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John Lydon: Former Sex Pistols vocalist reveals the fate of Never Mind the B****cks II

The follow-up to the punk classic will never be released – because it was 'hideously dull'

Adam Sherwin
Sunday 12 October 2014 07:48 BST
(Getty Images)

It is punk's landmark album, a one-off that captured The Sex Pistols at their snarling peak. Now John Lydon has revealed that the band recorded Never Mind the B****cks II during their fractious reunion – but the singer refused to add his vocals.

"They'd gone off with Chris Thomas, the producer of Never Mind …, and laid down some basic tracks without involving me at all, and then presented this cassette, not to my face, but snuck it under the bloody hotel door," recalled the former Johnny Rotten, 58. "To this day, I'm very bitter about that."

The demos were a pale copy of the 1977 album, which contains the classics "Anarchy in the UK" and "God Save the Queen". "Those new tracks were hideously dull. 'Go on, put the money-earner on this dross.' It was always that cold indifference to the lead singer. You can't end up just imitating yourselves, that's preposterous to me."

Lydon reveals the recordings in his new memoirs, Anger is an Energy, which charts his journey from vilified threat to society at the Sex Pistols' Palace-baiting peak, to LA-dwelling, butter-advertising cultural commentator, who still performs with Public Image Limited and reserves the right to lash out at mediocrity and conformism wherever he sees fit.

After a number of lucrative reunion tours, the Pistols have split for good, he insists. "We finally decided amongst each other that we really didn't like each other at all. Why would I want to do all that again?"

Lydon remains protective of punk's legacy and his own role in the music and fashion explosion that convulsed Britain. Dame Vivienne Westwood, the designer who provided the outrageous outfits for the scene's early adopters, gets short shrift for claiming that she came up with the idea and title for "Anarchy in the UK".

"The silly cow is claiming she had the idea for 'Anarchy'? What a f***ing liberty. That's audacity of the highest order. Go back to making frocks."

Westwood's bondage trousers, a signature item of the punk movement, caused the young Rotten serious chafing down below. "She's not really anything like a tailorer. If you're going to make clothes for men, you've got to be aware we have a unit between our legs and you've got to accommodate it.

"The bondage idea was mine anyway. I got it from a photoshoot when I wrapped myself in a real straitjacket. I thought it might be interesting if it turned into a wearable piece of clothing. Poor Viv, she's getting on a bit. But she's earned her place in history. Leave well alone, you silly cow – or, in her case, get off and milk it."

Lydon was "infuriated" when U2 asked permission to use a Pistols clip as a backdrop to their performance at the launch of the iPhone 6 – "They're selling Apple product, it's just a commercial". Yet he granted Danny Boyle rights to use the band's once-insurrectionary anthems at the London Olympic Games opening ceremony, under strict conditions.

"Firstly, the theme was a celebration of the NHS. And it was nice that the entire Royal Family had to watch 90 seconds plus of 'Pretty Vay-c**t'. Grimaces ready. It was great to see. But they're human beings, too, so I think they got the fun of it. They were just unfortunate to be born into a cage."

It is "very likely" that Lydon will one day give up his California home and move back to the UK with Nora, his German partner of 30 years.

Yet the singer is outraged by the suggestion that he may now have joined the establishment he once baited. Surely recognition in the New Year's Honours list awaits. "I don't want that. What for? I don't mind pageantry and a bit of pomp and circumstance, but not when it involves me.

"A knighthood? Why would I put a sword in the Queen's hand? 'Off with his head', lest we forget. I don't ever want to join the smug parade. Outsiders for ever. It's best place to be."

A gong might not be in the offing, but an unlikely collaboration with Andrew Lloyd Webber, after he was cast as King Herod in a planned US touring production of Jesus Christ Superstar, has given Lydon a surprise thirst for treading the boards.

The punk pioneer even had singing lessons for the first time since an exasperated teacher told him in 1976 that he could not hold a note.

"I've been singing for 40 years, and yet I was really worried about hitting a bum note in practice. You have to get the notes perfectly right for what it is and not just run away with Rottenisms," Lydon said. "I found myself bouncing around, learning dance moves. It was an alien world for me, taking orders from directors, but it worked out really well."

Sadly, the tour was cancelled at the last minute due to "horrific" ticket sales. Lydon is not convinced Lloyd Webber would retain him if the production is ever remounted. "I never got on with him. I don't think he was happy with me being there. But I got a great impression of the theatrical crowd. They call each other 'darling' but they work really hard. That show would have rocked. I know the part.

"I'm not what you would call a note-perfect singer," he admits. "But there ain't many who can do what I can do either. I've got a different range and register, a completely different understanding to music. There's a skill in that."

On Friday, Lydon joined the panel of BBC1's Question Time (he thought Alan Johnson, the Labour former minister, was "a bit smarty-pantsy"). And, after his appearance on I'm a Celebrity..., he was invited to present a natural history series, Megabugs, about unusual insects.

If greying punks think advertising butter was a betrayal, Lydon counters: "Are oiks like me not supposed to make a living? I don't remember writing a contract saying I must not advertise. And, by the way, I do eat butter – you've only got to look at me in the nude to see that."

'Anger is an Energy: My Life Uncensored' by John Lydon is published by Simon & Schuster

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