No more anarachy as Johnny Rotten goes all mellow yellow

PiL will release their new album on September 4  PA Photo
PiL will release their new album on September 4 PA Photo

ANDY WELCH talks opinions, humour and the joy of working with people you like with John Lydon

It’s unlikely you could find a subject on which John Lydon doesn’t hold an opinion.

In the first few minutes of opening his mouth today, he covers plumbing, Scottish independence, living in LA, occasional arguments with wife Nora, Clash Of Clans (his favourite iPad game), and his appearance on BBC’s Question Time back in 2012.

“I haven’t been invited back on, but I did enjoy it,” he says of his time on the panel alongside former MP and novelist Louise Mensch, former Labour home secretary Alan Johnson, Lib Dem politician Ed Davey and journalist Dominic Lawson.

“’What kind of a set-up is this?’ I thought, and I wouldn’t saddle up with the Labour MP like I was probably supposed to. No way. You know what I mean? You don’t buy my loyalty, you have to earn it, and I always thought he was a wrong’un.”

He was proud to have voted in the general election in May, but he’s rather more excited about the prospect of voting in the US, where’s he’s a citizen, in November’s presidential election, “where it really matters”.

“I haven’t given up nothing,” he says, when asked if he’s swapped his British passport for an American one. “I’ve just added another to my wad of passports. UK, Irish and US, now. I’m disliked equally in three different countries.”

Of course, Lydon isn’t disliked anywhere, really. In the UK, at least, he’s become something of a national treasure, peculiarly for someone who spent so long preaching anarchy.

He even managed to get away with those Country Life butter adverts and an appearance on I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! in 2004, maintaining a hint of his punk credentials by calling viewers some rude words (worse than those that got Sex Pistols into all that trouble with Bill Grundy after their expletive-ridden interview on the Today programme back in 1976) and eventually storming out of the jungle.

All these assorted topics aside, the thing he really wants to talk about is, of course, himself, and What The World Needs Now..., Public Image Ltd’s forthcoming 10th album.

“It ends in an ellipses. You fill in the dots,” he says. “It’s a question more than an exclamation. It’s so typical of me.”

As you might expect, he says the new record is “excellent” and, to his mind, the best thing the band’s ever done.

Exploding in a fusion of rock, dub, reggae and jazz, after the demise of Lydon’s former band Sex Pistols, PiL, as they’re known, were perhaps the first post-rock band, and while not as well known as Sex Pistols, they might be more enjoyable to listen to.

“What PiL does is timeless,” says Lydon. “I don’t do that fashion-of-the-moment thing, I am ahead of the pack at all times, so I never fall behind. And I don’t want to sound like anybody else. That’s the key to my success. I gave up trying to sound like other people years ago. I knew damn well that I couldn’t mimic anybody else very well. I don’t do karaoke.”

The starting point for the album, the band’s second since reforming in 2009 after a 17-year break, was Lydon’s recent autobiography, Anger Is An Energy.

Released in 2014, it was his second book after his 1993 tome Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, about his tough upbringing as the son of Irish immigrants in London’s Finsbury Park.

While researching Anger Is An Energy, which takes its title from a line in PiL’s 1986 hit Rise, Lydon focused on his childhood again, but this time looking back on how contracting spinal meningitis as a youngster, and being hospitalised for a year, shaped his life.

“I was putting the book together, and in a bit of spare time, we said we’d do an album,” he explains. “There was a danger of it all turning into psychobabble, but talent will prevail. And thank God I do have a sense of humour about life, because that’s what got me through.