First things first, Isn’t Anything > Loveless.  I’ve written regularly in these pages about the music of 1988, and twice during the course that year, in Glasgow and Manchester, I was fortunate enough to witness the new improved My Bloody Valentine in action. The title of their second (mini) album Ecstasy (released late ’87) had promised euphoria but hadn’t really delivered. Still, the record was a marked improvement over those early shambling – if faintly charming – singles and EPs for which the critics as well as the record-buying public had little time. By summer of ’88 however their ‘You Made Me Realise’ EP had completely transformed indie guitar music in the UK. If there remained subtle traces of the familiar janglepop, those pretty melodies were now buttressed by dissonant metallic chunks culled from the Transatlantic sounds of Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. But songs such as the ravishing ‘Slow’ confirmed the extent of their reinvention, owing as little to C86 as to US Hardcore, and sounded as if they had discovered sex and noise on the same day, fully immersing themselves in both without the slightest inhibition. This was an altogether more enthralling proposition, so much so that, surveying the audiences at those gigs, one envisaged every boy suddenly reimagining himself as Kevin Shields, stealing the odd glance at those guitar pedal boards whenever his gaze could avert itself for one moment from Bilinda Butcher.

Holed up in the studio surviving on little more than two hours sleep per night, the conditions were less than ideal for making music, and the album sleeve with its bleached out faces mirrored the opaque out-of-focus blissfulness contained within. MBV would prove themselves to be master manipulators of sound gliding their guitars through accelerating/decelerating warped arcs of noise, procuring shivering little eargasms all over the place. The hard graft on the album’s opening track ‘Soft As Snow (But Warm Inside)’ was undertaken by Debbie Googe’s bass which maps out a melody over a grating twisting dragging guitar riff, which can’t be bothered to get going at all, with the beat equally laborious, as if Colm was nodding out or the drum machine had broken down.

That almost post-coital languor and imprecision characterises much of the album – be it the hushed crescendos of ‘Lose My Breath’ or the whirring cloudbusting atmospherics of ‘No More Sorry’, while on ‘Cupid Come’ the verses collapse on top of one another, almost as if Colm had accidentally overextended the beat by a few lengths, forcing the others to slow down to accommodate his error. It’s not all hazy and nebulous atmospherics of course, with ‘(When You Awake) You’re Still In A Dream’ and ‘Feed Me With Your Kiss’ proving that Shields, despite the blurry weightlessness elsewhere, still had a penchant for some good old-fashioned rifferama.

At its pinnacle, on ‘All I Need’ (there is nothing quite so ‘out there’ on Loveless I assure you) we find MBV rewriting the rule book completely to create one of the most authentically psychedelic things I’ve ever heard. Here our intrepid sonic explorers climb aboard some pulsing spacecraft attempting to negotiate its way through the eye of a terrifying cosmic intergalactic battle – comets flying in every direction – with the machine’s engine slowly burning up. Or at least that’s what I’m hearing.

On Side Two the tempo and energy is relentless. ‘Feed Me With Your Kiss’ was the follow up to ‘You Made Me Realise’ released just prior to the album itself – this one’s all about the rhythm section. If at times on the album Colm’s drumming is narcoleptic almost arrhythmic, here he could be Keith Moon on a strict diet of super strength amphetamine while Googe’s skullcrushing pummeling bass riff drives the whole thing. You shall submit. ‘Sueisfine’ (is that really what we’re hearing?) meanwhile could be Husker Du blasting out ‘Blue Jay Way’ inside a hornet’s nest. But almost everywhere else, buried beneath those layers of distortion are melodies to die for. ‘Nothing Much To Lose’ (almost conventional by the rest of the album’s standards) is torn to shreds by a monster riff and a blizzard of feedback, while the dark droning  beauty of ‘I Can See It (But I Can’t Feel It)’ leaves us aching and aching for more.

At the very least the sonic leap forward from Ecstasy to Isn’t Anything is a far greater one than that from Isn’t Anything to Loveless. Loveless gets all the plaudits, perhaps rightly so – it took three years to refine the rawness of the experiments on Isn’t Anything, and is in some ways the latter album is even more pinkly delicious, but by then we fully expected it to be so, and I actually recall it coming as something of a minor disappointment at the time. By contrast not a soul would have been disappointed by Isn’t Anything, bursting as it with ideas and energy and awash with sheer beautiful ecstatic noise.  (JJ)




Calenture – a word so arcane, so esoteric that a compulsion was felt, either by Island Records or by the Triffids themselves, to carry its definition on the back cover: a tropical delirium which would, after months at sea, lead sailors to see the ocean as a field and wish to propel themselves towards it. A soaked mirage, you might say.
Daniel Defoe mentions it in Robinson Crusoe and another lesser-known novel, Captain Singleton; Joseph Conrad, remarkably, never seems to have referred to it at all, though something similar appeared to afflict many of his characters, notably the deranged, Gollum-like wretches which recur throughout his novels and are ripe for exploration in a PhD. The Triffids saw it as an apt metaphor not only, in a novel twist on a well-worn subject, for the nomadic existence of a touring band but also for their own deracination.
Like the Birthday Party and the Go-Betweens before them, the Triffids left Australia for the UK to get things done but there are probably more traces of their homeland in the records they made among the Poms than in those of their compatriots. Vast, uncultivatable inland spaces, jagged shores and tough lives of soil and toil largely prevailed on 1986’s Born Sandy Devotional over the stereotype of quasi-Californian coastal city lifestyles that was rapidly emerging through soap operas (more on that soon), linking it closely to their earlier records and making it a companion piece to REM’s Fables Of The Reconstruction – which was also recorded in London a few months earlier and had an even more forlorn yearning for a warmer, unreachably distant home.
Calenture,  by contrast, has appropriately, a ceaselessly flowing, liquid sound and is, unambigously, huge. In sound, scale and ambition, it dwarfs the sound of the Triffids’ contemporaries: of U2, whose multiplanetary success bankrolled the Triffids and who were filling spaces they could never approach; of the Waterboys, who had coined the term Big Music but were in fast retreat from it, and Echo and the Bunnymen, whose masterpiece Ocean Rain, for all its own grandeur, resembles a demo next to Calenture’s torrential kaleidoscope.
Much of the credit for the record’s water sculpture presentation lies with Gil Norton who, after reportedly unsuccessful tryouts with Craig Leon and Lenny Kaye, was brought back to revisit the sterling job he had done alongside the Triffids on Born Sandy Devotional (most of the Triffids were also fresh from backing Bill Drummond on his wonderfully odd solo album, The Man). Norton may have lacked the CBGB scene pedigree of his predecessors but knew how to make a sound swell, sheen and surge at the right time in the right way – he had already done so with the Bunnymen (among the ‘All Concerned’ who produced Ocean Rain) and Throwing Muses and would do so again with Blue Aeroplanes and, perhaps most celebratedly, Pixies on Doolittle.
It’s there on opener Bury Me Deep In Love, where agile strings, choir and tympani – loads of tympani – embellish the Triffids’ already florid core sound, resting on Jill Birt’s rich keyboard orchard and the magnificent voice of David McComb, one of the genuinely great male singers of his day, who steered Scott Walker from California and Paris, and Ian Curtis from Manchester and Berlin, to some unknown, but far from neutral, meeting ground. It was a voice that was emotional but never sentimental, strong but never brutish (not even when shouting on Born Sandy Devotional’s Stolen Property), vulnerable but never weak. On this song, he shifts the identity of the buried, from “me” to “him” to “them,” and the scene of the commanded burial, from a chapel to a precipice to the rocks below and back to a “tiny congregation” – just in time for the wedding of Neighbours characters Harold and Madge, which it would later soundtrack. Despite the song’s glories and universal sentiment, the British and Australian record-buying public instead opted for Suddenly by Angry Anderson when the bells rang in Ramsay Street again.
One of Calenture’s few flaws is exposed at the start of the solemn yet triumphant Kelly’s Blues. Birt whispers: “You think of everything, my dear, but you do not think of me” – and that’s the closest she gets to a lead vocal, despite leading her voice to some of their most vivid and stirring songs up to then (Raining Pleasure, Tarrilup Bridge, Tender Is The Night). Like McComb, her range isn’t huge – no falsetto or melisma in this band –  but she also brings this song a voiceless chorus on a piano figure that glows like a September sunset. It’s also seared by a clarion guitar that the Mission might have offered the same year and is a personal tour de force for future Bad Seed Martyn (P) Casey, whose elastic bass unleashes unexpected shafts of funk, not the Level 42/Seinfeld horrors that might be feared but a genuinely lithe journey to the lower end, following Les Pattinson’s highway code.
There’s an even more burnished piano twilight on Blinder By The Hour, a song which puts me right where it wants it like few others. The place is just off one of Bordeaux’s main thoroughfares, Rue Ste Catherine, and I’m transported there every time, “down Roman streets through your secret back door” – a line which echoes the puzzling entrances of Dylan’s Temporary Like Achilles and holds a similar sense of fervent yearning, while there’s a snapping regret at “the damn all we said and the damn all we wrote” that harks back to the Triffids’ own doom-laden Life Of Crime. And that chorus – the appeal for peace of “lay me down now,” the resignation to fate of “take me down,” which are a twist from the version recorded earlier in a woolshed for In The Pines, where the plea of “lay me out now” suggested abandonment to the vultures. Many times I sat there outside cafes with this impossibly beautiful song pursuing thoughts around my ahead – I barely feel able to do it justice and can only recommend you secure your own moment for it.

Jerdacuttup Man (named after a tiny Western Australian settlement) also shares imagery with Blinder By The Hour; again the narrator has sewn-up eyelids and teeth of dice but not without reason; he’s a 10,000-year-old prehistoric dweller sentenced to a living death as a museum exhibit. McComb’s monologue was largely seen as comical, with his character anachronistically blighted by “no luck in business” and shruggingly conceding “you could say I’m a chump.” But listen to his tumbling delivery of the second verse’s latter lines: “I tried to object but the words didn’t come/Say ‘you’re making a mistake boys, you’ve got the wrong one/I’m a little out of shape but I’m too young to go’/But my throat just seized up and it started to snow.” There’s a universe of here-and-now suffering in there – poverty, homelessness, miscarriage of justice – aptly set to an intermittent hammer-on-anvil/galley rowers’ rhythm and hauling slide guitar, though it makes periodic breaks for freedom on the unlikely wings of uillean pipes, which by 1987 were already a cliched signifier of Celtic authenticity and would be finally, irrevocably, Titanically tainted a decade later but actually work here by adding to the prehistoric murk.
A regrettable period detail is similarly avoided on Hometown Farewell Kiss, where a sax steps forward not once but twice to take a solo from a rearguard of growling Stax horns. Fortunately, it’s muted and enveloped in a packed and seemingly disparate arrangement, where organ, marimba, gospel voices and the steel guitar of ‘Evil’ Graham Lee also jostle for position – and somehow all manage to find it. Meanwhile, McComb blurs the line between literal and metaphorical as he tells mysteriously of “my hometown city burning down…I just came back to see the people and their houses burn” then issues the command for his name to be crossed off his lover’s “fiery list.”
And so another element arrives to challenge water’s dominance of Calenture but it’s short-lived, as Holy Water douses the flames with a sequencer undertow that’s at once metallic and mellifluous and a melody so effervescent that it’s odd it took almost a whole year after the album’s release for it to emerge as a (non-hit) single. It’s also the indirect source of the album’s title – when McComb came across the word that purred, he had already written the lyric which told of “an ocean like a meadow” and the coincidence couldn’t be fought.
The soothing washes of Save What You Can are the last word beyond which little can be added. It opens with a figure which would later be rejigged on tack piano by Neil Young on A Dream That Can Last and which speaks wordlessly of yearning, memories of sunsets, times which maybe really were as idyllic as you remember. It’s a song not so much about aging as power fading though changing times, time running out (“Time is against us, even love conspires to disgrace us…We used to walk in the flames/Now somebody’s taken my arms”) until self-preservation and self-interest become the only options (“You save of yourself what you can save…If you don’t get caught, then steal it all”). It comes over as a twist on the French equivalent of ‘every man for himself,’ which translates as ‘save yourself if you can’; it would be a punishingly sombre ending were it not for its glorious musical setting and the wit and open-heartedness which surround it elsewhere in the Triffids’ annals. It cuts as deep as Dive For Your Memory, which closed 16 Lovers’ Lane for their countrymen/women the Go-Betweens the following year; that is deep.
Following one more album, 1989’s diverse but uneven Black Swan, time was up for the Triffids. One horrible day a decade later, the news came through of David McComb’s death at the age of 36;  it truly choked me in its suddenness, its seeming arbitrariness and the feeling – not for the first time, certainly not for the last but profoundly just the same – of a life and voice stilled, an ornate and panoramic vision summarily extinguished.
The ripples of that vision spread over the years – to Shiva Burlesque, Midlake, Arcade Fire. Arcade Fire were of primary school age when the Triffids were in their prime, so theirs may be a coincidental or at-several-removes echo, but the shortest distance between two points can be traced between the two bands’ theatrical flourishes, the tension in both their native countries’ frontier struggle past and chic urban present, even their line-up dynamics, with siblings (David and guitarist/violinist Robert McComb) and a couple (Birt and drummer Alsy MacDonald).
Even so, despite their penchant for the anthemic (Win Butler has been honest enough to concede that his band has, even if only indirectly, inspired a good deal of pretty awful music) Arcade Fire have always sounded pretty lean and spindly next to the Triffids’ watercolour roar. Calenture has possibly aged better than any of their albums, lacking as it does the gated snare wallop of Born Sandy Devotional, the pointed downhomeness of In The Pines and some almost too-in-the-moment elements of The Black Swan. This shouldn’t be seen as a dismissal of any of those still magnificent records but, for exquisite, pomposity-free orchestral rock music, Calenture is right up there with Forever Changes, Paris 1919 and the aforementioned Ocean Rain – it’s that good (PG).


I could begin with a sad lament about how Orange Juice should have been the greatest pop group of the early ’80s. But I’ll leave that ’til the end.

So let me tell you instead about ‘The Bridge’. Who, but Orange Juice, could so naturally calibrate a perfect synthesis of Chic and The Velvet Underground, blending them together with such effortless joi de vivre, then, as if playing ‘keepy-uppy’ with a 5-0 advantage, leavening into the mix some owlish ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ ooh-ooh-oohs, not to mention having the downright audacity to be the only band in history to reference Isambard Kingdom Brunel in popular song? PS. This is a rhetorical question.

Or I could have begun by arguing that You Cant Hide Your Love Forever, more than any other single LP, invented ‘indie’ music, and taken my cue from there. No OJ, then no Smiths, no Pastels etc etc.

But instead I’d rather ask you a question about ‘Craziest Feeling’. Did you know that Malcolm Ross could play guitar with the same shrapnel spraying agitation and wit (yes, guitars can be witty too) as John McGeoch, or that Edwyn Collins, while unashamedly a savant, had a huge passion for the bubblegum trash culture of 50s America and a devilish sense of humour to boot? Or that he really just dressed up some good old-fashioned love songs in a modernist post-punk garb and a pair of dark shades? Or had you forgotten about all that? Then either you are too young or have a short memory.

Now why didn’t I start by eliciting readers’ nostalgia through fondly recalling some happening nights at ‘Texas Fever’ (or ’46 West George St’ to us Glasgow folk), the indie disco named in honour of this very record? That would have made sense.

But at this point I am half way through listening to the record again – wait a minute, no, I am half way through Remain In Light, or am I? – and in the midst of Edwyn’s sudden despair: “And I can feel the black lies fly/They’re in my sleep, they’re in my eyes/I hate this head, these feet and hands/I’m tired of being a man”, he exclaims on the scything dark bubble-funk of ‘Punch Drunk’, probably the best Josef K record that Orange Juice ever made. That’s because it was written by Malcolm Ross. It might be a million miles from the positivity and innocence of YCHYLF, but that’s because Edwyn knows what it means to be happy and to be sad. Sometimes all at the same time. 

I should have set out some context and told you how 1984 was a dreadfully difficult year for Orange Juice. It undoubtedly was. Four would soon become two. And not long after, none. But you can read about that elsewhere. 

The real truth of the matter is that David McClymont’s fingers fell off playing bass on ‘The Day I Went Down To Texas’. Yes sir, they fell right clean off. He and Zeke had to work their goddam socks off to put ’em back on. Son of a gun.

Surely it would have been prudent and fitting to acknowledge Edwyn’s heroic and courageous battle in his recovery from a dual cerebral haemorrhage? Heartbreakingly sad. 

But I think Edwyn would be happier knowing that his songs – songs I’ve lived with and grown up with and played air guitar to and danced along to and thought about and cried over (“There’s a place in my heart/I wish that your eyes could see/And there’ s no one on earth/Who loves you as much as me”) and laughed about (“Glory hallelujah, gonna sock it to ya!” – both from the same song people!) – are loved very dearly indeed, almost none more so than ‘A Place In My Heart’ with those little Buffalo Springfield guitar licks gilding a sublime slice of blue eyed soul.

Let’s talk about whether or not Texas Fever is an album or a mini-album or an EP? On second thoughts, let’s not bother. Who the hell cares?

I keep thinking as that bass intro steadies it’s nerves at the beginning of ‘A Sad Lament’ that we’re heading into ‘Sister Ray’ and while I adore ‘Sister Ray’ it’s hard not to feel an overwhelming sense of relief and then joy, yes joy – a goosepimply shivery crying and laughing at the same time kind of joy – when that organ arrives to elevate it and save it from the devil’s clutches. Why is it when Edwyn sings: “You came exactly on the hour/Such precision worries me” that I want to punch the air with delight? Or that today ‘A Sad Lament’ sounds not only like Orange Juice’s greatest ever moment, but the finest pop moment of the ’80s? If I could tell you why I surely would. 

I was going to begin with a sad lament about how Orange Juice should have been the greatest pop group of the early ’80s. But then I remembered that they were. (JJ)


By the time they had signed a lucrative contract with Warner Bros in early 1986, Hüsker Dü’s implosion was well underway. Tracked by the label for the previous twelve months, the band had opted to remain with indie label SST until the completion of their fourth album Flip Your Wig. Hüsker Dü had outgrown SST, but the move to Warners didn’t go down well, and as a consequence, any objective critical analysis of their first album for them, Candy Apple Grey, has been rare. In an otherwise formidable canon, it is almost universally regarded as the runt in the litter, falling way short of masterworks such as Zen Arcade. It is time for a reappraisal.

Let’s begin by acknowledging that the major label debut album of the beloved independent band almost invariably elicits a hostile response from the hardcore fan. After all, he was there when it all began. He can vividly recall his idols heaving their own gear into some piss-stinking dungeon of a venue where they performed before an audience whose animosity could not have been greater had you announced you’d had intimate liaisons with their mothers the night before. But he was instantly hooked. He bought their first record on the day of its release at the little backstreet indie store, the only one with guts enough to stock it, and he has followed them ever since. Until now that is. Because now they are working for the man. Look at those Johnny-come-latelys wearing those t-shirts emblazoned with the new album sleeve. Where were they three years ago?! You can’t call them real music fans. They are living proof that the incorruptibles have become corrupted. If the only thing Warners are interested in is product and shifting units, it follows logically that the band have the same aspirations. To hell with those corporate whores, and their fawning new legions of gullible lemmings.

It is a peculiar relationship the one between pop star and fan. Many of us at sometime or another, may have borne this conceit. It is a well-worn cliche that rock stars, simply by virtue of their status, have realised their dreams and fantasies. But it is equally true to say that pop fans often inhabit a fantasy world of their own making. It is all inside their heads. Songs and albums may well seem very personal to the listener, a unique meeting of souls. But they are not. They are simply recognisable expressions of one particular aspect of the human condition. A coalescence of timing and circumstance might propel them deep into our subconscious. What might mean nothing to one person, could be the only thing preventing another person from putting an end to it all. Because of that, music can assume a gravitas beyond its rather humble ingredients. But to believe a rock band is one’s own private possession is both extraordinarily deluded and somewhat infantile.

It was to precisely this type of indignant response I first declared my fondness for Hüsker Dü. Occupying one half of an old C90 cassette was a recording of their penultimate album Candy Apple Grey. It was summer 1987, a few months after the release of their heroic double swansong Warehouse: Songs & Stories. The tape had been handed to me by a fellow student – being students we had little money to buy the records themselves – but the scorn he reserved for the album was merciless. In fact he’d only given it to me so I could hear Side Two (if I recall correctly the Homestead compilation, Wailing Ultimate!) “Ignore the other side” he warned. I could not.

The album was created in the most challenging of circumstances. A home movie style video for the Grant Hart penned 45 ‘Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely’ may have reflected the searing intensity of the band’s live performances, but it was captured at a time when relationships between the trio had broken down irreparably. Personal differences had been growing; Hart’s drug abuse accelerating. At the time Mould was quoted as saying that none of the three wanted to continue, but ironically, the band had reached their commercial zenith. That sense of confusion and disintegration permeates an album often labelled a sell out. But any doubts of musical compromise should have been dispelled for good on the album’s opening track, the finger-shreddingly ferocious ‘Crystal’, where Mould, hoarse with fury, rages at the chaos surrounding him (“When civilization falls in its grave/Technology throws on the dirt/You realize the finest things in life/Are the ones that can never be hurt”). Meanwhile, the guitars in time honoured tradition explode like a coalition of cheetahs leaping through an avenue’s worth of shop windows.

The communication breakdown, which Hart accepts ultimately led to the suicide of the band’s manager David Savoy a year later, allowed greater room for the expression of each individual’s musical and emotional idiosyncrasies, and Candy Apple Grey undoubtedly displays the greatest musical variety of any Hüsker Dü album. In Mould’s case at least, the ensuing turmoil led to the more introverted songwriting style he would follow into his solo career. It is undeniably true that on Candy Apple Grey he frequently sounds in despair, bereft. His energies were at an all time low, but this was misconstrued by fans as a mellowing out. His solo acoustic venture ‘Too Far Down’ (“I’m too far down/I couldn’t begin to smile/Because I can’t even laugh or cry/Because I just can’t do it”) is hardly the product of a singer seeking a wider audience. If Hüsker Dü had always struck a fine balance between melody and discord – it was the tempo which was unrelenting – they also possessed a more sensitive melancholic dimension to their sound. Consider ‘Perfect Example’ and ‘Celebrated Summer’ from New Day Rising, or even ‘Diane’ way back on the Metal Circus EP. No, these slower songs are the sound of people having to get to grips with the very real challenges of life, the turgid reality of having to work alongside people you once loved but can no longer look in the eye, and even, no matter how banal it sounds, with the life-work balance. The band’s output had been prolific, they had become exhausted by an unforgiving touring schedule. And their personal lives were unravelling. On ‘Hardly Getting Over It’, a song he continues to perform today, Mould reflected upon his awareness of the impact of loss and bereavement in his own life. “My parents didn’t even mention my grandfather’s passing to me for months, for whatever reason. Presumably it would upset me.” It was a heartfelt confessional, but all people heard was the volume reduction. The sound may indeed have been quieter, but the message sang loud and clear .

The band’s bastardisation of The Byrds’ folk-rock is most obvious on Hart’s ‘Dead Set On Destruction’, while his ‘Sorry Somehow’, the album’s second 45 is much more immediate, belying its author’s fragile psychological state. While the bitterness in the sentiment is acute (“There’s no need to talk to you, well to know what’s on your mind/There’s no need to see you either, no, I’m just being kind/You want me to beg forgiveness, tender an apology/It’s not my fault and you’re not getting one from me”), it’s infectious and muscular Hammond-driven riff seems perfectly tailored for alt-college radio. It is interesting to note that college rock darlings, fellow Minneapolitans The Replacements, had signed to a major label (Sire – also distributed by Warners) shortly before Hüsker Dü, yet there has never been any charge of ‘sell out’ levelled at The ‘Mats’ first major offering, Tim.

On ‘No Promise Have I Made’ Hart was accused of sailing perilously close to the bombastic coastline -over a skin of shivering cymbals and an automotive synth sounding like a multi-tracked vocal, its epic piano motif builds to an ecstatic climax powered by Greg Norton’s Herculean bass riff while at the finale Hart thrillingly hammers home the point orally as well as physically with emphatic angst.

Out of chaos occasionally emerges something beautiful, honest and true. If songs like ‘Crystal’, ‘Eiffel Tower High’ and ‘All This I’ve Done For You’ would have fit comfortably onto New Day Rising, Candy Apple Grey delivers a broader palette, reflecting a depth of emotional involvement unmatched elsewhere on any other HD album. As individuals they were suffering but growing up too, perhaps against their will. The case for the album being a sell out simply doesn’t hold water. It is a wounded bewildered beast, certainly without thematic unity, but made entirely without compromise. It is the album Hüsker Dü would have delivered no matter which label was pressing the vinyl. Time has been kind to its shortcomings. So should you. (JJ)


From its taut rectangular opening riff, a delirious organ suddenly escapes like a rabbit from a trap, and we’re immersed in a swirling hypnodelic soup. The sound is fresh and yet strangely familiar, the melody whimsical, capricious, pulling in a multitude of directions. When my needle first dropped on ‘Sun Connection’, the opening track of The Blue Orchids’ debut album, The Greatest Hit (Money Mountain), I instantly succumbed to its spell.

Martin Bramah had waited patiently for this moment. As founding members of The Fall, he and Una Baines had watched as MES tightened an iron grip he would never relinquish. Una had been first to depart. When Martin joined her in early ’79, it felt like something of an artistic liberation.
Bramah would briefly reunite with Smith & co. in 1989, leaving after the rather splendid Extricate album. But after his first exit a decade earlier, the overwhelming feeling was one of relief: he now had the freedom to indulge his creative capacities in something which would manifest itself in the purest form of self-expression – music made by its makers, for its makers, “for the love and glory of it” as Bramah attests. His new project had originally been baptised The Blessed Orchids by Manc’s favourite punk-poet John Cooper Clarke. The band released two 45s on Rough Trade before producing one of post-punk’s greatest – and unfairly overlooked – albums.

It was a chaotic period, but one Bramah remembers with great fondness. Into the intoxicating mix were slung liberal portions of the Krautrock rhythms of Can and Neu! and illusive hints of The Velvets, Syd Barrett and The Doors, but if truth be told, it was difficult to neatly pin down the broad spectrum of influences at work.

The guitars on ‘A Year With No Head’ are brilliant, at first possessing the wiry rhythmic algebra of Talking Heads, before they tiptoe gingerly across constellations of stars recalling the somnolent intricacies of Tom Verlaine’s quieter moments. ‘Hanging Man’ takes the TH similarity a step further, pillaging the riff and the über neurosis from ‘Psycho Killer’ along its topsyturvy trajectory.
On the seething speed-fuelled pulse of ‘Dumb Magician’, it sounds like Michael Karoli’s guitar is lassoing the rings of Saturn, while ‘Tighten My Belt’ is a curious slice of dub-inflected No Wave funk which sounds like it’s migrated here from the Ottoman Empire. Musically this was a far more radical era. There was much more risk-taking and adventurousness, and space where this kind of bizarre melange sounded de rigeur.
As for influence, well how much UK indie music from the mid to late 80s was lifted from ‘Bad Education’ and ‘No Looking Back’? The latter is superb – like several other tracks here it sounds about 20 years ahead of its time, outflanking Interpol and The Strokes in as much the same way as the guitar at the finale briefly threatens to outpace its own feedback. The album closes with ‘Mad As The Mist And Snow’ which conjures a similarly portentous olde folke aura as ‘Space Odyssey’ – the closer on The Byrds’ Notorious Byrd Bros classic. It may feel like an incongruous finale, but adds an even denser layer of mystery to proceedings.

It sounds almost as if the band existed in their own little bubble, oblivious to the ’82 zeitgeist. Comparisons with contemporaries such as The Teardrop Explodes, Swell Maps and The Soft Boys persist, perhaps because those bands had a similar genius for harnessing the energy of punk and marrying that to a looser (consciously or subconsciously retro) psychedelic approach. Relations between punk’s primal itch and psychedelia’s improvisational aesthetic were in the hands of Bramah & company, unusually cordial.

The album shipped 10,000 copies, peaking at #5 on the UK Indie Charts, but the momentum would be short-lived. Ultimately for Bramah, it would be more important to remain true to his principles than to achieve any significant commercial success. An opportunity to work with Nico was beckoning, but things would not work out quite as planned, and the band temporarily lost their way. But despite a few leaner periods, they are still going strong today, and released a fine record this year with The Once And Future Thing. (JJ)

Interview with Martin Bramah

 On reflection, was your first departure from The Fall more an artistic liberation than a cruel setback?

• Yes, you could call it an artistic liberation – I had proved myself as a composer/arranger in The Fall and I wanted the freedom to play with words too.

I have never thought of my departure as a cruel setback – I’ve always done things my own way in my own time. I left because I’d had enough of the situation at Fall HQ: Mark begged me to stay but I was determined to jump ship. It had been an intense two years and things were getting claustrophobic – plus Mark took it upon himself to decide what I had and hadn’t written without consulting me. You really can’t trust the writing credits on Fall albums – everything ex-members say is true in that regard.

> I think I read once that you had said those two Fall spells were distinguished by the shifting power dynamic – and that your second spell was characterised by an employer/employee relationship with Mark whereas in the beginning you had just been friends. Do you think when Una and yourself left in ’79, that marked the end of democracy and the beginning of Mark’s totalitarian leadership?

• First of all, Una left The Fall in December ’77, not long after Tony Friel – I mention this because people tend to forget Yvonne Pawlett’s great contribution to the band in ’78/’79.

The ‘totalitarian’ thing had been there from the start; it’s in Mark’s nature. At first it was Una who helped Mark hold the upper hand, as they were the only couple in the band and the ‘universe of two’ as they liked to refer to themselves. Then when they began to drift apart in the fall of ’77 Mark brought Kay Carroll in as his new manager/live-in-lover. Kay’s arrival was the real reason for the original band members leaving one by one because she always fought Mark’s corner and encouraged him to think of himself as a lone genius.

> What do you recall about the recording sessions for the album? Did you have much of a budget? Was it yourself or Tony Roberts who engineered/oversaw the final mix?

• Recording ‘The Greatest Hit’ was a blast from start to finish: a drug driven couple of weeks (mainly speed, weed n poppers at that point) in a converted warehouse on Blossom St. in Ancoats, Manchester. It was Tony Robert’s eight-track studio (he’d had the honour of playing drums on the classic ‘Gordon Is A Moron’ by Jilted John). Geoff Travis at Rough Trade figured Blue Orchids needed the good old-fashioned restriction of an eight-track tape machine, so we booked Tony’s place.

We didn’t have much of a budget really, but Geoff did hire the guy who had just produced ‘Ghost Town’ for The Specials to produce our album – well this producer (I forget his name) sat there for the first week, appalled at our antics and contributed very little. We finished all the recording in the first week and our Rough Trade paid for producer took the tapes home with him to do some rough mixes (he was famous in Birmingham for his ‘Lovers Rock’ mixes). When we heard the results we were not happy and so we went back into Tony’s place to mix the album ourselves, which took up the second week. Tony Roberts engineered the recording and I oversaw the final mix.

> I’m hearing the pulsing Krautrock rhythms of Can and Neu! and even Michael Karoli’s guitar landscapes on ‘Dumb Magician’. Elsewhere, traces of The Velvets, Syd Barrett here and there, and The Doors. What else do you remember listening to around that time?

• I love Michael Karoli’s guitar playing, he’s definitely in my top ten guitarists list. I was listening to all the above-mentioned artists of course – plus maybe Donovan, Richard Hell, Iggy Pop, The Modern Lovers and The Kinks.

> On ‘Sun Connection’ as well as elsewhere, the sound is warm and infectious. I’ve heard Una’s playing come in for a bit of criticism, as if she was using a different music sheet, but I love the way the instruments move away from one another to create this loose swirling hypnotic sound. Was there a bit of freedom to improvise there, or were the individual parts written that way?

• Sun Connection is a fusion of three musical ideas into one concept piece. I wrote all the guitar and bass parts with quite a rigid arrangement from start to finish. But with the keyboards I just told Una what key the various sections were in, and let her improvise, so the keyboards seem to flow through a structure, like light through stained glass. I think it works really well and no criticism has ever reached my ears.

> As a document, how far is The Greatest Hit the missing link between the frenetic post-punk of The Fall, Wire & Swell Maps and the jangling indie guitar sound of Felt and The Weather Prophets, which looked back to ’67 as much as to ’77?

• I am not qualified to answer this question, as I was not trying to be the missing link between anything. My main intention was to create something ‘in the now’ something modern but quite plain in a way. I was trying to drop all the baggage of rock cliché and say ‘Here I stand today – a young man in the city – this is how I feel – this is what I think – this is my spirituality – these are my aims.’ and so on. It is for others to decide where the album fits into the scheme of things.

> Was the album title a drug reference or a commentary on capitalist greed – it was recorded just as the impact of Thatcherism was leading to strife in the inner cities – as otherwise the lyrics don’t strike me as political, more personal. Who/what were the major influences on your lyric writing?

• The title of the album played on both those ideas, obviously, that’s what made it interesting, but it was taken from a line in Sun Connection: ‘Think I’ll go out, buy myself a soul – the greatest hit in the world.’ So getting a soul is the ultimate hit! Also there were so many ‘greatest hits’ albums out there in every bargain bin that I thought it would be funny to use ‘The Greatest Hit’ singular as it had never been done – again it appealed to my sense of the title being something plain.

As to the major influences on my writing, that’s hard to say as I pull the germs of ideas from all over the place; books, movies, folk music, but as far as rock writing goes I was very influenced in my early efforts by the ideas that Bowie and Eno laid out in the late ’70s, like a lot of other young budding writers from that era. Ideas of deconstruction and abstraction, fragmentation and getting the essence of things – but I always put my own original spin on the things I write – I have studied the content, but I don’t imitate the style.

> The Greatest Hit sounds incredibly fresh today, almost as if the band existed in a bubble, insulating yourselves from the ’81/’82 zeitgeist. It sold pretty well. Are you frustrated that at the time, you didn’t really build on that momentum?

• Frustrated? No. Momentum can be a dangerous thing for an artist who wants to stay in control of the creative process – momentum means commercial pressures come into play that most artists find hard to combat – the daily drip, drip of sound business advice from those with a stake in your success. Momentum and Hype, I always run a mile when I see them coming!

I make the music I want to make when I want to make it and I trust in it to work its way into the world by a kind of osmosis. I have never made music to make a living. I am that rare breed: The Great British Amateur – always much better than the professional because we do it for the love and glory of it.

But to answer your question: Yes, I suppose life did throw a couple of spanners into the works which stopped us conquering the world in the mid-eighties.

> How did the partnership with Nico come about? Where ultimately did it lead you?

• I was a teenage Nico fan. I had all her records. The last thing I ever expected was that she would turn up in Manchester – why would she? But one day she did.

Alan Wise my manager at the time called round to my place and asked me if I’d ever heard of this singer, a German woman called Nico… I said, ‘Yes of course,why?’ ‘Because she’s staying down the road at the Polex Hotel – do you want to come and meet her?’

It turned out Nico was staying at this cheap hotel in Whalley Range and she was looking for some musicians to back her. So we drove over there and I was ushered into her presence like she was some kind of guru cult leader. We talked about what I don’t remember but it must have gone well because we agreed to work togetheron her upcoming live shows, which I was obviously thrilled about. That led to a busy year of touring the UK and Europe acting as her backing band and support act, doing two sets a night. I learned a lot during my time with Nico for which I’ll always be grateful. However, the time came when I felt it we should draw a line under our work with Nico – we had our first album out and I didn’t want to become branded as being just her backing band. The trouble was that our rhythm section had slipped into heroin addiction, due to its availability around the Nicocrowd, and so they wanted to stay put on the gravy train.

This led to a split in the band, with our manager, bass player, drummer and crew all carrying on touring with Nico and her ‘Blue Orchids’ – while I put together a new line-up but lost some of the ‘momentum’ we had gathered up to that point.

> You’ve been making records to a smallish but loyal fan base ever since. What would you say have been the main developments in your music between the first album and The Once And Future Thing?

• No developments – every recording is different from the last – but has me at the core reacting to the times I’m in – making my ‘in the now’ statements with ‘style and flair’ as everything changes around me but stays the same! I have fun making records and I try and go deep into myself and the music but always putting the listener first – that is, always keeping the ‘layman’s ear’ (an idea I coined in the early Fall).

> The Awefull compilation gathers together the Rough Trade singles – and hopefully will open up your music to a new audience. You’ve been gigging too – notice any younger faces in the crowd?

• Yes, of course – the kids love this shit. lol


A quote which encapsulates the magic of Associates appeared in the music press in the early ’80s but is now, regrettably, like so much else, being misquoted online. “Associates are originals. This is currently rare” is what you’ll read now; however, this is a shockingly tame dilution of the original excerpt from a review of their 1982 album Sulk, as reproduced in the Virgin Rock Yearbook 1983. This had the far more evocative, illuminating and, well, Associated phrase “crushingly rare.”
It’s an assessment their heartbreakingly late singer, Billy MacKenzie, might have offered himself. A voice of rare agility and velocity – neither ostentatious, strident operatics nor obseqiuous croon but capable of describing mile-wide arcs while reclining langorously – and a lyricist who, even in an era when language was being smuggled into all kinds of uncharted territories, stood out in his rich obliqueness.
Such a singular voice and pen required an equally singular kapellmeister. Step forward Alan Rankine, an instrumentalist for whom the pedestrian credit “guitar, keyboards” would have seemed not only insufficient but also vulgar and impertinent. Try simply “instruments” or even “textures and landscapes” and we might be getting somewhere.
Associates announced themselves in 1979 with uncharacteristic understatement, with a cover of David Bowie’s still-new Boys Keep Swinging. This might seem like a very 21st-century introduction but had next to nothing in common with the smothers that clutter YouTube, SoundCloud and Bandcamp – rather than a straight photocopy or an ‘unexpected’ rearrangement, they tweaked the melody just enough for it to become property of MacKenzie and Rankine, all with the untutored production that seals the greatness of so much music from this era.
As Rankine has described to TNPC (see interview below), they carried this approach into the recording of The Affectionate Punch. By this time, they were bolstered on bass by Michael Dempsey, who may have missed out on many of the Cure’s riches through his departure a year into their recording career but still had the time to figure in a sizeable slice of their best music. In his new – albeit again short-lived – space, he was part of an unforeseen crackerjack which pushed an already already collapsing under the weight of invention into even more dragon countries.
Where to start? The Affectionate Punch itself opens with what the uncharitable may term Chopsticks piano but which I would place in the lineage of All Tomorrow’s Parties and which soon locks into a groove which makes its point calmly but firmly, like an orator who is capable of commanding a room with a single look. MacKenzie is that orator as he reflects on a curious ritual often found in Scottish males (though neither exclusively Scottish nor exclusively male) of using insults and aggression in endearment – a practice which still “draws blood, more blood.” No stereotypical Scottish males were involved in the making of this song.
Amused As Always flies by the seat of Dempsey’s jabbering see-saw of a bassline, while Rankine unleashes a guitar solo of a kind which shows that they needn’t have been anathema under punk if they’d all had this Michael Karoli-styled  taciturn economy.
It’s next that the album really gathers momentum. Logan Time is solemn, aloof and quite, quite beautiful, barefacedly honest (“I talk such nonsense while asleep…now the cough, nervous cough/Twitches on, twitches off) and is even given an air of formality by a brief marching tattoo on the bridge and an enveloping bagpipe drone provided, appropriately enough, by a properly attired major. It’s only on the remastered and partially re-recorded version of the album, which appeared in 1982, that it’s properly identifiable as Scotland’s national cacophony, and then only in a mirth-makingly brief squirt which polishes it off where the original faded. Nevertheless, it stands alongside Tom Waits’ Town With No Cheer and, well, Blue Aeroplanes’ Bagpipe Music as the finest us of the pipes in rockpopcallitwhatyouwill. It’s said to have been inspired by Logan’s Run, the novel and film depicting a future in which no one is allowed to live beyond 30 and humanity lives sealed under domes but part of me wonders if it refers to Logan, Utah, some 20 miles from the hometown of Chloe Dummar, to whom MacKenzie was briefly married in the mid-70s. In its unhurried pulse and circumspect demeanour, it even to some degree foreshadows Associates’ fellow Scottish explorers, the Blue Nile.
Paperhouse rides on a keyboard figure which is straightforward and mellifluous but which conceals a scurrilous chord change that never fails to catch me off guard. It’s not a cover of the Can song (for all the valiant efforts of the Jesus and Mary Chain, Loop and Thin White Rope among others, Can rightly consider covering their songs to be a futile venture) but it shares with its namesake a restlessness, communicated in Rankine’s Keith Levene-does–the-pibroch guitar figure underpinning the verses and in MacKenzie’s suitor-cum-estate agent boldly offering the titular house as a gift, the clincher “there’s a garden at the bottom” hastily offset by a “na-na-na-na-na” which sounds like he’s stonewalling when the flaw in the plan is identified.

Transport To Central is simply astonishing. Largely rhythmless and bookended by stern gluts of feedback, it pleads for the safe passage of an individual with some unspecified but exceptional qualities – but to what sinister ends? “His jawline’s not perfect – but that can be altered” is another perplexing promise from MacKenzie, before he warns: “We must wait/for the man from Peking” (or Beijing, as it suddenly became in the West after Tiananmen Square and has remained ever since). Musically and lyrically, it shivers with the Cold War anxiety which had already become a cliche but which felt acutely real with every new incursion and expulsion.
The original and rerecorded versions of A Matter Of Gender are immediately distinguishable. The former (my preference) opens with a thudding depthcharge bassline from Dempsey, who later races for his higher end to dual with Rankine’s guitar, neither playing anything as coarse as a solo but rather exploring and probing; the latter instead opens with a dawn chorus of synth while similarly synthesised strings stab through the bridge. Mackenzie addresses it to the mysterious and seemingly faithless Marguerite (NOT Margaret – an ironic claim to the NME that he would vote for the Prime Minister of that name in the 1987 General Election was, remarkably, taken at face value by what was then a highly politically savvy magazine;  a hasty clarification was required). Such is her enigma that you can almost hear  him shake his head as he declares: “I don’t know whether to over- or underestimate you.”
There’s never a more damning verdict on the human race than when someone claims they prefer animals to people and MacKenzie, who would later be renowned for his love of whippets, more or less says as much on Even Dogs In The Wild. There was usually an undertow of mischief in his lyrics but he temporarily abandons this as he witnesses a scene of negligence and abuse, of “a child on his own/And his pulse isn’t there,” of “A mattress downstairs/Full of brown peppered holes.” His uncomfortable conclusion is that those dogs, unbrutalised by rationality, “will protect and care for whatever means most to them.” It’s apt that Ian Rankin chose this as the title for the comeback novel for his brilliantly dissolute and driven creation, John Rebus, though it opens with a fairly withering dismissal of Associates by a character presumably not speaking for Rankin. Its jazzy, finger-clicking tenor is at odds with most of the album, though the Caledonian flourishes of the chorus are more attuned to the subject matter and the whistling is kept to a minimum. A clear line can be traced from some of Sinatra’s more lugubrious moments but be assured, it bears no relation to the dressing-up box farces which emerged at the turn of the millennium, in which wearing a raffishly undone bowtie while wrestling with Ain’t That A Kick In The Head became a rite of passage for unnumbered hapless X Factor types. Furthermore, here was evidence that this was not a band which had been cut fully-formed from a copy of Station To Station (the most frequent comparison; valid but only a starting point) – its singer had, after all, honed his craft in Dundee’s pubs by singing the fairly unAssociated The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.
The wit returns on Would I…Bounce Back – it even starts with laughter and possesses one of the great opening verses which, in true comic tradition, rests on timing and delivery: “Picked it up…looked at it…then pondered for a moment…then threw it as far as I could…IT BOUNCED BACK!!,” all set to a slightly more refined interpretation of galloping funk being freshly minted in Edinburgh by Josef K (all the talk was of Josef K and the Fire Engines when Franz Ferdinand happened along a quarter of a century later but I’ve never been able to hear the “I know I won’t be leaving here” bridge of the ubiquitous Take Me Out without seeing the MacKenzie/Rankine bootprints that cover it.
Deeply Concerned covers similarly territory to Logan Time but is very much its own person, its catwalk gait kept in check by an oddly rotating bassline. Again, the lyric holds off the wryness – the title sounds like it would only ever be said formally in jest but with lines like “No one knows where she went to…last time we heard, she was cryring” and the only partially comforting payoff “If you need us, we’ll be helpful – hopefully.”
It took me time to get to grips with A. At first, it sounded hurried, not in the precipitate, headlong manner of …Bounce Back, but more in a deadline-beating sense. And while reciting the alphabet? But, though it revealed MacKenzie was part of the unfortunate Scottish tendency to pronounce J to rhyme with ‘pie,’ its charging urgency soon made as much sense as it did elsewhere, along with percussive flourishes – marimba here, claves (or is it a tin can?) there – half buried in plain sight, along with the severe judgement on
Z as “the black sheep of the alphabet” and a very curious account of inter-letter liaisons.
A feature on Associates in the most recent edition of Mojo lays on a faint praise parade for The Affectionate Punch, labelling it “interesting” but “prototypical compared to what followed.” OK, they made Olympian strides towards the staggering run of  1981 singles collected on Fourth Drawer Down, then the following year’s era-defining Sulk, and, as Rankine has told TNPC, they felt better equipped by then to give it another shot. But to write off the original so glibly is akin to the tiresome refusal of many to watch black and films ‘cos they’re, like, booorin’, and barely does justice to such a fully-realised record originating from places which had little musical lineage to speak of – MacKenzie’s Dundee had only the Average White Band in its orbit, while Rankine’s Linlithgow drew its other notable citizens from other spheres – Alex Salmond, who would later come close to genuinely altering history, and Star Trek’s unfortunately fictitious Scotty.
MacKenzie and Rankine held the world between thumb and forefinger just for a while but the partnership soon ended. Rankine moved into production, produced some fine solo work, notably the musically beautiful but lyrically terrifying the Sandman, and, as  a lecturer at Stow College, helped to incubate the career of Belle and Sebastian. MacKenzie carried on with the Associates name for a time and continued to intrigue but only once – on 1984’s Breakfast – did he reach the Eiger heights he and Rankine routinely scaled together. But they remain the greatest Scottish band of all and completely, implacably, modern – if no one ever used the headline Thoroughly Modern Billy, they missed a titanic trick.

Finally, one more thing which epitomises Associates, though it didn’t directly involve them. In 1981, somewhere roughly between the releases of Q Quarters and Kitchen Person, Grace Kelly visited Dundee with Prince Rainier to see their team, AS Monaco, play Dundee United in the UEFA Cup. United,  under the leadership of Jim McLean, one of Scottish football’s finest martinets, had already convincingly won the first leg 5-2 in the principality; Monaco salvaged something with a 2-1 second leg win but, even in the presence of such regal, serene, exquisite, Hitchcockian company, the city of Dundee  had the last word. Somewhere in there, you’ll find, again, the magic of Associates and their cavalier, buccaneering, panache-soaked originality, which is currently as rare as ever. Crushingly. (PG)

Alan Rankine on ‘The Affectionate Punch’

Associates were arguably the first band to emerge from Linlithgow/Dundee! To what extent, if any, did your hometowns shape your music?

Back in those days, in the early to mid seventies, I think UK wide… you were a glam rocker, an art rocker, a prog rocker, a metal head, an Rn B head, a jazz fusioneer, a funkster or a disco nut. OR a melange of any or all of the above! So , lyrically, no pixies n’ fairies for us! No Cock Rawk! Musically,… no power chords and no wanking your plank just because you were able to…

Nevertheless, these sub cultures went on whether in a city or in the provinces. Dundee was much more akin to Glasgow in that sense.

People liked their funk  (AWB etc) whereas in Linlithgow, being nearer to Edinburgh, had a fair amount of elves etc…. bring me the sick bag! So Bill n I took what appealed to us at the time.

On a similar theme, were the bagpipes on ‘Logan Time’ any kind of statement on your Scottishness or were they there purely for their sound? 

Throughout quite a few Associates songs, there is an ostinato…sometimes quite subtle… sometimes more pronounced – in ‘Tell Me Easter’s On Friday’ it’s there with the yearning guitar playing C down to A or in ‘No’ the insistent pedalling on the low E note despite the chords going E minor B/E D/E A/E it’s there again in ‘Property Girl’ and I could go on…Anyway, both Bill and I could ‘feel‘ a drone was needed

So , not playing the chanter, let alone the pipes,  we contacted a session fixer for said bagpipe maestro to turn up at the allotted time. We should have known, when Pipe Major David Cochrane turned up at the studio, in full Highland dress, that things were not going to go quite as planned…ahem!
‘Logan Time’ is in the key of G Major, but these particular pipes could only be played in Eb or Bb hence we had to slow the track down or speed it up. In the end we just said ‘’blow’’ and gee it laldy. Nuff said!

 I’ve always felt Transport To Central has, musically and lyrically, a very Cold War feel to it. This was a prevalent theme for many at the time but did it have any bearing on this song? 

This was written in it’s entirety in 1978 on the piano in my parents front room in Linlithgow. When this song is played on piano, it is a completely different animal….all the nuances are much more apparent, and it seems to need orchestration and the whole shebang/kitchen sink.

Doing it with very stark guitar, no snare drum – this was provided by me kicking my amp with the reverb spring set up full… just seemed more apt as to what Bill n’ I were about,and where we were at. Lyrically, I think Bill had watched a TV programme about Peking man or Piltdown man

Both Bill and I were very proud of this song but knew,financially,   we could never have afforded the whole shebang … so this is what we came up with.

Billy MacKenzie was as gifted a lyricist as he was a singer (eg “we walk in straight lines like some naval fleet”) and the boldness and originality of his voice and lyrics matched that of your music. How different a band would Associates have been if he’d sung about love and rain? 

I suppose what you’re really asking  is this: if we’d done the norm, both lyrically and musically, IT JUST ABSOLUTELY WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN US…..AT ALL!

Was the remastering/rerecording of ‘The Affectionate Punch’ entirely at the record company’s behest following the commercial success of ‘Sulk’ or were there things you yourselves wanted to change and/or enhance?

When we recorded and mixed and mastered ‘The Affectionate Punch’ in the spring of 1980, we were pretty innocent in the art of recording.

That said, it did give that album a certain charm through its innate innocence. But, by heck, we learned fast! Consequently, with ‘Fourth Drawer Down’ and ‘Sulk’ under our belts, we felt that we could revisit ‘T.A.P ‘and bring it more in line with our much wider audience. Certainly no interference from record companies.

Did we succeed in bringing anything else to the party? Personally, I think we should have left it alone. I’m not saying that we spoiled it, …some things were better, but others gained nothing from the rehash. We were simply trying to please our much bigger audience.

84. PUBLIC IMAGE – PUBLIC IMAGE (single, 1978) Guest Contributor: Tim Sommer (Hugo Largo / NY Observer)


“Public Image” by Public Image Limited (1978)
Punk was not a revolution. It was a market correction.

At a different point in my life, I would have regarded that statement as heretical. There are barely words to describe the impact punk had on my teen suburban self. The emergence of punk rock was exactly the right thing at precisely the right time. See, in high school, you are expected to be your most social at precisely the time when it is most horrifying, intimidating, and humiliating to do so. In that devastating, insecure time, I knew that social comfort and musical inspiration was not to be found in the margarine yellow-colored school hallways, amidst the ugly sibilance of slamming lockers, Kansas, and the Grateful Dead; but bands like the Kinks and the Dave Clark 5, not to mention the primitive snarls and chants I heard on the local oldies station favored by the greasers who congregated under wide white skies in the school parking lot, spoke to me. These thumps of rhythm and groans of guitar chords told me there was a visceral, minimalist quality in music that best reached my spine, my soul, my belief that there was more to life than the middling expectations of my education and upbringing. I am sure you recall this, too – we were not black sheep, we were not underachievers, we just saw past the horizon and beyond the edges of the middle of the road.

 So 1976/1977 dawned. It waved a Union Jack and was dressed in narrow trousers, and it seemed to be precisely what I had been searching for. I had absolutely no need nor desire to examine what was superficial or false about the New God, because it rescued me. Those of us saved by ‘77 weren’t fashionable, we were thirsty, and these short, sharp bursts and whirrs were exactly the oasis we had been looking for.

 But I came to realize that punk, regardless of all the extraordinary joy it offered and the inspiration it provided to move my life away from the low expectation of the suburbs and seek The City, despite the lesson it taught me that the greatest deeds could be achieved by those who stood out and not those who conformed, despite the fact that we were presented with some of the most lasting music ever made, despite all those things, the punk movement was, in essence, an energetic and passionate re-assembly of existing pieces, serving the same masters.

 On a purely musical level, virtually all of punk could be traced, almost without hiccupping, to Wilko Johnson or Mick Ronson or Johnny Thunders or Pete Townshend, Dave Davies or Bo Diddley or the Velvet Underground; other times, it was a growled-up return to the brilliantly mongoloid pop values of the more Hodor-like beat bands (which is to say there is a very, very short hop from Herman’s Hermits to the Ramones, and if “I Want You” by the Troggs isn’t a perfect ’77-style punk rock song, I’m not sure what is). And most everyone wanted to be a star, and most everyone was seeking to nurse at the same corporate teat that had suckled all the horrific music punk was supposed to supplant. Not only was the wheel not being reinvented, we were begging the same corpulent salesmen to help us sell it.

 Which is to say, we did not storm the Bastille. We just re-painted it.

 Because the music was so goddamn good and life affirming, only in retrospect did I recognize that the ‘pose’ of punk was deeply misleading. Many listeners, myself very much included, didn’t understand that there was a great gap between slogans and actual activism; despite my deep (and lasting) affection for both the Clash and the Sex Pistols, “White Riot” didn’t incite anything but a pile of haircuts and words on the back of a jacket, and “Give the wrong time/stop a traffic lane” (from “Anarchy in the UK”) literally didn’t do a thing to relieve the oppression of the disenfranchised classes in any country on earth. Listen, despite the stares and sneers it may have gotten you in your school cafeteria, dying your hair pink never fed the hungry or protected a woman from abuse on her way to the abortion clinic.

 But that was not the end of the story. The moment punk rock starts to really live up to its promise and differentiates itself from the renascence of rock and roll’s brilliant old bump, thump, rumble and grind, the moment it stops aping Paul Revere & the Raiders and starts burning the Reichstag, is on October 13, 1978.

 On that day, “Public Image,” the debut 45 by PiL, was released.

 “Public Image” still creates the same utter thrill that it did when it first shocked and elated me 38 years ago. Both reduced and explosive (it mixed maximum minimalism and maximum impact in a way that only, perhaps, “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “Autobahn” ever did), it took the reggae bass of doom and replaced the syncopation with a sturdy metronome, ensnaring you with the snaking snail chord change that knows no equal: E/B, endless, except for that little turnaround between verses. I have often thought this was the chord change that wrapped around the heart of the pharaohs and Siddhartha and maybe accompanied the hymns sung after His body had been lifted, broke, bruised and wasted with a fake death, off of his perch at Golgotha. Driven by the Wobble charge (Johnny and Dee Dee and Aston Barrett and Hütter/Schneider all wrapped up in one instrument and one part), “Public Image” storms forward in a manner that was familiar to punk’s acolytes; but there was a cool blast of air in the unrelenting simplicity, and a sizzling, almost sinister flare of art in the barbed spikes of Keith Levene’s guitar, which tossed punk’s Ronson-isms out the window and replaced it with a brilliantly dumbed-down version of Michael Karoli’s transistor-radio spitfire turn-signal distortion guitar.

 With “Public Image,” PiL announced that the children of ’76 were going to make progressive music of great art and adventure. Today, we take it for granted that elements of art and rock intermingle; with the death of radio as an active interface and promotional tool for rock’n’roll, it has become especially common for even the most high-profile bands to integrate the strangest influences in their sound (exhibit one, two, and three: Radiohead; exhibits four through ten, the entire ranged of far-leftisms introduced by Sonic Youth, and all the unshaven and wide-eyed they sired; and that’s before we even mention Stereolab, Arcade Fire, and all the children of Krautrock). But we forget how shocking that was in the mid/late 1970s, when even the most ‘rebellious’ rock bands were still playing off of a model that had been created in the 1950s and early 1960s (recall the Eddie Cochran slurs that begin both “Neat Neat Neat” and “God Save the Queen,” or the Feelgoods/Who/Kinks/Mott the Hoople mash-ups that comprised the backbone of the style of the Clash and the Jam).

 Back in 1978, the initial, unforgettable bass throb of “Public Image” sounded downright bizarre, but in the most immediate possible way; if Lydon’s adamant lyrical statement that the era of the punk lie was now over (i.e., the new boss was not actually more artistically, morally, or politically superior than the old boss), the bass that kicked off the song immediately alerted us to the beautiful artistic left-turn PiL would represent. Other punk-era bands had opened songs with a bass riff – in fact, it was a standard part of the musical arsenal of first-wave punk, as noted in “Neat Neat Neat,” “Motorhead,” the Strangler’s “Peaches” and Eater’s “Outisde View,” amongst many others – but the four-bar tattoo at the front of “Public Image” was something entirely new. Played with the treble dialed off in replication of reggae’s window-rattling pulse, it was virtually Kraftwerkian in its lack of any filigree; it was like a man-machine dub quadruple-timed (though there is a distinct and odd ‘push’ leading into the second and fourth bars of the riff that no other PiL bassist has been able to accurately reproduce). And then, to ears tuned to punk, Lydon’s “new” voice, his urgent, strident, startling muezzin bleat, also underlined that we were in a new land. Unless you were already familiar with world music or the remarkably similar keen of Amon Duul II’s Renate Knaup, it sounded vastly different from any ‘rock’ singer we had ever heard. True, Suicide, the Eels, Throbbing Gristle and other revolutionaries had sought to marry punk-ish simplicity with an aggressively artistic approach, but John Lydon and PiL were doing this in the extraordinarily harsh light of the mainstream, every torch of every journalist and expectant fan turned their way (imagine if the Beatles had released “Tomorrow Never Knows” immediately after “I Want to Hold Your Hand”).

 Framing this entire highly visible artrock engagement was the manifesto John Lydon delivered on “Public Image.” Lydon’s text, desperately rising from his throat like a prayer fueled by bile, grabbed punk’s narcissistic, photo-friendly head by the hair and forced it to look long and hard into a cold, merciless mirror. Reflecting back was the hypocrisy of the movement, which had the same aspirations for high times and kneeling girls as the worst sort of flared indulgences it claimed to unseat. Lyrically, “Public Image” is goddamn close to perfect, right from the opening hello, repeated five times, which could be a mic check but is far more likely a pronouncement of “This is me! This is the Real Me, You thought you knew me? You thought you understood what this was all about? This is me!” After the initial couplet, the mission is further articulated: “You never listened to a word that I said/You only seen me from the clothes that I wear/Or did the interest go so much deeper/It must have been to the color of my hair.” At this moment, Johnny Rotten, a public invention in the tradition of Billy Fury or Marty Wilde or John Cougar, dies, replaced by a man who recognizes the power of music to make a fiercely personal and accusatory statement that the new boss was the old boss, and the old boss was him, and he’s had enough.  

“Public Image” was an adamant announcement that the same star-making/star begging machinery that had always powered the mammon and mammary-driven superficial spirits of rock’n’roll had been behind punk, too. Now, there’s nothing wrong with the preposterous, monstrous and magical beast called good ol’ rock’n’roll, but there was something distinctly fetid about punk’s adamant claim that it stood for something else. “Public Image” points out just how full of corny dreams, old condoms, and the bells of Old Bowie the supposedly new magicians were. Others – most notably the amazing Mark Perry with Alternative Television, and the Saints’ Chris Bailey on Eternally Yours — had toyed with these concepts, but Lydon was going to build a whole band around the idea that we had been cheated, he had been one of those doing the cheating, and it was time to tell a new story.

 Finally, the release of “Public Image” marks, as firmly as any date on the calendar, when punk becomes post-punk. If you imagine punk as a wall of sound made up of tightly cemented bricks of guitars designed to stop the passenger/listener dead in their tracks and pay attention, post punk was an attempt to blow a few holes in that compactly constructed wall and let in some light, without losing any of the impact. On First Issue, released very shortly after “Public Image,” PiL explored this idea even further, taking cues from Can/reggae/dub and all manners of krautrock and art rock, constructing entire songs that emphasized what was not there. PiL took this fully to fruition on their masterpiece, Metal Box/Second Edition, which conjured deeply compelling magic out of a band that was, for all intents and purposes, reduced to Wobble’s patient, pensive, steady throb, the most minimal kick, snare, and hi hat, the opium-empty absentee guitar of Keith Levene, and Lydon’s emotive pleas crossing the landscape like camels crossing the desert on a moon-lit night.

 By the time of Metal Box’s release 16 months later, the impact of “Public Image” and First Issue had already re-set the musical landscape. A whole new generation of bands had discovered that punk’s minimalism had a logical next step: the removal of instruments, the entry of space, the impact of naked rhythm. It’s impossible to hear the bass and drum driven desperation of Joy Division without believing they were as hugely impacted by “Public Image” as I was. Perhaps most remarkably, U2’s “I Will Follow” is an inventive if fairly transparent re-write of “Public Image,” with both a bass line and a guitar part clearly inspired by the PiL song.

 On so very many levels, “Public Image” remains one of the greatest 45s ever released. Many bands have released singles that were both utterly essential listening and also scene-changers in the history of music; but I am hard pressed to think of anyone who did all that while also making an enormous statement, in just three minutes, about the beautiful and sexy false god of rock’n’roll. (Tim Sommer)






83. SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES – THE SCREAM (1978) – Guest Contributor: Johny Brown (Band of Holy Joy)/(A) KALEIDOSCOPE (1980)


The bass is prescient, thunder before lightning.                                                  

‘So all the things they said about Communism, that we would lose our homes, our savings, be forced to labour eternally for meagre wages with no voice in the system, has come true under capitalism’.

Overground for normality, overboard for identity.                                   

People do moan! You just take a walk up City Road and take a look at the new builds that tower over the advertising boards to reassure yourself, everything is just as it should be, things are normal here, safe, mate.

The voice on this album is mercury slither and razor.                                     

It’s a nice day. The weather is not too bad and the property market remains vibrant. You’re engaged with your handheld. There’s a strong signal in the area. You always find a strong signal reassuring. It’s all good!

My limbs are like palm trees swaying in the breeze.                                        

There was a terrorist scare earlier on but you’re getting used to them now. It’s like that porn habit you had a while back, it was all out of control but then you got desensitised and once that happened you got bored and it stopped.

The guitar is the sheeted window of a glass box new build crashing to the ground.                                    

Nah, all good mate, proper, normal, you didn’t get the raise you wanted at work and they’ve got you working longer hours but it’s worth it. You got ten sympathetic likes on Facebook. You can never be too popular, can you?

Watch the muscle twitch, for a brand new switch.

You do think though, sometimes, when you pause the digital information overload, that maybe you might be a touch scared inside, that you put a front on everything, keep a lid on things, and that you could crack any moment.

The drums on this album are a hammered clockwork jerk.          

 You’ve been picking up on interior voices lately, fractured thought processes, bad feelings, meaningless impulses, needled reactions, weird obsessions, sudden relapses, wallowing, seething, snapping under your normal self.

 Metal is tough, metal will sheen.      


You find yourself craving, having ecstatic bouts followed by deep sloughs and the prescription meds don’t help and this Brexit thing just confuses you I mean who should you vote for, they all seem so, ah you’d like to take a hammer…

It’s a psychologically disturbed / disturbing record.                                 

And your boss is back and he’s not smiling like he is waiting for the market to crash the bubble to burst the dam to break the virus to spread the earth to swallow you up, but you, you’re not cracking up, no, it’s all good mate.

Television flickers with another news bulletin.                                          

Smoking again. It’s just a habit. Hand shakes. Driving you insane. Sucking up the fumes. So congested and you feel so claustrophobic, like the city is closing in. Haven’t smiled in days and now YOU JUST CAN’T HELP BUT SCREAM.

I’m sorry that I hit you but my string snapped.                                                 

This record stands alone. PiL and Joy Division would carry the concerns and aesthetic of THE SCREAM further and Test Dept and Einsturzende Neaubaten would take it to the logical extreme and maybe better it.

The sleeve represents every drowning voice.                                                          

But this, for myself at least, was the first of its kind of the time, and maybe time hasn’t afforded it the space it deserves. I’d like to state the case that this is a great record. It’s a good soundtrack to this moment now.

See the nicotine start to spread. It’s in my head, it’s in my head.                  

 It’s timeless, it’s serving just as well for me now as it did when I was a confused and alienated 17 year old, disappointed with punk but still wanting some kind of noise to articulate the feeling of otherness I held close.

The image is no images it’s not what it seems….                                             

There is secret knowledge contained within this record. Souixsie and Severin knew. John and Kenny enabled. The record is unspoiled by overt musicianship but is enhanced by a sense of utility dedication and passion for the cause.

All the signals send me reeling.


It’s a minimal, bleak tour de force; no quarter is given and there is no pandering to the bands that were around them at the time. It is haughty yes, but it has purpose and without being overtly political it is a most political recording.

Well you may be a lover but you ain’t no fucking dancer.                                 

And then it all opens up on the last song with a sax driven hallucinatory pagan chant played out on city rooftops under polluting skies. Just as we think the streets and the times are closing in on us they are blasted open again.

It’s not what it seems.                          

The Scream has its desired effect, it breaks a spell, a new age emerges. Playing it the past few days, I know it still works and with everyone mugged / content / sedated / scared inside, I know that this is a now record. It has soul.

When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the ride.                              

 ‘So all the things they said about Communism, that we would lose our homes, our savings, be forced to labour eternally for meagre wages with no voice in the system, has come true under capitalism’.

So look out…

(Johny Brown)


The schism of Siouxsie and the Banshees came as a particular shock. It was so (seemingly) sudden, so final – and so symmetrical. The abrupt flight of half of the band, guitarist John McKay and drummer Kenny Morris, somewhere between Aberdeen and Glasgow (my brother was among the jilted fans whose Glasgow Apollo ticket suddenly became worthless) in September 1979 seemed a fittingly terse and tense end for a band whose approach had always been one of collision – between old and new, male and female, dystopian and utopian, sheet metal and gossamer.
If it had been the end. McKay and Morris were seldom heard of again but Siouxsie and Steve Severin had a contract, tour obligations – and, above all, unfinished artistic business. Faced with a choice to fold or continue, after a sundering which they had not committed, they set about filling the gaps in a manner which, on paper, could have been a recipe for the very antideluvian rock/roll cliches they had come to vanquish and obliterate – they effectively turned the Banshees into a supergroup.
But there was never any prospect of them becoming the Sioux-Severin Overdrive – they swiftly recruited drummer Budgie,  initially a face on the Liverpool scene based around Eric’s (on the other side of Mathew Street) in the semi-mythical Big In Japan, who at various times had also featured Holly Johnson, Ian Broudie and Jayne Casey, and later heard on the Slits’ astonishing Cut. Serendipitously, John McGeoch became available following his increasing disillusionment with Magazine – a matter he was reluctant to expand upon but which put him in a position to play on Happy House, which nobody would have dreamed of calling a comeback single but which many wouldn’t have dared to hope would appear.
It was immediately obvious it was a departure, with the dialogue between McGeoch’s giddy guitar and Severin’s two-note bass hums mediated by Budgie, who lent it what was undeniably a disco feel. Above, Siouxsie declaims a lyric said to be  a vinegar-soaked ironic portrait of domestic bliss but which could also be interpreted as a return to her recurring theme of mental health. It’s also the most overt outing to date for her Bromley accent (“There’s room for you/If you say you do”) which might have had George Bernard Shaw reaching for the phonetic alphabet but was a continuation of one of punk’s lasting achievements – building on the foundations laid by Syd Barrett and David Bowie, the mid-Atlantic tyranny of earlier years had, if not been overthrown, then at least challenged and questioned; at last, we’re getting to the core of what ‘alternative’ actually means.
That recurring theme is unambiguously explored on second pre-album single Christine. Siouxsie unequivocally spells out the solitude and despair of schizophrenia as an endless hall of distorted and destroyed mirrors (“Every new problem brings a stranger inside/Helplessly forcing one more new disguise”). The first line also gifts the album its title (“She tries not to shatter, kaleidoscope style/ Personality changes behind her red smile”) in a reportedly true story, the subject of which finally developed 22 identified personalities; overall it’s a, particularly for its time, compassionate treatment of a too often trivialised and brazenly misrepresented subject. Musically, Severin’s bass is again the  torchbearer, drilling through a wall decorated by synth spangles and McGeoch’s 12-string, limbering up for the vertiginous feats of athleticism he and it would perform on the following year’s Spellbound.
Severin once claimed Trophy almost made the cut for Kaleidoscope’s predecessor, 1979’s frustratingly half-formed Join Hands, but holding it over gave McGeoch the chance to remould it in his own image, to the extent that I carried the song’s riff in my head for quite some time without being able to (re)identify it and convinced myself it belonged to Magazine. He locks in with Budgie at least as tightly as Severin does and the result goes beyond the obvious resemblance to Berlin Bowie to reach as far as James Brown. It’s as funky as the Banshees got, certainly more so than on their later, somewhat ill-advised tilt at Ben E King’s Supernatural Thing, and is goaded on by Siouxsie’s rumination on the title’s dual meaning of prizes claimed by “headhunters, headshrinkers and long-distance runners” and an apparent conclusion of futility in competition in the face of its transient nature.
Hybrid positions McGeogh as perhaps the only realistic successor to McKay as he pulls from the hat the secret weapon he shared with his predecessor: the sax. Both saw it as an instrument which was not there to sooth but to unsettle;  if vampires had shadows, they would be the one’s McGeoch casts here. His guitar runs tread a path The Edge would take a few years later  (listen to this and then U2’s Bad – now do you see?) and Budgie takes  an elementary yet completely coercing roll around the traps. Siouxsie, meanwhile, returns to cockney noir in a mysterious tale of cloning, packaging and fragmentation.
For all its glories, genuine beauty was a quality hitherto largely lacking in the Banshees’ music. It emerges twice on Kaleidoscope, firstly on Lunar Camel, where a suitably Levantine melody on lo-fi synth keeps pace with an alluring rhythm box (not drum machine) which could, if this song’s intro were stood next to that of Visage’s Fade To Grey in an identity parade, lead to a case of mistaken identity. It also shields an outrageous pun in what may or may not be a reflection on the space race (“I don’t have to prove I’ll last longer than you/One hump or two, any handicap will do against you”). And then – an unfeasibly lovely chorus, yet one so simple that even I, a non-musician of an order Eno could only dream of, was able to figure it out on piano. You don’t even notice Sinatra being huckled through as Siouxsie entreats: “Oh fly me to the moon/Get me there soon.” The only word for the backing voices is, I’m afraid, sighing. It’s just what they do and they do it formidably.
Even more pulchritude comes from Desert Kisses, which captures that moment when a spell of sweltering heat is about to give way to a fearsome storm, as the impending torrent hangs in the air like a predator, jaws agape, at once airy and claustrophobic. If  the title promises Valentino, the song delivers Mitchum; the flanged bass, which would come to be a blight on the then infant ’80s, drives both the song’s sensual exterior and its sinister core; the backing vocals, appropriately credited to The Sirens, are near-celestial; so, in fact, is Siouxsie, until you hear she’s singing: “Tidal fingers cling to rocks/A deadly grip, a deadly lock” and repeats “sinking down” – a desert of quicksand. Then finally, “the world is flat/There’s no one here to question that” – half a millennium undone in four minutes flat. It came out in one of the wettest summers in living memory and still carries its humidity.

The other guest is a kindred spirit from the old Bromley days – Steve Jones, whose guitar tyranny was second only to Lydon/Rotten’s tomcat timbre in defining the Pistols’ sound, had that not been a notion all concerned would have scoffed at at the time. Jones’ performance on Kaleidoscope is as much a liberation from the Pistols’ vaudeville straitjacket (they imploded at exactly the right time – there was absolutely nowhere left for them to go) as Public Image Ltd had been for Lydon – the serpentine squall he uncoils is only a couple of postcodes away from Anarchy In The UK but the space he acquires here, compared with the claustrophobia of that song and its establishment-flaying siblings, is like a stepping out of a cell into an endless corridor – still nobody’s idea of luxurious but with the capacity to stride and sprint, accompanying Siouxsie’s exploration of unnecessary plastic surgery – something of a cliche now but confined at the time in the public imagination to the artifice state of California (“Hide your genetics under drastic cosmetics/But this chameleon magic is renowned to be tragic”).
Jones is also on brief but bracing semi-instrumental Clockface and the closing Skin, a melodica-frilled, staccato snare-studded diatribe against the fur trade – vanity is again Siouxsie’s target (“Shame about the smell but/They’re fine soaked in perfume”). It also makes Kaleidoscope the third of four consecutive Banshees albums to end with the sound of a lone guitar.
The Banshees followed Kaleidoscope with Israel, a colossal stand-alone single which fell short of the top 40, possibly because it was so intensely charged, emotionally, politically and ethnically, and with Juju, which is often seen as one of the founding texts of goth but which, despite the matt-black textures of songs like Night Shift and Voodoo Dolly, still admitted shafts of upful pop light – just fewer than on its predecessor. Equally often, Kaleidoscope is considered a transitional album but it was Juju which utimately proved to be a sidestep and Kaleidoscope which, by opening a paintbox and freeing the Banshees from the constraints of a fixed line-up, set the tone for the remainder of their time on Earth.
As Jonny Brown has so eloquently and ardently described here on TNPC, The Scream remains their high watermark but it was nowhere near their only triumph. On the index of the inexplicably overlooked, Kaleidoscope rates pretty highly (PG).


78. SCARS – AUTHOR! AUTHOR! (1981) – Guest Contributor: Rolo McGinty (The Woodentops)


The bold cover that looks like an enemy in Tomb Raider 3. Albums would come into the house one at a time, monthly roughly, and be listened to relentlessly. We were in the country so no record shops that nearby: this album did the business. A funky punk sound, quite danceable, in a modern context still valid. Tribal and sticking to the beat. The tinny guitar licks are of the time but with a really full sound underneath. Listening to it now, I can hear something similar in the bands of today, the vocals and drums. Even moments of say Savages the band, are predicted here.

‘Leave me in the Autumn’, ‘Fear of the Dark’ – all cool chords. Dark and interesting on ‘Aquarama’ and always fat bass throughout. Sounded fab on our Sony music system. My brother and I had many a freaking out to music – bop on this one. All the time, that cover image suggesting some bizarre Papua New Guinea or Aztec mystery . 

 The Roland chorus effect was on everything at the time of this album, it’s definitely infecting all the guitar, but as skilfully blended as Public Image or Killing Joke. The Police for example, really over used the effect in my opinion. 

Tempos really vary all the way through. They go fast and they go slow and atmospheric. They do nursery rhyme simple as much as complex arrangement and unexpected changes. It’s well arranged and produced. The vocals full of passion drawing you in to story climax. ‘Je t’aime C’est la Mort’ is a good example of this. The surprise talking voice of ‘Your Attention Please’ was a shocker on first listening. A warning message building and becoming neurosis-inducing shouting like a Robert Calvert science fiction moment in Hawkwind’s Space Ritual. Into the echo it goes. Great!

‘All About You’ is almost Brian Eno, almost Killing Joke, perhaps Roxy Music. Somebody should cover it. A great way to finish. On and up! Fab name, great album of its time, I loved it, still sounds good. 1980/1981. I bet your average music teen would think it was made recently.

I chose the album after thinking for some time through many that could have fit the bill. I do remember being amazed that ‘Author! Author!’ wasn’t a massive hit. To me and my brother, it was huge. So it’s back to that time period I thought I’d go. Cheers, Rolo. (Rolo McGinty)


 Amongst the faded denim and the tired looking mohicans, a new breed of pale-faced malcontent was transfiguring the clientele of the early-80’s UK student union. Their necks were craned, but they seemed taller, their hair stacked up in a wild black pile. The uniformity of their appearance was sealed by the mandatory Bauhaus t-shirt. These children of the night were early ‘goths’. Their newest darlings, The Birthday Party, had just arrived from the other side of the globe and with their pulverising sound were aiming to shake the earth off its very axis.

Australia did not have a particularly well-established rock scene before 1977, but in Sydney the touch paper had been lit by Radio Birdman, while Brisbane boasted a burgeoning punk scene led by The Saints. On the Southern coast, the family trees of Melbourne’s Young Charlatans and The Boys Next Door (who should have been sued under the terms of the Trades Description Act for their deceptively innocuous moniker) would soon become intertwined through the defection of guitarist Rowland S Howard from the former to the latter. Providence would reveal the polar aspects of her nature to the two bands. The Young Charlatans’ 15 minutes of fame had fizzled out, their brief brush with immortality over. By contrast, for the Boys Next Door, their time had most surely arrived.

Howard was a highly original guitarist (equal parts Will Sergeant, John Waddington and Zoot Horn Rollo) with a penchant for dark, deathly blues music and a singular ear for howling feedback (he strove to make his guitar “sound like bee stings”). His influence was integral in reshaping the direction the band would take. The song he brought with him, ‘Shivers’, gave new impetus to this group of disaffected former public schoolboys (consisting of singer/lyricist Nick Cave, bassist Tracey Pew, guitarist/keyboard player Mick Harvey and drummer Phil Calvert), whose punishing gig schedule harnessed for them a reputation for notoriety in their homeland. They released an album (‘Door Door’) which they later disowned, but the lure of finding a wider audience for their music proved irresistible and the band soon packed their bags and moved to London in 1980. They renamed themselves The Birthday Party and, perhaps brutalised (or at least alienated) by their experience of living in virtual squalor in London, were possessed of a seemingly insatiable urge to inject a nightmarish violence and sense of the macabre into their live repertoire, their chaotic performances always on the verge of imploding.

Having resolved never again to use a record producer following ‘Door Door’, the band began work themselves on ‘Prayers On Fire’. Once again however, they would be less than happy with the results, and it is an album which is consistently overlooked in favour of its follow up ‘Junkyard’, which, while certainly more representative of the classic Birthday Party sound, lacks I fear, it’s predecessor’s unfettered explosion of ideas. Here, on ‘Prayers On Fire’ is a band seeking an authentic voice of their own. Sometimes the journey, the adventure undertaken in getting to the destination is far more thrilling than the destination itself.

We can hear the evolution of their sound unfolding on the album. Virtually the entire second side side prefigures the creeping cobwebbed claustrophobia of Junkyard – with the exception of ‘Dull Day’, which rather bizarrely, reminds me of Madness (?) – there is a sepulchral bone-crushing intensity with little variety in tempo. The first side by contrast displays the full range of their armoury.

It’s opening track, ‘Zoo Music Girl’, sounds as if the starting gun to the village idiots’ 100 metres dash has gone off prematurely – to the participants, the lanes on the track are there not to maintain order, but to hurdle, vault or if at all possible, ignore completely. Pew pulses his bass into paroxysms, while each demented line Cave expels (“My body is a monster driven insane/My heart is a fish toasted by flames…”), collapses on top of the preceding one. Perhaps a little embarrassed by some of the lyrical extremities (“Oh God! Please let me die beneath her fists”), Cave later disowned this as well, but with its mariachi trumpet blaring as if the carnival has arrived in the middle of a riot, it is a fitting calling card to the album.

Listeners can sometimes confuse the person impersonating a character in a song for the person singing it. With Nick Cave this could be a dangerous business. Consider for instance the charmingly entitled ‘Nick The Stripper’ (“Nick The Stripper/A-hideous to the eye/Well he’s a fat little insect/A fat little insect…he’s in his birthday suit…”) His fascination with the grotesque and with creeping invertebrates is further explored on ‘King Ink’ (“King Ink feels like a bug/Swimming in a soup-bowl”) which is a musical prelude to ‘Junkyard’ and (apparently) the song from the album with which Cave was most pleased.

‘Cry’ is like the Bunnymen on bad acid, while listening to ‘Capers’ has me visualising a hallucinogenic-fuelled Frankenstein swaying from side to side down the wide staircase of a haunted mansion, the chandeliers chiming together above, echoing their sound through its labyrinthian chambers. Howard takes over vocal lead on ‘Ho Ho’ which consequently sounds uncharacteristically restrained. It’s a subtly atmospheric piece and one can imagine why he sought more creative influence within the band. If it provides momentary respite, then the unholy carnage returns on ‘Figure Of Fun’ where frenetic guitars fizz, yelp and squeal producing as much panic as might result from a rattlesnake being dropped onto of a cartload of chimpanzees. Howard sounds like he’s deriving a sadistic delight in contriving a unique method of torture for each guitar string. There is brilliant bleak humour here of course, amidst the epileptic rhythms. (“I am a figure of fun/Obsessive, dead-pan and moribund/And I’m impressed by everyone/But I impress no-one/It’s irritating/I am a figure of fun”)

The final track ‘Just You & Me’ encapsulates the surreal dementia of Cave’s writing – as a youthful devotee it created much mirth in our household as we struggled to imagine what the subject of the song could be (“First: I tried to kill it with a hammer/Thought that I could lose the head/Sure! We’ve eaten off the silver/When even food was against us...”) We detected the darkest humour, though we may not have properly understood it.

Those other goths always seemed such a humourless bunch. Along with The Banshees they may have unwittingly spawned the whole God-forsaken subculture, but The Birthday Party had drawn their inspiration as much from the classical rock’n’roll lineage of The Stooges, The New York Dolls and Captain Beefheart as from the horror movies and gothic literature over which their ravenous disciples obsessed. Of their contemporaries, there were some genuine kindred spirits: the scratchy energy of The Pop Group, the trash aesthetic of The Gun Club and The Cramps and The Fall’s grimy rockabilly. But not Bauhaus. By contrast to The Birthday Party, Bauhaus are as significant as a bubble on the surface of the ocean.

Following ‘Prayers On Fire’, Cave poked fun at the admiring Munster hordes, recording the sardonic ‘Release The Bats’. Paradoxically, it became the goth anthem and the band’s most celebrated moment. But The Birthday Party’s days were numbered. Pew was in prison following a string of drunk driving offences. Howard and Cave had become estranged creatively – pulling the band in different directions. The classic clash of egos played out, and within the year, after a brief resurgence in Berlin, they would call it a day. The birth of The Bad Seeds would follow quickly. Cave would emerge stronger than ever from the wreckage. With The Birthday Party he had pushed himself to the edge of insanity. In their wilful recklessness, they created an unholy pandemonium laced with the blackest humour, but were never afraid to poke fun at themselves as well as others. There were few if any like them and we could certainly do with a bit of their snarl and bite today. (JJ)