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LIVE REPORT: PiL & The Wedding Present
John Doran , July 30th, 2012 10:50

Bonkers & British, Lydon and co. play in a 12th century castle in Kent

Photographs courtesy of Maria Jefferis/

By the look of it, the more Danny Boyle’s 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony tried to be utterly British, the more it ended up looking like an episode of Matt Smith’s Doctor Who. There’s nothing wrong with this of course, but the very next day, further out East, something more modest yet more quintessentially British is taking place.

Today is the inaugural Music Event One, a new one day festival held in the grounds of a castle in Kent. Rochester is already pretty enough, but once inside the 12th century stone curtain walls, all you can see, bar the castle itself, is the Cathedral’s impressive leaden spire, the tops of some Georgian houses, and a wood framed pub on one side and the sun setting over the River Medway on the other.

And given that it’s only a couple of years since John Lydon reactivated Public Image Limited to play venues like Brixton Academy, it’s quite thrilling to see how small the stage is, like we’re getting to see one of post-punk’s most celebrated bands at a country fair or debutante’s ball.

And facing the stage is the monumental keep itself, built by Gundulf, The Bishop Of Rochester, in 1127 in the Norman style. The summer light reflects sharply off its Kentish ragstone and Normandy caen stone brickwork, and it doesn’t actually look a day over 500 years old.

Decent sets are put in by local indie bands Kids Unique and Theatre Royal. However I’m berated about my taxonomical skills by Gaz from Sister Ray Records who insists sternly: “There’s no such thing as indie!”

Fair point. That was some fine, ah, classic guitar pop lads, but personally speaking I’d cut down on the banter and play everything 20bpm faster.

The Wedding Present

Perhaps the DJ has a sense of humour, playing the Arctic Monkeys before The Wedding Present go on, given that the Sheffield 20-somethings owe the Weddoes more spiritually than any other band. Thing is, the young team are now on their fourth album, and do they have any songs as good as ‘My Favourite Dress’, ‘Kennedy’ or ‘Corduroy’? I'm not convinced they do.

David Gedge is a living, breathing endorsement for a healthy lifestyle, and doesn’t appear to have aged at all over the last 15 years. He nods dryly at the keep and says: “I don’t know, I've played some shitholes in my time, but this takes the biscuit."

Rumours that Lydon plans to upstage the Queen by parachuting from the castle keep’s roof to the stage prove sadly unfounded.

However, if he’s noticed that the grounds appear to only be one third full, he doesn’t let on - in fact he looks ecstatic to be here. It raises the notion that actually the old rascal pretty much loves playing anywhere in the UK that isn’t London.

He’s swigging from a bottle of Babycham and grinning from ear to ear when he says: “Hello my lovelies. This is PiL, and that fucking horrible building has to go.”

A lot of touring has made the new version of PiL even tighter and more fearsome - not that there was ever much slouching going on between Pop Group powerhouse Bruce Smith on drums, Scott Firth on bass and a massive beard sporting Lu Edmonds, looking uncannily like the man who gets stoned to death for saying ‘Jehovah’ in The Life Of Brian. Edmonds particularly is a blur of activity, swapping between amplified sax and guitars, manipulating numerous delay pedals and FX boxes, giving everything massive depth and perilously sharp edges.

Everything bounces along tonight, from a funkified ‘This Is Not A Love Song’ to a rocket propelled ‘Death Disco’/’Swan Lake’ via a thunderous ‘Albatross’. Like most of their post Album output there are a clutch of cracking songs on this year’s This Is PiL, including the Krautrock funk of ‘Deeper Water’ and the uptempo punky reggae party music of ‘One Drop’ which are both deployed tonight. And all of it is of equal importance to Lydon – when he hits the line, “I will not drown” with his ruffian vibrato, he has never sounded more emphatic. The singer could spend the rest of his days doing Sex Pistols reformation gigs and he would always be guaranteed a minimum audience ten times the size of this one, but with PiL he has to work, he has to prove himself with each show. This isn't cabaret, the songs are too monumental, too caustic, too revolutionary, too good.

He cackles: “Who won the raffle then? Come on, it's a bit like a church fete here. Brilliant. This is your real England right here.”

One of the highlights in a great set is a very lengthy, apoplectic and apocalyptic version of ‘Religion’. Lydon pushes on his spectacles and makes a point of reading his lyrics off a lectern, delivering his lines with veins pulsing in his neck, like Robert Mitchum’s mad preacher from Night Of The Hunter, one extended finger at the end of a vertical arm pointing at the crimson sky.

And then after a very L.A. sounding ‘Rise’ and an extended ‘Open Up’, they’re gone for good by the time it’s 10pm. Apparently Lydon’s fantastically bonkers rider demanded that he have 75 black towels and that no uniformed policemen be in his line of vision at any point during the day. And even this didn't stop him from ordering all the non-existent police in the venue to go home.

Long may he reign over us.

As for the festival, well, it is in an idyllic setting and very well organized. Only fools go into this business expecting to make money in their first three or four years and word has it that the local promoters behind Music Event One have a five year plan, which is very good news indeed for those who live along the Medway.