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Public Image Limited - Manchester 1983

Public Image Limited - Manchester Apollo, Thursday, November 10th 1983

This was a huge event for a Public Image Limited and John Lydon fan. PIL's output and touring had always been sporadic and at last we had a full scale national tour. I'd bought my ticket within an hour of going on sale, to guarantee a place down the front. Back in those days, the venue only removed the first 8 or so rows, so you had to be quick if you weren't going to be condemned to the seats and the over enthusiastic bouncers who made sure you stayed there.

The opening strains of Public Image were greeted with a loud cheer. The crowd had had a taster of the new PIL lineup with a recent appearance on "The Tube" TV show. Unfairly labeled "cabaret PIL" by some, this label ignored the fact that they delivered a very rocky sound, suiting much early PIL material.

"Sorry about the poxy sound, we've had problems with arseholes on the PA," interjected John. It sounded fine to us down at the front. Annalisa was next, and was far more pounding than I expected. "Get up off your fucking arses," John barked, before dovetailing neatly into the lyric "go crawl, like rabid dog."

The funk of Solitaire confused some spikey tops. It also gave John the opportunity to cadge a smoke from the crowd. Chant picked up the pace. It was a rush to hear the driving onslaught from one of the less obvious, yet climatic, tracks from Metal Box.

Religion was always going to be a highlight, and began hauntingly. With the stage lights down, John held a circular neon light above his head during the cathedral music build-up. It was at this moment that I caught a direct stare from "those eyes" - frightening! Religion, along with the other songs from the album Public Image performed tonight, were faithfully realised by the group who were able to display their rock strengths.

"Can we go home now?" asked John. "No" chorused the audience. This seemed to buoy John mid-way through the set. The Tube performance of Flowers Of Romance had sounded unlike the single, so I was shocked at how, tonight, the song sounded so similar to the sparse and atmospheric original. The fact that it was twice as long was also a bonus and more satisfying as a result.

The angry Low Life upped the tempo once more and had the punks in a lather down the front, prompting John to hold the microphone out to one particularly enthusiastic "singer".

Memories did indeed bring back memories, those of departed bass player, Jah Wobble. The bass line was accurately re-created by Louie Bernardi, although it was Martin Atkin's pounding drums that provided the backbone. "C'mon you arseholes," John spat at those still rooted in their seats.

"Anyone found a music journalist this evening?" he enquired before Anarchy In The UK kicked in, bringing a spontaneous response of mayhem down the front, and a huge cheer from throughout the packed theatre. Sure, Joe Guida was not Steve Jones, and the keyboards did sound a bit bizarre, but what the hell… the keyboard was played so fast you would swear it was Jerry Lee Lewis, not Arthur Stead, banging the ivories! It is also important to realise that this was the first time 99% of the audience had heard John perform this song - a feat none of us thought we would ever witness. It was a high for all of us, and ended the set.

The encore carried on this high, with PIL's contemporary hit, This Is Not A Love Song. Surely one of the most original songs of the 1980s? The powerful performance was interjected with some Lydon humour, "This is the boring part about the old train leaving for the new world, etc. etc." With barely enough time to draw breath, a ferocious Attack closed the show. It was an exhausting end. John continued to enjoy his crowd baiting during the song, "Is this the best Manchester can do?" while screaming, "Destroy, wipe out…" There were few doubters; it felt like he could do just that, as a loud bang and a flash echoed through the venue. PIL pyrotechnics! A fitting, surprise ending to an adrenaline charged show. A content and shell-shocked crowd departed.

It had been a long wait. To finally see Public Image Limited and John in action was an incredible moment, and left me buzzing for days. I was lucky to see further great PIL shows in subsequent years, but none was to leave such an impression as this first encounter on November 10th 1983.

Review by Phil Singleton
Pictured: Original gig ticket & programme, both of which survived the event!

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