John Lydon: “We were living on the edge of total collapse”

He recounts the thrillingly unstable formation of Public Image Ltd in the new issue of Uncut

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Interviewed exclusively in the new issue of Uncut – on sale now! – John Lydon takes us back exactly 40 years, to his flat in Gunter Grove, West London, and a thrilling leap into the unknown with an untested new band: Public Image Ltd.

Just a few months after The Sex Pistols had imploded onstage in San Francisco, Lydon was writing exploratory, dub-heavy songs with a new band made up of former Clash guitarist Keith Levine, old college chum Jah Wobble and Canadian drummer Jim Walker.

“We were exorcising our demons,” says Lydon, of those early PiL sessions that yielded epochal debut single “Public Image” and the chewy, frightening “Theme”. “The patterns unfolding in my head were unlike anything I’d approached before. We wanted hurtful and annoying sequences of notes. We wanted it to be scratchy and irritating and nerve-ridden.”

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The band’s intense personal situation fed into the tumult and paranoia of the music. “Gunter Grove was heavy,” confirms Wobble. “John and Keith remind me of Withnail & I only they are both Withnail. It was like Waiting For Godot… you lost points if you showed responsibility or compassion.” Even Lydon’s cat was apparently driven insane.

“We were living on the edge of total collapse,” says Lydon. “It can all fall in the quagmire at any moment – but you are in a band who are capable of going there with you and doing it for you. That’s fucking wonderful.”

Read more about Public Image Limited and the rest of the Class Of ’78 – The Cure, The Fall, Joy Division, Gang Of Four et al – in the new issue of Uncut, with John Lydon on the cover.

The July 2018 issue of Uncut is now on sale in the UK – with Public Image Ltd on the cover in the UK and Johnny Cash overseas. Elsewhere in the issue, you’ll find exclusive new interviews with Ray Davies, Father John Misty, Pink Floyd, Mazzy Star, Sleaford Mods, Neko Case and many more. Our free CD showcases 15 tracks of this month’s best new music, including Father John Misty, Neko Case, Natalie Prass, Melody’s Echo Chamber, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever and Jon Hassell.

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