The Flowers of Romance (album)

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The Flowers of Romance
Studio album by Public Image Ltd
Released 10 April 1981
Recorded October – November 1980 at: The Manor Studio, Shipton-on-Cherwell; Townhouse Studios, London[1]
Genre Post-punk, experimental rock
Length 33:18
Label Virgin
Producer Public Image Ltd, Nick Launay
Public Image Ltd chronology
Paris au Printemps
The Flowers of Romance
Live in Tokyo
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 3.5/5 stars[2]

The Flowers of Romance is the third studio album by English experimental rock band Public Image Ltd. It was released on 10 April 1981, through record label Virgin.


The title of the album makes reference to The Flowers of Romance, an early punk band of which Keith Levene (as well as Sid Vicious) was a member. "The Flowers of Romance" was also the title of an early Sex Pistols song.

The cover photograph is of the band's videographer, Jeannette Lee.

The album is largely centred on percussion, and Levene has described it as "probably [...] the least commercial record ever delivered to a [record] company."[3] Similarly, the Trouser Press Record Guide states that "the music is so severe as to lend credence to a record executive's statement that The Flowers of Romance is one of the most uncommercial records ever made – at least within a 'pop' context."[4]

Occasional drummer Martin Atkins played on three songs, while band members Levene and John Lydon handled percussion duties on the other tracks. One, "Under the House", actually has both Levene and Atkins playing dual drumlines. The prominent, and heavily processed, drum sound was influenced by Peter Gabriel's third album, on which engineer Hugh Padgham had processed Phil Collins' drums. Collins, in turn, was so impressed with the sound on The Flowers of Romance that he hired the album's engineer, Nick Launay, to reproduce the sound for his own projects.

Throughout the album, musique concrète sounds, such as amplified wristwatches, reversed piano and televised opera, weave in and out of the mix. Vocalist John Lydon contributed Stroh violin and saxophone (though he was not known to be trained on any particular instrument) and, according to a Rolling Stone article about the album, simply banged on anything handy for percussion, including the face of a banjo on "Phenagen".[5]

Keith Levene's innovative guitar style was stretched even further through the use of reversed tapes and trebly distortion, and his synthesisers drone and burble throughout the album. Several songs (for example "Four Enclosed Walls" and "Phenagen") have a Middle Eastern feel.

Bass player Jah Wobble had left the group before The Flowers of Romance was recorded, so Keith Levene played bass on "Track 8" and "Banging the Door", the only two tracks to feature the instrument.

Recording sessions[edit]

Recording began at The Manor Studio in Shipton-on-Cherwell, with two weeks booked around early October 1980. Only one album track was recorded towards the end of these sessions ("Hymie's Him"). The band also recorded joke versions of "Twist and Shout" and "Johnny Remember Me" which remain unreleased. Drummer Martin Atkins, who visited the band towards the end of these sessions, possibly recorded the drums to "Home Is Where the Heart Is" during his visit, which became the B-side of PiL's "Flowers of Romance" single the following year. "Home Is Where the Heart Is" was then mixed at Townhouse Studios; during this mixing session producer Steve Lillywhite was dropped and replaced by Nick Launay, who was enlisted to co-produce the album.

The rest of the album was recorded at Townhouse Studios in London with two weeks booked around late October/early November 1980. Drummer Martin Atkins was hired for the sessions and also contributed to the songwriting, and left on 31 October 1980 to play a gig in New York City with his band Brian Brain the following day. Unreleased songs which didn't make it on the album were "Vampire" and "Woodnymphs".

A final studio session was added a few weeks later around early December 1980 at Townhouse Studios to remix the proposed single "Flowers of Romance" and record a few overdubs.


One track from the album, "Flowers of Romance", was released as a single in March 1981, reaching number 24 in the UK charts. This featured a different mix from the album version.

The 12-inch version of the single included an instrumental version of the lead track and "Home is Where the Heart Is", originally played on the Metal Box tour, with Atkins on drums, and Levene again contributing bass, with help from tape loops.

Track by track commentary by the band[edit]

  • Nick Launay (producer, 2003): “On 'Four Enclosed Walls' for instance we placed Martin's Mickey Mouse pocket watch on a floor tom, so it would resonate and have more tone. Then I added two harmonizers with a 15 second delay fed back on themselves, one paned left, one right. I recorded about seven minutes of it ticking away. Then Martin went out and played that amazing beat to it. The toms that come in at the very end were an overdub. I remember John came in and said 'Alright, let me hear what you two wankers have been up to!' [...] He heard it and calmly said 'Ooh, I think I like that... let's hear it once more!' and sat down and scribbled on the inside of a cigarette packet. 'Alright, is there a mic up? I think I'll have a wail. ' And one take later the vocal was done! We then added this strange instrument called a Violumpet, which looks like a violin with a large trumpet horn sticking out of it, like those old wind up 78 gramophones have. It sounded like an Arabian flute. I added backwards reverb to make it more snake-like. I think the whole thing took maybe five hours. ”
  • Martin Atkins (2007): “The drums, the Mickey Mouse watch sound effect, the backwards trumpets - that's all me. ”[6]

"Track 8":

  • Nick Launay (producer, 2003): “We also had an AMS digital sampler, one of the first digital devices ever available. One day Martin played a drum groove and I pushed 'Loop Lock' and tried to make a perfect loop. The AMS was so primitive you couldn't actually edit it to get it in time, so I randomly kept locking in different beats as he played them, till I got one that sounded cool. That loop became the song 'Track 8'. It's actually out of time, but somehow it grooves. ”[7]


  • John Lydon (1981): “It's not Moroccan, it's Renaissance, early English and French, 15th century. That's what I've been listening to a lot, that's real traditional English music. ”[8]
  • Keith Levene (1981): “There's a bit of backwards guitar on a track called 'Phenagen' [...] [There also is] a banjo with three strings missing, and he was hitting it with something that was hanging off the banjo cos it made that noise - that was used on 'Phenagen' [...] He was annoying me all the time making that noise, then he laid down a track making that noise, then the next thing I know is this fucking great track called 'Phenagen'. It's horrible really, but it's really good the way it comes out. ”[9]

"Flowers of Romance":

  • Keith Levene (1981): John bowed the bass on 'Flowers of Romance'. ”[9]
  • John Lydon (1999): “The romance referred to is not being romantic, but alludes to people romanticising over past events with their memories [...] What I'm on about is that I wanted to move on and carry on with trying to create new things. ”[10]
  • Martin Atkins (2003): “I did the title track too but I didn't get credit for it. John admitted a few years ago that it was me drumming. ”[11]

"Under the House":

  • John Lydon (1981/99): “'Under the House', I wrote that after I saw a ghost, it was at The Manor. ”[10] “I'd seen a few things I didn't like. I ended up sleeping in the coal shed, I couldn't bear it in the house any longer. When a place is haunted there's an intensity which is insufferable. ”[8]
  • Nick Launay (engineer, 2003): “On 'Under the House' I had quite a lot of ideas that got through. Again Martin laid down the beat, then we overdubbed the toms and doubled them with harmonizers, a trick used a few times on this record. Having grown up in the south of Spain I was really influenced by Spanish Gypsy music, Flamenco, and I don't mean the tacky touristy type. I kept hearing that kind of clapping, so after explaining what I meant, we did it and added a simple delay to get that effect of two clappers playing off each other. The operatic wailing in the background is exactly that - there was an opera on TV while we were playing the song back in the control room. I thought the combination sounded so cool, I put a mic on to the TV speaker and recorded it to tape randomly till it made some sense. Once the track had some kind of shape, John went out and sang on it. ”[7]

"Hymie's Him":

  • John Lydon (1981/99): “[Michael Wadleigh] offered us the chance to do a soundtrack. I mean, who wouldn't want an opportunity like that? [...] The clips we saw were really excellent [...] Originally Wadleigh wanted us to write music to suit the atmosphere, it's about wolves and killing people, and that suited us fine of course. ”[9] “I thought what Keith did with the music was so good there was no point in me singing over it. Leave it alone, I said. All I could do was insult Keith with the title. ”[10]
  • Keith Levene (2001): “We were booked into The Manor for ten days, and it was like we knew we were doing a new album and we didn't do anything for days – we couldn't do anything. It was like this horrible mental block. After wasting seven days of being waited on hand and foot, just being real lazy cunts... we were really trying but nothing was happening. It was something to do with The Manor as well. We did get one track down – 'Hymie's Him' – that was the first definite solid thing we got laid down [...] I think we could do a service to a film. Like with this Michael Wadleigh thing, we wanted to go right down to a bottle banging on the table - the whole lot, not just the music but sounds. But then Tom Waits and other people came into it, and it wasn't what we had in mind. ”[9] “There was this weird bamboo instrument that I used on 'Hymie's Him' - Richard Branson had gotten some in Bali and gave me one of these things [...] I had been offered to make this film soundtrack for 'Wolfen'. Michael Wadleigh [...] said 'This is how wolves feed in the dark, this is the plot of the movie - what I need is an urban jungle sound. ' So I came up with 'Hymie's Him' as my pilot for the score for the movie [...] I had it in the bag and Wadleigh loved it. I really wish I'd done the movie. ”[12]

"Banging the Door":

  • John Lydon (1980/99): “It's much, much worse than it was in the days of the Sex Pistols. I've even had them pitching their tents on my front doorstep [...] I just don't let any of them in anymore. I just don't answer the door. ”[13] “'Banging the Door' came about as a rant against the fans who found out my address in London and used to come around every night, banging away on the door and shouting 'Johnny! Johnny!' through the letter box. Nearly drove me mad!”[10]
  • Keith Levene (1981): Martin played the drums and I played the bass. Then I added synth to that. ”[9] “Again it's a very strong drum track because of the way we were recording the drums. I did the synth with Martin, that was one we laid down together. I'm pumping out this low-end synth stuff while he's going dun-dun-dun-chhhhh. We sort of built the tune up, track by track, with overdubs. At some point, John put the vocals on. ”[12]
  • Nick Launay (producer, 2003): Keith was very into these synthesizer boxes that plugged into each other with little red cables, I think it was made by Roland. It was a bit like the giant Moog synth that Kraftwerk used, only in miniature. You can hear it on 'Banging the Door', it sounds like an evil giant frog!”[7]

"Go Back":

  • John Lydon (1981): “London's getting very, very fascist and I don't like it at all! 'Go Back' was written about that, about London and tedium and right-wing groups. It's pathetic, people wallow in misery and accept anything - 'Have a cup of tea, good days ahead. '”[14] “That's just the way things are going in this country. You can't afford to pretend it's not happening. ”[8]
  • Keith Levene (1981/2001): “I only use guitar on one track called 'Go Back', and it's a great little guitarline, it's turned out to be a funky track actually. ”[9] “One track I played guitar on is 'Go Back' on which I played drums also. ”[12]

"Francis Massacre":

  • John Lydon (1981): “For me the song just sums up the way I felt when I was in [Mountjoy Prison in October 1980] - grating noises, 'Aaargh, let me out!'”[8]

Related tracks[edit]

"Flowers of Romance" (single remix)/"Flowers of Romance" (instrumental):

  • Nick Launay (producer, 2003): “The only thing I did since finishing the album was to go back in a month later with Keith and John to remix the song 'Flowers of Romance' for single release, which is a much better mix. ”[7]

"Home Is Where the Heart Is" (single b-side):

  • Keith Levene (1981): “I remember at The Manor for two days painstakingly trying to redo a track which is now on the B-side of the single, called 'Home Is Where The Heart Is'. I was using a loop instead of Wobble which I recorded four notes on – which is the bassline Wobble used to do anyway. I was trying to get the drumbeat to it and it didn't fucking work. ”[9]
  • Martin Atkins (2001): “I know there was some confusion over 'Home Is Where the Heart Is'. That's me, but Virgin credited it to Jim Walker. That was funny because this journalist[15] went off on me saying Jim Walker was a genius, Martin Atkins was a cunt. And as his proof he said the drumming on Paris au Printemps was shit and when Jim Walker got back with them to record 'Home Is Where the Heart Is' it illustrated Atkins was crap, and that Jim Walker is the king! No, mate that's me!”[16]
  • Nick Launay (producer, 2003): “I had just started as a very new assistant engineer at the Townhouse Studios in London, which back then belonged to PIL's label, Virgin. They came in to work on a song, which I could have sworn had the working title 'Doom Sits in Gloom' [...] John wanted a triplet delay on a particular vocal line, and the engineer” (Steve Lillywhite) “didn't seem to understand what he meant. I was really into dub reggae at the time, so I set it up and it worked well [...] The engineer eventually gave up and disappeared, so me and John spent the rest of the day messing around with every effect imaginable [...] The following Saturday I went in early and started setting things up. No one turned up for hours, so I started mixing. After a while I got something that I thought sounded good. Still no one had turned up, so I thought what the hell, I'll just do my own personal mix and keep it as a souvenir! And two hours later I was done. Just as I'm packing things up, in walks Keith Levene [...] Nervously I told him I'd done a mix, but wasn't sure if he'd like it? The song had a reggae feel so I had used lots of delays and made it very dub. I played it, and Keith listened very intensely. I was sure he was going to say it was crap. The song finished and he said 'That's fucking great, let's hear it again!' He listened on other speakers and said 'I like it, can you do me a copy and send another to Virgin tomorrow?' And that was it. ”[7]

"Pied Piper" (Manor outtake):

  • John Lydon (1999): “'Pied Piper', by the way, was originally about 10 minutes long. I never quite worked out how it ended up on this 'Machines' compilation[17] and nowhere else, but it was an interesting bit of fun to record. ”[10]
  • Steve New (guest musician, 2009): “Well, I had known Keith for some time, we used to listen to music and discuss it instead of sleeping. But the chaotic world of PIL wasn't as chaotic as what was going on inside myself, it was fairly boring. I only got to do one song, 'Pied Piper', but I did play everything on it. Keith had some good synths, Prophet-5. John is John, shy and insecure at the time, he has a lot of hang-ups. I didn't stay [in PIL] because I wasn't invited to. ”[18]

"Twist and Shout"/"Johnny Remember Me" (unreleased Manor outtakes):

  • Pete Jones (PIL bass player, 1999/2000): “I had gone to The Manor Studios with Martin Atkins where PIL were in the middle of recording 'Flowers of Romance' [...] We listened to a tape of Lydon wailing along to a Beatles record. The original vocals had been removed and John's fingernails on chalkboard screeching sounded better by far. If only this could have been released!”[19] “I know Atkins has some unreleased stuff that Johnny fans would like to get hold of. His version of 'Twist and Shout' which I first heard back in 1980 is fucking hilarious though I doubt if it will ever get released. ”[20]
  • Martin Atkins (2001/07): “Yeah, I've got some stuff, I've got John singing 'Twist and Shout' [...] I actually wanted to put it on 'Plastic Box'. [...] So I called John and I called his manager, I really thought the 'Plastic Box' could have really been a great thing for the fans [...] I wasn't asking for anything other than, what I said is 'Why don't you buy me an EQ unit for my studio?' That would feel karmacally right to me, because I've had this stuff for 20 years, and it would be nice that if for the next ten years every time I touched the EQ unit I could think 'Hey, that worked out nicely!' But of course they didn't want to do that. ”[16] John sang 'Twist and Shout' and John and Jeannette did a duet on 'Johnny Remember Me', the old John Leyton hit, which actually sounded fantastic. ”[6]
  • John Lydon (2004): “There was a period there when we messed about a lot, well, we did a Beatles thing too [...] but it was all kind of rubbish. ”[21]

"Vampire" (unreleased Townhouse outtake):

  • Martin Atkins (2001): “I was drinking bottles of Perrier water. Recorded to quarter inch tape, slowed down it sounded almost like fucking dinosaurs. That was the backing for an unreleased track called 'Vampire' [...] There are vocals on it [...] 'Vampire' wasn't lyrically as together, but there are lyrics with John singing on it. ”[16]
  • John Lydon (2004): “There was one good song from around then that was called 'Vampire'. I think I've got that on master somewhere. What I liked about that song was that the night we were doing it, they couldn't work out how I got out the studio cos there was only one door out, and that's through the main room. I honestly don't know how I did, was I so boring I wasn't noticed? It's amazing what you can do when you are blind drunk!”[21]

"Woodnymphs" (unreleased Townhouse outtake):

  • Nick Launay (producer, 2003): “There is one song I remember that escaped getting erased, it was called 'Woodnymphs'. John said it sounded too like a gay disco and suggested it be used on Martin`s solo album! I don't know what happened to it. ”[7]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by John Lydon and Keith Levene except * by Lydon, Levene, Martin Atkins

  1. "Four Enclosed Walls" – 4:44 *
  2. "Track 8" – 3:15
  3. "Phenagen" – 2:40
  4. "Flowers of Romance" – 2:51
  5. "Under the House" – 4:33 *
  6. "Hymie's Him" – 3:18
  7. "Banging the Door" – 4:49 *
  8. "Go Back" – 3:46
  9. "Francis Massacre" – 3:31
  10. "Flowers of Romance (Instrumental)" – 2:51 Bonus CD track (taken from the "Flowers of Romance" 12" single)
  11. "Home Is Where the Heart Is" – 7:34 Bonus CD track (taken from the "Flowers of Romance" single)
  12. "Another" – 3:51 Bonus CD track (taken from the "Memories" single)



United Kingdom[edit]

  • “The Flowers Of Romance” entered the UK Albums Chart, where it stayed for 5 weeks and reached #11 on 18 April 1981.[22]
  • The single “Flowers Of Romance” entered the UK Top 75, where it stayed for 7 weeks and reached #24 on 4 April 1981.[22]

United States[edit]

Other countries[edit]

  • In New Zealand, “The Flowers Of Romance” entered the albums chart, where it stayed for 6 weeks and reached #33 on 31 May 1981.[24]


  1. ^ Heylin, Clinton (1989). Public Image Limited: Rise/Fall. London: Omnibus Press. p. 90. ISBN 0-7119-1684-5. 
  2. ^ Kellman, Andy. "The Flowers of Romance – Public Image Ltd. : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards : AllMusic". AllMusic. AllRovi. Retrieved 26 May 2013. 
  3. ^ "Keith Levene". Retrieved 26 May 2013. 
  4. ^ Isler, Scott; Robbins, Ira A. (1985). Robbins, Ira A., ed. The Trouser Press Record Guide (4th ed.). New York: Collier Books. p. 524. ISBN 0-02-036361-3. Retrieved 26 May 2013. 
  5. ^ Halasa, Malu (3 May 1981). "PiL: Flowers of Romance". Rolling Stone (New York). Retrieved 26 May 2013.  Note: The article's writer erroneously identifies the album's title track as having Lydon's banjo-as-drum part, although a careful listening of the tracks mentioned in the article reveals "Phenagen" to be the song.
  6. ^ a b Phil Strongman: “John Lydon’s Metal Box – The Story Of Public Image Ltd. ” (Helter Skelter, 2007, page 120)
  7. ^ a b c d e f Scott Murphy: “Nick Launay Interview” (Fodderstompf. com website February 2003)
  8. ^ a b c d Steve Taylor: “Lydon, Levene & Lee” (Smash Hits, 16 April 1981)
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Kris Needs: “Watering the Flowers of Romance” (ZigZag April 1981)
  10. ^ a b c d e John Lydon liner notes (Public Image Ltd.: “Plastic Box” compilation, Virgin Records, 1999)
  11. ^ Vittorio Carli: “Martin Atkins Interview” (Artinterviews. com website April 2003)
  12. ^ a b c Jason Gross: “Keith Levene Interview by Jason Gross, Part 3 of 4” (Perfect Sound Forever website July 2001)
  13. ^ Chris Salewicz: “The Fugitive - John Lydon at Large” (The Face, 20 November 1980)
  14. ^ Gavin Martin: “Company Lore and Public Disorder - The PIL Memorandum” (New Musical Express, 14 March 1981)
  15. ^ Clinton Heylin: “Public Image Ltd. - Rise/Fall” (Omnibus Press, 1989, pages 20,88)
  16. ^ a b c Scott Murphy: “Martin Atkins Interview” (Fodderstompf. com website December 2001)
  17. ^ [1] Various Artists: “Machines” (Virgin Records, 1980)
  18. ^ Paul Marko: “Beastellabeast June 2009” (Punk77 website, June 2009)
  19. ^ Pete Jones: “Johnny Tales #1” (Petejones. Mcmail. com website 1999, now defunct)
  20. ^ Scott Murphy: “Pete Jones Interview” (The Filth And The Fury fanzine June 2000)
  21. ^ a b Scott Murphy: “John Lydon Interview” (Fodderstompf. com website, January 2004)
  22. ^ a b Theofficialcharts. com website
  23. ^ Billboard. com website
  24. ^ nz website

External links[edit]