Posts Tagged ‘ Punk ’

The desire lines on a mythical map or the art of complicating simplicity.

My first band (as regular readers know) were called Mythical New Underground. As curator of our story and our ephemera it should fall to me to write this retrospective. Indulgent? Yes. Merit of said piece? Well it gives an insight into the progression of music over the last quarter of a century. So, here we go. Mythical were formed back in the summer of 1994; grunge was still on the throne, yet fading after the death of Kurt Cobain, Britpop was gathering a full head of steam and music was still a viable industry. We gathered ourselves together during the death throes of our local scene. Band such as Little Sally’s Dead, The Haggard and Genital Mishap has been and gone and it was from the ashes of  latter that MNU were formed. We were out of step with the music of the time playing a hybrid of punk/thrash/ reggae/ska with finicky rhythms and changes. The guitar player and I were from the hinterland of two bigger towns: Kildare and Newbridge and it was from Newbridge that the other members hailed. 

We were dreamers, all musicians are and our music was ambitious both in terms of scope and lyrics. We wanted to change our world. Ireland was still a drab country largely known for terrorism and Catholicism. Socially conservative but morally bankrupt. There seemed to be little hope of change. I can only speak for myself but I wanted to write music that would change things and I wanted to be a professional musician. Back then the record companies controlled the flow of information, they owned the means of production and the majority of musicians were on the outside looking in. We practiced in sheds, standing toe to toe with shovels, buckets, toolboxes and paint thinners. We had a small PA and cheap guitars. We made a glorious noise. That summer was magical. I felt like I had arrived. We managed to bag gigs. In hotels, in the back rooms of bars and we’d bundle into an old post-office van to get there and play. Booze flowed after. Life was good. We recorded in a small studio and produced our first demo: Newspeak. We were in thrall to Orwell, 1984 was a reality and the state could not be trusted. Four songs made the cut: Start a Revolution, Concrete, Proof and Confessions. Our names inside: Poggy (Vocals) Byrnie (Drums), KON (guitar) and Head (bass). It cost 60 quid. It is muddy but it is ours. 

Released in 95 we were soon to lose our singer Poggy. There was a wilderness period but we ploughed on. Songs were written which are now lost to time. Some I remember and others are gone for good. We did replace Pog at first KON took to the mic and then with a guy called Derek. I can’t remember his second name. Our friend Murf played as a second guitarist once. We could have carried on but Byrnie left for the States and KON and I wound it all down in ‘97. That was that(I’m leaving out details because somethings should remain private). How many bands have a similar story? All the dreams give way to reality. The search to be recognized gives way to a deeper love of the music. Bands of my youth flash before my minds eye: Brinskill Bomb-Beat, Cuinus, Arnheim, Scum of Toytown, Coitus, The Blue Babies, Striknein DC, SMH etc etc. bands that meant so much. There are nameless others each with their own story. 

Flash forward to 2008: we reformed for a one off gig for Pog’s 30th it is raucous and rowdy and it lifts us up and onward to the next phase of our life. It is fun and we all think that is that for a second time. 2018 roles around and we celebrate his 40th and we do it again. We are older and wiser. We can harness the energy, know when to rise and when to fall. How many times do you get to play with your first band again? To weather the storms of 24 years of history. Not often. We are lucky. The gig is modestly attended but that doesn’t really matter. It’ll be the last time…until Pog’s 50th. 

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It’s a swindle…

imageFor a band that changed so much in our music and culture the Sex Pistols have, by and large, been ill-served on the movie front. Shortly after the band split The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle (directed by Julien Temple) was released. In many ways it is a fun film and offers some great footage of the band. There are classic scenes of the chaotic US tour including such highlights as Sid whacking a guy over the head with a bass and, of course, Lydon’s parting shot on the San Francisco stage where he looks out and says: ‘Ha ha ha, ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?’ Steve Jones plays a Philip Marlowe like character, albeit a foul-mouthed version as he fucks and blinds his away around England and Brazil. There are oddities aplenty, Ronnie Biggs (a train robber, then on the run and living in Brazil) is shoe-horned in for no apparent reason and an most bizarrely mentions of ‘who killed Bambi?’ which is never explained (it comes from an earlier script). However, it is wrapped in a narrative which creates the impression that Malcolm McLaren (their manager) was some great puppet master that pulled the strings behind the scenes. The band are reduced to a play-thing for the machinations of their malevolent manager. It becomes little more than an ego-stroking exercise. What is rather ironic is that in the fictitious telling of the story whereby McLaren wants to make the band out to be anti rock n’ roll his story makes them the most boring rock n’roll cliche. He destroys the bands power; he reduces them to a cheap carry-on farce and robs them of any real potency. All that is left is the cartoon version of the band, the one that can’t play, the one that pukes all over the place and the one that was essentially a boy band created to sell clothes for Malcom’s infamous shop, Sex.

Sid and Nancy was directed by Alex Cox and was released in 1986. Gary Oldman stars as the doomed Sid Vicious but just like the aforementioned Swindle the characters are reduced to caricatures. Oldman does a great job with the material as does Chloe Webb in her role as Nancy Spungeon alas, the rest is shocking. Lydon is portrayed as a bean-eating joke,one that is is jealous of Nancy. Steve Jones and Paul Cook are just in the background but criminally when Cook is shown he is an idiot that for some reason the band don’t like. Verisimilitude is absent from the gig scenes, punks with day-glo Mohawks are pogoing about despite the fact Mohawks weren’t to arrive on the scene until the 1980s, Poly Styrene, half Somalian lead singer of X-Ray Spex is transformed into a white woman and it all just seems off. Again, the potency of the band is neutered.

In the end maybe a fictitious telling of the Pistols story is impossible. If you are interested in their story read Lydon’s No Irish, No Blacks,No Dogs and Anger is an Energy, Glen Matlock’s I was a teenage Sex Pistol and Steve Jones’ Lonely Boy. Three films I would recommend are Don Letts The Punk Rock Movie, DOA by Lech Kowalski and The Filth and Fury by Julien Temple. Get off your arse.

Sandinista!

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Sandinista! stands as a result of a new found confidence on the part of The Clash. Burning incandescently on the comet trail of the double album and dizzy with ambition the band decided on an aural smorgasbord with a triple album (yes that is six sides). After the disastrous and Ill-conceived Cut the Crap this is the album that divides the faithful: in many ways one could argue that with a steadying editing influence this would have been a masterpiece fusing the raw power of punk with the newly emergent hip hop or on the other hand that the spiral sprawl allowed for a freedom which demands you listen to each and every note at least once. The album opens with Magnificent Seven: all funk and form, bristling with the new New York movements and with a bass line that carries all before it. Hitsville UK follows and it is a hopeful skank and call to arms that recalls the apogee of the arrival of punk and ska in 1970s/ 80s Britain. Junco Partner is a Brixton dub reggae tune, reminding us that the band have not lost touch with their London roots. The Leader continues London’s Calling Rockabilly vibe in a fine vein. Ivan meets GI Joe is Cold War disco writ large and is followed by Something about England, Mick Jones sings about the death of the post war dream through the eyes of a homeless Londoner and again the echoes of the Cold War can be felt like a Dickensian ghost. Rebel Waltz is concerned with the American Civil War by way of Jamaican dub reverb and is a trope followed up by both Paul Simonon on The Crooked Beat and by Strummer and Mickey Dread on One more time (and One more time: Dub ) which is biting social The Clash, reggae and roots are all to the fore with Joe singing to the world in a desperate bid to get us all to listen. Sandwiched in between all that is the Mick Jones classic Somebody Got Murdered. Have I forgot anything? Yes in between all that is a version of Mose Allison’s Look Here. This is two sides in and there are four more to go.
Rather than labour over every song on the album I will just mention some of the highlights The Call Up is pure anti-war, Joe singing about wanting to see the wheat fields rather than murder and maim for God or country. Broadway is beautiful and sparse, all feeling and awe and you can tell that America has been digging in to the bands psyche. Charlie don’t Surf uses that famous line from Apocalypse Now and the subject of Vietnam would be a subject to which the band would return. There are strange bedfellows in Career Opportunities reworked into a mad lullaby sung by kids, Mensforth Hill is just Something about England played backwards, there are dub versions of If Music Could Talk, Washington Bullets, Junco Partner and an instrumental in the shape of Shepard’s Delight. There is an Eddy Grant cover: Police on my Back. At times it feels like the album is going to tip over into a free form jam as the coherence dips and you feel that the band are laying down every demo idea that they have jammed. They want to make you work to find the brilliance and the album reminds me of how bland and uniform soundscapes have become of late and how artificial the industry has become. The Clash wanted to expand minds, talk politics even the name of the album is a statement of intent giving a massive fuck you to Reagan politics and Thatcherite gloom. This wasn’t introspective navel gazing but all out balls out broadside balladry for a new age. This group really believed they were the only band that mattered and were on mission: that mission was clear Lydon had screamed get off your arse but The Clash were going to kick us off our arse one at a time if needs be. God bless them it was a big ask and one that ultimately failed as music is now full of the whingeing generation who couldn’t be bothered lifting an amp never mind putting their shoulder to the wheel to try to pull down the walls of conformity. Yes they may have been Don Quixote, tilting at windmills but there were enough of us willing to be Sancho Panza and jump on for the ride. Will we ever again have an age where a band will get away with a triple album like this? Alas I think not but fuck it, it is only rock and roll but… Ah you know the rest

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