Leftfield on Lydon

First published in F&F 11, December 1999
© 2000 Fodderstompf.com / F&F Publishing

F&F: As you may remember when the Leftfield Lydon - 'Open Up' single originally came out in 1993 there wasn't much press because of a dispute with Lydon's then record company 'East West'. So with the release of the new Leftfield album 'Rhythm and Stealth', and the Africa Bambaataa collaboration single, 'Afrika Shox', I took the chance to gut their recent press and get some info and quotes about the Lydon collaboration...

By Scott M

Leftfield Lydon promo video © Hard Hands 1993Neil Barnes (Record Mart): "I'd known John Lydon since I was 19. We had a mutual friend who took me round to where he lived. We'd wanted to do a track with him for about two years, but it took all that time to get him to commit to doing it, and to get the track good enough."

Muzik Magazine: May 1993. The first meeting between former Sex Pistol John Lydon, brought about by John Gray, a friend of Neil and Paul's who was a back room man in Lydon's PIL set up. The track then sits in limbo for four months. The Lydon-free dub version seeps out as a promo...

Neil Barnes: "If you read John Lydon's autobiography, there's a chapter entitled John Gray. John Gray was really the first person to play reggae at punk gigs. Nobody really knows that."

Adam Wren (Leftfield studio engineer): "John Lydon had to have a bucket next to him so he could spit into it. I think he's got some problems with his sinuses, so he spits constantly. Unfortunately it was the job of yours truly to empty the bucket!"

John Lydon: "They didn't ask me in because they wanted a pop star floating around on top like a little fluffy cloud... I was always much happier with soul clubs, dance clubs, reggae clubs. That's my musical roots."

Lisa Horan (Leftfield manager): "John was on East West at the time, which meant they had to have first choice on the single. Luckily for us, they turned it down. I've still got a letter from the A&R man which says, "Thanks for coming to us with this project', but...". We were after a £25,000 advance and he didn't think it was worth it. So we ended up being able to put it out on Hard Hands."

Muzik Magazine: November 1993. 'Open Up' becomes a staple on dancefloors everywhere. In the week of release, raging forest fires tear through Southern California, and the "Burn Hollywood, Burn' line leads to a virtual blanket radio ban.

Marion Sparkes (Leftfield press officer): "I think it was Paul King, who was a MTV presenter at the time, who said something like, 'This Leftfield single is outrageous', as if they'd known there was going to be some sort of Hollywood fire. Twat!"

Paul Daley: "Two days after the first meeting with John Lydon, I was DJ-ing up in Derby. I'd got the train up there. On the Sunday, I was standing on the platform, on my own, waiting for the train to come back to London. It pulled in and the fucking bar carriage on the train pulled level with me. And sitting there was John Lydon, on his own, surrounded by about 12 cans of Pil's. It was really weird because I had to get on the train and I didn't really know John at the time. I joined him at the bar, talked about lots of things. But I think he felt really uncomfortable and I know I did too."

Neil Barnes (Radio 1, 'Story of Hard Hands'): "I'd had the idea of working with John for years, but it hadn't been possible. I'd even mentioned it to my previous record company and they just laughed at me... It just seemed like a really natural thing to do, to work with a voice like that, it just felt like it would really be exciting... I remember he came with all the lyrics written out, he'd hate me for saying that but he did, he had the whole thing written out, he had the whole thing written out from beginning to end, and he just went in and did it, he's a proper 'pro', I think the word is."

Paul Daley: "We done a couple of demos and sent them to him, and I think John's initial reaction was, (adopts Lydon/Steptoe voice), 'Where's the bloody the verse, where's the chorus, c'mon it goes on for ages!"

NME: With Bambaataa and Lydon having broken an earlier set of rules with Time Zone's 'World Destruction' back in 1985, Leftfield's 'Afrika Shox' neatly squares the Lydon-Leftfield-Bambaataa circle.
NME: Bambaataa had heard of Leftfield through John Lydon.

NME: It transpires that Neil has just recently got to know Jimmy Pursey. The Sham singer has taken to popping up at Hengistbury Head, a beauty spot on the south coast near Bournemouth where Neil owns a beach hut, and is haranguing the locals about his latest ideas, the latest of which is to remake Steptoe & Son with John Lydon as the dad and Pursey as Harold! (laughs)

Paul Daley (Channel 4 Doc): "It was about throwing people from one arena of music into another, but people like Andrew Weatherall & Paul Oakenfauld had already done that anyway, so we really weren't the first, what Andy done with Primal Scream was hugely important to music, because that was one of the first real rock-dance crossovers, but then again, it was very underground at the time, I just think we took that on a bit further with what we did...
Neil Barnes: When Leftfield was first formed we had an idea of working with John Lydon... We were going for quality, we wanted to use people because they were good at what they did, rather than who they were.
Q: Did you have to twist John Lydon's arm?
Paul Daley: No we broke both his legs! (laughs)
Neil Barnes: That and poured lager down his throat. (laughs)

Neil Barnes (NME): :"A culmination of all the music we've ever been into is coming out in what we do now. We've kind of regurgitated the last 15 years of what we've been listening to. And I have to say that PiL did have a profound effect on me."


Picture Credits: (Top to Bottom)
Leftfield Lydon promo video © Hard Hands 1993
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