It’s been a sacrifice to tour. But there’s no way he couldn’t go ahead.
John Lydon – Johnny Rotten, Britain’s most significant rock’n’roll figure of the past 45 years – had been due to visit the UK last year in support of his book, I Could Be Wrong, I Could Be Right, though Covid put paid to that. Now, with restrictions eased, he’s been able to return from his home in California.
“There was no way I was going to let people down. I say I’ll do something, I do it. But it hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to leave Nora, my babbie, at home. She’s got dementia. So I’ve spent the last year building a team of carers around her for while I’m away. I speak to her three or four times a day by Facetime. I will never abandon her. She’s still there. There’s always something there.”
Lydon is appearing across the UK in an unscripted and unrehearsed tour. Each evening, it’s him, the man who sparked a cultural earthquake, live, loud and unapologetically authentic. He will be calling at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in just over a week on October 14th. His visit to Huddersfield comes almost 44 years since the Sex Pistols performed their last ever UK gig; in the town’s Ivanhoe’s venue on Manchester Road, Christmas Day 1977.
His tour has earned rave reviews. One ITN producer, who saw the show in London, described it as ‘the best Sunday night in years’. Fans have been equally thrilled to meet the man who was the brains and the talent behind the Sex Pistols and who changed the face of contemporary culture.
Not that his erstwhile bandmates are on board. Lydon had all the money he had – £2 million – in an unsuccessful court case against them. The management company representing the other members of the band, and Disney, wanted to make a miniseries with Danny Boyle about the Sex Pistols. Lydon was kept in the dark about the plans until the last minute then shuddered when he saw the way the story had been told. He didn’t recognise it as being truthful.
“It really is a Mickey Mouse production.
“How can they do a film on the Sex Pistols without consulting the man who made that band? You don’t go about something like that behind someone’s back for two years unless you’ve got something to hide.
“I had a nasty little email to us on January 4th of this year, saying that they demanded my permission. And so the obvious question from me was, ‘permission for what?’. And bang, there it is. A few days later, spread out all over the internet, all about what a lovely [show] it’s going to be on punk, using pictures of me and my wife Nora. Now they know she’s ill [Nora has dementia], this isn’t nice of them to do that. And then they forced me into a court case, right? They sue me for not giving them permission – but I didn’t actually deny permission. I merely asked the question.”
The band he created after the Sex Pistols, Public Image Ltd (PiL), however, will return. Lydon has been working on new material and plans new music and a tour next year.
“I tried writing songs but a lot of them made me sound like a sad sack, because of Nora. I was wallowing in self-pity. I don’t like to do that. So I started again. I love the band I’ve got now. We’re all there for each other. I’m looking forward to bringing the music back to fans next year.”
To some extent, PiL were saved by Lydon’s infamous Country Life Butter advert. “I very nearly won businessman of the year for that. They came to me and I told them I wouldn’t do anything that was scripted. They thought that was great.” The campaign proved to be highly successful with sales of the brand rising by 85% in the following quarter. The money Lydon made from the campaign allowed him to reform PiL. Previously, they’d been in a difficult position financially with debts that could not be paid.
The cash from Country Life allowed them to get back on the road and since 2009 the band has been active, notably releasing This Is PiL and What The World Needs Now.
Country Life wasn’t the only time a John Lydon TV appearance made waves. He was memorably asked to appear in I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here…, though it took two years to agree. Lydon wanted the money to go to charities that he supports and when producers eventually met those demands, he entered the jungle. He walked, however, after being treated cruelly.
“Me and Nora were flying into Australia separately, for one reason or another. I asked them to tell me that she had landed safely but they refused.” The issue rankled. He and Nora had years earlier been due to fly on the Lockerbie flight that was blown up by terrorists. The fact that Nora had been late packing meant they missed the flight by chance. Understandably, he wanted to know that she’d landed safely in Australia, but when producers refused to confirm that he walked out so that he could be reunited with her. “They still gave me the money, though.”
His current tour is as much about the fans as it is about his book. He meets fans prior to the shows while the second half is dedicated to an unscripted question and answer session, in which fans can ‘Ask John’ whatever they like. “Nothing’s off-limits,” he says.
His thoughts feature in his sumptuously produced new book, I Could Be Wrong, I Could Be Right, copies of which are are all individually signed and with a run limited to 10,000 copies.
“I like doing things like that. I did a book, Mr Rotten’s Songbook, which was all of the lyrics. I don’t like working with the big publishers who try to change the way I speak. They want everything written in the Queen’s English, but that’s not how I speak. I think they should realise that the Queen’s in the minority, they should have it the way everyone else speaks.”
Lydon’s show is a rarity. While many spoken word evenings are scripted, following a similar format night-in, night-out, his dares to venture into unchartered territory. There is neither format nor formula, each evening is different. It also provides the rarest of opportunities to see a bonafide legend up close and personal.
Lydon was the man who changed the face of contemporary culture when he became the spokesman for a generation. The seismic shift that brought about punk was led by the band he propelled to the forefront of that movement. He was the intelligent, confrontational and articulate voice of his generation, the man who stood apart from his peers and was brave enough to disrupt what had gone before.
He attributes some of his mental strength and fearlessness to a brush with meningitis early in life. It left him without any memory and took many years to recover from. Having grown up in poverty, he fought his way back. His parents gave him tough love, refusing to mollycoddle him and encouraging him to fight back.
He misses them both and remembers one incident in which he was chased down the street by five bullies. When he arrived home, his dad met him at the door – then pushed him back outside so he could deal with the bullies rather than run away from them.
PiL has been the band he loved most. While the Sex Pistols endured the atrocious mismanagement of Malcolm McClaren and found themselves warring against one another while earning peanuts, PiL gave him the opportunity to flex his creative muscles. He adores the relationship he has with his present bandmates and looks forward to returning with them.
He remains as outspoken as ever, railing against things such as the ‘woke’ movement: “it’s a device used by the privileged to keep the working-class in their place.”
He remains an inspiration to many and is resolutely positive in the face of adversity, not least in dealing with the issues surrounding the illness of his beloved wife, Nora. “Eliminate self-pity and deal with an obvious tragedy open-mindedly. Know what it is and accept it. This is what it is. This is your future. You will have a life afterwards.
“It came on really strong and really quick. You’re asked questions of course by the doctors, ‘When did the symptoms first start?’
“Sometimes her memory is lethal. She can go back 20 years and remember in the greatest detail with complete accuracy. Now that’s fascinating.
“For me it’s a journey I have to travel and I’m not going to abandon her. I can still see her personality, it still exists, it’s just confused on how to exist.”
Lydon’s in-conversation evenings are remarkable. A true one-off whose career has been hallmarked by innovation and a refusal to follow convention – “rules are for fools,” he says – his tour provides fans with a unique opportunity to get to know the man behind the myth. He enjoys that his audience can challenge him on any topic, however uncomfortable their questions might be.
Tickets can be purchased HERE. Meet and Greet tickets available, enquire with the box office on 01484 430528.