Of the many random things I remember about my youth, one of them was the excitement of visiting the merch table at a live show. Honestly, I’ve never really grown out of that pursuit, and seldom leave a gig empty-handed.
Like a lot of 70s and 80s kids, I was a HUGE fan of covering my trashy Levis or Baracuta jacket with badges, pins and patches. So I nearly lost my mind when I happened upon the vintage 70s DEVO “Flicker” pin (sometimes called a ” flasher” pin), above.
Nixon campaign flicker/flasher pin, late 1960s
Flicker pins were big during the 60s - for instance, politicians running for office used flicker pins (see our pal, Tricky Dick above) to display not only an image of themselves, but also their message. Because when you tilt the pin, the image changes. So naturally, curiosity got the better of me and off I went in search of pins and badges from 40 years ago. Because, why not? And my search unearthed some pretty cool and fairly rare old-school swag.
Elvis Costello mirror badge, late 70s, early 80s
Iggy Pop New Values mirror badge style tour pin, 1979
In addition to the flicker pins, mirror badges were sort of like the crowning jewel when it came to pins (much like the enamel “clubman” style pins you probably remember ogling at Tower Records, or Spencer’s Gifts at the mall that put a giant hole in your clothes). Mirror badges were usually large and actually had a piece of glass placed on top of the image which made them rather heavy.
Vintage mirror badges are really hard to come by these days and believe it or not, sell for a good bit of cash. As do any vintage flicker pins or promotional buttons/badges/pins that were sold at live shows. Would you pay $54 bucks for a vintage 70s promotional flicker pin that was sold at a performance Alice Cooper did in Las Vegas at the Aladdin Hotel when he recorded his 1977 live album The Alice Cooper Show?
Alice Cooper 1977 promotional flicker/flasher pin
I know I’m not alone when I say, yes. Yes, I probably would. In case that seventeen-year-old kid inside you just said yes, too, pretty much everything in this post is out there somewhere for sale. Tons of images follow. I also included some vintage enamel clubman pins because I couldn’t help myself.
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.
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.
‘New band, new mistakes,’ said Siouxsie Sioux in an after-show interview from this concert of The Banshees at De Meervaart Theater, Amsterdam in 1982.
Siouxsie was describing changes to The Banshees line-up over the previous 4 years, which had seen the arrival of drummer Budgie, and guitarist John McGeoch, joining Siouxsie and 1st Banshee Steven Severin.
As McGeoch explained it was the core dynamic of Severin and Siouxsie that made The Banshees work.
The Banshees were one of the most important and influential bands of the past 30 years, and while so many other bands from the sixties, seventies and eighties are getting back together and taking to the road again, it would be good to see The Banshees regroup, to take their rightful place at the top of the tree.
Sadly, any reunion would be without McGeoch, who died in 2004. McGeoch was classed as a Punk Jimmy Page, and had successful career with Magazine, Visage, The Banshees, and Public Image Ltd. I’ll leave it to McGeoch to describe performing with The Banshees in concert at De Meervaart:
‘It was great, because I felt like I was a teenager again, which was at least 20 years ago - and it’s nice to have memories like that.’
And o, what memories.
02. “Painted Bird”
03. “Arabian Knights”
05. Interview with band
07. “Happy House”
08. “Head Cut”
09. Interview Steven & Siouxsie
10. “Voodoo Dolly”
11. “But Not Them”
12. “Sin in My Heart”
On Christmas Day, 1978, and on the following day (what Brits call “Boxing Day”) Public Image Ltd. played two legendary gigs at the Rainbow Theater in London. Their live debut had occurred just five days prior, in Brussels, Belgium.
Here’s a run-down of what happened by someone who was there at the Christmas show, as published on the PiL fansite, Fodderstompf:
When PiL announced the Christmas 1978 concerts I couldn’t get tickets fast enough. This was what it was all supposed to be about. The Pistols were over, punk was over, long live the new flesh. Who wanted to be associated with people with mohicans and ‘The Clash’ written on their biker jackets? Not me, strictly pegs and shirts, the new way…
A band playing a gig on Xmas day (and Boxing Day) was a big thing back then, no one ever played gigs at Xmas, there was never anything to do, I knew it was going to be special, the fact that it was PiL’s first UK gig and that Lydon hadn’t played London for so long added to the event as well. PiL, along with punk chancer (and later Pistols cash-in merchant) Jock McDonald, decided to promote the gig themselves which was another unusual step at the time. One thing was for sure, PiL were going to be different, this was the new way…
The Rainbow in Finsbury Park was normally seated, but if I remember rightly there had been trouble at a Clash gig a few weeks before so they decided to take the seats out and also brought in loads of extra security, in all I reckon it held about 1,000 people that night. There was no public transport , but me and my mate G-Man had sorted transport out. We loaded up with lager and copious amounts of illegal substances and off we went, leaving South London to travel to the wilds of Finsbury Park. By the time we got there we were half pissed. We polished the other half off, chatting to the various faces outside, then it was in…
Don Letts had a DJ box towards the back of the stalls and was belting out some earth moving Dub, so far so good… We sorted out a vantage point and waited. An early incarnation of Basement 5 without Dennis Morris were supporting, and I thought I remembered The Slits playing too, but apparently it was another all girl group called The Lous, I can’t remember them at all. Linton Johnstone also did some poetry, and all in all it was a good package, though I think it was lost on most of the senile animals who had turned up to see Johnny Rotten…
Eventually the place went black, Wobble’s bass shook the earth and the band launched into ‘Theme’ . They were on, and that’s when the shit really happened! Out strode Rotten/Lydon lagered up, fights started almost on cue. One side of the stage were Arsenal Skins, the other side West Ham, and in the middle the punks. Football chants were heard, the skins kicked fuck out of the punks, then each other. There were waves of people just steaming into each other. Rotten got involved verbally, then people started gobbing and canning stage.
All I can really remember was that the whole stage was decked out in green and black and that PiL looked fucking great. Wobble sitting on a chair throughout, dressed all in black with his bandit hat. Levene wired(?) for sound. Rotten in his checked suit strutting about the stage, slagging the punks off, but at the same time handing out beer. The band had to stop several times while all the mayhem erupted over and over again; it was getting scary.
They played fucking brilliant, I thought it was better than the album, which I loved anyway (and still do). They played the whole album, minus ‘Fodderstompf’. I remember that they never played any Sex Pistols songs, but that said, I know they played ‘Belsen’ the next night, so I could be wrong. I think not playing Pistols songs helped all the trouble erupt, lots of punks kept asking for them. Rotten slagged them for it, then they got battered by the thugs (Merry Xmas!).
One quote from Lydon I definitely remember while all the rucks were going off was, “You always use your fists in the wrong direction, you should take them down to Parliament”. I’m not sure if he meant the group or the place (only joking). We didn’t go back for the Boxing Day show, but I’ve heard the bootleg and I reckon it was basically the same set, though it certainly seemed a lot less eventful. Rotten eventually left the stage but the band still played on, he came back on and they encored with ‘Public Image’, then it was all over…
The fights continued on the way out and outside. I bumped into a mate who’d had his nose broken and was covered in blood. He wanted revenge, I just wanted to go home, he got his pals together and went off looking for vengeance. Me and my mate got a lift home from his big brother…
It was the best fucking Christmas I ever had!
Another fan has a somewhat different memory than George X, but having seen PiL live myself back in the day, I’m inclined to go with George’s account: it was one of the most violent (and utterly mind-blowing) shows that I have ever witnessed (When they played “Attack,” my nearly brand new shoes were destroyed, even as they were on my feet. It was at this same concert that I decided to to go to college).
Here’s the audio of the entire 1978 Boxing Day gig.
2 Low Life
3 Belsen Was A Gas
5 Public Image
8 Public Image II
A clip of the group doing “Careering” on the Old Grey Whistle Test about a year later:
DJ Steve Lamacq premiered the new PIL song earlier today on BBC 6.
Our John may have lost his upper register, but it is nice to hear him strain at it in such a raw way over the type of back-to-basics reggae-rock bed that’s screaming for a remix/dub-out…
Johnny Lydon meets Big Youth, photo by Dennis Morris
It’s well-known that John Lydon has been a lifelong and very knowledgeable fan of reggae music and dub. In 1978, after the demise of the Sex Pistols, Lydon traveled to Jamaica with filmmaker/DJ Don Letts, photographer Dennis Morris (who designed the PiL logo and Metal Box) and journalist Vivien Goldman on the dime of Richard Branson’s Virgin Records to scout and sign reggae talent.
Some have conjectured that Lydon formed the embryo of the idea of the bass heavy structures in PIL from his trip to Jamaica, and the sound system dances they attended together there. Don is not so convinced that the trip to JA was as formative an influence on Public Image as some have presumed.
Don Letts: No, John already had that spaciousness, that blueprint in his mind long before we went to Jamaica. As long as I knew John, he had always listened to sparse avant-garde music, stuff like Can , and he really knew his reggae, I have to emphasise that, him and Joe Strummer, Paul Simonon, Jah Wobble, they understood dub, deeply, they had a lot of music I didn’t have you know. Lydon, Wobble and the others, they were turning me on to tunes I never had, it wasn’t always the other way round. We went to a lot of sound system sessions here in London too, people like Jah Shaka, Coxsonne, Moa Ambessa, so really, his experiences in Jamaica were an extension of what had already been in his mind for years, back in North London. Isn’t that just so obvious when you listen to those early PiL tunes, the stuff he was making with Wobble and Keith just after he left the Pistols.
Branson had financed the whole journey, as a chance for Lydon to “cool off”, and at the same time he was to act as a talent scout, signing up emerging reggae stars for the new Frontline roots label. Whilst in Jamaica, Letts and Lydon had met all their “heroes” on the roots and culture scene of that time: rebels, visionaries, chanters and mavericks, microphone chanters like Prince Far I, Big Youth and I Roy and deeply spiritual singers like The Congos, musicians who had produced some of the greatest spiritual masterpieces of their time.
Don Letts: You know, sometimes me and John just had to pinch ourselves to remind ourselves that we weren’t dreaming all this! It was great for us to be meeting and working with these guys, guys whose music we really admired and loved!
What did the Rastas make of Johnny Rotten? I had heard numerous stories and reports of John Rotten, dressed entirely in black from head to toe, clad in heavy black motorbike boots, black hat and heavy black woollen overcoat, walking through fruit markets in the heat of a full Jamaican summer! So was this fanciful rumour?
Don Letts: Yeah, it’s not rumour, that’s true! You know why he did that? John didn’t want to go back to London with a tan! Respect to you John!
So what did the Rasta’s make of John then?
Don Letts: The Rastas loved John! To them he was “THE punk rock Don from London” they were aware of all the trouble he had stirred up in London, and yeah, they were into what he stood for and his stance, and they dug it… We smoked a chalice together with U Roy for breakfast, and then went out to one of his dances, miles out in the countryside, quite a long journey by car. I remember the dreads stringing up this sound, and kicking off with some earthquake dubs. Now let me tell you this sound system was LOUD, and me and John both of us, literally passed out! I remember hours later some dreads shaking us awake, it was like, “Wake up man, dance done, dance finish now man!” Yeah, it was pretty wild for me and John out in Jamaica. We loved it. John just had a vibe you know, people were drawn to him. It was the same in London; it was the same in Kingston. John is Irish, and there is a definite affinity between Jamaicans and Irish! We’ve all heard the saying “no Irish , no blacks, no dogs”, which used to appear in pub and lodging windows and well, there must have been a reason for that, that ethnic grouping together, that ethnic rejection ! Jamaicans and Irish people have always got on together in England, though I can’t say for sure why. A similar attitude to life perhaps? Who knows why they should tune in to each others psyches so well…Is it that both are oppressed peoples, or that both have a natural rebelliousness of spirit? Someone should do a study of it!
Although there have been several interviews where Lydon has spoken about what Jamaican sounds he was listening to and radio shows where he’d play some of his favorite reggae tracks, an undated letter that Lydon sent a PiL fan (on embossed PiL stationary, to boot!) who asked where to start with the genre is the most complete listing of the reggae that Lydon was skankin to in the 1970s. What a list it is! Still great advice!
In 1978, at a time after the end of the Sex Pistols, but before Public Image Ltd. was formed, John Lydon gave an actual friendly interview to Janet Street-Porter. Cheerful, not at all rotten Mr. Lydon—seen here looking even more Dickensian than usual in a top hat he says he purchased at Disneyland—discusses how he’d like to see Malcolm McClaren dead, how he made no money whatsoever from the Sex Pistols and he touches ever so briefly on his recent trip to Jamaica, where he’d been scouting reggae talent (and meeting some musical heroes) for Richard Branson’s Virgin Records.
Lydon also reminds us that tickets for the USA Sex Pistols tour cost two bucks!
I’ve seen and heard of some pretty out there tribute bands in my day. For instance, there was a lisping Elvis impersonator who (literally) sang for his supper in a fast food place. He was quite good, but when he sang “Suspicious Minds” the folks eating at the tables near him got their food sprayed with spittle. (As we watched him sing, Lux and Ivy from the Cramps walked past the place and waved to him).
Then there were the fake Beatles I tried to hire for an event who came with their own Linda and Yoko in tow, who fawned all over their personal “Lennon” and “McCartney”—they even had a manager named Brian whose only qualification seemed to be that he was from Liverpool. And named “Brian.” They kept asking me if I knew of any labels that might want to give them a record contract (“No” I told them, honestly).
I also saw a Velvet Underground tribute band in Tokyo, complete with Nico (although Moe Tucker was played by a boy!).
But one band that seemed immune to the tribute band treatment was John Lydon’s Public Image Ltd. Until now, that is! A group formerly making the rounds in the UK doing a Sex Pistols tribute act decided to think outside the (metal) box and do a PiL panto as well, morphing in the process from The Sex Pistols Experience to Public Imitation Ltd.!!!
As someone who saw the original PiL line-up (post Jah Wobble, but with Keith Levene and Martin Adkins) in 1983—a life-changing experience for me as a teen (I decided then and there to not go to college)—I was expecting the worst, but this guy can actually do a better Lydon in 2010 than Lydon himself can, take a look:
This weekend I read Zoe Street Howe’s newly published biography of The Slits, Typical Girls? (Omnibus Press) and quite enjoyed it. My main criticism of the book is that 95% of it is taken up with the formation of the band and the recording of their debut album, Cut and there is precious little about the recording of their equally amazing second LP, Return of the Giant Slits. Still, if you are a Slits fan, Typical Girls? is a credible history and the author interviewed all of the Slits and key members of their circle including one-time Slit, Budgie (better known as the drummer in Siouxsie and the Banshees), PiL guitarist Keith Levene, journalist/professor Vivien Goldman and producers Dennis Bovell and Adrian Sherwood.
I pulled both Slits albums out this weekend and played each all the way through twice. I’ve owned Cut since came out and its punky reggae sound was very, very appealing to me straight off the bat. I’d read about the Slits, in books like Caroline Coon’s 1988, but they were the last of the formative punk bands to put a record out. When I did finally hear them, Cut was a bolt from the blue to my 14 year-old brain. Reading Typical Girls? brought me back to that time when it seemed like there would be no end to the parade of innovation that was the post punk era. There was so much good music coming out every week that it seemed inexhaustible. It was a terribly exciting time, musically speaking, to come of age. (Simon Reynold’s book Rip It Up and Start Again captures the feeling of the era well, I think).
The Slits were, to my ears, amongst the most sonically “far out” and experimental of the post-punk groups, in the same category as Public Image Ltd. in terms of the astonishing originality of their music. The Slits sound was like no other, a perfectly melded hybrid of punk, dub-drenched reggae and Afro-pop with the riotous, white Rastafarian cum St Trinian’s girl run amok front woman of Ari Up (who was all of 14 when she joined the group) . Truly the unruly, inspired, nearly uncategorizable sound of the Slits deserves a better place in the history of punk than it’s been accorded thus far. Hopefully Zoe Street Howe’s Typical Girls? will go some distance in redressing this grievous oversight.
Here’s the Don Lett’s directed promo for Typical Girls:
This extended clip from the German movie Girls Bite Back includes performances of Animal Space, I Heard It Through the Grapevine and a dubbed out cover of Dennis Brown’s Man Next Door. How I wish there was more of this!
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. ?