Some old favourites…an audience with Johnny Rotten

Now that I’m a freelancer, I’ll be posting stuff up on this blog, some of it published, some of it just me tapping away – but it’s also a nice chance to go rooting through some of my old stuff and dig out bits and pieces that I’m proud of, think might entertain some of you on your lunchbreak, or just want to keep somewhere.

First up, one of my fave pieces ever, an interview I did over the phone with ex-Sex pistol John Lydon, aka notorious hell raiser-turned-butter-peddlar Johnny Rotten.

I felt relatively safe (he’s had some pretty nasty accusations thrown his way in the past) as I was on the other end of a transatlantic phone line, but boy was I nervous. I’m not moaning, one of the main things I love about journalism is really getting your teeth into an interesting interview and chewing the fat with someone amazing – whether it’s a mega star or just someone doing something inspiring. But Johnny Rotten…well he is kind of massively famous, not to mention controversial, and the thought of calling him up in his LA pad did make my palms ever so slightly clammy. Luckily he was nothing but friendly, and we ended up nattering away for over an hour chatting about this and that.

The piece was published in the Echo on November 19 all the way back in 2010.

You can read it below or as a PDF here: Johnny Rotten PDF

He’s rumoured to have slammed terrified pop starlet Duffy against a wall and he generally enjoys a reputation for being one of the most foul-mouthed, obnoxious, unashamedly toxic stars in the business.

Fortunately John Lydon, aka Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten, is at the other end of a transatlantic phoneline, and not in close enough proximity to do me any harm.

But I’m still a little nervous about interviewing the man who virtually led the Eighties punk movement.

“You’re very loud and talking very fast,” he groans, as I introduce myself. I’m clearly more nervous than I think.

“That’s better,” he adds, as I slow down.

“It’s early in the morning here.”

It’s difficult to imagine the pale, sneering face of Lydon basking in the LA sunshine, but he explains he moved there for his health – the punk icon was famously ill with spinal meningitis as a child.

“I was prone to childhood illnesses,” he explains.

“As soon as I got two pennies to rub together I was somewhere where the sun shone permanently.”

Lydon is talking to me about his new book, a scrapbook of memories filled with photos, sketches and jottings, dating back to his childhood days when he was a regular visitor to Southend.

“That’s where I used to go when I was a kid,” he enthuses.

“I remember the Teddy Boys and the Kiss-Me-Quick hats they used to have. My dad used to tell me to watch out for them.

“He said ‘they’ll kill you with a razor’, that was an odd thing to tell a child. Southend was where all the kids from about 100 miles in any direction went to and I loved it. I always associate the place with candyfloss.”

A snapshot from the book shows a smartly dressed, pint-sized Lydon patting sand down in a bucket with his brothers, Bobby and Jimmy, and his suited father John.

“That was the order of the day,” Lydon recalls.

“People would go to the beach in their suits and bake all day. The smell of sweaty people was overwhelming.”

The Sex Pistols and Public Image Limited frontman says he was keen to show the public another side to himself by releasing the book.

He says: “I’ve always tried to keep my family and friends out of the public glare, but I think it’s safe now to show some honesty. They can’t go on forever and ever trying to demonise me.”

To my surprise, Lydon is unfailingly polite and willing to talk about pretty much everything I put to him.

Those Country Life adverts that saw the anti-establishment figurehead peddling butter in a tweed suit?

“Butter did me no end of good,” he says.

“The money wasn’t endless, but it was enough for me to start Public Image again.”

He explains the money paid for his post-punk outfit, PiL, to get back together and back in the studio.

“How’s a man supposed to do anything in life without cash,” he says, at the suggestion that he might have sold out.

“I don’t see any of these people who know about what’s right and wrong in my life actually helping me. Where are these people when I’m in dire straits?

“Most of that criticism is just a load of middle class toffs who think if they supported Tony Blair then they know what’s what. They’re a load of twots.”

That is the only moment when Lydon reveals a glimpse of his past as the proletarian hero, swearing and furiously flicking V signs.

Instead, he becomes understandably melancholy when he talks about how PiL were forced to take a break from recording after the death of his step-daughter, Arianna Forster, better known as Ari Up, dreadlocked founding member of the Slits, last month.

“We had a family tragedy,” he says.

“There’s no way of going off to a studio and making happy music. The public can be a demanding vulture at times, but I think most people understood.”

He has plans to finish the album and set foot on British soil once more with a post-Christmas tour in the pipeline.

So is he really the starlet-bashing, obscenity-spitting figure he’s usually portrayed as? He’s still as anti-government as ever – his comments about the Cameron/Clegg coalition are too rude to print.

“My way of life is that I don’t mean bad to anyone,” he surmises.

“I’m generally a passive person. But if you try hurting my friends or family, quite a different beast comes out. But if left in my own space, I’m quite a happy chappy.”

Happy Chappy

Happy Chappy

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