On the night of 5 February 1980 I was eagerly awaiting what was still called The Old Grey Whistle Test. This BBC programme celebrated the work of more serious-minded musicians than its lower brow sibling Top of the Pops that simply celebrated whatever music was shifting the most units that particular week.
Proudly alternative and eclectic, some would say occasionally treading a fine line this side of disappearing up its own backside, OGWT was a broad church that showcased metal, blues, prog, folk, electronica, jazz, funk, experimental sounds, reggae, and most importantly for me at the age of 17 - punk, post-punk and new wave. If TOTP was where you'd find a miming Roxy Music dancing away the heartache in lounge suits before bobbing teenagers grinning at themselves in the monitors, OGWT was where Bryan Ferry's band had introduced the world to the gaudy genius of their Eno-inspired glam rock/psychedelic pop masterpieces - most importantly: all the acts played live in the studio.
I found out that Public Image Limited would be making their first live UK television performance that night on OGWT. There were only three TV channels at the time and video recorders, far less catch-up TV, were still a thing of the future, so I had to impress on my parents the importance of my remaining glued to the screen unhindered.
I've no recollection of who else was on that Tuesday night 37 years ago but the moment Annie Nightingale introduced PiL - handing John Lydon the gatefold sleeve of the Second Edition album so he could skim the lyrics - I was mesmerised.
A few years before these guys had all been associated with the punk scene, Lydon with the Sex Pistols, Keith Levene with The Clash. But punk had quickly become dated, a bandwagon readily jumped on, open to being endlessly repeated. Lydon had always understood that an important aspect of punk had been looking to the future rather than wallowing in the past. Because the template of PiL's post-punk universe was fluid, there were no rules; which meant no expectations about song lengths or indulging more than three chords in a riff, and especially about whether or not the band should be wearing studded biker jackets.
In PiL's sonic landscape pop collided with krautrock with classical themes with dub reggae - the latter personified by Jah Wobble's emphatic bass - and the whole incendiary beauty was driven by Lydon's unique vocal delivery. As Wobble memorably remarked: "PiL only sound so radical, I suppose, because so many bands sound so ordinary."
Indeed, PiL sounded like absolutely no one else, which was a phenomenal achievement in a climate rampant with rehashed rock n' roll riffs and plagiarised melodies.
Despite its title, and while it certainly boasted catchy melodies courtesy of Levene's intricate arpeggio fretwork, there was a sinister undercurrent to Poptones: "I can't forget the impression you made. You left a hole in the back of my head." Their second song Careering was even more otherworldly, with Levene switching to a heavily-phlanged guitar sound and stabbing out random synth notes. A wall of noise, its lyrics were deliberately obscure but I'd read rumours in Sounds magazine that it was all to do with what was then the intractable sectarian nightmare in Northern Ireland: "The pride of history, the same as murder..."
When the band finished the camera cut to presenter Annie Nightingale who stated "That was the most powerful performance I've ever seen on Whistle Test ..." although Lydon later remarked its power had been more to do with their pre-recording refreshments, not all of which had been legal.
What I also loved about PiL that night was that their drummer Jim Walker had been wearing the same T-shirt I'd bought in Edinburgh's Bruce's record shop some months previously, featuring Lydon's face reproduced in lurid yellow, green and red images. If it still fitted me I'd wear that now because it'd be a reminder of a band I was passionate about (and who I still love) / unlike the fashion accessory Ramones T-shirts worn by so many Z-list celebs who probably think Cretin Hop refers to people tumbling out of Essex night clubs. I would, however, wholeheartedly endorse Annie Nightingale's sentiments.
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