Totally Wire-d

Music, in case you hadn’t read the memo, is as much about tribalism as anything else. Some music – like gospel, Welsh close-harmony singing – brings people together. Others, such as the massed choirs of football fans, or genres like Emo and Oi, are as much about separating a group of people from their peers. The reunions of The Pixies and Pavement brought a tribe of people together that had been busy getting on in life as middle managers and thrust them back to their sweaty, confused adolescence and made them rejoice in their lost youth; and unambigous pleasure in these brittle days.

So where does that leave a band like Wire? A band who, in the late seventies, did as much to change modern music as anyone you could care to mention? A band who took punk and twisted it, adding odd little tunes and a bloodyminded cleverness that’s been the template for middle-class rebellion ever since? A band who showed the way out of the straitjacket of three-chord thrashes and anger and guided everyone, however unwillingly, toward post-punk? In a half-empty Garage, that’s where.

I've Forgotten The Words!

The tribe here is balding, greying, and largely a-paunched. I feel young, which is a rare experience for me these days. And this is a band that’s setting up their own rig. Whether this is part of their infamous curmudgeonness or the aged’s way of never spending a penny1 when it can be avoided, but you must wonder if they think to themselves “Shit, I never thought I’d still be doing this after 34 years. Still, at least the crowd aren’t spitting at us these days”. Only because if we tried we’d run the risk of losing our dentures.

And the band are on marvellously belligerent mood. Aside from a number of disparaging comments about our “Mojo” (the night being sponsored by Mojo magazine, who quite frankly would have run a mile from this lot back in the late ’70’s, clutching their Rush albums), the general atmosphere is that the band started out being sarcastic fuckers, and they aren’t going to stop now they’ve grown up a bit. Or a lot. Frankly, it’s refreshing. So many of our heroes have reformed and are gushing with pleasure at the whole affair that there is a certain amount of joy to be had when a band comes along that looks like they’d rather take us up the nearest alley, do unspeakably nasty things to us then give us a good shoeing.

Two Page Setlist

The crowd are more than happy to heckle. On introducing their rather young and hirsute replacement guitarist, Matt, someone yells “He’s nicked all your hair!”. The rest of the band pretend to ignore this. Requests are met with shakes of the head and the occasional sarcastic comment, ending in “These requests? It’s just general British blokes shouting. “OI OI OI””. After opening with a new song, the response from the crowd is positive, and met with “Your reward is another new song”. Charmed, I’m sure.

Of course there’s a huge amount of pantomine to this. You can tell they are loving being up there, and the fact that their set features a healthy number of tracks from their initial triumvate of records shows that. This is, of course, the band that took a covers band as support on a tour in the 80’s, so they wouldn’t have to play any of their old material themselves. You don’t see Oasis doing that (not that you’d notice, but hey ho). Age certainly hasn’t calmed the early tracks either; they tear through “106 Beats That” and “12XU” like they were at the 100 Club; only the sight of Graham Lewis wearing glasses with those stringy bits brings you back to the present.

Crowd-pleasing came in the form of “Kidney Bingos”, prompting something of a singalong, but didn’t extend to “Outdoor Miner” (boo!), despite a number of increasingly desperate pleas. “Map Ref. 41N 93W” does feature, thankfully, and we should be thankful there’s some old songs thrown in amongst the new material.

Getting Too Old For This

Live staple “Drill” was a well-drilled (sorry) motorik chug, “German Shepherds” was another well-chosed gem from their most tuneful period, and “One Of Us” showed they’ve lost nothing of their anger in their newer songs; like the other new tracks on display tonight, they definitely hark back to their 70’s period rather than to the mid-80’s records like “A Bell Is A Cup Until It Is Struck”. Which is a shame for me, since that’s the era that I most like. Yes, I know that’s not the common wisdom, but what do I care?

Four encores later, off went the Wire tribe into the night, warmed through to their core with the shared memory of singing that immortal chorus to “Kidney Bingos”, “Money spines, paper lung\Kidney bingos organ fun”. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. This lot don’t need new tricks; the old ones still blow the young kids away. Just a shame there weren’t more of them here to see how it’s properly done.

1 Stop sniggering at the back.

MP3: Kidney Bingos by Wire

MP3: Map Ref. 41N 93W by Wire

MP3: Outdoor Miner by Wire

Buy “Chairs Missing: Remastered” (CD)

Buy “154: Remastered” (CD/MP3)

Buy “A Bell Is a Cup Until It Is Struck” (CD)

Pitchfork 500 Post Punk Part 1 – PiL to Joy Division

So, in one of the Pitchfork 500’s regular swings of tone, we go from the heady joys of disco, to the first, unhappy* flowerings of post-punk. These bands took the template of punk and expanded it, exponentially, rather like the Inflationary period of the Big Bang. And to stretch the analogy to breaking point, like Inflation it took an exciting, yet ultimately hugely limited universe and altered it beyond recognition, making the universe what it is today. Because, frankly, most punk music was not really very good. Charming in a bratty way, yes, but not very good. Post-punk changed that.

And it’s no surprise that of the tracks here, most were made by ex-punks. From PiL to Joy Division, with Magazine and Wire in the middle, these bands were either punk bands that had developed beyond the two or three chord thrash; or, as with PiL and Magazine, the main men (Johnny Rotten/John Lydon from Sex Pistols and Howard Devoto from The Buzzcocks) surrounded by a new, rather more talented bunch of musicians (in the case of PiL, very talented when you’re talking about Jah Wobble).

So, with John Lydon free of Sex Pistols, he set about creating a new sound, one which took the raw anger of punk and honed it to a stiletto. “Public Image” was the first single released, almost immediately after the Sex Pistols, and it shows exactly what punk was turning into. The dubby bass, the guitar heavy on the chorus and delay pedals, the tuneless caterwauling on top, it’s all there in 1978. Never been a fan of PiL, personally, though “Rise” was good.

Gang of Four, a bunch of radical neo-Marxists from Leeds, took their name from the four Chinese Communists put on trial in the late 70’s. Taking their cue from punk and bands such as Television and The Ramones, they took punk and radicalised it, turning it into a vehicle for outrage beyond the usual blind anger. In Gang of Four’s hands, punk became a political weapon, and “Damaged Goods” likens capitalism to a love affair gone wrong. Right on, comrades.

Howard Devoto left The Buzzcocks just as things were getting interesting (rather like Richard Hell leaving Television), and formed Magazine, nicking one of Pete Shelley’s guitar lines as he left, to use in “Shot By Both Sides”, in which he rails against punk’s unexpected conservatism: “I wormed my way into the heart of the crowd\I was shocked to find what was allowed\I didn’t lose myself in the crowd”. A quick aside here – I’m not sure that a bad Top Of The Pops appearance would really have damaged their chances that much, as the Pitchfork 500 books states; after all, New Order had some remarkably shambolic attempts at playing live (pretty much the only band who did so) and it never did them any harm.

Now, I must admit to never being a huge fan of either Gang of Four or Magazine’s music. Listening to John Peel in the early to mid 80’s, you’d hear their music from time to time, and it never really go through to the adolescent me. Which is odd, considering it’s angry and passionate (which is what adolescence is all about, the horror, the horror!). And I was into all sorts of stuff at the time, from The Fall to, er, The Cramps. But listening to them again, now, many years later, I’ve grown quite fond of them. And I’m certainly more fond of them than I am the chancers doing the rounds copying their every move. You know who you are.

Anyway, next up are The Cramps. Who were, of course, fucking great. Sadly we lost the great Lux Interior just a few weeks ago, and the world has lost a fine showman, and certainly the most effective humper of stages whilst wearing ludicrously tight leather trousers I’ve ever seen. I loved The Cramps when I was a teen, and whilst I can’t admit to having listened to them much in the past decade or so, just hearing “Human Fly” again makes me glad. For all I’ve written in this blog so far about how bands developed what came before, and how they in turn influenced those who came after, sometimes I can just sit back and marvel at a bit of sheer lunacy. I’m not even going to talk about how they took the surf music of the 60’s and turned it nasty; just listen to that great reverb’d guitar and the joyful malevolence in Lux’s voice. Just fantastic. And even a fat-fingered 13-year old can play it on guitar and for just a couple of minutes, be in one of the finest rock’n’roll bands ever.**

Lux Interior

Lux Interior

As for The Misfits, “Night Of The Living Dead” sounds like what the bad kids in 60’s movies listen to whilst driving across some mid-western town to do some dreadful mischief, like pushing a cow over. And it’s pretty good for it, too.

Now Wire we’ve already seen, in the second part of this saga. Back in 1977, they sounded like a punk band with some rather odd lyrics. After all of a year, they sounded like no-one else, with some rather odd lyrics. So here’s another part of a recurring series, What The Fucking Hell Are Wire On About?

“No blind spots in the leopard’s eyes\Can only help to jeopardize\The lives of lambs, the shepherd cries”.

No, me neither. (Although I can actually start to slowly work it out. This is totally barmy, from “Follow The Locust”: “My pockets are drunk\The Illinois tool works”. You what now?)

Anyway, “Outdoor Miner”, from which this lyric stems, is a rather gorgeous two minute pop song, with a curious one-note chorus (the style of which they will reprise years later in “Kidney Bingos”). It’s a little bit of lovliness in amongst all this post-punk angst and, er, zombies.

Ah, angst. Joy Division never were the most jolly of folks on record (though off-record were apparently a rather jovial bunch). The beauty of listening to Joy Division is that, not only do they express the sheer futility of human existence; how everyone is alone in an uncaring universe; how life is filled with pain and anguish; but how they do it so very, very well. And in doing so, they make you feel better about yourself. After all, if this lot are so miserable they went to such huge lengths to express it, well, you can’t really be that pissed off, can you, because, if you were, you’d sound like this? So, perversely, they cheer you up.

Now this isn’t the only Joy Division song in the list, but I’m a little surprised that they didn’t pick “She’s Lost Control”, being the most accessible song on the album, and along with “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and “Atmosphere”, their best known song. Personally I’d have gone for “Dead Souls”, as that’s a right cracker, and just slightly more obscure for the blogistas out there. Anyway, “Disorder” it is, and it’s certainly one of the jollier songs on the album Unknown Pleasures. In that it’s only about the stultifying dreariness of human existance and the loss of any meaningful connections or relationships. Jolly fella, that Mr Curtis. Wonder whatever happened to him?***

It’s been funny listening to these songs. They are mostly hugely influential; they took punk, added a bit of Television and some effects pedals, and invented something new. Aside from The Cramps though, it’s all a bit po-faced. I think I need some reggae to lighten the mood…

*I don’t mean that in a bad way
**Not that I’d ever have dreamt of being Poison Ivy. That would just be odd.
***I do know, I’m just making light of a bad situation. Please don’t write in.

Shot By Both Sides by Magazine

Human Fly by The Cramps

Outdoor Miner by Wire

The whole list is available

The Pitchfork 500 Goes Punk – Sex Pistols to Wire

When I was a kid, punks were scary. Not quite as scary as the skinheads that followed them, but the whole mohican and Doc Martens thing was pretty threatening to a seven year old. Even now, the sight of a proper skinhead in Docs:

This Is England

Still scares me a teeny little bit. But listening to Sex Pistols now, it’s almost hard to see why. There’s nothing particularly scary about them; in fact, it’s almost poetic: “When there’s no future\How can there be sin?\We’re the flowers in the dustbin”. Scrub that – “There is no future\In England’s dreaming” – it’s poetry.

God Save The Queen

But at the time, of course, it was a massive shock. No song had quite shocked the nation before. The media were up in arms. And there wouldn’t be anything quite like it until “Relax” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood some years later. We all know now how Malcolm McLaren shamelessly and ruthlessly played the media for ultimate sales value, but you know what? Good. Great Britain in the mid-70’s was a fucking miserable place and we needed the excitement. Whilst Sex Pistols were never exactly groundbreaking – musically they did nothing that wasn’t done 10 years earlier by Iggy and the Stooges and MC5 – they understood how to get a message across. And the message was, we’re in it for the money, and you can do this yourselves.

And so people did. One of those bands was The Clash, led by a diplomat’s son, Joe Strummer. Now there’s always been something about The Clash that didn’t sit right with me. They always seemed contrived, trying too hard (the reggae? Yeesh), and I always thought there was an aura of middle-class kids being working class heroes about them. Listening to (White Man In) Hammersmith Palais doesn’t change this one tiny bit. And it’s my blog, so I can say what I like.

Rock the Casbah’s alright though.

So Sex Pistols were chancers, copying dirty American rock and roll, and The Clash were posh kids playing at being poor. Who were the Buzzcocks then? I’d say they were the first band to really take the punk ethic and make genuinely great records. And Ever Fallen In Love is, alongside “Teenage Kicks” (coming later in the list), truly the best pop-punk tune ever. It takes the punk sensibility of playing the E-shape (ok, Em shape), moving it up and down the neck of a cheap guitar, and mixing it with a pure pop nous of the best anything The Beatles came up with (and I really am not a fan of The Beatles either). Pete Shelley sings of a love that should have stayed unrequited, making him “feel I’m dirt”, with the realisation that “we won’t be together much longer”. Now, I’m still unsure of Pitchfork’s reading of it that it’s about a homosexual or feminist relationship, but given that it was written not long after he’d broken up with his fiancee and before he came out as bisexual, there could well be something in that.* It’s one of the first truly emotional songs of the punk era, and it’s rawness and hurt shine through today. Like a cut that won’t heal and has gone all pus-y. What a lovely image, eh?

How could you tell?

How could you tell?

The next three songs in the list, Vic Godard and the Subway Set’s “Parallel Lines”, X-Ray Spex’s “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!” and The Adverts “One Chord Wonders”, are in some ways stereotypical punk songs, low on musical skill but big on attitude and passion. And the sax in “Bondage” livens it up no end. You can’t beat a good bit of sax.

And onto the last song for today. Wire are a bit of a funny one to me. I’m a huge fan of their quite unpopular “A Bell Is A Cup…” period. Or rather, when I say “quite unpopular” I mean “No-one ever talks about it any more, rather like that strange uncle who used to let his nieces sit on his knee and wear lederhosen and is now detailed at Her Majesty’s Pleasure and is on special lists”. Maybe I’m getting it all wrong, but no-one ever mentions that album. Hey, maybe it’s next on the “What Shall We Revive Next?” list and at some point in 2010 everyone will release records sounding just like it. I’ll do a post about it soon, as I’ve been listening to Silk Skin Paws a bit lately. Anyway, back to Ex Lion Tamer.

You can tell that Wire were a cut apart from the rest even with this early effort (unlike Joy Division’s early punk efforts as Warsaw, which were just a bit crap). Just listen to the lyrics: “Next week will solve your problemsBut now, fish fingers all in a line”. Er, what? Yes, a big touch of the old Art School with this lot, but still quite special**. So why, I hear you ask yourself, do I like Wire for being a bit posh and still being punks, but not The Clash? Well, I guess it’s because with Wire, they never tried being anything other than their deeply strange selves, whereas The Clash always wanted to make you believe they were someone else. It’s a verisimilitude issue, I reckon.

I knew I could get that in there somewhere.

And where the fucking hell is Ian Dury??? Damn Americans. Can’t trust them with anything.

Anyway, next it’s D-I-S-C-O.

*Yes, I do realise that if I spent a bit more time researching this I’d probably find a quote from Pete saying “Ever Fallen In Love” is about his first homosexual relationship. Look, this isn’t the Encyclopedia Britannica.

**Special, as in good, as opposed to special, sits at the back of the special bus licking the window

Ever Fallen In Love by The Buzzcocks

Ex Lion Tamer by Wire

The whole list is available