Mark Gray interview

First published Fodderstompf, February 2003
© 2003

Fodderstompf.Com: Mark Gray was involved in the very early days of PiL designing and making some of their clothes. By chance, Mark recently got in touch with the site, and we took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his work with PiL… Interview conducted via email for Fodderstompf January 2003.


Mark Gray PiL shirt; circa 1978/79How did you become involved with designing clothes for PiL?

I originally did some tee shirts and hankies, armbands etc for Seditionaries. Though I never actually worked there. I did supply shirts to the shop, and also to Boy. Vivienne saw some of my shirts. This was just as the pistols were splitting in the States, and after the Pistols had kicked John out, one of the girls who worked for Glitterbest, suggested I send John one of the shirts. I posted a couple of shirts to Gunter Grove, and Nora told me John liked them, and was going to wear them for an interview photo shoot. So it started from that

Were you a fan of Vivienne's stuff, and the Seditionaries clothes?

Yes. I really liked a lot of the Seditionaries clothes. Obviously the Destroy shirts were the most popular, after John had worn one for pictures and the videos. The clothes seemed expensive in those days, but compared to the price of clothes today, they hardly cost anything... I can't believe how much Seditionaries clothes are going for on Ebay now... Unreal!!

Did Vivienne ever talk to you again, she must have saw you as a traitor! What about Cook and Jones?

Vivienne was upset with me, and looking back I don't blame her! she had paid for me to have private art lessons from an artist friend of hers in Notting Hill. I didn't attend any of the lessons. What made it worse was that she had previously arranged some acting classes for Debi, who worked in Seditionaries. She was let down by Debi too! The last conversation I had with Vivienne, she told me that she thought we had nothing in common... Basically washing her hands of me. But she had been very good to me, helping to get me work. I did some shirts for 'The Great Rock And Roll Swindle' film. I was really interested in what PiL were doing, and I think Vivienne was disappointed. I remember her describing John as a, " typical repressed catholic boy"

I did a few shirts for Steve and Paul, but I decided to hang out with John's crew, things had got a bit silly with Cook and Jones by that time. I remember when they arrived back from Rio, I had told them I had heard the new PiL single. They kept asking what PiL sounded like, and what was John up too? Needless to say I didn't tell them, but I thought "it's better than the stuff you're doing with Ronnie Biggs!!" That was my only involvement with Steve and Paul...

What shirts did you do for Vivienne and The Swindle?

I did quite a few tee shirts for Vivienne. She sold them in Seditionaries, they were the porno style tee shirt. One day the shop was raided by the Chelsea porn squad. All my stuff was taken, along with the other porn style shirts, and destroyed by the cops! For 'The Swindle' the original idea was to have a classroom scene, with Malcolm as the teacher, and me at the back of the class making shirts with 'Anarchy' etc in the end all that happened was I supplied 10 shirts, which I think Ten Pole Tudor and co wore!

When did you actually start working with PiL, how long did you work with them for?

It would have been from summer '78 to 1980. I was certainly there when 'First Edition' was being recorded, and I was around up until the time they went to the US, about the same time as Dennis Morris... I really wish Dennis would publish his PiL stuff. He is such a nice bloke! He was working at Island records when I knew him, I remember the famous 'Dread at the Controls' Basement 5 tee shirts he did... There's some great pictures Dennis took around Gunter Grove one day, together with all the other PiL stuff he has...

One of Mark Gray's PiL shirts; circa 1978What else did you do for them? Just shirts?

Mainly shirts. I did some armbands, hankies and a couple of other things like ties. I can't remember exactly how many shirts there were, in the region of 30 or so I think, but that's not including tee shirts etc.

What gave you the inspiration for the shirt designs? Did the band come to you with ideas and styles they wanted? I noticed you used things like Union Jacks, the German Iron Cross, & Royal Crowns, was that influenced by Seditionaries.?

Definitely the German badges were influenced by Seditionaries. I had seen John with a German badge on his clothing when he was in the Pistols, I think he had turned it upside down. So I painted the German eagle upside down. Again, the Union Jack had been used by Jamie Reid for a lot of Pistol promo material, so I carried on in that vain. The main reason I did that was because there was nothing out on PiL at the time... They didn't really have an image as such, and John was still very much associated with the Pistols to the public and press. So I still was using the Pistols imagery of John. As for the crowns, I had a friend who's dad was in the army, and I stole some of his badges, and the crown wristband. thought the crowns looked good upside down!

The "Sod in Heaven" shirts for instance, did that come straight from John, or did you hear the lyric in the song?

At the time I did that shirt, the album hadn't been released. I think one of the band had told me of some of the songs that were already written, and ' Sod In Heaven' must have been one...

What kind of armbands and ties were you doing, I know about the 'Public Image' tie wore in the 'PI' video...
The armbands had 'Public Image ltd' written on them, a couple had 'Sod in Heaven', the ties also said ' Public Image ltd.' There wasn't much to work with at that time, only a few song titles.

How did you go about making the shirts?

Well, I didn't have a silkscreen... Which is how the shirts were done at Seditionaries. I painted everything onto the shirts with a brush and fabric paint. So all the shirts were hand painted. Actually, it didn't take that long to do a shirt.

It seemed to be John more than the others who wore the clothes, weren't the others as interested?

It was mainly John and Keith. Even back then Wobble had his own thing in the pipeline, so he asked me to do tee shirts with his face on the front, and "Jah Wobble... The man from Whitechapel" written across! Another problem was that hardly any pictures of the rest of PiL existed, except a few that NME used, and of course, there were thousands of John. So that was the biggest complaint from the rest of the band... Too many pictures of John!

What kind of relationship did you have with John and the band? Gunter Grove must have been a bit of a madhouse at the time!

I was very young. At the time I was 16 and they treated me as a kid, even Wobble who was only 18 himself! Needless to say I did get some abuse... I remember one scary moment when it was just me and Wobble at the house. He went into the kitchen and grabbed a big carving or bread knife. He then began chasing me around the room, adopting the kind of action of a robot, with the arm holding the knife swinging back and forth. He kept saying, " just let me give you a cut on the face... that's all" with Wobble you never knew when he was serious or taking the piss! But on the positive side, there was a great atmosphere at Gunter Grove at the time. A real buzz... The person I remember being the nicest at the house was Jim Walker, although he had the piss taken out of him a lot too! With John it depended on the mood you caught him in, but all in all I thought he was a nice guy.

John Lydon on roof of Gunter Grove, wearing Mark Gray shirt; circa 1978 © Caroline Coon Around that time they seemed very interested in design, and the packaging of the band, everything from the PiL logo, to the adverts, posters and packaging for the single and album. Do you know if it was it discussed, or did it all just fall together? Who took the most interest in it?

It seemed to me that it kind of fell together. You had three very creative people there: John, Keith and Wobble. I think they were very keen to be seen as a band in their own right, and not another version of the Pistols. I thought they were also a very innovative band, and wanted to break barriers, and were willing to experiment and take risks. John could have easily taken the easy way out and put together Sex Pistols 2, but he put his ass on the line. I think Keith was very creative.

Were you involved with any of the other PiL design work?
No. My involvement was just the shirts and stuff. The band members came up with so many ideas and concepts. I remember when Wobble told me of the plan to release the new album in a metal tin, only PiL could have come up with that, and actually done it! There seemed to be no bounds to what they would try... I bet Virgin had a few headaches!

There's a quote by Jon Savage in 'Englands Dreaming' that goes something along the lines of, "When John left the Pistols, he tried to dress PiL up in a poor version of Seditionaries.", what did you make of that! Cheeky bastard!

Well, John didn't dress PiL up at all. When they first started, they didn't seem to have many clothes at all! I think that if they saw something they liked, they wore it. There was no 'contrived' image as such. They hadn't developed a 'look' and certainly John wasn't telling them what to wear... I think they were more concerned with their sound. I know several people thought that John was still wearing Seditonaries clothes, or that he was promoting his own line. Nothing could be further from the truth. I got the shirts from Oxfam in the Kings Rd. and painted on them. Looking back though, some of the artwork on the shirts could have been much better. But the shirts weren't meant to have anything to do with fashion anyway. My artwork has improved a lot since then!

PiL later started wearing big suits, and began to have more a "look", I think the suits were designed by Kenny McDonald, did you have a hand in them too?

No, I didn't have any hand in those suits. I thought they looked good on John though, and you are right, they had developed something of a "look" by then.

Do you still have any of the stuff? Do you know where it is now?

Not a clue! I don't have any of the shirts I painted either. I know John was always giving his clothes away to people who asked. I did several shirts for other people who saw John wearing them, I think Dennis Morris had one, and Don Letts.

Have you any particular favourite pieces you made for the band?

Not really. I thought the shirts looked better when I started colouring the sleeves and collars, John told me he preferred them like that. He's wearing one on the cover of the 'Flowers Of Romance' single.

John wearing Mark Gray shirt; circa 1980/81 (pic taken from Flowers of Romance 7" sleeve)Were you a fan of the band, it was obviously a million miles away from the Pistols. Did you go to any of the recording sessions or live gigs?

I was a big fan! I thought it was great what they were doing. It was hard not to believe in them. The first time John played the mix of 'Public Image' everyone at the house applauded like mad! A lot of people didn't get it though. I was disappointed some of the critics dissed the first album when it was released. I guess PiL were just too far ahead of their time for some people...

Are you still in contact with any of them?

No. I lost contact back in 1980. I think things began to change then. The band were off to America. I recently contacted Keith by e-mail, and I 'm very pleased he is back doing something creative with 'Murderglobal' I always wondered what he was up too, and I wish him success with his new project.

What are you doing now? Are you still involved with design? Did working with the band help you in what you're doing now?

After working with PiL, I got involved doing other designs. I did a lot of stuff for Pamela Stephenson and Billy Connolly, and also supplied shirts to Reg Kray in prison!! I did lots of other stuff. I am now living in LA. I do freelance artwork, but I 'm more interested in animation, and I'm hoping to get into a studio. Don't know if I 'll stay over here yet though!

Anything else you'd like to mention?

Only that I found your site a great trip down memory lane! So much rare and useful information. I don't think PiL ever had the recognition they deserved for being innovative and creative. And it's great that you have done something to make people aware of how influential PiL were. Could there ever be an original line up reunion gig one day!!!


Check out Mark's MySpace page to see examples of his latest work:


Picture Credits: (Top to Bottom)
Mark Gray PiL shirt; circa 1978/79
Mark Gray PiL shirt; circa 1978
John Lydon on roof of Gunter Grove, wearing Mark Gray shirt; circa 1978 © Caroline Coon
John wearing Mark Gray shirt; circa 1980/81 (pic taken from Flowers of Romance 7" sleeve)
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