Though arguably responsible for more unintentionally titter-worthy sub-T.G. codswallop than most Industrial acts in the early 1980s - i.e. viscera-encrusted sour-faced Antipodeans barking in die Muttersprache over looped recordings of Der Führer & camp Bobby O (...if only they'd known!) sequencers & ultimately sounding about as frightening as Freddie Starr's farcical Hitler-in-gumboots - on a good night SPK were still more than capable of engendering a venally thrilling typhoon of blood-tinglingly brutal white noise & depraved synth corruption, providing the planets aligned & the drugs kicked in on time, as this tour-de-force London performance-cum-assault demonstrates. It's an profoundly oppressive din.
"In 1980 we were performing in a squatted railway arch in Atlantic Road, Brixton. There were riots going on at the time, a response ti Thatcher's racist policing operations. The street outside was strewn with rocks & the burned-out shells of cars, the end of the road was blocked by rows of policeman. we'd seen SPK perform a few weeks earlier in Heaven, a gay nightclub, where they'd turned strobe lights on in the face of the audience. Whether this was an SPK stunt, or Heaven's usual policy, I never found out. But we knew they were coming to see us in the railway arch, so in homage we'd turned the strobe lights on the audience. I remember Graeme (Ravell, aka Operator, aka Oblivion) complaining in the pub afterwards that he thought he was going to have a fit. We became friendly & they invited us to play with them at The Crypt, a youth centre in North London, at the height of their noisy period. I recorded the show on my Walkman, & I think it's the only live recording they ever allowed to be released. If you listen carefully you can hear me & my brother arguing over the Walkman's switched on or not" - Nigel Ayers, Nocturnal Emissions.
A 1-sided cassette, At The Crypt was recorded at the venue of the same name in Paddington (also known as the Cryptic One Club) on 25th April 1981 & was released later that year on Sterile Records, a label founded by that evening's support band Nocturnal Emissions. SPK's line-up on this occasion was Operator (synth, tapes, metal, & vocals), Tone Generator, aka Dominik Guerin, (synths & visuals) & Mike Wilkins (guitar & bass).
By 1984 it was all over. Signed to WEA on the back of a Neubauten / Test Dept.-led metal-banging music press fad, the by-then hopelessly watered-down SPK (complete with a newly-instated "sexy" female vocalist) secured an appearance on The Tube & managed to make themselves look not only completely ridiculous, but also pitifully ineffectual. Machine Age Voodoo, their debut major label LP, arrived & departed without anybody really noticing & shortly thereafter they were discreetly dropped.
Ex-frontman Revell disbanded SPK in 1988 & now makes a mint composing scores for big budget schlock in Hollywood.
Set-list: Berufsverbot / Emanation Machine R.Gie 1916 / Ground Zero : Infinity Dose / Stammheium Torturkammer / Serenade / "John" / Victim.
"Bettina (Köster) & I ran this store called Eisengrau in Golzstrasse. It was a clothing store, but also a hangout for peopl eot exchange ideas & listen to music. There weren't many places like that in West Berlin. We had a pinball machine that someone had brought round. It was a big, empty store we had painted iron grey. That's where the name came from. We sold dyed shoes & T-shirts from New York by Wiebe whose clothes we had on commission. Wolfgang Müller sold his fanzines. And out of sheer boredom I put up a knitting machine & designed by own knitwear - lots of grey & colours that didn't match, weird patterns, simple hems, fringes & those multi-coloured knit pants for men. Later, I continued the store with Blixa Bargeld & we also sold the Eisengrau Allstars Tapes, which were live & rehearsal recordings. Unfortunately I don't have a single one left.
The first Mania D. took place in September 1979 in Wuppertal. We rehearsed in the basement of Blixa Bargeld's storefront apartment in Langenscheidstrasse. Blixa wanted to start a band too, & asked us if we were interested in joining. We said "Sure we do!". Those were the beginnings of Einstürzende Neubauten. As spontaneously as we came together, we went our separate ways again. The most important thing for us was having fun, getting along. We didn't have a business strategy or anything, like they did in England, where pop music was conquering the world.
We were strong women, not delicate fairies, not flute players. We wanted to make a point of that. The hippies did the exact opposite. Although I did knit. But on a knitting machine. That was the slight but significant difference!" - extracts from a conversation between Gudrun Gut & Robert Defcon, June 2014.
Recorded at Düsseldforf's Ratinger Hof pub & the SO36 club in Berlin (which, remarkably, is still open for business), released in miniscule quantities (possibly as few as 20 copies) on their own hand-crafted Eisngrau cassette label, & allying punishing post-punk bedlam with clandestine Weimar-era cabaret jazz, the music contained on this often astonishing Mania D. tape (their only other "official" release besides a precursory 3-song 7") reminds me of absolutely nobody else. Virtually every other Eisengrau title I've heard to date has been just as extraordinary - be it an anarchic early Einstürzende Neubauten performance or the eccentric Die Tödliche Doris' vulgar vaudeville - indispensable stuff. Box-set now please.
The striking colour photographs were taken on location at Teufelsberg (aka Devil's Mountain), Grunewald, West Berlin by saxophonist Eva Gössling in 1979.
"Several years ago when I was driving to Frank Freeman's Dancing School in Kidderminster with Captain Beefheart, the Captain told me that the person he most admired was Son House. And if somebody had told me two or three years ago when this programme started thatwe would be having Son House on Top Gear, I wouldn't have believed them, but we do & it's a joy that he is, because Son House basically is where it all began."
Remarkably, Eddie James "Son" House Jr. was 68 years old (& still touring!) when he recorded this session for John Peel's Top Gear show back in July 1970. Transmitted on 11th July - producer John Walters' birthday - Peel appeared both delighted & somewhat flabbergasted to have Mr. House on his show - "the nicest show we've had for as long as I can remember".
Earlier that month, Peel had attended a Son House performance at Oxford Street's 100 Club & was reportedly furious that some factions of the audience were rude enough to talk throughout his set, culminating in Peel clambering on stage to reprimand the culprits, demanding they either be quiet or go home, & offering to personally refund the cost of their tickets so that the rest of the crowd could listen undisturbed.
The session was taped on 6th July at the BBC's Playhouse Theatre in London's West End, & was produced by Walters with engineer Pete Ritzema. A recording of the complete hour-long show is available online if you can be bothered to search for it - replete with further sessions from Kevin Ayers' recently-formed Whole World troupe & Bristol's best-forgotten East Of Eden.
Track-list: My Good Gal / Monologue 1 / Death Letter / Monologue 2 / Grinnin' In Your Face.
(Son House portrait by Robert Crumb from his Heroes of The Blues Trading Cards series.)
● Mississippi Department of Corrections
Dave Graney - droll lounge-loving troubadour, safari-suited cowboy punk, laconic Renaissance man, eccentric Australian icon, etc - formed legendary post-punk band The Moodists in 1980 from the debris of Adelaide-based outfit The Sputniks with long-term partner / drummer Claire Moore, & Steve Miller, later drafting in Chris Walsh (The Negatives, The Fabulous Marquises) & ex-Fungus Brains guitarist Mick Turner (a member of The Dirty Three nowadays), to concoct the anomalous mid-'80s leather-clad ex-pat scuzz triumvirate of Engine Shudder, Thirsty's Calling, & Double Life, bagging themselves a gone-in-a-heartbeat Creation Records' contract into the bargain, before discreetly disbanding eight years later:
"We lived & played in the derelict, bohemian Melbourne suburb of St. Kilda & when we travelled to Sydney, we played almost exclusively in the derelict, bohemian inner city suburb of Darlinghurst. In Australia, the suburban pubs were where you went to pursue a career in music. We only played the inner city venues. We never even really tried to venture any further. In essence, most of the inner city crowd all came from the outer suburbs & didn't really want to go back. In late 1983 we moved to London where we spent the rest of what was our career... Our friends & contemporaries were The Go-Betweens, The Birthday Party, The Laughing Clowns, The Triffids, The Died Pretty, The Beasts of Bourbon... Our first shows in the U.K. were opening for The Fall & The Go-Betweens. I would characterise it as more of an inerior, mythological trip we were on. All the music we heard & the magazines we read were imported. It was all exotic & so very far away. I loved living in London & touring in Europe. It was dramatic & exciting. I learned so much & was able to dive into my obsessions & interests: pulp crimes books & rock music. Saw lots of great live music. I landed in 1983 with £70 & spent 40 on a leather jacket. I never intended to return to Australia but ultimately didn't have the right heritage or visa to stay."
When The Moodists formally fractured in 1987, Graney, Moore & Walsh briefly renamed themselves The White Buffaloes & released their comprehensively shunned My Life On The Plains LP, wherefrom Graney's Buffalo Bill-indebted raconteur-persona slowly began to evolve. Resting place of the classic "Robert Ford on the Stage" & the unassumingly lovely "Girl In The Moon" - still two of my absolute favourite Graney songs - its covers of Gram Parsons, Fred Neil, & "The Streets of Laredo" must have sounded resolutely alien alongside Surfer Rosa, Isn't Anything, Viva Hate, & Daydream Nation. But I wouldn't know because, like virtually everybody else, I was too busy dribbling over Hairway To Steven to give it the time of day (sorry, Dave). The White Buffaloes were pre-dated by a formative & equally short-lived incarnation of The Coral Snakes - featuring ex-Orange Juice / Josef K guitarist Malcolm Ross (who'd appeared in The Moodists' terminal line-up with O.J.'s David McClymont) & Rudi's Gordy Blair on bass - who only managed to record a solitary e.p. for Fire Records in 1989 before visa issues finally forced Graney & Moore back to Australia. Produced by Barry Adamson, At His Stone Beach's four croon-fronted piano-led songs similarly made little-to-no impression. At this point, Graney maintains, he was largely concerned with becoming a writer for other artists - preferably female vocalists - which perhaps explains why this germinal clutch of songs sounds so different to The Moodists' well-established vernacular? Though Graney's major breakthrough followed a couple of albums later with the reformed Coral Snakes' Night Of The Wolverine LP in 1993, it's My Life On The Plains, & particularly At His Stone Beach, that I still pluck off the shelf most frequently.
Reportedly, Graney is currently supervising the digital release of the acoustic demos for Night Of The Wolverine & some unreleased late-period Moodists recordings. Let's see what happens.
Je te tire mon chapeau: The Beige Baron at Brown Noise Unit.
● Another life flashed before my eyes