Research by Karsten Roekens and Scott M, plus contributors…
Sex Pistols split after completing their US Tour at San Francisco, Winterland Ballroom on January 14th.
John "Rotten" Lydon travels back to London via New York. He breaks the news to the New York Post on January 19th: "I am sick of working with the Sex Pistols."
Lydon travels to Jamaica for three weeks with Richard Branson (head of Virgin Records) and photographer Dennis Morris to scout for artists for Virgin's new 'Front Line' reggae label. Lydon invites punk filmmaker Don Letts (who records footage of the trip). 'Sounds' Vivien Goldman also joins them.
Although often dismissed as a glorified holiday, the trip results in the likes of Big Youth, The Mighty Diamonds, Prince Far I and Johnny Clarke being signed to Front Line; – and although some artists already had an association with Virgin Records – it's a matter of record that without Lydon's involvement the majority of them wouldn't have signed to Front Line.
While Lydon is in Jamaica producer Lee 'Scratch' Perry records a 'version' of the Pistols reggae-tinged 'Submission'. The track is said to be poor, with Lydon especially disappointed in the production; it remains unreleased to this day. A version of 'Problems' was also recorded.
Vivien Goldman: "I was in the studio while he recorded a long-lost track at Lee Perry's Black Ark Studios on Washington Boulevard. All the Dreads slapped him on the back, praising him 'God save the Queen, yes, mon!' The Rotten One basked in their approval. They really meant it, maaaaaaaaan."
While Branson is in Jamaica two members of Devo fly out to see him over contract negotiations. McLaren is convinced Branson is lining up Lydon to be the groups lead singer. Branson totally denies the allegations: I don't think John even met them."
However, Mark Motherbaugh of Devo later claimed: "Richard Branson flew me and Bob Casale down to Jamaica once, got us really stoned, and we were like 'Whoah!'... And he says 'We have Johnny Rotten in the next room, and he wants to be the new lead singer for Devo. If you guys are up for that, we have the press from England here, and they're ready to take photos and do articles if you guys want to announce right now that Johnny Rotten is the new lead singer for Devo.'... We couldn't stop laughing."
Despite these claims, it seems highly unlikely that John Lydon had any knowledge of these events, and certainly had no wish to join Devo.
McLaren associate John 'Boogie' Tiberi is all but thrown out of the grounds of Lydon's hotel in Jamaica after trying to sneakily film him for use in the 'Great Rock n Roll Swindle'.
Boogie has traveled to Jamaica hoping to arrange reconciliation between Lydon and McLaren (he takes with him several pieces of blank paper which Malcolm has signed in order to make false promises to John). If Boogie fails to reconcile John he is supposed to film footage of him being confronted with the line who killed bambi". However, John doesn't want to know, and Boogie is reduced to covertly filming behind bushes and trying to persuade reggae artists to talk about John on camera. The Virgin entourage quickly tires of his stunts; and he is 'asked' to leave…
After briefly returning to London, John Lydon flies to LA for clarity over his contract with Warner Brothers; and Glitterbest. He meets Warner's vice director Bob Regehr and McLaren who try to convince him to return to the Pistols. However, on the morning he arrives he tells Warner's official's he has no intention of working with the Pistols again, and asks them to fund his as yet unformed new band.
Lydon also uses the trip to take his terminally ill mother for a once-in-a-lifetime holiday to California.
The first reports that Lydon is preparing a legal case against Glitterbest – The Sex Pistols management company – over contract rights and unpaid moneys (as well as principle). John claims he has been told he can't use the name Johnny Rotten, as McLaren claims he owns the the name and is property of the Sex Pistols, and reverts to his real name John Lydon. Malcolm also wants 25% of his earnings as he still claims to be JL's manager. It will be nearly 18 years, and £250,000 in legal expenses later, before the dispute is settled.
Around the same time John is issued with a £58,000 tax demand.
'Sounds' - The first of a two part interview with John Lydon by Vivien Goldman from Jamaica. His first real interview in the music press since the Pistols split.
'Sounds' - John Lydon interview. Part two of Vivien Goldman's Jamaica report talks to Lydon on his return to the UK. He dismisses rumours he is to form a reggae band: "I like the music, but not enough to tamper with it…". When asked what kind of music he plans to make he states: "I don't care what people want to know. No one's got that kind of right. I do what I do and when I decide to release it, that's a different story, but till then I prefer to keep quiet about it…"
Lydon's new solicitor, renowned music lawyer Brian Carr, sends a letter to Glitterbest asking them to supply Sex Pistols accounts from the two quarters up to September 30th 1977. The first step in the Lydon legal battle.
Warner Brothers, via Joe Stevens, send John £12,000. With the cash he buys a flat at 45 Gunter Grove in Fulham, West London. The flat will become headquarters for John and PiL over the next two years.
Over the next few months, tied up with legal proceedings with Glitterbest, and forming his new band, Lydon becomes almost a recluse at Gunter Grove. The flat becomes an escape from reality for Lydon and the ever-growing entourage, who all stay at the flat. Wobble later comments, People had quite a tenuous grasp on reality. Some people doing speed, some doing heroin, some doing both. We'd be up for days on end talking conspiracy theories and shit. Everyone secretly knowing it's a bunch of bullshit. It must have damaged a lot of people that scene, for what good it did…"
John Lydon (with top hat) backstage at Patti Smith gig at Rainbow Theatre, London (very brief clip can be seen in 'Dancing Barefoot' video, released in 2001).
Buzzcocks 'Tour Number 3' ends at The Greyhound in Croydon. John Lydon appears at the rear of the stage during the gig to immense cheers. Later he organises the beers for a small party which is held at Nora Forster's Chelsea house. Steve Diggle: "We completed tour number three in the spring. Johnny Lydon and his missus threw a party for us at their house in Chelsea…"
ITV, London Weekend Show. John Lydon's first TV interview since leaving the Sex Pistols. Lydon tells Janet Street Porter he's currently rehearsing with everchanging (unnamed) musicians but hasn't formed a band yet. When asked about his recent trip to Jamaica he again denies the new band will perform reggae and explains that legal problems with Malcolm McLaren are hindering him. Lydon predicts it could take up to 6 months before he is able to release anything. He also makes mention that during the Pistols the press were more interested in the clothes he wore and the colour of his hair…
As it happens Keith Levene, who also saw the programme, runs into John's friend Paul 'Youngie' Young while walking past Great Portland Street tube station in London's West End. Keith Levene: "He gave me John's phone number… I went around to John's one night and that was it…"
Rumours that John will unveil his new band at the Anti-Nazi League Rally prove unfounded.
LATE APRIL / EARLY MAY
Lydon's new band begin rehearsing in London Bridge, South London. The still unnamed band includes friend Jah Wobble (aka John Wardle) on bass. And former-Clash guitarist Keith Levene; who Lydon met when The Clash supported the Pistols at the Black Swan in Sheffield, 1976.
Levene's friend Mikki Toldi also sits in as a 2nd guitarist; however, after a few rehearsals it is decided that only one guitarist is needed, and he leaves amicably. Photographer Dennis Morris is also present at rehearsals; and at one point was considered for bass duties. They will soon be joined by Canadian Jim Walker on drums; the first in a very long line of drummers.
'Record Mirror' - John Lydon interview. The reporter starts off suitably snide and focuses mainly on the Pistols. John seems not to take him seriously throughout, however, there is some interesting pre-PiL info: "I'm gonna produce my next LP. I've watched them twiddling knobs in the studio for years. I know what sound I'm after, and I know how to get it. Easy." He also states he's still looking for a drummer.
The fledgling band have an advert placed in the classified section of Melody Maker looking for a drummer. From these audition's Canadian Jim Walker is recruited. Future PiL drummer Martin Atkins also answered the ad but was unable to attend the audition.
John Lydon later commented: "I went through weeks and weeks of rehearsing with everybody who bothered to reply to my ad in the music press. It said something like, 'Lonely musician seeks comfort in fellow trendies'. I didn't use my own name because then people who didn't know how to play would have turned up and that would have set me back another two years. But the people who did turn up were terrible. Denim clad Heavy Metal fans… Jim (Walker) was the only person I liked from the auditions. He sounds like Can's drummer. All double beats…"
With Jim Walkers' arrival the band is complete. Over the coming weeks they steadily begin to get a set together. Early tracks rehearsed include 'Public Image' and 'Sod in Heaven' (aka 'Religion') – a song John largely wrote while still in the Pistols. The Pistols 'Belsen Was a Gas' and a piss-about version of The Who's 'My Generation' are also flirted with. Of the new material John comments: "The way we write songs is so easy. Someone will bash something out and everybody will fall in and I'll babble something over it. Which is great because, let's face it, there's so much to yell about. More than ever. My number one target has always been hypocrisy…"On one occasion reported in the NME Don Letts also jams with the band, toasting on 'Religion'; though he will not be a member.
The first music press article on Lydon's new band in the 'New Musical Express' by Neil Spencer. The band deny they are going to play reggae but Wobble warns rock is obsolete". He also adds, I like to play heavy on the bass". Levene comments he wants to use his experience as a soundman on 'rock dub' as part of the band's repertoire.
Wobble also comments, Frankly, with John's business affairs the way they are, I reckon it could be six to twelve months before this band is gigging…" On hearing the band rehearsing Spencer comments, What becomes immediately clear is that they aren't going to be any surrogate Sex Pistols"
The band are using the temporary (joke) name of 'The Carnivorous Buttockflies'.
MAY / JUNE
In between getting PiL together John gathers affidavits from the likes of Joe Stevens and Noel Monk, along with various legal data for his impending battle with Malcolm and Glitterbest. John still hadn't received any money from Glitterbest. They claimed John didn't deserve any money as he had broke contract. While John claimed his contract with the Pistols had dissolved when the group split. The dispute results in the case going to court.
John Lydon attends an Iggy Pop gig at the London, Music Machine (later re-named Camden Palace). Ron Asheton later recalled in Legs McNeill's 'Please Kill Me' book: "We were playing at the Music Machine, and after the show Bowie and Rotten came backstage. They're all sitting around a big table, and Bowie and Iggy just kept telling Johnny flat out what he should do. You know, 'You should do this, get rid of these guys, straighten up your act, go talk to this person...' And he's just sitting there not saying a thing. Finally Johnny just stood up and said 'Fuck you guys. You're full of shit.' He walked toward me and Fred (Smith) and Gary (Rasmussen) - Fred had a fifth of Jack - and he said 'Can I get that?' Then he goes 'You're the guys I wanna talk to.' Before that, I didn't think much of the guy. After that, I go 'This guy's all right. He just told Iggy and Bowie to fuck off.'"
John Lydon later commented in his autobiography 'Rotten, No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs: "I was at an Iggy Pop gig at Camden Palace in London, and I went backstage to say hello because I had met Iggy a year before. Mr. Bowie wanted me removed - thrown out in fact. He wasn't touring with Iggy, he was just backstage. I thought it was odd. It was Iggy's gig, and Mr. Bowie got his personal bouncers to have me removed. I've had an utter loathing for Bowie since then. What a pompous pratt!"
The band register at Companies House as a limited company called 'Tinkascus' – later changing its name to 'Public Image Limited' on December 31st 1978. In his 2003 Fodderstompf interview Keith Levene explained: Yeah, we set it up as a company. We bought a company off the shelf called 'Tinkascus', because you do that, you buy companies off the shelf and Public Image Limited was a limited company."
The band enter Advision Studios in London for two days to record 'Public image' with engineer John Leckie. The track is then completed at Wessex Studios with engineer Bill Price. After an altercation with an assistant engineer the band are banned from Wessex, and have to use a variety of other studios to record their forthcoming album. The album is due for an Autumn" release. It will be recorded between July and November 1978 in a variety of studios including The Manor, Oxfordshire, and Gooseberry, London.
Sounds - Lydon interview. The title of the article is taken from one of the songs Caroline Coon hears the band perform, 'Public Image'. Coon comments, "Ideally [Lydon would] like to start gigging in six weeks time. On the evidence of the rehearsals I've heard, however, that seems somewhat optimistic. With hard work and luck, the band could be ready in six months. Recording is another matter..."
NME - John Lydon reviews the week's single's releases.
John Lydon officially announces to the press that the new group will be called 'Public Image' (Limited will follow). He also announces that they will manage themselves, and that they have signed an eight album deal with Virgin Records; no doubt influenced by the support Lydon was receiving from Virgin in his legal battle.
The name 'Public Image' was inspired from the title of a 1968 Muriel Spark novel. John later commented in Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, "I got the name Public Image from a book by that Scottish woman, Muriel Spark, who wrote 'Prime of Miss Jean Brodie'. When I was in Italy, somebody introduced her writings to me. I checked out some of her other books when I got home. One of them was called 'The Public Image'. It was all about this actress who was unbearably egotistical. I though, Ha! The Public Image. Limited. Not as a company, but to be limited – not being as 'out there' as I was with the Sex Pistols."
In interviews Lydon begins elucidating the principles behind Public Image: "In the band we're all equal. No Rod Stewart's. We all do equal amounts of work, we all produce equally, write songs and control money equally. I don't have 100 per cent control, but I do know that record companies are your worst enemy... We're just the beginning of a huge umbrella, we can each do our solo ventures to our amusement so long as they don't infringe on the band as a whole. I want it to spread out. I know that might sound a bit idealistic... Tours are old fashioned. Mass tours are rubbish, we'll just live in different places when we feel like it and do gigs occasionally. I will not personally go through the shit of a tour again. It destroys the band totally. You begin to hate each other."
Pig Paper Fanzine #9 - John Lydon interview (pre-PiL). The writer of this Canadian fanzine bumped into John Lydon while he visited Toronto with his Mum in April 1978.
Rumours in the music press that John Lydon is on Pete Townsend's short list to play Jimmy in Quadrophenia.... Years later director Franc Roddam revealed that John was indeed considered for a part, "At the time everyone seemed to want to be in the movie. There was a lot of talk about Johnny Rotten being involved, but things were too complicated for him at the time to use him" he is quoted as saying... Johnny Rotten the 'ace face' at Brighton! Around this time Lydon also turns down a part in a LWT play as a car thief, because it was too obvious".
Melody Maker & NME reports on PiL's no show at Revolver (see August 22).
Public Image are scheduled to make their TV debut on ATV music programme 'Revolver' filmed in Birmingham. However, only Levene shows up who traveled up earlier in the day by train. The other members, send a message to the show to say they have broken down and are stuck in Watford" but will arrive later. However, it turns out the band – along with photographer Dennis Morris, John Rambo Stevens and John's brother Jimmy – have hi-jacked the bus sent to collect them and are MIA in the Seaside town of Camber Sands, drinking and sun bathing!
Revolver producer Micky Most claims:"The band have done themselves a lot of harm. Breaking a contract like that means an instant life ban on Independent TV. They'll need a TV plug sometime in the next 20 years,and they won't be able to get it". He also comments on John, If I had gotten my hands on him at the time I would have throttled him"!
The incident is the first in a long line of jokes" Public Image will play on the press and their record Company. At the last minute Glen Matlock's band the Rich Kids are drafted in to replace Public Image on the show.
Warner Brothers drop the remaining Sex Pistols from the label, with the exception of John. This results in the contract spreading over to cover PiL.
The first three copies of PiL's first single are mistakenly posted to one of John's neighbours in Fulham. Dave Crowe, Lydon's friend (and PiL secretary), calls round to collect them and is told by the owner of the house, a Portuguese journalist, that he can only have one back! The journalist claims he has already posted a copy to his radio show in Portugal and says he'll only give Lydon the other copy if he agrees to an interview, he refuses...
Recording of the promotional video for 'Public Image', directed by Peter Clifton; including footage shot by Don Letts on 8mm.
The release of Jah Wobble's first solo single, 'Dreadlock Don't Deal With Wedlock'; the first PiL related record (see wobble discography for full info). "Did you ever think it would come to this Jah Wobble is back to take the piss!" Advertisements warn fans to "Snap it up before we reprocess the vinyl."
It's announced PiL's live UK debut will be at the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury park on Xmas and Boxing Day. There is also the possibility of a matinee show being added on boxing day is the demand is there. Tickets are £3.50 each. The Rainbow, an all seater venue, will have the seats removed and special crash barriers added. The shows will run 7:30pm-1am. It's also announced the band don't intend to follow the gigs with a tour, instead they will play a series of one-off gigs in the new year. Rumour has it PiL will play some warm up gigs in Ireland; instead they will play Belgium and France.
The release of 'Public Image' 7" single (Virgin. VS 228), now credited to Public Image Limited. The single comes wrapped in a newspaper sleeve – designed by PiL and photographer/designer Dennis Morris – meant to be a parody of a UK tabloid. Initially the printers refuse to print the sleeve, complaining it is obscene!On 'Public Image' Lydon comments: We mixed it to our own requirements, then Virgin tried to change it with a special letter to the factory. The complaint was that you couldn't hear the words on the first hearing and that the bass was too heavy... 'The Cowboy Song'. You can dance to that song and it cost us approximately £1 to make. It's just a jolly good disco record and it came about 'cos we were bored and couldn't think of a B-side."
A press review comments on Lydon, It's a shame, but Rotten will probably end up around 1988 like Iggy Pop, being touted around by some businessman on the strength of the outrageous band he used to be with, making offbeat records that impress a certain section of art-groupies and trying to play it straight to young audiences who were too young to be touched when he was good and now just want to see him hurt himself with cigarettes"...
(Jokey note: Little did they know that PiL would actually be supporting a hugely successful rock band on a stadium tour of the USA, and Lydon would be running around the USSR with coloured dreadlocks!).
Advertisements and posters designed, again with PiL and Dennis Morris, appear for the 'Public Image' single, reading "Public Image Ltd: A Product of Your Society."These advertisements are the first to feature the PiL logo. Keeping with Public image Ltd's business image the pill shaped logo is loosely based on the ICI logo.
NME review 'Public Image'.
The video for 'Public Image' debuts on ITV's 'Saturday Night People' hosted by Russell Harty & Janet Street Porter. Russell has a dig at Lydon and PiL, while Street-Porter defends them.
'Public Image' enters the charts, peaking at number nine and remains in the charts for eight weeks. The video even gets (briefly) broadcast on 'Top of the Pops'.
Radio 1, Rock On - John Lydon interview. Lydon is interviewed by Vivian Goldman. He reveals he'd like to have the Rainbow show filmed and screened live in cinemas around the country.
The full unedited version of this interview is later included on the 2013 Light in the Attic US release of First Issue.
'Melody Maker' - Lydon / Wobble / Levene interview. "But if you're so anti-image, why call your band Public Image?" Lydon: "Limited! Public Image Limited! It's a piss-take, it's ironical, do you not understand? The Public Image is Limited!"
Radio 1, Paul Gambichni - Lydon & Wobble interview.
'Record Mirror' - Lydon & Wobble interview. A drawing of Lydon is featured on the cover. The article makes mention of "Dave" and "Lee".
Lydon starts High Court proceedings against Glitterbest. A date is set for the second week in February 1979.
'Zig Zag' magazine - PiL interview at Gunter Grove. The band are also featured on the front cover.
Release of 'Public Image - First Issue' (Virgin. V 2114). Despite featuring eight tracks the sleeve only features five due to the fact the album hadn't been finished when the sleeve was being done.
Among the tracks are 'Religion' & 'Public Image', which Lydon wrote while he was still in the Sex Pistols. Another track 'Annalisa' was inspired by the true story of Anneliese Michel. Anneliese from Klingenberg in Bavaria, Germany, died on 1.7.1976 of dehydration and malnutrition, her weight was just 31 kg. Suffering from epilepsy she was exorcised over a period of ten months by two catholic priests and finally died as a result. No doctor was involved. The parents and the two priests were finally taken to court in spring 1978 and sentenced to six months in prison each. However, none of them spent a single day in prison. There's actually a book about the case, Felicitas Goodman - 'The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel'.
Originally the album was scheduled for release on 1st October, but the band fails to complete the record in time. The album doesn't get released by Warner's in the US who also object the recording quality and insist on new mixing.
Advertisements appear for 'First Issue' featuring a Hollywood-style photo of Lydon and the caption, "Public Image - An Album Is Born."
'Sounds' review 'First Issue'.
Jock McDonald who is co-promoting the forthcoming Rainbow gigs – along with PiL – is told by Lydon to return Virgin records cheque for gig tickets and make them queue at the box office! McDonald supplies the tickets anyway. He also comments that he's been offered £5,000 by Glitterbest for permission to let them secretly film the Rainbow gigs.
Virgin Records are not financially backing the Rainbow gigs. PiL are handling the overheads themselves, as well as booking and promotion etc. They fully expect to loose money on the shows (and do).
PiL rehearse for their upcoming live shows at the Brixton Academy in London. They also begin to work on new material. An embryonic version of 'Death Disco' is tried out. Wobble also remembers they jammed on an untitled instrumental track. A rough mix of which was recorded on their Revox machine, but has never surfaced.
When asked about unreleased material Jim Walker (possibly) referred to the title of this track as "You Stupid Person!" But he could simply been having a little piece of fun…
Theatre 140 Belgium.
PiL's first ever live show. This gig – together with Paris – is meant as a warm-up for their London debut. Due to popular demand the promoters arrange two shows on the same night, the first set includes: Theme / Belsen Was a Gas / Low Life / Religion / Attack / The Cowboy Song.
During the second set Lydon walks off after someone throws a glass. The band continue by playing two versions of the 'Cowboy Song'! Eventually the confused crowd become more and more volatile.
A review of the show plus an interview with the band is later published in the January 1979 editions of 'HUMO' magazine from Brussels and 'Muziekkrant OOR' from Amsterdam. Belgian magazine En Attendant, #13 also print a chronological behind-the-scenes account of the show by Belgian promoters Clean-X.
Paris, Le Stadium.
PiL play a second warm-up show. Seven songs from the gig are included on a bootleg LP called 'Recorded Live in Paris When Nobody Was Looking'. John turns his back on audience while reluctantly singing a version of the Sex Pistols 'Problems' (the track was played at Levene's insistence).
Although largely negatively reviewed, 'First Issue' peaks at number 22, and remains in the UK album charts for 11 weeks.
'NME' - PiL are given a 4 page interview, Lydon is also featured on the front cover.
PiL's debut UK gig. Probably the most anticipated event of the year. Back in 1978 it was almost unheard for a band to play on Christmas Day. PiL's overheads are huge, but "what else you gonna do on Christmas Day?" They try to make the show's as much value for money as possible and include a selection of support bands: including a pre-Dennis Morris Basement 5, French all-girl group The Lous (who they met at the Paris show), and poet Linton Kwesi Johnston; who performs over a backing tape. Don Letts also DJ's. After the first song Lydon comments, Don't ever ask for any Pistols numbers, that's history". However, they play 'Belsen Was a Gas' a song introduced as a song me and Keith wrote…"
Before the show Wobble comments on the likely crowd reaction to PiL, "Johnny Rotten is gonna lose, Keith Levene is gonna lose, Jim Walker is gonna lose. And all the kids are gonna watch us get our heads kicked in…"
Despite some crowd trouble, the gig is seen as a success, and PiL win over huge parts of the sceptical audience. For full info read our review.
Radio 1, John Peel's Festive 50. 'Public Image' is voted #9.
The band officially change their company name at Companies House from 'Tinkascus' to 'Public Image Limited' (see July 7 entry for more info...)