13.5.16

SUICIDE : Craig Leon sessions, aka "1977 Demos" (Archival studio recordings).

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Suicide's eponymous debut LP, a demonstrable (punk) rock music milestone, was released in December 1977 on manager Marty Thau's Red Star Records to complete bemusement in the U.S. - Rolling Stone magazine dismissing it as "absolutely puerile" - but to immediate and voracious deification by the British music press. Since the mid '60s, Thau had pursued a career in management and publishing for the Buddah and Paramount labels, concurrently marketing several of that decade's biggest bubblegum hits while working on early solo albums by Van Morrision (Astral Weeks, Moondance), John Cale (Vintage Violence), Cass Elliot, and Biff Rose. Quitting Paramount in 1972 to champion the New York Dolls' cause, he quickly immersed himself in N.Y.C.'s mushrooming underground scene, shepherding the Ramones, Blondie, and Richard Hell (amongst others), and subsequently founding his own label, the aforementioned Red Star, to showcase local talent.

Brooklyn's combative Suicide were the first band he signed, on the basis of a demo tape (not this one) passed to him by Phibes-ian organist Martin Rev. Having spent the previous half-decade performing them live, Rev and frontman Alan Vega knew the songs back-to-front, and Suicide was recorded in 4 intense days at Ultima Sound - an out-of-town facility frequented by Bruce Springsteen, Dusty Springfield, James Taylor, and the Ramones in it's previous 914 Studios incarnation - with dub-influened producer Craig Leon (the effects on Vega's lurid vocals were achieved with the same Eventide delay unit Lee "Scratch" Perry was so enamoured of). Once the sessions were complete and Leon had returned to California, Thau remixed several of the tracks, adding further layers of eerie delay, while Vega completely changed (and vastly improved) the lyrics to "Frankie Teardrop", perfecting his unnerving tour de force. (n.b. Jump to the comments section for some clear-cut elucidation on this subject from Mr. Leon himself.)

It's Leon's "unfinished" mixes that I've included here - historically they've been consistently mis-labeled as "1977 demos" so it's possible you may recognise some of them. They're all noticeably different to their Red Star variants, and bookending the session are 2 versions of the hitherto unreleased "Whisper", a crooning '50s-style ballad fronted, for once, by Rev rather than Vega. Though the alternate early attempt at "Frankie Teardrop" herein was belatedly released (as "The Detective Meets The Space Alien") on the B-side of a limited edition Blast First 10" a few years ago (long gone, I'm afraid), the rest of these recordings remain otherwise unavailable. Officially, at least.

2.5.16

GANG OF FOUR : Live at Southampton University - 14th November 1979 (Cassette recording).

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"I remember when I was about 9 or 10, listening to "Satisfaction" and getting very excited about it. I would walk to school and sing it all the way and walk home and sing it all the way, thinking it was the greatest thing. I always liked music that had this strong, rhythmic side to it, which grooved. My cousin showed me how to play "Satisfaction" on the guitar, that's what kicked me off with playing stuff. A lot of the things that I liked growing up were American bands: the Velvet Underground and The Band, who were one of my favourite groups, James Brown, Funkadelic, I loved all that stuff. I was also very impressed with Hendrix, listening to him endlessly. When I was growing up there were a couple of different bands that I would play with in the local area around the mid '70s. There was one called the Bourgeois Brothers (laughs). It was just simple, riffy guitar music. I was quite into Dr. Feelgood, I was very into that minimal, stripped-down nature, that kind of barely suppressed violence of the dramatic presentation of their personas onstage. I thought they were incredibly powerful, they were extremely influential on Gang Of Four.

When punk started, Gang Of Four were already writing songs and doing stuff. By the time we came to make our first recordings in 1977 we'd already assimilated the punk thing and got a take on that element. But we were never really "punk". Obviously it has some relationship to punk but wasn't that in itself. If you look at the Sex Pistols as a kind-of archetypal punk band, it's not that different from Black Sabbath. It's rhythmically unsophisticated, it's really on-the-beat rock drumming. Same with the guitar - plug it in and turn it up to full distortion. Gang Of Four was radically different from that. The guitar was very staccato, very stripped down, very repetitive, loop-based. The drumming was basically funky but not through copying black music, more through simply deconstructing the nature of drumming and where you place the beats. Hugo (Burnham) and I would argue endlessly about what the drum parts would be like - anything that sounded like rock drumming I would change. The tunes had vocals but were very rhythm and phrase related. Jon (King) would sing stuff that he'd come up with, we'd argue about it and come to some kind of resolution. You could tell by listening to Gang Of Four music that punk had happened, but it definitely wasn't "punk" music." - Excerpted from an interview with Andy Gill by Jason Gross for Worldly Remains: A Pop Culture Review, October 2000.

I'm been listening to this tape a lot lately. Though it's unquestionably a(nother) covert "Walkman under the jacket" affair, it's spiked with the urgent kinetic dynamism that most GO4 performances from the Entertainment! era (still, somehow) transmit - i.e. unruly youth vociferously celebrating the taut, syncopated din of deafening electrical discord: contagious buzz and drama.

Recorded in Southampton, Hampshire's infamously debauched rock 'n' roll Valhalla (sic), this fiery set is notable for its inclusion of the unreleased "Blood Free" - a song GO4 often played live back in '79-'80 but which they never got around to recording (it's a shame they couldn't find room for it on Solid Gold) - and a couple of somewhat improbable encores: highly charged covers of fellow Leeds University alumni the Mekons and Edinburgh's indefatigable Rezillos. Who says Revolutionary Marxists don't appreciate a little good clean rock 'n' roll fun every once in awhile, eh?

Set-list: I Found That Essence Rare / 5:45 / (Love Like) Anthrax / It's Her Factory / Blood Free / Contract / Damaged Goods / Not Great Men / Natural's Not In It / At Home He's a Tourist / Return the Gift / Ether / Armalite Rifle / Rosanne (Mekons cover) / Glass / I Can't Stand My Baby (Rezillos cover).

White noise in a white room

1.4.16

THE MONOCHROME SET : John Peel sessions 1979-80 (Radio broadcast).

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No explanation necessary... The Monochrome Set's 3 John Peel sessions, recorded and broadcast 1979-80 during the band's bedeviled Dindisc era. PTOOFF!

A couple of songs herein appear (sonically spruced up) on Cherry Red's absolutely mandatory Volume, Contrast, Brilliance compilation in 1983 but, for the most part, these performances have remained unavailable and unheard since the BBC last aired them. I was an avid listener of Peel's show throughout the 1980s and certainly don't ever remember him repeating them. Sound quality is inevitably a little patchy in places - the abiding curse of early '80s Amstrad technology I'm afraid - but if you're an admirer I doubt you'll be anything less than thrilled to see them here and, anyway, that crepitating Medium Wave reception merely adds to their mythic allure...

Prompted, perhaps, by frontman Bid's recent brush with serious ill health, and with original members Lester Square and Andy Warren both back on board, the band reformed in 2010 and have subsequently released a couple of equitable LPs via their own reactivated Disque Bleu label. Spaces Everywhere, their 15th depending on what you do and don't count, appeared early last year on Hamburg's Tapete Records (followed by the long-awaited second volume of Volume, Contrast, Brilliance). They've also made a welcome return to live performance, broader of waist and slacker of jowl (well, aren't we all darling) perhaps, but still insidiously catchy and frequently laugh out loud funny.

As the sleeve notes to Love Zombies genially advocated: "Roll back the carpet, switch out the light, and dance in the glow of the firelight as The Monochrome Set provide your very own music, far from the maddening crowd of the dance halls".

7.1.16

CRISPY AMBULANCE : Live at the ICA, London - 1st January 1981 (Cassette recording).

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Like many of Manchester's foremost punk-catalysed musicians, lifelong friends Alan Hempsall (vocals) and Robert Davenport (guitar) originally formed Crispy Ambulance after witnessing the Sex Pistol's Manchester debut Lesser Free Trade Hall performance in 1976. Cryptically (and brilliantly) Christened by close friend Graham Massey (Biting Tongues / 808 State), the duo played their first gig on 1st January 1978 at a youth club in Stockport, with Massey stepping up to add electric violin on a couple of songs. Keith Derbyshire (bass) and Gary Madeley (drums) were recruited shortly thereafter - thereby establishing a line-up that would remain steadfastly in place for the duration of the band's existence, even after their confusing change of monicker (to Ram Ram Kino, taken from a German sex cinema) and defection to Psychic TV's Temple label (following a swan-song Crispy Ambulance performance at Nottingham's long-forgotten Ad Lib club in October '82). The same four core members reformed 17 years later at Manchester's Band On The Wall and continue to tour and release the occasional album, often-as-not with Massey at the controls.

"The motivation for formation for me was a combination if seeing the Sex Pistols at their first Manchester gig in July 1976 in front of an audience of about 40, made up mainly of Bowie clones and hippies, and seeing Magazine's first gig. The latter had a more immediate effect, with me forming Crispy Ambulance a mere six weeks after seeing Magazine. None of our early tunes passed the test of time, mainly because it took about 18 months to find an identity. People asked about (the name) and how it originated every time we did an interview. At the time every other band was called "The..." - fill in the blank space - whereas our name gave nothing away with regard to image, musical style, etc, but at the same time captured the imagination.

Joy Division stumbled upon us in July 1978 at a gig with played in Manchester and they liked our approach, even if the material was a little weak - to say the least. They dragged Rob Gretton, their new manager, down to see us some months later and, as a result, we did a gig with them at The Factory around the time that Unknown Pleasures was released. Tony (Wilson) never liked us, but suffered us because Rob liked what we did.  Since he had become an equal shareholder (in Factory Records, following Ian Curtis's death) Tony had no choice but to bite his lip. Tony craftily got us off his back by depositing us on Factory Benelux, which we didn't object to because Tony was only making things difficult for us on Factory, whereas Michel Duval, boss of Factory's Belgian counterpart, genuinely liked us and had an enthusiasm for the records almost as strong as our own." - Excerpts from an interview with Alan Hempsall by James Nice of Les Temps Modernes.

Crispy Ambulance were mocked from the out-set as artless provincial Joy Division plagiarists, and took a lot of flack for their unfashionable beards and (gasp) flares, though musically they had as much in common with the dystopian prog of Obscured By Clouds or Space Ritual than Unknown Pleasures. Their only Factory-era long-player, 1982's unfairly neglected The Plateau Phase, is one of the label's finest "lost" releases: mystical, elemental and meditative, but never as relentlessly despairing or apocalyptic as Joy Division. Regrettably, much like The Wake's Harmony and Minny Pop's Sparks In A Dark Room, it's been written out of most histories of the label in favour of its obstreperous (and remunerative) Madchester era. Their storming January '81 appearance at the ICA's annual Rock Week (supporting The Passage and in the company of Cabaret Voltaire, This Heat, The Blue Orchids, the Soft Boys, The Cravats, Lemon Kittens, Altered Images, and most of the Postcard bands) was scathingly dismissed in the following week's NME as "so uninspiring and uninspired that they do not deserve to waste any more of this space". No doubt they were too busy grooming Kid Creole & The Coconuts for success instead?

Set-list: Egypt / Come On / Drug User, Drug Pusher / New Violence / Batman - Dracula / Hell's Bells / Deaf / The Presence / From the Cradle to the Grave / October 1st.

(Sound quality = a cautious B, i.e. crude in places, but surprisingly listenable considering the recordist's Walkman was concealed amongst the ensconcing folds of a dead man's overcoat.)

● Nightfall ends the ceasefire