Johnny Rotten tells High Court disputed band agreement ‘smacks of slave labour’

Former Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten has said that an agreement at the centre of a High Court dispute between him and his ex-bandmates “smacks of slave labour”.

Former drummer Paul Cook and guitarist Steve Jones are suing the punk group’s ex-lead singer, real name John Lydon, to allow their songs to be used in TV drama Pistol, which is directed by Danny Boyle and due to air next year.

The six-part series, which is being made by Disney, is based on a 2016 memoir by Mr Jones called Lonely Boy: Tales From A Sex Pistol.

Mr Jones and Mr Cook argue that, under the terms of a band member agreement (BMA) made in 1998, decisions regarding licensing requests can be determined on a “majority rules basis”.

But Mr Lydon, who has previously told the Sunday Times he thinks the series is the “most disrespectful shit I’ve ever had to endure”, argues that licences cannot be granted without his consent.

Sex Pistols court case
Paul Cook arrives at the Rolls Building at the High Court in London with his wife Jeni (Yui Mok/PA)

Giving evidence at the Rolls Building in London on Wednesday, Mr Lydon said the Sex Pistols have so far managed to agree how to conduct their business with “unanimity”.

In a witness statement before the court, he said: “The BMA has never been applied in anything we have ever done since 1998.

“It also seems completely unnecessary because there is no point in me being here or ever was if it is the case that I can just be completely outvoted by the vested interests of all in one management camp … and there is no way around that.

“That is like a total trap or prison and my fear is that they’re demanding that I agree 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.”

He added: “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.

“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.”

Edmund Cullen QC, representing Mr Jones and Mr Cook, suggested to Mr Lydon that his reference to “slave labour” is a sign of “how deeply you regret having signed the BMA”.

The barrister also said: “Given that you regard it as slave labour, you will do whatever it takes to try and get out of it.

“You will do whatever it takes up to and including giving false evidence.”

Mr Lydon replied: “False evidence? I’m sorry, how? Where?”

He also said: “I don’t think the BMA applies and so I would resist that. I didn’t ask for this court case, it was brought to me, so I will naturally defend myself.”

Sex Pistols court case
John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, said the Sex Pistols have previously conducted their business with ‘unanimity’ (Yui Mok/PA)

Mr Lydon said he cannot understand legal documents and that they “terrify” him, adding: “It’s obvious that I didn’t understand what the BMA was.”

He said it has “never come up” before in their years of working together and added: “Unanimity is what has made this band as a business tick over.”

During further cross-examination by Mr Cullen, Mr Lydon said: “I care very much about this band and its reputation and its quality control and I will always have a say if I think anything is being done to harm or damage (it).”

He 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 BMA … I don’t remember signing it.

“I mean no harm here … I have made considerable amounts of money for them and I would not be doing that if I was doing this for completely selfish points or purposes.”

Mr Lydon also told the court: “You can’t let your history be rewritten for us by a complete stranger with no interest in it.

“This is my life here. This is my history. I didn’t write these songs (for them) to be given off to nonsense.”

The group Sex Pistols, signing a new recording contract with A&M Records outside Buckingham Palace in London, (l/r) Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones, Paul Cook, bass player Sid Vicious and the group’s manager Malcolm McLaren (Archive/PA)
The Sex Pistols sign a new recording contract with A&M Records outside Buckingham Palace – (L to R) Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones, Paul Cook, bass player Sid Vicious and the band’s manager, Malcolm McLaren (PA)

The Sex Pistols were formed in 1975 and disbanded in 1978, but have performed live shows together a number of times since then, most recently in 2008.

In evidence on Tuesday, Mr Cook accepted that the Sex Pistols were probably “gone for good” after he and Mr Jones took legal action.

Last week, Mr Jones told the court that he thinks Mr Lydon is “a total dick”, but added: “This is not about slagging anyone off in this TV series at all.”

Mr Jones and Mr Cook’s barrister Mr Cullen has previously told the court that his clients’ claim is against Mr Lydon alone.

He said in written submissions that original band member Glen Matlock, who was replaced by Sid Vicious, and the representatives of the estate of Sid Vicious, who died in February 1979, support their position.