcohol.''

And the future? Not assured for John Lydon, he and his present band, PiL, having been dropped by Virgin. In contrast, Johnny McRotten (aka Keith Wray-Gunn) is (a) hopeful about securing an Equity card, and (b) realistic about the Scottish Sex Pistols' long-term career.

''I think we can milk it for another six months.''

Record plans?

Johnny McRotten looks genuinely concerned, gravely sincere. ''Releasing a single would defeat the purpose. Somebody suggested we should do Babylon's Burning, but we won't because that song is too serious.''

Punk-Rock-Shock-Horror! Johnny McRotten is a man of principle who believes in the sacred power of music. Bear that in mind before Malcolm McMcLaren re-writes the band's history in the same way the original one did.

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