Lu Edmonds interview
Fodderstompf, September 1999
(first published F&F10)
© 1999 Fodderstompf.com
Fodderstompf.Com: This interview was originally conducted for The Filth and The Fury fanzine in September 1999. Lu had (fairly) recently made a live return to the public eye with The Blokes. He reveals many home truths about his time in PiL and also talks about his recovery from the hearing problems which forced him to quit the band in late 1988…
How did you come to join PiL, did you already know John?
Lu Edmonds: No, I never knew John, I was in The Damned and we were a different bunch really... I was bumming around with various bands at the time, a friend of mine, Kevin Armstrong, had an eight track in my basement, and he was working for the same management company as John, and they wanted to put a band together for the 'Album' album. And of course they couldn't get Laswell, Ginger Baker, and Richie Sakamoto, because they were probably far too expensive, and anyway they were just a one off band. So they started fishing around London and they got Kevin to put a band together. So we thought we'd get a double guitar thing together, because we were both completely into African double guitar stuff, and then at the last minute Iggy Pop asked Kevin to do a tour, and he ran off and did that! So I was left there with myself and Alan Dias and Bruce Smith, and then they got John McGeoch in, because he had his own connections through Keith Burton, the guy who did the sleevenotes for the Virgin box set, because he was the manager at the time... I'd always really admired John, and I really admired Keith Levene's playing and Wobble. And I knew Jim Walker, because funnily enough he auditioned for The Damned when Scabbies ran off!
F&F: So you were a PiL fan then.
Lu: Yeah! When I heard the first album I thought it was a complete piss-take! And then I thought, no, actually it sounds very good. I liked the sparseness... And when I was in the band with Kevin, because he was my mate, I thought well, we'll be alright. Then I met John and I thought he was a good geezer, and I thought well why not, it was only going to be for a summer, so I jumped in.
F&F: I think 'Happy?' & '9' are really underrated, does it annoy you that PiL's later work doesn't get the same respect as the earlier stuff?
Lu: It's funny you should say that. I listened to the box set, and its very difficult for me to listen to that stuff now without thinking what it should have been, or what it could have been. It sounds really 'eighties' to me, an eighties rock production. Actually I hear more production and the studio equipment than I can hear of the band! And that's the disappointment for me. When we did that first tour in 1986, the band were actually very, very good, it was very wild, and it was much more loose. The band were playing much better than we did a year later when we recorded it. I don't know if you know, but when you're in a band you go up and you go down, and there was a moment when the band was playing absolutely fantastic, and we should have done it then, but Bruce got really ill, and we were just getting good again then McGeoch got the bottle in his face in Austria. If you heat a band up and they get good, then that's the moment start recording...
F&F: I just think the eighties stuff gets written off, obviously as you say there were some problems with it, but I don't think its as bad as people make out, that's what I was trying to say, people just write off the whole eighties PiL as an 'LA rock band'.
Lu: No, I think they're wrong, if you listen to 'Album', I think that's a really strong record. I think that's the best playing that Steve Vai ever did, and you know who says that as well? Steve Vai. He was real proud of it. He came out the studio and said to Lydon that he didn't know what he was doing in there because they just did it first take, he said he thought it was the best stuff he'd ever done because it was so unstudied, and Steve Vai's famous for being reaally technical, but if you listen to the stuff he was doing on 'FFF' , wild solo, completely from outer space, and really modern. I think that's wrong for people to say that about 'Album'... I just think that people look at John and they think of the Pistols, and they think what a great band, you just keep listening to those records now and they're still fantastic. One of the really great bands. And then when he did PiL he got criticised for doing the things he did before the Pistols! But I think people are right to say that 'Happy?' was a bit 'LA' because that was one of the tensions within the band. There was an element of LA rock in the band you're absolutely right, the band was playing a lot in the States. It's not something I really liked, but in the context, the whole American scene was paying the bread and butter, because PiL really couldn't get arrested in England at the time. But the people who criticise it, are the people who really weren't there to back the band up...
F&F: You're going to play where you're wanted, where you get a better reaction...
Lu: Yeah. And the other thing was that Lydon always had a better time there from the fans, and the press. They wouldn't always be down on him because he wasn't in the Pistols anymore, the funny thing was that I saw him a couple of years ago, and he laughing it was so ironic that when he was doing the Pistols everyone was moaning that he wasn't doing PiL or being adventurous and creative! He was just shrugging his shoulders going, well fuck you, sometimes you can't win with people. And maybe there is an element of that when people listen to 'Happy?' & '9', and you compare it to, not just the Pistols, but also to 'Metal Box', I mean it isn't as good as 'Metal Box'...
F&F: No way, I don't deny that, I just don't think they're half as bad as people make out. I'd say 'Metal Box' and 'Album' are the two best albums.
Lu: Yeah, I agree, and I think there was potential for 'Happy?' to be a great album but I think we had the wrong producer, I mean Gary Langan's a very good producer, a really nice guy, but he was the wrong guy. Because in the end he ended up squashing all the scruffy bits, that were so beautiful about 'Metal Box' and 'Album'. All the space and the scruffy bits, that was the beauty, the size of PiL, it was always huge. And what Gary did was he filled it all up, so everything was all sort of 'Art of Noise', because that's what he was in before. So he was a very funny choice.
F&F: It was supposed to be Bill Laswell originally wasn't it?
Lu: I think
Virgin always wanted Bill Laswell to get involved again, the second time
for '9' there was this complete fiasco. This is how I saw it,
I'm not saying this is what happened... Virgin negotiated with Laswell on a very flimsy basis to record '9' and Laswell was saying
'Well, the only way I ever record an album is with my own musicians'
and Virgin would go 'Don't worry we'll send the band anyway,
and if you like them you can use them', and Laswell's going
'It's up to you, if you want to take the risk, but if I don't
like the band I'm not going to use them'. We went into the studio
on the first day, and he made Bruce so nervous, by being so cool,
he's Mr Cool, and Bruce did all the songs at kind of double speed,
he was so nervous. And that night Laswell turned to John and said the
band wont do. We'd been there a week, we were committed to be there
for three! And Virgin said, 'Well, we did think that might happen'!,
and suddenly the band are $80,000 in the hole! John was absolutely livid!
Then a funny thing happened, we went into another studio to start laying
stuff down, and the engineer said right, I'm going mix it now, and
we looked at him, he was this funny wiry old Jamaican guy, he started
mixing it and we were like, 'Who is this guy?' And he said 'I
am Scientist'! And what he started doing to it was amazing, and I
was thinking this could be the album, but at that moment it was 'No
we've got to get in Steven Hague or Bob Clearmountain'. They
ended up with Steven Hague, who also is a great producer, but again, '9'
was completely sucked dry of any scruffiness, and all that beautiful space.
So for me those albums are disappointing because I know they could have
been better. It wasn't really the musicians fault, and it wasn't
Lydon's fault. But when you get in the hole, and to some extent with
the manipulative pressures of Virgin at that time, and not having a manager
to protect you from that, and actually in my case, I would say not having
the guts to stand up and say so no, I want it to sound like this... Well,
you just end up with the albums you make...
F&F: I was surprised that John let a producer touch his stuff at all.
was the funny thing about John at the time, he was in this sort of mood
where he was very hands off, he just wanted to come in and do his vocal,
because in a way I think that's what happened with 'Album',
and it was a revelation for him, it was a great experience for him...
Actually John is the full artistic thing in PiL, and if I look back, I
think he was very missed in the 'creative process', he wouldn't
be there, it was left to us to come up with grooves and little tunes...
F&F: The band would write the music and then John would come up with the lyrics?
Lu: Yeah... It was a funny time because it felt like John wasn't there. I think if he had been there it would have much better, and we would have had the producers much more on the case, but that was the way things were at the time, it was the bloated mid-eighties...
F&F: When did you actually leave PiL, was it just before the recording of '9'?
Lu: Yeah. After this time when we were in New York with Laswell, we did the Estonian date, which I really pushed for because I thought it would be a good thing for the band to do, and because I'm into Eastern European stuff, then after that gig I suddenly realised my ears were just... I'd had a little Tinnitus, then it got really bad and I went to see a doctor, and he said you've got to stop playing! I asked will it get worse, and he said it may well do, then I asked is there anything you can give me about this, and he said no! He refused to write anything down and do anything because he didn't want to get involved in any court cases. He thought I'd start suing John or something, which was very far from my head. And I just fell into a huge pit of depression, everything in my life just collapsed. I had to get out and I thought it was better I got out before I was on the album, so they could maybe get someone else in or evolve a new sound. So I told John I had bad ears, then I left, and I fully expected to go deaf. Virgin were very helpful, saying I had gone deaf in public, so I couldn't get any work because no ones going hire you.
F&F: I'd never thought of that before, that's absolutely mental!
Lu: I was really really fucked, and then I met up with The Mekons that winter, and they said come play with us, and I said well alright, so what I did was I stuffed my ears with these massive ear plugs! But I found I could play and it lifted my spirits a bit, and I started doing that, just being on stage not hearing anything! So I survived out of it, and then after about a year and a half it actually got slightly less in your face. And now I've read a lot about tinitus, everyone says you do go through a big psychological crisis. I know people who've had these same problems, and when it happens I'm always there to talk to them about it, because I've been through it. I don't even know it was the music, it might have been jackhammers, because I use to work on building sites. So for anyone out there I just say if your going to be doing very, very loud stuff, protect your ears, because they're all you've got. Your ears are your connection to reality... So anyway, after about a year and a half I got better and became more able to play, so I started doing loads of jingles! (laughs). Producing jingles and getting paid stupid money, so I pulled myself out of debt, which was really hard. I didn't take any advances for '9' but John gave me the royalties.
F&F: I noticed your down as a co-writer.
Lu: Yeah, that was really good, and the thing about John is he's absolutely fair and square, there's a lot of people in the business who're pretty bent, but my experience of John was that he's absolutely straight down the line with everyone in the band. So after I did that I realised I had to rethink about how I used my ears and I've spent the last ten years playing a lot of acoustic music. Going round the world, listening to a lot of difficult stuff, you can hear better if you learn to listen...
F&F: People don't realise what they've got till they start losing it, so if you go through what you did, where you think you've lost it then you get it back again...
Lu: Well, it's not that you get it back, you learn to retrain your head, that maybe sounds a bit 'new age' to everyone out there but I promise everyone it's not, you've got to throw away all the ideas you had and all the habits of listening to things, and you've got to start thinking again. I think I can hear better than I ever did, I just don't go near loud noises.
F&F: John was quoted in late 1990 as saying you had rejoined the band, what happened there?
Lu: I saw John a lot, we were always in touch, when he comes to town, more often than not he gives me a ring... Was this around the time of his solo album?
F&F: No, it was just when the 'Greatest Hits' album came out. There's a track called 'Criminal' that turned up on the 'Point Break' soundtrack, of all places, I've got a version where you credited on guitar.
Lu: That's great! (laughs)
F&F: I thought maybe you'd rejoined briefly, did that track then left again.
Lu: No. John was saying now you're better, because I was better by then, come back and play, and I was saying, John I'd like nothing better than to come back and play with you guys, but I know its going to be really fucking loud, because that's what PiL was at the time. Then a couple years later when he was beginning to do his own thing, he knew I had all these instruments, because at the time I was travelling around the world a lot, I went to Berlin for a couple of years, I was going round Africa. I was working for a record company/concert promoter who were doing a lot for African music, then I got more and more involved in Siberian stuff. When I got any money I would buy another stupid instrument! John is very eclectic, his listening tastes are very, very wide, they always have been. And he said put some stuff together and I'll sample it, but I never had a microphone or a DAT machine! (laughs).
F&F: John said you were helping him learn various bizarre instruments.
Lu: Yeah, I was trying to turn John onto things that I'd heard in that area at the time, it gave me access to different records, and he was going 'fuck!', like especially these Siberian throat singers, this guy, Albert Kvezin, I gave John a tape of that and he was gobsmacked!
F&F: Have you actually heard John's solo album?
Lu: No, (laughs), he kept promising to send me one! I've just got myself a CD player, and I've not developed the ability to go into a shop and not feel terrified and run out !
F&F: Do you want me to do you a tape?
Lu: Yeah, I'd be interested to hear it, how did it go down?
F&F: it went down like a tonne of bricks unfortunately! I think after the Pistols thing, people might have expected him to do a more 'rocky' album, but John being John, he went sideways (Lu: Yeah, absolutely). I like the album a lot, its the best vocal work John has ever done, everything is in there, the big shouty Lydon vocals, the talky vocals the screaming, everything.
Lu: If you look back to when he did 'The Suit', the talky vocals, he was always very varied... The thing about John is people right him off all the time but then he comes back with a great record.
F&F: Going back to the track 'Criminal' you don't know anything about it? (Lu: No, maybe if I hear it). Its very poppy, loads of keyboards.
Lu: I hate keyboards, I can play them but I've gone back to guitars now, and Saz's, Banjos, all kind of things. I've actually make my own instruments now, these horrible Frankenstein type objects! At the deep of night you can hear me hammering away!
F&F: Do you know if there is any unreleased stuff from your time in the band?
Lu: There was 'Renovations', I mixed a lot of those tracks, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but... Have you heard any of them?
F&F: I've only heard 'Religion' and 'The Suit'. I must admit I wasn't over keen on 'The Suit', but 'Religion' was Ok.
Lu: I mixed 'Religion', it was just an idea we had... I don't think the band really recorded very much, it was such an uncreative situation. For the amount of money we spent at the Virgin studio we could have each had a 16 track. It half makes me want to vomit now, really, honestly, we could have had autonomy and independence, creative independence, everything that John ended up with on 'Psycho's Path', we could have had that then. But I don't think Virgin would have liked it!
F&F: Going back to Estonia, was it you who set it up?
Lu: No. It
came through and I said 'Guys we've got to do it', and
everyone said 'Where's Estonia', and I said don't
worry we'll do it, I know where it is! And from that, that's
how I got involved with Yat-Kha, the Siberian band I manage and produce,
because when I got there I met this guy Nick Grakhov,
he was like the John Peel of the area, he could get hold of Sonic Youth
and Sun Ra records, and he was playing them to Albert Kuvezin. Albert
ran away from Tuva [a small mountain republic in Russia] to Sverdlovsk
because he was getting so much grief from the Communist party because
he was into rock stuff, he got to Siberia and he started hearing the Pistols
and Sonic Youth. Then this whole punk rock thing happened in Siberia in
87/88, some fantastic bands, sort of anti-bands. I met Nick Grakhov backstage
at the Estonia gig and he was telling me about all these Siberian bands,
and Albert Kuvezin, who could sing two octaves below anyone else and make
your trouser legs flap! That's what he does, he's like a human
Didgeridoo, with claws!
F&F: Do you remember much about the Estonia gig?
Lu: Yeah, it was a very strange venue, a bizarre coral, concrete, kind of thing where a choir of 5,000 would play to 120,000. It was so fucking loud on stage, I felt sick. It was a big crowd as well, there was 100,00 people out there. We were the first Western rock band to play at a festival in the Soviet Union.
F&F: John said it was illegal to own a PiL record in the Soviet Union at the time.
Lu: Yeah, that's absolutely true, there was a whole bunch of records and bands that were proscribed. The Pistols were proscribed, if you were caught with that then you were put inside! That's why Albert Kuvezin fled from Tuva... We went to Brazil too, that was great...
F&F: I remember seeing an interview with you and John and you were talking about the reaction of the crowd.
Lu: It was absolutely unbelievable! There was one show where we were in the middle of 'Rise', we opened with 'Rise' I mean that's how good the set was!, and within two minutes the power went off, and the crowd just kept singing! It stopped in the middle of the chorus, and they just kept singing, John was at the front clapping, and then the power came back on and bang! we were in the verse, and the crowd went berserk! It was one of those magic moments.
F&F: Do you have any highlights of your time in the band?
Lu: There were some great gigs, there were times when the band got on so well, we were having good fun, and I think John really liked that. Especially in the early days, none of us were any problem, we weren't a trouble, and John was used to people who were trouble!
F&F: John always said you were a band, you were PiL.
Lu: Yeah, that's right, that was the time he tried that. I think at the time we didn't really have the courage to be who we where, and I think the management didn't understand it. There was a lot of little things within the band, McGeoch never quite understood what I was doing, and I think Bruce never quite understood what McGeoch was doing, it needed just a little bit more 'luck' for those little differences to meld.
F&F: Do you still see Alan Dias or John McGeoch?
Lu: I haven't saw them for years. John went up to Sheffield, and I lost touch with him when I went to Berlin. Alan, I have no idea where he is, Bruce, I've no idea either, but I'm sure he must still be playing somewhere he's a great drummer. I wish them all well.
F&F: Do you think you'd ever work with John again?
Lu: Why not.
I wouldn't want to get involved in anything that would become a big
thing, because I know John and (laughs) he likes complete dedication!
Just now I'm up to my neck in about five different things, I've
got lots of different responsibilities, I'm managing and producing
Yat-Kha, which is a big thing for me because it's been a seven year
project. I'm also still playing in Shriekback, we've a new record
coming out. Billy Bragg that's working great. It's all my mates.
That band's really getting good, we're still touring and hopefully
we'LL make a new record. Billy's great, he's... well, he's
different to John! (laughs), but he's very determined, he's
about as determined as John... John pops up and he says things no one
else would dare say about the music business, the media, who else is going
to do that, if he doesn't do it? Billy's the same, he gets up
and does his 'New Labour - Old Labour' and he believes it.
F&F: When does the Yat-Kha album come out?
Lu: It came out in July it's called 'Dalai Beldiri'. John was using the first track off 'Yenisei-Punk' the last Yat-Kha record to open his solo shows, the former Tuvan CCCP-era national anthem, which is all about how great it is to be in the Soviet Union! 'Our strong brave brothers who will protect us'!
Picture Credits (top to bottom)
'Happy?' promo pic, 1987 (Lu top left) © Tom Sheehan
John & Lu; circa 1987 © unknown
"Know your PiL", guitar magazine; circa 1987 © unknown
Lu playing Saz © unknown (courtesy Norbert Knape)
Lu live with The Blokes; circa 1998 © uknown (courtesy Norbert Knape)