Melody Maker, August 1978
© 1978 Melody Maker
A TV trip to Birmingham
Revolver, August 1978
I am sitting in a pub beneath the ATV studios in Birmingham, but I am not drunk; not even remotely jollied - up. I am waiting for Johnny Rotten, wondering where exactly on God's earth this recalcitrant urchin is at this moment.
So is Mickie Most, the producer of Revolver and the programme's director, Chris Tookey. So are the increasingly tired and emotional representatives of Virgin Records, who have spent most of this drab Tuesday afternoon apologizing for Mr Rotten's continued and baffling absence.
We are, none of us, in good humour. We are in truth, profoundly kissed off by the apparent disappearance of Rotten and his new ensemble: Public Image Ltd., who have been lost somewhere between London and this concrete metropolis in the Midlands.
Let me start from the beginning: Public Image Ltd. had been scheduled to appear last week in Birmingham to record a performance for Mickie Most's Revolver. Public Image, in fact, were to be the last featured band in the first series of this programme, bringing the show to a dramatic conclusion. An excellent idea. Virgin, of course, were thrilled when they received Most's invitation. So, we understand, was John Rotten. So were Revolver when Virgin, on John's behalf, accepted.
Public Image Ltd., then, were to arrive at ATV last Tuesday afternoon to rehearse a brief set which would be filmed that evening before a live audience. Virgin waved goodbye. Mickie and the boys and girls at Revolver clapped their hands and waited for them to arrive. The band were expected to make a physical at around 2.00pm.
You're still with me, I trust.
Shortly before noon, Rudi Van Egmond, Virgin's Regional Promotion Manager, received a telephone call from Jah Wobble, Public Image's bass player. Jah informed Rudi that the group were at Watford Gap and that they were likely to be delayed because the Transit in which they were traveling had suffered a puncture in one of the tires. Rudi was not particularly alarmed. The production staff at Revolver were alerted. They were told to expect Mr Rotten and his compatriots at about 4.00pm.
Now, this is where the entire episode begins to assume the aspect of comic farce. Jah Wobble's telephone call to Virgin virtually coincided with the arrival at Vernon's Yard of Public Image's guitarist, Keith Levene, who had dropped by with the tapes of the group's forthcoming single.
Levene's appearance provoked a definite murmur of surprise in the Virgin office. Why, he was asked, was he not at Watford Gap with the rest of his group on the way to ATV? Because, he blandly replied, he had been told by the rest of his group, they had pulled out of their projected appearance on Revolver.
Mmmm, mused the Virgin office, suddenly suspicious.
Levene, it was decided, would travel to Birmingham with the Virgin promotion manager and Van Egmond: there had merely been some misunderstanding between Levene and the rest of his group. They arrived at the ATV studios at about 3.00pm (as did your reporter.) There had been no further communication from Rotten's party: charitably, it was assumed that they would soon be with us.
The continued absence of Rotten and his boys - at 4.00pm there was still no sign of them - quickly began to bite at the nerves of the ATV executives, the Virgin reps and, especially, Keith Levene whose paranoia count must have been escalating at a pace too rapid to accurately measure. Eddie and the Hot Rods were prancing about the studio recording a new song called 'Circles', finally cutting it after a series of abortive takes. Chris Tookey was pleased. Mickie Most was not.
'Oh God', he declared, bursting into the control room, 'I've just seen one of Johnny Rotten's group fighting with one of the security men. I suppose we won't have them on the show tonight.' The remark was premature, but eventually prophetically exact.
Levene, we would later discover, had become increasingly irate at Rotten's belated arrival, and, frustrated by the delays and, we suppose, Rotten's failure to contact him about the appearance on Revolver (which must have smacked of a successful attempt to annoy him, and even to edge him out of his group,) had become involved in a scuffle with one of the security chaps.
'What', asked Mickie Most of Chris Tookey, 'are we going to do if Rotten doesn't appear?'
'Panic'. replied Mr Tookey.
The Virgin reps were beginning to look quite haggard. Mickie Most appeared - with some justification - to be so angry that he might at any moment have declared himself in favour of bringing back the birch, National Service, transportation and even keel-hauling as punishment for such rapscallions as Rotten and his devious crew of troublemakers.
Mr Most, in no uncertain terms, told the helplessly apologetic Virgin reps that if Rotten and his band failed to appear within the next half-hour they would immediately be dropped from the programme and he, personally, would ensure that they would be banned from the entire commercial network. The Virgin reps apologized. Again. They are now as furious as Mr Most. We all went for a drink and waited. Mr Most hurried off to discuss his strategy with Mr Tookey and to attempt to secure a replacement for the missing Public Image.
At 6.30pm there seemed only the most remote possibility of Rotten turning up. We had a drink and waited. The Rich Kids, we heard, were on their way: with Glen Matlock cheerfully appreciating the delicious irony of the situation, we didn't doubt. The Sex Pistols, too, had been approached, and Mr Most was optimistic about the possibility of them appearing with the Rich Kids.
John Rotten had still not appeared by 7.30pm. He was now banned from the entire commercial network, presumably.
I suggested to the Virgin reps - charitably, I thought - that perhaps Rotten and his cronies had been ambushed somewhere north of Watford by agents of Malcolm McLaren. They were not overly amused. Perhaps, I continued, they were en route to Eritrea for a benefit concert. They shook their heads. We had another drink and waited.
I wondered whether Rotten might eventually appear and excuse himself by claiming to have been waylaid and beamed up by extra-terrestrial space travellers while the transit was negotiating a hazardous stretch of the M1 somewhere near the Luton Triangle ( a notorious area in which so many groups have vanished after radio contact has been mysteriously lost - a fantasy captured by the erudite pen of Mr Hunt Emerson in the accompanying cartoon, readers.) This thought, similarly, failed to amuse the forlorn Virgin reps.
So we had another drink and waited, and eventually traipsed back to the ATV studios where roving deejay Chris Hill was introducing the Rich Kids: 'These people were at home two hours ago with their feet up watching Crossroads', he declared, 'so let's hear it for the Rich Kids...' Mickie Most seemed to be on the verge of collapse. Peter Cook made rude comments about the disappearance of Mr Rotten, none of which I would care to repeat here.
The partner of the driver hired by Virgin to transport Rotten and his crew of reprobates to Birmingham was very worried; he imagined the driver being forced by Jah Wobble at knife point to take the group and assorted 'mates' for a day at the seaside.
As it happened, Jah Wobble turned up at Virgin the next morning, strolling in with a smile so smug it brought with it a personal assistant and a chauffeur. Rotten and Public Image Ltd., it transpired, had 'persuaded' - euphemism is clearly ironic - the driver to take them to Camber Sands, where they had enjoyed a day frolicking upon the sand dunes and paddling in the breakers along the beach.
The Virgin reps were still not amused. Neither was Mickie Most, not Chris Tookey.
And neither was I, Johnny.
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