11.11.10

MEKONS : 1st John Peel Session - 7th March 1978 (Radio broadcast).

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Mekons 3
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Today's my 44th birthday &, not surprisingly, I'm ever-so-slightly hungover. So I'm posting this, the Mekons' inaugural John Peel session (despite it already being available elsewhere on the 'net), because I've been so fond of it for so long - since Peel repeated all of their "phase 1" sessions over the space of an entire week sometime during the mid '80s - & I hereby reserve the right to cluelessly gibber on about it at inordinate length for my own mawkish amusement, etc... (Don't be surprised if I start welling up.)

"Why doesn't it rain when I'm sad? / I'll wear my Brutus jeans, they don't show the dirt."

Taped on 7th March 1978, these half dozen ragged songs were recorded sufficiently early into the band's existence that Delta 5's Roz Allen was still present on bass, & intrepid ham-fisted amateurism was still their primary catalyst. Though unmistakably motivated by punk's "Can't play, WILL play" ethos, the Mekons were never really a punk band as such - they were too arch, too intelligent, & too self-deprecatingly analytical for that. Listened to retrospectively their earliest recordings constitute a satirical real-time critique of the punk movement's abrupt & catastrophic descent into a stylistic, tribalistic cul-de-sac - & this is best illustrated by the anarchic urgency of their Peel sessions than their slightly subdued Virgin Records releases l I think?

"The Sex Pistols created a tremendous amount of debris, & that was very rewarding. It's like a child who loves to destroy something in order to find out what's it's made of... they just weren't able to construct anything from the debris... (but) that was just the beginning" (Malcolm McClaren)

The Mekons were a far more complex ensemble that was necessarily apparent in 1978-80. For example, were "Never Been In A Riot" or "Fight The Cuts" incipient attempts to express themselves via the prevailing zeitgeist of punk protest song ("White Riot"), or droll pastiches thereof ("Jilted John"), or were they something else entirely? This seminal Mekons era remains, for me, fascinating & unfathomable: "Where Were You"? No, what were you, Mekons?

Crucially, the Mekons fell together at Leeds University's fine arts department in 1977 where, alongside members of Gang Of Four & Delta 5, they studied under T.J. Clarke, one of the few British members of the Situationist International, & Terry Atkinson, formerly of Art & Language. Like Swell Maps or Devoto's Buzzcocks before them, this afforded them a degree of subtle intellectual separation - a self-awareness born out of a passionately intense fracas of canibalistic artistic/musical improvisation & anarcho-political radicalism that ultimately ensured they avoided the foreshortened shelf lives of more conventional "contemporaries" such as, let's say, Stiff Little Fingers or Angelic Upstarts (i.e. "WHY should our second LP sound like our first?", & so on). To be fair, the mild disappointment of "Where Were You" failing to bluff it's way onto TOTP doubtless contributed to this negation too?

"I suppose... we never thought we'd get past the first single, but now that we have, it's a dilemma, sin't it? Do you just pack it in & try to get a job or some security, or do you try to do something interesting?" (Jon Langford)

A couple of this session's songs were re-recorded for the band's brilliantly flawed Virgin LP, The Quality Of Mercy Is Not Strnen, though these disorderly BBC versions are arguably superior (it depends what mood I'm in to be honest), while a few more reappeared sort-of-posthumously on CNT's absolutely mandatory It Falleth Like The Gentle Rain From Heaven retrospective, during the course of which the Mekons wave an understandably demoralised goodbye to the first phase of their existence (i.e. art school & Richard Branson) while tentatively embracing their second (a Morris dancing hillbilly in a faded Karl Marx t-shirt). I don't think I'll ever get bored of listening to them. I know you won't believe me when I tell you that Smash Hits used to froth at the mouth about this stuff at the time - before either Lester Bangs or Greil Marcus - but they did & I have the dogeared back issues to prove it! On the subject of which... who was Red Starr anyway?*

The Mekons in Smash Hits, 6th September 1979:
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*Ian Cranna apparently.

12 comments:

  1. Ian,

    As it's your birthday I'll forgive you pre-empting my own posts. It's a toss up between the first and second single and your present is the choice so let me know.

    As for morris dancing hillbillies, yeah I soon went off them too...

    Andy

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  2. Oops, apologies for the inadvertent pre-empt! Mind you, if you have either of The Mekons' other Virgin-era Peel sessions feel more than welcome to pre-empt ME in return, I'd love to hear 'em! If it's a choice of the 1st or 2nd 7" put "Riot" up, in all it's shambolic glory...

    I've just treated myself to the pricey Mekons United book as it's my birthday - it comes with a CD of weird outtakes & other junk, let me know if you want a rip & I'll send you the mp3s...

    Re: their later stuff. I do actually like a lot of their post-Fear & Whiskey records, but they're often rather hit & miss. There are a handful of great songs on every LP they've released since the mid 80s, but a lot of filler too. They're more of a touring band than a recording one now, I suppose?

    N.B. Did the Peel DL work OK for you? I've using Megaupload to archive files & it's been playing up something rotten for the last couple of weeks? Let me know when you get a sec... (thanks)

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  3. 'Never Been In A Riot' it is then. Haven't downloaded the session yet but will let you know if I have any problems...

    Andy

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  4. I think it might've sorted itself out now but, yep, let me know anyway please...

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  5. I have always loved The Quality of Mercy (and always hated Devils Rats & Piggies). The Mekons Story and everything after are a mixed bag, I agree, but "He Beat Up His Boyfriend" is classic.

    Happy belated birthday; here is "These Days" by the N#9: http://www.box.net/shared/dxs6ozb70d

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  6. I love the fact that nobody can ever agree on which Mekons era is the greatest! Fear & Whiskey was my fav LP of theirs for a long time, & it took me ages to get into Strnen, believe it or not? I realise it's some kind of masterpiece now, of course...

    "Mixed bag" sums up The Mekons Story perfectly, though I guess that's the effect they were striving for? It's like a tatty scrapbook of half-realised ideas, with plenty of off-the-cuff annotations in the margins, etc!

    I only heard Devils, Rats & Piggies a couple of years ago, it was a very difficult LP to track down for a LONG time. I have to say that I really like it, though it's peculiarly dark in places & it sounds like the band are having a protracted, collective anxiety attack throughout!

    P.S. Thanks LOADS for the N#9 track, great to hear it again. Keep your eyes peeled for a Nectarine-shaped post on here within the next day or 2...

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  7. I'm after the same session! Any joy?

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  8. Nah, I'm not holding my breath either, I'm sure it'd already be posted somewhere if someone had a copy?

    The original Mekons line-up recorded 4 sessions for Peel but this first 'un is the only complete one I've ever come across. Most of Strnen was actually debuted in session form &, God, I'd love to hear those earlier versions!!

    If any Mekons are reading this PLEASE get in touch, I need to have a serious word with you!

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    1. Hello, just came across this, saw you were doing a call out for a mekon, well here is one. What is it you wanted to talk about?
      Best, Kevin, Mekons

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    2. Ha, thanks for getting in touch, Kevin - it's certainly v. odd re-reading comments I posted half a decade (!) ago and trying to work out what might've been preoccupying my ailing brain back then, etc. ;) In all honestly, I'm not entirely sure what that "serious word" might've been... but I expect it was something along the lines of "For God's sake stop dithering and release those marvellous effin' Peel sessions, the planet is a drearier place without them and none of us are getting any younger", etc? So, what ARE the chances of that ever happening, do you reckon? Or should I just make back-up copies of my worn-out cassettes and stop mithering?

      I did eventually uncover an Nth-gen recording of that elusive 4th Peel session eventually, by the way... panic over... it's a VERY STRANGE set of songs and I'd love to know a bit more about it (and the circumstances it was recorded under) if ever you have the time to elucidate - I love most of the Mekons' records, but that early '80s post-Virgin period is probably my favourite (ahem) "Meek-epoch"?

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  9. Met Brenny of the 3 Johns at an exhibition of Indie stuff in Leeds recently

    http://quims.org/2011/08/12/where-were-you-exhibition-leeds-town-hall-12-27th-august-2011/

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  10. Ah yes, I remember him... wasn't his name actually Philip (i.e. not "John" at all)?

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