Public Image Ltd.

Public Image Ltd.

Infobox musical artist
Name = Public Image Ltd.

Img_capt = The original 1978 line-up. Left to right: Jim Walker, Keith Levene, Jah Wobble, and John Lydon
Img_size =
Background = group_or_band
Alias = PiL
Origin = London, England
Genre = Post-punk
Alternative rock
Years_active = 1978–1992 (indefinite hiatus)
Label = Virgin
Warner Bros.
Associated_acts = Sex Pistols The Damage Manual The Clash Cowboys International
Past_members = John Lydon
Jah Wobble
Keith Levene Jim Walker Richard Dudanski Martin Atkins Ken Lockie Pete Jones Allan Dias
John McGeoch Bruce Smith "(complete list)"

Public Image Ltd. (PiL) were an English musical group formed in 1978 by vocalist John Lydon, guitarist Keith Levene, and bassist Jah Wobble.

Rising from the ashes of the pivotal punk rock group the Sex Pistols, PiL branched out to a more experimental sound, and their early work is often regarded as some of the most challenging and innovative music of the post-punk era: the "NME"cite web|url=|title=Plastic Box album review|accessdate=2008-01-15|publisher=NME] described PiL as "Arguably the first post-rock group". Their later music would be somewhat more conventional, and although PiL has been inactive since 1992, Lydon (the band's only constant member) considers the group "on hiatus" rather than broken up.


Early career

Following the Sex Pistols' breakup in 1978, Lydon spent three weeks in Jamaica with Virgin Records head Richard Branson, in which Lydon assisted Branson in scouting for emerging reggae musicians. Branson also flew American band Devo to Jamaica, with an aim to installing Lydon as lead singer in the band. Devo declined the offer. [ [ ::: LOWCUT #19 - Books and art ::: ] ]

Upon returning to England, Lydon approached Jah Wobble (né John Wardle) about forming a band together. The pair had been friends since attending the same school in the early 1970s, and had sometimes played music together during the final days of the Sex Pistols. Both had similarly broad musical tastes, and were avid fans of reggae and world music. Lydon assumed, much as he had with Sid Vicious, that Wobble would learn to play bass guitar as he went. While that had proven a fatal assumption with Vicious (Lydon cites his musical inability as a prime reason for the Pistols' breakup), Wobble would prove to be a natural talent. Lydon also approached guitarist Keith Levene (né Julian Keith Levene), with whom he had toured in mid-1976, while Levene was a member of The Clash. Lydon and Levene had both considered themselves outsiders even within their own bands. Jim Walker (né James Donat Walker), a Canadian student newly arrived in the UK, was recruited on drums, after answering an ad placed in "Melody Maker".

PiL began rehearsing together in May 1978, although the band was still unnamed. In July 1978, Lydon officially named the band "Public Image" (the "Ltd." was not added until several months later), after the 1968 Muriel Spark novel The Public Image. [ "PIL Chronology: 1978"] by Karsten Roekens & Scott M, "", 2006.]

PiL debuted in October 1978 with "Public Image", a song written while Lydon was still a member of Sex Pistols.Lydon, John. "No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs", Keith & Kent Zimmerman, St. Martin's Press, May 1994. ISBN 0-312-11883-X ] The single was well received and reached number 9 on the UK charts, and it also performed well on import in the US.

First album

In preparing their debut album, "Public Image", the band spent their recording budget well before the record was completed. The members have since admitted that a significant amount was spent on drugs.Fact|date=February 2007 As a result, the final album comprised eight tracks of varying sound quality, half of which were written and recorded in a rush after the money had run out. Wobble had also beaten up producer Bill Price's assistant engineer (Price, with John Leckie, had secured the tight sound of the "Public Image" single), inciting Price to ban the group from their preferred Wessex Studios.

The album was considered groundbreaking on its release in December 1978. Grounded in heavy dub reggae, Wobble's bass tone was called "impossibly deep" by contemporary reviews. Levene's sharp guitar sound, played on an aluminium Veleno guitar, was widely imitated, most notably by The Edge of U2, [cite web | author= Garcia, Jane| year= 1989 | title="Levene Dangerously" | work=NME| url= | accessmonthday= October 16 | accessyear=2006] and Geordie Walker of Killing Joke. Lydon's vocals were more tuneless and incantatory than in the Sex Pistols, gesturing toward the avant-garde territory of such artists as Yoko Ono. Despite being widely criticised in the UK press for being "self indulgent" and "not rock n' roll"Fact|date=February 2007, the first album sold well in the UK and Europe, reaching number 22 on the UK charts.

The single "Public Image" was widely seen as diatribe against Malcolm McLaren and his perceived manipulation of Lydon during his career with the Sex Pistols. The closing track "Fodderstompf", heavily influenced by dub, comprises nearly eight minutes of a circular bass riff, played over a Lydon/Levene double act lampooning public outrage, love songs and teenage apathy. The track culminates with the sound of a fire extinguisher being let off in the recording studio. As Lydon had lit a fire while in a weird trance like state while recording. Therefore the sound for affect, ironically was real. Subsequently, the first album was renamed as "First Issue".

Disgusted that the album had compromised everything he had come to the UK to achieve – that is, record accessible music for a youthful audience – Jim Walker walked out in early 1979.

"Metal Box"

The album "Metal Box" (1979) was a more focused effort. In addition to the drugs and disorganization that were the normal condition of the band, Jim Walker had quit from general disillusionment, making way for a series of drummers. Auditions were later held at Rollerball Studios in Tooley Street, London Bridge. David Humphrey was their second drummer, who went on to record two tracks for Metal Box at Manor Studios in Oxford, namely "Swan Lake" and "Albatross". "Death Disco" (aka "Swan Lake") was released as a single in 1979 and reached no 20 in the charts. David left following other commitments. In one case, Wobble set fire to Karl Burns (formerly and latterly of The Fall). Following sessions took place in which a star-struck young Martin Atkins would show up for an 'audition' and discover himself in the middle of a recording session with the tape rolling. The recording was released on Metal Box as "Bad Baby". Fact|date=February 2007

"Metal Box" was originally released as three untitled 45 rpm 12-inch (30 cm) records packaged in a metal film canister (it was later reissued as a double LP set, "Second Edition"), and features the band's trademark hypnotic dub reggae bass lines, glassy, arpeggiated guitar, and bleak, paranoid, stream of consciousness vocals. "Metal Box" is starker than "First Issue", more spread out and uncompromising, and scattered with bits of ambient synthesizer.

PiL had a series of contentious live shows and behind-the-scenes controversies during their first American tour in 1980. Their appearance at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles was fraught with hostile exchanges between Lydon and the audience. Tensions offstage mounted as well. PiL demanded that they work only with local promoters, bucking the promotional machinery of Warner Bros. Records, its American label. For both the Los Angeles and San Francisco appearances, PiL agreed to work with David Ferguson and his independent CD Presents label. This business arrangement pitted the band and CD Presents in a pitched battle against San Francisco-based promoter Bill Graham who negotiated with concert venue owners and San Francisco government officials to deprive PiL of a concert location. Fearing public outbursts if the show was cancelled, San Francisco city officials instead opted to allow the CD-Presents' sponsored event to proceed.Wechsler, Shoshana. "Emperor's New Clothes: Public Image in San Francisco". Damage, Vol. 1, No. 7. July 1980. pp. 8-10]

PiL also appeared in New York at the Ritz, playing from behind a projection screen. (Drummer Sam Ulano had been recruited for the gig from a bar -- the 60-year-old jazz player had never heard the band before.) While something reminiscent of but clearly different from PiL improvised behind the screen, PiL records were played simultaneously through the PA. Lydon taunted the audience, who expected to hear familiar material (or at least see the band), and a melée erupted in which the audience pelted the stage with bottles and pulled on a tarp spread under the band, toppling equipment. The promoters cleared the hall and cancelled the next night's show, and a local media furor ignited in New York.

An appearance a short time later on NBC's "The Tomorrow Show" with Tom Snyder had Lydon (with Levene) and Snyder insulting each other on-air. [ [ Fodderstompf | Press Archives | Tomorrow Show, (NBC), 27th June, 1980 ] ] The band soon returned to London.

"Flowers of Romance"

Jah Wobble was fired from the band because he had used one or more rhythm tracks for "Metal Box" on his solo album. Martin Atkins, who had initially joined at the tail end of the "Metal Box" sessions (most tracks on that album were played by Richard Dudanski, formerly of The 101ers), was re-recruited to drum on "Flowers of Romance", an album considered much stranger and more difficult than the already strange "Metal Box". Levene had by then largely abandoned guitar in favour of synthesizer, picking up a technique that was unique, although perhaps owing a debt to Allen Ravenstine of Pere Ubu. Atkins' propulsive marching band-style drumming, the lack of bass and guitar, and Lydon's increasing lyrical abstraction made this LP a difficult listen for rock fans, and contemporary reviews expressed great confusion. The record consists mostly of drums, vocals, "musique concrète", and tape loops, with only gestures toward bass (played by Levene) and keyboards. Its drum sound was widely copied, notably by Phil Collinscite web |url= |title=Nick Launay interview |accessdate=2007-02-24 |last=M |first=Scott |year=2003 |month=February | |publisher=F&F Publishing] , though the drum sound was initially influenced by Collins' own work on Peter Gabriel III.

"This Is What You Want... This Is What You Get"

Atkins, like Levene and Lydon, was a control freak, but Levene had the disadvantage of having repeatedly fired Atkins over apparent trifles, and of being incapacitated on heroin much of the time -- so when conflict arose again, Levene was the one to go. An aborted fourth album recorded in 1982, was later released by Levene as "Commercial Zone". The album included contributions from bass player Pete Jones. Lydon and Atkins claim Levene stole the master tapes. Atkins stayed on through a live album, "Live in Tokyo" -- in which PiL consisted of him, Lydon, and a band of session musicians -- and left in 1985, following the release of "This Is What You Want, This Is What You Get". The band was moving towards a more commercial pop music and dance music direction, and while many new fans found PiL, little of their original audience (or sound) remained.

"Album"/"Compact Disc"/"Cassette"

PiL's 1986 release was simply entitled "Album", "Compact Disc", or "Cassette", depending on the format. The cover's blue typeface and spartan design parodied generic brands; promotional photos featured Lydon in a "generic blue" suit surrounded by generic foods and drinking generic beer. Produced by Bill Laswell (despite Lydon-fuelled faction and disunion) and with many of Laswell's usual rotating cast of musicians, it also featured guitar solos by Steve Vai, considered by Vai himself to be some of his best work. Jonas Hellborg, solo bassist and at the time, member of John McLaughlin's reformed band, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, played bass on the album. Legendary Cream drummer Ginger Baker also played on the album. Controversy reared again, with claims that the album cover and title concept had been stolen from the San Francisco noise/punk band, Flipper, contemporaries of PiL, whose album, "Album", featured a similarly unadorned sleeve. Flipper retaliated by naming their next album, "Public Flipper Limited". Neil Perry gave "Album" a positive review in the "NME":

"This is a wonderful, stunning and equally confusing record, and working on the theory that you'd never expect to hear the Lydon sneer backed by prime metal riffing, that's exactly what you get. Not everywhere, of course, as proved by the haunting "Rise". And "Ease", by the way, with its shock-horror two minutes plus guitar solo, is quite beautiful...In short, Lydon and PiL are still breaking barriers. The man has extracted the false phallus from rock's trouser front and is smashing it over our heads." [ [ Neil Perry, "Album" review in the "NME" (January 1986)] ]

In the liner notes of PiL's "Plastic Box" compilation (1999), John Lydon remarked that:

"In some ways "Album" was almost like a solo album. I worked alone with a new bunch of people. Obviously the most important person was Bill Laswell. But it was during the recording of this album in New York that Miles Davis came into the studio while I was singing, stood behind me and started playing. Later he said that I sang like he played the trumpet, which is still the best thing anyone's ever said to me. To be complimented by the likes of him was special. Funnily enough we didn't use him..." [ [ John Lydon, "Plastic Box" sleevenotes (1999)] ]

Late career

In 1984, Lydon started to put together a new touring band and auditioned various musicians at The Palace in Pasadena, California. Among the prospective recruits was Flea, soon to be of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame. After a storming jam session, Flea was immediately offered the job, but he declined, stating that he was a big fan of the "Flowers of Romance" album and only wanted to jam with the band.

PiL manager Larry White spent around a week trying to persuade him to change his mind, telling him: "Listen, this Chili Peppers thing is going nowhere. The best thing you can do is come out with PiL!" Keith Levene later claimed: "Flea auditioned, but when he found out I wasn't in the band anymore, he just said no. I was quite pleased by that!" However, Flea has stated that he did not join because he wanted to do his own thing and not be part of a sideshow.

Flea later played with Levene on his "Violent Opposition" album. 1999 also saw Jah Wobble & Deep Space support the Chili Peppers in France... Documented PiL fans The Red Hot Chili Peppers have also covered 'Religion' & 'Poptones' live. Fact|date=April 2008

In 1986, Lydon recruited former Magazine and Siouxsie & the Banshees guitarist John McGeoch, world music multi-instrumentalist (and former Damned guitarist) Lu Edmunds, bass guitarist Allan Dias, and former The Pop Group and The Slits drummer Bruce Smith. As the years went on, PiL's line-up grew steadier as the sound of the albums drifted toward dance culture and drum-oriented pop music. Edmunds left due to tinnitus in 1988, and Smith left in 1990. Fact|date=April 2008

PiL released "Happy?" in 1987, and during the spring of 1988 performed throughout the United States as part of the INXS "Kick" tour. The album was less well received by critics than its immediate predecessor, but still produced the classic single "Seattle". In 1989, PiL toured with New Order and The Sugarcubes as "The Monsters of Alternative Rock", an arrangement of disparate alternative bands that predated the Lollapalooza festival by two years. PiL's ninth album, "9", appeared earlier that year. Fact|date=April 2008

The band's last album to date, 1992's "That What Is Not", included a sample from the Sex Pistols' song God Save the Queen in which the young Lydon's voice is heard chanting the words, "No future, no future..." Lydon disbanded the group a year later after Virgin records refused to pay for the tour supporting the album, and Lydon had to pay for it out of his own pocket. The band's last concert was performed on September 18 1992 with the lineup of Lydon, McGeoch, Ted Chau (guitar, keyboards), Mike Joyce of The Smiths (drums), and Russell Webb (bass). Fact|date=April 2008

Lydon released a solo album, "Psycho's Path", in 1997. He considers PiL to be "on hiatus", and has spoken of writing a book on his years with the group. Fact|date=April 2008

Members and related people


Studio albums

*"First Issue" (1978 UK #22)
*"Metal Box" (1979 UK #18 - US #171)
*"Flowers of Romance" (1981 UK #11 - US #114)
*"This Is What You Want... This Is What You Get" (1984 UK #56)
*"Album" (1986 UK #14 - US #115)
*"Happy?" (1987 UK #40 - US #169)
*"9" (1989 UK #36 - US #106)
*"That What Is Not" (1992 UK #46)

Live, compilation, bootleg and other albums

All chart positions are UK.
*"Second Edition" (repackaging of "Metal Box") - 1979 #46
*"Paris au Printemps" (live) - 1980 #61
*"Live in Tokyo" (live) - 1983 #28
*"Commercial Zone" (bootleg) - 1983
*"The Greatest Hits, So Far" (compilation) - 1990 #20
*"Box" (box set) - 1990
*"Plastic Box" (box set) -1999
*"Public Image/Second Edition" (two-in-one) - 2003


All chart positions are UK.
*"Public Image" - 1978 #9
*"Death Disco" - 1979 #20
*"Memories" - 1979 #60
*"Flowers of Romance" - 1981 #24
*"This Is Not a Love Song" - 1983 #5
*"Bad Life" - 1984 #71
*"Rise" - 1986 #11
*"Home" - 1986 #75
*"Seattle" - 1987 #47
*"The Body" - 1987 #100
*"Disappointed" - 1989 #38
*"Warrior" - 1989
*"Don't Ask Me" - 1990 #22
*"Cruel" - 1992 #49



* Reynolds, Simon. " [ Heavy metal: The legacy of PiL and Metal box] ", Frieze 111 : UK, 2007

External links

* [ Fodderstompf] - An extensive PiL fansite
* [ Pete Jones website tells of his time as PiL bassist]
* [ Adrian Sherwood speaks about PIL]
* [ Don Letts speaks about PIL]
* [ Keith Levene on PIL]
* [ John Lydon's (Johnny Rotten) homepage]
* [ Tommy Zvoncheck's homepage]

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