5 days ago
Saturday, November 22, 2008
OUTSIDE OF EVERYTHING
Howard Devoto and Vic Godard
[chapter not included in the US edition]
"I don't like movements"
—NME July 28 1978
Full quote—Devoto: "Getting involved with punk was a reaction against everything that was in the air at the time, so getting Magazine together was a reaction against punk... I just don't like movements. I'm just perverse."
a movement based in the rebellion of middle class misfits
Especially outside London, notes Simon Frith in Sound Effects, "the most obvious feature of punk culture was its initial lack of straight working-class appeal. In the provinces the first punk scenes were staffed by the usual hip kids—art scholars and hippies and dropouts. Punk was a bohemian culture, and while bohemians can certainly be found on the dole queue, their lives are not determined by it." Also, "Punk symbolized a new sort of street culture: the inner-city post-domestic young, radical professionals, squatters and communes, students, non-students living a student life, ethnic groups, gays, no one "settled down", everyone concerned to protest and survive."
self-parodic yobbishness "It became too much of a trend and a fashion, and it was getting yobbish in a quite extreme way," is how Devoto described it years later.
it became clear punk was going to get constrained
Boon: "So Howard left the Buzzcocks 'cos he didn't really want his version of Buzzcocks to be dragged down by what punk was turning into. He wanted to stand aside".
surname Trafford... Devoto
Various theories about the name circulated at the time: that it was the Latin for "bewitching", that it was actually his mother's maiden name. I asked Devoto himself:"It was a name I overheard in a conversation at Lower Broughton Road apartment before I moved in, it was owned by one of my philosophy lecturers, I used to go round there and after a meal they mentioned someone with that name who was apparently working as a bus driver in Cambridge at the time. The name caught my ear and I mentioned it to Peter and he stored it away, and I toyed around with the idea of using it, and that's how he introduced me to the first ever music journalist to ever cross our path. I got the name in that way."I then asked Devoto: There must have been this period in 78 when you and Devo were the most hyped groups and there was a double omnipresence effect 'cos of the names being so close!Devoto: "It wasn't commented on that much... it meant you took a bit of a double take when you scanned things... I can tell you it's a brand of coffee in Sardinia. And somebody once told me it meant 'pious' in Italian!"
Devoto and Shelley’s friendship through video soundtrack
Devoto: "It ended up being too involved for such a little project. So we just ended up using records—including some Balinese stuff, a Balinese lullaby. And "The Chrome-plated Megaphone of Destiny" from We're Only in it for the Money” by the Mothers of Invention."
Shelley, electronics, and "experimental synth music" Devoto: "At college Peter was an electronic engineer. I did psychology first, then did humanities—he was from the other side of college. And one tended not to mix with the engineers, as it were. Although they were probably in the majority. The people who did the artsy stuff were a little enclave on their own. He was kind of into computers even at that stage, to a degree [allusion to Shelley’s later synthpop direction post-Buzzcocks]"Shelley recorded an album of electronic music, Sky Yen, in 1974, two years before the formation of Buzzcocks; it was eventually released in 1979.
and other German bands
When Can released an anthology double called "Cannibalism" in 1978, Shelley wrote sleevenotes for it and declared: "I never would have played guitar if not for Marc Bolan and Michael Karoli of Can."
local fanzine Out There I've not seen a copy but Out There was reputedly a stylish looking, well-designed magazine, not a grubby fanzine, and it covered a lot of stuff outside the rock norm, things like Eno's Obscure label through Island (Toop & Eastley, Penguin Café Orchestra, Gavin Bryars etc), Annette Peacock, Steve Tibbetts, Ornette Coleman, and so forth. Morley also did a fanzine with Richard Boon called Girl Trouble, a kind of micro-zine rapidly assembled and circulated in tune with the amphetamine-accelerated cultural-metabolism of the time. Boon: "There'd be some splatter text about whatever was on our minds at the time, and then a tracklisting which could be films, records, books. Some Top Ten list that month. And that was just a two sided A4. You'd be lucky if you got the penny you were probably asking for it at the Russell Club. It was like, 'this is what I'm bothered about this week, or listening to this week, or want somebody else to listen to this week'. It was radical news in a way, and it was fun. The circulation was 30 copies probably. The price was a penny or five pence. It was a piece of paper, it was spreading the virus. Whatever the virus was."
"Unrelenting nature of the music"
From Melody Maker January 21st 1978, Devoto explains his departure from Buzzcocks AND from punk: "I was a bit bored with music that went blam-blam-blam. And I was especially bored when I turned round and saw 50 other groups playing music that went blam-blam-blam."
"a key factor to the way I function... Doing the unacceptable"
—Devoto interview with Nick Kent, NME, April 28th 1979
The Stooges/Iggy as a god to him
Devoto, from the interview with Nick Kent, NME April 28th 1979: "It was literally one inspirational moment that I had with 'Funhouse'. Which activated putting a band together... everyone was getting fed up with rock music in that horrible barren mid-'70s period. The pre-Pistols sterility period. And I was starting to listen to jazz—lassical music—ethnic music — just anything to get away from rock. And I'd almost... well, my rock listening was pared down to the three Stooges albums because they were the only records that made sense to me. Plus it was such a shitty period of my life. I found it so glorious to wallow in the hyper-negativity of that music."
Iggy's sonorous croon Devoto: "That's where I wish he'd gone at the end of the Seventies, I wish he'd become that. Some kind of eccentric crooner. Not these endless awful records..." He's talking about Soldier, Zombie Birdhouse, Blah Blah Blah, and onwards through the toilet-roll-commercial-soundtracking "Wild One" to the present, sadly...
Lower Broughton Road... reading
Not that Devoto was an art student himself; his subjects were philosophy and literature. But his closest companions were. Richard Boon had done Fine Art at Reading University, and Devoto's girlfriend Linder Sterling studied graphic art at Manchester Polytechnic where she made John Heartfield-like montages and collages. The couple originally met at a Sex Pistols gig, the second of two legendary Manchester shows organized by Devoto and Shelley at the Lesser Free Trade Hall.
One evening the foursome--Devoto, Boon, Shelley, Sterling--went through the bonding ritual of sitting through all four sides of Lou Reed’s cacophonous Metal Machine Music, in the dark. "It was an arduous experience," recalls Boon wryly. "But at the end it was like: 'God! We've been through that together!"
Richard Boon in 1982
Oscillating wildly between tumbling euphoric pop and out-and-out avant-gardism, Ludus were the most untaggable and expectation-confounding postpunk outfit in Manchester, and they suffered for it (despite the support of New Hormones, who put out a number of Ludus records). Their music collided suave lite-jazz into free jazz squall; Linder could be seductive (in a gawky sort of way) one minute, then scarily squawky the next, as she borrowed vocal licks from a personal pantheon of renegade women-singers: Yoko Ono, Annette Peacock, Yma Sumac, Norma Winstone. Linder’s feminism constantly pushed outside the comfort zone. Influenced by a book called The Wise Wound, menstruation was a favorite subject (as in the song "My Cherry Is in Sherry"—do I have to spell it out?), while one John Peel radio session involved a piece called "Vagina Gratitude" which entailed a list of different slang terms for the female genitalia. The untoppable culmination for Ludus was an infamous performance at Factory's Hacienda club in the early Eighties, with Linder's cohorts leaving used tampons and chicken giblets wrapped in gay porn on every table in the hall and the singer appearing onstage in a dress made of cuts of meat. "It was a wonderful feat of performance art," says Richard Boon. "The climax came when she did the Bucks Fizz Eurovision Song Contest thing of ripping off the skirt to reveal—not a shorter skirt, but a gigantic black dildo."More info on Linder: link
J.K. Huysmans, author of A Rebours, a/k/a Against Nature. A portrait of a dandy-aesthete, Des Esseintes, who attempts to turn his whole life into a work of art, dedicating his time and his fortune to the pursuit of the most refined and subtle sensations (e.g. a "scent organ" that enables him to play a symphony of perfumes), only to succumb to a life-threatening neurasthenia. More info: link
the sign in Virgin Records
"Howard Devoto seeks other musicians to perform and record fast and slow music. Punk mentality not essential. Come woodwind—brass or fire."
In many ways as vivid and sonically prominent a presence in Magazine's music as Jah Wobble was in PiL, but owing nothing to reggae (ironically, given that Adamson was one of the few prominent black musicians in post-punk).
First keyboard player that didn't gel
Devoto: "I wanted some element that wasn't just guitars bass and drums—I don't know about keyboards though—it was a bit like who comes and how well can we rub along—Bob Dickinson was the first keyboard player, he had an avantgarde music background, he was studying music at college, and that sounded interesting as an element to bring into it, but in practise it didn't work out. He stayed long enough to sign the contract [with Virgin] and then I asked him to leave the following week!"
Bob Dickinson emailed after reading the first incarnation of these footnotes with some different memories of how it played out:
"Bit of a correction on this one - minor I agree, but Howard's memory seems to have failed him slightly - the contract with Virgin was signed and I stayed with the band for a month or so after the signing, including a TV appearance plus a visit to Virgin's Manor Studios to mix some (unreleased) recordings of the last night at the Electric Circus.. Yes, I was asked to leave, but by the band collectively, not by Howard, at a meeting in a city centre pub in Manchester. A few weeks after this event, Howard telephoned me and we met up in Salford. He asked me to do a gig in London which I turned down. We also toyed with the idea of writing some material but this never happened......Whilst with the band I penned the music for 'Motorcade' plus keyboard parts for 'The Light pours out of me'. The main problem, as I sensed it, was my extra-curricular work whilst with the band - I was still studying electronic music at Keele and playing in a duo, 'Bob and his Dick' (with Dick Witts, later of 'The Passage') and, unlike the other members, perhaps not a 100% committed band-member (I was commuting daily for rehearsals and not living in Manchester). There was also a definite preoccupation with 'image' which just did not interest me....
"re. my replacement by Dave Formula, the reality is that Dave (Tomlinson) was sharing a flat with Martin Hannett. Howard became aware of this following a call from Martin Hannett (who had been watching 'Motorcade' on TV) which set the wheels in motion for my demise !!! Dave must not have been able to join immediately as, like I said earlier, Howard asked me to return to the band for the gig in London. So, there you have it, the real story......
"You might also like to know that prior to John McGeogh joining the band, there was an original guitarist (another John ?) who is featured on some very early demos - technically and creatively very able but not into the image of the band and unwilling to accept Howard's direction. He was sacked too !!!
"Re. the original advert in Manchester Virgin, I recall it reading: 'If you're interesting, then we're interested'. I'd just finished doing a 6-hour version of Gavin Bryar's 'Sinking of the Titanic' at the Peterloo Gallery (with Dick Witts) and wandered into Virgin, and thought, why not?
"Prior to 'Magazine' whilst at Sheffield Uni I did a collaboration with Cabaret Voltaire - 'Vietsong' - and introduced them to this French avant-garde composer, Jean-Yves Bosseur, whose piece 'Exhaust' they did a version of."
More about Bob Dickinson's proto-postpunk encounters in the Sheffield/Living for the Future footnotes
Dave Formula Devoto: "Dave Formula had a much more solid Mancunian musical CV, he was a much more experienced musician than any of the rest of us... At the time he was in a kind of cabaret trio at the Ritz Ballroom—where Magazine did play at one point—and even at this point, which was well into 1978, they still had a picture of Dave in the foyer! Hahaha! As a member of this cabaret trio that played two or three evenings a week backing up a miscellany of crooners."
Keyboards as un-punk
C.f. the sniffy reaction to Chairs Missing's use of keyboards played by Wire producer Mike Thorne
Dostoevsky and 'Breakdown' Melody Maker's Chris Brazier quoting from another interview with Devoto:
"He's talking about "Breakdown"—from "Spiral Scratch": "Breakdown works on a number of levels which cancel each other out." "It's supposed not only to describe a particular kind of breakdown but also to act as a piece of propaganda for that process." "So the hero of this two-minute epic is exhorting the listener to join him in this state. A state which he is fully aware of as being a mixed blessing.""The potential for gross ego-expansion is there — the exciting possibility of metanoia is there. The hero is well and truly f*** up. and like all profound but f***ed up heroes wants to cajole others into getting in on the act too."
Interviewer: Who are you thinking of in particular? Iggy Pop? Van Morrison?
Howard: "No. Des Esseintes—Dostoyevsky's underground man— or any of them existentialists. I guess. 'Breakdown's' hero is in the position of Camus' Sisyphus: 'To will is to stir up paradoxes'"
A classic example from this early Magazine feature by Paul Morley, NME 1977 October 8th—Devoto: "I try my hardest to feel weird about as much as possible, but I like a fried egg as much as the next man"—and—"I don't deal in messages, except the ones that come under the category of love letters or telegrams. And I don't deal in effects, the art-rock trap. I deal in ideas, and the effects of ideas. That's a real distinction. I'm not going to tell you what the ideas are right now. But I'll give you a clue. The last place to look for them is in the songs."
Or try this one from Sounds June 10, 1978, talking about a song that appeared on Real Life called 'My Tulpa': "A tulpa's a ghost that you make for yourself as a sort of companion. It's a real word found in a book about Tibetan monks."You can also see his enigma-seer complex dramatized in songs like "The Light Pours Out Of Me":
"The conspiracy of silence ought to revolutionise my thought
The light pours out of me..."
Running rings around interviewers
Looking back with five year's hindsight, Devoto told the NME July 9 1983, "My early image was the result of me stretching myself, saying that's that perhaps I nearly believed, like all that stuff about being influenced by 'Against Nature'. Really, I was just playing with the possibilities of being granted a public persona." But he now renounced such mystique: "I have now sent back my membership of Aliens Anonymous. I am not an alien."He also announces in this interview that "I'm simply no longer interested in going I, Me, Pain, Void, Horror... I don't want to work with epic agony anymore."
To Morley in Uncut, date unknown; "Dylan was my model. How did he deal with all the attention? How did he play the game? Mr Invulnerable, mystery man. Smarter than you on the lip."
elfin features As gnome-like as his utterances were gnomic
Dostoevsky vs utilitarian and progressive ideologies of the 19th Century
Specifically, What Is To Be Done?, a novel by N.G. Chernyshevsky, which propagandizes for ideals and notions of perfectibility, reason, a striving toward a perfect harmonious society. A journalist who criticized liberalism for serving the interests of the wealthy and powerful, he argued that the peasantry should organized themselves into communes and establish an egalitarian society, but more influenced by socialists like Charles Fourier. Wrote What's To Be Done while in prison, a utopian novel; became popular with radical students; the book led to him being sent to Siberia to a gulag. Dostoevsky is essentially anti-socialist or maybe anti-social, rejects the motor idea of hope-ful idealists like Chernyshevksy who believe man is good, that he seeks his own advantage, and that as he becomes more enlightened he will seek everyone's communal advantage, thereby ushering in a new golden age where society is organized according to rational, scientific principles. What Notes From the Underground specifically says is that man is irrational, capricious, profoundly perverse, the fly in the ointment. [the above is a gloss on a Dostoevky article by David Foster Wallace in his essay collection, originally published in the Village Voice Literary Supplement]
sounded like an anthem...
The killer riff has all the determination and resolve and decisiveness and singlemindedness that Devoto evades or is constitutionally incapable of mustering
refusing calls to solidarity and partisanship
Devoto on "Shot by Both Sides" and punk: "But I'm unsympathetic to anyone who stands on one side of the field and says "this is the only place to be"...I suppose it's about somebody who says in a reasonably convincing voice. 'This is the place to be' — then finds when he gets there that the only thing he wants to' do is something offensive—commit a crime or do something disruptive. Just for the hell of it; just because he's found himself standing on one spot."
"on the run to the outside of everything"
Fear of the crowd is the classic bourgeois terror of the mob, the mobilized popular masses— the Chartists, union pickets, rowdy football fans. C.f. the line "I was shocked by what was allowed at the heart of the crowd"
Tom Robinson Band
TRB's debut album - note resemblance of band logo to the Virgin Frontline clenched fist logo
Tom Robinson had originally in been a soft-rock band called Café Society and was a protégé of Ray Davies of the Kinks. Indeed some accused him of opportunism when he shifted, circa punk, towards a hard rock sound (on the big hit "2-4-6-8 Motorway", a bit like Free's "All Right Now", but with far less swing and funk in the rhythm section, more of a sturdy, stomping, four-square feel to it) and to conscious/militant lyrics. Robinson saw TRB as standing up for "minority rights" in the face of the "the backlash" (the groundswell that would elect Thatcher, seen also in the resurgence of fascism and in anti-permissive-Seventies movements to re-illegalize abortion and homosexuality, ban porn, etc). But as some commentators pointed out, TRB's audience didn't actually consist of minorities, at least not racial ones. Critics with art-punk sympathies further kvetched about the band’s trad-rock trudge, Robinson's inflexible vocals, and the blunt demagogery and politically-sound piousness of songs like "Right On Sister". But many others agreed with Burchill & Parsons, who argued that TRB were "The first band with sufficient pure, undiluted bottle to keep their crooning necks on the uncompromising line of commitment". By comparison, "every other rock musician is wanking into the wind". For about a year, TRB were huge: there was a documentary on British TV about them and their following, I remember kids at my school wearing TRB badges and having TRB logos (the clenched fist power-to-the-people symbol) and slogans on their satchels. And then it all vaporized as Robinson became the victim of his own personal backlash. The second TRB album was universally panned. And after its terrible reception Robinson poignantly tried to reinvent himself as a postpunk with his new band Sector 27, doing more obliquely political lyrics and less staid rock'n'roll music. He talked earnestly about listening to and learning from Joy Division, Gang of Four, Scritti, and similar groups.
Tom Robinson discography: link
A fan's history of the band (link) that captures how big they were for that one year.
"Why it is that today TRB are almost never mentioned as one of the classic punk bands of 76-78 is beyond me. There was nothing the Clash or Jam had that this band couldn't match."Yeah, posterity hasn't been too kind to TRB", says Robinson. "It's a kind of Stalinist revisionism on the part of the UK press, which I think then sets the tone worldwide. We were on front cover of Melody Maker 8 times from Aug 77-Aug 78... By December 79 they ran a 4-part review of The Seventies In Perspective, which included punk bands like Eater, The Cortinas and Slaughter and The Dogs. TRB was not mentioned once, anywhere. Even in passing.""
The Socialist girlfriend
From that April 28 1979 NME interview with Nick Kent, "Actually the phrase was said to me once. I was told by someone I was arguing with "when the barricades go up you'll be shot by both sides.""
not making your mind up... making them dance
Devoto, source unknown, on his themes and obsessions: "the well documented "confusion" syndrome—the "yes-but" argument syndrome. The negative drive action time syndrome. All of those things plus uncertainty in all directions. And wanting to hold onto that uncertainty"... Certainty and I don't exactly thrive together. Actually I think my ego is more perverse. Perversity and I are much closer companions."
Sham 69 and "If The Kids Are United"
The unity-exhorting, people-have-the-power lyric and the song's rabble-rousing rowdiness captured what had happened to the prolier-than-thou half of punk after the defection of the aesthetes. The trite tautology of football-terrace chant-along chorus "if the kids are united/they will never be divided" seemed the definition of punk's descent into moronic class war posturing. It's actually a rewrite (unconscious or not I'm not sure) of a famous Chilean socialist protest song, that declares 'if the people are united they will never be divided'. Jimmy Pursey was actually a more honorable character than many then or since allowed and also quite a bit smarter than this song. He is not in fact an East End boy at all, but from Hersham in Surrey. For their second album, Sham even did a "day in the life of an ordinary kid"—themed concept record called That's Life. When Sham disintegrated, he threw himself into a frenzy of reading and self-improvement—a "question everything" maelstrom of the sort postpunk believed in. Somewhere along the way if I recall correctly there was an album—Sham or solo Pursey—that featured synths in a desperate attempt to keep up with the times. Poignant, but the UK music culture moved so fast then, yesterday's heroes were swiftly consigned to the dumper.
More on Sham 69: link
refusal to stand up and be counted
And there were many who dismissed Devoto as a typically ineffectual intellectual, cherishing his uncertainty at a time when vacillation and equivocation were a luxury. Devoto insisted that "Shot" was not an anthem of political moderation, but it did suggest the kind of soft-centred non-militancy that a few years later found political expression in the Social Democratic Party, a centrist breakaway from Labour drifting leftwards into unelectability.
Devoto later described himself as "rigorously apolitical".Others in his camp would draw unfriendly fire for comments that suggested a lack of solidarity. When Buzzcocks participated in a three-day ANL/RAR carnival in Manchester in July 1978, Richard Boon voiced to NME his concerns that the movement was being hi-jacked by political extremists—specifically the Socialist Workers Party—who saw rock as a tool for radicalizing youth: "They know a lot about propaganda but nothing about rock'n'roll. If the people who are organizing this are the revolution, then I'm emigrating." Morley, covering the carnival for NME (July 22 1978), likewise complained about being constantly accosted with leaflets from the SWP and the Young Communist League. C.f. the similar scenes in Rude Boy, the Clash film, at the RAR event in Brockwell Park, although there you have to feel a pang of empathy for the pamphleteers and activists as most of the kids just walk straight past the stalls with their tracts and leaflets.
the honor of art-rock's individualistic ethos
TRB-champion, Stalin-fan, and on-the-frontlines militant at Lewisham etc, Julie Burchill once legendarily (according to Peter York) consternated her fellow rock critics utterly by declaring "There's not much to be said for 'individuals'"
Art rock dream come true Art-rock's promise was that an afflicition—being different—could be transformed into a blessing, or a weapon, or possibly even a career. But in this very individualism lies both its limitations and its precariousness. At art-schools, working class and middle-class kids together step outside the class struggle and carve out a little utopia of creativity and non-conformity, a/k/a bohemia; for a few years they escape their respective class destinies of labour or white collar work. Those who make that escape permanent through rock music and make it pay have a choice of paths. The supremely successful—David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Eno—achieve aristocracy: they live a lordly, lavish existence as dandy-dilettante aesthetes, exploring every avenue of pleasure and creativity. The less fortunate settle for eccentricity, eking out a living as cult artists, owner-operators of cultural cottage industries: Peter Hammill, Bill Nelson.
Top of the Pops In a December 2 1878 NME interview, Paul Morley and Ian Penman asked Devoto about how he seemed very nervous on TOTP doing "Shot by Both Sides"; Devoto denied it and claimed he did a deliberately negative performance—"I can't fake enthusiasm"—as a spontaneous act of self-protection, in order to preserve his dignity and integrity. "That's why I again sort of sabotaged myself. When we first got offered it, I blew it out. I thought 'no way'. And then I started thinking about it. and obviously the thought of my visage being in front of one in four people in the country was quite attractive, and I began to think, ah yes, I can do this, I can do that, I can really pull something off here, but in the reality of the situation there was no way. The only way I could bring any significance to it was by taking everything away."
squeamishness and stage nerves
Two decades later (in Uncut?), rationalizing the TOTP debacle, Devoto recalled being "determined that I wasn't going to jump up and down like a performing monkey. Having to mime felt like being deep in the bullshit zone, represented everything cheap and nasty... I decided I just wouldn't react."
Magazine compared to Genesis and Floyd... mannered vocals
In Sounds 31st March 1979, reviewing Secondhand Daylight, Garry Bushell wrote of Devoto's singing: "like he's gargling with Grundrisse stuck in the back of his throat". On his mysterioso arrogance. Bushell opined: "It would seem that the current yardstick of intellectualism is inability to communicate a single idea or emotion which is why Devoto—who consistently fails to communicate anything save his own undoubted superiority over the rest of the human race—is held so highly by that section of the music press that equates pretension with Art". Bushell characterized Magazine as the surreptitious and premature (only a year after punk) return of prog rock: "Let's walk down Memory Lane the Magazine way. Let's regurgitate fifth-rate 'Low' period pieces. Let's plonk plonk plonk with ponderous sub-Pink Floydery ... 'Secondhand Daylight' has nothing 'cept good musicianship (and when has that ever guaranteed good music?) and an apt title. Yeah—this is secondhand—and second rate secondhand at that... The old days re-assert themselves safely and blandly in a late 70's retreat to the old progressive Lie. The only question left outstanding is how long will it be before Magazine need a juggernaut for their synthesisers?"
Melody Maker also made milder accusations of pomp and ponderousness, a "profundity" that concealed hidden shallows. James Truman wrote: "He may have stumbled on the missing link between Peter Hammill and Amanda Lear—but a course of singing lessons would still seem to be the best solution... Any debts to the Buzzcocks have now been laid to rest—while ironically—Magazine desperately need a little of their humour and warmth if they aren't to become yet another group of self-conscious art-rock/future-shock poseurs."
The Correct Use of Soap... warmly received
Although Devoto's foes still carped that he was just Steve Harley with a shelf full of Penguin Modern Classics.
"I could have been Rashkolnikov"
"I could have been Rashkolnikov/but Mother Nature ripped me off... Maybe it's right to be nervous now." — "Philadelphia", the Correct Use of Soap
Prog and New Wave
In the end, Magazine did get shot by both sides. They were too prog for punks, but too New Wavey for fans of the pre-punk art-rock aristocracy. Perhaps if Magazine had managed to secure the services of Robert Fripp to produce Secondhand Daylight, as they'd originally wanted, they might have transcended the New Wave/Old Wave divide. As it was, Devoto's negative drive backfired, with results that amounted to slow career suicide.On Robert Fripp and Magazine, Devoto: "I think it happened that we were starting to look for a producer, talking to the record company, and Virgin came up with Peter Gabriel. And I thought 'okay' and I remember meeting with Gabriel and whatever, it didn't happen, and I think he then said to Virgin, they might want to consider Robert Fripp, who'd produced Gabriel's second album if I've got this right. And obviously Robert Fripp had expressed a bit of interest, so that I met him to talk about that. And I was a bit interested there, he’d already played with Eno, hadn't he? No Pussyfooting and Evening Star. And then he played on 'Heroes'."
One of Freud's most brilliant students; emigrated to USA in 1938; wrote many books, the one Devoto read being Of Love and Lust (1957). He found it unsatisfactory except for the theory of love as result of your world being shaken or feeling insecure. Devoto, in a 1981 NME piece, declared "It does seem to me that what most people mean by love is a kind of refuge. And okay you might dive into a cave for refuge—but that doesn't mean you want to live in a cave all the time."
utterly un-rock'n'roll "It's unnatural for people like me to be involved in the rock business... Because I'm not the sort of person you'd expect" —Vic Godard, to NME, Dec 2 1978
oblique comments... haze of indeterminacy
In interview, he often seems like he's trying to slip the net of definition. In one early interview, Godard itemized his physical characteristics, describing his eyes as "grey" and his hair "mousey"—as if this very non-determinate drabness was an element in his peculiar anti-pop charisma.
The Sorrows and the Eyes
Both groups were on the cusp between mod and psychedelia, a style subsequently named "freakbeat" by the reissue label Bam Caruso. This was a distinctively UK take on R&B amped on amphetamines and amplification, with a simmering, pent-up, spontaneous combustion element unique to Britain. Picking up and developing the hard-riffing and jagged sound of the Kinks and The Who, the recordings by these and similar groups typically used space and starkness to up the dramatic quality of the music. There's a deliberateness to the riffing in songs like the Sorrows' "Take A Heart" and The Eyes' "When the Night Falls" that you didn't really hear in US rock of that period which sounded muddier and less distinctly riffed.
European Studies course… French art and literature
This highbrow patina might not have sat well with punk if it weren't for Godard's lack of poshness. In class terms as well as physically, there's something elusive and ambiguous about him. What to make of a man who loves horseracing (and once worked as a bookie) but who also wanted to write a musical about the life of Theophile Gautier? If the profile of his taste matches the hardcore Francophilia of a Julian Barnes—the English literary Establishment, in other words—his voice sounds only a notch above working class. Like so many of the most interesting British pop musicians, he comes from those grey zones of U.K. society: the upper working class/lower middle class interzone that birthed mod. Geographically, too, there's an indistinctness. Godard grew up in one of those undistinguished semi-urban areas that encircle Central London—specifically, Barnes in West London.
"anything that doesn’t sound quite right,"
From Steve Walsh's famous ZigZag interview, September 1977: "There's different places on the fret-board where you can play. And basslines that don't quite fit.” "
The current of anti-Americanism was the obverse of his Europhilia. "I knew I wanted to take the Americanisms out of rock'n'roll," Godard recalled in an Uncut interview. "Sometimes America seems like everything that’s bad in England ganging up on you."Yet Subway Sect preferred the New York version of punk. In an early interview with Jon Savage (reproduced in the latter's collection Time Travel), the journalist asks whether punk "has mainly perpetuated rock'n'roll?" and Godard replies "Nearly all of it. The only things that seem to be getting away from it are things like Television and the Voidoids. I'd have minded less if punk had got absorbed more into pop than rock'n'roll. It'd have been much better." The members of Subway Sect rated Robert Quine as best guitarist in the world, and the only Brits they liked were Wire and Buzzcocks. For influences, they cited "the eccentrics that have always been on the outskirts of rock & roll", people like Beefheart and Velvet Underground, but also the pop of Abba and Francois Hardy, along with everything from Charles Aznavour to reggae to minstrel music with lutes to classical music. And Bowie's Low.
Another lofty themed song, "De-Railed Sense," grappled with the idea of taking your worst character defect and amplifying it
"even by the time of that festival... reached their peaks."
Interview by Dave McCullough in Sounds December 2nd 1978
Subway Sect press release
'Don't Split It'
The song, Godard told Sounds, was an attack on "rock'n'roll as a sort of stance that doesn't need anything else to support it": rebellion-without-external-referent, calcified into tradition. One contemporaneous example of it being Generation X, according to Godard.
"don't want to play rock'n'roll"
The September 1977 ZigZag interview with Subway Sect was cover-trailed with the slogan 'Wiping Out Rock'n'Roll'. Inside, Godard complained that other punk bands "just wanna revitalize ROCK'N'ROLL whereas we just wanna get rid of it."To Melody Maker, Godard talked about wanting "to change the reasons for playing rock music. We didn't want it to be rock for rock's sake; we wanted it to be a medium for ideas rather than a release from boredom."
Speeding up the song and adding the synth line
This seems all too typical of Rhodes alternately heavy-handed and negligent treatment of the band. As well as the Clash, he also had under his management wing (and lost) the Specials (Rhodes was the inspiration for "Gangsters", a song about music industry sharks) and Dexy's Midnight Runners.
>unreleased to this day
in 2007 however it was announced that Vic and Subway Sect--still active--had rerecorded the songs on that unreleased album as closely to the original intention as possible, the project called Subway Sect 1978 Revisited. From the Motion Records press release:
Vic completed the album with himself on guitars and vocals, Mark Laff on drums, Paul Myers on bass on a couple of tracks, with Trigger on the rest of them, and Leigh Curtis on rhythm guitar. A closer sound to the original Subway sect you couldn't wish for, the main difference being the musicianship is less rudimentary on the 1978 version. Derail Your Senses, an early Sect song that hasn't been recorded before gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect: http://www.myspace.com/vicgodard Have a listen and leave a comment if you can. Unfortunately for me the album will be coming out on punk specialists Overground Records, but mastered by Mike Coe of Motion. More details to follow.
Rhodes’s next bright idea
Another nutty Rhodes idea: the manager tried (and failed) to persuade Vic to form a synthpop group called Godard's Film Noir!.
The Black Arabs
Who appeared on the Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle album doing a great disco medley of Sex Pistols songs.
>shortlived incarnation of Subway Sect.... Northern Soul
The music maybe, but I doubt very much if Godard & Co imitated the look of Wigan Casino dancers, though... which was very much Seventies even if the culture froze black pop time in 1965.
Ol' Blue Eyes was a frequent feature of the Subway Sect's pre-gig tapes.
For the benefit of non-British or just extremely young readers: demob(ilisation) suits were what soldiers would be issued after WW2 ended and they were released back into civilian life. Godard: "We found this place Johnson & Johnson’s where you could get them for a fiver, three piece suits like the Army gave people in 1947".
He'd rather play to middle-aged people
Speaking to the Face in January 1982, Godard declared: "I'd much prefer to play to older people... the sort Peter Skellern has" and "I want to get played on Radio Two, and do cabaret gigs like Baileys"In Sounds January 24th 1981, Godard told his most loyal champion on the paper, Dave McCullough, that "I listen to Radio 2 most of the day..." His favourite programme was Benny Green's show on Sunday afternoon, playing big band stuff and old jazz. He claimed that he didn't like rock, only liked 1940s music—"when they wrote the songs with pride and they were Song songs, not this weirdo shit which I hate nowadays." He also talked about playing golf, enjoying betting and smoking, and admiring the Royal Family for doing a great job for the country. "I wish I'd lived fifty years ago or something. I wish I had been born in the aristocracy. I wish I had been born rich."He went further into the perversity zone in an earlier Sounds interview (July 5th 1980), declaring: "I'd like a band like Racey to record my songs"!!!!
a crooner... young fogie image
"I'm still like that," Godard laughs now. "You should ask my missus—she calls me the Pensioner!".
"I can't express the thrill I got when I started to get Great Tits and Blue Tits landing on my hand" Godard told Sounds
Like Dudley Moore's character in Bedazzled (except Vic looked much more like Peter Cook!)
Most famously, he became a postman.
And still is.From Sukhdev Sandhu's profile of Godard (as his Favourite Londoner) for Time Out, May 3 2006"He told me lots of great stories about how being a postman has changed over the last 20 years. When he started he'd wear a little torch on his head so that he could read envelope addresses in the dark. After he'd finished sorting the letters, he'd nip out with his mates for a fag and watch the dawn come up. Often it would be really thundery and look like the end of the world. Now he has later shifts; he's no longer really a night-worker. But this does let him spend more of his time bird-watching. He's into that, too."It used to be that local kids would beg postmen for lifts on the front baskets of their bicycles. Postmen were seen as everyday Father Christmases. Now they mainly deliver bills, stuff you bought online, or junk mail from estate agents asking if you've considered selling your property. Postmen aren't as loved as they once were. Telly documentaries paint them as crooks and robbers. No wonder they get few tips at the end of the year. It's a tiny but telling shift that speaks volumes about the kind of city London is becoming."
Vic Godard: a Man out of Time
Custodians of the legend would rave about how, for a couple of months in early 1978, Subway Sect were the best live band on the planet. Such specificity is needed because Subway Sect was a band in constant upheaval, continually changing its line-up and sound while releasing an astonishingly meagre number of records. "If such a thing could be measured, Subway Sect were, for a couple of seasons in 1978, the greatest punk rock group in the UK, if not the world." Jon Savage in Mojo. I'm sure I've read Kevin Pearce write something to similar effect. In his slim volume of postpunk and pop iconography, Something Beginning with 'O', Pearce wrote "The importance of Godard has yet to be realised. He indicated ways that pop should go; he dropped hints, left clues. It is all there."
LINKS AND FURTHER READING
Linder of Ludus interviewed by Morrissey
Unofficial Magazine and Devoto fan site
Lots of Subway Sect and Vic Godard photos from then and from more recent (he's still going!), plus Godard timeline
All non-pictorial contents copyright Simon Reynolds unless otherwise indicated