The Mekons' Journey To The End Of The Night


Out in the Night
Last Weeks of the War
City of London
The Flood
Cast No Shadows
Ordinary Night
Powers & Horror
Something to be Scared of
Last Night on Earth

Quaterstick Records (QS60)
Recorded in London (at MontiSound & Corina Studios) and Chicago (at Stinkpole & Kingsize Sound Labs)Mixed & Mastered at Kingsize with Kenny Sluiter.
Night watchmen: Ken Lite & Mitch Flacko
With additional text by: Sophie Bourbon (who we thought we had lost but has made a welcome surprise return after extensive global touring in her RV) Anne Lehman, Ken Lite and, as ever, stalwart Colin Stewart.
'The Mekons drink deep and drunk with with love, on the edge of non-existence and hallucination, they sing their hymns to the night
' Journey to the End of the Night is probably the most focused, accessible and satisfying Mekons album since 'The Curse of the Mekons'. Best of all, the humor, charisma and excitement of the bands live show survives the leap to compact disc intact.


Steve Goulding: Drums
Susie Honeyman: Fiddle
Sarah Corina: Bass & Vocals
Sally Timms: Vocals
Tom Greenhalgh: Vocals, Guitar, Autoharp & Piano
Jon Langford: Vocals, Guitar, Melodica, & Machines
Rico Bell: Vocals, Accordion & Harmonica
Lu Edmonds: Cumbus

Edith Frost, Kelly Hogan & Niko Case - Backing Vocals
John Rice - Electric Sitar on Cast no Shadows.
Mitch Marlow - Rhythm guitar on Last Night on Earth


From Club Mekon:
Im a great fan of the mekons ,but was checking out the literary allusion contained in the song title"Journey to the End of the Night".Looking at the blurb on the back cover of the book I learnt that whilst Celine empathised with the oppression of the masses he apppeared to support the German occupation of Paris in 1940,not something I'd imagine our socialist brothers the Mekons supporting.
> New York residents will get a kick out of the first track on the new
> release. Syracuse is mentioned right away...
> Is there one in Sicily? The first line seems to indicate that. But certainly
> no Italian would use such a pronounciation either! Go figure.
Yeah, there is one in Sicily, more commonly known as Siracusa. The song seems to be referring to the war between Athens and Sparta--specifically, the battle between the Athenians and the Siracusans, circa 415 BC, back when Siracusa was the capital of Sicily. The battle was won by the Siracusans at last when they drove out the camp of Athenians that had been blocking their access to the temple of Hercules. With the Athenians gone, the Siracusans were at last able to make a sacrifice to Hercules:

"Word came from Hercules, according to the fortune-tellers, that the Siracusans would be victorious so long as they were not the aggressors, just as Hercules had beaten his opponents by waiting for them to make the first move....
"The thirsty Athenians marched on for another day under a rain of arrows. At last they came to water--a river that they had to cross. At the sight of water the Athenian soldiers broke ranks and fell down into the mud to drink. There they were slaughtered.
"Those who were spared were led away as prisoners. The Siracusans put the Athenians to work in their rock quarries, where most of them died."

-Plutarch, "Nicias"

direct quote from robert graves, "the greek myths, volume 2" p. 138:
"continuing on his way to Sicily, Heracles came to the site where now stands the city of Syracuse; there he offered sacrifices, and instituted the annual festival beside the sacred chasm of Cyane, down which Hades snatched Core to the Underworld."
seems like that's where they got the lyric. heracles is performing his tenth labor, late in the game, rounding up the cattle of Geryon.
the other heracles references could either refer to the hero's anger just previous to that moment, when the cattle are temporarily stolen, or (I like to think) of his later madness when he puts on this poisoned shirt given to him by his jealous wife. but I doubt tom or whoever really thought that hard about it.

Night Fever
The Mekons join forces from both sides of the pond to bring forth a new
album, Journey to the End of the Night By Randall Roberts
Brad Miller
The Mekons: A sense of wide-eyed adventure permeates the band's output and is the main reason the Mekons have remained vital and, more important, perpetually interesting.
In their 20-plus years as a unit, the Mekons have been British punks; British post-punks; a "dance band on the edge of time"; a stumbling-drunk traveling-miscreant caravan; the first alternative-country band; a rock & roll band; a drunken-loser country band featuring a former member of the Pretty Things; the last punk band; a sad, pathetic mess; an accident waiting to happen; a transcendent, heavenly live band; geniuses responsible for the inevitable merger of polka and dub; shimmering pop craftspeople. They released the first drum & bass record -- so they say -- in 1983.
They've done all this without anyone noticing, except for a handful of diehards who gush-gush-gush at their output -- an album every couple of years these days, totaling somewhere around 20 -- and greet the news of each impending tour with an enthusiasm usually associated with the Dead. As with every fanbase convinced that the object of its affection is the perfect object, it's hard to fathom exactly how the object known as the Mekons has eluded the affection of a deserved share of country, polka, dub, rock & roll and jungle fans. But they have eluded this affection for a long, long time now. Stubbornly, they've remained a band since 1977.
But, really, that's not hard to do. All you have to do is make records, then tour behind them. Once fame and fortune -- which, in the case of the Mekons, were never there in the first place -- are removed from the equation, the rest is gravy: Just gather now and then and toss off a masterpiece.
The Mekons 2000 consist of Tom Greenhalgh, Jon Langford (these two formed the band; the latter is also in the glorious Waco Brothers), Sally Timms (she of the angelic warble), Sarah Corina, Rico Bell, Susie Honeyman, Lu Edmonds and Steve Goulding. This lineup has remained consistent through the '90s. When they play this week at Blueberry Hill, they'll be performing in St. Louis for only the second time, in support of their gorgeous, somber new record, Journey to the End of the Night (Quarterstick), one of the best records they've ever made.
The Mekons formed in the wake of the British punk explosion of 1977 but failed to make much of an impact. They signed to the same label as the Sex Pistols -- Virgin Records, who were then lapping up anything with spiked hair and a sneer -- released a couple of gloriously defiant singles, including the sardonic loser anthem "Never Been in a Riot," and promptly got dropped after their first album. Not that many people noticed, because not that many cared. After that, the band discovered synthesizers, violins, Dada and horns -- simultaneously -- and melded them in a fashion that probably weeded out most of their early fans -- and failed to make an impact with anyone remotely interested in violins, horns or synthesizers.
Their totally weird second album, one that's seldom mentioned because it's a bloody mess, simply titled The Mekons, is an exercise in chaotic experimentation, but deep underneath, a flat, screeching violin attempts to weave in some sort of half-assed melody.
The screeching violin was proof that the Mekons were discovering American country music. It's a scary thought, mixing violins and punk rock -- is there any sound more frightening than unpracticed Dada violin? But it signaled something important: More than any other band that sprouted in the "anything goes" atmosphere of punk, the Mekons were one of the few to actually follow through on the promise. They were building something, gathering the sticks that they would use to build the fire that was their great arrival -- seven years after they formed -- 1985's Fear and Whiskey.
It was a record that justified the experimentation. A strange dissonance is buried within, and the members of the band had learned how to play their instruments so that there was intent where once there was ineptitude. There was melody, a studied rhythm and punk-rock, dub and country music, and, rather than sounding like a mishmash of influences, it all made perfect sense. This sense of wide-eyed adventure permeates the band's output and is the main reason the Mekons have remained vital and, more important, perpetually interesting. With every record, they stretch: from their brilliant ode to and indictment of rock & roll, 1989's Rock 'n' Roll ("Throw a rock & roll song on the fire!" they sing), to their collaboration with the late novelist Kathy Acker, Pussy, King of the Pirates (1996), a new Mekons record is a stab in the dark. You buy it, but you don't know what you're going to get. You may get a cold, hard electronic-rock album -- 1998's Me -- or you may get pure, subtle beauty, like the brand-new Journey to the End of the Night.
Maybe one of the reasons singer/guitarist Tom Greenhalgh seems totally unexcited about doing another interview to promote the upcoming show is the simple fact that he doesn't have to. He and his compatriots have basically given up trying to make the Mekons a full-time enterprise, so what's the point? At one point, he says, the band was a semi-full-time affair, but no more. "It's been on-and-off, actually, at various points," he says. "Of late, it's obviously not been a full-time thing, and I think in a way that's also helped us to carry on doing it, because we're not really under any pressure to do this. Yeah, it would be nice to make a living, sure, to be doing something that you love doing. But that's certainly not the case currently."
These days, the band is split between England and America: Greenhalgh, Corina, Honeyman and Edmonds live over there; Langford, Timms, Bell and Goulding live over here -- in Chicago. It's been this way for the past decade or so, and you can hear it on the Mekons' records. Whether or not the effect is intentional, the records have been fragmented; they seem to be works of individuals contributing to a greater good, not the work of a unit. An ocean separates the songwriters, and it has showed. Retreat from Memphis, I (Heart) Mekons, Pussy and Me are wonderful records but not nearly as seamless as earlier efforts.
For Journey, though, the Mekons seem to have perfected the long-distance relationship. "It's a snatched bit of conversation whenever," says Greenhalgh of the current process. "It's not like some sort of managed, democratic organization where things seem to be done aboveboard and so forth. It's a bit more ad hoc. Basically before we'll approach an album we'll have a rough idea of what kind of theme it will have, what kind of song we're going to try and write, just purely out of practicality, really, because everyone's so spread out and we have limited resources. So when we get together, we have to work really quickly. So it just helps to have some kind of focus, some kind of sounding board to say, "Well, this idea might be fine, but it doesn't work with what we're doing right now.'"
Though Greenhalgh says that it wasn't intentional, Journey recalls the Mekons' '80s work. Gone is the fast-and-loud tone that peppered many of their '90s records; in its place is a gentle resignation. Honeyman's violin is more prominent, Corina's bass dives deep into dub and the singers -- four of them rotate, though Timms inevitably (and deservedly) gets most of the attention -- whisper and moan more than they scream and cry. Again they recall country music, but Journey is not a country record. They recall rock, but it's not rock. And they wade into electronics; a hum permeates many of Journey's songs.
"It's clearly a complete about-face from Me," says Greenhalgh, "in the sense that we were trying to write much harder, impersonal kind of lyrics with Me, and this is a deliberate attempt to write something more somber, more subdued and so forth -- and also just to keep the instrumentation as plain as possible and avoid the harder, cleaner sound. We decided we wanted to make a quiet record that would be a real middle-of-the-night record, make it quite subdued, quite pessimistic, in some ways."
It'll be interesting to see how they pull it off live; violinist Honeyman won't be making the journey over because she's got two young children, and because the record relies on her instrument, she will be missed. But the Mekons always manage somehow -- it's what has kept them together for the past 20 years -- and, even more impressive, they never just manage. They thrive -- in their own quiet way, while no one's paying much attention.

From: The New York Times:

Mekons' `Journey to the End of the Night'
The 38th record by this fabled cosmopolitan art-punk band is a late work in every respect, not merely because the Mekons are deep into a seemingly endless career. Lateness is the album's theme and defines its tone. Its cycle starts and ends in myth, joining a tired Hercules in his 10th labor.
In between come tales of cities in decay and late capitalism in decline, whispered by aging bon vivants and drifters trying to imagine what it might be like to rest. The soft, insistent music flows forth like a lullabye that keeps you awake.
The Mekons, whose members are scattered from London to Chicago, have not sounded so united in a while. This album reunites the band's Marxist brain with its decadent soul, existentialist spleen, earthy funny bone and steady rocking American heart. The enticing nightmares the songs offer aren't always easy to follow. But their disjointedness is healed by the balm of Suzy Honeyman's violin and a mature musicality that shows this crew isn't yet ready to sleep.

From: Interview
April 2000
by Greil Marcus
'The Mekons have been a fly in the pop ointment for so long that you can bump into them again at almost any time without feeling like strangers. They began in Leeds, England, in 1977, as a crowd of impish left-wing punk ranters. They made their strongest music in the mid 80s, when Margaret Thatcher appeared to them as Medusa, her face capable of turning all they loved into stone.
Today they come together from their homes in Chicago, Leeds, San Francisco, and elsewhere as an assemblage of friends bound by primitive music and a shared past, and a certain sense that the band may outlive whoever's been a part of it. Only writers Tom Greenhalgh and Jon Langford remain from the first days, but the history they carry with them is now part of singer Sally Timms' story, too - just as it's hard to imagine the band once existed without her.
So if, in the past couple of years, you missed Timms' increasingly deep and playful solo albums, or Langford and drummer Steve Goulding's work with honky-tonk band the Waco Brothers, you could be confident that the Mekons were still out there, somewhere. Even if you passed by the last few Mekons albums, from their collaboration with the late Kathy Acker to 1998's Me to two collections of odds and ends, you could figure that sooner or later you'd find you were stuck in the same train station with no one else to talk to, and the conversation would begin - again, or for the first time, or even the last time.
That's the feeling all over Journey to the End of the Night (Quarterstick): a cloud cover of melancholy and curiosity, a belief that there is nothing new under the sun combined with the notion that with one more sunrise there might be. "The wish comes true," Timms says calmly in "The Flood," her voice then rising, warbling, at once trembling and grinning: "But not through wishing." As a mere set of words, the song describes nothing but a mystery-story encounter between two strangers, then a quick fuck in a field or a parking garage, but the orchestration of the mere words makes their story into a whole world, a memory around which a life will turn forever. A synthesizer raises a chilly, rainy, Shoot the Piano Player backdrop for small-time crime and self-conscious dread; a guitar scratches in the background, as if knocking on a window.
Timms drifts through the song like a character in someone else's dream, distant, not quite in focus, a beckoning hand that turns to air as soon as you grasp it. And yet, as always, she is someone whose voice lets you imagine a person behind it: someone who'll never be able to tell half of what she knows, simply because no one lives forever, and that's how long it would take. So instead of a look of helplessness or desire on her face, there's a mask of slyness, of conspiracy: What if, by listening to her secrets, they become yours? Now it's just the two of you in that railroad station, and you realize that to listen to this woman may be to join her - but in what? As Langford rolls the tune with a soft, repeating set of blips on a melodica, you're swept away by a romance that's equal parts sex and espionage, and nothing could sound more alluring.
The songs on Journey to the End of the Night are so good, and so different, that any one of them could function as "The Flood" can: as a key to the rest of the music. There is the odd "City of London," a travelogue of unthreatening ruins - until another, much bigger female voice screams "TEN SQUARE MILES OF HATE" as Timms quietly mouths the same words to herself like a rosary. There is the perfectly charming "Neglect," a song of excuses that turns into a recitation of self-hatred. In "Myth" and "Ordinary Night" there are the odd echoes of old English folk dances in jerky rhythms that seem to slow down in ways that make no sense, suggesting gestures that are no longer made, paths in forests that no longer exist, names that no one would answer to. The songs aren't funny, but inside almost every one of them there's the feeling that the singers and players are sharing a joke so good it would be a sin to just tell it and have it over with.
That's "Last Night on Earth": a cheap, bouncy reggae beat for an anguished Jon Langford vocal that stretches right across all the years the band has seen, all the members it has left behind, all the villains it has cursed, to the faith that, finally, there are some things only a fiddle can say. Susie Honeyman saws away, and the result is a simple, radiant theme that can stay in your head for days. She calls a dance, she plucks strings, and time doesn't end, it swirls. The dozens and dozens of people who have for more than two decades passed through the Mekons appear in that deserted railroad station, not waiting for a train but hoping none will ever arrive, so they won't have to leave. They join hands in a circle, and move in a queer two-step, the right leg placed behind the left, clumsily, unnaturally, but drawn by something bigger than they are.'

from Folk Roots No. 204 (Vol. 22 No. 12) June 2000, p. 49.

Journey To The End Of The Night

Quarterstick QS60 CD

Naked Apes & Pond Life

Mauve 01

We've had a little feature odyssey over the last six months, wandering through the ongoing adventures of Sally Timms, Lu Edmonds and finally the Mekons in this issue, and here we get to wrap it all up with the latest pair of albums involving the various suspects.

The Mekes are in really fine form, turning in what to these ears is their most attractive album since the glory days of So Good It Hurts and Honky Tonkin'. This may of course be because it's a classic line-up including mainstays Sally Timms, Jon Langford, Tom Greenhalgh, Rico Bell's accordeon, Lu Edmonds on cumbus and Susie Honeyman's fiddle. They're less hard core rock'n'rolly here, returning wholeheartedly to that low-key and wonderfully morose, churning, dirgey, very definitely English folk rock texture of old, but evolving it further as you'd hope from such old hands. (No, not the rumpty-tumpty aspect of UK folk rock: there always was another way, as everyone from E2 to Blyth Power to Joe Strummer have also proved). Although lots of 'em have emigrated, even when they're playing US-influenced music -- and there's very much less of that here than of late -- there are no absurd fake accents for Tom or Sally: the Mekons sound forever like the bleak, polluted industrial wastelands of the slightly multi-cultural English north, not the arse end of Chicago or Austin. A blessed miracle: one of the UK's greatest roots bands of the last century striding ahead into the new one, literate songwriting undiminished, seemingly more confident than ever. UK distribution by Cargo.

While the Mekons churn and wind and grumble, Shriekback -- another outlet for Lu Edmonds and his cumbus and saz collection -- are all jagged, choppy, angular, big beaty, snarly, quite a wall of sound on tracks like Invisible Rays but attractive in their own different way. Other members include Simon Edwards on bass (Fairground Attraction, Billy Bragg's Blokes), percussion, mandolin & didg from Mark Raudva, Martyn Barker on drums and lead vocals/accordeon from Barry Andrews, who sometimes vocally reminds one of The The or Frankie Goes To Hollywood, which is weird but quite acceptable over the chugging Turkish stringed things, squeezeboxes and ethno-percussion. Shriekback have been through lots of permutations and musical directions and this album's been a while coming, having originally been recorded in the mid '90s after they'd embarked on what the press release calls their "scrawny semi-acoustic phase shamelessly plundering musical traditions from the world and twisting them to fit their own agenda." I saw 'em do it live in Berlin circa '94 and they were sensational. Better late than never, the CD is well worth investigation for all you readers who like to hear something original from the roots. I'd call it progressive, but that term got hi-jacked and tainted by something bloated and awful a long time ago. This ain't that.

Ian Anderson

v From Inkblot
Journey To The End Of the Night is the Mekons' "Odyssey;" a winding, fabled trek through blind alleys, wrong turns, and dead ends that reek of sex, betrayal, and death.
Because they distrust rock and roll almost as much as they love it, they start out by deflating the "Myth;" the song's choruses about Heracles contrast with a verse involving a bride passed out on the men's room floor. Instead of monsters and nymphs they encounter bought and sold politicians, lonely lovers, robber barons and saboteurs.
This is a wordy record, and just in case you don't get the action from the lyrics, the songs are linked by apocalyptic texts in the disc's nocturnally colored booklet. It's also the band's quietest record to date; they bob gently through the darkness buoyed by reggae rhythms, nostalgic fiddles and accordions, and disco beats, singing their defiance in ragged, plural voices that don't hook you right away but sneak up on you like the consequences of a soul-destroying compromise.

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