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Music

John Lydon on his love for Miles Davis's 'Bitches Brew'

John Lydon is one of the most significant figures in music. Regardless of what you think about some of his ideas, you cannot doubt that his input into the vast expanse of music has been colossal. As the belligerent frontman of the Sex Pistols, he became the spokesperson of a generation, a point that often gets forgotten because of his occasionally problematic personality. 

Virtually overnight in the 1970s, he confirmed himself as the champion of the jaded and dejected everywhere, establishing the blueprint to which grunge icons such as Kurt Cobain would ascribe in the early ’90s.

As well as being the hero of the first wave of punks, he also became public enemy number one for the establishment. After the band’s controversial appearance on Today with Bill Grundy in December 1976, Lydon and his three bandmates confirmed themselves as the most polarising outfit that the country had seen since The Beatles. 

After the Sex Pistols fell apart in 1978, Rotten found creative enlightenment in the iconic post-punk outfit Public Image Ltd. Over the next 12 years, the band remained one of the most refreshing groups around, and Lydon built on the creative vision that he had laid out in his previous band. He resoundingly displayed that he wasn’t just a one-trick pony and that he had a propensity for great art. 

Reflecting his position as a consumer of art, during a 2010 celebration of jazz pioneer Miles Davis in The Quietus, Lydon shocked us all, even his most dedicated followers, by revealing himself to be a huge fan of Davis’ 1970 record, the jazz-fusion masterpiece that is Bitches Brew. Even more surprisingly, it transpires that Lydon even met Miles Davis when the band were recording 1986’s Album.

Revisiting the revolutionary brilliance of ‘Bitches Brew’ by Miles Davis

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Lydon recalled: “And the most fun ever was… Oh god, come on, what’s your name? Miles! Miles Davis! He came in the studio when I was doing Album and those were songs that I deliberately put into a very rigid structure because I was into the absolute framework of pop sensibility… pop orchestrated deliberately and tightly.”

He continued: “And I was howling away and this trumpet started blowing and it was him standing behind me. And it was beautiful but it absolutely murdered the vocal. And problem was he was playing exactly what I would have been singing. It was the same melody line so we couldn’t use it. So it was interesting but… sorry, there you go, my record goes first. Not ‘Oh, he’s a great jazz musician.'”

“So he got the chop from Album. But you know… I was very, very thrilled that he liked what he was listening to because I’m a fan of Miles Davis”, the former Sex Pistols man clarified.

Of his love for Davis’s magnum opus, Lydon clarified with the trademark lucidity that we all know him for: Bitches Brew is my favourite. The drums on that are stunning and they fit in with the drumming by Jaki on Can’s Tago Mago. That was the best line-up he played with. The other stuff is too easily copied by the Japanese and made note-perfect. [laughs] But that album just has the feel to it. I’ve been to several Miles gigs and I like the idea too, and I used to do this. I’d watch him do it. Turning his back to the audience. Sometimes you need to do that in order to get into the right mood. To turn away from the audience who are waving at you or blowing you kisses. Or telling you to fuck off and it can kind of interrupt where it is you want to be musically at that point.”

John Lydon and Miles Davis are two figures that you’d never have expected to have cross paths, given just how different their musical backgrounds are. However, when you stop to think about it, there are many similarities between the two, and in many ways, you could argue that Davis was a punk long before the movement had a name. He stuck it to the establishment when Lydon was still just a baby and did it with such defiance. It’s a point that shouldn’t be forgotten.

Listen to Bitches Brew below.

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