Daily Mirror, July 16th 2010
© 2010 Gavin Martin / Daily Mirror
John Lydon is PiL popping and loving it
by Gavin Martin
With The Sex Pistols and PiL he fronted two of the greatest bands of the last century. And John Lydon's reputation certainly goes before him.
He's the fire-breathing London Irish punk who helped a nation get off their knees.
He's the angry old man whose had run-ins with young stars such as Duffy and Bloc Party.
And he's the reality TV show contender who fled the jungle and sold out by advertising Country Life butter.
"Yes I got slagged off for that," Lydon snorts. "I don't care. People don't understand. I need that money to fund PiL.
"I've turned down many money-making offers over the years, but I loved the butter campaign. I thought it was pure anarchy, completely saucy.
"Ultimately I was promoting British product and if I can bump it up by 87 per cent I can't be that bad a person."
Amazingly, the reunited Sex Pistols' last live outings in 2007/8 proved the old ruffians still have awesome firepower. Even so, they haven't rushed to play a memorial for their recently deceased, old managerial nemesis, Malcolm McLaren.
"He's gone, God rest his soul," says Lydon, 54. "I don't wish death on anyone. I don't understand it and it always leaves me disappointed in life.
"But my father died shortly before him and I had precious little emotion to spread Malcolm's way."
With an acclaimed US tour recently completed, Lydon's most ambitious musical project PiL, reformed and suitably lubricated with butter funding, are set to embark on a UK jaunt.
This will allow the irrepressible frontman to re-engage with some of the most musically advanced, emotionally rich and personal material in his back catalogue.
"My father's death last year really woke me up, he explains. "It's a harsh reality being without two parents and I get to grips with that by performing live.
"Death reaffirms my love of life and human beings. It's a shame that it takes death to make me appreciate that.
"My dad always instilled in me that you don't let the b******s grind you down. Things like that matter. So in a weird way he is still speaking to me.
"Most of it unfavourable, because that's the sort of relationship we had," he adds cackling.
"It's not as if I have a romantic illusion about my dad. It's the truth of the man - that's where I stand with him."
Death Disco, the 1979 PiL hit inspired by watching his mum's death from cancer, is now often changed around to relate feelings towards his dad's death.
"I'm putting more into this," Lydon says. "PiL songs are wrapped up in a personal experience. I'm soul searching, for want of a better term.
"The Pistols was my first opportunity at songwriting - broader strokes. Their shows were very rewarding but left me with a lot to answer.
"PiL explains me better. I'm not some cold indifferent pop star. The media tried to wrap me up as that with the Sex Pistols, but people who come to enjoy PiL know that I'm more than that.
"We get old faces and young fans who come with an open heart and they are not disappointed.
"It's been a long time since I performed as PiL so I'm doubling up on my energies .
"The band's understanding and skill is most excellent. At any moment we can improvise and take the songs into a different area of exploration, which is a wonderful thing.
"Sometimes sticking rigidly to the original recording is not good enough. There has to be updates in things.
"In the Pistols, the songs are so tightly written that that's not possible, though I may be able to view them differently after doing this.
"I definitely do not disregard my inheritance. I love where I started and I love where I am now."
With new PiL material being worked on, there's going to be a lot more touring to come from the newly dedicated and often teetotal Lydon.
"The whole idea is to get this into a constant touring pattern so that when it comes to making records it will not cost us an arm and a leg," he explains.
"In England we've cut the ticket price in half, so that puts us on a shoestring budget. But it's worth it.
"One way or another we'll record at the end of the year, but I doubt it will be for the record company as they've been no help at all.
"There's many bands who wouldn't exist if it wasn't for PiL and I'd like some recognition of that. A bunch of £5 notes in a brown paper envelope would be nice, but I want more than that."
Does he protest too much? Surely he could sit back in the considerable luxury of his LA abode and get by on past royalties?
"I could sit at home, but I wouldn't know about living off anything," Lydon scowls. "There isn't that much floating around.
"But it's not about money with me. People say that what I do isn't singing. Well I'd like to know what it is then. I mean what I say and I say it very loud and proud.
"I want to do this and I have the need to do this. I love being onstage now - that's something I couldn't have said early in my career. I was very nervous, but now I don't see it as performing. It's soul cleansing."
● PiL's UK tour starts on Monday at London's O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire.
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