John Lydon:
Capital Radio, Tommy Vance Show, July 16th 1977

Although, strictly speaking, this isn't related to PiL, we are regularly asked about this show and the records picked. So by popular demand…

The interview was a turning point in people's perception of John Lydon and his public image. Malcolm McLaren and Glitterbest hated it. They never wanted him to do it; and were horrified at his record selections. However, this wasn't just a case of breaking rank – if it ever even was – it was about music. MUSIC. "Just play the records. They'll speak for themselves. That's my idea of fun…"

The records highlighted John's eclectic musical tastes, and his open-mind. Reggae, folk, soul, avant-garde, and good old rock n roll, it was all there. And not a Stooges or Dolls record in sight.

See below for a FULL transcription of the interview


Tracklisting & additional info…

Tim Buckley - Sweet Surrender

Tim Buckley - Sweet Surrender
(taken from: Greetings From LA, 1972)

Although he doesn't specifically mention it in the interview, JR was a huge admirer of Buckley's diverse singing style. Buckley regarded his voice as an instrument. Tim was father of acclaimed 90s singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley, who like his father died at an early age…

The Creation

The Creation - Life Is Just Beginning
(single, 1967)

The B-side of this single was 'Through My Eyes', which the Pistols famously flirted with in early rehearsals; and later played live at Crystal Palace 2002.

Both tracks are available on the 'Our Music is Red With Purple Flashes' compilation CD.

scan needed

David Bowie - Rebel Rebel
(single, also featured on: Diamond Dogs, 1974)

It is unclear whether JR actually brought this record, or Capital only play it since he mentions it. He comments he isn't a big Bowie fan but liked this single; and thought it was about the New York Dolls.

scan needed

Unknown Artist - Drowsy Maggie

In various publications this track has been credited to The Chieftains and titled as 'Jig-A-Jig'. However, it is NOT The Chieftains (East of Eden recorded a track entitled 'Jig-A-Jig'). The track is an old Irish jig entitled 'Drowsy Maggie' which has been recorded by countless musicians. Again, this verion of the track is not by The Chieftans, it's unknown who recorded it. Any ideas?

King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown

Augustus Pablo - King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown
(single, also featured on: King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown, 1976)

Gary Glitter - Doing Alright With The Boys

Gary Glitter - Doing Alright With The Boys
(single, 1975)

This single later appeared on several Glitter compilation CD's.

Fred Locks - Walls

Fred Locks - Walls
(taken from: Black Star Liner, 1976)

In the interview JR mentions he isn't too impressed by the album but particularly liked this track as Locks dealt with paranoia: "Walls, surrounding him everywhere he goes. Paranoia!" A theme he would later explore on '4 Enclosed Walls'.

Yabby You

Vivian Jackson and the Prophets - Fire in a Kingston
(single, 1976)

Aka Yabby You. This rare single later appeared on the Yabby You - 'Jesus Dread 1972-1977' compilation CD.

Culture - I'm Not Ashamed

Culture - I'm Not Ashamed
(single, also featured on: Two Sevens Clash, 1977)

With I-Roy on vocals. The version played is a rare dub, not the album version. JR comments that he is impressed by use of sounds such as babies crying and motor engines, "It's only sound, music. Isn't it…"

This rare dub version features on the Joe Gibbs & The Professionals compilation CD 'No Bones For The Dogs' (Pressure Sounds).

Dr Alimantado - Born For A Purpose

Dr Alimantado & The Rebels - Born For A Purpose
(single, 1977)

This was the 2nd ever release on now-legendary UK reggae label Greensleeves. Co-founder Chris Cracknell is reported to have stated that JR mentioning this single helped sustain his fledgling label; apparently it sold over 50,000 copies.

The track later appeared on the 1981 album 'Sons of Thunder' (re-issued on CD as 'Born for a Reason').

Bobby Byrd - Back From The Dead

Bobby Byrd - Back From The Dead
(single, 1974)

This single later appeared on several Byrd compilation CD's.

Neil Young - Revolution Blues Neil Young - Revolution Blues
(taken from: On the Beach, 1974)
scan needed

Lou Reed - Men Of Good Fortune
(taken from: Berlin, 1973)

Marjory Razorblade Kevin Coyne - Eastbourne Ladies
(taken from: Marjory Razorblade, 1973)
Nadir's Big Chance

Peter Hammill - The Institute Of Mental Health, Burning
(taken from: Nadir's Big Chance, 1975)

Hammil was lead vocalist in Van der Graaf Generator. During the interview JR calls him a "true original" and states he thinks Bowie copied a lot from Hammill.

Nadir's Big Chance

Peter Hammill - Nobody's Business
(taken from: Nadir's Big Chance, 1975)

The second track from 'Nadir's Big Chance'. JR felt this song unintentionally referred to punk: "You are nobody's business…"

Makka Bees - Nation Fiddler / Fire!

Makka Bees - Nation Fiddler / Fire!
(single, 1977)

UK roots reggae 7" single on the Congo label.

The track was available on the 1988 Trojan 'Step Softly' compilation. But now appears to be long deleted.

Trout Mask Replica

Captain Beefheart - The Blimp
(taken from: Trout Mask Replica, 1969)

JR comments he is impressed by non-format of Beefheart's music, "He just uses sounds to make the whole thing better…"


Nico - Janitor Of Lunacy
(taken from: Desertshore, 1970)

Despite also picking Lou Reed and John Cale, JR claimed he was not a Velvet Underground fan, and just loved Nico's German accent…

Let's Get It On Ken Boothe - Is It Because I'm Black
(taken from: Let's Get It On, 1973)
Academy in Peril

John Cale - Legs Larry At Television Centre
(taken from: Academy in Peril, 1972)

This avant-garde album has been described as "modern classical", JR describes it as "very funny…"


Third Ear Band - Fleance
(taken from: Music from Macbeth, 1972 )

Traditional folk song taken from the soundtrack of Roman Polanski's 1971 film 'The Tragedy of Macbeth'. The vocal on the track is by Keith Chegwin!

Tago Mago

Can - Halleluhwah
(taken from: Tago Mago, 1971)

In his 2004 Fodderstompf interview Lydon stated that it was Sid who got him into Can: "That's how we were with music. We'd all go out and find our things, and you might not like it, or you might, but that's what it was about…"

Legalise It Peter Tosh - Legalise It
(taken from: Legalise It, 1976)


The Johnny Rotten Show: The Punk and His Music
Capital Radio, Tommy Vance Show, July 16th 1977

Tommy Vance: The following program is dedicated to the belief that there's always two sides to a story.

All the music that you will hear has been chosen by Johnny Rotten and is from his personal collection.

This show was co-produced by Robbie Weston, without his voluntary and creative engineering, there would be no show. It's been mixed for stereo listening, most effectively experienced in headphones.

The Johnny Rotten Show: The Punk and His Music

John Rotten: Lets wrap up a really, really tedious, interview. Because when it comes to it that's exactly what it is. Just play the records…

[Tim Buckley - Sweet Surrender]

So if you could start again, would you do it exactly the same way?

Well, yeah. It's not as laid out as that, I mean we just did it, it was spontaneous. Everything we did was straight away. I think that's the only way you should do anything. It's the way you understand it, because it's honest. When you plan out your future it's not such fun.

[The Creation - Life Is Just Beginning]

It's fashionable to believe Malcolm dictates to us; that's just not true. If anything he's just like the fifth member of the band. We have just as much say as him in anything. What really amuses me about Malcolm is [laugh] the way they say Malcolm controls the press. Media manipulator. The fun of it all is that he done nothing. He just sat back and let them garble out their own rubbish, and they did.

Somebody once said to me he's a fascist.

That's absolute rubbish. He couldn't be. He's a Jew for a start. No rubbish. Nobody should be a fascist.

Somewhere down the line, like everybody else, there's got to have been a first record, if you'd like to pick a first record that gave you any musical influences or turned you on. Or something you wanted to get up and dance to, or whatever. Have you any ideas what it might have been?

Oh God, no! None at all! I couldn't tell you anything like that. I've liked music since the first day I began living. I just like all music. I can remember 'Ready Steady Go!' when I was really small. That was great fun. And I had a plastic Beatles wig. That's what started me buying records. Felt part of it. Which in recent years, over the 70s, I haven't felt part of anything in particular. Like, Bowie was good for a while, but like, you couldn't really get into it because you didn't really believe he believed in what he was doing. I dunno what he was up to.

Not even at any stage of his career, do you think he was always phony, or just putting on an act?

I dunno, he was like a real bad drag queen, and some drag queens are very good, but he wasn't. Bad stuff. 'Rebel Rebel' was a good single, it's about the New York Dolls, I think.

[David Bowie - Rebel Rebel]

Do you ever sit back, and you've got plenty of time to do it, because of circumstances…

Lately I've got nothing else to do but sit back. Not allowed to play ain't much fun. Not when you're in a band and you get on with it. So for the moment we're in a bit of a limbo.

How do you propose to get out?

I don't know, I really just don't know. But we will, we'll never give up.

[Unknown Irish Folk Music / Jig]

[Augustus Pablo - King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown]

Whether you like it or whether you don't, you are as a band a figurehead of a certain type of movement. Do you ever sit back and look at the movement, the way that it is going?

Yeah, I do all the time. A lot of it's rubbish, I mean real rubbish. Pathetic. And just giving it all a terrible bad name. A lot of bands are just ruining it. They're either getting too much into the star trip or they're going the exact opposite way. Neither way is really honest. If you know what you're doing you can completely ignore the whole damn thing. Which is what we've always done, until some silly press-man decides to ask us about what we think of The Rolling Stones. Because I don't. They don't bother me.

Anything by The Rolling Stones that you admire?


[Background plays The Stones - Satisfaction, then comes to an abrupt halt!]


Nothing really. I've never liked any of those 60s bands. Terrible scratching sound. But life's what you make it isn't it.

What would you do though if somebody came up to you and said, 'You're to blame for all this'?

I'd ask them to explain themselves. If someone gives me a valid reason I'll listen to it, I don't mind. Anything's worth listening to.

[Gary Glitter - Doing Alright With The Boys]

Here's a reggae album by Fred Locks, 'Black Star Liner'.

[puts on Northern accent] And there's better than that going around. The only reason I like this album – it's pretty lame – is 'cos of one song, 'These Walls', which is really good. It's about walls surrounding him wherever goes. Paranoia!

[Fred Locks - Walls]

You talk about paranoia with a smile on your face, and paranoia, clinically, is something that sort of knocks out the smiles in people.

Yeah, because they run away from it. If you live in London you're paranoid aren't you? Because it's so depressing. I mean, how many times have you been stuck in your room wondering where can you go – because you got all this energy to get rid of – you just want to have some fun. There's just nowhere to go… And this is amazingly straight [laugh]. I hate talking into this mic.

I sometimes get the same feeling, but it's the only way to do the radio business.

[Vivian Jackson and the Prophets - Fire in a Kingston]

Is it right you used to do the reggae programme?

Yeah. I like reggae

So do I, I always have.

I like reggae mainly because, for a long time, I thought it was about the only stream of music in which people were trying to do different things like overdubs, using echoes…

They just love sound. They like using any sound, I mean right down to that Culture single; car horns, babies crying. And why not? I mean it's only sound music, isn't it.

I just don't like… [goes dubby]

[Culture - I'm Not Ashamed]

Where did you go to school?

[sighs] This poxy Roman Catholic thing. All they done was teach me religion. Didn't give a damn about your education though. That's not important is it? Just as long as you go out being a priest.

Which you haven't become.

Well no. That kind of forcing ideas on you like when you don't want to know is bound to get the opposite reaction. They don't let you work it out for yourselves. They tell you you should like it. And that's why I hate schools. You're not given a choice. It's not free.

It's an inevitable question, and a corny question, but can you think of any better system of educating people?

No I can't [laugh], I just know that one's not right. I wouldn't dare, it's out of my depth, I have nothing to do with that side of things. I haven't been to university and studied all the right attitudes, so I don't know. No I haven't.

[fades in Doctor Alimantado - 'Born For A Purpose ']

This is it, 'Born For A Purpose', right? Now this record, just after I got my brains kicked out, I went home and I played it and there's a verse which goes, 'If you have no reason for living, don't determine my life'. Because the same thing happened to him. He got run over because he was a dread. Very true.

[Dr Alimantado - Born For A Purpose]

That's a big pile of reggae records, I've never, ever, seen anybody with a big pile of reggae records, who's in, ostensibly a white band…

Come round my place sometime!

I mean really…

I was brought up on it.

You were brought up in Islington yeah?

I mean from the early skinhead days when reggae was going around, I mean really terrible stuff then, but you just got into it. I like a lot of soul as well. I borrowed all my soul stuff.

Just to get these was a real strain, I ain't got a record player at the moment, so I have to pass them around, because music's for listening to, not to store away in a bloody cupboard. Yeah, I love my music.

[Bobby Byrd - Back From The Dead]

Yeah, I love my music. [repeat]

[Neil Young - Revolution Blues]

Something that turned me onto you, as a person, was watching you do an interview – and this is going back quite a number of months – with Janet Street-Porter on London Weekend Television, I don't know why, but I just got the impression watching it, and I watched it again and again, because I have it on video. I got the impression you really, really, know what you're talking about. And that's a strange question, but as a question. Do you really know what you're talking about?

Well, I think so, I hope so! If I don't I'm in a real bad state. Yeah, I think I do, yeah. Yeah. What can I say to that? I don't know, can't swear or spit.

What I really mean is that you take it very seriously.

Yeah, I do. I take the band very serious. I'm not going to have people knock them for ignorant reasons. All the press is really bad, you know like The Daily Mirror. I'm really annoyed that the majority of so-called intelligent people would rather believe what they read in The Daily Mirror, knowing that papers like that are just rubbish. Scandal.

Why do you say that?

Because I've been reading them for years, the rubbish they write. So spiteful and childish, and stupid. I just thought everyone knew that. I was proven wrong. People like to believe the worst.

[Sex Pistols - Did You No Wrong]

A lot of people would say you project the worst.

Then, a lot of people are wrong because they don't bother to see further than page one of their national rags. Its their own fault, for like, excepting things blindly; which is something I've never done, and the band don't.

[Lou Reed - Men Of Good Fortune]

The Johnny Rotten Show will continue directly after the 10 O Clock News…

Do you resent, very much, the way that people view you?

No, not at all. I don't care. If they get me wrong that's their problem. Just keep it to themselves. When they start going out on the streets looking for me that's another kettle of fish. It's pathetic of them. Next question…

How many times have you been beaten up?

Loads. But that's just London at the moment. That's the way it is, a violent town. Gangs in the summer strolling the streets. It's very easy for a gang to pick on one person, smash his head in. Big laugh for them. It's so easy for them to say 'What a wanker, look at him run away, what a turd!' I mean what's he meant to do? It's like… no I won't say [laugh]… I'll keep that one out of it.

[Kevin Coyne - Eastbourne Ladies]

If I can just go back to this pile of albums.

It's not all reggae. I can't bring down everything I've got, but if I could, you'd be surprised even more. I like all music.

I've only heard this next man's name Peter Hammill, I know next to nothing about him.

Oh, Peter Hammill is great. A true original. I've just liked him for years. If you listen to him, his solo albums, I'm damn sure Bowie copied a lot out of that geezer. The credit he deserves just has not been given to him. I love all his stuff.

This is called 'Nadir's Big Chance' can you give me a track off it?

Yeah, 'The Institute Of Mental Health Is Burning'.

[Peter Hammill - The Institute Of Mental Health, Burning]

Oh God, the bastard hasn't wrote them in the right order 'Nobody's Business'. That's it. That's really good. It's about punks. He didn't mean it to be, but it's true, [sings] 'You're, nobody's, nobody's business'.

[Peter Hammill - Nobody's Business]

[Makka Bees - Nation Fiddler]

How did you put the band together?

I didn't. I just met them in the shop and – if the truth be known, Malcolm wouldn't speak to me because he thought I was maaad – and just started rehearsing with them. They were terrible, but at least they had ideas. At least they were learning.

Did you sing with anyone else before?

No never in my life. That was the first band ever. I was frightened going near a microphone, I was shocked the way it sounded, what I sounded like. Never. I had no ambitions to it whatsoever. I just knew I was sick of a lot of things, and no way of expressing it! I got one. You should always take your chances. I don't mind the risk. I'll carry on for as long as I think its worthwhile. If it begins to get so easy that it's like pointless, then really it's the time to move on into something else. I don't care. I'm not in this for money, because we haven't seen any yet. You get your 80 thousands from like A&M, but when the tax man moves in you're left with about, you're very lucky if you get a quarter of that, and since that pays all our wages – Virgin don't – it's not that kind of a record deal. All the tapes are ours, we pay for all the recordings, and then we come to them with the tape, and they release it.

[Captain Beefheart - The Blimp]

Captain Beefheart…

He is one of my favourites that geezer. I've got about 7 or 8 of that geezer's albums and I really think they're great. What he does with music, he takes it away from the, it has to be this position or that position, he just uses sounds to make the whole thing better, but he's mad, he's great.

[Nico, fades in]

Oh, Nico!

And The Velvet Underground, but not quite.

Not The Velvet Underground, I don't like them, I just like her voice, German, that voice of hers and that organ, really effective man.

[Nico - Janitor Of Lunacy]

Stagnant. I think that's the fashionable word. You couldn't go see a rock band without knowing what it was gonna be like before you got there. That's the trouble with most punk bands, you can predict what their next song is gonna be, and as soon as they start up you can sing along with the words. Without ever hearing it before, which ain't so funny. That's a real bad night out, and you do feel cheated, there should be loads of different things.

[Ken Boothe - Is It Because I'm Black]

You got a girlfriend?

No. Not at the moment. Why? I don't believe in that walks in the park stuff, that's way out. Arghh, awful stuff. Nah, it's not real, it's not real at all.

There's another album here which I've never seen before in my life…

John Cale's 'Academy in Peril', that's a really funny album, because all the way through, it's like classical, him playing his damn big thing on strings or piano, and there's a really funny track on it 'Legs Larry', which is worth listening to.

I'll play it if you want.

It's very funnyyy.

[John Cale - Legs Larry At Television Centre]

Put yourself 5 years forward, where would you like to be?

I dunno. I can't think like that. That's wrong. How can you predict where you're gonna be, or wanna be. I dunno, things in 5 years will be completely different. Next year will be completely different. They always are.

But I said, where would you like to be?

I dunno. That's what I meant. I don't know where I'd like to be in 5 years. Maybe Nigeria will be a holiday resort. We can all go over there for a sun tan [laughs]. You can't predict things like that! Just like you can't talk truly honestly into a microphone; cos it's difficult.

It's hard.

It is. It's frightening. Horrible stuff. Never mind some of the wisdom will get through.

[Third Ear Band - Fleance]

So to wrap it all up, I've got this thing in my hand which is called a microphone…

Lets wrap up a really, really tedious interview [laugh], because when it comes to it, that's exactly what it is. Just play the records. They'll speak for themselves. That's my idea of fun. There's nothing I can say that'll make people change their minds if they hate me, so why bother? Let them work it out on themselves.

But what would you say to someone who really likes you?

Big deal. So what. It doesn't impress me, or depress me, it's just their business. And that's not being like a real arrogant swine either. It's just I don't like the star trip. I don't think it's very real. They're trying to push me into it. All these silly twots trying to keep me off the streets, they don't realise what they're doing, they're just turning me into another superstar, another Rod Stewart. Well, low and behold, won't you get a surprise.

Of all the records you've brought here now, what one can I wrap up on?

I'd like you play that 'Halleluhwah', off Can 'Tago Mago', but like…

That's no problem.

[laughs] But like, will you fit the rest in? Yeah, they've got the most amazing drummer I've ever heard, it's like he keeps the beat, plays two at once. It's good!

Well, here it is.

[Can - Halleluhwah]

[repeats line]
If it begins to get so easy that it's like pointless, then really it's the time to move on into something else. I don't care. I'm not in this for money, because we haven't seen any yet.

[Peter Tosh - Legalise It]

[repeats the following lines…]
Life's what you make it isn't it.

If they get me wrong, like that's their problem. Just keep it to themselves.

If you live in London you're paranoid aren't you?

There's nothing I can say that'll make people change their minds if they hate me, so why bother? Let them work it out on themselves.

Just like you can't talk truly honestly into a microphone; cos it's difficult.

It's hard.

It is. It's frightening. Horrible stuff. Never mind some of the wisdom will get through.

Tommy Vance: The Johnny Rotten Show: The Punk and His Music was put together by Robbie Weston and Tommy Vance for and behalf of Capital Radio. Many thanks to Keith at Virgin Records for getting the interview together. And also thanks to Johnny for the time that he gave us, and also for the records. And collectively we all hope that you enjoyed it.

[Note: Parts of the interview are mixed with reverb and echo, and interspersed with clips of the Sex Pistols 'God Save The Queen' & 'Did You No Wrong'.]

You may also be interested in reading John Lydon's handwritten reggae recommendations (circa 1978-80) via our link up with…

(with thanks to Greg Whitfield, George X, Simon Reynolds)


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