In 1978, following the exodus of possibly the most influential punk band of all time, boisterous lead singer of Sex Pistols John Lydon decided to take a turn from the raw and unrefined sound he had become associated with. In the months following the Sex Pistols break up, Lydon had been invited on a trip with the owner of Virgin Records Richard Branson who tried by means of social chemistry to introduce Lydon to American electro-rock band DEVO to be positioned as their new singer. DEVO subsequently declined the proposition, and upon Lydon’s return to the UK, he approached old school friend and bassist Jah Wobble to start a new band that would have a focus set more on the avant-garde side of punk. With the addition of guitarist Keith Levene and drummer Jim Walker, Public Image Ltd. (PiL) was born.
The sound PiL created for their first album, Public Image: First Issue, would become one of the first examples of what is now widely branded post-punk. This early sound still held many of the remnant features of raw punk with the bass-heavy tempestuous attack of sound feel. With help from the dysfunctional parenthood of Sex Pistols, the album was a successful release in the UK and sold well as an export globally. The group of anarchy ridden contrarians played their first gig together on Christmas Day 1978 as if in satanic protest.
As the band developed over the years to follow, the sound morphed into several very disparate chapters creatively. The second album, Metal Box would exhibit strains of dub and Krautrock which were emergent genres of the time that seemed to appeal to Lydon and Jah Wobble. The album was a marketing long-shot with the album pressed over three 45rpm 12” records packaged in a metal tin.
PiL’s history was fraught with line-up changes with Lydon the only constant presence. The atmosphere within the band was often a caustic fray of creative direction. The first major loss for Lydon was with the exit of his old friend Jah Wobble and drummer Martin Atkins in 1980. With a new line-up change, the band returned once again with the recruitment of visual artist Jeanette Lee who further influenced the band from the origins of punk in an era highlighted by a disastrous performance in New York. The band opted to perform in a state of the art manner by covering the stage with a projector screen and only the silhouettes of the group playing to be seen. The outraged audience grew violent and a riot soon broke out, soon putting a sour end to proceedings.
By 1983, Atkins had rejoined; he and Lydon once again rebuilt a band around them and began the most pop-orientated chapter for the band. This chapter would see the first hints towards the PiL of the late ‘80s which bore almost no connection to its raw punk genesis as the beat became softer and the music took a step toward danceable pop music.
In 1985 PiL’s short-lived ‘This Is What You Want… This Is What You Get’ touring line-up performed live in Tokyo on January 12th. Fortunately for us, the performance was caught on camera in the bands’ concert film “Anarchy Movie ’85”.
Watch the predictably wild and pacey, 80-minute performance in Japan’s capital, including interview footage with John Lydon as he rides the bullet train.