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Fighting talk; As John Lydon readies himself for an appearance in Wales, the punk icon gives Dave Owens the lowdown on one of the most notorious nights in Welsh rock's past.

IT'S almost 35 years since one of punk rock's most infamous incidents - the protests that marked The Sex Pistols' appearance in Caerphilly.

John Lydon is holding court down a phone line from his Californian home, and although the years may have flown by the punk firebrand admits he has fond memories of that particular slice of Welsh rock 'n' roll history.

He attributes the religious protesters who thronged outside The Pistols' gig at the Castle Cinema in Caerphilly on Tuesday, December 14, 1976, as the perfect preparation for the firestorm that was to follow the punk legends around.

Local church leaders and councillors queued up opposite the venue to condemn the Pistols as morally corrupt and a terrible influence on the youth of the day. While churchgoers sang hymns and Christmas carols, a crowd drawn by curiosity rather than anarchy trudged into the gig.

"It was so small and silly, singing hymns and hoping God would strike us dead. It was ridiculous," he recalls. "There were barely 200 people in the hall. There were 500 outside singing Hosanna in the Highest."

The Sex Pistols were playing the town as part of the infamous Anarchy In The UK tour alongside The Clash and The Damned.

Less than half of the planned 20 dates went ahead as the Pistols were banned from so many venues.

"It was a good precursor though to when we first came to America," he adds.

"The Texans, when they religiously demonstrate against you, they're doing it with guns. So when I remember that I look back fondly at Caerphilly. You know Caerphilly was silly!" Despite the passage of time, Lydon is still incredulous about the treatment The Sex Pistols received from politicians and church leaders.

"Oh God, politicians, it's not as if I needed much education to the value of that lot, but I tell you, in The Pistols, did we get a crash course in silliness from them," he sneers.

"I remember the Lord Provost of Scotland banning us playing in Scotland and this was his official statement, he said that Scotland had enough hooligans already without importing them from south of the border! "To me at the time that sounded like the most amazing compliment I'd ever heard!" Our transatlantic phone conversation is dogged by a crackling line and a slight delay isn't exactly helping the ebb and flow of our conversation, but nothing is going to stop Lydon having his say.

In fact, during a 45-minute phone conversation it's difficult to get a word in edgeways; such is the ferocity of his train of thought that I'm continually in awe of not only his intelligence but his understated eloquence.

He rallies against society's ills, how technology has created a nation of strangers too transfixed with social networks to actually have a conversation, and the perversity of politics - chiefly how our coalition government are taking the nation for a ride. It's fitting then as the UK reels from high youth unemployment, riots on the streets and swingeing economic cuts, that Lydon will be reuniting with Public Image Ltd (PiL), the post-punk innovators he created in the wake of The Sex Pistols' demise at the height of '80s Thatcherite gloom.

"We have a very special bond with our audience," says the frontman. "There's that sense of freeing up yourself and not feeling ashamed at letting yourself loose and dancing like a three-legged donkey I suppose, but it's all important.

"It's almost a religious experience you're sharing, it's very intimate and you're sharing those experiences with other human beings. It's a celebration of life and that is the true essence of PiL."

A younger audience may be more familiar with the veteran revolutionary thanks to his unforgettable appearance on series three of I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here! and his ads for Country Life butter in particular. However, instead of thinking he may have gone soft in his old age, the 55-year-old confesses there was method in his madness - funding Public Image Ltd.

Aware that those old punks could accuse their former godhead of selling out, Lydon is having none of it.

"I loved the sheer anarchy of the idea and I genuinely liked the people who approached me," he states. "They gave me pretty much a free hand so we went at it like we wanted to make entertaining little short movies. It was basically experimental theatre and very, very enjoyable.

"It hurt no one, people were entertained and Public Image Ltd was funded. The only thing I put in my back pocket was a pound of butter."

? Public Image Ltd play the Millennium Music Hall, Cardiff on June 2. Tickets are available from the box office on 029 2023 0130 or online at www.ticketlineuk.com
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 20, 2011
Words:793
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