I regret all typos. With this issue #39 of the music newsrag The Bob theres was givem away a flexi:
"Hey, Susan" (live) [EV-106532-00]
The Bob in sumer 1990
The Mekons only rock 'n' roll
By BRUCE WAARREN
In 1977 when punk was young and at its peak in England, bands like the Clash and the Sex Pistols were encouraging young blokes to throw bricks through windows. A young band from Leeds, the Mekons, were born from the same fires, the same social injustices, as the members of England's other punk bands. Yet, the Mekons never quite cared for the riotous instigation which punk fueled so intensely.
So the Mekons developed their own definition of punk with their own amateurish style and a unique sense of struggle and rage. The Mekons borrowed equipment from their friends in Gang Of Four to record their first single: "Never Been in a Riot," recorded directly onto two-track, was a response to the Clash's "White Riot."
While the punkers played fast and luriously, and screamed about the impending fall of civilvation, the Mekons formed a band based on their appreciation of social and personal politics. For the Mekons, life was the darkness on the edge of town, a nightmare they'd rather forget but somehow wanted to replay over and over.
Bolting out Of Leeds as reckless anarchists over 13 years ago, the Mekons have made the transition from punk to country-punk to honky-tonk and back to rock'n'roll. With their latest, and most commercially viable LP, 'The Mekons Rock'nRoll', the Mekons remain as the last gang in town. Non-conformists who revel in the art of human manipulation, the Mekons are the medium by which rock'n'roll myths and big guitar songs unfold. Waving their instruments in the fave of a screwed-up, drunken democracy, the Mekons would like to destroy your safe and happy lives.
Jon Langford, co-founder of the Mekons, claims that forming a punk band in 1977 was a "very obvious thing to do." Overshadowed by their fellow Leeds pals Au Pairs, Delta 5, and the trend-setting Gang of Four, the Mekons were the champions of amateurism. Throughout their history, the band's line-up has changed frequently. The Mekons have been a raving band of musical troubadours who tempered musical proficiency, but disclaimed it in the spirit of punk tradition. They had more in common musically with bands like Dr. Feelgood, the Stooges, and the Buzz.cocks. Although they were lumped together with the other classic punkers at the start, the band, says Langford, "sounded like the Rolling Stones meet Mahavishnu Orchestra."
The Mekons have a lengthy recording history which began with, early singles ("Never Been in a Riot," "32 Weeks," and "Where Were You") released by the Fast label in 1978. Those singles ultimately won them a record deal with Virgin Rccords, who releasod the band's first LP in 1979. That LP, The Quality of Mercy is Not Strnen is a frivolously abusive and crudely enthusiastic musical aberration. The Mercy LP was followed by 'Devil Rats and Piggies a Spesial Message From Godzilla' in 1980. The Mekons then entered a 17-month period of exile, during which it appeared that the band had come to an end. But two years later they offered 'It Falleth Like the Centle Rain-The Mekons Story' an anthology/retrospective of sorts, combining outtakes, drunken dialogue and some new material. And the band continued to record, releasing 'The English Dancing Master' EP in 1983, which combined English country jigs with a strange mix of punk-dub production. The Mekons took a break from recording in 1983, and began an extensive period of live performances.
In 1985 the band returned to the studio, beginning yet another chapter in the Mekons history. Some friends in America had sent the band tapes of a radio show, "Cowboy Joe's Radio Ranch," and the Mekons absorbed the music of such artists as Jerry Lee Lewis, Pat.sy Cline, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, and Georgc Slrait. Their love for this music led to a musical and stylisfic breakthrough. The Mekons found a closeness to country music because they identified with its drunken, sinful repression. While not openly political, the Mekons' music is steeped in working-class solidarity. They sing songs about people living on the fringes, and their guitars and fiddles began to bite and kick and twang like a dark and evil Nashville Saturday night.
Such songs during this period as "Hello Cruel World," "Darkness and Doubt," "Hard to Be Human Again," and "Big Zombie," as well as their covers of Merle Haggard, Don Gibson, and Hank Williams tunes, all reflect a faded hope in the human spirit and diminishing personal political power. The Mekons were singing about bars and brawls, cowboys and politicians, miner's strikes and midnight drinking parties. They sang about the power which individuals use to oppress each other. It is the brutal allusion to freedom which is at the core of these punk anarchists' souls.
During this period the Mekons released three albums that thrust them toward critical acclaim. Embracing a rough form of unyielding country-punk, in a period of just over a year 'Fear and Whiskey', 'Crime and Punishment' and 'The Edge of the World' (all on Sin Records) signaled a musical transformation for the band. This period culminated with an EP entitled 'Slightly Sourh of the Border' in 1986, completing the second cycle of Mekons history.
Over the years, the Mekons camp has included upwards of 75 musicians. But in 1985, with re-education and reformation as theior underlying philosophy, the Mekons settled on an almost permanent roster of players. This line-up has remained intact to this day, and includes singer/guitarist Jon Langford, guitarist Tom Greenhalgh, Susie Honeyman on fiddle, Sally Timms as co-vocalist, drummer Steve Goulding (ex-Graham Parker's Rumour), and Mr. Knee on bass.
The Mekons' third musical incarnation began in 1987, with the release of Honky Tonkin'. The Mekons took a few musical twists on their next LP, 1988's 'So Good It Hurts' lapsing into reggae and calypso. But above all it showcased a new unfolding chapter in their history, a raging rock spirit that has finally been fully realized on last year's 'The Mekons Rock'n'Roll', their major label debut on A&M Records.
The 'Mekons Rockn Roll' continues the band's roots-rock, hell-bent attack on populist culture. Subverting the very nature of the beast they grapple with, the record kicks like the Devil, and on it they attack the consumerist ethic that fuels the rock world. They deplore greed, capitalism, and the carnival of American pop culture. On tunes like ~Memphis, Egypt," ~Amnesia," and "Empire of the Senseless," the Mekons r~age with brilliant contempt, expioiting the deee, dark horror of the music they so eloquently embrace. They take this incredible power and it becomes poetie, folk-metal irony.
At onc time they may have plunged off the edge of the world into some profound, reflective abyss. Now the Mekons are reaching back up through the dark hole, and eoming up for air in the filthy smog of rock'n'roll. Over some raunchy Stones-lie guitar solo, Langford sings: "Only darkness has the power."
The Bob: What was the driving force behind putting the Mekons together in 1977? Weren t there enough punk bands?
Jon Langrord: There were a lot of bands playing together in '77 in England, but we figured another band wouldn't hurt anything. We were a punk band that couldn't play our instruments. We just had fun. We were cruder and more amateur than most groups, and there was always a kind of distance in our musical style and Iyrics. That's what set us apart. We just got into town (Philadelphia) a few days ago and we caught the Buzzcocks, and they were just terrific. Sally and I couldn't believe that literally 13 or 14 years after both bands formed, here we were watching the re-formation of the Buzzcocks, perhaps the greatest punk band.
The Bob: So you'd say the Buzzccks were influential on your early development as a band? Langford: They started in '77 and they were actually the reason why the Mekons formed. All of a sudden there was all this punk music going on: the Pistols, the Clash, the Damned. I say the Buzzcocks were a punk band, but they weren't in a way, they were something else. They did little love songs, very pop-sounding with nice melodies that appealed to me. The Damned were stupid but fun. The Pistols were iconoclasts, the Clash very political. The Buzzcocks, though, were great. And by evidence of this tour, still are.
The Bob: You literally used the Gang of Four's instruments to record your first singles.
Langford: Yeah, we were very close to them. We were both from Leeds, and when the Mekons formed we didn't have our own equipment. So we waited until they were done rehearsing and they went into the pubs, then we would go ino the studio and play their instruments. We both released our first singles on Fast. They were broke when "Damaged Goods" was released in 1978. Fast Product also released the early Human League singles.
The Bob: The Mekons have gone through several musical changes since those early singles. Now with the new LP you re probably at the most commercially popular time of your career. Any tlloughts when looting back?
Langford: Yeah: Don't look back. Actually, one good thing is that we've never split up, so we never had to get back together. It has been reported that the Mekons are constantly re-forming, but I think the press kind of exaggerated that a bit. The number of musidans in the Mekons has been quite a bit, but not as many as l've read. Tom Greenhalgh and I are the original members. The past five years it's been Steve Goulding, Sally, Susie, and Mr. Knee, our bass player. Mr. Knee has been playing on the albums, but this is his first tour in the States. It adds to the best Mekons rhythm section ever.
The Bob: Steve's wos* with Grahant Pa~ier was always great. Ilis dnemeting on the Rock'n'Roli LP is magnirsent. Actually the entire record has a more live feel to it and really rocks. Lang«ord: Well, we hoped some people would notice that. We recorded the Rock'n'Roll record in an odd sort of way from the last one, 'So Cood It Hurts'. On the last record we did a lot of production work in the studio and worked from the rhythm tracks up. On the Rock'n'Roll LP we went out and played all the songs first, in a live setting, and then went back to the studio where we recorded everything live. We thought it was about time we had a record that really rocked. On 'So Cood It Hurts' we liked the ideas but we thought the impact was kind of muted. When you put it on it didn't swing. So, yes, to answer the comment about the drumming, I think this is also Stcve's finest work. The rhythm section really puts the new record together.
The Bob: On the mid-'80s records - Fear and Whiskey, The Edge of the World, Crime and Punishment and Slightly South of the Border - you came to the States with a musical reputation as being a countrypunk and English roots-folk-punk band.
Langford: That time was a fusion period in which we combined English country and rock'n'roll. We always have played rock'n'roll, but then we were very influenced by this country and western music we had been listening to. We like the community aspects of country and western. Like back-country woods music, like punk, it was crude and simple, and a lot of people could play instruments that were slightly out of tune. We drank a lot and it just came across sounding like it did.
The Bob: How did you get acquainted with country rand westem?
Langford: Well, we each have a different orientation to country music. Steve was in a band called Bontemps Roulez that had a big Cajun influence. Tom's brother was a huge Jerry Lee Lewis fanatic, so we used to listen to him a lot. Then in 1983 we met a guy named Terry Nelson, who was a music director of a radio station in Chicago. We met him in England and he was obsessed with country and western. He used to make us a lot of tapes—Merle Haggard, George Jones, Johnny Cash, a lot of hard country, and honky-tonk. So these influences spilled over into our sound. Critics have said we've made country and western records, but to me they all just sound like Mekons records.
The Bob: Your producer, John Cill, also played some part in directing your musical sound. Langford: He was important because he was the first person to actually philosophize about our usical perspective. He came to us and said we were really a punk band, drawing parallels between folk music and our music. He was also interested in dub reggae. In fact, John and Tom [Greenhalgh] were in this band that played English country dance tunes with a reggae beat. All these styles of music have appeared in our records.
The Bob: The Mekons have absorbed a lot of roots music into their recordings.
Langford: That's true. On So Good It Hurts we had a dodgy interest in Third World music. You can get into large discussions about the interest in roots and world music. I think it's probably good that people are hearing that kind of music and probably good for the musicians themselves, but there is often a patronizing attitude towards the music that I don't quite like. Paul Simon was arrogant - he directly ignored the wishes of the African National Congress. He presumed he knew better than they did and that overshadowed whatever musical significance there was. This is not a populist opinion, obviously, because his record sold a ton. For me, the politics shouldn't mix with the music.
The Bob: Yet, in a way, isn't The Mekons Rock'n'Roll a very political minded record ? I wouldn 't say that the band 's comments on Thatcherism and Amerisan capitalism are apolitcal.
Langford: Qne of the things that Rock'n'Roll is about is that we are up to our necks in the rock'n'roll industry. It's spurned us all these years, and now we're jumping back, to sort of put the screws to it. In Britain, the music business is one if the major capitalist concerns. We're recognizing that there is not much you can do about it other than to analyze and discuss it. Rock'n'roll is a metaphor for Western capitalist culture. It is everywhere. What has happened in East Berlin is that they want a slice of it. Listen to the news broadcasts and you hear rock'n'roll in the background. The glamour and glitz, and mystique of the entire rock'n'roll culture, of drinking Coca-Cola in slow motion just like on television. It has corrupted us in more ways than we know. Countries that are in the throes of dissent don't comprehend the underbelly of capitalism.
Walking around New York City is a view of what disgusts me, and it portrays the grit of capitalism. In the States, and even in England, seeing the way people live on the streets as compared to how their lives are portrayed on TV, this is a stressful situation. The aspirations people are forced to live up to is just incredible, to be successful and to have to live up to these nebulous concepts.
Rock'n'roll started as a phrase that means sex. Now it's a phrase that means money. It's a teenage culture that's been alive for almost 40 years.
The Bob: The Mekons were involved with Johnny Cash on a project at helped raise money for an AlDS fund . Tell us about that.
Langford: Well, it starts with Marc Riley, who used to be in the Creepers, and before that the Fall. He split up the Creepers and he wanted to do an LP of Johnny Cash songs. So we got together with him, and we decided it would be quite a self-indulgent project without any reason, other than to just make a record of his songs, so we made it a charity project. The money goes to the Terrence Higgins Trust Fund, an AIDS fund. Johnny really put his soul into the project. We recorded the songs without any pretensions about how the songs should sound. We just went in and played them. The record, called ‘Till Things Get Brighter’, really came together, and folks got involved. Michelle Shocked, Tracey and Melissa Beehive, Marc Riley, Cathal Coughlan and Brendan Croker appear on the LP. The Mekons as a band do "Folsom Prison Blues." Meeting Johnny Cash and spending time with him was just incredible.
The Bob: Ovber the years the Mekons were somewhat effective oin gaugibng your musical growth. In effect, the Mekons are a period band. You can break up your 13 years in musical periods, with the Rock’n’Roll album clearly marking a break from the ‘Fear and Whiskey’ era.
Langford: One could say that. The Rock n Roll album is a much more fully realized record. It has a very consistent feel throughout the entire record. You make mistakes along the way, but this one just has a great rock'n'roll feel to it. Sure, there's people who are going to like our mid-'80s records better than our '90s records. Some think our Honky Tonkin' LP is our best. So Good It Hurts was a good record, but it wasn't planned so well.
The Bob: Sally has been sitting quietly while wo talk. How does she feel about the new record?
Sally Timms: I think the Rock’n’Roll LP is our best to date. It sounds better, jumps out at you and is much more coherent. We were aiming at the old Rolling Stones and Faces records. The LP is raucous, loud, and noisy. It really goes back to the way things used to be.
The Bob: Any ideas on where you may be five years down the road?
Langford: We never planned to keep going this far, so who knows what will be tomorrow, let alone in 1995.
Article provided by Dan Bailey. Thanks again.