“We were going to be The Fabulous Stains for real.” How a cult movie featuring Diane Lane, Ray Winstone, and members of The Sex Pistols and The Clash inspired a new generation of women to play punk rock

The Fabulous Stains
(Image credit: Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains)

“It was a really good experience – and quite good money, too.”

Speaking to The Face magazine in February 1981, The Clash's bassist Paul Simenon had only good things to say about his experience acting in All Washed Up, the film that he and former Sex Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook had recently finished filming in Vancouver. In a fairly unimaginative piece of casting, the three musicians had been hired to play an English punk band, The Looters, fronted by Ray Winstone ('Billy'), and it seemed that a good time had been had by all during filming.

“It was really funny,” Simenon told The Face. “Me 'n' Steve 'n' Paul were staying in the same hotel in Vancouver – they made it in Canada because it's cheaper than doing it in Hollywood – as the rest of the people working on the film. We were supposed to pay for our keep out of our fees, but instead we charged everything we ever had there to the film company – we'd sign for things with names like [Spurs and Northern Ireland football legend] Danny Blanchflower. We must have had thousands of dollars worth of stuff and I don't think they every found out who was doing it.”

The original story-line of the film - “pretty good” according to Simenon - was based on a script by Nancy Dowd, in consultation with Melody Maker journalist (and the bassist's former girlfriend) Caroline Coon.

It told the story of teenage sisters Corinne and Tracy Burns (played by 15-year-old Diane Lane and Marin Kanter) and their cousin Jessica McNeil (played by 13-year-old Laura Dern) who, after seeing The Looters open up for fabulously-named hard rockers Metal Corpses, decide to form their own punk rock band, The Fabulous Stains. When the guitarist of Metal Corpses overdoses at a gig, The Looters are promoted into the headline slot on the tour, and The Fabulous Stains are recruited as the opening band. Tensions between the two bands mount however, due to the headline band's misogynist attitudes, and to teach the English punks a lesson, The Fabulous Stains play one of The Looters songs, Join The Professionals (actually written by Steve Jones for his post-Pistols band with Cook, The Professionals) at a festival held at a shopping mall, where it becomes obvious from the number of lookalike Stains fans in the audience that the support act have started to eclipse the headliners in popularity.

“She's imitating me now!” says an outraged 'Billy', watching Corinne Burns onstage.

“She's doing a fucking better job than what you do,” says Looters guitarist 'Steve' (Jones), throwing in a classic Steve Jones “You wanker!” jibe as a bonus.

The Looters

Paul Cook, Steve Jones, Ray Winstone, Paul Simenon aka The Looters (Image credit: Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains)

Cue the break-up of The Looters, and The Fabulous Stains going on to become superstars.

According to Caroline Coon, the film was supposed to be end with girls across Britain taking inspiration from the teenage trio to form their own punk rock bands, but this denouement was apparently vetoed “by the director’s Hollywood misogyny.”

With no closing scene, the film was actually shelved for two years, until director Lou Adler added a new ending, a fake music video, implying that the group became global pop stars, having adopted a more audience-friendly New Wave style. Despite this frothier ending, when it (briefly) hit cinemas, the film, now re-titled Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, bombed, taking just $25,000 at the box office... possibly not much more than Simenon, Jones and Cook's room service bills.

That might have been that for The Fabulous Stains, except that, via late night screenings on cable TV, the film acquired a cult reputation as a feminist fantasy film, with Hole leader Courtney Love among those extolling its virtues. In Olympia, Washington, Alison Wolfe, lead singer of riot grrrl punks Bratmobile, heard about the film in the late '80s, and made a concerted effort to see it.

“It was like you could only get it from, like, maybe, some cool person worked at a super indie, alternative video store,” she recalled to NPR, for a 2019 feature on the film. “And it would be through bootleg trading and stuff that you could even get near it. And then it would be many generations of a copy.” 

When Wolfe finally tracked down a copy of the film, she was stunned to see the parallels between her own band's journey, and the script.

“It almost looked like the movie was influenced by us,” she told NPR. “But there's no way that could have happened.“

Fellow Olympia riot grrl punks Bikini Kill also tracked down a Betamax copy of the film, taped off the TV by drummer Tobi Vail's uncle, and were blown away by what they saw.

“The three of us lay on our stomachs with our chins in our palms, transfixed as Diane Lane, playing the lead singer of the band, yelled, 'I'm perfect! But nobody in this shithole gets me because I don't put out',“ vocalist Kathleen Hanna recalls in her memoir Rebel Girl.

“At that moment I realized our goal. We were going to be the Fabulous Stains for real.“

Watch a clip from the film below:

The Fabulous Stains - Professionals (1982) Diane Lane - YouTube The Fabulous Stains - Professionals (1982) Diane Lane - YouTube
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Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.