1982, 1983, alternative, john lydon, Johnny rotten, johnnybrotten, Keef, KEITH LEVENE, MARTIN ATKINS, Metal Box, pete jones, PiL, public image limited, punk, punk rock, rock, stories from the stage, virgin, virgin records
THE END IS NIGH….
Once I’d moved into the roadie’s apartment, things were less stressful, but I was now cut off from everyone in the band. Martin was still at the Loft with John, Keith was living with his now wife, and I was with my girlfriend stamping on cockroaches at the apartment. We decided to tackle the roaches by buying a “bug bomb” which for those that don’t know is like a large aerosol of bug killer that once you press the nozzle, it stays on until the entire contents of the can are discharged, essentially fumigating your apartment. The place was awash with the little bastards, didn’t see them much during the day but if you got up at night time and switched a light on, you’d see hundreds of them scurrying back behind skirting boards or kitchen fascias. So imperceptibly quick you almost didn’t see them. But they were there, even inside the bread wrapper when you came to make toast In the mornings not that I told the girlfriend, she refused to go into the kitchen after dark. So anyway, we set this fucker of a roach bomb off and went out for the evening. Upon our return, I thought we’d be rid of them, but the sight that met us was straight out of a horror movie. The whole apartment floor was covered with dead or dying roaches, there were thousands of them, I kid you not. A lot were dead but about 25% were still alive, on their backs writhing about all legs and antennae twitching. It was fucking gross. We then spent the next three hours clearing the dying detritus and mopping up the greasy film of bug killer that covered every surface. “You don’t get this in England” I said to myself.
A day or two later I was hanging around with nothing to do, there were no rehearsals, there was little point, not many gigs planned and recording had stopped for a bit. I was looking to go out and see about scoring some coke to alleviate the boredom and this set off a little alarm bell In my head; “Hang on Pete, taking a bit of Charlie after a gig is one thing, scoring during daylight coz you’re bored is another” It really was a stupid idea and I was left thinking what the fuck I was doing in this mess. Luckily, I stopped myself taking that stupid step off the abyss that so many around me had done.
We were due to fly out for a gig soon after, I think it was in Boston and we had flights booked that afternoon. Bob Tullipan called me to arrange a pick up at a local intersection for the run to JFK. I don’t remember how, but I ended up waiting at the wrong intersection for the rest of the band and in the days before mobile phones, there was no way to communicate. We eventually found each other but we were woefully late for our flight. As I climbed into the van, you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. Everyone was obviously pissed off that I had delayed everyone but nobody said anything. They just sat there and sulked like a bunch of spoilt kids not getting their own way. Fuck ’em.
The conversation was stilted, but at some point, there was a conversation about the tour of Japan that we had been planning. Keith was not happy and was waffling on about who was travelling on the tour. Nora was going, as was Bob Tullipan’s girlfriend Maureen and Keith’s wife Lori. “But” he said “we don’t want your girlfriend to come with us, she’s going to be a liability” well fuck me! That sounds fair! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, they were planning to swan off to Japan with their partners, but I had to leave mine in New York on her own? Insinuating that because she could knock back the drugs like the rest of us it was going to be a problem? Really? If Keith had been sitting within an arms length I think I would have turned round and decked the cunt there and then. Everyone else was silent, no one spoke up so I joined the silence, all the way to Boston, but I was fucking livid.
When we got back to NYC, I was feeling pretty low. I kept having this inner turmoil of wanting to go out and score coke and knowing it was a bad idea. I was thinking of home and of sitting in my favourite English pub drinking a pint of decent ale… It was calling me home! The more I thought about it the more I was being drawn back to England. The thought nagged my mind for a couple of days and one morning I said to my girlfriend “Shall we go home?”
She was keen too, but said that the decision was my call. And I called it.
I went out the next morning and with my last remaining cash bought the tickets back to the UK for the next day. I already had the return portion of my air ticket so just had to find a cheap one-way seat for the girlfriend which was easily done. We packed our bags and asked the roadie to give is a lift to the airport the next day but not to tell anyone about it and we all went out for one last farewell drink.
The next day I felt better about the whole thing, knowing that a decision had been made. I didn’t want to run off without telling anyone so just before we left for the airport I called Martin. I was quite prepared to make the UK trip a temporary one, and I honestly thought that if I could just have a break from it all and clear my head, then I would gladly come back for the Japan trip if the details about who was travelling in the entourage could be ironed out but my call to Martin ended that thought.
“I’m leaving Martin, I’m going back to the UK and I’m leaving now” he was shocked and I could here him relay the message to John who was in the room with him. All I could hear was John ranting and raving, throwing things around and he screamed “Bollocks” down the phone at me. Wasn’t quite the grown up discussion I envisaged! So that was that then, I said a quick goodbye to Martin, hung up and got in the car to the airport.
As we soared at 30,000 feet back across the Atlantic I had time to reflect on what I had just done. I was giving up playing for one of the world’s most infamous bands and working with a great punk icon…. I seriously questioned whether it was the right decision. It was. It’s testimony to how crap things really were working for that band that I was willing to give it all up but I had stuck it out for months and tried my hardest to put up with all the internal squabbling, childish behaviour and drugged up discussions whilst all the time not being paid nearly enough for my troubles.Yes, it was the right thing to do.
I arrived back to the grey UK landscape and as I arrived home it felt like a weight had been lifted from my weary shoulders, I had the pint I craved, and a few more, then watched the Grand National on the telly. I had fuck all to show for my trip, and I was back at my mums house as I had nowhere else to go but I was happier than I had been for months. I was left with a suspicious nature though; if someone was genuinely nice to me I thought “what are they after?” Because that’s what I had put up with with PiL, endless people trying to get to Johny Rotten through you, they would befriend you just because you were close to John and they wanted access
Shortly after I got home I heard that Keith had also left the band. I wasn’t surprised by that. I guess if he had left before me I might have stayed! PiL had imploded again, not for the first time and nor would it be the last. This is Not a Love Song was released soon after and was a bit odd hearing that played so often on the radio as it was clearly my bass work on the recording but I was kind of proud about the fact that I played on PiL’s highest charting UK single (it still remains so to this day).
Later still, I got to hear Commercial Zone that Keith had released unofficialy, and I was struck by how incomplete it sounded. A truly inept representation of what could have been. The new official PiL album “This is What You Want, This is What You Get” followed thereafter and was even worse. The famous cabaret band dragging PiL to new depths of low. I was surprised to hear a song that I had wrote with Martin was on the album; “Solitaire” came about from a riff I used to play at sound checks, clearly written by me, there must have been no doubt in the PiL camp that I had written it so I was pretty pissed off that there was no writing credit for me on the album. Cunts. I did consider taking legal action to address the wrongdoing but I was advised that although I might be successful in getting my dues, it would cost me an arm and a leg to do so, probably more than I would ever recoup in lost royalties so I had to let it drop. Given the low sales of that album, it wouldn’t have amounted to much, but it was the principle more than anything else.
I got a call from an old acquaintance soon after I got back. Kim Wilde was looking to do a European tour and needed a bass player. I had worked with the brass section from Q Tips who had laid down brass on the Brian Brain track ” Funky Zoo” (they were great and did the session in record time for about 30 quid) One of them (I think was Steve Farr but I’m not sure now) was now working for Kim and had remembered that I could play a bit of funky bass which was just what they needed for the tour. I was asked to go for a rehearsal but I was so pissed off following the PiL debacle that I turned it down flat. I had underestimated how badly I was affected by playing with that shower of shit and now here I was turning down a chance to play with another huge well known act. It would have been a great chance to make some connections in the UK and Europe but I just couldn’t face going through it all again even though It was a paying job (£400 a week I seem to remember).
I did start work on my own material though. I spent some time recording in a little local 8 track studio to try and get some demos on tape. It didn’t really work out too good and was little more than basic ideas. I did have a few meetings with record companies who were interested in talking to me due to the PiL connection but I soon found out just how little the music business thought about them. PiL and Lydon in particular were not everyone’s favourite by a long chalk, I got the feeling that the were viewed as a bit of a joke. I was asked to come up with some properly recorded and finished product then they would talk to me again. I didn’t have the money nor by now, the inclination to do so. I effectively retired from the music business.
So that was that.. It was over, I had cashed in my PiL chips and got nothing, there was no hounding of my door for a story or more offers of work, no one was interested. I got a job working for a large multi national company in Harrow and for the first time in years had a regular wage coming in. It felt good to go to work and get paid at the end of every week. I was working amongst some of the dimmest people I had ever met so I soon got promoted to senior positions, it was easy to shine, and eventually I was supervising large numbers of staff earning some decent money. I ended up staying with the company for 25 years, and I would recall tales of my days in PiL when asked by my workmates “What’s Johnny Rotten really like?” Or they would get it wrong and say “You used to play in the Sex Pistols didn’t you Pete?” Ha ha…. For some, I would ham it up and embellish the stories, I would tell them about the time we were driving by car to a gig and John spent the whole journey picking snot out of his nose and wiping it on the inside of the windscreen, by the time we arrived the window was covered in Johnny Rotten snot. Filthy fucking childish behaviour that warranted a mouthful of abuse a smack in the mouth or both . Nobody said a word, you couldn’t say anything to John and were expected to tolerate his vileness.
On the same trip, john and I went to the restroom at a roadside stop, I stood at the urinal having a piss, John locked himself into the adjacent cubicle and moments later he shouted “Here, have some of this.. ” and he threw a wad of toilet paper under the door covered in shit and blood, he was obviously needed some Preparation H in there. “You filthy Cunt” I shouted back and went out to the car disgusted .
At another food stop diner, John smeared chocolate cake all round his mouth and chin, he looked like a five year old and was acting like one to boot. Not funny, pathetic attention seeking bollox. Later on at the hotel, I said something that riled him, can’t quite remember what it was but it must have been something innocuous. He was holding a dining knife in his hand and he grabbed me from behind and pushed it hard into my back. “Fuck off John, what you playing at” he wasn’t gonna do much damage with a butter knife but he was pushing hard and held me tight round the neck… just to prove his dominance. I quickly broke free, grabbed his little travel bag and held it over the 8th floor balcony threatening to drop it into the street below. I would rather have dangled him over the balcony to be honest, but I thought better of it least it landed on someone’s head.
John would try and intimidate any journalists he met, his passive aggressive stance was sometimes funny if the journalist was being a twat but sometimes I felt sorry for the poor guy on the receiving end if they were young and inexperienced. I saw young kids who might be new to the game shaking with fear as John fixed them with his icy black stare and ordered them to ask a decent question. Pure pantomime, but mostly he was just being a cunt. I think it was Wobble who describe him as being a genius on stage, a complete cunt off it…. That was about right..
To be continued….
Photos courtesy Maureen Baker