Non album song Verdun Hear it, read it
Reviews, and a show report
this has to be said: English isn't my prime language, so I should leave
my hands off this. Please be patient with my understanding of the lyrics.
The original release has lyric sheets to fill the gaps
in my understanding, especially of track 13 :-)
Penny Arcades (3:50)
The title tells the story. Earcatcher in this song is the chorus: drums like in an Indian song accompanied by Steve's fine drumming.
Butter Song (3:12)
A straight forward song. I have some problems understanding the lyrics.
Sentimental Marching Song (4:20)
The first brass song is also the first slow one on this album. The instrumental break is filled with a brass riff as a layer on which you hear a lonely guitar. A very unusual instrumental part for a Mekons song. singing is accompanied by mandolin.
This one starts as a slow duett with a female voice. Be it whale hunting, movie making or anything else:
Young men look for work in London, Boston or Chicago
Violin adds a nice flavour to the end.
Trap Door (2:40)
A hammering start opens this song, that sounds like one from the rockin Mekons period.
too many buildings too many lanes
I lost my way down the trap door
Inside The Whale (3:30)
Without a pause this one follows and it starts with
We saw a better world
just around the corner
and goes on as so naive this white boy's dream was, because no light escapes from inside the whale. So this song sounds quite disenchanted, dealing perhaps with the historical changes that were part of The Curse Of The Mekons. Right now this is one of my favorites.
I Am The Law (2:10)
This proves they still haven't lost their energy: the best defense is attack
Pill Sailor (2:25)
A shanty in the the vain of Edge Of The World this one comes along with violin and accordion (I love that!)
they shut down the docks
thrown our lives on the rocks
but my good eye is wandering still
So this sailor still lingers on, looking for oportunity to sail away.
Last Count (3:30)
About the rough people of Wales. A great riff starts this song about guys looking for trouble, ending up a fraction of the person you once counted on.
a dozen ways to beat the devil
no matter how the dice might fall
This even has some kind of psychedelic guitar work in the end.
My Own Worst Enemy (3:00)
A new instrument is added to the Mekons sound: the flute. This gives a strange, mysterious, almost Eastern flavour to the song. Very much like a Walkabouts song.
I'm Stopping This Train (2:45)
Another brass number this is straight rockin. It reminds me of the days, when I was about 10. My father was an engine driver and he took my for a ride every now and then in the smoke and flames
Deep Sea Driver
Now we have an almost funky song. It deals with the deviations from the simple, straight ways of living, walking a delicate line.
Tom Jones Levitation (4:20);
One of the highlights. The refrain is sung with the same female voice as Youghal. Guess what's the connection between Tom Jones and the Prince of Wales!!
we're calling you home
and this time it's to stay
This is a rather poetic song: I can fly over the valleys and over the hills
Last song (1:04) Greetings from Wales to Jonny Langford, wherever you may be.
Jon Langford’s solo songwriting project THE SKULL ORCHARD has evolved into a full blown band which consists of Langford on guitar and vocals, notorious Chicago guitar demon Mark Durante (ex- Revolting Cocks, KMFDM), drummer Steve Goulding (ex-Gang Of Four, Graham Parker & The Rumour) and bass player Alan Doughty (ex-Jesus Jones). Also on the record are Sally Timms, Jane Baxter-Miller, Edith Frost, John Rice and more....
Having lived in America for the last 5 years (currently playing break-neck hard country with his band the Waco Brothers), Skull Orchard sees Langford turning his attention back across the Atlantic to the country he grew up in. Seen through the eyes of an exile, South Wales is a sad, neglected place where mines and factories close down as toxic waste dumps and McDonalds appear out of nowhere. Only the defiant spirit of its people keeps the place alive.
These wordy, angry songs reflect that spirit and represent a major departure
for Langford’s songwriting. The subject matter is tackled head-on with
lovely melodies and spacious arrangements that can turn on a sixpence into
some of the hardest rocking he’s been involved in since The Three Johns
or The Mekons Rock’N’Roll album.
Sassy Hicks, BBC Radio Wales
Do You Think About Me
The Waco Brothers put out the gnarliest of a more sentimental crop of roots rockers last year - twice, for good measure. Mostly a collection of outtakes, the ten-song CD Do You Think About Me was intended to be the kicker that last January's Cowboy In Flames needed to land on year-end top ten lists. Its title track may nevertheless be the most memorable Wacos song ever, a hooky, hornsplashed everyman's love song penned by Nashville's Lonesome Bob.
Lest we forget whence came their name, the Wacos also summoned the 10,000 dunebuggy revelation of Neil Young's carbineladen trailer park guardians on the edge of town. The reggae lilt of Young's original "Revolution Blues" is left eating their dust, and the hint of "Sympathy For The Devil" in the background vocals underscores the continuity of displaced disaffection over these 20-odd years, plus a millennium or two before them.
"Arizona Rose" is as close as the Wacos get to a ladies' choice slow dance; "South Bend" is a heartaching tribute to those who know you can go home again, but it eats you alive to have to. The Waco Brothers/Clash connection is concrete in the "Hitsville, UK" sister city tune, "The Wickedest City In The World", for which the background vocals provide a delightfully familiar landscape. "Napa Valley" will have living-room audiences worldwide singing along: "I've been drunk a thousand times/l would sober up, but there's no reason."
As busy as he is restoring heat to the flickering light of American country rock, Wacos troop leader Jon Langford has not forgotten his native Wales. To its plight he has dedicated the first record in his 20-year career to bear the imprimatur of his own name. He's quick to credit others' contributions, including harmonies and backing vocals by fellow Mekon Sally Timms, Drag City Records artist Edith Frost and the Texas Rubies' Jane Baxter Miller; accordion by Mekon Rico Bell; rhythm and guitar by most of the Waco Brothers and former Bottle Rockets bassist Tom Ray; and others. Still, Langford wrote all the songs, spearheaded the produstion and plays organ as well as guitar.
Langford returns to Wales regulaIly enough to mark its decline from his youth. The songs on Skull Orchard expose this decay in the harsh light of his perpetually restless anger. Themes of urban blight and exploitation, established early on the CD with "Tubby Bros.", "Penny Arcades" and "Butter Song", slip inward mid-record, yielding to the resigned self-awareness of "Pill Sailor", "Last Count" and "My Own Worst Enemy".
In the first, a sailor relates his disorientation in the wake of dock closures in the town of Pill. With a hint of sea-chantey sway, the adventurer implores, 'Tell me something I don't know/And find me a skipper with someplace to go/'Cause these ropes are all knotted and tangled 'round me/I'm a sailor who wandered a little too far from the sea."
"Last Count" is a loser's anthem: "How many nights did I sit and drink 'til the big one slipped away?...So play another num ber/lt's only half past one/And I'm a fraction of the person/That you once counted on/At the last count my days were numbered, chalked up on the wall/At the last count there's nothing I want at all. . .Well it's 1-2-3, I'm fallin'/5-6-7, I hate myself."
The message isn't the whole story here. The infectious, soul-horned "I'm Stopping This Train", for instance, spotlights Steve Goulding's sheer autllority over a groove, but tempos are mixed throughout, and with hints of Latin rhythllls, blues riffs and even a flute solo, the songs rove as many genres as the Pill sailor has seas.
Most artists might float more than a year on an effort as strong as Cowboy In Flames, but they'd likely tour behind it, too, a length to which Langford and friends are loath to go. Fans outside Chicago jonesing for live shows will have to settle for this fine, new music.
Linda Ray in No Depression, January 1998
JON LANGFORD: SKULL ORCHARD (sugar free)
The difference is palpaple. The Mekons, Waco Brothers, 3 Johns, Killer Shrews, and I forget whoare/were groups that couldn't do without Langford,whereas this is Langford deploying backup musicians,aides d'arte who happen to be Wacos as well. There'sno band feel, no sense of music-in-process--the garrulous artiste is audibly up top, organizing structural support for a sheaf of good tunes, and while the best ofthese is courteously passed onto Gertrude Stein, whowrote the words to "Butter Song," all the rest belong toJonboy. Anyone who's tried to keep up with his one-linersknows he's an articulate bastard, but he's better off whenhe doesn't have to get to the end in 75 words or less, whichis why his country band has always thrived on covers. Herehe runs on, confessing his antisocial tendencies like thesinger-songwriter he temporarily is--without forgetting thatcapitalism is antisocial too. A MINUS
Even though he hasn't lived there for some 20 years, Jon Langford devotes his first solo album to his boyhood home, deindustrialized South Wales. The Chicago-based singer-guitarist, a sometime member of the Mekons and the Waco Brothers, mines the region's everyday subjects: pollution, joblessness, alienation, strong drink. But "Skull Orchard" (which is also the name of Langford's current backup band) has its surprises: a track with lyrics by Gertrude Stein, the rollicking horns of "Sentimental Marching Song" and a closing lament, "Tom Jones Levitation," in which fellow Mekon Sally Timms announces the results of a poll that named the singer of "What's New, Pussycat?" as the preferred candidate for president of an autonomous Welsh republic.
Without his customary collaborators, Langford is revealed as a fairly conventional roots-rock tunesmith. Still, this is a sturdy collection of songs, well proportioned between ballads ("Youghal," about the Irish town where John Huston filmed "Moby Dick") and rockers ("I'm Stopping This Train," a typically dread-filled anthem). The backdrop is different, but Langford offers his standard blend of mockery, resignation and defiance. This is music for an independent Wales -- or for an emigre declaring hisindependence of Wales.
Like "Skull Orchard," Chris Mills's "Every Night Fight for Your Life" is decorated with family photos and occasional vocals by Chicago singer Edith Frost. The songwriter's work, however, lacks Langford's mordant wit and expansive worldview. Mills's album, his second, has a fashionably stark sound, but his country-rock tunes and gravelly voice are unremarkable. The singer is backed here by members of such indie-rock groups as Red Red Meat and Paul K and the Weathermen, but if Mills had come along two decades earlier songs like "Fire for You" and "Funeral Date" might have been covered by the Eagles.
From: Centerstage time here with his new country-punk outfit Skull Orchard and there was still a bit of excitement in the air.
I was doing the writer thing: drinking a beer by myself, hanging out at the back of the venue, The Arlene Grocery in Tribeca in New York. It seems as though that I was not alone… I guess my notebook gave it away.
"Who are you with?"
"Me, I'm with Centerstage and DiveIn Chicago."
"Oh, I write for Spin."
"I'm with the Village Voice."
"I'm with Microsoft Sidewalk New York."
When an acquaintance of mine from college, Rob Levine, an associate editor at Rolling Stone showed up, I knew that I was at the show to be at in NY that evening. And all the quiet hype proved to be correct; none of the jaded writer types were disappointed. Skull Orchard opened the set with a rambling, rambunctious, fun-lovin' country punk number that set the tone for the rest of the evening. Langford's years of experience touring and playing shows were evidenced by his banter with the capacity crowd (and bar staff) from stage and his easy-going attitude.
The Skull Orchard followed the bare-chested NY nouveau-glam/country punk (if you can imagine such a thing) act Vaporhead. Langford jokingly assured the crowd that he and his other 40-something bandmates would do their best to equal Vaporhead's visual splendor. "Don't you worry, we'll take our shirts off later. You'll be blinded."
Though Skull Orchard followed the same basic formula as Langford's other, better known project, the Waco Brothers, they put a bit more emphasis on the rock side of things and used their country influenes to spice up the set, rather than act as the main course. He and his capable band rambled through a rocking set that often seemed more like a party that everyone was participating in rather than a regular old rock show. Langford is one of the most gifted performers in terms of breaking down the traditional barries between band and audience. Even the self-conscious, hipper-than-thou writers and industry types could be seen to be moving around and getting into the music and the atmosphere.
Chicago-based Skull Orchard has a record coming out on hometown Sugar Free Records sometime in November.
As if to emphasize that this was just a good time and not a Big Time Rock And Roll Show, Langford smilingly addressed the bar staff toward the end of the set: "Can we get some water for the drummer, he's going to expire. We're not as young as we used to be..."
And almost as an afterthought:
"Oh, and some beer would be nice too."
Jon Langford has been making so much good music for so long with so many different bands (the Mekons, the Three Johns, the Waco Brothers and sundry one-off projects) that a solo-slbum seems kind of dopey. Like any good communist (or anarchist, depending on the interview), he works best with a bunch of like-minded individuals. And it's not entirely clear what qualifies "Skull Orchard" as a solo-album, anyway, since most everyone playing on this record has been in one of Langford's other bands at some point or other, and since it features his usual bag of tricks: angry anthems, angry twists on olde folke traditions, and singing that might not have perfect pitch but is always pitched perfectly, with lots of angrrry, rrrighteous rrrolling of r's.
Nonetheless, "Skull Orchard" is a damn good record, and those rolling r's offer a pretty good clue why Langford recorded these songs under his own name: he's a Welshman, and most of these songs find him brooding about what's become of his homeland. The record starts with visions of small-town funerals and ends with Tom Jones (another Welsh crooner, but probably not an anarchist) flying over the countryside, looking down at "the greedy hand/ of the vandals who ravaged the land." In between, the film crew for "Moby Dick" brings an ominously temporary economic boom to a small Welsh fishing village, billboards go up, docks shut down, and unemployed sailors get really drunk and wonder what went wrong.
If that sounds like standard Langford territory, what's refreshing
is how he places himself amidst all of the misery. "Staggering 'round
Cardiff/ Just looking for sex," he sings in "Deep Sea Diver," "now I'm
caught in the wreckage/ with the other old wrecks." It sounds like
Langford suprised himself, here: what started out as a fun jaunt
through his old stomping grounds ended with him stumbling over some
painful realizations. Always excellent at spying hypocrisy, ten songs
into the record he can't help training his eye on himself. By the time
he gets to "My Own Worst Enemy," he's no longer so sure just what he's
going to say: "I open my mouth/ and what will you get?/ A friend down
the years/ or some bitter old shit?"
It's a testament to Langford's prodigious talent that he makes even that bitter old shit sound like a friend you'd like to keep.
Giving in Jon Langford made his legend pouring delicious doses of fear and
whiskey, crafting unexpected rock and roll for a major label that never
appreciated his genius, becoming the kind of Waco Brother that David
Koresh could never appreciate, and looking for ancient honky-tonks in
the fairy tales of his own imagination. If myth came with royalties, Jon
Langford would be a millionaire.
Instead, this displaced Mekon is a Renaissance man out of time; 20 years into a career begun by a handful of art-school reactionaries, Langford's still on a minor-league label writing major-league songs, just one more unappreciated legend killing time while he waits for the big paycheck that will never come. You can almost hear the defiance, and the disappointment, in his voice when he sings of the "Trap Door" beneath his feet on Skull Orchard. In that wonderful inflected growl, he tells of "too much music, too many buildings, too many cars, too many lanes" -- and of how too many choices have left us with none at all; how everything has become so diluted, all we're left with are muted versions of things that once meant something. "The spice of life ground down to zero," he shrugs in the voice of a man out of work and out of chances. "It feels like Same Street USA/I lost my job, I lost my way/Down the trap door, down the drain."
Skull Orchard is hardly Langford's finest collection of music. Like most Mekons records, it's a roots-rock pastiche, Midwestern music made by a Brit who only recently took up residence in the heartland. Recorded with a few friends, it's a little fiddle, a little ukulele, a little flute, a lotta guitar, and even more heart. The anguish of Fear and Whiskey, the desperation of The Mekons Story, the temper of The Mekons Rock 'n' Roll have subsided, replaced by a mellowed man who breathes melody instead of fire. The recklessness has been reigned in; the anger has been tempered.
Once, a song like "My Own Worst Enemy" would have been hollered over mock anthemic riffs; now, it's an almost poignant spaghetti-western ballad about a man who reinvents himself every morning because he doesn't know who he is anymore. It's certainly autobiographical, but never confessional or sentimental. He may ask whether you see him as "a friend down the years or some bitter old shit," but only because he already knows the answer. And when he sings, "I deserve better," dragging out the last word hopefully, desperately, he isn't asking for pity -- maybe just a little understanding.
-- Robert Wilonsky