PiL – Copper Rooms, Warwick University - (John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten).
by Pete Clemons
Of all the people who have put themselves in the public gaze, and has kept true to themselves by just simply being them self, then surely John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, has done so more than others.
During 1977 and on the displaying of the word bollocks across shop windows, when the Sex Pistols album was released to utter shock and disbelief at a time when such words were not used so publicly, Johnny retorted ‘How're words offensive? And why should I have to tolerate YOUR interpretation? I'm the one using the word. Ask me HOW I'm using it, don't TELL me. And if you don't like the way I'm using it, so what? It's my right. It's my freedom of expression. Without that, we're nothing but slaves’.
John is indeed an enigma but that statement has been a mantra which he has basically stuck to throughout his time in the public eye, and what makes him what he is today.
I must admit to always having a soft spot for John Lydon. Many times, over the years, I have heard him speak and more than often I find myself nodding my head in agreement with him. John has his own set of beliefs and views as well as his own politics and sometimes he just talks total sense.
There have also been times that I felt let down by John. But at the same time, and in hindsight, not altogether too surprised or shocked by what was said. And that was around the time of the last ever Sex Pistols gig in 1978, when John’s final utterance was ‘Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated’ and, the film, ‘The Great Rock and Roll Swindle’ which, although didn’t feature John, alluded to the fact that punk rock had been an elaborate scam. Some of the best years I had lived, shattered in an instant. He was just being honest and I had to get over it. But that was all then.
After John distanced himself from punk he put together a band called Public Image Limited (PiL), that tended to concentrate on the more avant-garde and experimental aspects of rock music. After a clutch of challenging albums, over almost twenty years, PiL went into hibernation. But then, almost as quietly, John resurrected the band again. This was getting on for ten years ago. I must admit to not taking too much notice of it all. However, upon getting a rare opportunity to see them play locally recently, I felt a compulsion to go, especially, after having passed up on the exact same opportunity, at the exact same venue, a couple of years ago. And I was so glad I did.
Despite being familiar with their music this was to be my first live experience of PiL and I was looking forward to the prospect. The band, Lu Edmonds on guitar, Scott Firth on bass and Bruce Smith on drums took up their positions. Behind them, John strode purposefully on to the stage with his book of words under his arm. He placed the book on his music stand and said ‘we will do our best for you’. With that they burst into ‘Warriors’. It was instantly gripping. They had my full attention in a vice like hold.
A full set of dental implants, or similar, meant that John has lost a lot of his sneer but certainly none of his passion and commitment. And he still manages to, when he feels it is necessary, roll his ‘R’s’ to great effect.
With this being a tour recognising PiL’s 40 years of existence it was an almost non-stop barrage of familiar and eclectic tunes that followed that included ‘Memories’, ‘The Body’, Corporate’, ‘Death Disco’, ‘Flowers of Romance’ and ‘This is Not a Love Song’. There was also time for more recent songs from PiL’s latest release ‘What the World Needs Now’. Yet despite the time span between the older and newer songs, it was all remarkably fluid.
John certainly seemed to give the impression that he was enjoying the way it was all going although, at one point, he did react to a punter who wanted to make themselves heard above the others. In that un-phased way of his he retorted, ‘Get your own fucking stage, this is my fucking stage’.
Judging by the atmosphere in the hall, it was definitely a crowd pleaser of a gig. The main set ending with ‘Rise’ and its almost anthemically driven lyric ‘Anger is an Energy’. After a ‘fag break’ the band return to the stage and complete the proceedings with the self-titled and bass heavy ‘Public Image’ followed by a rousing ‘Open Up’ which segued into ’Shoom’ where you are left in no doubt as to what the world requires right now.
After a period of reflection and letting the whole event sink in I realised that I had been left absolutely mind blown. The whole thing was still permeating inside me days later. The reality was that I had witnessed something very special. On reflection, the whole thing, despite being challenging, had actually been absolute genius.