For anyone who knows about the history of punk music, they will instantly recognise the title as part of one of the most famous songs that went on to define the genre. In the 70’s the Sex Pistols, fronted by Johnny Rotten a.k.a John Lydon, started a revolution in the music scene with just one album. To this day music critics recognise that album as one of the most original pieces of work in the industry. I would not bore you with my praise for that album as I’m sure you hear enough of it from your parents (Not sure what you imagine normal parents to be like, but you must have some seriously cool ones – Music Ed). This is about one of the best nights I’ve had at Imperial, when I found Mr Rotten in Eastside bar having a pint with his friends on St. Patrick’s Day.
A few friends and I went to Eastside after the rugby game to celebrate what was to be just another night out for us at Imperial. The night quickly went from normal to extra-ordinary when my friend spotted Mr Lydon in the bar. At first we were sceptical about whether it was really him, as it would be odd to find a man of his reputation to simply be having a pint there. After looking up current pictures of Johnny on our smartphones, scepticism quickly turned to fan-induced euphoria as my friend called her dad to inform him who was at the bar. Being nervous as any fans would be, we went up to him to shake his hand which to us was a privilege. Johnny was relaxed and quick to make jokes. We laughed and, unable to make conversation, quickly went back to our group to revel in what just happened. The night took a better turn when more friends of mine came to the bar and they wanted to go say hi to Johnny. Wanting to speak to him properly this time, I took a quick gulp of my drink and started walking towards them, which turned out to be one of the best decisions I will ever make.
With the initial awkwardness gone, I quickly divulged into a conversation with Johnny’s manager Rambo, with whom he has been friends for over forty years. Our conversation ranged from topic to topic. It started off with the importance of pure mathematics and went on to football hooliganism back in the day, architecture, culture and of course music. As I listened to him tell stories about Arsenal football club and the pricing out of fans, I was amazed at how real these people were and how we shared a few opinions, such as the ugliness of modern architecture and the need for an integrated English culture. These people might be more than double my age yet it surprised me how well I got on with them. They had stories to tell, interesting ones, and Rambo and Scotty, who maintains Johnny’s band Public Image Limited’s website was interested in my story too as we chatted about bits and bobs of my life. They might be famous but they did not come across as people drunk on fame. They were normal, using that term loosely, of course. Johnny was the eccentric one of the lot, but not as crazy as one might think. After a few other friends of mine had joined us, one of the loud moments of the night that I recall was when he shouted “THIS IS ENGLAND, MY ENGLAND” as he pointed out the multicultural group that surrounded him. As soon as it was established that we were all students, I remember Johnny telling us that we are the future and we need to sort this country out and not mess things up like previous governments. This was a man who cared, a man who was passionate. And I definitely shared his sentiments regarding politics and the monarchy.
One of the other things to remember from the night was about this Brazilian woman. The background info on this story is that there was a woman outside the bar who works for one of the many museums around South Kensington. Apparently, they are doing an exhibition on punk culture, which really rustled Johnny’s jimmies. The man who defined the genre was not consulted about this exhibition at all. Johnny asked her what she understood about punk and what the genre, the culture actually meant. From what I recall, her answer was something along the lines of “punk is all about expressing views that are not so easily accepted by society”. “You have no idea what you are talking about,” replied Johnny, not amused at all. Personally, I would think twice about telling John Lydon out of all people about what punk means. As she protested her innocence, her ignorance was quickly unravelled as Johnny asked her how she knew what she thought she knows about punk. No straight answer. I remember my friend saying something along the lines of “you can’t tell the founder of punk what punk means” which sent her on her way and also got a few laughs from the others. She came back with a vengeance later on in the night and told me my hair is not punk, simply wavy. Johnny and co leapt to my defence and told her “THIS IS PUNK, HIS HAIR IS PUNK.” As someone who gets teased about their haircut by their friends quite a bit, needless to say that was one of the best things that one of the icons of British punk could have ever said to me. And you know what the funny thing is? That woman came back half an hour later asking Rambo for a cigarette and started claiming my hair as punk. Such hypocrisy, such ignorance, it was no surprise the guys weren’t a big fan.
As the night wore on and closing time beckoned, that same woman came to say her goodbyes along with her friends, this time trying to appeal to Mr Lydon to the best of her ability by showering him with praise. The need for celebrity approval baffles me. Even if she was a fan of Johnny’s work it was clear that she didn’t think very highly of the guys there. So it was quite surprising that she continued to try and gain their approval. Oh well, laughs were had and that was that. As Eastside closed, we decided to move to the Union. It was a bit of a pain to get into Metric but some quick thinking on our feet meant that even the guard couldn’t stop us. Johnny got his groove on and, for once, Metric was enjoyable despite the inevitable sausage-fest. We left the Union on a high, thinking about how awesome the night was as we parted ways.
I was also invited to PiL’s gig at Heaven in April and I just wanted to take a paragraph to write a quick review. The crowd at the gig was much older than I was but even then I definitely had a good night. I started checking out PiL’s work after meeting Lydon and although he looks less of a punk rocker these days with his spectacles (And the butter adverts – Music Ed.); you can still see the youthful angst in him. PiL seems to me a band that has experimented quite a bit with their sound and will continue to experiment with it in their upcoming album, This is PiL. The two songs I was most fond of at the gig were ‘Disappointed’ and ‘Religion’, especially the latter one as it was stretched to 10 minutes with bass filling the room until your ears started bleeding. There were no supporting acts with PiL playing a two hour set followed by a half-hour long encore. Some old fans may not like the direction to which PiL have headed but as a teenager who has recently discovered their music, I remain keen and interested to see what more they have to offer. With Rotten working his socks off, I can only hope that PiL will appeal to the old and the new simultaneously. My best wishes for Johnny and co.