A Very British Coup

This week Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested that if The House Of Commons continues to make every effort to avoid a no-deal Brexit the Queen should suspend parliament. There you have it, if there was every any doubt, the actual face and voice of a right wing coup, not by thugs in jackboots but by Old Etonians with upper class accents. Suspend democracy to get what you want. ‘If Adolf Hitler, flew in today, they’d send a limousine anyway…’, as Strummer put it in 1978.

So this is very well timed indeed, a new song from a very post-punk line up of Jah Wobble, Keith Levene, Richard Dudanski, Youth and Mark Stewart and this fantastic musical melting pot, a comment on the madness of Brexit, a piece of 2019 brilliance. Even more excitingly, there’s a Weatherall remix to follow. Levene and Wobble’s former PiL colleague, Brexit and Trump cheerleader Lydon, is nowhere to be seen.

What’s My Name?

I can’t leave 1977 without doing punk and The Clash and a quick squizz round the internet brought me several celebrity Clash t-shirt wearers. From the top- supermodel Agyness Deyn, ex-footballer David Beckham and actor Kristen Stewart. I don’t have any issue with Agyness wearing a Clash t-shirt. She’s from just north of Manchester and lived in Rossendale, the place I had my first teaching job. She worked in a chip shop. She seems pretty real. I can believe she could be Clash fan. Plus, I like girls with short hair. David Beckham- member of the 90s United side, treble winner, generally seems like a nice chap. Not convinced he’s a Clash fan though. Kristen Stewart- I have no idea, maybe, maybe not. But if she wants to pop round to discuss her love of the band, I’m in tonight.

The Clash’s debut came out in 1977. In Sniffin’ Glue Mark Perry said that punk died the day The Clash signed to CBS. But he also said that the first Clash album was ‘LIKE A MIRROR. IT REFLECTS ALL THE SHIT. IT SHOWS US THE TRUTH. TO ME, IT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ALBUM EVER RELEASED’ (use of capital letters is Mark’s). Listening to it right now, it must be the rawest, most unproduced album a major record label put out in 1977 or most other years. It was famously so raw that CBS in the U.S. wouldn’t release it, saying the ears of American listeners couldn’t cope. In What’s My Name Mick’s guitars could skin a cat. Joe Strummer is so alienated that even table tennis clubs won’t let him in.

‘I tried to join the ping pong club
Sign on the door ‘all full up’
I got nicked for fighting in the road
The judge didn’t even know

What’s my naaaaaaame

Even by 1977 punk standards this is short- one minute forty seconds. Co-written by Keith Levene this is the punkest, most Pistols like song on the album. And it’s got very little to do with celebrities wearing band t-shirts.

What’s My Name


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.

>Meetings With Footballers 1

I’m not sure exactly when this photo was taken, sometime around the 70s turning into the 80s. That’s me in the middle and my younger brother Z on the left. The gent on the right is Manchester United legend Bobby Charlton. A building society in Didsbury, M20, launched itself on a Saturday morning with a promotion where if you opened an account with them (minimum deposit, one whole pound) you got your picture taken with Bobby. So, me and Z trooped up the road from Withington to Didsbury, not quite believing the actual Bobby Charlton would be there, and opened our accounts. The photo turned up a few days later, signed by Bobby. Z still has the photo in his possession. It’s worth noting that out of the three people in the picture Bobby is the one who looks most now like he did then. I wish I could still get my hair to look like it did then.

Radio 4 is the final track on Public Image Ltd’s barnstorming 1979 Metal Box lp, the flood gate opener for post-punk. After four sides of Wobble’s dub basslines, Levene’s scraping guitar, the skittering rhythms and Lydon’s caterwauling, Radio 4 was a moment of beauty and respite- drumless, synthchords, virtual strings, post-punk classical. Probably the only thing on the record Bobby Charlton could listen to.