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‘They’re throwing bottles?’: Keith Levene on PiL’s infamous Ritz riot, a Dangerous Minds exclusive
05.13.2015
11:39 am

Topics:
Music
Punk

Tags:
John Lydon
Keith Levene
Public Image Ltd.


 
This is the first part of Keith Levene‘s personal recollection of Public Image Ltd’s infamous Ritz riot show. The view from the eye of the hurricane, so to speak. Keith’s newest release is the wonderful and sprawling Commercial Zone 2014. His website is www.teenageguitarist76.com/

The atmosphere was intense. An event put together with the best of intentions in real time. Real time meaning no set list, no rehashes of Pistols numbers, potential audience participation, no real idea of how the event would pan out and certainly no idea it was going to turn into a hybrid of an old school R&R riot.

There was no plan, that was the plan. The potential was immense. There was no MTV and I was using one of largest video displays in existence at the time. There was one other similar screen this size in Tokyo. We had a fantastic control room that was capable of being a TV channel.

Cable was the big buzz of the time and this! Live video just seemed so exciting and yet to me, so obvious. When I agreed to do this with the powers that be at the Ritz the question was “Can we use and integrate all the video equipment and the screen into the show? Stanley London, and Jerry Brandt, the club’s owners, as I remember said “Sure.”

I said “We’ll have to bill this as something special, a video event with Public Image Ltd. Its key we do this for a myriad of reasons.” They agreed. The guys at the Ritz were fantastically helpful and enthusiastic. Jerry Brandt as I remember was involved in The Electric Circus in the 60s and had a good idea of what was going on and therefore had a special eye on what I was doing as this was coming together. (He definitely thought he’d seen this before in the 60s. I could feel that.)

I had such high hopes for what was coming together. I’d envisioned a live video event with audience participation or an interactive event on a personal level which to my mind would have been quite innovative and quite interesting for those days. This might not seem like such a big deal in these advanced technological times but back then it was. Plus even then “interactive only really meant an electronic experience, nothing this close up and personal.
 

 
In May 1981 there was no World Wide Web, YouTube, Twitter or Facebook, no instant global communication anywhere, anytime at the touch of a button. People didn’t have access to personal computers, cell phones, or the Internet except under really geeky circumstances. MTV didn’t exist as of yet though it was on the table. Cable was the biggest and most interesting or exciting thing happening.

In those days PiL would get lots of offers many of which were turned down. I happened to be in Manhattan and was getting a good deal of attention when an offer from the Ritz came up. They’d had an unexpected cancellation from none other than Malcolm’s Bow Wow Wow and they needed something with proper impact to fill the gap. Impromptu? Whatever.

The Ritz was a Victorian place that was used for pretty damn classy gigs. A fantastic venue with balconies, an old school wooden ballroom floor and the perfect size for name bands to do their stuff. A great stage and crew. I imagine the likes of Madness, Squeeze or Talking Heads and bands of that ilk would’ve used this as a prefered prestige place in New York.

The Ritz had recently acquired one of just two (in the entire world) massive video screens for the venue with a General Electric video projection system. The highest resolution imagery anyone was going to get for those times. The projection certainly wasn’t “Hi Def” as we know it these days but no one knew the difference then and essentially it looked like a giant movie screen and was very clear (The only other screen like the one there was in Tokyo. HD was a dream concept at the time only Sony were working on). This all really knocked my socks off and fired my imagination like a Gatling machine gun on speed. Suffice to say the Ritz was well interesting due to the toys inside.
 

 
Continues after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Public Image Twitter Fight: Keith Levene is MAD AS HELL AND HE’S NOT GONNA TAKE IT ANYMORE!


 
Keith Levene, the groundbreaking post-punk guitarist best known as an original member of the Clash and for his work on the first three Public Image Limited albums, seems to be a bit heated up these days. This morning, the following screed appeared on his Facebook page, and was copied to his Twitter feed:

It has been brought to my attention that various parties involved in the first go of the Commercial Zone project have been having their say anywhere they can and popping up messages that r absolute bollocks! I won’t stand for this anymore and I’m going to address this now just for me and anyone who’s interested in the truth. All these people Wobble, Jones (NOT YOU BARRY :-), Anthony Keidis, Bob Miller and of course John fukin Lydon - AND THAT’S JUST FOR STARTERS. I say fuck the lot of you and tell me…what the fuk did i do that was so bad aside from greatly enhancing your situation. Everyone’s lives who I encountered in a professional sense were improved after they worked with me. I kept silent for more than 30 years. No more. My contributions have been erased by you and these lies that I absconded with the CZ tapes, was horrible, was fired from the Chili Peppers when I was never hired (show me the fucking contract if I was hired), and so on and so forth. ITs obviously not going to stop. Lies in books, lies in press and its so obvious none of you have anything new to offer. Fukin grow up, embrace your limitations and stop trying to erase my contribution to your lives for one not to mention the history of music.. IM MAD AS HELL AND IM NOT GONNA TAKE IT ANYMORE. Oh and Anthony Kiedis. What the fuk is wrong with you? If you’ve got something to say…stop hiding behind your book agents, fakes names on message boards, your friends who are journalists, and so on. You know where you can find me. In the studio of course (unlike you) working on my next project. And do yourself a favour…get CZ essentials and then you have another 20 years to plagiarise me at www.teenageguitarist76.com WANKERS!

Much of that explains itself, but the apparent falling-out with PIL bassist Jah Wobble is a bummer. (About Anthony Kiedis, well, I guess that’s maybe a shame, too…) It apparently stems from a recent Guardian interview in which Wobble off-handedly mentioned that Levene was “a horrible junkie in the PIL days”. The interview, which by the way is definitely worth a read, now runs with a disclaimer:
 

 
The reason I find that falling-out to be such a shame is that Levene contributed guitar to the 2011 Wobble/Julie “Lonelady” Campbell album Psychic Life, then did two wonderful collaborative releases, EP and Yin & Yang, with Wobble in 2012. Now, these releases weren’t ever going to blow minds and change lives like Metal Box or anything, but still, this was good new music from the people who made friggin’ Metal Box, so I had hoped there’d be more to come from the two. Actually, I still hope there’ll be more to come from them.

It’s honestly baffling why Levene should be dwelling on negatives. He’s been extremely active lately, penning a memoir of his early years in music, Meeting Joe: Joe Strummer, the Clash and Me, and successfully crowdfunding the album Commercial Zone 2014, a long-in-the-works completion/ expansion of what would have been PIL’s fourth album, which was released in two different versions in the ‘80s: by Levene as Commercial Zone, and by PIL as This Is What You Want… This Is What You Get. Levene’s version was legally suppressed after its first issue (haha see what I did there), so it’s a bit of a rarity, but it has die-hard adherents among those who find the PIL version to be kind of hacky, pandering crap (myself included—those horn sections are ear-stabbingly painful). The Quietus gave the album a very positive review, and Levene posted works in progress from the sessions on his YouTube channel. Here’s a bit called “Area 52”:
 

 
Check out these audience-cam videos of Metal Box In Dub, a band comprised of Levene, Wobble and singer/actor Nathan Maverick, who plays Johnny Rotten in a Sex Pistols cover band. They did several shows in 2012, performing early PIL material.
 

 

 
Many thanks to Shawn Swagerty and his unstoppable nose for news.

Previously on Dangerous Minds
Keith Levene of PIL on why he quit the Clash
Anarchy on American Bandstand: When Public Image Ltd. met Dick Clark, 1980
Raw footage of John Lydon and Keith Levene at MTV interview, 1982

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
‘Lou Reed part 2’: Little-known Public Image Ltd. footage from 1982
04.10.2014
11:55 am

Topics:
Music
Punk

Tags:
John Lydon
PiL
Keith Levene
Public Image Ltd.


 
When I was a kid, more than any other group, Public Image Ltd. were my band. As a teenager, I was a major acidhead who hated religion and PiL suited that state of mind better than just about anything. They were demented dada geniuses, doing more to move music away from the three chord blues-based rock and roll that had dominated popular music since the days of Chuck Berry than anyone else. It wasn’t as if John Lydon’s previous outfit had done much to musically challenge the status quo. The Sex Pistols may have shown that the prevailing rock acts of the day were all “dinosaurs,” but their music really wasn’t anything all that “new” was it?

Who would say that about Public Image Ltd.? With their second album, Metal Box, they changed the state of modern music the way Picasso and Georges Braque had changed the act of perception itself with the advent of Cubism some seventy years earlier. After PiL, everything was different and nothing was too weird. A hundred years from now those first three PiL albums will still be revered the same way they are today, except that by then they’ll considered classical music or something…

I was lucky enough to see PiL in 1983. I’d run away from home and PiL were playing a few days later on Staten Island at the horrible, decrepit and just downright shitty Paramount Theater (a venue that should have required a tetanus shot to enter). Jah Wobble had already been kicked out of the band, but that didn’t bother me (I’m probably just slightly more partial to The Flowers of Romance than I am the first two albums) and this was a few months before Keith Levene and Lydon had their famous falling out.

Without Wobble you still had PiL, but as Lydon would soon prove beyond all argument, he was only as good (or as bad) as his collaborators. When Keith Levene fucked off, forget it, after that it was Public Image Ltd. in name only. Not that Levene did much of anything—for years decades—without Lydon anyway, but Lydon without Levene was hopeless, a fucking joke from 1983 onwards if you ask most fans of the original group.

I’ve mentioned on the blog before that I have a pretty decent collection of PiL bootlegs on vinyl. Truly “oldschool” boots produced over thirty years ago, most of them pretty primitive pressings. When I got rid of most of my records ten years ago (keeping collectibles and signed pieces, plus my Jeannie C. Riley albums) I still retained them and as a percentage, they comprise a good bit of what’s left of a once ridiculously huge record collection. One of them is a boot of the actual show I saw called “Where Are We?” taped on March 26th, at the Paramount Theater.

The title comes from a song PiL had been playing in their sets around that time that was originally called “Lou Reed Part 2” and then later rechristened “Where Are You?” (the spiteful lyrics are about departed PiL video maker Jeanette Lee). It came out on both Lydon’s “official” This is What You Want, This is What You Get album and Levene’s less official version on the Commercial Zone bootleg.

This 1982 report from Canadian television about PiL’s first performance in the country, at Toronto’s Masonic Temple Concert Hall, features a short excerpted performance of “Lou Reed Part 2/Where Are You?” and during it someone spits right in Lydon’s face. He’s not happy. At the end of the piece there’s a bigger chunk of a live “Public Image.” With so little decent footage of PiL around—I’ve seen very little video of the post Wobble group—this is a real treat. Lydon’s sporting a hospital gown and looks, as he often did in his youth, like an escaped mental patient.

I don’t know exactly what he means by this, but if you click over to Keith Levene’s website, he’s trying to raise the funds to “finish” Commercial Zone 2014. For a guy who was so, er, quiet, throughout most of the past three decades, for the past few years, Levene seems intent on making up for lost time, recording and gigging with Jah Wobble, releasing solo material and writing his life story, the nicely titled, This is not an Autobiography: The Diary of a non-Punk Rocker, available soon as an e-book.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
PiL rarity ‘Steel Leg Vs. The Electric Dread’ is the missing link between ‘First Issue’ & ‘Metal Box


 
The folks at Light in the Attic Records were kind enough to send me their nicely packaged recent reissue of PiL’s landmark First Issue album—the record that was thee line of demarcation between punk rock and post punk music—and I’ve been listening to it a lot lately. It also caused me to go dig up some PiL stuff I haven’t listened to in a while.

When I was a kid, PiL were probably my main group (tied with Throbbing Gristle) and I even ran away from home, in part, so I could see them play in New York (it’s a long story). Along the way, I have collected a lot of PiL bootlegs and I still have every one of them, despite getting rid of 99% of my vinyl many moons ago. One of my favorite PiL rarities, though, isn’t a bootleg at all, it’s the one-off 12” EP that was released by Virgin in 1978 under the title Steel Leg Vs. The Electric Dread.

The EP was recorded at Gooseberry Sound Studios (the same cheap reggae studio where PiL finished off their debut album after spending all the money) by Jah Wobble, “Stratetime Keith” (Keith Levene), Don Letts and Don’s pal Vince Bracken, called here “Steel Leg.” The hooded figure on the cover was long rumored to be John Lydon but he had no involvement with this record whatsoever according to the PiL fansite Fodderstompf.
 

 
Nothing earth-shatteringly brilliant here—it’s damned good, though, I’ll go that far—but Steel Leg vs. The Electric Dread‘s four free-form, anarchic numbers most certainly point the way for what was to come next with the deliriously dumbfounding dub-heavy genius of 1979’s enigmatic Metal Box.

“Haile Unlikely by The Electric Dread”

“Unlikely Pub”

“Steel Leg”

“Stratetime And The Wide Man”

Here’s what Seth The Man wrote in his inimitable way on Julian Cope’s Head Heritage website. Pure rock snob poetry, I love this guy:

It goes beyond mere punky reggae partying—it’s a PiL t-shirt worn by Syd “Family Man” Barrett with the words “D-U-B” replacing “P-i-L,” as the Finsbury Park crew’s ancestral memories of multiple Hawkwind records works its way through the mix with electronics like Dik Mik meets The Aggrovators.

Although long an impossibly rare item to find, the Steel Leg vs. The Electric Dread EP was released on CD in 2005 along with two PiL-related tracks by Vivien Goldman (see below) and (not PiL-related) tracks by Glaxo Babies, Les Vampyrettes (a Holgar Czukay and Conny Plank team-up) and This Heat’s 15-minite-long epic “Graphic Varispeed” as The Post Punk Singles Volume One.

And speaking of the new Light in the Attic release of First Issue, it is incidentally, the first US release of the album. (First Issue was so heavily imported at the time of its original 1978 release that Warner Bros. Records opted not to even bother releasing it here because they thought the market had already been tapped out for an album deemed far too uncommercial for most Americans). The packaging is quite nice and stays true to the original release. “The Cowboy Song,” the B-side to the “Public Image” single is included on a second CD along with an extended 1978 interview with Lydon conducted by Vivien Goldman that’s quite fascinating [In it, Lydon makes an obviously knowing aside about the horrific BBC sex predator Jimmy Savile.]

I compared the new CD to the older UK Virgin disc that’s been on the market for ages and found that they sound noticeably different, although it would be a matter of taste to say which is better. The older disc has more raw THUMP to it, especially in the drums, and there is slightly more distortion present than on the newly mastered version. The new CD, well, here the drums CRACK across your eardrums more, and the bass is tighter. Usually when I A/B CDs, there’s a clear winner, but I can’t say that in the case of the older 80s CD versus the newly minted First Issue package from Light in the Attic (which comes with PiL decals, too), because I like them both. If I had to pick one, it would be the new one, just for the attention to detail in the packaging and the extras.

“Death Disco” on TOTP, 1980

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
This Is Not A Tutorial: Keith Levene teaches you how to play PiL songs on guitar
04.05.2013
11:48 am

Topics:
Music

Tags:
PiL
Keith Levene
Public Image Ltd.


 
You have to love it when a budding guitar player can email a master like PiL and Clash co-founder Keith Levene—the Hendrix of the post-punk era—asking “how do you do that?” and get a reply like this one!

In 2010, Levene gave “Justin” advice on how to play “Annalisa” and “Poptones” by recording himself and uploading it to YouTube.

Keith Levene’s new release Search4AbsoluteZero is available now for download through his Murder Global website.

Follow Keith Levene on Twitter.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Raw footage of John Lydon and Keith Levene at MTV interview, 1982
01.02.2013
07:49 am

Topics:
Heroes
Music

Tags:
John Lydon
Keith Levene
Public Image Ltd.


 
Fascinating unedited raw footage of a 1982 JJ Jackson interview of Public Image Ltd’s John Lydon and Keith Levene at MTV’s studio. Jackson’s questions are a lot better than you might expect them to be (he absolutely knew what he was talking about).

I’ve never seen Keith Levene more loquacious and animated in a vintage interview. He even talks briefly about his tenure in the Clash during the second part.

Lydon had just come off filming Corrupt with Harvey Keitel in Rome. Of course he tries to pull his patented obnoxious routine with Jackson, but the well-researched MTV VJ plays it cool and manages to get a good interview out of him.

At the beginning, and near the end, after a few minutes of silence, you can hear what they were talking about off-camera.
 

 
Part II is here.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Keith Levene of PiL on why he quit The Clash
01.21.2011
07:13 pm

Topics:
History
Music

Tags:
The Clash
Keith Levene
Public Image Ltd.

image
 
As some of you reading this well know, and others will not, Keith Levene, later of Public Image Ltd., was an early member of The Clash. So why did he leave “the only band that matters”?

Taken from an Interview with Keith Levene on the Punk77 website:

“Anyway, my heart wasn’t in The Clash sound at all—I remember going to rehearsals and just being so depressed about their sound. They got it so wrong man, they thought I was depressed because I was having a bad amphetamine come down. So it happened like this :one day, I get to the rehearsal room which is this dark, damp room—the band are sitting around, playing tunes from The Stooges and The MC5 and King Tubby’s Hi Fi on their little cassette machine, waiting for me to arrive cos I’m late as usual. We plug in and start playing, and I remember Joe Strummer poking me in the arm and going, “Look Keith, just what is wrong with you man, are you into this or not”. I’m not into it, so I just leave my guitar up against the amp, feedback howling back like mad, like white noise, and I just walk out. I can still hear that feedback whine as I leave the studio and walk onto the street. Fuck them. And they thought it was a bad speed come down. You wanna know the truth? The truth is I hated their sound. Even though I wrote some of their first album, I can’t listen to it. That’s the truth. There is the printed version of what happened, and then there is the real version of what happened. It didn’t bother me when I left The Clash, not at all. I mean, how could I be in a band which played songs like ‘White Riot’! Fuck off! What did we have to riot about? Then there were the fucking stupid lyrics like “No Elvis, no Beatles and the Rolling Stones.” Fuck off! I didn’t want anything to do with it. Then there was some bullshit like Mick Jones told me he predicted the death of Elvis. Bullshit.”

Tell us how you really feel, Keith!

Below, Levene with PiL performing “Chant” on a TV show called Check It Out before the group storms out of the interview.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Public Image Ltd. - Death Disco (1979)

image
 
As the current iteration of Public Image Ltd. continue to provide an evidently very satisfying P.i.L. experience at a venue near you i happened to stumble upon this 1979 promo clip that I’d never managed to see before. The song title as well as being self descriptive of the music points to the anguished cry of grief over Lydon’s dying mother reflected in the totally non-ironic lyrics. Keith Levene’s guitar and synths, which the 2010 stand-in guy approximates sort of  are brittle, grievous subconscious shards of memory decorating the sparse dub-influenced underpinning. Slick it up for the kids all you like, this song is bulletproof.
 

Posted by Brad Laner | Leave a comment
Public Image Limited Regroups, Fans Rejoice/Despair
09.08.2009
11:34 am

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Johnny Rotten
PiL
Keith Levene
Jah Wobble
Metal Box

image
 
Keith Levene and Jah Wobble won’t be attending, but, since Metal Box is turning 30 (!), chances look good for a live Poptones (see below).  From today’s NYT:

John Lydon, the former frontman for the Sex Pistols, who is better known as Johnny Rotten, told The Guardian newspaper that his band Public Image Limited, or PiL, is back after a 17-year break.  Though fans will have to do without two original band members, Jah Wobble and Keith Levene, the guitarist Lu Edmonds returns in the reincarnation, along with the drummer Bruce Smith.  A five-date tour is to begin in December with a new member, Scott Firth, and a couple of other changes, it seems.  ?

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment