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Punk rock icon John Lydon plans surprises as Public Image Limited celebrate 40 years

John Lydon is celebrating 40 years on Public Image Limited.
John Lydon is celebrating 40 years on Public Image Limited.

Notorious former Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten, a.k.a John Lydon, is celebrating 40 years with his other band Public Image Limited.

The icon spoke to us as PiL hit the road for a hotly-anticipated anniversary tour which visits the region not once but twice this summer.

PiL's 40th anniversary is being celebrated with a new box set and tour.

PiL's 40th anniversary is being celebrated with a new box set and tour.

It is almost inconceivable to believe that the once enfant terrible of British rock music is now aged 62 and celebrating 40 years with his band Public Image Limited,

Although Lydon shot to fame as frontman of the Sex Pistols, the punk trailblazers crashed and burned within a couple of years, with the singer forming PiL out of its ashes.

He went on to make his finest work with PiL, with the seminal post-punk album Metal Box, and even subverted the top charts with hits like This Is Not A Love Song and Rise before shelving the band in the mid-90s.

Aside from lucrative reformations with the Pistols, the exiled singer dabbled in reality TV and Country Life butter commercials in the intervening years.

John Lydon says fans may be in for some surprises on this summer's tour.

John Lydon says fans may be in for some surprises on this summer's tour.

But Lydon’s creative itch saw him put his band back together and deliver two acclaimed albums, This Is PiL (2012) and What The World Needs Now (2015) to claim a new generation of fans.

Now Lydon and PiL - featuring former Damned guitarist Lu Edmonds, The Slits and The Pop Group drummer Bruce Smith and Elvis Costello’s bass player Scott Firth - are on the road for the band's 40th anniversary.

But, as the singer explains down the Transatlantic phone line from his home in California, this tour is no mere nostalgic trip - and may even throw up a surprise or two.

“We’re going to be working on new songs during this tour and the idea is that on days off we will be recording them,” explains Lydon.

The current line-up of PiL have released two albums.

The current line-up of PiL have released two albums.

“We want to feed off the energy of these live shows, and we may even put new songs in the set to see how they go down and how they sound.

“You always know if a song don’t work if the audience are stood there straight faced - you can’t kid an audience,” laughs Lydon.

“We’ve not done this before, so it’ll be interesting.

“There is nothing worse than being sat around doing nothing in a hotel room on tour. Playing live gets the brain working, so we’ll be tapping into that.

John Lydon formed PiL after the breakkup of the Sex Pistols.

John Lydon formed PiL after the breakkup of the Sex Pistols.

“We’ll not put any songs out on the net or on MP3 on the fly though - I’m a vinyl man - MP3 is like a postcard instead of the full-blown film.

“We don’t have a record company, we are independent now and it is great, it gives us control and a new lease of life creatively - corporate labels are stifling,” declares Lydon.

PiL’s 40th will be marked though with the release of a career-spanning box set and a documentary of the band, both titled The Public Image is Rotten, to coincide with the dates this summer.

“The boxset is a great thing,” boasts Lydon. “There is all sorts of stuff in it. We have six hours of footage from all through years and lots of unreleased stuff that no one has ever heard before.

“It’s been a bit of work putting it together. There will always be problems with copyright and so on, but it’s not just me, but all who have been in PiL over the years, who I think of all my friends - no matter what they say behind your back,” snorts Lydon about former members who have included musicians as diverse as bass guru Jah Wobble, guitar slinger Steve Vai and Cream drummer Ginger Baker.

“The documentary is extraordinary too. Outsiders have been involved in it (the film’s director Tabbert Fiiller) but they have done a good job.

“Again there is lots of unseen footage from all through the years, - it’s interesting, and looking back it makes me laugh, you’ve got to have a sense of humour,” says the once-angriest man in rock with a smirk.

As well as playing the O2 Academy in Newcastle this summer, PiL will be playing a festival set at Hardwick Live in County Durham, and it'll be intriguing to see how their edgy, leftfield noise will go down with a sun-drenched, cocktail-sipping festival crowd.

“We are a live band and we thrive on live music with an audience, there seems too little of that these days,” argues Lydon.

“I don’t like to play those big arenas and such, they lose intimacy and connection with audience. I don’t wanna get lost in a light show - I cast a big shadow.

“But festivals are good to play sometimes. It’s a different energy and crowd, but it keeps you on your toes - and it pays well!” chortles Lydon.

“The Stone Roses invited us to their show at Finsbury Park a few years ago - invited me into my own back yard, yes, thank you very much,” says the man who grew up in North London of Irish immigrant parents.

“Mr Brown (Roses singer Ian) is a very nice man indeed and we had a great time playing to their crowd at Finsbury.

“We also played at Glastonbury a few years ago which was great too - it was a good vibe and we won over the crowd.”

“The worst thing about playing festivals is being backstage with the other bands - all that pretentious poncing about,” says Lydon with derision, and the mind boggles over what he will get up to in Sedgefield!

“Say sorry to our fans in Sunderland and Middlesbrough,” ends Lydon.

“We can’t get to play there this time around, but they are very welcome to Newcastle and so forth.

“PiL is a very broad religion, without a church. May the road rise with you.”

:: Public Image Limited play the Academy in Newcastle on Tuesday, June 12 and Hardwick Live on the weekend of August 18/19. See www.pilofficial.com for ticket links.