I don’t read or watch TV interviews with performers normally. They need to burnish their public persona and that gets in the way of anything interesting. Not so with this John Lydon interview. Perhaps its the advancing years or the vapidity of the current music scene but he seemed determined to share his sense of what has shaped his whole artistic career, rather like some of Bob Dylan’s recent interviews, and probably for the same reasons. Lydon took us from his childhood roots, and explained how a period of his early years in the Norfolk countryside had given him an accent that enabled his reading of Shakespeare’s verse, and showed us a clip Laurence Olivier in Richard III (which sent me straight to video rental) by way of explanation. He extolled the beauty of Mozart particularly his Requiem,and talked about his feelings around his mother’s and father’s deaths and his subsequent PIL recording of Death Disco.
I tried a couple of times to sign the Sex Pistols to Chrysalis. The first time came after I saw an early gig at the 100 Club which had been a revelation. It wasn’t easy to get everyone on board, particularly after we were locked out of a gig at the Screen on the Green in Islington, but we persevered and ended up competing with EMI for them. Chris Wright didn’t entirely believe Malcolm McLaren’s claim to be in serious discussions with EMI, so one of our team, Phil Cokell, was sent round the back of our Oxford St office to Manchester Sq where EMI were based to check on whether Malcom was actually going there and how long he was in there. You know what happened. We tried again to sign them after A&M but they ended up on Virgin. McLaren was determined that they wouldn’t sign to Chrysalis. I like to think that it was because he recognised we were more interested in the band than his pr ideas. It didn’t help when they went into record with our friend Chris Thomas as the producer, in our Wessex studio and with our studio manager the great Bill Price engineering. That was pretty much the end of my involvement apart from a brief appearance in ‘The Great Rock n Roll Swindle’ later recycled in ‘The Filth and the Fury’.We signed Generation X and moved on. Many years later Midge Ure put Kent Zimmerman, one of the Zimmerman brothers who were working with John Lydon on the writing of his autobiography, in touch with me and we relived the whole period.
The Sex Pistols rhythm section was extraordinary,and that is always a prerequisite of the great bands. Its not a surprise that the departure of the original bass player spelt the end of it. Lydon talks about that in the interview. The atmosphere and personality of The Specials struck me as being in a bit of a parallel universe with The SexPistols, and I think one of the reasons The Specials 2009 reunion was so successful was the fact that the rhythm section,led byBrad, Horace and Roddy was as good as ever.
Watching the interview I was conscious again of John Lydon as a revelation, and by the
passion, honesty and the commitment to expression that I’d encountered at the 100 Club.Its on BBC i-player!