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Interview: John Lydon of PiL

Ready for anything: John Lydon. Picture: Paul Heartfield Ready for anything: John Lydon. Picture: Paul Heartfield

Thursday, August 2, 2012
4:34 PM

The punk provocateur turned national treasure talks privilege and perseverance with Stephen Moore - ahead of PiL’s only London show at The Forum, Kentish Town, on August 11.

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PiL on fine form. Picture: Paul HeartfieldPiL on fine form. Picture: Paul Heartfield

Not one to shy away from the spotlight, John Lydon and his band Public Image Ltd are back with a bang − and back in London.

After releasing the critically-acclaimed This Is PiL in May, their outspoken, Arsenal born-and-bred frontman is gearing up for a brief live onslaught.

How come your new album is self-released?

“I’ve had to deal with major record labels now for far too long, and they don’t ever want to let you leave the label, and it’s a punishing regime.

“I’ve come through it but I’ve had to play the waiting game. This is a lesson I learnt from Ghandi of all people, my political hero.

“Passive resistance. Outwait them until the contract expires. It’s a long road and a difficult road and a difficult process to win back your respect. But we’re self-financing now.”

Do you mean self-respect, or that of your fans?

“Oh yeah, self-respect first and foremost. I’m a man of my word; you won’t catch this fellow in a lie. There’s no need for it.

“I’m basically a traditional subject of our part of London. Benwell Road is where we first lived, right where they’ve built the new stadium.”

Did it get to you, finding out your childhood home was going to bite the dust?

“It doesn’t really matter because you don’t own anything, so you don’t feel any personal attachment. Such is council living.

At ten-and-a-half we moved to Durham Road on the Six Acres Estate on Seven Sisters Road.

That flat I visited recently. That was a very good thing, very emotional. It was completely different, but when you walk in you can’t help but feel the spirit of your dead parents.”

What was it like doing that in front of the TV cameras?

“A nightmare. but it’s what I do in songs, you know; you reveal yourself somewhat. You make yourself very vulnerable. But that’s what being a live performer is all about.”

One Drop in particular references your youth in Finsbury Park.

“‘We are ages, we are the teenagers’; it’s that sense of community that never leaves you. We had a great sense of unity. And because it’s so multi-cultural and mixed race, it was a wonderful opportunity to explore many different kinds of music.”

I was going to come on to the riots...

“It began because of police mismanagement, frankly, and just escalated beyond that into Samsung and Adidas slippers collectors, and unfortunately ended up with deaths.

“To this day my only real logical conclusion to it is that we have to replace the shit-stem. The entire political agenda is wrong. It does not care for community. The property developers are moving in and up goes the price of living in that area.

“So in come yuppies who can afford to live there, and they want to enjoy the Finsbury Park community.

“But of course they’ve outpriced the locals. So Finsbury Park to me is an ideology in the head more than a geographical place any longer, and that’s a sad state of affairs.

“But I think it’s reflected almost perfectly by the absurd new Arsenal stadium, as opposed to the original.

“Young people from that very manor cannot afford to get in.”

Have you visited?

“No, I won’t go. I’m still a season ticket holder ’cos I’ll be loyal for the rest of my life, but I pass the tickets down to my brother’s kids. Otherwise they wouldn’t get the opportunity.

It’s appalling there’s a whole new Arsenal crowd that doesn’t have that sense of community.

“The old Arsenal used to have a thing for the schoolboys, it was really, really cheap to get in. There’s nothing like that any more.

“To this day I’m still fighting on behalf of, and for, the disenfranchised because I still believe that I’m one of them.”

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