Finsbury Park, Rainbow Theatre,
December 25th, 1978
Keith Levene: Guitar
Jah Wobble: Bass
Jim Walker: Drums
Theme / Religion / Annalisa / Attack / Low Life / Belsen Was A Gas / Public Image
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.
Unfortunately no bootleg recordings of this gig have ever surfaced...
Gig Review #1
review by George
X, May 1999 (First published F&F9)
© 1999 F&F Publishing / George X
PiL XMAS DAY
When PiL announced the Christmas 1978 concerts I couldn't get tickets fast enough. This was what it was all supposed to be about. The Pistols were over, punk was over, long live the new flesh. Who wanted to be associated with people with mohicans and 'The Clash' written on their biker jackets? Not me, strictly pegs and shirts, the new way...
A band playing a gig on Xmas day (and Boxing Day) was a big thing back then, no one ever played gigs at Xmas, there was never anything to do, I knew it was going to be special, the fact that it was PiL's first UK gig and that Lydon hadn't played London for so long added to the event as well. PiL, along with punk chancer (and later Pistols cash-in merchant) Jock McDonald, decided to promote the gig themselves which was another unusual step at the time. One thing was for sure, PiL were going to be different, this was the new way...
The Rainbow in Finsbury Park was normally seated, but if I remember rightly there had been trouble at a Clash gig a few weeks before so they decided to take the seats out and also brought in loads of extra security, in all I reckon it held about 1,000 people that night. There was no public transport , but me and my mate G-Man had sorted transport out. We loaded up with lager and copious amounts of illegal substances and off we went, leaving South London to travel to the wilds of Finsbury Park. By the time we got there we were half pissed. We polished the other half off, chatting to the various faces outside, then it was in...
Don Letts had a DJ box towards the back of the stalls and was belting out some earth moving Dub, so far so good... We sorted out a vantage point and waited. An early incarnation of Basement 5 without Dennis Morris were supporting, and I thought I remembered The Slits playing too, but apparently it was another all girl group called The Lous, I can't remember them at all. Linton Johnstone also did some poetry, and all in all it was a good package, though I think it was lost on most of the senile animals who had turned up to see Johnny Rotten...
Eventually the place went black, Wobble's bass shook the earth and the band launched into 'Theme' . They were on, and that's when the shit really happened! Out strode Rotten/Lydon lagered up, fights started almost on cue. One side of the stage were Arsenal Skins, the other side West Ham, and in the middle the punks. Football chants were heard, the skins kicked fuck out of the punks, then each other. There were waves of people just steaming into each other. Rotten got involved verbally, then people started gobbing and canning stage.
All I can really remember was that the whole stage was decked out in green and black and that PiL looked fucking great. Wobble sitting on a chair throughout, dressed all in black with his bandit hat. Levene wired(?) for sound. Rotten in his checked suit strutting about the stage, slagging the punks off, but at the same time handing out beer. The band had to stop several times while all the mayhem erupted over and over again; it was getting scary.
They played fucking brilliant, I thought it was better than the album, which I loved anyway (and still do). They played the whole album, minus 'Fodderstompf'. I remember that they never played any Sex Pistols songs, but that said, I know they played 'Belsen' the next night, so I could be wrong. I think not playing Pistols songs helped all the trouble erupt, lots of punks kept asking for them. Rotten slagged them for it, then they got battered by the thugs (Merry Xmas!).
One quote from Lydon I definitely remember while all the rucks were going off was, "You always use your fists in the wrong direction, you should take them down to parliament". I'm not sure if he meant the group or the place (only joking). We didn't go back for the Boxing Day show, but I've heard the bootleg and I reckon it was basically the same set, though it certainly seemed a lot less eventful. Rotten eventually left the stage but the band still played on, he came back on and they encored with 'Public Image', then it was all over...
The fights continued on the way out and outside. I bumped into a mate who'd had his nose broken and was covered in blood. He wanted revenge, I just wanted to go home, he got his pals together and went off looking for vengeance. Me and my mate got a lift home from his big brother...
It was the best fucking Christmas I ever had!
Gig Review #2
review by Paul
© 2007 Fodderstompf.com / Paul Mowatt
With reference to the first UK PiL concert at the Rainbow, Finsbury Park, London; I can add the full set list, and in order of play…
Soundcheck: Public Image
/ The Cowboy Song
Gig: Theme / Religion / Annalisa / Attack / Low Life / Belsen Was A Gas / Public Image
The review that you have on your site by George X mentioned mass brawling at this gig; this was not the case. I'm not calling George a liar but I believe he may have been somewhat 'inebriated' at the time (well, he mentions this himself); and therefore I think he has exaggerated the truth. The reality was there were a couple of very minor scuffles during 'Attack' and 'Belsen' but that was it.
There were only a handful of skinheads and they certainly did not, as George puts it, "kick the shit out of the punks!" Simply not true, punks outnumbered skinheads. And as the gig was sold-out weeks before, and no tickets were available on the door, it was a pretty much a 'leather jacket and patchouli oil' affair!
It really was quite a peaceful affair. It was a really long day, we were there in the afternoon, and there was a lot of sitting around and smoking. The soundsystem was playing mainly heavy dub; and of course the classic at the time 'Handsworth Revolution' the Steel Pulse masterpiece. I remember we sat next to a couple of punks from Switzerland who were over just for the gig. I remember them well as I had never seen anyone use pink rizzla's before!
We were there early and saw the soundcheck. We were just hanging around upstairs at the Rainbow, they only did two numbers at the soundcheck, 'Public Image' and the b-side of that single 'The Cowboy Song'!
First band on were The Lous very much in the vein of the Slits/Raincoats… Then a very long gap before the quite brilliant Basement 5 came on, who cut a blinding set! Dennis Morris was not with the 5 at the time. I'm not sure who was on vocals I reckon it was the guitarist JR, but I'm not sure.
Linton Kwesi Johnstone did his usual set. LKJ was a prolific performer, just like John Cooper Clarke; they turned up everywhere! I think I saw those two more than anyone else; they were always on the bill as support for someone! Good stuff though…
More long waiting and loads more heavy dub – Don Letts was the evening's DJ – before PiL took the stage quite late, about 11ish. Lydon made a typical Lydon remark at the very end saying, "That's all folks don't want you lot to miss your last bus…" It may have been Christmas Day, but there were a few buses running, we got there and back from Richmond, Surrey.
It was a great concert, I remember it well, I was 16 and I was sober! I think you remember the best gigs from your youth with great clarity, and not too much as you get older!
Picture Credits: (Top to Bottom)
Gig ticket, courtesy George X
PiL live at the Rainbow, 1978 © Dennis Morris