Research by Karsten Roekens and Scott M, plus contributors…
The release of 'Steel Leg Vs. The Electric Dread' EP, on 7" & 12" (Virgin VS 239). EP featuring Jah Wobble and Keith Levene (as "Stratetime Keith"), Don Letts and Wobble's mate Vince Bracken (see our Steel Leg Discography page for full info). John Lydon has NO involvement with this project...
Press reports are mixed, one calls it, "An achievement of almost gem like proportions", while another comments, "I'm not interested in promoting crap like this. They only get the facilities because they are Rotten's playmates and I can think of 101 bands more deserving of major record company backing".
A disillusioned Jim Walker quits PiL and heads off to Israel. He later surfaces in The Pack with Kirk Brandon, before teaming up again with Wobble in The Human Condition.
When Walker quit he refused to give up his quarter ownership of PiL and collected a share of the profits until they were able to vote him off the board several years later. On his departure John Lydon commented that Walker had left "in a flurry of solicitors letters." He obviously wasn't joking.
As PiL search for a replacement drummer Vivian Jackson (aka Weathers?) [who according to the music press had previously worked with dub-poet Linton Kwesi Johnson] allegedly sits in briefly, but to our knowledge never appears, or records, with the band? Apparently Vivian was lined up to play at the scheduled (then cancelled) Dublin gig in February. Vivian where are you... !
'Fodderstompf' reportedly becomes a hit at prestigious New York disco 'Studio 54'. Apparently the regulars are making it the "first disco sing-along" as they cavort round the dance floor screaming "We only wanted to be loved!"
In the NME Readers Poll for 1978, PiL are voted "Best New Group" and "Second Best Single." Lydon is voted "Best Singer."
John's legal battle with Glitterbest reaches court. Lydon wants the management contract he signed with Glitterbest to be declared void, and that a receiver be set up to handle any payments to be made to him from his work with the Sex Pistols. John is also incensed that McLaren is effectively using royalties and advances, that John, as part of the Sex Pistols, had earned on keeping what is left of the Pistols going, as well as funding their film. A film Lydon has no control over, and which is likely to damage him.
Virgin Records who want PiL
and the Pistols to"peacefully coincide" on the same label
have failed in trying to reach an out of court settlement which will
satisfy both parties. In the process however, they've convinced
Malcolm that they are trying to muscle in on the Sex Pistols for
their own good and take control. Lydon does not 'take the stand' at
court, instead he supplies a written statement with his list of grievances,
mostly relating to the film, and his assumption of monies paid to
John basically sees the court case as a way of winning back what he regards as his rightfully his. However, Malcolm (typically) seems uninterested with John's claims, and sees the course case as a personal vendetta against him by Richard Branson and Virgin records. Malcolm's arrogance would be his undoing…
Steve Jones and Paul Cook jump ship to Lydon's side; furious at the alleged misuse of £90,000 owing to them from Glitterbest, and after it looks like John has the favourable hand.
Mr Justice Browne-Wilkinson rules that a receiver be appointed to control the assets of Glitterbest. The Judge discloses that the group have received £880,000 up to December 1978. Of the £880,000 the Pistols have earned, £343,000 had been spent on the film and only £30,000 was left. He decides that the only asset the Pistols have left is the film and its soundtrack, and the only way to rescue any money out the dispute is by the exploitation of the assets, and that a third party receiver be set up to administer them.
Browne-Wilkinson makes no judgment on Lydon's contract or who owns the name, but suggests the parties should come to some agreement after the finances have been sorted out.
Although the result of the court case is somewhat inconclusive Lydon has effectively won the first round in his battle to wrestle the control of the Sex Pistols name and monies from McLaren. However, the case will remain stagnant until 1984 when Lydon initiate's further proceeding to finally put an end to the saga.
PiL are scheduled to play Dublin Project Arts Centre in Ireland alongside Throbbing Gristle and The Mekons as part of a 24 hour festival, but cancel due to John's impending court case with Glitterbest, and their lack of a drummer.
Kings Hall, Belle Vue.
This Manchester gig is billed as 'Creation for Liberation' in aid of the 'Race Today Friendly Society'. Also on the bill are The Pop Group, Merger, Linton Kwesi Johnson & John Cooper Clarke. As the set begins Lydon tells the crowd: "No gimmicks, no theatre, just us. Take it or leave it".
Eddie Edwards of The Vibrators is brought in as a 'one off' drummer for the gig. At the time PiL were using rehearsal rooms ran by Vibrators bassist Pat Collier.
LATE FEBRUARY - MARCH
After a successful audition at Rollerball Rehearsal Studios, in Tooley Street, London Bridge, drummer David Humphrey joins the band for the beginning of the recording of what will become 'Metal Box' at the Manor in Oxfordshire, and the Townhouse in London. He will only stay a matter of months before Richard Dudanski joins, however, Humphrey will play on both mixes of 'Death Disco', 'Megga-Mix' and 'Albatross' from Metal Box'...
LATE FEBRUARY - APRIL
According to press reports the band have began to re-record and remix the 'First Issue' album for their American label Warner Brothers (PiL later confirm this on US radio the following year). Warner's are said to be unhappy with the sound quality of the original UK album, and the fact PiL wont travel to the US to tour. Although the original album wasn't released in the USA Warner Brothers did do a test-pressing – dated February 9th 1979 – which presumably prompted their request for a new mix.
The only track to ever surface from this scrapped project appears to be the re-recorded version of 'Fodderstompf' on the B-side of the 'Death Disco' 12" single (titled as 'Megga-Mix')... Years later Jah Wobble comments he can't remember re-recording the album and thinks it highly unlikely it ever was, however, drummer David Humphrey claims one of his first tasks was to play on re-recorded tracks from the first album, using the record as a guide... As well as 'Fodderstompf' some of the tracks worked on include 'Annalisa' and an unsuccessful attempt at 'Public Image'. David Humphrey recalls Lydon commenting, "Well, that was crap wasn't it!"
PiL record 'Albatross' and 'Death Disco' at The Manor in Oxfordshire, with David Humphrey on drums. The tracks are effectively live takes, and largely improvised.
These full unedited 'Monitor Mix' versions later appear as audio extras on the 2005 John Lydon 'Best of British £1 Notes' DVD and a limited edition Record Store Day 12" single in 2014.
Martin Atkins auditions for Pete Jones' band 'The Hots', Jones noted him as, "an amazing drummer and a fantastic bloke. Shame about the voice...". The following day (24th), Atkins officially joins the band.
Martin Atkins leaves The Hots, following some artistic differences!
Martin Atkins rejoins The Hots!
LATE APRIL - EARLY MAY
Drummer David Humphrey is succeeded by Richard Dudanski, formerly of the 101'ers as well as a past and future member of the Raincoats. Dudanski is recruited by Keith Levene, who had vaguely known him via his connections with Joe Strummer.
APRIL - AUGUST
The bulk of what is to become 'Metal Box' is completed with Dudanski on drums at the Townhouse Studios in London and later The Manor in Oxfordshire. Songs recorded at this time include 'No Birds', 'Memories', 'Another/Graveyard', 'Chant', & 'Socialist'.
'NME' reports that PiL have turned down an offer by The Clash to accompany them on their forthcoming US tour in the autumn.
Pete Jones & Martin Atkins record The Hots first ever demo tape at Magritte studios. The five tracks are; 'West End Girls' / 'She's Got the Hots' / 'Don't Touch That Dial' / 'Bike' & ' It's Gotta Be Tonight'. The Hots full line up is: John Milner - Vocals / Phil Hardy - Guitar / Geoff Smyth - Guitar / Pete Jones - Bass, plus Martin Atkins - Drums.
From Nils Stevenson 'Punk Diary' (manager of Siouxsie & The Banshees): "Visit Rotten, who's living with Nora. Neither of us mentions Sid."
Trouser Press magazine (New York) - Lydon interview.
BBC 1, Juke Box Jury. John Lydon appears as a guest reviewer. Also on the panel, hosted by Noel Edmonds are: Elaine Page, Alan 'Pop-tastic' Freeman & Joan Collins! Eventually Lydon has enough and walks off. He later comments, "I set out to end that programme and I thought I succeeded. They didn't like me at all. I was meant to look a fool. They cut the bit where I was talking to the audience. Didn't like that"."Quite frankly, it's the most awful goddamn programme in the world".
'Zigzag' magazine celebrates its 10th anniversary with a big party at The Venue, London. John Lydon: "I was there to see The Psychedelic Furs, who didn't show up."
'NME' - PiL interview. Lydon: "If anyone thinks the second album will be 'album one, part two', well they're mugs again…"
Granada TV, 'Granada Reports'. PiL return to Manchester for the second time in six months to record their first ever live TV performance. The appearance is arranged by Granada TV presenter (Factory Records boss) Tony Wilson; who had also been first to put the Sex Pistols on TV ('So It Goes' back in September 1976). 'Death Disco' & 'No Birds Do Sing' were reportedly both recorded. However, only 'Death Disco' and a brief interview with Lydon, Wobble and Levene is broadcast.
Manchester (The Factory)
Low-key gig at the pre-Hacienda 'Factory' arranged at the very last minute after PiL were in Manchester to perform on Granada TV (see above). Tony Wilson recalls Lydon turning to him mid-afternoon and saying: "We want to do a gig tonight". News is sent by word of mouth and by 10pm the band are on stage. Various members of Magazine and Buzzcocks are said to be in attendance. Support comes from A Certain Ratio.
This is Richard Dudanski's first appearance with PiL, and effectively a spur of the moment live rehearsal. John Lydon warns the crowd: "I don't know what you expect but this is just a rehearsal…" Despite a few shaky moments the band are in good form with each other and joke along with the audience about the situation, "We admit our mistakes, we know we have many…" PiL premiere four new tracks; 'Death Disco', 'Memories', 'No Birds Do Sing' & 'Albatross'.
'Melody Maker' review Manchester, Russell Club, (The Factory). Jon Savage calls the show: "Not so much a public performance, more a semi-private rehearsal; out of the way of too many prying eyes…". He also mentions both 'Death Disco' & 'No Birds Do Sing' were recorded earlier the same day at Granada TV.
The release of 'Death Disco' on 7" & 12" (Virgin. VS 274). Originally titled 'Swan Lake' after the bastardised guitar line in the track, the lyrics were written by John Lydon for his dying mother.
The limited edition 12" version features an extended version of the track. The tracks are re-titled 'Half Mix' / 'Megga Mix' on the label. The A-side (Part 1) is the extended 12" mix of 'Death Disco', titled as 'Half Mix'. The B-side (Part 2) is a new re-recorded version of 'Fodderstompf' titled as 'Megga Mix', dating from the scrapped project of re-recording 'First Issue' from earlier in the year.
'Melody Maker' votes it 'Single of the week' while another paper comments that it"sounds suspiciously like PiL tuning up in the bathroom".
The first music press reports that PiL are to be more than a band. They are a limited company, with a board of directors. Keith Levene later stated in his 2003 Fodderstompf interview: "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 had registered at Companies House on July 7th 1978 as 'Tinkascus', changing their name to 'Public Image Limited on December 31st 1978.
PiL travel to Newcastle, in the North East of England, to record an interview and live performance for Tyne Tees TV, 'Check it Out'; a new "Youth" TV show. Unbeknown to them the show is actually a special tracing the development of youth culture over the previous 25 years,"from Teds to Punks".
During the interview the band are shown a split-screen video clip of Mond – guitarist of punk band Angelic Upstarts (not singer Mensi as is often reported) – slagging off Johnny Rotten and PiL. Rather than rising to the bait, Lydon tells interviewer Chris Cowey: “Look, I don't have to explain myself to anybody, and I ain't gonna really bother… We're facing a cheapskate comedy interrogation act and it just ain't on pal…" He then decides enough is enough, removes his microphone and slowly walks off. Followed shortly by Wobble, and a string of obscenities.
For more info on the appearance see our in-depth Why don't you try asking an intelligent question? article, including a full transcript.
Tyne Tees TV, 'Check it Out'. The previous day's interview and live version of 'Chant' are broadcast. Wobble's outburst is heavily bleeped. The appearance generates front page news in the local media, and is also covered in the following weeks music press.
'Death Disco' enters the charts, peaking at number 20 and remaining in the charts for seven weeks.
'NME' review 'Death Disco'.
In an article for Thrills in 'NME', regarding last weeks appearance on 'Check It Out', Danny Baker speaks to Jeannette Lee. Who he describes as "one of the non-playing but still integral parts of PiL". This is possibly the first music press report on her role in the PiL set-up. Lee is an acquaintance of John Lydon; who he met while she worked with Don Letts at ACME Attractions and has been working with the band since the previous year.
Later the same month 'Record Mirror' elaborates, "Jeannette helps Public Image Limited. She is neither manager nor PR, but acts in a similar capacity". Another magazine article says she arranges "dealings with record companies, and would-be interviewers" and claims"if she didn't do it PiL would never see the light of day, they're that lazy!" Later reports state she is also in charge of "posters, record sleeves, and videos, along with reportedly working on a "film record, a kind of diary, of PiL, with her 8mm camera".
Keith Levene: "Wobble was really against her joining PiL, but Jeannette was telling me how she'd had a lot to do with the editing of Don Letts' 'Punk Rock Movie', and with the script for his next movie 'Dread At The Controls', which was never actually made. And she basically talked me into her joining... Wobble said 'What's she gonna do - be a secretary?' I said 'No, she's gonna do video.'"
Recording of the video for 'Death Disco'.
Jah Wobble releases the single solo single 'Dan MacArthur' (Virgin. VS 275) (see wobble discography for full info).
BBC1, 'Top Of The Pops'. 'Death Disco'. Rather than mime – which is standard on the show – PiL perform a unique version of the track using a pre-recorded backing track and Lydon singing live on top. He stands with his back to the audience throughout.
Lydon later comments:"I was determined to do TOTP even though it was pure hell. I want that record to be heard. There's no point hanging onto principles and morals if nobody in the world can hear you".
Pete Jones & Martin Atkins first gig as The Hots at London, The Rock Garden, supporting Charley Ainsley and The Misdemeanours.
BRMB Birmingham, Robin Valk, 'The Rock Music Show' - Lydon interview. Hour long special where he selects some of his current favourite tracks; and talks about reggae, music, and PiL.
Lydon picks tracks by: Ijahman Levi, Black Uhuru, The Normal, Gregory Isaacs, Ken Boothe & Kraftwerk. He bemoans the fact that Virgin / Front Line could have signed more artists than they actually did; and only seemed to be interested in releasing weak material in the hope of getting into the charts.
'Record Mirror' - John Lydon interview. Plus 'Check It Out' report. Lydon: "It was like a big set-up. All about how glorious the Pistols were and us bad boys, and then the Upstarts waffling on about how we sold out to the working classes. I thought it was diabolical. If I'm asked to do something then I'll do it, but I don't like to be set up. I mean, I'll talk about PIL, but not about the past and other people."
Radio Merseyside. Lydon & Levene interview.
PiL postpone proposed, but not finalised, dates in Belfast, Dublin and Glasgow.
Jim Walker resurfaces. He plays his first gig with The Pack at the London, Electric Ballroom. He will also feature on their second single 'King Of Kings' (released on November 6) (see Walker discography for full info).
The Pack break up in May 1980, and singer Kirk Brandon will form a new band Theatre Of Hate without Jim Walker.
Pete Jones & Martin Atkins record the bass track for the first Brian Brain single 'They've Got Me In the Bottle'. The band were originally to be called "The Guava Boys."
PiL headline 'Futurama 79: The Worlds First Science Fiction Music Festival'. Promoter John Keenan comments, "It may be odd to connect PiL with Sci-Fi but it isn't really, because the sci-fi idea was only something of a joke, the main aim is encourage progressive bands, which PiL are, and raise money for a local record label."
Also on the same bill are Joy Division and OMD. PiL don't take the stage until 1am and by this time the natives are decidedly restless. Lydon spends the majority of the set with his back to the audience. He later claims he was trying to get Richard Dudanski to keep time, and comments,"We did a shit gig, to a shit audience in a shit place. We all had a horrible time". This gig was later cited by Keith Levene as the reason PiL decided to play (even) less live shows…
The entire PiL performance is bootlegged on an album called 'Sci-Fi'.
A few days after the Leeds gig a frustrated Richard Dudanski quits PiL. Upon leaving Dudanski sends the following letter to the editor of the NME:
"Dear Mr. Spencer, In the absence of any statement from PiL, I would like to inform you that as from our Leeds gig I have ceased to be a member of that group. My disagreements and inability to work with certain members of the group in particular, resulted in mutual satisfaction at my exit. My only observation is that what could potentially be a great band, will probably do just enough to retain its guaranteed success. Perhaps exactly because of this guarantee, the really good ideas behind the band will never be more than just that. I hope not for JR's sake."
PiL simply blamed his departure on his inability to keep time, due his nerves live on stage. They also claimed he became increasingly difficult to deal with due to an amphetamine habit, a claim which Dudanski venomously denies, "I never had, and was never near to having, an amphetamine habit! (which doesn't mean to say that I've never taken the stuff). People can say what they like about why "I left/was thrown out" of PIL, ie not being able to keep time, but it is a bit ironic having the drugs bit thrown at me, when in fact the effects of a much more insidious drug on another member were in fact from my point of view the main reason for the band's stagnation at that point, and the reason for my leaving"...
Today he still regrets sending the letter, "Written in a fit of pique, although I didn't/don't deny its contents, I certainly shouldn't have posted it! It was Written with a sense of absolute frustration, not only with PIL but I suppose with the whole Music Biz in general". Dudanski later turns up Dennis Morris PiL-esque band Basement 5.
Dudanski's initial replacement is Karl Burns of the Fall. Who leaves after just a few weeks apparently due to a personality clash with Keith Levene; and does not play on 'Metal Box'.
Myth has it that Wobble set fire to Burns' bed and he quite literally lived up his name. However, Wobble later explained the incident was little more than an "LSD fuelled live re-enactment of Space Invaders" where various PiL people set fire to newspapers while marching Space Invader style at Burns who pretended to shoot them (well that explains that then!).
Karl Burns is quickly replaced by northerner Martin Atkins, whose audition for the band is the studio recording of 'Bad Baby' recorded at the Town House, subsequently included on 'Metal Box'. A PiL spokesman quips at the time that Atkins is "Expected to last more than 5 minutes". Atkins is PiL's 5th drummer is 18 months!
Prior to PiL Atkins had only played with a local covers band in the north of England, and The Hots with Pete Jones. He has twice previously tried to join PiL,"I tried to join PiL when John first left the Pistols. I came down from Durham for the auditions, which I read about in the music papers [May 1978]. But I had to go back early and so I fluffed that one. I tried again when Richard Dudanski joined. When he left, I called Keith who said come along, It was just me pestering, really."
'The Face' - PiL are interviewed in the first issue of magazine. Upon arriving at Lydon's front door the reporter notices two plastic dog bowls, one marked"Steve" the other"Paul".
SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER
The final sessions for 'Metal Box', with Levene on drums. Songs recorded during these sessions include 'Poptones' & 'The Suit'. Jah Wobble plays drums on 'Careering' (recorded in the Snooker Room at the Manor). Levene records 'Radio 4' on his own. Originally the track was recorded with Levene along with Ken Lockie on Piano at Advision Studios, but according to Levene, "We didn't like the studio and John didn't like Ken so that was his brief appearance as a possible PiL candidate".
The release of 'Memories' on 7" & 12" (Virgin. VS 299). This single version of 'Memories' is different from the later album mix (and has never been given a CD release). The B-side 'Another' is the instrumental track 'Graveyard', with added vocals.
Press reports range from "I thought Wan-Kin was a town in China until I discovered PiL" to"I love this record".
The release of PiL's new album 'Metal Box' is put back; as apparently not all the tracks have been delivered yet.
'Sounds' review 'Memories'.
'Memories' enters the charts, only peaking at number 60 and remaining in the charts for two weeks. Keith Levene: "We had a lot of trouble with 'Memories'. It didn't get to deejays. We had a radio ad and nobody heard it. They out of their way to stop that record being a hit. They don't like us, they're underhand like that."
Martin Atkins officially leaves The Hots to join PiL.
Release of 'The Original Sin' LP by Cowboys International. Keith Levene plays lead guitar on the track 'Wish' (see Levene discography for full info).
Further delays in the release of 'Metal Box' after a truckload of the metal box canisters were destroyed by accident while being delivered to CBS for final assembly.
Brother Jimmy Lydon's band 4"Be 2" release their first single 'One of the Lads'. It is allegedly produced by John Lydon. Sleeve artwork is by Dennis Morris. The single had been recorded in September with Lydon credited as 'producer'.
Vivien Goldman later claimed, "Youth, the bass player of punk's dark princes, Killing Joke, remembers doing all the work because in typical punk fashion, Lydon was too drunk to mix." (see Lydon discography for full info).
The release of 'Metal Box' (Virgin. METAL 1). 12 tracks on three separate 12" records – playing at 45 rpm – housed in a metal film canister, embossed with the PiL logo. The set retails at £7.50 (around £2 more expensive than other albums) and leads to criticism of the band. However, PiL had to put £35,000 of their advance into the record to ensure Virgin would release it; and the running time is at least as long as a double album.
Although only 60,000 were actually pressed 'Metal Box' was never intended to be limited edition. PiL wanted a full run, but Virgin would only press 50,000 records (plus an extra 10,000 for export). Manufactured by the "Metal Box Company" in Hackney, East London, the metal canisters cost 75p each, which was not really that more expensive than a gatefold, but Virgin wouldn't budge. Originally, the Metal Box Company wanted to charge £1.20, but PiL managed to get the price down. And naturally, the more canisters that were made the cheaper it would have been...
On principal, PiL don't send out freebies: and make journo's buy their own copies.
'Metal Box' is reviewed in 'NME' and warrants the front-cover despite the fact PiL are not interviewed in the paper. The enthusiastic review, by Angus MacKinnon, contains some interesting points, but is probably the source of all Can references ever since!
Since 'Metal Box' lacks a lyric sheet (which would further raise the retail price) an advertisement is published in the music press which consists of the lyrics (untitled) to the album with just "Public Image Limited" at the top of the page and "The Metal Box" at the bottom.
'Metal Box' radio ads are broadcast featuring a voice-over by Lydon:"The Metal Box. 12 tracks of utter rubbish by Public image ltd."
'Zigzag' magazine - Lydon & Levene interview, plus 'Metal Box' review. The interview is arranged at the last minute (the front cover has already been printed and doesn't mention PiL). Interviewer Kris Needs spends 18 hours at Gunter Grove with the band!
The centre pages of the magazine feature John Lydon's handwritten lyrics from the album stating: "Why not rip this out and stick it in your Metal Box?"
Radio 1, Rock On - Lydon & Levene interview.
'Metal Box' enters the charts, peaking at number 18 and remaining in the charts for eight weeks.
'Melody Maker' - PiL interview, plus front cover. Levene: "When I joined PIL I hated guitars. I thought they were redundant. But I just make sounds on it. I play three tunes on it at once, they may be pretty tuneless tunes but I'm definitely making them on purpose. All the noises the engineers want to cut out I have to say 'It's taken me half an hour to make that noise!"
The recording of a John Peel Session by PiL (Lydon, Levene, Wobble & Atkins) at BBC Maida Vale Studios 4, London. The session is produced by Tony Wilson, and engineered by David Dade.
Broadcast of the John Peel session. This performance represents Martin Atkins official debut with PiL. The three songs broadcast are: 'Chant', 'Poptones', and 'Careering'. The session is later included on 'Plastic Box'.
Radio 1, Annie Nightingale - Lydon interview. Lydon is the first guest ever on the show; and only one of two people ever interviewed on the show's 12 year run.
Radio 1, John Peel's Festive 50. 'Death Disco' is voted #28 & 'Public Image' # 9.