John Lydon Interview - Part 1

PiL On Tour...'It's An Act Of Love'
John Lydon On Stage With PiL
It’s an iconic ‘hello’ that greets me on the other end of the line. A familiar, vaguely accusatory, yet good-natured greeting: just as heard at the start of ‘Public Image’. In preparation, I had listened to all my old PiL albums and carefully worked out a sequence of questions. As it was I asked about three of them. So easy is John as a conversationalist, a self deprecating, passionate, fount of verbosity (carefully chosen words though, one suspects) that I decided about two minutes in just to go with it. Complimenting me on my ‘fine Scottish accent’ before gently berating me for interrupting his world cup watching, I accused him in return of eating into my beer garden drinking time (it’s not often 24 degrees in these parts). We both laughed at that and everything after came quite easily.

Never has a reputation so preceded someone. At times humorous and contrary, at others unflatteringly close to the bone, he is nothing if not uncompromising. Dairy peddling pantomime dame he may be (when he feels so inclined) he’s also considered and serious. What transpired was a man in reflective mode with a genuine belief in his current project. So to those detractors deriding his decision to take PiL on tour as cynical money making exercise, I would say this: never mind the bollocks…listen to the man.

So John, how are you doing, gearing yourself up for the tour?

I’m fine. Well its still part of the original tour, which we started in November/December. But what we’ve managed to do is bring the ticket prices down. The first wave of attack, or assault or whatever way you want to look at it, has actually worked extremely well. We’ve created a sense of confidence with the promoters so we’ve been able to lower the ticket prices. It’s all part and parcel of trying to earn enough money to put ourselves in a recording situation by the end of the year. The whole point of us financing ourselves is that we have no record company support. The record company seem to be uninterested in speaking to us, so they’re not releasing any records in any amounts that would recoup the debt that they’re holding over me, like a stranglehold. And they’re not helping me sell tickets either. It’s very, very difficult.

That must be so frustrating for you. When you’re putting in all this work, putting your heart and soul into something?

(Guffaws) It reminds me of when I started PiL; we experienced the same kind of negativity. And it’s a hard thing to take, because I know that Public Image is probably the most influential work I’ve ever done.

Without a shadow of a doubt…you would think that people would look back and see the impact that you’ve had. You would think there wouldn’t be the same reservations as held previously?

I know. I don’t like the position that I’m in, because I’m having to defend and explain myself to many people. It should be a position of great comfort for me to take PiL back out on the road but it actually isn’t. If it wasn’t for the fact that the ‘butter people’ treated me so very well last year, I don’t think mentally I’d be prepared to do this. But definitely the money I earned from that, every single penny is being invested in PiL.

Hopefully this leg of the tour will be as successful as your stint last year. You mentioned an album, are the songs already written? Have you been working on that already?

Without a doubt. To my mind, and that’s really who anyone should be listening to with regards to PiL, this is the best PiL format there has ever been. Two of the members I’ve worked with for very extensive periods in the past Lu (Edmonds, former guitarist with The Damned & The Mekons) and Bruce (The Slits, drummer for Bjork). The way we’re so in tune with each other mentally, makes Scott, our Scottish bass player fit in extremely tightly and extremely well. There’s now a sensibility amongst each other that borders on psychic. On stage we know if a song has the capability of going off into new terrain…were all on it. There’s no-one trying to make the others look silly.

So, there’s no one-upmanship…do you think that’s just something that comes with age?

I’ve worked with people in the past who have used trickery or tried to make a job difficult on stage to cover up, I don’t know, an inadequacy in themselves I would imagine. But I don’t need that. I’ve always strived for a unity. It’s four very equal people. I hope that’s the way I’ve always run my bands.

I guess that’s the only way you can achieve success if you’re collaborating with people on the same level as you. That are able to contribute in the same manner that you do. I’m sure if must be difficult if there isn’t that mutual respect between the band members?

Well that’s right. There’s an awful lot of negativity. No, not a lot, miniscule amounts shall we say actually, but they’re hurtful. Other PiL members who are not included in this line-up are being kind of bitter and silly, when really what they should say is ‘thank you John, you gave me a career’. Cos they’re names that nobody had heard of until I introduced them to the wonderful world of music. I was expecting more gratitude from very many of the former PiL people.
I’m in the lucky position to be able to do what I think is right other than do what is commercially accessible.

One thing that’s been very consistent over the years, be it the pistols, be it PiL, or with your own solo work, there’s always been and undercurrent of integrity there…

I hope so! I sincerely hope that comes through.

You’re an uncompromising man, personally and in terms of business. Maybe I’m similar but for me there doesn’t really seem any other way to be. That should be the standard as far as I’m concerned.

Good on ya. I think that’s a very Celtic attitude.

If only everyone were a little more like that it could make life a lot easier.

Yes it would. I’ve been saying this for so long now. Why lie? All you do is confuse yourself.

So going back to this point. You’ve had no support from the record companies, which is disappointing. Although you’ve said Virgin became a hindrance in the past?

Unfortunately I’m not the only person in this position. Even as a Sex Pistol we found Virgin records to be a hindrance. Absolute awkwardness. An immovable object that just won’t pay attention, which is a shame. I think I did my bit over the years to help Virgin gain a name that had some sort of credibility as a record company. Whatever their game plan is at the moment it’s very poor. I’m not the only band on the label that’s in a bitter position with them. The game plan which was made some 18 years ago (which is why its taken so long for PiL to get back together again) was one of keeping us it debt so it was impossible for us to actually do anything. If you don’t release enough records to sell then you can’t possibly recoup. And that’s the dilemma. So what I’m now doing is pushing some buttons. Some serious buttons. I think I’m showing them that they’re negative to their responsibility. For me that’s bordering on industrial espionage Those are tough fighting words but they’re words I’m backing up. We haven’t had any support from them. This is a very difficult challenge to take on. Especially with a band like PiL, who require some serious rehearsal. Not to mention auditioning (much laughter). As far as auditions went it was Scott all the way, Scott Firth. He’s such a wonderful human being. There’s just nothing wrong with him really. Open minded. Fits in so well, it’s like we’ve always known each other, which is a very difficult thing to achieve inside bands. I’ve had new members before and they always feel they’re kinda left out. Sid felt that way. So I want to change that, that perspective. So on stage were equal. But not only that but because of the way were doing these tours. Were doing them at such cut price: all travelling together on one coach, travelling enormous distances and playing mostly every night. If the personalities don’t blend it doesn’t matter one iota about musical talent. If you start not to like each other, you’re gonna start sabotaging each other.

Parts 2 & 3 to follow...


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