By Chris King • 12 November 2022 • 20:50
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Keith Levene, the co-founder of punk rock legends The Clash, and original member of Public Image Ltd, passed away today, Saturday, November 12 at the age of 65.
Martin Atkins and Jah Wobble, his former bandmates, announced Levene’s death on social media, confirming that he died of liver failure at his home in Norfolk, England.
Born in Muswell Hill, north London, real-name Julian Levene formed The Clash in London at the age of 18. He put a group together with guitarist Mick Jones and bassist Paul Simonon. Subsequently, Levene was responsible for recruiting Joe Strummer. Accompanied by Clash manager Bernard Rhodes, they approached the then-101ers frontman about joining the band.
As luck would have it, their timing was perfect because Strummer had decided punk rock was the future of music after recently watching the Sex Pistols perform at the Nashville Rooms. The rest is pure music legend.
Sadly, Levene only played a few times with the band in the early days although his song ‘What’s My Name’ featured on The Clash’s first album. He became increasingly disheartened by the band’s political leanings and decided to quit.
In 1978, The Sex Pistols split, and together with their frontman John Lydon (Johnny Rotten), and bass player John Wardle (Jah Wobble), Levene formed the new band, Public Image Ltd. Speaking in 2012, Wobble said: “John made a wise choice getting Keith”.
PiL went on to reach legendary status in the post-punk era, mixing classical music, freeform jazz and dub into inventive new styles of performing and recording. In 1978, their first single release ‘Public Image’ hit the Top 10 in the music charts. ‘Public Image: First Issue’, the first album, reached No22. Their second album, ‘Metal Box’, released in 1979 is widely regarded as a post-punk classic.
“People thought I was classically trained, which was b******s. I knew the E-chord and ventured into E minor. We laid the music out on a plate for Lydon. He was very hip at the time and did really good work”, Levene commented in 2012.
His last recording with PiL was ‘The Flowers Of Romance’, playing synthesiser on their 1981 album release. He later teamed up again with Jah Wobble on different music projects.
Recently, he had been working with writer Adam Hammond on a book about PiL, as well as indulging in his passion for building guitars. According to his partner Kate Ransford, Keith passed away “peacefully, settled, cosy and loved”, accompanied by her sister Jill Bennett and her husband.
The musician was described as “one of the architects of the post-punk sound, his guitar style occupying a space between angular abrasion and pop opulence”, by the Quietus website in 2021.
Levene’s death brought a flow of tributes on social media. Among them was a tweet from John Frusciante, the Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist, who described his playing style as ‘spectacular’. He added: “He explored the possibilities of what you can do with the guitar”, as reported by theguardian.com.
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Originally from Wales, Chris spent years on the Costa del Sol before moving to the Algarve where he is a web reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news.
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