Ceremony

On July 19th 1986 New Order headlined a show at GMEX (formerly Manchester’s Central railway station, for much of the 70s and early 80s a derelict carpark. We used to park there when shopping in town and my Mum and Dad got all of us kids back in the car on one occasion and drove off, leaving one of my brothers standing forlornly where the car had been, aged only three or four. Don’t worry- they realised before leaving the carpark). The show was the highlight of the Festival of the Tenth Summer,a Factory organised event celebrating ten years since punk and the show at the Lesser Free Trade Hall where the Sex Pistols set into motion everything that has happened to Manchester since. The Lesser Free Trade Hall, also the venue where Bob Dylan was accused of being Judas, is now a swish hotel. The Festival of the Tenth Summer had its own Factory catalogue number (FAC 151) and had nine other events including a fashion show, a book, a Peter Saville installation, an exhibition of Kevin Cummins photographs and so on. Very Factory. Support for New Order at the gig included The Smiths (billed as co-headliners), The Fall, A Certain Ratio, Cabaret Voltaire, OMD, John Cale, John Cooper Clarke and Buzzcocks. Not a bad line up really.

During their set New Order were joined on stage by Ian McCulloch who sang Ceremony with them. This clip shows that meeting, the only drawback being it’s less than a minute long.

There’s an audio only version of the whole song here. Ian sings in a register closer to Ian Curtis’ and certainly gives it his best shot. The bit where Hooky joins Mac at the mic is great.

Ceremony was Ian Curtis’ last song, intended for Joy Division but recorded and released as the first New Order record. The first two New Order records actually- it was released in March 1981 by the three piece New Order and produced by Martin Hannett. It was then re-released in September 1981 in a newer, slightly longer version with Gillian Gilbert on board and with a different Saville sleeve. If you want to get really trainspottery about it, the run out groove on the first version says ‘watching love grow forever’, while on the second version it has ‘this is why events unnerve me’.

New Order and Echo And The Bunnymen toured the USA together along with Public Image Ltd throughout 1987, billed as The Monsters Of Alternative Rock. The Melody Maker reported from it as the picture up top shows. According to Lydon’s autobiography ‘Bernard Sumner was having problems emotionally and looked a bit the worse for wear’ and describes him being tied to a trolley to sing at one gig as he was unable to stand. ‘Nice fella’ though says Lydon. Bernard’s favourite tipple was ‘a pint of headache’ (Pernod and blackcurrant).

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Leftfield

Final Lydon post this morning- it would be silly to move on without mentioning Open Up, his collaboration with Leftfield from 1993, a high octane, pummeling piece of progressive house with a paint stripping vocal from John complaining about Hollywood’s refusal to cast him in its films. Brilliantly, as the song was released Los Angeles was on fire.

Leftfield’s Neil Barnes had known Lydon from North London and they approached him tentatively about vocals. Lydon leapt at it. The single came with a handful of remixes including the Sabres Of Paradise I Hate Pink Floyd Mix and a Dust (Chemical) Brothers remix.

At a later date (some royal anniversary or other) Leftfield returned the favour and remixed God Save The Queen. Not strictly necessary but I once heard this in a club and it sounded immense.

 

Lydon

The adventures of John Lydon Part Two- after the breakup of the Sex Pistols in 1978 Lydon was abandoned in the USA by McClaren while he set about making his doomed film and the rest of the band flew down to Rio to meet Ronnie Biggs. Lydon is rightly scathing about all of this in his book. He returned to London and took refuge in a flat he bought in Gunter Grove. These are some of the strongest sections of the book- his chaotic life in Gunter Grove, the continual threat of being busted by the police, harassment by the tabloid press, a trip to Jamaica to scout acts for Virgin’s new reggae label. Reverting to Lydon from Rotten he sets about putting together a new band and a new type of band. Public Image Limited, more than any other band except Joy Division maybe, made what is now thought of as post-punk. He hooks up with Keith Levene (who gets castigated all the way through Lydon’s autobiography but he acknowledges his abilities as a guitarist and writer) and old mate Jah Wobble (who can’t play bass when he joins). Together they make some of the most brilliant music of the period. Opening single Public Image is still one of the great 7″ records- thrilling, intense and Lydon giving his enemies (McClaren mainly) a tongue lashing and proclaiming himself as his own property. Levene and Wobble plus drummer Jim Walker are on fire.

After the first album they regroup to make Metal Box, all living together at Gunter Grove. No verses, no choruses, no running order, no filler. Not an easy listen in places but forward thinking and visionary. Death Disco is like nothing else, and sounds exactly like its title. Poptones is very unsettling. Careering is stunning.

After Metal Box PiL began to suffer from personnel changes- Wobble hates Levene and leaves, Levene is increasingly unreliable, Walker had already gone before or during Metal Box. Jeanette Lee joins as part of PiL’s umbrella organisation and they make another album, The Flowers Of Romance, uneven but good in places. This Top Of The Pops performance is pretty memorable.

Beyond this Lydon’s move to Los Angeles and further issues with band members leads to a decline in output and quality. The singles remain strong for a few more years- This Is Not A Love Song with a truly daft but attention grabbing video (and I prefer this poppy version with horns to the earlier one). A handful of album tracks still burn brightly.

In 1987 a further go in the studio, this time with seasoned professionals like Steve Vai and Ginger Baker, sees a new album called Album, and another great single- Rise- which managed to be a fairly major hit and still sounds vital. Beyond that, an LA cartoon version of PiL takes over as far as I’m concerned but I know there are people who will make claims for songs from beyond this point.

In Anger Is An Energy Lydon rails against X Factor and the obsession with perfect singing voices. Quite rightly he says what you say and the emotion in a voice is far more important than being able to sing scales or hit every note perfectly. PiL’s best songs show this time and again and from Public Image through to Rise Lydon made records that are as good or better than Sex Pistols records- they just don’t have the same impact as he did as Johnny Rotten. The times have changed. I saw PiL in 2009 and the new version of the band he’s put together play a great set, proving the man can still do it when he wants it.

A final clip to illustrate his peculiar genius- invited to play on US tv show American Bandstand in 1980 PiL arrive to be told they will be miming. Lydon is at first disgusted and affronted but then plays with the format leading the studio audience, camera crew and producers on a merry dance. Surreal and hilarious and a little bit frightening.

Rotten

One of the books I got through on holiday in France was John Lydon’s autobiography Anger Is An Energy. It was in parts entertaining and infuriating (like the man himself), but eventually became a bit boring. I’ll come back to it in a bit.

John Lydon willed himself into becoming Johnny Rotten in his late teens, a complete one-off, unique, an utterly new frontman for a rock ‘n’ roll band. The three men he joined were essentially a sped up pub rock band using stolen gear until John found his voice and wrote lyrics that did more than describe boredom, they actually took on the British establishment. Their recorded legacy is out of all proportion to their influence and importance- four astonishing singles, one breathtaking album (containing all four astonishing singles) and a B-side (The Stooges cover No Fun). Lydon freely admits in his book that he had no idea how to sing when he joined the band, had never thought of joining a group or singing. His vocal style is perfect for those songs and had to be found quickly, in rehearsal rooms and then on stage. His lyrics on Anarchy In The UK and God Save The Queen are supreme, his delivery on Pretty Vacant is hair raising, not to mention Bodies or Submission. Rotten wasn’t just about the words, he knew image and presentation were important, stamps of identity and markers. The visual sense of Rotten and the Pistols and their entourage is as important as their sound.

In 1976 Tony Wilson put them on Granada TV at tea time (Lydon slags Wilson off in his book, calling him smug and sarcastic, which is a bit silly).

The Sex Pistols were, given the personalities involved, always living on borrowed time and their split can’t have surprised anyone. The Winterland gig in 1978 contains the greatest onstage comment ever (at 6.39).

Lydon’s book is good on the Pistols years, his upbringing and his dirt poor childhood of North London in the 1960s, the Irish and Jamaican diaspora, his illness and recovery (meningitis, not nice) and the rise from nothing to pioneering punk band and public enemy number one. This is all good stuff and well told. But, and you knew there was a but, eventually it all gets very wearing. The book is written in Lydon’s voice which gives it authenticity I suppose, but after a while all the phwooaars and wowzers and BITS-IN-CAPITAL-LETTERS get irritating. Not to mention constantly referring to himself in the third person. He also slags off almost everyone except his wife and family- Malcolm McClaren (no surprise there), Vivienne Westwood, all his fellow Sex Pistols, most of the other punk bands, Joe Strummer, everyone in PiL especially Jah Wobble and Keith Levene, his live audience (who can’t keep up with him apparently), the record buying audience, Britain, journalists (he’s never had any good press apparently), Jon Savage… and so on. He claims to have invented almost everything that’s happened since the mid 70s from punk (fair enough) and social comment in songs, to house music and hip hop, even David Beckham’s haircuts… Everything he’s done was always the right decision (including inviting Sid in to join the Pistols, which partly led to the demise of both the band and Sid). He sees himself as a walking version of the Millwall FC song- no one likes him, he doesn’t care. On top of this he is wildly contradictory. He claims Sid was both clever and stupid within a few pages. He claims to abhor violence, lives the life of a Gandhi loving pacifist yet gets a massive kick repeatedly out of hanging around with Arsenal’s top boys, drinking in pubs used by London’s gangsters, and using his minder/manager Rambo to cause trouble and crack heads. On and on he goes, circling around, falling out with everyone he’s ever worked with, most of whom are portrayed as money grabbing parasites while his motives are always pure and artistic. He does admit he must be hard to work with. The chapter on the 1996 Sex Pistols re-union is a joke- Jones, Matlock and Cook were all this, while he was that, it wasn’t about the money, he doesn’t have any money, he did it for the art unlike the others, they insulted him with a demo for a new song etc etc. It wore me out to be honest and by the last few chapters detailing his television work I’d pretty much lost interest. Which is a shame because he was one of the true, stand alone giants in music.

It may be of course that the whole book is just a wind up. In which case, pffft.

I’ll get to PiL later.

I Must Be Disco Dreaming

It’s like punk never happened- PiL’s I Must be Dreaming (one of the stand out tracks from this years This Is PiL album) remixed, sorry re-edited, by Meant and discofied. Not DISCO disco but still disco-ish. Good it is too.

What’s the difference between a remix and re-edit?

I Must Be Dreaming (Clouded Vision re-edit)

Unrehearsed Let The Bubbles Burst

Just imagine- a time when the cover of the NME meant something and there was the possibility of an in-depth interview written for adults.

I’m still getting used to the fact, after a couple of weeks of on-off listening, that John Lydon has made a necessary album. The new PiL album, despite one or two mis-steps, is a real grower. The song One Drop is proof on its own- vital, angry, alive, stomping stuff. Go and find it somewhere, you won’t regret it (I’ve already posted a song off it so shouldn’t really do another). The interview clips on Punk Britannia showed he’s still got it as well- sharp and witty. A real one-off is John. The last time he sounded anywhere near as good was in the mid-90s with this still thrilling collaboration with Leftfield, the number one piece of punk-house.

Open Up

I Must Be Dreaming

Public Image Ltd put out their new album today and if this track off the One Drop e.p. (from April) is anything to go by, it’ll be worth a punt. Lydon back on form and making good music for the first time in ages. This one’s got an nice groove, some good finger-picking stuff and John doing his thing in an understated way.

I Must Be Dreaming