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John Lydon’s next move after the Sex Pistols was a creative, musically varied experiment that’s 40 years old and counting. Sean Egan finds out more…

In the late 90s, John Lydon found himself literally unable to record. Although his band Public Image Ltd had made several acclaimed and/or successful albums, his record company was neither willing to fund further recordings nor release him from his contract. “It’s a conundrum,” he shudders at his Kafka-esque dilemma. “You’re in debt. They won’t loan you the money to raise money against the debt. They won’t help you record or tour, and if you raise money independently they claim it for their debt.” It seemed the end of a career in which the former Johnny Rotten had both suffered for his art and, for some, prostituted himself on the back of it.

PiL – as Public Image stylised their acronym – was born in what Lydon calls a “period of great confusion”. When, in early 1978, Lydon quit his role as Sex Pistols frontman, he was “left stranded in America without a plane ticket”. Returning to the UK, he was soon enmeshed in a court case that left him penniless and nameless. “The management claimed they owned everything, including my name.

That’s why I had to revert to John Lydon. I would have carried on as Mr Rotten.” That Lydon would start a new band was fairly predetermined (“I’d got the bite for writing songs and I loved it”), but it would be one with different parameters. “In many ways, it was ‘free thyself up young lad’, because I knew there were some serious restrictions in the Pistols.”

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