Tuesday, 4 January 2011

La Lutte Continua!

Today someone handed me a copy of the very cool french culture mag "VoxPops" in which Andy & me are featured. We were asked over to Paris to discuss culture and politics, salon style , with Benoit Armand, the spokesperson for the French Parti Socialiste .

A nice guy and a reminder, if it's needed, that French political discourse is very different to what we have in the UK or US, the one-sided triumph of the ill . "I'm not here to save Capitalism" says Benoit " ...but to destroy it!".

A cool dude in his leather jacket, straight out of A Bout De Souffle, I can't imagine his equivalent in Britain ever saying anything like this, terrified as they are even to use the "S" word , still in thrall to the criminal gamblers who brought us to our knees and asked us to pay the bill. I felt like some neo-con when I said great art and public art were usually mutually self-exclusive , quoting the great soliloquy from Harry Lime in the Third Man . We are all cartoons. I look with envy at France, with its Puligny Montrachet ( '95, évidemment! ), unpasteurised cheeses and gorgeous boys and girls frolicking in teargas lobbed by vicious flics . The good life!

Thursday, 28 October 2010

On tour with Cockney Rebel

We are in Portugal, 1979, co-headlining a tour with the hopeless Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel . Essence Rare has almost done well in this newly post-fascist state. Steve had had a big hit with the execrable " Judy Teen" , with his ersatz take on the Thin Man's Bromley slur, the creepy petit bourgeois who wrote, with other reactionaries, an open letter to EMI demanding the Sex Pistols get chucked off the label. Which EMI did , to Mclaren's oily delight.

We're back of the bullring we're due to play in, in our half of a corrugated iron shack that masquerades as dressing rooms. One half : me, Gill, Dave & hugo. In the other , The Gimp & his hapless sidemen. A lonely jenny grumbles away to share a dribble of juice for the feeble lights. We're shooting the breeze, tuning up, when the lights go dead. Complete darkness. Steve's half of the shed is now brilliantly lit! The runt's cut our power so he can see better!
So Dave bashes his chair BANG! BANG! BANG!over and over and over against the thin metal divider on the other side of which Harley sits in blazing brightness. His head must have bounced off the wall like a tennis ball. Our light's restored & in lurches Steve's coke-addled TM , a big fat sweaty fuck of a man, white legs and gut ringfencing his touristische shorts, who screams " THIS NEVER HAPPENS ON MY TOURS! " Dave turns, gently puts down the chair and swallow dives, a perfect 10, into the long table laden with cold cuts & junkfood; the table collapses, shit's sprayed everywhere. Dave gets up, sticky with sliced salami and mayo , to stab his finger in the TM chest & say "THIS is what happens if you turn off our lights!"

Brilliant & mysterious.

It is Dave's finest hour.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Ari Up RIP

Very sad to hear about Ari's death last week. She was a one-off , a feisty and obstreperous talent in the best all-woman band of the early 90's, The Slits with their wonderful dub/punk/jazz thing. Their first album was genius. We used to share an office in West London with them and the Pop Group , as we were all "managed" by Dick O'Dell at the time, I think, even if management and Gang of Four were incompatible concepts.

We sometimes played shows with the girls , mostly, I think, 3-way bills with the Buzzcocks. Once in Manchester , before an especially drunken, lairy and tubercular audience, the gob falling on us like monsoon rain, The Slits hit the stage, and get the usual witty blokey nonsense i.e "Show us your Tits!" or "Show us your cunt!" to which Ari replies " I'll show you who's a cunt!" and dives off the stage into the phlegm soaked moshpit to punch him hard in the face, triggering an excellent brawl we all joined in on. She was brilliant, always stood up for whatever it was she stood up for. A unique talent .

Monday, 26 April 2010

Kendall cops give it up

1980. Gang of Four plays the Brewery Arts Centre in an arctic Kendall, a triumphant homecoming for our bassplayer and local boy, Dave Allen. Adrian Thrills & Penny Smith from the NME are with us . The story they write and shoot will be our first ever front page.

The show's great, fierce and determined, in a broiling room packed with put-upon local punksters. The next day, heading back to London, we're stopped by a police roadblock and a half-dozen cops. There's been a robbery , they say: "some televisions have been stolen"; we have to open the van so the cops can take a look. No worries, nothing's in back, only music gear, take a look. We're then told to turn out our pockets - what, for TVs? - and the cop's visibly pissed off that no-one's holding gear. We're taken under escort to Kendall nick and held all day in the cells, interrogated , given the usual guff that "one of your mates has confessed" -what , to nicking tellies? - and fingerprinted. Adrian, an innocent Southerner, is strip-searched by a pervy copper. He says "Drop yer kecks!" (trousers) in broad Lancastrian and , this done, says "Lift your knackers!" (balls) - at which Thrills pulls up his underpants - " No, you twat, not your knickers, your knackers!" . But A has never stored Mary Jane under his scrotum. Far too moist. We are told to go. No charges are made. Our expensive London brief sends them a letter pointing out that everything the cops did broke the law and they must destroy their illegally obtained fingerprints of innocent men. You get the Police you deserve.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Gang of Four & Mekons assault Hegemony

Me ( slumped in chair in flyer jacket, right) of Gang of Four , Andy Corrigan ( seated, left) , Mark White ( seated , centre) & Tom Greenhalgh ( not in picture) of the Mekons wanted to premiere our radical super-8 movie " red Route", a continuous shot at speed, shot prone on a wobbly tea trolley,down Leeds' & Europe's longest corridor . Corrigan had taken charge of this project to produce something we could use at our gigs, in an homage to Velvet Underground's Exploding Plastic Inevitable.

Mark was the star of the event. He was - and is - a genius at describing a particularly British view of the world , tempered by disappointment and sexual frustrations, feeding a world view that finds misfortune in every beery, leery, glass.

This was just before the first Mekons session on John Peel, where the brilliant "Never Been in A riot" was first showcased. In this song, Mark, a punkified John Betjeman, miserably describes a depressing non-evening out in the greasy spoon we always went to post clubbing, "Sweat's" in Leeds . "Eggburger going cold, twice!" the filthy cook would shout, while Mark ..." in this late night caff/ [was] Eyeing up the till/When in came the British Police/For their egg and bacon grill/ Egg & bacon Griii-ill! " . Along with "Trevira Trousers", "Corporal Chalkie" & "The Building", Mark's words are much to be envied. No surprise that years later & Mark long gone, the Mekons V2's songs embraced C&W, another lonely music of the poor, ruined by cheap drink and unattainable dreams.

Anyway, the night of this photo, Mark made a long, brilliant, improvised speech centred on how drinkers "move from sweet to dry wines", linking this to compromise, failed ambition and personal failure.

Tom had passed out, which is why youi can't see him.
Not many people came.
It was a triumph.

Once upon a time the world was locked in a Manichaen struggle between good and evil. Warmongers in power in London & Washington, wishing to shoo in the second coming, were determined to rack up tension that could take us from here to eternity
( editor's note, this means Thatcher & Reagan, not Blair & Bush ).

People tried to stop the deployment of cruise missiles . Thousands of women symbolically surrounded Greenham Common in the UK, where Cruise missiles had been deployed to freak out the Evil empire ( uh, Soviets in those days, not Iranians/Iraqi's/Afghani's etc)

There were many demonstrations against NATO's massive nuclear escalation. The world stood on the brink.

Gang of Four, aside from playing on the backs of flatbed lorries on demo's and the usual benefit shows, decided to take on these Imperialist crypto-fascists !

This meant:

a) dressing up in DJ's
b) painting Mitt, our guitar roadie, gold all over
c) dressing the golden Mitt in a Ronald Reagan mask, gilded skiddies and dog collar c/w chain and instructing him to wander around on all fours and scoff hamburgers
d) exhibiting ourselves as a tableau vivant in a hip New York City shop window.

This unanswerable cultural intervention led to a lessening of global tension, glasnost and the fall of the repressive Communist regimes in Eastern Europe.

Mitt was miffed. Geeting the paint off was a dog.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

I sing in John Cale's "Life along the Borderline:Tribute

John Cale asked me to sing a couple of Nico songs for a show in Wroslaw, Poland, one of the series of Tribute to Nico concerts. Much more talented people than me do this - Mark Lanegan, Lisa Gerrard etc – so I was flattered to be included.I was sent the German lyrics to Mutterlein, to be learned phonetically, as the only German I know is “Supermaus reter die erde” ( Supermouse will save the world).

Translated into English for context, the song’s a German Catholic paean to motherhood, with all the baggage from back in the days when everyone of Nico’s parent’s generation were under suspicion of grave WW2 sins, the atmosphere that fed the Baader-Meinhof group’s strategy of tension. I doubt if Nico thought this explicitly , but artists are unreliable witnesses and inadequate commentators on their own work, especially if they're on a Class A losing streak.

The song: a perfect rhyming scheme, a meditation on death and heaven & underlying threat of the Nazi’s mission for women : “Kinder, Kuche, Kirche”. It’s a cool starter for 10 but Nico only sticks tight to the plan for four lines and loses rigour in verse 2, and doesn't deliver any 3 or 4, when she should have, when it could get interesting, and doesn’t develop the story. V1's death-wish text morphs into a Marian ode, the joys of the Bethlehem crib tempered by scripted pain and ultimate ascension to heaven after the miseries and blood of Golgotha. The poor half-rhyme - “keit” and “hinein” - is lame, which means we’re not dragged ineluctably to rapture promised in the closing line.

Wierdly , for Nico, the ending has an atom of optimism, like the atypical end of Cormac MacCarthy’s “The Road” , where for no reason the world isn’t ( but surely is ) irredeemably grim.
Whatever, my accent not apparently totally dismal, I gave the song a go, a tune somehow right in Wroslaw, the old Prussian/Russian/Polish/Swedish city that's seen every flavour of misery and destruction and cultural erasure but has come through, somehow, into the winningflood.

The lyrics:

Liebes kleines mutterlein [ Dear little mother ]
Nun darf ich endlich bei dir sein [ Finally I can be with you ]
Die sehnsucht und die einsamkeit [The longing and the loneliness ]
Erlosen sicht in seligkeit [Turn into bliss]

Die wiege ist dein heimatkleid [ the cradle is your costume ]
Ein schweben deine herrlichkeit [ A levitation of your glory ]
In wonne wandelt dein herzeleid [ In joy turns your heartbreak ]
Und greift in die siegende flut hinein [ and grasps into the winning flood ]