Thursday 5th May. What did you all do for lunch? Me? I had a Tuna and Cucumber sandwich with a pack of quavers and then rang a hotel in Valencia to speak to the iconic, revolutionary; John Lydon. Lead singer of the post-punk pioneering; Public image LTD. With a European tour just kicking off including a visit to our home town of Lincoln, England in June, we covered all topics, taking random turns at every corner as we spoke about Mad Max, The Eurovision song contest and of course his more than impressive 40 plus years in the industry. Here’s how the conversation went…
Rob: So how’d the first gig of the tour go in San Sebastian last night?
John: Fantastic! Lovely reception as we expected. We’ve always been well liked in Basque country and… hold on a second, I’m all caught up in these wires… ‘cause somebody plugged a kettle in right next to me, alright, where are we?
Rob: Hahaha, it’s alright. So the Spanish crowd kicked the tour off in style?
John: Yeah. Well it’s novel to begin a tour in a foreign country, if you can call Spain foreign, ‘cause we are all in the EU, let’s be fair about it, we’re brothers in arms, and we’re up to our arms in immigrants, which is what we all are anyway, lest we forget. I think in Blighty we tend to forget that we are a nation of immigrants.
Rob: Quite topical, especially considering the election today.
John: Well I don’t know, you’ll have to tell me, what’s going on?
Rob: I don’t know yet, I mean I haven’t voted as I’m still at work unfortunately. So, how do the European fans compare to the fans back home in Britain?
John: For me people are people, without meaning to sound corny, it’s a plain natural fact, music is a universal language and I’ve always known that and observed that and treated music with great respect accordingly. Yeah it’s only the English language which I’ve managed to bastardise.
Rob: So Public image LTD have been absolutely everywhere across the world, you’ve done concerts in most places and you’ll soon be coming to our home town of Lincoln, where I don’t think you’ve performed since 1976 and that was with The Sex pistols. During that forty-year absence have you ever visited, because we do have quite a nice Cathedral?
John: Churches are not top of my agenda, unless there’s some good art to knick. These days they put the candle sticks out back, so you can’t get access, which is a shame because many a church candle stick went into the formation of PiL badges in our early days, you know, the proper use of religion.
Rob: Absolutely. Is there anywhere you’d love to tour that you haven’t already?
John: There are no major countries at the top of my mind, because it’s everywhere, but it was a great achievement to get into China and break some social barriers. If there was anybody in the world of music that should’ve been dislocated from Chinese access, I would have thought it would have been me. Because when they ask to see the lyrical content of the songs, I mean we all just thought “haha that’s fair”, so you know, you’ve got to say, they can be quite fair-minded.
Rob: Well that is definitely an achievement.
John: It really, seriously was and it was most excellent to see a Chinese audience so starved of outsider influence, just revelling in it and then there’s a lot to be said about these bands that yak on political and wax the student union agenda because what they’re actually doing is separating us from the rest of our people. For me all governments are my enemies and I’ve never made any bones about it any other way other than directly, and I don’t fly the left flag or the right flag, me, I’m common sense and I play these places because I need to communicate with my fellow human beings and I can’t do that pontificating from the bureau de… well let’s see, yes, fascism of socialist thinking.
Rob: It’s an incredible outlook. Now, throughout PiL’s longevity there has been seventeen different members in total but always only one constant which is yourself.
John: Seventeen or seventy?
Rob: Seventeen. Not quite seventy yet.
John: Well I had lost count, I managed to think it was something like 49.
Rob: Oh really? Well maybe the internet’s let us down there.
John: It always will and if you really want the truth of anything, don’t use Wikipedia.
Rob: Hahaha, so like I was saying, you’ve always been the constant, but would Public image still be Public Image without John Lydon?
John: Well, it’d be a shame, because I’d miss it. I declared what Public image was from the very first song and anybody that had the audacity to dispute that had every opportunity right from the very beginning. It was my name, my money, my effort that put all this together and therefore I should be rightly looked upon as the crowning glory of achievement for lesser human beings. I come from the school of do it yourself mate. Unfortunately over the years there’s been quite a few of, “Can you do it for us Johnny, so we can grab all your glory?” and the ones I’m now working with are the ones I’ve worked the longest with in PiL, people like Bruce Smith and Lu Edmonds and now Scotty Firth, these are my true friends and so when we tour it’s not war infractions which are unfortunately what I was introduced to in the concept of modern music for The Sex Pistols, in a stupid resentment led by the bile of bad management. That made it very intriguing because I learned to smile in the face of adversity.
Rob: So, the current state of music, what do you think to it?
John: I think there’s lots of everything out there for everybody. It’s no better or worse than it’s ever been, for me it’s the lacking of live music that I think will be a sorry demise if we’re not really really careful and to keep up these small clubs and small theatres, because without live music we’ll be manipulated into trolls. I mean I’m sorry, I don’t mind dancing the robot if the chemicals are ok, but beyond that the robot will not pull my strings.
Rob: With that in mind, what was it that inspired you to take the career path you did?
John: Just pure luck, really. I mean I got into music just sort of happened chance of an ‘I hate Pink Floyd’ T-shirt and I never really looked back. You know? I fully educated myself to the ways of the world way earlier, so I was well ready for it and this is my advice to everyone, educate yourself, and then all opportunities will become clear, it’s no use sitting back on your lazy bum and going “nerrrr, someone’s going to do something for me”, well hello, the pizza delivery doesn’t begin until you ring them.
Rob: Haha. So as the face of punk and revolution, what’s your take on the state of Britain today?
John: They’re still waiting for the pizza! For me, the anarchy movement is hilarious. It’s all under .org, which is of course government sponsored websites, and then they’re all wearing corporate clothing from the Dr.Martin’s to the back sacks and the cell phones, they’re all flying around on corporate jets and using corporate highways. Very anarchistic! I actually refer to them as the anachronistic party. I think that’s much closer to the truth, it’s an absurdity to just wish for a world of chaos without anything viable in its place. I’m loyal to my culture, my creed, the human race and my people and I don’t want to see them all end up in a Mad Max movie.
Rob: Haha, great movie but no I wouldn’t want to live that, no, not at all.
John: Well, which one? Haha, we could go for the alleged racism of Mad Max with Mel [Gibson], or that lovely bird in a crop?
Rob: Good point, I’m going to have to think on that. That’s stumped me a little bit. But I’m going to go home tonight and watch both films after I’ve put my vote in.
John: You will, and if you’re in anyway decent you’ll end up shaking your spear at the correct one.
Rob: So Public image released their tenth studio album ‘What The World Needs Now…’ last year, that’s a lot of albums.
John: Oh hold on, oh no, I’ve just seen the Eurovision song contest. Wasn’t it won by a bloke in a beard and a dress?
Rob: It was, I don’t know whether it was a bloke or if they classed them as a woman.
John: Oh it’s a sex change is it? I know, it’s odd, the different countries I’ve seen it in all report it differently, hold on… [shouts his manager, Rambo] Rambo, that’s a transvestite, a sex change. “Oh for fucks sake” says Rambo. Hahaha. I was off the beaten track there, but not really, I mean the worlds an interesting place, I think that’s rather excellent. Since they robbed our man, what was his name, the festival of light bloke years ago… it doesn’t matter. Britain’s always been robbed in the Eurovision song contest. It’s Richard, that’s it, congratulations. I should remember that.
Rob: Haha so Public image released their tenth studio album ‘What The World Needs Now…’ last year, that’s a lot of albums. That’s a lot of albums, but can we expect more?
John: I don’t think it’s enough. I view myself as sixty years young here and if anything I’ve been a little bit on the lazy side and I need a higher output and a more productive turnover and I’m achieving that and this is the first time in my music career that I’ve managed to keep a band stable and record two albums with the same people and this is all because we formed our own label and the corporate mediocrity that was stifling me up until ‘til now has finally, good riddance forever, gone, and it’s made an amazing difference that that spirit of independence really does lead to unity and I suppose the fear of fucking financial failure is, you know, a definite hug fest. This way, involves an awful lot of work but you’re directly responsible for the end result which makes for better records, by far. I mean we record, we travel, we rehearse, we do everything together with the spirit of camaraderie and that’s definitely what the world needs now. Record companies mislead you and they cause a division. Not directly or deliberately they just can’t help it, there’s always a different department with specialist interests and then if certain members of your band are social climbers it can lead to serious disruption.
Rob: So at what point, does John Lydon say, that’s enough, I’m retiring?
John: Well I said that some twenty years ago and because of that I found myself somewhat ostracised and left with debt that I could hardly raise any money against and so I had to go into doing TV work and that led to butter eventually, and all of these things raise just about enough money to pay up against the outstanding debt, be released from them binding contacts and reform ourselves and now it’s sink or swim really according to live performances. We earn enough money to be able to maintain a lifestyle somewhat, we all travel on the same coach, crew, everybody, merchandise, all included, and from that at the end if there’s a profit margin, that goes into the recording of a new album. Because of that sense of community I was telling you about, which we take very seriously, it’s a wonderful thing. Everybody’s eager and thinking all the time about new material, and so conversation is what leads the agenda instead of being forced into a false situation of rehearsal, like we’ve been told to write a hit single by July 29th…or else. Haha.
Rob: Is that how you write then, just sort of on the road?
John: Well I’ve never done it their way, so I’ve always being considered in the music industry as difficult to work with. But, you know, come on. I think with one week at the record label with me they should have known that, it’s a guaranteed fact. I don’t understand the art of compromise, and it’s a shame the politicians don’t understand that as well, you know, we might have a better, clearer world. But then saying that, we might also get a lot of Donald Trump’s running left right and centre.
Rob: Oh yeah, well imagine a world where he’s in charge?
John: Well, it’s all well and fine I mean he’s actually proving the point that you can actually buy the Presidency or at least an attempt at running for it. What amazes me most is how he hasn’t been pulled up on the obvious nonsense he’s been speaking here for quite some time. He’s actually a very bad businessman. You have to always bear in mind, anyway who can manage to bankrupt a casino has achieved something quite astounding haha.
Rob: So, with most of your time being taken up touring and recording, do you still find time to paint?
John: Only in relationship to the songs, I find that one leads to the other and the other way around, they all now interplay beautifully with each other, all the jigsaw pieces are fitting together for me.
Rob: That’s a very good outlook.
John: Well it has to be. I’m not one for like soul-searching, sour fizzy moments. I come from the school of hard knocks, “fucking get on with it”, that’s it.
Rob: You’ve been in the industry now for over forty years, what sort of highlights have you had during your very successful and impressive career?
John: Well, longevity. It’s quite an amazing thing isn’t it, I don’t think anybody would have seen that to be one of the gifts bestowed upon me. It’s quite sad to see how many people I’ve known over that years that just die off, you know like wilted flowers. Well, there’s something to be said for flowers in the dustbin.
Rob: John, it’s been an absolute pleasure and I’ll see you in Lincoln soon.
John Lydon was speaking to Mojo20’s Robert Smith (@robertmsmith)