Artist News Business News Legal Top Stories
By Chris Cooke | Published on Thursday 22 July 2021
John Lydon told the High Court in London yesterday that legal documents “terrify” him, that he didn’t understand what a Sex Pistols band agreement he signed in 1988 was all about, and that – despite said agreement allowing for majority decisions to stand – “unanimity is what has made this band as a business tick over”. He also explained the historical inaccuracies that resulted in him blocking the use of his band’s music in an episode of ‘The Crown’.
Lydon was the latest Sex Pistol to give testimony in a big old dispute over a sync licensing deal and that 1988 band agreement. He’s fighting a lawsuit filed by former bandmates Steve Jones and Paul Cook over his decision to block the use of the band’s music in ‘Pistol’, a new Danny Boyle-directed TV series based on Jones’ memoir ‘Lonely Boy: Tales Of A Sex Pistol’. Jones and Cook argue that under the 1988 agreement a sync licence can be issued if a majority of the band’s members agree, and that Lydon therefore has no veto.
Earlier in the proceedings Jones told the court that he and Cook previously considered enforcing the 1988 agreement when Lydon blocked the use of the band’s track ‘God Save The Queen’ in the Netflix show ‘The Crown’. Jones added: “I was a big fan of the show and excited that our music was going to feature in it, so I was very upset when I found out that John’s manager had blocked it”.
Discussing that decision, Lydon told the court yesterday that the original script of the episode of ‘The Crown’ in which ‘God Save The Queen’ would have appeared contained historical inaccuracies that he found “perverse”. Somewhat ironically, the alleged inaccuracies would have likely annoyed the Queen as much as Lydon.
The episode in question took place during the Queen’s silver jubilee celebrations in 1977, which is when the then controversial Sex Pistols track was released.
Lydon says that – had producers used the alleged original script – ‘The Crown’ would have intercut official jubilee events happening in London on 7 Jun 1977 with scenes of the Sex Pistols performing their anti-monarchy hit on a boat on the Thames, alongside other scenes depicting members of the public protesting and rioting, in contrast to all the crowds celebrating the Queen.
However, he added, while the gig on the Thames did happen, the idea that there were other anti-monarchy protests in central London that day is “a lie”.
According to Telegraph, Lydon told the court: “The story that they presented was with the Queen in despair in her carriage, and all those ugly scenes on the streets of crowds fighting and chucking bottles, whilst others were celebrating the Queen. [But] nobody was rioting – and here is my real, serious problem with it – this never happened, this is a lie about history”.
“There were no bricks and bottles thrown at the Queen”, he continued. “It’s a lie. The only people making any demonstration at all about the royal family that day were the Sex Pistols on a boat trip down the Thames – lovely songs of protest in front of the Houses Of Parliament, and that’s it. They can mish-mash history all they want, but they can’t do it using my name”.
Of course, few rely on ‘The Crown’ to be a particularly accurate telling of the Windsor family story, but can Jones and Cook rely on that 1988 agreement as a framework for how the Sex Pistols business is run?
That agreement “has never been applied in anything we have ever done since 1998”, Lydon argued in court yesterday, according to the Evening Standard. And if it is applied in the dispute over the ‘Pistol’ sync deal, he added, then he is basically being forced “to sign over the rights to a drama documentary that I am not allowed any access to. To me that smacks of some kind of slave labour”.
“I don’t understand how Steve and Paul think they have the right to insist that I do something that I so morally, heart and soul, disagree with without any involvement”, he went on. “It is infuriating to me. It has always been that with regard to all decisions about the Sex Pistols music and imagery, that they are unanimous”.
In his earlier testimony, Cook said that he and his other bandmates had never previously enforced the 1988 agreement because they anticipated that it would anger Lydon who “can be a difficult character and always likes to feel that he has control”.
Given that the band have reunited at various points, they were nervous of acting in a way that would make their working relationship with Lydon “worse”, but – with hindsight – “maybe Steve and I have been too nice to John over the years in trying to maintain good relations and … we should have been tougher”, Cook added.
Insisting that the band agreement – having never been relied upon before – should not apply now, Lydon added that he doesn’t understand legal documents, that such paperwork terrifies him, and “it’s obvious that I didn’t understand what the [band agreement] was [when I signed it]”.
He later added: “I care very much about this band and I want to maintain its integrity. I don’t want anything I’m involved in to victimise any one of us. It would destroy the whole point and purpose of the band, and so I don’t understand the [band agreement] … I don’t remember signing it”.
And so the case continues.