Music Contributor Rob Flood spoke to John Lydon of Public Image Limited ahead of their 2012 appearance at the ME1 Festival in Rochester. This article first appeared as Proper Music for Proper People in the May 2012 issue of WOW Magazine.
Thanks for talking to me John. First of all, your new single ‘One Drop’ and the follow up album ‘This Is PiL’ are being released on your own label. Is this a sign of your frustration with the UK music industry?
‘It means I’ve had enough of them, yeah. In many ways I’ve helped the record industry to collapse and I’m very pleased about that. Because they’re corrupt – all corporations are… So we decided we’d raised enough money, why don’t we go the whole hog and put it out on our own label.
Your lyrics are often quite personal, songs like ‘Public Image’, ‘Albatross’, and ‘Death Disco’. ‘One Drop’ seems to be about your early days in Finsbury Park.
‘It’s about all days everywhere really. I like the lines in it “we are the ageless, we are teenagers”. That’s telling you something – don’t f***ing give up. Don’t roll over. And don’t stop thinking. And learning. Not at any age. And that’s a process I enjoy.’
Are there other tracks on the new album that are autobiographical?
‘Yes there are many. There are many with deeply political roots. But that’s not to say they’re preachy – far from it… Every single one of them will get your brain thinking.’
Since PiL reformed, some of your live sets have been well over two hours. Can we expect something similar at Rochester?
‘Sometimes I do two and a half hours. I’m yet to break the barrier and hit three but I think if I did I’d probably die of a f***ing heart attack. When I’m really into it and the gig’s going somewhere, I don’t leave. I can’t help it.’
Can you tell us a bit about your band?
‘Lu [Edmonds – guitar] and Bruce [Smith – drums] I’ve known the longest and that’s an extremely long time. It was kind of obvious that it was gonna be with them two… We’re so attuned to each other… And we needed a bass player. We tried to work with some of the old players but they wouldn’t have it. And at their prices, we wouldn’t have them. We found a new bass player [Scott Firth] and he’s bloody brilliant.’
Following on from your former band the Sex Pistols declining to appear at the Olympics Closing Ceremony…
‘No. It’s not my former band. It’s us. What they invited us to do was to edit out the nasty and offensive bits of ‘Pretty Vacant’. And then they might allow us to play for 15 seconds. And I think you know in no uncertain terms what yours truly had to say to that. Because if you want to be representing Britain then you get full-on British answers. And when they ask us to do any sort of compromise at all – well I tell you, there goes the Olympics… And there goes this country… But then mind you, not many people have the heart and soul of Britain as much as me. So I hope it will be a happy day for all the second-handers.’
Last year, we had Damo Suzuki from Can come and play locally. You’ve mentioned in the past that Can were an influence on you.
‘No I never said influence. I said they were one of the many bands I loved… But in as much as I’m being picky here, because I’ve listened to such an extensive range of music. Of course one way or another, all of it influences you. But not directly.’
Is there current stuff you like to listen to?
‘No I don’t listen to anything while I’m working… I won’t listen left nor right nor straight forward when I don’t need to.’
When I was a kid, my mate brought a copy of the first PiL album to my house. We’d read somewhere that you cut your own hair so we both had a go.
‘Good on ya. Did you make a right botch job of it?’
‘Listen, I found the answer. Two mirrors. When you’re looking in one mirror, have another one behind your head so you can angle it.’
Do you still cut your own hair then?
‘Yeah. I don’t want to join in that High Road nonsense… All right then.’
Thanks for talking to us John. We’re really looking forward to seeing you in July.
‘Well let’s shake your old town down to the bones. Cheers.’