“The last time I heard PiL play live, I was playing with them…”
It was April 1983, it was my last PiL gig at Toad’s Place, New Haven. Shortly after that I handed in my 2 hr notice, got on a plane and came back home. I never spoke to John Lydon again.
So it was with some reticent interest then that I agreed to go to the 100 Club Wednesday night with my old mate Guy Jardine from Rebel In Print to see PiL play the the Fred Perry Subculture event. Pre-drinks at the Blue Posts then off to the 100 Club. It was a strange crowd, a lot of younger people than I expected who were obviously there by winning free tickets or connected with Fred Perry in some other way. The rest of the crowd was made up of old lags and punk die hards like me.
Some familiar faces were there; Spizz Energi (of course) with flashing teeth in place and Charlie Harper from the UK subs dropped in with his wife. The Department S merch man Martin Weedon had also managed to blag a ticket. So there was a cosy familiar atmosphere.
There was no support band, PiL were due to kick off at 9pm so there was a bit of hanging about, the band weren’t even in the building. The stage was set with drums to one side, John in the middle in front of the infamous pillar and a barrier of sorts had been erected using flight cases. The low stage had been deemed unsuitable to guarantee John’s safety apparently.
Just after nine, the band swept in down the back stairs, fronted by Rambo and 100 Club security, the crowd parting like the Red Sea as the great punk Lord himself swaggered to the stage. John was bedecked in a Chef’s outfit for the evening. An odd look, but John is never one to stick to convention. I did happen to notice though that he looked as if he’d eaten most of the food, being somewhat bulkier of frame than I remember (aren’t we all).
The sound was good, PiL launched into their opener ‘Warrior’ and the crowd lapped it up. The set was delivered efficiently, some songs sounded great ‘Memories’ and ‘The body’ sounded strong. All the parts were there but to me, something was amiss. Lou Edmonds seemed to be struggling a bit in places, he went through numerous guitar changes but didn’t seem to be on top of it. Perhaps that was just me. Things went downhill further when ‘Death Disco’ was delivered without any of its drama or menace. I guess John has sung it so many times it’s lost a bit of its edge. The rhythm section sounded a bit tame in places, but I mustn’t be too harsh comparing them to Martin Atkins and I who were of course, a formidable force.
John milked the crowd as per usual, even taking time at one point to berate a fan for not listening “Oi you fat cunt, stop talking, there’s a show going on here!” A classic line that prompted zero response from the embarrassed sycophant.
Rambo was prowling stage left, looking for trouble, and finding it from the most innocuous places; a camera too close, a fan leaning too far, you know, really dangerous situations.
The rest of the songs came and went, ‘Flowers of Romance’ with prerecorded drums didn’t really lift off and ‘This Is Not a Love Song’ plodded. Scott Firth adding to the bass parts with frills and trills that were interesting but unnecessary in my view. ‘Rise’ ended the set and was a good one to end on. The band departed. Some of the crowd mustered enough enthusiasm for an encore but mostly people stood around silently. The band remerged and launched into ‘Public Image’ and it sounded truly awful. I have never heard that song played so badly. Even when Keith Levene was at his worst he delivered the guitar parts to that song with much angst and ferocity. Lou Edmonds was well off the pace and I have no idea why because he is such a fine guitarist.
The encore ended with ‘Open Up’ and ‘Shoom’ and as the last lyrical echoes of “Fuck off, fuck off” rang through the crowd, they were off into the 100 club dressing room which is conveniently situated opposite the stage so another forced plough through the crowd led by Rambo took place.
After the show
I wanted to say hello to John, I wanted to close the circle by meeting him for the first time since 1983, just to see if we could be at peace. There was a bit of a wait before I was granted access during which time I grabbed a quick hello with Scott Firth and we briefly swapped bass playing notes about ‘Love Song’ but eventually I was allowed past the Rambo guard and given a very warm welcome by John who was sitting with his wife Nora.
We chatted for 15 minutes or so and John expressed his pleasure at me having taken the time to drop in to say hello, he seemed genuinely pleased I had done so. We quickly touched on how things were back in the 80’s and we both acknowledged where the problem lay back then, agreeing that we always got on well and never had any disagreements. We spoke about Keith, Martin and Maureen Baker. Rambo took A couple of pictures for me for the album before I said my goodbyes and with a sweaty hug from the man took off home.
That’s probably it with PiL for me, I can’t see me going to see them again unless I happen to be on the same bill! But I wouldn’t mind going one more time to see by comparison if this was a one off or what. I hope their new album is a scorcher, it needs to be.
All in all it was a fun night, always is when Spizz is around and I am happy to have finally met John, in peace and with respect.
Peace, fun and love. Pete Jones x