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Public Image Ltd

O2 Academy Bournemouth

It gladdened the heart to look around the audience for PiL’s Bournemouth debut and see so many survivors – the sum total of human experience gathered together in the resurrected Victorian splendour of Boscombe’s old Grand Theatre would make quite a story.

Here were the very people confounded by the burghers of Bournemouth when they banned the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy tour from the Village Bowl in 1976*. Many of them would have been at Poole Arts Centre in November 1983 when John Lydon toured a somewhat ravaged incarnation of Public Image Ltd as This is Not A Love Song delivered the band their biggest UK hit single.

They gathered again, middle-aged, tummies spread, hair thinned, but still curious and ultimately delighted to see Lydon validate his unstinting belief in the power of PiL with a lengthy set (“We’re just getting going,’ he taunted after 90 minutes) characterised by bass-driven

dub extemporisation conducted by the singer and decorated with his distinctive yodel.

It was as if John knew what his people would want. The pre-gig music was kept to a level that allowed old faces to talk, swap tales, brag and eye each other up, the band’s no-frills entrance absolutely encompassing Lydon’s lifelong anti-rock stance.

And so to the music… Ten-minute rumbles on Warrior and Albatross set the tone as PiL delved into the heart of their archive and pulled out some real sweet plums including Low Life, Love Song, Religion, Flowers of Romance and Shine that shook the building to its depths, so much so it was easy to imagine the ghosts of the lions that once prowled the basement cages (yes, really) start to roar again, recognising a kindred spirit above.

And all the while John teased, taunted, sermonised, threw shapes, joked about Somalian drug lords losing their heads in sleepy little Bournemouth and, at one point, railed against some unpleasantness in front of the stage.

Newer material suffers only from a lack of recognition, but given 30-odd years songs like One Drop and Deeper Water will no doubt bed in more fully.

Other acts (Banshees, Cure, Massive Attack, Portishead) would no doubt acknowledge their debt, but ever the outsiders (Lydon wouldn’t have it any other way), PiL are serving to remind us of our testy past and laying down a marker that it’s about time they were given their due.

* Hey, punk pickers… An original tour poster for the Village Bowl date on December 7, 1976 sold for $5,000 on eBay in May. The support bands for the tour were The Clash, The Damned and Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers – would have been quite some show!

All photos by Steve Cook