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‘I’ve got very fond memories of Norwich’ - Interview with John Lydon from Public Image Ltd

PUBLISHED: 15:57 17 April 2018

Bruce Smith, Scott Firth, John Lydon and Lu Edmonds of Public Image Limited. Photo: Paul Heartfield

Bruce Smith, Scott Firth, John Lydon and Lu Edmonds of Public Image Limited. Photo: Paul Heartfield

Paul Heartfield

We caught up with John Lydon, of Public Image Ltd, ahead of their show at The Nick Rayns LCR on June 6.

John Lydon of Public Image Limited. Photo: Paul HeartfieldJohn Lydon of Public Image Limited. Photo: Paul Heartfield

For a man with such a volatile and incendiary past John Lydon seems remarkably topped up with love and peace right now.

Despite his protests that ‘he’s really not very well” (because his beloved Arsenal are about to play a crucial Europa League quarter-final when we speak) John is in fine form ahead of a lengthy summer of touring the UK, Europe and Japan with Public Image Limited (PiL).

On June 6 PiL will play the Nick Rayns LCR at Norwich’s UEA as part of their 2018 The Public Image is Rotten tour which marks 40 years since the band were formed after the Sex Pistols split in January 1978.

Speaking from California, John said: “I’m good, I’m live and kicking and currently enjoying being governed by a passive resistant president. Fortunately I like comedy and he gives good value.”

That’s about as political as he gets, however.

Indeed, it seems the marvellously mellow 2018 John Lydon is not actually interested in running people down and if his only anxiety is football-related, that’s surely a good thing.

Public Image Limited. Photo: Tomohiro NoritsunePublic Image Limited. Photo: Tomohiro Noritsune

“I’m far less critical of anyone, these days,” the one-time punk protagonist said. “My message is this: If you’re not into peace, then you can peace off!

“Anyone with the gall to stand on the executioner’s block and powerfully deliver something deeply personal gets my support.”

And that’s what he still does so well.

Even at the age of 62, he still passionately executes his body of work that he has amassed through four decades with PiL. It is something he is clearly proud of.

“I think it’s a major achievement, it’s been a massive commitment from myself and the reward is now this wonderful vast back catalogue. Ours is a show that offers massive entertainment and 150% commitment and emotion. It’s a deeply personal chance for me to practise shout therapy in public – it’s an emotionally and joyous church.”

“I urge people to leave the hate outside and come and watch this church without religion. I’m not religious though - no man speaks to me on god’s behalf.”

Public Image Limited live at O2 Academy in Glasgow. Photo: Tomohiro NoritsunePublic Image Limited live at O2 Academy in Glasgow. Photo: Tomohiro Noritsune

“I want the shows to be expressive and for people to realise that I’m not going to let anyone down, whether its my parents or dead friends or whatever, you’ve only got one chance to do something in life.”

“I give everything live. There is human wreckage when I perform. Little pieces of me are torn off.”

Mention of his parents brings us on to the subject of Norfolk and the stirrings of some fond memories.

“I like Norwich,” he said. “I used to go there as a child. My dad was on the oil rigs off Bacton-on-Sea and I went there for a winter, I must have been 11 or 12. I remember Norwich Cathedral used to stand out as there was nothing at all anywhere near it but I bet it’s not like that now is it?

“I’ve got very fond memories of Norwich and I’d say that Norwich City are my second favourite football team. When I was in Norfolk [it would have been the late 1960s] I’d seen blue and white scarves before but I’d never seen orange and green scarves until I came to Norwich. It was always fashion first for me, you see, so sorry Ipswich, your loss!”

I correct John on Norwich City’s real colours and he apologies. The orange and green comment is understandable given the fact he’s colour blind and, by his own admission, he also has really poor eyesight.

John Lydon of Public Image Limited. Photo: Paul HeartfieldJohn Lydon of Public Image Limited. Photo: Paul Heartfield

“I’ve never been able to call myself physically fit due to the illnesses I had as a child such as meningitis. I was in a coma for three months but I’ve tried to do the best with what I had. I’m pretty much a TV addict these days and I have a massive TV due to my terrible eyesight.

“I need to be mentally fit to still perform live as I put my heart and soul into it, so I need to be resilient. I do swim regularly which helps expand the lungs. I also lay off the meat when on tour as I find it slows you down.

“Being ill has been like a badge of honour though and I’ve never had self pity, I’ve just tried to make the most of every opportunity I’ve had. I landed well as a youth and I’ve been given a tremendous opportunity to have a voice. Performing in a band took my childhood away but I find it so rewarding and it helps me work on becoming a better person through music.”

These are exciting times for PiL fans, not only is there the UK tour but the band are set to release a limited edition Live At the Brixton Academy 1986 double vinyl album for Record Store Day on April 21. What’s his take on the resurgence of popularity of vinyl records?

“Putting on a record is like performing a Japanese tea ceremony,” he said. “Lifting the stylus and that crackle of noise, it’s the shape and feel of it. Vinyl records are an amazing achievement and I don’t think they’ve ever been surpassed. They’re so tactile.

“I’ve collected records since I was young, I used to have as many as the weight of a baby elephant, now it’s the weight of a small herd.

Bruce Smith, John Lydon, Scott Firth, Lu Edmonds of Public Image Limited. Photo: Paul HeartfieldBruce Smith, John Lydon, Scott Firth, Lu Edmonds of Public Image Limited. Photo: Paul Heartfield

“Listening to music through the internet just doesn’t have the same vibe. It’s so easy to change the original product. If a musician put the bass a certain way on the original recording, that’s the way I want to hear it. I find it insulting that people want to listen to music over the internet. It’s like sending a postcard saying ‘Wish you were here’.

“It’s a poor imitation of the original art form, people have gone to great lengths to produce a piece of work and listening over the internet is degrading. It’s a rip off.

“I like to listen to any music these days with the exception of New Orleans traditional jazz and horrible overblown self-important music. So I’m not overly critical of anyone, apart from guaranteed posers – oh, hello Bono!”

With kick-off in the Arsenal game (which they draw to advance to the Europa League semi-finals) fast approaching John’s last thoughts are with the Gunners and long-standing manager Arsene Wenger.

“They’re currently a rudderless team with no leadership. They need to shapen up and time is up for the manager.

“If I felt I was losing interest like he is, I’d stop doing it.”

From the way he still talks with such passion for his own craft, 40 years after the Sex Pistols first split, you can’t see him doing that just yet.

Tickets, priced at £26.50 advance, are available for the Public Image Ltd Norwich date, on Wednesday June 6, from the UEA Box Office website.

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