Lydon hopes to show Sweden he’s not Rotten to the core

As John Lydon, better known as former Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten, prepares to take the stage in Gothenburg with his new band, The Local's Geoff Mortimore learns about the rock legend's attempts to reinvent himself.

The word “legend” may be grossly over utilised in the music business, but one of the all too few deserving of such a title is John Lydon.

Lydon, better known as former Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten, can (and does) count himself as one of a very exclusive group of musicians who genuinely did change the world.

His appearance in Gothenburg this week promises to be another fascinating chapter in the story of an artist who, thankfully, refuses to go away.

When the Sex Pistols inevitably and messily imploded, Johnny Rotten was faced with the choice of becoming an almost cabaret punk rock act or, looking forward and trying something new.

After hanging out with Richard Branson on the latter’s island in the Caribbean scouting reggae acts, he dropped the “Rotten” moniker and started the process of putting together Public Image Limited (PiL), dabbling in a completely different music and creative arena.

Always much more experimental and less commercial, PiL was more of a collective with a rotating set of musicians around the core of the ever present Lydon.

To many in and outside the business, PiL never really got the commercial and artistic credit they deserved.

Their second album, “Metal Box” was voted one of the most underrated albums ever by Rolling stone magazine, and perhaps it is this, above all else, that keeps Lydon going.

Over a 14 year period, the band ended up recording nine albums before eventually calling a hiatus in 1993.

That break was to end in 2009 when Lydon announced that the band would play five reformation gigs.

“I always said it was never over, that we would do something again one day,” he tells The Local.

“What we are are doing now is great. It’s going really well, and its lovely working with these guys again. The fun is back, it’s all beautiful.”

Underlining his claims that “PiL is closer to his heart than the Pistols were”, Lydon actually financed the current reunion tour himself, on the back of a hugely successful TV ad campaign for “Country Life” butter.

He also (briefly) appeared on the British reality TV show “I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here”, before leaving the set live on air, directing a stream of obscenities at the audience for not voting him out!

There are many sides to John Lydon.

Always happy to play to the gallery, the loud-mouthed smart-arsed oaf is the one that probably gets most media attention, but there’s more to him than that, and the lengths he has gone to to get this tour in particular on the road says a lot about his dedication to the cause.

His unpredictability is what makes him stand out.

He can wax lyrical for example on his admiration for the likes of Kate Bush, Roxy Music, and even, most amusingly, given the infamy he earned off the back of “God Save The Queen,” Prince William and the Royal Family.

Rotten the royalist, who’d have thought it?

Meanwhile His 1995 autobiography, Rotten – No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, is a great insight into a complex, humorous and never dull character. A more recent limited-edition personal scrapbook also depicts a more private side of a man all too happy to play the pantomime villain in public.

There is of course a certain irony that the famous punk rocker in history is still on the road at all, given that the whole ethos behind punk was putting an end to the giant bands that had selfishly and arrogantly hogged the limelight seemingly prepared to go on forever.

Thirty-odd years after punk rock threatened to shake British society to its knees, here he is up on stage, and one still doesn't have to travel too far to take the opportunity of seeing The Stranglers, Stiff Little Fingers, Iggy and The Stooges, Rancid, the list goes on.

But PiL today is not a punk rock tribute act and not surprisingly Lydon is keen to be judged on the merits of his band now, and not the past.

Indeed, when asked to compare life on the road with the PiL in companrison with the infamous tours in the heyday of the Sex Pistols, Lydon abruptly terminated the interview.

Well aware that there will always be a public interest in “Johnny Rotten”, he makes it clear that those turning up to see a punk rock show will be disappointed.

For the more open minded who have never seen this particular legend in action, catch him while you can.

Public Image Ltd play Trädgår'n in Gothenburg on Wednesday, June 22nd.


Member comments

Become a Member to leave a comment.Or login here.