4 weeks ago
Saturday, November 22, 2008
MESSTHETICS: The London Vanguard
Scritti Politti. London Musicians Collective. Flying Lizards. This Heat. Raincoats. Red Crayola. Pere Ubu. Young Marble Giants. John Peel.
(Chapter 11 in US edition)
>never used his surname
At the start, he was known mostly as Green in the grand pop tradition of single-name stars (Lulu, etc). Then journalists started calling him Green Gartside. The more assiduous would use “Green Strohmeyer-Gartside”, since apparently his full name is double-barrelled, the Strohmeyer coming from his German dad. You can kinda see why he’d want to trim it down to Green! His real Christian name, I believe, is Paul.
“The idea is that… at present”--Green. After Hours, Summer, 1979.
There’s a thin line between band members sharing a house and living in an actual commune, but a number of late Sixties groups--most pertinently The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane (who all lived together in a rambling Victorian in San Francisco, along with many hangers-on) and Love--had something of a communal aspect. Krautrock primitivists Amon Duul were part of the radical political culture of late Sixties/early Seventies Germany.
Faust lived and worked at a small school hall near Wümme (a town in Germany in between Hamburg and Bremen), which they had converted into a recording studio. Here they made their most celebrated albums (Faust, So Far, The Faust Tapes). Gong, another Virgin Records gang of post-psychedelic goofballs, lived as a commune first in Majorca, and then in the South of France.
>Branch of the Young Communist League
For his pains, Jinks got badly beaten up.
Green, from a 1999 interview with the Guardian: "At art school, I basically set up my own syllabus, because it didn't seem as though anyone was particularly interested in talking about why we were all studying art or whether or not any of it made any sense. I had been attracted to Leeds as an art school because of its reputation at the time for performance art. When I first went there, they had a show on, and in the first room there was a guy who was eating until he made himself vomit, and in the next room there was someone shooting budgerigars or something. And I thought, 'Wow! Clearly this is the result of some fantastic thinking.' I imagined that these people had gone through the most extraordinary realms of reasoning before they would even consider shooting a budgerigar or making themselves sick. But sadly it wasn't so. Called upon to explain or defend themselves, they couldn't. They were just fucking around, basically--which I thought was a waste of time."
And in a Sounds interview from January 13th 1979.
Green: "It was very safe and trendy and outrageous. Leeds in
particular was touted as being a very trendy place to go, as you had
lecturers there that made names for themselves in the Sixties. We used
to go around having lots of arguments with people and that's the most
fruitful thing we could do really. We caused some sort of friction."
“A bunch of outlaws…” “silly over-romanticized notion” “macho… of today”
--Green. After Hours, Summer, 1979
Green: “When I wrote it the Clash had a big interview in the NME and they said they felt like the Magnificent 7--a bunch of outlaws that would come into town to put everything to rights, and the last bit [of ‘Skank’] was something to do with that overestimation, the ability of a beat group to ride into town and put everything right, the idea of a beat group as macho gunslingers, the Robin Hoods of today, or some such silly over-romanticised notion of that, and it was a bit to do with our own overestimations as well. “
On his 2006 album White Bread Black Beer, the last song is titled “Robin Hood”--it’s yet another Green song about abandoning utopian hopes for a brighter tomorrow that will never come (“been wishing my life away, yeah yeah, for Robin Hood to be king one day”…. “all prophecy will fail”) and learning to live and love in the radiant now.
Also on the Clash as a now repudiated catalyst-influence, from a Sounds January 13 1979 interview (I think): “The most important thing for us is finding new ways of going on. It wouldn't make a lot of sense for us to do what The Clash were doing then and go and play rock and roll based stuff."
Around the time of “Skank Bloc Bologna”’s release Ian Penman--not yet a member of Scritti-collective, I don’t think, but on the same after-punk wavelength clearly--unleashed this devastating critique of The Clash (NME November 4 1978), describing them as a totally lost band: live they came across “something like a shambolic HM quartet converted to Mao minutes before a show but still retaining the original ego-pushy set, swaggers and all… The Clash don't know what to do with themselves, don't know what to do with rock music, but I and you know what it's doing to them. The Clash is a dying myth."
essay at Uncarved on the links between punk and Italian left-fringe politics, http://www.uncarved.org/music/apunk/autonomia.html
The book Green was reading at the time: Red Bologna, by Max Jaggi, Roger Muller, and Sil Schmid; with an introdruction by Donald Sassoon and photos by Otmar Schmid. Published by Writers and Readers, circa 1977.
Negri’s take on Italian postwar politics: http://mondediplo.com/1998/09/11negri
Carrying on where “playpower” renegades of the counterculture like the Yippies and Dutch Provos had left off (e.g. the famous Yippie prank of dozens of people dressed in Santa Claus outfits going into a department store and handing out goods to shoppers as if they were gifts, leading to comical/subversive spectacle of dept store detectives arresting small children, etc etc)
Others practised “self-reduction”, the refusal to pay full-price for goods and services!
>aimed not to seize power
A la Leninist-Marxist revolutionary model, where the vanguard party shepherds the masses to the promised land, seizing the state apparatus and establishing the “dictatorship of the proletariat” (complete with secret police, gulags, systems of informers, propaganda etc)
It also provided strategic assistance by reporting the movements of the police during the street battles of February and March).
Radio Alice's broadcasts are an amalgam of music (rock, jazz, some classics, many folk and political protest songs), news (reports on left-wing and working-class struggles in Italy and abroad, reports on the local student movement, readings from newspapers published by groups of the "extra-parliamentary" left, up-to-the-minute accounts of activities organized by feminists, homosexuals, and radical civil-rights activists), and comments on a wide variety of topics by anyone who cares to telephone or drop in to the station's headquarters. These consist of two dilapidated rooms located on the top floor of an apartment building in a rather run-down residential section of Bologna.
from Cowan, Suzanne. "The Unhappy Adventures of 'Alice' in Blunderland: Counter-Culture, Revolt and Repression in the Heart of Italy's 'Red Belt.'" in Radical America 11:6 & 12:1 (Nov.1977-Feb.1978): 67-77.
more information on Radio Alice
---Collective A/Traverso. Alice é il diavolo: sulla strade di Majakovskij: testi per una pratica di comunicazione sovversiva. Milan: L'Erba Voglio, 1977.
---. "Radio Alice-Free Radio." Semiotext(e): Italy/Autonomia. Trans. Richard Gardner and Sybil Walker. 1980. 133-34.
Felix Guattari essay about Radio Alice
from the Guattari essay anthology Molecular Revolution: Pychiatry and Politics (Peregrine)
>Zoom in on a girl adrift
There’s a hint of condescension in the portrait of this young woman, “hopeless in Haringay”, who doesn’t even know she’s oppressed-- it chimes slightly uncomfortably with the tradition of rock’n’roll songs where the girl symbolizes socialisation, conformity, domesticity etc. Green observes a supermarket girl, an early school leaver, who’s seemingly unaware of the forces that buffet her existence and constrain her, who has absolutely no sense that the world could be any other way. The lines ‘no one wants to listen and there’s no one wants to know’ are double-edged: they could refer to the girl who’s got no guidance or help, but also to proles who don’t listen to what the radicals, the would-be organic intellectuals, have to say. You get a glimpse of the mounting gloom of the revolutionary activist with his spurned pamphlets wondering why the passers-by keep… passing by. Green’s desire to “tell her what’s possible” comes across so plaintively heartfelt, though, that mostly what you get is a sense of empathy and tenderness--a desperate fantasy of somehow reaching out to her, sending a signal that someone out there is “working on a hope.”
Green quote, source unknown: “I was thinking of certain things when I wrote it... Things like sexism, things like the messes that young people are in, especially in inner city areas, like the bad bits of London... Some of the difference between that and what is happening in a city like Bologna...I wasn't trying to analyse that much...the way that answers aren't posed for young people in terms of anything that they are likely to encounter in their lives...”
>help from Rough Trade
Geoff Travis really wanted to put “Skank” out on Rough Trade, but was collectively over-ruled--his colleagues felt the track was two long at nearly six minutes (this is one of several occasions he regrets having been so democratically minded). But he prevailed with Scritti’s next record, the 4 A Sides EP, which came out on Rough Trade.
Scritti had sent him the song as an acetate prerelease, and when they heard it played for the first time, they were so excited they rushed to the BBC and lurked outside waiting for the venerable deejay, whereupon they were immediately offered a session on the Peel show.
There ended up being two Peel sessions of the early squatland Scritti. The first, broadcast December 13 1978, featured two songs “The Humours Of Spitalfields” and “Knowledge And Interest” that were never otherwise recorded or officially released, and different versions of “Doubt Beat” ( as later appeared on 4 A Sides) and “5/12/78” . The latter, named after the day the Peel Session was recorded, is a remake of the third track on “Skank Bloc Bologna” which was itself named after the day it was recorded, “28/8/78”. The original is a fraught and clangorous instrumental overlaid with the sounds of a news report on rioting at the Notting Hill Carnival, judging by the date, something they sampled off the TV or news that very day of recording. The remake instead features the sound of the group in conversation superimposed over the instrumental, seemingly discussing the recording process or during rehearsal, or maybe just hanging out at Carol St.
“Knowledge and Interest” is a particularly remarkable track, haunting and in a non-literal sense almost bluesy in its atmosphere; it’s mystifying why this wasn’t unearthed for the Early compilation.
You can hear all four tracks at http://homepage.mac.com/johnhyde/iMovieTheater287.html
Recorded in late June and broadcast on the 4th of July 1979, the second Peel Session was released as a four track EP later that year. The tracks were “Messthetics”, “Hegemony”, “Scritlocks Door” and “The New One”, although by the time the record came out the last song had a title, “OPEC-Immac”.
>English soul of Robert Wyatt
Tom Morley, Vinyl interview, 1981: "Robert Wyatt was a very important influence in the beginning, especially in the singing technique. Before '77 he was the only one who sang in a consciously English accent.'
>corruption of a title of a book by Gramsci
Some have identified the book in question as Scritti di Economia Politica
but it’s more likely to have been Scritti politici (edited by Paolo Spriano; published in 1967, by the Rome publisher l'Unità - Editori Riuniti). This would have been the source for the two English translation volumes Selections from Political Writings (1910-1920) and Selections from Political Writings (1921-1926) (both Lawrence & Wishart). The fact that the first volume came out in 1977 and the second in 1978 suggests that Green would have read either or both while the band was in its infancy. Indeed early on the group was briefly called The Against, playing one gig in Leeds under that name. This was in the immediate flush of punk rock enthusiasm after seeing the Anarchy Tour in Leeds, what Green has described as the Damascene moment of seeing The Clash, The Pistols, The Damned, and The Heartbreakers. The shift from “The Against” to the more oblique and enigmatic “Scritti” captures the cusp of punk turning into postpunk, although that said, the open-ended, intransitive oppositionality of the name “the against” has a whiff of deconstruction about it. Still in the semiotics of New Wave band names, having the definite article in your band name was very punk (the Clash, the Damned, the Jam etc) conveying a vibe of assertion and stridency, whereas postpunk bands tended to have more abstract and atmospheric names.
Gramsci was a big influence on Eurocommunism, a current within 1970s leftwing politics that sought to adapt Marxism to better fit the conditions of Western European societies.
Green talked in the long 2005 interview elsewhere on this site about how Eurocommunists would turn up at the doorstep of the Carol St squat. More on Eurocommunism here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurocommunism and here http://www.marxists.org/glossary/terms/e/u.htm and
Which some experts (see http://www.furious.com/perfect/scritti.html) source directly in folk guitarist Martin Carthy’s playing for Steeleye Span on albums like Please To See The King (1971). Carthy was famous for his unusual guitar tunings and Green was indeed a big fan of Carthy’s late Sixties and early Seventies material.
The plaintive just-vocal-and-drumbeat tune “Scritlocks Doors”, on “The Peel Sessions EP”, has a similar melody to “Lucy Wan”, a traditional ballad interpreted and recorded as a solo vocal performance by Carthy on Byker’s Hill (his 1967 album with Dave Swarbrick)
More on Carthy at at http://www.informatik.uni-hamburg.de/~zierke/martin.carthy/biography.html
>songs being made up on the spot…. Draining
At one gig, every second tune was totally improvised
Green, talking to International Musician magazine (late Eighties I think), recalled the practice as “a very draining thing to do because I would be nervous enough about playing live anyway. To do that and to foolishly set yourself the task of making songs up as you went along was pretty unnerving, and it took its toll."
He also blew sax on a pragVEC record called No Cowboys under the pseudonym “Reeds Moran,” rubbing shoulders with Jim Thirwell aka Clint Ruin aka Foetus, another guest player and friend of the band’s.
I didn't pay 40plus quid for this, as I recall it was only a pound. Did someone at M&VE really think they could get that much for it, or was it a joke? It is signed by all four members of pragVEC though.
>”Bafflin’ Smoke Signals”
A song about Vatican election procedures, apparently!
>Lots of Robert Wyatt
Green was a massive fan from listening to John Peel, and had also seen Wyatt’s post-Soft Machine outfit Matching Mole play at a rock festival. Other Canterbury scene-related stuff playing in the Carol Street squat: Hatfield and the North.
>The Albion Band
Band formed by Ashley Hutchings aka the Guvnor, formerly of Fairport Convention and then of Steeleye Span. Went through many incarnations and slightly different names (e.g. The Albion Country Band), and its ranks included at various points Martin Carthy and Shirley Collins (whom Hutchings married). Hutchings was particularly interested in English traditional music and Morris dancing. He did a bunch of albums for Island and Harvest that attempted to recreate the authentic English village vibe of Morris dancing: 'Morris On,' ’Son of Morris On’, 'The Complete Dancing Master', and Rattlebone and Ploughjack.
I suspect this is where Green developed his interest in the style, viz this comment in his interview with me about his skills at the time of seeing the Sex Pistols et al play in Leeds:
“What I'd really learned to play by then was some traditional folk songs. Niall could play the fiddle and he knew a bunch of Morris tunes. I could play a couple of jigs and reels fairly badly!”
Green had also done a performance piece at Leeds based around the death on the same day of two Oxford figures, Wittengenstein (one of his favourite philosophers) and William Kimber (aka 'Merry' Kimber, 1872-1961, he was the concertina-player of the Headington Quarry Morris Dancers and the prime instigator of the Morris Dance revival; his meeting with Cecil Sharp in 1899 was a trigger for Sharp's embarking on collecting traditional songs, leading to the formation in 1911 of the English Folk Dance Society].
The Albion Band’s 1978 album Rise Up Like the Sun was given rave reviews by the music press, still sympathetic to folk-rock at that point.
More information on the Albion Band here http://www.grunthos.demon.co.uk/albion_albums.htm
Ian Penman, who mentioned how the Scritti squat soundtrack included all this Britfolk, also noted that spiritually/musically and in literal geographic terms, the Scrits were located in eerie proximity to both London Musicians Collective and another Camden-based institution, Cecil Sharp House (2 Regent’s Park Road), the home of the English Folk Dance and Song Society.
If you go to http://homepage.mac.com/johnhyde/iMovieTheater256.html
And click on the otherwise unrecorded song-suite “Windows” as captured live in Chippenham in 1978, Green can be heard to explain to the audience: “this one falls to pieces on purpose”!
>thin and frail
In a May 1982 Sounds profile, Simon Dwyer contrasts the healthy New Pop Green with the squat theorist he’d once hung out with: “Last time I met him in 1980 the image he cut could not have been further removed from this. A fragile, paranoid figure with the pallor of one anaemic and the wild piercing eyes of a speeding Alex Higgins (Irish snooker player) gazing out from a pasting of eye-liner and a hand-ploughed jungle of jet black locks. Intellectually intimidating and physically pathetic…”
>Manchester music collective
Richard Boon: “They’d huddle around the music paper, and fret about what Green meant!”
>eloquence and fastidious complexity
In a 1982 NME, Green recalled those heady heady days:
“Theory and analysis was treasured not for their own sake but because we realized the altnerative was a kind of indulgent lawlessness. It comes from having to understand your own history and the conditions of your own production and not to consider yourself a free agent. You have to understand the forces operating on you and take stock of them and wonder how things might be read---how they might be heard…. We probably felt it was fairly slobby to do anything else. But I should have seen it coming, I suppose, it just blew itself out of all proportions.”
>thinking more rigorously
After doing one of the very first interviews with Scritti for the sixth issue of his zine Jamming, Tony Fletcher was a regular visitor to the Carol Street squat. Although his cleancut mod sensibilities were affronted by the neo-hippie anarchist squalor--“utter chaos, pots of tea gathering must and mold in the sink, the cat tray hadn't been emptied”--he loved to listen in on “the really intense and interesting conversations that were always going on”.
>influenced by the post-structuralist theories
And also by the neo-Marxist Althusser’s analysis of the way ideology recruits the individual to a particular worldview; the word Althusser uses is “hails”--a ideological call that you respond to, in the process having your worldview constructed for you.
>conductive fluid for power
The Scritto’s Republic text proposes the notion of grammar itself as the system by which the unformed self is constituted as a subject, the bourgeois individual “I”.
>when the language shuts down
On 4 A Sides, the songs also explore a Foucault-like idea of language/power as positive and productive, a force that creates behaviour, desire, and discourse, rather than the old-fashioned idea of power as expressing itself principally through the negative (interdiction, prohibition, censorship, incarceration, punishment, etc). “Wrap language round a coat,” sings Green on “Bibbly-O-Tek,” and you create fashion; “wrap fashion around anything, money”. Elsewhere in this gorgeously fractured song (“Bibbly-O-Tek” = bibliotheque where bookworms and theory-heads go to braindance?), the two-word line “secondary pickets”, delivered with withering scare-quotes, condenses an essay’s worth of thought. From a hard left perspective, the word “secondary” obscures the fact that all workers share common interests and a common enemy, a class identity and struggle that transcends specific sectors of the means-of-production; “secondary” implies that there’s a limit to solidarity. But any local industrial dispute, if extended to its logical destination, ought to escalate into a General Strike.
>Vizzery, vazzery, vozery vem… Warwickshire folk-rhyme
Introducing the concept of the sense-shredding power of folk-speech (and also pop music?), no doubt. This must be a by-product of Green’s youthful researches into traditional music.
>Despair is always just a heartbeat away
See also: the eerie disintegrated drift of “OPEC-Immac” on Peel Session, the wracked, frayed-to-breaking-point quality of Green’s voice as he sings: “how much do you ever stand to know?” The word “stand” suggesting both how much are you likely to ever know, but also how much knowledge, how much disabused lucidity, can you actually bear?
“That's a genuinely… understand it now at all"
--Green, Sounds 5/29/82.
Ian Penman: “ i remember having a serious confrontation (well, Green was serious: DEATHly serious) about tidiness... i exploded: i'd had it, couldnt understand how anyone could conceive let alone organise a new society from the squalor that was 1 Carol St... and Green mounted a massive ideological justifcation for UNtidiness ("cleanlinessis next to bourgeois hegemony") ... I began to wonder... if a man can be equallyvociferous about gramsci and not doing the washing up... maybe this is hard head neurosis not hardcore theory...”
>an abortive recording session
This appears to have been in the early summer of 1979, shortly before the recording of the fragile-sounding Peel Session in late June. Green (source unknown--Sounds, December 1979?): "The thing was at the time, after the Red Crayola tour, I'd just recovered from pneumonia, that was around June or something, and we booked a fair bit of time in the studio with a view to recording something, but because we didn't have too much money, because of the pressures on us, we fouled it up. Which meant that just about everything we recorded was rubbish, it just didn't work. We salvaged some of it, and did our
second Peel session. A lot of people thought it was good, including Rough Trade (and including ourselves), so we thought we'd put out some stuff, but we didn't have the money..."
The recording of 4 A Sides seems to have occurred after all this, during an “up” phase, and it was released--as far as I can ascertain--before the release of the Peel Session EP, even though the latter was recorded before 4 A Sides.
>”Most his time disapproving of things”
Penman: “whispers from my mole... GREEN NOT HAPPY WITH: my new blue suede shoes... my robert de niro posters... you name it...”
>"Why can't… co-operation?”
--Green. NME 11/25/78.
>discrediting them ideologically
Speaking to the art journal Primary Sources on the International Performing Arts in late 1979, Green lets rip with a vituperative tirade against the return of art-derived discourse via postpunk (really quite ironic given Scritti’s art school background and intellectual debts to Art & Language): “When 'art' walks through the door, it's got 15 suitcases full of very smelly washing (ideas of 'geniuses', 'creativity', 'individualism', and the rest of it)...which as far as we're concerned is the kind of crap that just clutters up your back garden, and gets in the way when you want to go out…. There is an art-based conversation that is swamping our neighbourhood, right? It's detrimental to our practice…. [It’s] high-culturally derived hogwash, and it's dragging us down… Half the groups that are around at the moment are ex-art-college groups… You are on board a sinking ship--you're one hulk of a rotting carcass, whose language...y'know... don't chuck it over us, chum, because it's redolent of all things tedious, repressive and slimy.”
> harder than this
According to Penman, “ill sorted” and “lacking in rigour” were two of Green’s pet put-down phrases. In the Primary Sources interview, Green talked of “trying to be a bit 'harder than the rest',” of homing in on “the weakest area of rock ideology” and “working on the weakest point”. Essentially, Scritti could be argumentative fuckers, and Green a know-it-all pain in the arse!
>big ideological Rob Roy squaring off
One of Green’s favorite targets for diatribe was “formalism”--put crudely, art-for-art’s-sake (or in pop terms, “it’s only rock’n’roll but I like it like it yes I do”). Formalism meant artistic practise that only referred back to its own history, instead of being “index-linked to a large social upheaval” (how Scritti saw their “project”). Sterile and self-reflexive, redundant and decadent, formalism included modern art, most rock music, and a lot of postpunk experimentalism (especially the post-Eno artpunk types: Wire, Talking Heads, etc). Unlike these groups, Scritti had a political motivation for tampering with musical convention; the idea being that the radicalization of form itself was as important to creating revolutionary consciousness as much as any radical lyrical content.
For Green, the London Musicians Collective no doubt represented “formalist” experimentation at its most self-indulgent and whimsy-addled.
Steve Beresford reckons this points to an authoritarian streak in Scritti’s thinking, a post-Stalinist intolerance concealed behind “mounds of Althusser”.
"Formalism" was the big accusation wielded by the Soviet authorities, via various state newspapers and critical journals, against composers (e.g. Shostakovich) they felt had become too bourgeois and self-indulgently experimental, so the use of the word does have a definitely totalitarian tang to it.
Penman for his part says he got in Green’s “bad books” for “weeks afterwards” because he chose to stay behind in the pub to chat with Beresford, David Toop and the other decadent formalists of the LMC. “They seemed bemused by the whole thing, by the aggression of it… if what they were doing was such piffle, then why was Green so psychopathic about trashing their whole thing? … It couldn’t be the much vaunted "space" that had to be "won" -because it wasn't like they were on the cover of Sounds… But they were, said Green, ‘taking up space’ with their ‘ill sorted discourse’...and they had to be taken outside and shot... er, figuratively speaking of course!” Penman notes a certain irony too in the fact that on stage Scritti used to say 'were going to make one up now...' 'from scratch ..' = part of their ideology of demystification, "no big deal" (another buzz phrase)... anyone can do it,... but the idea of improv as an end in itself was frowned upon deeply”
>There were anarchist ideas floating around,”
Toop: “And a big interest in feminism, because the feminists were the only ones addressing the problems of collectivism, the way power emerges surreptitiously within collective organizations.”
>musical training as a shackle of creativity
In the Sixties and early Seventies, various notions had circulated concerning the aestheticisation of mistakes, the use of technical mishaps and inspired errors, the cosmic rightness of the wrong-sounding note (the keyboards of Thelonious Monk and Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman’s harmolodic theories), and various strategies of self-handicapping, deliberate constraint, or the introduction of random aka aleatory factors. John Cage and Fluxus was a major source for this happy-accident sensibility, which was in turn siphoned into the rock world via the proudly self-described non-musician Brian Eno. It was Eno who produced and released David Toop & Max Eastley’s album New and Rediscovered Musical Instruments for his experimental label Obscure, an imprint through Island.
The postpunk fetish for band members to swap instruments onstage, or take on different roles in the studio, is obviously related to these ideas.
Eno, a member, produced their two albums and released them via Obscure. Steve Beresford: “You didn’t play your first instrument, so I played trumpet”.
>Camden, this punk centre
In 2005 the average price of a house in Camden was £420,000. At the tail-end of the Seventies, though, it was an edgy place to live, scuzzy and bleak. But rich in bohemia, on account of being a cheap-rent place only a few tube stops from the centre of London.
Toop: “One time I took this musician from America to a local café, and the guy was utterly astonished when the Clash walked in. But that was actually totally normal at that time.” The Clash were doubtless taking a break from rehearsing at their practice space, a disused British Rail storage shed on Chalk Farm Road.
Shed a tear for Compendium, the Rough Trade of radical thought. It was crammed with small press periodicals, activist pamphlets, independent magazines and fanzines, political tracts, feminist and ecological works, philosophy and critical theory paperbacks, and early translations of French post-structuralist philosophy of the sort that would eventually inspire Green to write “Jacques Derrida”. In the mid-Eighties, Compendium would take, and sell, a lot of copies of Monitor too, bless ‘em.
Vicky Aspinall, the Raincoats’ violinist, was recruited after she spotted the band’s ad--"female musician wanted: no style but strength"--in Compendium.
>No redeeming qualities at all
Toop: “For a lot of people, the typical LMC gig was, you’d arrive at eight o’clock, nobody would be there, so you’d go to the pub. You’d come back, and somebody was collecting money at the door, but the musicians weren’t there. Gradually they’d drift in, and it might be a great gig, or it might just fall apart. Usually there was no PA system.”
Says Toop, the squabbles were between “the virtuosos who didn't understand why we were wasting our time dealing with all these political issues, anarchists who wanted to resist any moves towards bureaucracy, and then various other groups pushing a specific musical agenda of one sort or another”.
In the end, Toop got worn down by being the de facto organizer and quit the LMC. “That's the main argument against collectivism--it's just too exhausting!”
“It expressed the spirit of the times, which was fun,” says Vivien Goldman. See also Beresford’s contributions to late period Slits and the New York group Y Pants, an all girl trio who played and recorded (for 99 Records) a dinky music based mostly around toy piano and ukulele. (One of them was Barbara Ess, whose then-boyfriend Glenn Branca put out a couple of his early works via 99, as did Vivien Goldman of course with her single Dirty Washing aka “Launderette” (which was made with various LMC folk, plus members of PiL and the British dub producer-prodigy Adrian Sherwood). Goldman also contributed to the Flying Lizards (she wrote the song “Her Window”) and played alongside Toop in the unruly ensemble 49 Americans (who recorded two albums in a single day in Steve Beresford'’ living room). What she calls that “plinky-plonky, toy piano sound” was all over Danger In Paradise, the charming album Beresford and Toop recorded as General Strike, an album influenced by Lee Perry’s dub folly, Sun Ra (they covered two of his tunes), and the non-Western timbres and tones of gamelan. This “all gates open” spirit of exotica and inquisitive eclecticism would be enshrined a few years later with the Toop-edited magazine Collusion, which covered everything from Latin music to cajun to early rap.
>Eternal marriages of groups
The promiscuity and musical polyamory of the LMC scene, Toop says now, was influenced by late Sixties radical psychoanalysis--RD Laing and David Cooper’s critique of the nuclear family as a hothouse factory for neurosis and mental illness (in works like Cooper’s 1971 widely-read Pelican book The Death of the Family, and Laing’s best-selling famous paperbacks, also for the Penguin imprint, such as The Divided Self, The Politics of Experience, The Politics of the Family, and Knots. More info here http://www.litencyc.com/php/speople.php?rec=true&UID=5951). See also Deleuze & Guattari’s Anti-Oedipal thought (Felix Guattari especially coming out a similar anti-psychiatry background). In D&G terms, the whole polymorphous/promiscuous meshwork way that LMC musicians collaborated in fleeting set-ups would be rhizomatic as opposed to arborescent.
. Toop: “The whole idea of the band as a family had to be kind of destroyed. And that connected very strongly with the idea of collectivism, the flattening out of hierarchies.”
>contributions from Toop and Beresford
Toop and Beresford didn’t actually play on “Money” the top 5 hit but as General Strike created several of the backing tracks on the debut Flying Lizards album, and appeared on Top of the Pops when the follow-up “TV” became a near-miss. Toop: “It was surreal because Steve and I did a duo gig the night after we recorded TOTP, people like Gareth from Pop Group and the Slits’s Viv Albertine were there, and we felt very connected to those people, but only the night before we’d been in the same TV studio as Matchbox!”
>New wave dancefloor cult smash in America
Where it sold 200, 000 copies!
Where Cunningham studied video, sound and film
>An album of minimalist composition
Titled Grey Scale, and influenced by his music tutor Michael Nyman (later famous for his soundtracks for Peter Greenaway movies etc)
C.f. Robert Fripp’s talk of the “small, independent and intelligent unit” replacing the outmoded and economically unviable model of the rock band. “Production company” is the other way of looking at “loose conglomerates” from Toop’s anarcho-feminist/Deleuzian-Guattarian-RD Laing-ian anti-psychiatric anti-Oedipal model--ie. not a libidinized harbinger of utopia, but pragmatically shrewd and entrepreneurially canny. Ah, the subtle difference between being a free agent and a freelancer, a collaborator and a mere session hireling!.
>an exercise in pop absurdism
“I had the idea that the mostly unlikely record to enter the charts would be “Ammonia” by The Flying Lizards,” Cunningham told Sounds
> studio processing
Cunningham loved to use graphic equalizer, echo, excessive flanging, treated disco hi-hats, and had a penchant for a sort of arid dub reverb (as also explored on the project The Secret Dub Life of the Flying Lizards, in which Cunningham “remixed” an album that was made for Virgin’s Front Line reggae label by Jah Lloyd but never released, having only been supplied with an “unremixable” mono tape of the original music.)
Flying Lizards had some supporters in the music press, but generally elicited extraordinary vitriol, especially among those ex-Clash fans mournful of punk’s demise. The contempt stemmed from a less cerebral, more visceral version of Green’s “formalist” critique--that it was all a lot of art-school wank and faffing about.
>“A kind of punk… Lizards”
--Cunningham. Zigzag September 1984
This Heat’s drummer Charles Hayward had played drums in and composed material for Quiet Sun, Roxy guitarist Phil Manzanera’s group, as recently as 1975’s highly-acclaimed Mainstream album--only a year before punk! The group predated Roxy Music and unless I’ve got it twisted, Manzanera and Hayward were actually at the same private school in Dulwich (i.e. not far from Camberwell, the area of London This Heat are most associated with; indeed Hayward’s post-This Heat outfit was called The Camberwell Now). Daevid Allen, ex of Soft Machine and then of Gong, was in Quiet Sun during its early days, according to Paul Stump in his Roxy book Unknown Pleasures. In those days they had the reputation as “just about the most listener-unfriendly band in London”, but by the time of 1975’s Mainstream, they were fusing avant-isms and slickness into something pretty listenable if decidedly un-punk in its virtuosity and complexity--ie. about a million miles from Horses and the Ramones debut in other words.
More info--much more info--at http://www.manzanera.com/QuietSunPR.htm#Press -- one tiny element in Phil Manzanerna’s’s monstrously detailed web archive of all things Roxy-related. .
>“All possible processes. All gates open. 24 hours alert”
The first two sentences could easily fit the pre-punk era’s progressive/underground ethos--the post-psychedelic expansionism of Can, say, or even Gong (an early incarnation of which Hayward played in, or so claims Phil Manzanera). But those last three words--“24 hours alert” --make all the difference, severing the links to the easy-going, hippie-go-lucky fusionizm of the early Seventies and evoking a properly postpunk spirit of totally-wired tension and edginess.
>at one gig
At the Hammersmith Palais, supporting a rapidly rising U2, of all people!
Started by fellow Deptford native Mark Perry.
>An Alternative to NATO
Hayward: “Its impact on me was a bit like the first time I heard Archie Shepp.”
At 52, Acre Lane, Brixton (much later in its lifetime--1987-88--I would walk past it on my way from my lodgings to Brixton tube station; also went in there once to interview, or hook up with a group, whose name I’ve quite forgotten.)
This Heat’s model with Cold Storage was Can’s studio Inner Space, which the group had unlimited access to, and were able to jam for hours and hours, then cut-and-splice the best bits into coherent compositions.
Look for Mike Barnes article on the history of Cold Storage in the August 2005 (#258) issue of the Wire.
>Another hi-tech studio
Hayward: “The engineers at the Workhouse were going apeshit, they gave us no resistance at all, they were really into it because they had all these amazing skills they never normally got to use. We were doing all this George Martin-style stuff, not so much the Beatles as his radiophonic work with the Goons."”
>”A life cocooned in a routine of food”
Another line in the song goes “…. softness is a thing called comfort" --a sardonic reference to/”sample” from a TV commercial for toilet paper.
See also the line “you are now in a deep sleep”.
>Acutely discomforting awareness
Hayward: “If we were going to have words at all, they had to be about getting rid of the security blankets, tearing down the lies transmitted by advertising, and facing up to what was happening."
On their self-titled 1979 debut, "Twilight Furniture" pleads "don't pull the wool over our eyes"
>On the surface of your skin as possible
Hayward: “And around the time we did the Health and Efficiency EP [later reissued as a striking three inch CD]. We got really into physical exercise, bicycling, eating well. Again, it was about being strong, surviving all the crap thrown at you, the poison in the environment. That became part of our trip--to keep ourselves together so we could push the music even further”.
Specifically, the song is a celebration of sunshine. “It seemed to be a quite radical idea to be healthy, happy, acknowledging the sun..We’ve all got the same bodies; it’s international” --Charles Hayward from the liner notes to the This Heat box set Out of Cold Storage.
SR: On the back of Deceit there's this photograph of the three of you, and while I wouldn't necessarily say you look ruddy with health, you do all look very cleancut and neat: short hair, cleanshaven, quite smartly dressed, a couple of you even have ties on. And you have these stern, austere looks on your faces--the whole vibe is a bit pre-WW2 socialists. And then behind you on the wall there's two photograph portraits of a rather distinguished looking old lady reading a book. For some reason I imagine her as Edith Sitwell.
Charles Hayward: I've no idea who she was. We were in the Workhouse recording, and we had to do a photo shoot . And in the so-called restroom, there were two photographs of the lady, but in different parts of the room, so we stuck them together. Our look at that time was partly an image of pulling ourselves together...-But also it came from us liking to go to jumble sales. I had a lot of bus conductor jackets I'd picked up, and I bought handfuls of ties for 20p.
Notable one I forgot to mention: Kleenex, soon obliged to change their name to the non-trademark infringing LiLiPUT, a Swiss all-woman trio who evolved from a spirited Delta 5-like dancepunk to a spiny, brambly sound that’s something like a Slits rooted in funk rather than reggae.
Ladbroke Grove and its surrounding neighbourhoods were key during the postpunk period, but this only shows the continuity of counter-culture in the Seventies. The area had been a bohemian haven since the late Sixties: it was the former stomping ground of Pink Floyd and Hawkind and The Deviants, home to the epoch-defing progressive labels Island and Virgin. The Grove segued seamlessly from the era of kaftans, flares and Afghan coats to the Doc Martens, drainpipes and holey out-size jumpers of postpunk. The Rough Trade record shop took over a building on Kensington Park Road that had formerly been the site of the UK’s first hippie “headshop. As Travis noted in the Autonomy in the UK chapter, the store provided a transition between hippie dom and bunch. Joe Strummer’s pre-Clash band the 101-ers had a residency at the Elgin pub nearby. Ladbroke Grove was The Clash’s manor. Their lyrics were shadowed by the Westway flyover and the Brutalist monstrosity of Trellick Tower (which now looks almost charmingly quaint with its utilitarian design), while “White Riot” was inspired by the disorder of the 1976 Notting Hill Carnival.
A short walk from Rough Trade, at the far end of Portobello beyond the Westway, stood the former premises of Sixties underground paper International Times. By the late Seventies it was occupied by Better Badges, started by Joly (Jolyon McFie), formerly the music editor of IT and an original hippie who legendarily hadn’t cut his locks since 1968. On their way from Better Badges to Rough Trade, the spotty zine kids would pass Acklam Hall, a venue tucked under the Westway flyover. Later renamed Subterrania, Acklam Hall started out hosting benefit gigs (including ones for Rock Against Racism), survived a neo-fascist arson attack, and blossomed as a crucial performance space for postpunk groups. PragVEC, who lived in nearby Latimer Road, spawned an offshoot band The Atoms, which featured comedian/actor Keith Allen singing ditties like "Max Bygraves Killed My Mother." (More info in this Allen interview http://www.idler.co.uk/html/interviews/interview11.htm)
Other key West London venues included the Cryptic One Club in Paddington, a cellar beneath a church-turned-youth-club, and The Chippenham, a dingy upstairs room of a pub, where bands performed without a stage. In 1979, it was the place to see The Raincoats and lesser-known absurdists like The Tesco Bombers and The Vincent Units. And crucial hang-outs for the postpunk community were places like the squat-café the Tea Room and the record store Honest Jon’s.
Who made her own West London All-Stars record "Dirty Washing" EP aka "Laundrette" b/w "Private Armies"
Actually, the Raincoats squat was in Monmouth Road, one block further Eastwards along Westbourne Grove. Corrected in the US version and the B-format Faber edition.
>”Being a woman”
Extract from the Sex Revolts on the Raincoats personal-is-political approach
Lyrically, demystification is the Raincoats' thing. Like the Gang of Four's anti-romantic song 'Love Like Anthrax', Raincoats songs 'Black and White' and 'In Love' (from the Adventures Close To Home EP) are attempts at a 'truthful' representation of the romantic experience: all the classic symptoms of falling in love (loss of appetite, hallucinate the beloved's face wherever you go) are unsettingly re-presented in terms of dysfunction, delusion, delirium. The implication is: who would WANT to be in love if this malady and constant haunting are the consequences? All this is woven into the musical fabric of 'In Love', with its agitated tempo and stammering, clamorous harmonies.
In a 1981 interview, violinist/vocalist Vicki Aspinall explained why the Raincoats were drawn to non-rock'n'roll subject matter: 'There have been areas which are supposed to be traditional female areas, to do with emotion, the house and the domestic sphere... [Unlike other female rockers] we haven't avoided it altogether, but just tried to write about it in a way that's true to ourselves.' The Raincoats pulled the wool from under rock's heroic postures by dealing with banal, unromantic domains of female experience, like shopping ('Fairy Tale in the Supermarket') or being followed by a stalker ('Life on the
Line'). 'Shouting Out Loud', the opening track on Odyshape, defines a woman as 'a man with fears'. Where combat rock like the Clash turns oppression into a self-glamorising drama of Us against them, the Raincoats focus on more routine forms of immiseration, like the passive aggressive husband of 'No Looking' who punishes his wife with silence and avoids eye contact.
“We’re together… their thing”--Cobain, from his sleevenotes for Geffen reissue of The Raincoats self-titled debut
>feminism was pervasive
Ian Penman: “You went out with girls who wore little scissors insignia earrings [signifying castration] and they meant it!"
>Rough Trade/Nurse with Wound
The image comes from a fetish mag called Latex and Leather Special!
Rough Trade also ordered the group Raped to change its name if it wanted the store to stock their records (The group capitulated, changing it to Cuddly Toys).
The Stranglers records were banned from the store not for their misogynistic lyrics, though, but because one of them had physically brutalized Jon Savage, a Rough Trade friend and ally.
>an exuberant near-shambles
extract on the Raincoats’s early sound from the Sex Revolts
Like the Slits, the Raincoats' initial impetus was an assertion of the right of untrained incompetents to make music. For some, their early anti-musical rumpus was their most subversive moment. In this view, it's the moment of empowerment--the squall and the gall of it--that counts: a spectacle of liberation that has been repeatedly re-enacted in the fanzine/post-post-punkunderground, with diminishing returns. There's a theory that the untutored are more free when it comes to making unprecedented, out-there music than everyone apart from the most advanced virtuosos (as with the cult affection/awe for '60s
teengirl garage band the Shaggs, who were trying to play pop, but sounded like they came from Mars). In his sleevenotes for the live album The Kitchen Tapes (1983), Greil Marcus takes this line: 'No one--not even, you had to think, the Raincoats themselves--could have replicated five minutes of an early Raincoats show. Early recordings... did not seem to have subjects; they seemed to be in the way that other music was about... The records did not sound like statements... they sounded like events, one-time incidents, that, as in life, resulted from the band's inability to exactly follow its intentions.' Marcus mourns the Raincoats' shift from 'disorderly naturalism' to 'something of a career', as captured on the more polished and playerly Kitchen Tapes….The first album, The
Raincoats (1979), bends and buckles rock form but doesn't break it. This ragged, homespun folk-punk, with its elastic rhythms, reedy vocals and rickety structures, is midway between the do-it-yourself spontaneism of the early live performances and Odyshape's loosely-knit soundscapes. The Raincoats exhilarates because the band's sheer will-to-self-expression galvanises their tenuous technique.
from the ROIR cassette The Kitchen Tapes, Marcus here expressing the view that the early Raincoats (and implicitly the early Slits) offered the more profound and challenging aesthetic experience than the later more musical and expressive Raincoats (and Slits)
>ethnic field recordings/squatmate’s collection
Birch’s squatmate Richard Dudanski--who’d played in Joe Strummer’s pre-Clash band the 101-ers, and later drummed in PiL, Basement 5, and Tesco Bombers--turned the Raincoats onto his collection of ethnic field recordings: Inuit Eskimo chants, South American music, gamelan. Birch was also exploring Ornette Coleman and Miles Davis, thanks to her jazz-fiend boyfriend Dick O’Dell, manager of The Pop Group and The Slits.
Interview with Richard Dudanski at the excellent PiL site Fodderstompf,
Birch: “The attitude on Odyshape was sort of ‘I’ve got a balophone and I’m gonna use it!”
extract on The Raincoats’ “fraught flux” from ‘The Sex Revolts”
Writing about the Raincoats' 1979 eponymous debut in Melody Maker,
Vivienne Goldman declared: 'It's taken me twenty-seven years of listening to music to hear a woman's rock album.' Antecedents like the all-girl pop-metal band the Runaways were 'surrogate men' defined by 'male puppeteers'. But the Raincoats' non-hierarchical, communal set-up, their shying away from solos and macho grandstanding, marked 'a conscious change from the top-dog/underdog pattern set up by the patriarchal structure... they're each so mindful of not out-voicing the other Raincoats that half the time they don't finish what they're saying.'
Looking for non-phallocentric models for pop, the Raincoats inevitably drew on reggae, African music, and folk: cultures where participation is valued over expertise, where there's no specialised class of musicians set above 'non-musicians', and everybody has a go. (This obviously connected to post-punk concerns like do-it-yourself.) The Raincoats favoured poly-rhythmic percussion (as opposed to the phallic insistence of rock's backbeat). Poly is the essential prefix: poly-rhythmic, poly-ethnic, poly-vocal. So 'No One's Little Girl' (from The Kitchen Tapes, 1983) is a shambolic fusion of cultures (Celtic violin meets reggae), no steady beat, and a roundelay of untutored, artless voices.
The sound on Odyshape is a tapestry of ethnic, British folk, and post-punk threads; instead of jamming together ferociously (the male approach to improvisation), the Raincoats almost knit together. On a song like 'Family Tree', there's no backbeat, only an implied but absent rhythmic pivot, around which the instruments undulate and weave. The instruments on 'Only Loved At Night', 'go their own way'. The gamelan percussion is decorative, the dub reggae deep bass drops out of the mix for long spells, the guitar is agitated. Yet the
song is not a mess: a musical conversation is taking place, a mood and a sense of movementis created--but in a way that departs from any accepted rock notion of propulsion.
Along with their musical self-effacement (the fear of 'out-voicing each other'), Raincoats lyrics are tentative, faltering. Many of their songs are polylogues (that 'poly-' prefix again!), a hesitant call and response within a single, confused mind. In 'Odyshape', there are continuous conversations taking place in the background, while the foreground vocal seems to be experiencing a kind of panic attack. The song is structured around jittery fits of embarrassment (the woman is 'walking sad' and 'looking bad')that ebb and then resurge, like a blush that can't be mastered. Meanwhile, an elastic rhythm section relaxes and tenses up in synch with the spasms of self-consciousness. Tentative emotions--embarrassment, awkwardness--that are foreign to the rock repertoire oblige the Raincoats to come up with whole new structures for music.
Sometimes the Raincoats depart so far from rock rhythms that they're hard to respond to as pleasurable: the unsteady, rubbery tempos of 'Baby Song' are just too fitful, too eccentric (literally out-of-the-groove). But again, this discomfort is appropriate for the confessional nature of the lyrics. The Raincoats' words are broken shards of emotion, jutting feelings, a fretful vacillation between agitated options. If flux is at the heart of the Raincoats'
aesthetic, it's not blissful or mystical as it was for Patti Smith, but fraught.
>guest drummers on Odyshape
Charles Hayward played on “Family Treet", "Only Loved at Night," "Baby Song," and "Go Away"
Robert Wyatt played on "And Then It's OK"
Other guest drummers were Richard Dudanski and Ingrid Weiss
The Red Crayola's Rough Trade "supergroup" line-up with -- left to right -- Mayo Thompson (from Pere Ubu), Lora Logic (from Essential Logic), Gina Birch (from the Raincoats), Epic Soundtracks (from Swell Maps)
Gina Birch: “Mayo was a profound influence, and a bit of a hero. I thought he was fantastic musically. Early on he came to the rehearsal room and talked to Vicky and all of us about the way the violin was used--he said listen to John Cale in the Velvet Underground, listen to the drones, and for Vicky it was a revelation.”
>Thirteenth Floor Elevators
The Red Krayola recorded for the same label as them, the Texas-based International Artists
>gestures toward deconstruction
Mayo Thompson: “We were asking ourselves questions. Like, ‘what is the smallest amount of music one can transmit that constitutes a piece of music, ‘piece’ meaning an expressive whole with a beginning, middle, and end? And those were all performance pieces, we played that stuff on stage!”
>the sheer combative nature of their stance
Art & Language were motored by a Marxism-derived awareness of privilege and institutionalized power in the art world, resulting in what Thompson calls “an extraordinary guilt-ridden, headhanging aspect to their criticism”
>looking for trouble
Thompson on Art & Language: “And those people, they were tough-minded, and they beat up on each other too. You had to be able to take it to stay in the organisation. I went to military school so I knew about boys being tough on each other!"
>moved to England… Pere Ubu
By happy coincidence, the newly founded Radar label decided to license records by 13th Floor Elevators and Crayola for reissue, and through Radar boss Andrew Lauder, Thompson encountered Pere Ubu, falling in love with their music and striking up a rapport with David Thomas. Apparently flexi disc singles of The Red Krayola’s “Hurricane Fighter Plane” were given away by Radar at Ubu’s famous Chiselhurst Caves mystery show in late 1978. Thompson then recorded the first Red Crayola album in nearly a decade for
Radar, entitled Soldier-Talk and with Ubu effectively operating as his band.
Red Crayola's Born In Flames single
>pivotal figure in the Rough Trade collective
Thompson found the RT milieu a highly congenial environment, from the standpoint of the general discourse going on and the climate of ideas. He also loved the music being made by RT acts, especially digging “the liberty of feeling” in Swell Maps. Yet he had no sentimental attachment to Rough Trade’s collectivist ideals. The original Red Krayola, he says, “was never enamoured with the hippy project in the communal sense,” and at Rough Trade “all it meant to me was that for a long time I worked for nothing!”. When people asked him what he would do when Rough Trade became a big record company like Virgin, he would say “we are a big record company like Virgin. That’s how I felt--that the ideologising of the company structure was empty. The company was built around Geoff--he had absolute yes and no. Anybody can agree to cooperate but you better hope somebody knows better than everybody else”.
> Staggering number of the best postpunk bands
Thompson produced or co-produced The Fall, Stiff Little Fingers, Scritti Politti, Cabaret Voltaire, Kleenex, The Raincoats, the Blue Orchids
Green and producer Mayo Thompson during the sessions for 4 A Sides.
>collided with Green
Ian Penman: “"Green and Mayo had this macho two bulls in a china shop, mutual distrust “I'm-more-cerebral-than-you” thing going on which was hilarious to behold.”
Thompson concedes that the relationship was “always contentious. Green’s a snotty bastard, and he enjoys his brain--and I don’t blame him. But that's not really about generating a conversation, that's about posing. Plus you have to remember, Green and I were in competition with each other--he had a band too, and it was much more popular than mine."
Yet The Red Crayola invited Scritti Politti to tour Europe with them (this invitation immediately following their debut performance in late 1978 at Acklam Hall). Green himself recalls that “I used to go and spend time with Mayo and his wife in their cottage… Yeah, he was a cool cat.” Clearly the two had a lot in common. Stemming no doubt from their common penchant for Art & Language, Thompson was as scathing as Green about “weak practice” and “ill-thought ideas.” In interviews, Thompson lambasted obvious targets like The Clash but also those much closer to Rough Trade, like the Pop Group, critiquing both their early beatnik Romanticism and their later “sentimentality about ideological purity”.
>“I didn't fragment… fragmented”
--Thompson, in Richie Unterberger’s Unknown Legends of Rock’n’Roll. (San Francisco: Miller Freeman Books, 1998). P. 393
Thompson also notes "I don't mind a bit of insecurity. I don't mind a little instability, don't mind a little quicksand”.
Red Crayola's single "An Old Man's Dream"
The title (and title track) is inspired by the story of Captain Cook’s “discovery” of Australia and how he asked the aborigines “what is that animal?” and the aborigines said “Kangaroo” and that’s how it got its name--except that “kangaroo” is Aboriginal for “what did you say?”
>internal contradictions of bourgeois culture
According to the press release with Kangaroo?, the Crayola strategy was to use “discursive complexity and didactic absurdity” rather than straightforward denunciation.
A style that Thompson described as “cabaret pastorale”
>what would a socialist song sound like
Hence also song titles on Kangaroo? such as “The Principles of Party Organisation", “A Portrait of V.I. Lenin in the style of Jackson Pollock Part 1,” “The Mistakes of Trotsky”,”1917”, “The Tractor Driver”, “Marches No's 23, 24, 25” and “Plekhanov”, the latter named after Georgi Valentinovich Plekhanov, an early Russian Marxist who gradually took a different path from Lenin, the two of them ultimately becoming bitter foes (Pleknanov even wrote an answer book, What is not to be Done, repudiating Lenin’s 1902 Bolshevik manual for revolution What Is To Be Done?).
> Jehovah’s Witness
Judging by New Picnic Time’sclosing “Kingdom Come,” he’d become flushed with renewed fervor.
>“it’s not nice!”
David Thomas further said of rock: “It's not positive, it's not even neutral, it's extremely detrimental to people!"
They certainly seem to be the most likely target of Thomas’s jibes about singers making “a career of being ‘seriously’ pitiable”. “Misery Goats," one of the more accessible tracks on The Art of Walking also playfully admonished the Gothick gloomy-gusses: “Don't fret, now/Don't be so tired/No mope, mope, mope-a-dope/No, it's not as bad as all of that... /Don't be no misery goat!”
”Here's to the small things that give pleasure Here's to the everyday things that bring a smile “
>Thompson enjoyed deconstructing rock form,
Mayo Thompson believes he was recruited by Thomas as an avant-leaning ally against the rockin’ rhythm section of Maimone and Krauss, to keep the balance after the departure of Herman and his casting vote.
>A revolt against punk
According to Moxham, they couldn’t even be bothered to go see the Sex Pistols when they played in Wales.
For the benefit non-UK readers, and probably many younger UK readers (do they even have testcards anymore?), the testcard I remember being broadcast for the substantial portions of the day in 1960s and 1970s Britain when there was no programming at all, e.g. after the TV-for-toddlers at lunchtime and before the children’s TV that came on about 4 PM. The function of the still image--in my day, a vividly coloured photograph of a small girl in front of a blackboard, see it here ftp://ftp.bbc.co.uk/pub/video/stills/tcf.gif
--was purely so that people in TV repair shops could adjust the image while working on a faulty set. And presumably in case they also needed to work on the sound reproduction, the image was accompanied by elevator-style music, peppy and mildly jazzy, and with this peculiar flavour all its own-- a very dry production, full of crisp details in the arrangements and lots of separation between the instruments, but also strangely flat and suppressed sounding. Young Marble Giants’ final release was a six-track EP of instrumental tracks (Alison was supposedly ill and unable to sing) called Testcard in homage to this music’s subliminal strangeness. "Praise for mid-morning television," is how the Moxhams’ described, referring to the similar kind of “Music for Schools” played in the gaps between educational programmes.
Round about here it should perhaps be noted that Stuart Moxham cited dub reggae as an influence, along with its inevitable corollary, smoking a lot of pot, for the way it “lowers your boredom threshold” so that the tiniest fluctuations are absorbing. Might have something to do with the allure of TV muzak!
A website devoted to BBC Testcards! http://www.meldrum.co.uk/mhp/testcard/bbc_test.html
Woebot on Testcards
Jon Dale tells me they do have testcards in Australia at least, check this Aussie site
Moxham also used an extremely hard “shark fin” plectrum for extra trebly pingy-ness!
>rudimentary drum machine
Moxham: “Phil would be playing the bass and at the end of each track, he’d turn off the drum machine with his knee.”
>But Alison's not… more control"
--Moxham. NME 1/31/81. News item.
YMG = headphone music, according to Stuart Moxham: “That's the ultimate way of getting inside music and cutting off the world. You're not available, you're inside the headphones and dedicated to listening."
> Under the bedclothes
In another interview, the band enthused about the idea of playing gigs in churches or the countryside, “rural places” or "chamber-music places... where people can just sit down, relax and listen”. C.f. Hugo Largo, who invited their audiences to sit down; Cowboy Junkies recording an album in a church for the acoustics, etc.
>Rough Trade’s second biggest seller
After Stiff Little Finger’s Inflammable Material.
Moxham: “The lyric is a combination of an Ian Fleming short story about how rich people will die last ‘cos that's the privilege of wealth with stuff about how apparently rabbits and beetles will survive longest in a nuclear war”. Also supposed to be inspired by Peter Watkins’s Sixties film about the nuclear holocaust, The War Game, commissioned by the BBC deemed too harrowing to actually show on TV.
> other Radio One deejays
Punk had enhanced Peel’s stature--he was the first Radio One DJ to embrace it--dramatically. As a result, for several years, the other early evening DJs--who were able to play more New Wave because the audience after 5pm changed from housewives and office workers to teenage school kids and students--would follow Peel’s lead to a great extent. This was in the late Seventies and very early Eighties; the arrival of New Pop in 81-82 (which Peel ignored, on the grounds that it didn’t need his support, being mostly on major labels and in the charts thanks to day time radio play) once again turned the Peel show into something of a ghetto, going its own sweet way.
Originally released on the tiny New York indie label One Ten Records
Rock on television in those days was sparse, sporadic, and pretty staid, although you would occasionally see things like Joy Division or PiL.
Peel's commitment to the marginal and maverick was squarely in the grain of the BBC’s Reithian broadcasting philosophy. Peel: "Lord Reith would probably have been horrified by my show, but I do feel like I'm carrying on some grand BBC tradition.”
>Fuck Off … Kif Kif… Here and Now
Here and Now had organized the famous “free tour” in 1978 that brought together hippie festival bands and “punks” like Alternative TV and The Fall. (See the footnotes to Chapter 6 Autonomy in the UK). The Fuck Off label evolved out of a studio in West London where lots of do-it-yourself outfits (The Door and the Window, Instant Automatons, Androids of Mu, etc) recorded. Many of the records were produced by Kif Kif, whose real name was Keith Dobson and later became the guitarist/vocalist of the fantastic Ladbroke Grove noise band World Domination Entreprises, whose most famous song “Asbestos Lead Asbestos” is pretty much a late-period postpunk single.
For more on Keith Dobson's DIY past check these pieces on World Domination Enterprises at ReynoldsRetro
For much, much more on Street Level and Fuck Off Records--actually spelled Reckords--and its family of sub-labels go here for an eye-feast of scanned covers
Check also this Bob Stanley article about the DIY explosion and Fuck Off
and another Stanley article in the Guardian March 2006 on DIY, Fuck Off, and Chuck Warner’s Messthetics Greatest Hits - The Sounds of UK DIY 1977-80 compilation.
The Weird Noise EP on Fuck Off Records -- the guy with the guitar is Kif Kif aka Keith Dobson
>Danny & The Dressmakers
These songs being from “39 Golden Grates”. Another D&TD classic:
"If the Kids Were United They'd Throw Bricks at Jimmy Pursey."
Graham Massey, later of Biting Tongues and even later of 808 State, was in Danny & the Dressmakers, I believe.
Included someone who later became a good friend of mine, Chris Scott, who was part of the Monitor crew and also a member of Talulah Gosh amongst other bands. The “unlistenable” album in question was A Hour of Torture With…; Chris also put out a solo album called Joie De Vivre. Both releases were on the Fuck Off sub-label Organised Chaos.
“The worst tape… so awful”--Kif Kif. Sounds 6/28/80. Fuck Off feature.
>Top Ten countdown
If this was a Top 30, then it would include Out On Blue Six, Morgan Fisher (whose Hybrids http://www.morgan-fisher.com/discogpages_e/hybrids.html and Miniatures http://www.morgan-fisher.com/discogpages_e/miniatures.html
compilationswere particular faves, and whose cast of collaborators significantly mixed pre-punk prog and post-punk weirdwave), Normil Hawaians, The Diagram Brothers, Dislocation Dance, The Higsons, the early Foetus releases, Girls At Our Best, Newtown Neurotics, The Prats, Sudden Sway, Tools You Can Trust, The Modettes….
Live, the group were infamous for both their 12 minute dirge 'The Bristol Road Leads to Dachau' (inspired by the IRA's Birmingham pub bombings) and their eight second cover version of "Bohemian Rhapsody”. I saw them supporting either Killing Joke or Adam and the Ants (can’t remember which) at Aylesbury Friars in 1980; all I can remember is an ear-splitting wall of feedback and the singer (Robert Lloyd) performing with his back to the audience.
Had definite quirk-out tendencies (the group liked to shove bits of cork under their guitar strings) but didn’t quite escape the gravitational pull of mundanity. The cover to “Precinct” is a snapshot of a sterile-looking shopping center and in interviews the group complained about planners who treated urban space like “a big Lego set… they can drop these schemes on people and watch them run around it.” The Shend later formed a weird Beefheart/Dada influenced outfit called the Very Things and released a series of mid-80s singles including “The Gong Man/The Colours Are Speaking To Me”, “The Bushes Scream While My Daddy Prunes” and “Mummy, You're A Wreck”.
More on the Cravats here http://www.trakmarx.com/2004_02/07_cravats.htm
“The voice is the ultimate instrument,” they told NME, citing as role models This Heat, The Raincoats, and Captain Beefheart. I actually prefer “Bare Pork”, their track on C81, to anything on the “I Don’t Like Your Face” 12 inch (their solitary recording as far as I know).
Furious Pig mp3s of the their EP for Rough Trade and further info:
testimonial from one of the band members:
Stephen Kent - Vocal, Guitar, Percussion, French Horn
Cass Davies - Vocals, Percussion, Pause Button FX
Martin Kent - Vocal, Drums and Percussion
Dominic Weeks - Vocal, Electric Piano, Bass, Bass-Clarinet
Furious Pig was a group that emerged out of the High School experiences of a group of friends and relations in Totnes, a little town in South Devon, England. Influenced by listening to an eclectic mix of early Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, The Beatles, Ethiopian Polyphonic chants, The Doors, Stravinsky and Edgar Varese, among other things, we moved to London in 1979 a year after reaching the final of the National 'Melody Maker' Rock/Folk Contest - an event at which the judges included Bob Geldof, Justin Hayward [of the Moody Blues] and Ray Coleman [editor of Melody Maker]. Needless to say Furious Pig didn't win with their stirring renditions of 'I'm Going Round the Bend' and the jarring 'In Order of Height' but Bob Geldof said we'd 'Gotta Lotta Bottle'[Nerve] playing what we played. Squatting in houses around North London we developed a form of intense acapella vocal chanting, highly orchestrated with choreographed passages. It became a cult sensation on the London and N.European club scene. We toured on the bill with bands like This Heat, The Raincoats, Pere Ubu, The Slits, The Fall, The TV Personalities. We played on the streets, in clubs, pubs, schools. At the Comic Strip in Soho we were a regular music act - playing alongside all the comedians who became 'The Young Ones' and 'Absolutely Fabulous' on TV. We scored a live soundtrack to a William Burroughs book, 'The Wild Boys'. Our session on Radio 1 DJ John Peels show so divided the listenership between those who loved and those who loathed our music that it was repeated in record time. We'd spend 8 hours a day for months working on extending our vocal ranges, often in grotesque and hilarious ways - we had fun! Rough Trade Records got us into the studio and we recorded a vocal set including versions of 'I Don't Like Your Face', 'Jonny So Long' and the 'Kingmother'. I always regretted not recording 'Frozen Tarzan' with its alternating Shouting Through Cardboard Tubes and simply Shouting choreography and its Rolling On The Floor section. However, tapes do exist......
Furious Pig came to an end when I left to become MD of Circus Oz in Australia. However all the other band members continued recording careers: Martin Kent aka Martin Pig with a series of singles on Rough Trade and Dominic Weeks and Cass Davies with two full length LP's on Recommended Records: Het - 'Lets Het' and another with french chanteuse Hermine.
>Notsensibles… punk pathetique
Alongside Splodgnessabounds and Peter and the Test Tube babies.
Bushell coined the term in a singles review of another Notsensibles single, "Instant Classic". The Burnley band returned the compliment with their song "Garry Bushell's Band of the Week".
Produced by This Heat’s Charles Bullen, “Playing Golf With My Flesh Crawling” is a bit like the missing link between the LMC and XTC.
More on Family Fodder here
>Tiller Boys “Big Noise from the Jungle”
Released on New Hormones, whose Richard Boon describes it as “a sort of tribute-to-Neu! meets Sandy Nelson” and secretes further the delicious morsel of postpunk trivia: Eric Random’s hairdresser mum was responsible for Moors murderess Myra Hindley’s bouffant hairdo!
More on Eric Random’s career of solo recordings
>Fatal Microbes/Honey Bane
Real name Donna Tracy (or is it Donna Boylan? Sources vary), Honey Bane was a problem child, rampaging through pubs in the Epping area, drinking and starting fights with blokes twice her size. "I always used to be a bit weird,” she told NME. “I went to school with knickers over me head when I was ten and had red and green streaks in my hair. That was before punk got started." She lived in a childcare center in Essex called St. Charles Home as ward of the state from the age of eleven. She started hanging out with anarcho-punk outfits like Crass and Poison Girls, whose fortysomething singer Vi Subversa acted as a sort of surrogate mother, while Vi’s real son Gemman would become the drummer in the Fatal Microbes. Both groups were affiliated to the label that put out “Violence Grows”, Small Wonder, based in Walthamstow. (Actually they re-released it as a 7-inch; it first came out as a 12 inch EP on Poison Girls own X-NTRIX label). Bane also recorded a single with Crass, “You Can Be You” b/w “Porno Grows”, with Crass backing her under the pseudonym Donna and the Kebabs. She dated Mickey Geggus of Small Wonder band Cockney Rejects and was then “discovered” by Sham 69’s Jimmy Pursey, then acting as a talent scout for EMI’s Zonophone label. She was signed to a deal and scored a small hit with “Turn Me On Turn Me Off”, which was followed by an ignominious Supremes cover “Baby Love”. EMI no doubt saw her as another Poly Styrene (or, shudder, Toyah. Or, double shudder, Hazel O’Connor). Somewhere in the middle of all this was an excellent single “Guilty,” written after being sent to court for nicking a bottle of milkshake mix!
The great guitar-playing on “Violence Grows”--which anticipates Levene’s on “Poptones” later in 1979--was by a guy called Pete Fender, who later joined Rubella Ballet, one of the more interesting anarcho bands. They later did a song called “A Dream of Honey” inspired by Bane’s signing to EMI with dreams of stardom.
Honey Bane got a tiny bit closer to stardom through her appearance in the British movie Scrubbers, about the goings-on in a girls Borstal, making it the missing link between the boys prison movie Scum and the contemporary series Bad Girls.
She is still around, fronting a hard rock band, and looking as glamorous as ever.
More on Honey Bane (including a bunch of interviews from Sounds and ZigZag) at this Women In Punk site
>”There Goes Concorde Again”
Like the Residents if they’d come from Scunthorpe.
The marvelously monikered Nanette Greenblatt seems genuinely perturbed by the fact that it’s always fat women walking up the hill and thin women walking down.
Thanks largely to Peel’s support, this delicious speck of nonsense became a #5 hit in the Independent Charts.
Vast archive of Scritti interviews at
Useful Scritti site: Scritti Crush Connection
Another content-heavy Scritti site is Scritti Cola with a bunch of rare early rare tunes (including the missing Peel Session material--check especially for the haunting “Knowledge and Interest”-- and bits of live shows from the era, very lo-fi naturally), videos, and a long interesting audio interview from Resonance FM
Another excellent and vast Scritti site -- what is it with Green fans?!?-- called Bibbly-O-Tek,
A biographical timeline of Green/Scritti, with a few errors but lots of cool data including Green’s real Christian name
Mike Powell at Pitchfork on The Raincoats
The Red Crayola/Mayo Thompson discography
Michael Baker on Pere Ubu
part of an epic series of pieces on Cleveland rock at Perfect Sound Forever
Mike Appelstein’s history of the Young Marble Giants
Jon Dale on Alison Statton’s post-YMG outfit Weekend
Paul Morley piece on John Peel’s favourite singles
Piece on Peel’s favourite albums
----The Hyped2Death label’s Messthetics series of compilations, “curated” by Chuck Warner, http://hyped2death.com/catalog/index.php?cPath=26_21
and the rest of the label/store (including American equivalent Homework series)
---- Johan Kugelberg’s Ugly Things article “It was easy it was cheap? Go and do it” on the top 100 DIY artifacts. http://www.hyped2death.com/Kugelberg100.html
-- Bob Stanley’s article in the Guardian March 2006 on DIY, Fuck Off, and Chuck Warner’s
Messthetics Greatest Hits - The Sounds of UK DIY 1977-80 compilation.
Quietus interview with Keith Dobson aka Kif Kif of Fuck Off Records with stuff on the O12s and Fuck Off but mostly about World Domination Enterprises his post-postpunk band
FURTHER WRITING BY ME ON THE RAINCOATS, THIS HEAT, YOUNG MARBLE GIANTS, ET AL
WHAT THE RAINCOATS DID NEXT (from Sex Revolts)
Although the demystification bands made what Greil Marcus calls a 'dance of affirmation that things are not as they seem', there was little left after this process of stringent deconstruction to affirm. Attacking sugary notions of femininity kind of took the spice out of life, since they didn't really replace them with anything except a kind of unisex earnestness. Historically, the movement was poised on the cusp of the shift from radical feminism (which had aimed to abolish gender differences), to the cultural feminism that prevails to this day (which accepts the existence of gender difference but tries to
valorise female attributes).The Raincoats' career followed this trajectory pretty closely: they started out aiming to de-naturalise notions of femininity and masculinity, and accordingly came over a bit grey and worthy; later with the single “Animal Rhapsody” and their third album Moving they celebrated nature and the body with affirmative dance music and 'lifestyle politics'. Paralleling the Slits contemporaneous “Animal Space’, ‘Animal Rhapsody' has a nouveau hippy, green-conscious vibe; over a loose and limber shuffling groove, the Raincoats chant phrases like 'get to know your body/get to know your
mind'--giving off a pungent whiff of holistic therapy. The joy of unfettered sexuality and natural harmony has seldom seemed less enticing. As with a lot of the demystification bands then attempting to loosen up a bit and get less dour and more inviting (see also the Au Pairs' Sense and Sensuality), the Raincoats’ discovery of desire and the pleasures of the body couldn't escape being rendered dull and worthy by the programmatic nature of their politics.
Finally, in the late '80s, two members of the band regrouped as the pop band Dorothy, and [influenced by the work of Cindy Sherman, says Gina Birch] this time they were in synch with the latest 'post-feminist' ideas about using traditional feminine imagery as a strategy of empowerment. They dressed like glamorous '40s film stars, wore lots of make-up, and made glossy, opulent music reminiscent of Diana Ross.
A review for Melody Maker of a gig in London by The Raincoats circa their 1994 reunion
THE RAINCOATS/MAMBO TAXI/SKINNED TEEN
The Garage, London.
Skinned Teen very much partake of the Beat Happening/K label ethos--geek-chic, conscientiously preserved amateurism. But this schoolgirl trio are genuine pubescents, not late twenties naif-wannabes. Their nursery rhyme rants remind me of long-lost Peel faves The Prats, 11 year old Scots punks. Skinned Teen's sheer gall and petulance is charming, and some of the riffs have the primal Zen simplicity of 1966 freakbeat bands like The Eyes, but I sense condescension in the audience's applause for 'songs' that are frankly flimsy.
By comparison, Mambo Taxi's chugging Buzzcocks/Soup Dragons lite-punk is tight, but it's also pedestrian. So much Riot Grrrl/Huggy Nation activity is stuck musically at1986/1976/1966: garage punk with the misogny replaced by its female equivalent, righteous misandry. Surely, by now, some of these bands should have pushed forward to 1979/80, when female and mixed-gender units like The Raincoats and Delta 5 tried to inscribe gender-difference into music as well as lyrics?
At the time, The Raincoats subtle subversions didn't register next to the bombastic anti-rockism of PiL et al, and personally I only discovered "Odyshape" a few years ago. So while nostalgia may partially explain the fervour of the crowd, largely composed of veterans of the post-punk DIY/demystification era, for me The Raincoats seem totallyimmediate and present-tense. Of the original band, only Gina Birch and Ana De Silva have reformed; Vicky Aspinall now runs a garage dance label, but substitute violinist Ann Wood uncannily matches her John Cale-ish scree, while Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth supplies superlative drums.
They kick off with "Fairytale In The Supermarket", rambunctious, rocking and blessed with one of the grooviest basslines ever. "In Love" is a stumbling flurry of polyphonic clamour (apparently influenced by Inoit Eskimo singing) and collapsing-house-of-cards dynamics. The set is dominated by the roisterous Velvets/folk-punk sound of the first Raincoats LP, perhaps because the weird geometry of "Odyshape"--one of the most sorely neglected albums in avant-rock history--is harder to reproduce live. But they do play a superb version of "Shouting Out Loud", where reverbed violin and undulant, panic-pulse bass make for an 'ambient dub' very different to today's spliff-muzak. The only lesser moments in an otherwise blistering set are songs from the band's "brown rice funk" period circa "Moving": holistic, healthful body-music flavoured with world influences.
I expected the reformed Raincoats to be either shaky and charmingly precarious, or overly slick and polished, but amazingly they hit a perfect medium, sounding at once tight and ragged, wild and tentative. Come the encores, Ana apologises that they don't know anymore more songs so they'll have to play some again, prompting one punter to demand: "play the entire set again!" Sadly, they don't, but "In Love" and "Fairy Tale" are even more exhilirating than before. My sole regrets: that they didn't play the gamelan-funk of "Only Loved At Night", their most radical un-rocking of rock ever, and that the most exciting gig I've seen in ages was by a band who don't even "exist" anymore.
Review of This Heat reissues for The Wire (circa 91/92 I think)
These reissues are mementoes of an unimaginably different
Brit-rock era than ours. Today's indie bliss-rock aims to engulf us
in 'dreamtime', simulates the effects of drugs; back then (1979-81)
the goal was to wake us from our mass culture sleep, rouse us from
addiction to TV and pop. Demystification was the goal; alienation
was both aesthetic strategy and subject matter.
Along with Cabaret Voltaire, Scritti Politti, Pop Group,
Throbbing Gristle et al, This Heat forged the syntax of the
post-punk avant-garde: synth-drones and squelches; hissing,
programmed percussion; tape-loops and found sounds; effects-ridden
guitar; creepy vocals. Rhythms had a ciphered relation to reggae or
disco rather than rock'n'roll, vocals recalled the lugubrious
Englishness of Robert Wyatt; American rockism was stoutly resisted.
Both "This Heat" and "Deceit" are haunted by the standard-issue
spectres of the 1979 worldview: fear and disgust at the amnesiac,
anaesthetic comfort of domesticity; anti-consumerism; dread of
nuclear annihilation. What This Heat and co feared most was sleep:
every element of their music was designed to put you on edge.
Groove was mostly foregone in favour of brittle, fractured tempos;
when it did appear, funk had a foreboding compulsion. Elsewhere,
This Heat made ambient music, but without the flow, without the
repose. "Horizontal Hold" cuts from blistering feedback to arid,
timebomb tick-tock dub to an abrasive funk-scrabble. "Not Waving"
sounds like Robert Wyatt languishing in a dungeon while mice scamper
over Ivor Cutler's harmonium. "Independence" is a mirage of
Oriental reggae, gorgeous and deadly like a jewelled cobra.
In 1979, this music was meant to be the dawning of a brave,
all-new frontier. In truth, the post-punk avant-garde was really a
resumption of the techniques of the pre-1977 experimental fringe
(Henry Cow, Art Bears, Faust, Can, Soft Machine, Residents etc) with
a different agenda and more apprehensive aura. With the world scene
getting more apocalyptic by the day, This Heat's unsettled and
unsettling music seems more timely than it has for a long while.
review of This Heat's debut album reissued for emusic 2006
by Simon Reynolds
This Heat are regarded as one of the archetypal post-punk vanguard outfits. Which they were, but the fact is that this South London trio were just as much a post-psychedelic band, with audible roots in the UK's progressive underground of the early '70s. In 1975, even as Patti Smith and the Ramones released their debuts, This Heat's drummer/vocalist Charles Hayward was playing in Quiet Sun, a jazz-rock combo led by Roxy guitarist Phil Manzanera. This Heat's slogan was "All possible processes. All channels open. 24 hours alert," and those first two sentiments could easily have been endorsed by proggy weirdos like Van Der Graaf Generator, Gong, or Can. But the third plank of that mini-manifesto marked This Heat as true contemporaries of Scritti Politti and the Pop Group, its totally-wired tone of paranoid vigilance tapping into the atmosphere of tension and dread that suffused the late '70s.
Political anguish — fears of nuclear armageddon, of a right-wing backlash reversing the gains of the '60s, of an emerging police state — suffused This Heat's music, creating a vibe a world away from the whimsical meander of pre-punk noodlers like Soft Machine. Nonetheless, you can still hear This Heat's proggy past come through on their self-titled 1979 debut in the Robert Wyatt-like plaintiveness and Englishness of Hayward's vocals and the undisguised virtuosity of his drumming, as well as in the group's tell-tale penchant for disjointed structures. More post-punk DIY-noisy in spirit and sound are the contributions of Gareth Williams, a non-musican who supplied jarring blurts and abstract smears using broken-down instruments, effects-pedals, and a primitive form of sampling involving tape loops.
This Heat could be propulsively, even convulsively rhythmic: the eerie percussive timbres and frenetic beats of "24 Track Loop" offers an astonishing audio-prophecy of '90s drum 'n' bass, while "Horizontal Hold" cuts from blistering feedback, to a time-bomb tick-tock of Cold War skank, to an abrasive funk-scrabble, But the group were equally effective making a kind of ambient music, albeit of a decidedly non-tranquilizing sort. "Not Waving" sounds like Wyatt languishing in a dungeon where the rats scuttle morosely over the keys of a decrepit harmonium. "Late-prog," "post-punk" — either way you slice it, This Heat is a category-collapsing classic.
Interviews with Keith Dobson and World Domination Enterprises by me that also deal with Fuck Off Records and the 012s / DIY culture
Transcript of my complete interview with Charles Hayward of This Heat -- an out-take for Totally Wired interviews collection -- published at the Quietus.
My sleevenotes for the Young Marble Giants reissue.
All non-pictorial contents copyright Simon Reynolds unless otherwise indicated