Tag Archive: PIL

An Audience with John Lydon @ Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham Tuesday 14 October 2014

In the 70’s this chap and his fellow punks took on the music industry and gave it a swift kick in the b******s, whilst sticking their fingers up to the establishment. For a brief moment in time, him and his band scared the s**t out of everything the establishment held dear and shook up the world of ‘popular’ music forever. And once that trip was over, he set up a different band – creative, innovative, still doing their unique thing today. And that’s just his musical side. With a new autobiography out – ‘Anger is an Energy: My Life Uncensored’ – we’re here to see the irascible character that is John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten.

John Lydon_Audience-7
The Sex Pistols shook up the world and then some. Probably the world’s most notorious band ever, Lydon as their lead singer, became vilified by the press and scared politicians so much, he was even discussed in the Houses of Parliament, under the Traitors and Treasons Act, which still carries the death penalty. PiL (Public Image Limited) - his musical true love have been his outlet – on a truly personal basis on so many levels  – a musical challenge  and journey. Over the years PiL have had over 49 members (“a college of Further Education” Lydon quips tonight, some going onto more success than others) and to see them live is a joy in the true passion and professionalism that they deliver.

Meanwhile he’s turned up on TV on adverts selling butter (for which monies earned brought PiL back to life after hiatus) and ITV’s “I’m A Celebrity – Get Me Out of Here” which he would have won by a country mile, if he hadn’t walked, full of integrity and for all the right reasons.

He’s just released a new book ‘Anger is an Energy: My Life Uncensored’ -his autobiography of a fascinating life. Tonight’s event is just one of three theatre dates – all total sold out. And he’ll be interviewed by friend and BBC Radio 6 Music presenter Matt Everitt. His book goes from his childhood to present day and tonight, there’s no reading, just Lydon’s thoughts and questions from the audience.  Why the book?

‘This book is about the life of a risk taker. I make things safe for other people to follow in my wake’ – John Lydon

So two seats, a table and bottles of water adorn the stage as Everitt appears to introduce the ‘icon’ (a word he knows Lydon will just hate). Lydon stomps onto the stage, adorned in crumpled designer suit and bags like he’s walk off the street – to rapturous applause.  He’s a “bit ill” (clearly flu-laden), the Boots bag contains medication and a box of tissues. Oh and a bottle of brandy.  After relating he’s ill, he says “Hello. I’m John. But at least I’m here…..” with that menacing grin of his. Everitt asks him if he likes Birmingham – “Are you trying to ruin this interview?” he quips – he likes us here in Brum – we ignore those major newspapers; a conversation about Brum soap “Crossroads’ and the “access” he’d like to get to Ms Diane… He’s written about his life before; this book is about his life and is part of an extremely long end (he’s 58 and intends to gone on ’til he’s at least 100). His life is “half-done” and unlike the Stones song – he has no intention on dying before he gets old – he wants to be extremely old!

John Lydon_Audience-9

Scandal has been looking for him all his life – it’s surrounded him – and clearly his book will be a fascinating read. Few will have challenged society so much that his home was regularly raided by the Police; he even knew the Police Officers by name – he’d see them in the pub and they’d say hi and reluctantly indicate they would raid his home later that week. He was notorious and continues to have that menace about him. But as we can relate,  Lydon is harmless, he’d never hurt anyone, as he attests his political hero is Ghandi.

He’s saddened by the death of Robin Williams – he could relate to Williams creative mind – that bounces all over the place all of the time. His does the same. All of the time. As a child he had meningitis which left his comatose for 4 months and left him with no memory, no movement, no voice. Parents he didn’t know or recognise. It took him 4 years to recover. Doctor’s told his parents not to mollycoddle him – to make him angry. And that anger still drives him today.  And as he discusses the pain of life and of the death that has impacted on him – he’s very honest. A tear. We feel for him. He doesn’t want sympathy, but we are empathetic – we feel his pain – his honesty and the man behind the notorious image. A chap in the audience related he told his mother, suffering with dementia, he had told her he was seeing John Rotten tonight. “Do you still like him?” came the response. Lydon sends his love and to his mom – and agrees to and handshake and a hug that makes this guy’s day – he’s been a fan for 30 years…

“Do you think brandy goes with Night Nurse?” (Or Day Nurse – he has both in his bag).

There are those that come in for his ire – those in ‘management’ at the time of the Sex Pistols – “ those clothes makers”; punk’s ‘new’ look Green Day get a sneer; Simon Cowell get’s a slating; former PiL members Kevin Levin and Jah Wobble also get the Lydon sneer; Town Council’s he derides – we should go and call them to account – spend less time watching TV – go and party in the council chambers – stop these ‘normal’ people dictating how we should live; UKIP and Farage – “barrage – they’re preying on the stupid”; The Clash – now don’t ask Lydon about The Clash. That’s not a good move.

A question on Jimmy Saville – a famous comment Lydon made in ’78 – “We all knew way back in ’78” and derision towards the BBC and other establishments that allowed this and other such similar atrocities to happen.

What’s next for PiL? Once this book tour is over, he’s off to the Cotswolds with his beloved band for a new album. There’s no demos in advance, the creative process is organic; inspiration of the moment. While the Sex Pistols changed the world – punk could be copied (and in droves, and badly he thinks). PiL is his baby, it is unique and never copied. And he loves that idea.

The potential theatre opportunity of being in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ was a surprise to him. He loved the challenge and  the family aspect of the team of the cast, even though the promoter eventually pulled it. As if he was a vegetarian after being in the jungle – his comment was that he wasn’t “unless you mean vegetables like Jordan.”

A couple of people dare to walk out (not because they are leaving) and have to pass in front of the stage. “They’re not hiding their face from the 400 of you, they’re hiding from one of me,” he chortles. And after they take some time to return: “Are they doing drugs?”

Blowing his nose – the flu is not good even with the brandy and night nurse – and promptly lifts the tissue in the air and shout’s “Ebay!” – we laugh.

Lydon is brutally honest. He tells it like it is. He is incapable of lying. Honesty in full and glorious Technicolor. And we love him for it. He trusts everyone. Until they lie. He surrounds himself with only those who are truthful.  Nora, his wife, who he adores, get a mention. He says she’s as unique as him – and while they should grow apart over the years they just get closer.

And after an hour and 15 he suddenly stands – he needs a “s**t” – and it’s the end. And audience members rush to the stage to see if they can shake his hand and he’s rushed off stage.

Lydon is fascinating; a true character – at times deep and introspective – fully aware of his own failings yet brutally honest in his own explicative worded manner. And he says exactly what everyone thinks anyway. Get the book – it’ll be well worth the read. He’s loveable, yet remains menacing, but totally approachable. There’s no flies on Johnny. Just never piss him off.

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Pictures courtesy of Ken Harrison. Review for Gig Junkies and 102.5 The Bridge.

Public Image Ltd + The Selector + Erica Nockalls @ 02 Academy Birmingham, 20th October 2013

Screen Shot 2013-10-21 at 15.56.32Tonight’s gig is most definitely something old, something new, nothing borrowed, something blue. The shiny and new is Erica Nockalls, something old (as in historic) are Coventry’s 2Toners The Selector and the entirely relevant and slightly blue legendary John Lydon and his band of brothers – aka Public Image Ltd.

We arrive pretty early, before 7pm, and there’s already a queue. Security come out, doors open. Then doors close and security go back in. Okay – what be going on here? 7.15 the queue is growing and we’re still waiting. A quick chat with a security guy who’s ventured out and we discover that sound checks are still ongoing. Five minutes later the doors finally open and we queue to go in. Bizarrely paying punters with tickets in hand appear to be outnumbered by those on the guestlist – Nockalls (and her other half Miles Hunt) have been offering up guestlist places like there’s no tomorrow and The Selector too have a group of people in tow.

As we enter the main 02 Academy at 7.25pm, Erica Nockalls is on stage, akin in leather and pink tutu. “Thanks for having us….” The venue is pretty sparse and usually absolutely freezing cold, as she sets off her rock-punk set. I saw her at the Hare and Hounds recently – she is different and pretty good. Nockalls graduated from Birmingham Conservatoire after which, she’s spent the last eight years being the fiddly with The Wonder Stuff. And she’s worked with The Proclaimers and recently toured with Fink.  “This is my own band – I’ve played on this stage a number of times… let’s see how much trouble I can get in on my own.” An appreciative Hunt is at the sound desk; his tousled head bopping up and down.  Her debut album ‘Imminent Room’ is out now. In her own words “I hadn’t been able to find any good new music to listen to, so I thought I’d invent some of my own”.  The sound check issues are showing, unfortunately the sound isn’t good, way too loud to get a true reflection of Nockalls’ ability.

The Academy is still pretty empty as on come the 2Tone ska band from Coventry – The Selector. Formed late 70s, they’d split by ’83 with singer Pauline Black leading a reformed version for 15 years from ’91.  Confusion over differing versions of the band – a legal challenge ensued and Black’s official line up tonight now be the official version of The Selector. A big cheer comes from the audience and they start to bounce along to the self- titled ‘The Selector.’ The band are energetic and enjoyable; “get on the ‘Train to Skaville’” ‘James Bond’ all skaed up with their Licence to Kill. ‘On My Radio’ we all sing and bounce and the set finishes with ‘Too Much Pressure.’ It’ll be 35 years since The Selector started out next year – you can catch them on tour in 2014 and back at here at the Academy on March 13th.

Even though we had the earlier delay, the bands on stage timings are now back on track, though bizarrely, and I really don’t understand why, the crowd is pretty sparse. If you take away the long list of people who collared a guestlist entrance I suspect this gig was lucky not to be downgraded to the Academy2 – there must be between 500-800 people here. I didn’t expect a sold out gig – but I expected far more than this.

Formed in 1978, Lydon remains the only sole consistent member of PiL. Their musical sound covers a diverse experimental range of sounds; from screaming chants and bile ridden attacks of ‘Public Image’ and ‘This is Not a Love Song’ through the ‘rise’ of their 1986 release – classically and simply marketed as ‘Album’, ‘Cassette’ and ‘Compact Disc’ – mixed with the trademark Lydon sneer and haunting, rising melodies. In ’92, PiL were officially in hiatus, Lydon occasionally appearing with the reformed Sex Pistols, and in a brilliant turn on “I’m a Celebrity…..” a total polar opposite of what one would expect, but no parody – maybe two fingers to the reality TV  genre, they clearly signed him because of his unpredictability. Far more astute than that, he walked, but we all knew he would have won, hands down. To quote a comment from the time on the PiL website “He also brings quality TV to the masses”. Too right.  Lydon’s ability to do the polar opposite of what people would expect of him, took him to ‘Country Life Butter’ adverts and gave him the financial ability to go back to his true love; to reform and tour PiL in late 2009. Since then they’ve gone from strength to strength, playing the US and European festivals. In 2011, PiL were awarded the ‘Outstanding Contribution to Music’ at the Mojo Honours list. On 28th May 2012, on their own self funded label, PiL Official Ltd, they released their first studio album in 20 years – ‘This is PiL’ to critical acclaim. Track ‘Under the House’ featured in the Olympic 2012 Opening Ceremony and earlier this week Lydon received the prestigious BMI Icon Award for songwriters – recognising his work with the Sex Pistols and PiL and impact he’s had on social culture:

“It couldn’t be more appropriate and timely, really, considering the body of work I’ve just had to go through and endure to get my Public Image back up again, form our own label and be completely free and independent of the large corporations. This is very, very timely for me. And I think, you know, what took you so long? [laughter]” – John Lydon, BMI Q&A

For Lydon PiL is serious. It’s about their music. Delivered immaculately. This is not about John Lydon misbehaving, spitting venom and winding the crowd up.  Bang on 9pm, the venue is darkened and a single light shines of the PiL logo fixed to netting at the back of the stage. Lydon greets us with ‘Good evening….’ and we’re off. ‘Deeper Water’ is off the new album – this is a song that rolls and licks with Lydon’s vocals as he yowls and purrs. No words between songs and we’re into ‘Albatross.’

“ ‘ello Brum. Are you ready?” The crowd heckle; it’s part of the crack at any PiL gig and we’re into ‘This is Not a Love Song’, still snarly and irreverent, but all funked up.  “Are you there? Are you ready?’” comes the snarl. The technical sound difficulties continue, the band still play on; Lydon “I can hear f**k all… just f**king disortion…” It’s not getting sorted. “Carry on playing…” and the band duly do. “I’m getting a real problem here…” To the crowd: “Now it’ not Johnny throwing a diva…. I aint got no tits….” and slowly, from his side the sound is rectified but not to the audience. The balance is out, Lydon sounds like he’s singing in an enormous tin can – it’s difficult to hear the rhythms within the songs.

“This is what you want…. This is what you get…. This is what you want… this is what you get….” Lydon chants leading into ‘The Body.’ To crowd applause and wolf whistles. “And the crowd went wild…” he quips. The mighty ‘Warrior’ rolls on next – many of the songs are longer editions they are not just three minute; at least 10 each.

A break between songs, as Lydon speaks to the drummer – the crowd start chanting “You fat bas***d…” A classic Lydon retort; “Where’s your f***ing manners? – Can’t you see we’re having a chat…” and we get ‘Death Disco’. The set is completed by new track ‘One Drop’ and Lydon plays to the crowd as they exit stage right.

Back on “You all be tired… you must have run the marathon. Who won? I was there in mind, spirit and complete f***ing drunken laziness…” And we get the in your face ‘Public Image’ which receives a huge cheer before the class act that is ‘Rise’. The sound by now is excruciatingly loud and distorted. “It’s good when they put the lights on you… my god you’re ugly… but not as ugly as me…” Then get down and dance as we get PiL doing the Lydon/Leftfield dance/ trance classic ‘Open Up…’

“Thank you Birmingham – for putting up with us…”  Lydon is totally and completely sincere in his comment.

I’ve seen PiL before. They are indeed a stunning and awesome sight. Unfortunately tonight, the venue that let them down, the sound balance was mostly terrible. A great show, but we didn’t hear PiL in their true glorious colours.

Lydon has been accused of becoming almost becoming a cartoon character of his punk and eccentric image. But what he is, is far more. More than just a national treasure, he provides a masterclass in longevity, charisma and that chameleon approach to being open to create and vocalise, logic and create music in a truly different and unique approach. Fiercely articulate and intelligent, he is far more than just the obnoxious lead singer of a punk band that may have changed the world thirty odd years ago – PiL over the years have created a series of foot stomping classics, utilizing rock, dance, folk, ballet, pop and dub.

Lydon was key to changing the world of music. He truly deserves all the accolades chucked at him and you know really, he’s rather chuffed, regardless of his irreverent demeanor.  He helped to give a multitude of musicians the opportunity to create music for the masses that just wouldn’t have been thought possible to achieve. PiL are entirely a class act – and for all who have been inspired by the opportunity to create alternative music, then surely the opportunity to see one of the most eclectic and revolutionary artists of recent times, on form, is a must.  PiL will be back – hopefully at a venue that will do them for better justice. Get the opportunity, a must go and see.

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PiL Setlist;

1. Deeper Water

2. Albatross

3. This is Not A Love Song

4. Pop Tones

5. Careering

[This is what you want]

6. The Body

[This is what you want]

7. Warrior

8. Reggae Song

9. Death Disco

10. Out of the Woods

11. One Drop

Encore:

12. Public Image

13. Rise

14. Open Up

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Listening [PiL]:

Lydon’s response to which of his recordings to listen to:

“I would recommend you see us live and hear what this is truly about, and from there on in you can make your own decisions. For me it’s always been about live performance. That’s the be-all and end-all of it really. That’s the ultimate release.” John Lydon, BMI Q&A

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Review for Gig Junkies; Photos: Ken Harrison.

Public Image Limited aka PiL @ Coventry Kasbah, 31st May 2011

Another review for Birmingham Live!

Photo by Ken Harrison – view the full pictures at Ken Harrison Photography

And so to the first night of two acts in succession I’m lucky to review. Much in common – punk upstarts, started in the 70‘s, done over (or not) by Malcolm McClaren, reinvented themselves and back out on tour (again) after a decade and a half. Tonight cometh the iconic godfather (probably phrases said lead singer wouldn’t like) of punk – John Lydon and his band he formed well over thirty years,Public Image Limited (PiL).

pil_ken-harrison

Formed in 1978, Lydon remains the only sole consistent member. Their musical sound covered a diverse experimental range of sounds – from screaming chants and bile ridden attacks of ‘Public Image’ and ‘This is Not a Love Song’ through the the ‘rise’ of their 1986 release – classically and simply marketed as ‘Album’, ‘Cassette’ and ‘Compact Disc’ – mixed with the Lydon sneer and haunting, rising melodies. Subsequent sounds kept Lyon’s trademark venom, but verged more into dance.Then in ’92 they called it a day, PiL officially in hiatus, Lydon occasionally appearing with the reformed Sex Pistols, and in a brilliant turn on “I’m a Celebrity…..” a total polar opposite of what one would expect, but no parody – maybe two fingers to the reality TV  genre, they clearly signed him because of his unpredictability. Far more astute than that, he walked, but we all knew he would have won, hands down.

To quote a comment on the PiL website “He also brings quality TV to the masses”. Too right.

Lydon’s ability to do the polar opposite of what people would expect of him, took him to “Country Life Butter’ adverts, and gave him the financial ability to reform and tour PiL in late 2009. Featuring earlier PiL members Bruce Smith (Drums) and Lu Edmonds (Guitars and Misc), plus Scott Firth(Bass), they play seven live dates for the first time in seventeen years. This is just one of a further few dates around the UK and at festivals in 2011.

Tonight’s gig is all about PiL. It’s about their music. All their classic songs. This is not about John Lydon misbehaving, spitting venom and winding the crowd up. If fact, unusually, he barely speaks. The crowd is mainly white and over forty – splattered with the occasional punk. One punk guy and his missus brought the kids along – the first time he’d had the opportunity to see PiL – to say he was excited was an understatement.

“Good evening Coventry.” Heckle from an audience member. “There’s always one that has to say a naughty word. Come all this way…..” and PiL start as they mean to go on – with ‘Public Image.’ Lydon, with spiked blonde hair, is dressed in docks, baggy trousers, white shirt, black buttoned jacket, is posing in classic Lydon style. He is mesmerizing to watch. Then straight into ‘Home.’

You could see different sections of the audience picking up on the diverse genres of tracks, whether it was old PiL, the more mainstream ‘Album’ era or later, dancier tracks. ‘This is Not a Love Song’ with the classic bass rhythm, was turned into a 12” mega remix – in fact, pretty much all the tracks ran on and on, in no way your three-minute pop song. Lydon stood in front of a surround of front facing monitors, to his side a music stand, with lyrics to give him an occasional reminder. No earplugs to help his vocals, they were, as unusual and warped as ever (“I sound like a bag of kittens thrown down the staircase”).

“Thank you for putting up with us – more disgusting rubbish….” and into ‘Ease’. The song completed, Lydon wiped the sweat from his brow – “Would you believe it – I’m f***** out of words! It must be ‘cos I’m happy!” The rest of the band are great musicians, Edmonds playing unusual guitars, what looked to be an electric sitar and a large banjo-like instrument with a violin bow. Meanwhile bass player, Firth, during ‘Flowers’ used an upright classical electric bass with fret-board only. Closing the main set with the whirling ‘Religion’, another track that rolled on and on.

Five minutes later, the band came back on stage, Lydon with a bottle on Cognac in hand.  “This is what you want! This is what you get!” and we’re off into ‘Order of Death’ before the classic ‘Rise’. “Anger is an energy…” the crowd sing along – Lydon – ‘Does anyone know the words?’ before the crowd totally bounce along to the final song of the night, somewhat bizarrely, to the stunning dance Leftfield / Lydon collaboration ‘Open Up.’

After a two hour set of rolling class, Lydon claps the audience in appreciation. “Good evening from PiL. Thank Coventry, you’ve been cool.”

Lydon has been accused of becoming almost becoming a cartoon character of his punk and eccentric image. But what he is, is far more. Fiercely articulate and intelligent, he is far more than just the obnoxious lead singer of a punk band that may have changed the world  thirty odd years ago – PiL over the years have created a series of foot stomping classics, utilizing rock, dance, folk, ballet, pop and dub. Tonight’s gig was serious, not just a Lydon misbehavior – and rumour has it, if they can get the funds together – expect new PiL tracks.

Punk changed the world of music. It gave a multitude of musicians the opportunity to create music for the masses that just wouldn’t have been thought possible to achieve. PiL are entirely a class act – and for all who have been inspired by the opportunity to create alternative music, then surely the opportunity to see one of the most eclectic and revolutionary artists of recent times, on form, is a must. Lydon is far more than a cartoon character and more than just a national treasure, he provides a masterclass in longevity, charisma and that chameleon approach to being open to create and vocalise, logic and music in a truly different and unique approach. If you get the opportunity, a must go and see.

Bizarrely later that night in Coventry there was a slight ‘disturbance’ at a nearby club. Nowt to do with the PiL gig, the fact there was a riot in a city where PiL played was a weird quirk of fate…

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Setlist:
Public Image
Home
Albatross
Love Song
Pop Tones
Death Disco
Ease
Flowers of Romance
USLS 1
Disappointed
Warrior
Bags
Chant
Religion

Encore:
Order of Death
Rise
Open Up

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Links:
Mr Lydon’s ramblings
Public Image Limited which features audio tracks of their best songs.