Monday, 15 June 2015

John Lydon "Anger Is An Energy" Q&A at The 100 Club

John Lydon at the 100 Club by Kevin Shepherd
This was a rare chance to see John Lydon up close and in conversation at the legendary 100 Club, a venue with which he will always be associated.  The event was a Q&A session, hosted by the TV presenter and journalist Miranda Sawyer, designed to promote Lydon’s latest autobiography “Anger Is An Energy”. John takes the stage looking remarkably healthy and youthful with a shock of spiky blonde hair and it’s apparent from the start that he is in good humour as he greets the crowd warmly. He’s surprised by the amount of people crammed into the hot and humid 100 Club, “there’s more people here than when the Sex Pistols played!” he quipped. John talks honestly about his childhood and what it was like growing up in a working class Irish family in a Finsbury Park council flat. Although he learnt to read and write at a very early age, the nuns at his strict Catholic school made him feel inferior just because he was left-handed and that shaped his attitude towards religion and authority in general. He then starts to talk about the time that he contracted meningitis at seven years old and fell into a year long coma. John suddenly breaks off as if he’s aware it’s getting a bit serious and announces that he’d rather not talk but would prefer to just get drunk with all of us and play bingo instead! Miranda expertly steers him back on course and he returns to the time he spent in hospital, scared and confused, subject to hallucinations, not sure of who the strangers were who came to visit his bedside. As he recovered and slowly regained his memory he realised that he had to rely on the words of adults and to this day, trust and honesty are vitally important to him. He jokes that when he started to regain his speech, the words would come out in an unintelligible splurge “it was 1234 blah blah blah, rather like the Ramones first album, that explains Punk!” With so much to catch up on he immersed himself in books again and admitted that libraries are his high church. Initially he dreamt of becoming a writer but then he discovered music and realised that the added dimension of sound can portray a situation or the ideas in his head far more accurately. He tells us that the meningitis made him lonely and isolated and even today he is still surprised that so many are here and interested in what he had to say.

John Lydon with Miranda Sawyer - photo copyright Retro Man Blog
After an interval, Miranda passes John a box packed full of cards and asks him to join in on a little game of “lucky-dip”. Each card had a question on it submitted in advance by members of the audience. John really got into the spirit of things, picking out cards at random and addressing each person who sent in the questions, joking and gently taking the mickey out of some. Someone asks what he thinks about the 100 Club, surprisingly the Sex Pistols only played here once and it was very early in their short-lived career. “Everyone in the world said they were there at that gig and it became legendary. It was a nutty gig; the first thing you’re looking at from the stage is that pillar, that’s all you can see.  You think “I’ve made the big time now” and you’re right in front of a pillar – you might as well be in prison, a cell would be bigger. You can imagine what it would be like if there was a mirror on the pillar!” He moaned about not having any monitors on stage at those early Pistols gigs as he had no idea what he actually sounded like, “what I imagined was quite different, when someone plays back a recording, its soul destroying”.

John Lydon at the 100 Club by Kevin Shepherd
On one question card is a list of notable names from the early Punk scene and he is asked for his opinion on them…Johnny Thunders was dismissed as “just a Junkie…” although he admired his guitar playing, “the New York Dolls just ripped off British Glam Rock, we did it far better…” He compares Jimmy Pursey to Freddie Mercury for “trying to bring ballet to Punk” and following Viv Albertine’s expose in her recent autobiography he claims not to like gossip and “anyway she could have said worse”. On Siouxsie Sioux he turns the tables and asks us a question “Do you like her new Bacofoil outfits? She looks like a rack of lamb!” Although he admitted that the early Banshees made great records and she was “brave and beautiful” in the beginning before “it all got a bit like a Stephen King novel”. John is clearly enjoying the joking around now and is really warming to the crowd, “there’s a nice family vibe going on, a trailer park family though…”

He talks passionately about music and tells us that he collects records from all genres; he said he’d always had an open mind from when he was young. He could never understand that year zero attitude created by the media during the early days of Punk Rock, the “bizarre nonsense that said you weren’t allowed to listen to other people’s efforts if they were outside a certain agenda – that’s not Punk”.  Asked what he thought of his own recordings, he replied “every now and then I’ll put on a Pistols or a PiL record and I’m pleasantly surprised. For a moment I think oh, I’d like to be him, and then I realise I am him!” We learn that Alvin Stardust once auditioned for the Pistols before him and the song that he would like to cover would be “Devil Woman” by Cliff Richard.

Although, as I mentioned earlier, he is in a jovial mood, it wouldn’t be quite right without some withering comments and today these are directed mainly at organized Religion and the associated abuse and hypocrisy. The BBC also get both barrels, and he wonders how ridiculous it must seem to people nowadays that they banned the Sex Pistols on the grounds of bad taste when you stop to think what they were letting Jimmy Saville get away with at the time. The rise of racism and UKIP are also discussed, “what’s that new party? Sounds like the dog in Dr Who, Kpax or something…?” Someone asks “how did being London Irish form your character?” and he responds, “We can all yack on about being London Irish but you go back to Ireland and they don’t wanna know. I’m a Londoner, we’re multi-cultural, all shapes and sizes. We are London”. It goes without saying that a few poisonous barbs are aimed at Malcolm McLaren and when he was asked if he could have done more to stop Sid Vicious using drugs, he puts the blame squarely on Sid’s mum “Sid was doomed. When you have a registered heroin addict for a mother, someone who gives you heroin on your 16th birthday, you’re doomed; it drove me mad for years after Sid’s death”.

Some more topics that were covered included his acting role in the movie “Cop Killer” alongside Harvey Keitel and the doomed attempt to resurrect (If you pardon the pun…) Jesus Christ Superstar, “I would have made a great King Herod” he joked. The musical was on in London when the Sex Pistols started and he was always intrigued by how they got away with the show against the wishes of the moral majority. Of course his support of Arsenal Football Club is mentioned and he confesses to missing the standing on the terraces and the sense of community, “as a nipper it’s important to support your local team, you’re affiliated, other kids knew where you came from, it’s a rite of passage”. There are the inevitable questions about his appearances in the Anchor Butter commercial, “I’ll take money from anyone!” and someone asks if agreeing to appear in the TV programme “I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here” was some sort of mid-life crisis. “Everything in life is a crisis; “I’m a Celebrity…” did wonders for me, now housewives love me. Just be yourself, don’t be so precious, one of the most poisonous things I heard when I was young was “act your age”. I can’t act; you’ve seen me in a film!” 

So, overall it was a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining evening spent in the company of one of the few truly iconic figures from British music history. Lydon seems content and happy nowadays but obviously he has not lost that righteous anger at life’s indignities and injustice, and long may that continue. I have to say that Miranda Sawyer also deserves great credit for hosting the Q&A session perfectly. “Anger Is An Energy”, is published by Simon & Schuster and written in conjunction with the renown music journalist Andrew Perry, is out now.  

John Lydon & Miranda Sawyer photo by Kevin Shepherd
Q: What advice would you give the young John?
A: “There’s no point in looking back, hindsight did me no good. If you’ve made a mistake, deal with it apologize and move forward. Actually, writing the book I found out that the young Johnny Rotten hurt me a bit and that fucker’s got to apologize to me!”

With thanks to Kevin Shepherd for the photographs. For more information on what John is up to please check out the John Lydon official web-site here. Public Image Ltd head out on tour in September, for details on dates and tickets please check out the PiL official site here. You can order "Anger Is An Energy" via Simon & Schuster or from all all good book-stores. For more photos of the event please head on over to the Retro Man Blog Facebook page and hit "Like" and "Get Notifications" if you are not already following for access to the photo album.

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