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|OIL CITY CONFIDENTIAL: MM Goes To The Movies|
|OIL CITY CONFIDENTIAL|
a film by Julien Temple, on general release February 2010
Preview screening at The Cornerhouse, Monday 19th October, In The City 2009
A question for you. Who was the first unsigned band to appear on the cover of NME? I'll give you a clue. We're not talking recently. We're talking, well, let's just say their London gigs were often attended by a youngster called John Graham Mellor, who was yet to become Joe Strummer. And, apparently (and very bizarrely) another youngster called Diana Spencer, who was yet to become Princess Di. A band whose infuence is probably somewhere in your record collection, even if you've not got anything of theirs. You've got a Clash album somewhere, right? Or the Sex Pistols, or any of the millions of bands inspired by them? Some Libertines, maybe? Julien Temple has of course already made films about The Sex Pistols ("The Filth And The Fury") and Joe Strummer ("The Future is Unwritten"), and for the final part of his loose trilogy on British music in the 1970s he turns his hand to a band who played a vital role in setting the foundations for punk and all that followed. That band was Dr. Feelgood, and there are probably two things everyone knows about Dr. Feelgood - they invented pub rock, and they came from Canvey Island.
The camera pans across mud, brick and stone, towards the cylindrical walls of an oil refinery; in front of it stands a bald man with a Telecaster and wild, staring eyes - eyes you'll never forget, but eyes with a certain sadness behind them. I visited Canvey Island once and those eyes stared directly into mine; watching British Sea Power at the Monico Hotel, the venue where Dr. Feelgood honed their craft three decades earlier, they introduced a special guest for the encore: Feelgood's legendary guitarist Wilko Johnson himself. Sixty-one years old, he picked up his guitar and slid across the stage as he blasted out the unmistakeable riffs of "She Does It Right", backed by the awestruck band who were not even born when he wrote it in a house just around the corner.
"I was born here, below sea level, and that affects the consciousness profoundly". The opening words of the film from the man with the haunted eyes.
I'll never forget that drive down that winter night. Remembrance Way leads out across the mudflats of the Thames; an oddly bleak and desolate sight at sunset with strange memorials hanging from trees, then suddenly the vista of the Thames bank spreads out ahead of you; the lights of London at one distant end and at the other, Southend and the sea. Welcome to Canvey Island. The venue address was Eastern Esplanade. That means seafront, doesn't it? Follow a sign to the seafront. Through a housing estate, round a corner again and the inky blackness of the estuary laps on the other side of the wall, you think of the people in those houses; how when we hear of severe weather warnings we think mostly of how jammed the M6 might be or the postponement of a sporting event, whilst here people shudder slightly, knowing nature may one day take its course again. Mud, brick and stone, which in 1953 was swept under water as the Thames burst its banks. People in Canvey always talk about things before the flood or after the flood the way others talk about before or after the war, says Wilko, as the screen cuts to archive newsreel footage: families crawling out of upstairs bedrooms just above the water level, dragging their treasured possessions onto rooftops; bedding down in a school hall in Southend. John Wilkinson (the name was reversed on discovering there were too many people called John in Dr. Feelgood) was six years old; his family all survived, but many school friends were less fortunate. Even at six years old those eyes had seen things most of us never will.
After a shared childhood "buggering about in the mud", the four boys who would change the course of rock music in Britain started their musical journeys playing in jug-bands, first separately and eventually together. Clips of jug bands, some footage found and some recreated. The style is classic Temple: sharp cuts between archive, drama and present day. The Monico and the Fantasy Island Amusements arcade across the way flicker between grainy black and white and the 21st century as history unfolds. They all lived just a few streets from one another; in a pub taproom somewhat less updated than most of those on the mainland the white-haired former road manager sticks pins in a map and runs a little model Transit between them. Wilko does a lot of the talking, as behind him footage of the band is projected onto the refinery walls: the Thames Delta, they called it, Oil City. It's not just a film about the band; it's a fascinating insight, at least in the early part, into this strange and unique part of England. The other "star" of the piece, for want of a better word, is the elderly mother of the late Feelgood singer Lee Brilleaux; frail but still sharp, she stands in her living room in front of the gas fire, a woman who only came to Canvey after the flood carries her own sadness: the premature death of her only son. Temple excels at conveying the poignant side of the Dr. Feelgood story alongside the rock'n'roll mayhem.
And what rock'n'roll mayhem it was. Punks before punk, the short-haired, suited Canvey boys rolled into London in a battered Transit against a musical backdrop of the times that was more concerned with the neo-classical excesses of the tail end of progressive rock; the scenes of crowds rushing the stage and jumping around in a hail of flying pint pots will be familiar to anyone who goes to gigs, but in 1974 this must have been something else. The music was primal and the performance incendiary: Wilko skittering across the stage (it was always skittering, the film's participants recall to a man, as if the word was invented for him), holding his guitar like a machine gun in a way that's been copied many times since. A young American called Clem Burke, later of Blondie, took the music home and played it to his friends in the nascent CBGBs scene; his mates The Ramones landed the support when Dr. Feelgood next visited the US. Popular myth often cites these New Yorkers as having "invented" punk rock as we know it, but Burke, looking rather younger for his age than many of the interviewees, sets that straight once and for all.
The life cycle of the band is of course one we've heard a million times, but told well here. Eventually the relentless touring, the excess and the groupies and the drugs and the drink take their toll. The growing gulf between the hard-drinking Lee and the teetotal but amphetamine-crazed Wilko. On 9th April 1977 the NME broke the story that Johnson had quit: the band carried on for a while, in one form or another, right up until Lee Brilleaux died in 1994 - and even afterwards; I recall friends of mine going watching "Dr. Feelgood" in a pub in Glossop around 1996 or 97 but exactly who was in the band at that point is unclear. Wilko Johnson still plays live on a regular basis: his Myspace page (a concept which would have been beyond the wildest imagination of a young band in the early 1970s whose audiences were generally whoever happeend to be in the pub at the time) lists seven gigs between now and the end of November. Couldn't he have retired by now if he wanted to? He's earned the right, after all.
The camera cuts back, in the closing stages, to the sixty-one-year-old man standing at the door of the Monico, the lights of Fantasy Island Amusements reflected in the glass as they did when he was young. Since his wife passed away, he says, playing live is the only thing that makes the pain stop. "I dunno if I wasted my life..." he contemplates, "but probably not".
He didn't. Not at all. After that British Sea Power gig, just a couple of years ago, I was talking to a friend about fifty years old himself who's spent the last three decades watching all manner of bands on tour all over the world, a man who still loves nothing more than the spirit and the energy you get down the front when the bodies are jumping and the beer is flying. A couple of metres away at the side of the stage Wilko Johnson wiped the sweat from his forehead and I watched as my friend cautiously approached his hero. Never usually a man lost for words or given to public displays of emotion, he could only nervously tell him "I got into music because of you; wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you; in 1974 you blew me away and made me realise what live music could feel like". This is a film that anyone who loves live music and feels that energy needs to see.
+ + + + +
The current plan is that when the film sees its general release in February 2010, it will be premiered simultaneously at independent cinemas across the country - and after the closing credits, the screens will switch to a live streaming of Wilko Johnson playing a twenty-minute set. It's an ambitious plan and will be amazing if it comes off, and I'm looking forward to it already.
Check out: Wilko Johnson
|THE MANCHESTER MUSICIANS COLLECTIVE - Where maybe the past is more contemporary than the present|
|This article references the issue of one of most important documents so far on Manchester Musical History - from 30 years ago, I present THE FUTURE ! |
Various Artists :
MESSTHETICS # 106 – The Manchester Musicians Collective 1977-1982
21 Trk CD / Hyped To Death
For the uninitiated, Messthetics is an almost encyclopaedic study of Britain's underground music scenes, from era to era and from city to city. Previous issues have covered London, Scotland, Wales, picking up early recordings from the Prefects, Swell Maps, Spizzoil, Fire Engines and many, many other unknown but no less important contributors. Incredibly this compilation has been released by one Chuck Warner from Westminster, Massachusetts USA !
Fitting it is then, given the re-opening of Manchester’s seminal Swan Street venue, Band On The Wall in 2009 after a multi-million pound refit, that the home of Manchester’s post-punk scene be celebrated with sounds from its hey day. After the explosion of punk and the closure of The Electric Circus, with Factory assuming the mantle of cool and venues like the Mayflower Club in Gorton providing (very) low-rent larger scale shows, a large portion of Manchester’s musical artisans regularly met at the Band On The Wall, which was also home to the musicians union. The union themselves were interestingly engaged in a national campaign to ban synthesisers from Britain’s stages, even though many of the Manchester Musicians Collective’s (MMC) members pioneered its use as part of a normal band line-up.
The MMC has been heralded as the most successful and innovative of Britain's post-punk-era musicians' collectives and not by the publishers of this either with tracks from the album being play listed, particularly in the U.S. and at places like New York University Radio. It suggests that maybe the past is more contemporary than the present.
The liner notes are meticulous and bursting with rare photos, flyers and lost information; the sound quality is amazing considering the source material; and of course the music itself can be jarring, perplexing and exhilarating (sometimes all three things at once) from track to track
The MMC's most famous spawn were obviously The Fall (who first played at an MMC meeting) and Joy Division (who loaned their P.A.), but the MMC's emphasis on public performance and its egalitarian ethic of shared gear, expertise, and, frequently, band-members, affected and inspired future stars and faintest sparks alike to create an unparalleled range of truly 'alternative' sounds. Twenty-one songs on the CD plus five bonus MP3 tracks. 80+ minutes of music. 24-page booklet, extensively documented with histories, photos and artifacts. Messthetics #106 features songs by the life blood of the city’s unsigned movement between 1977 and 1982 .
Manchester, with a modest but loud enough voice, proclaimed itself the inventor of DIY with the Buzzcocks’ “Spiral Scratch EP” (via Oxford Road’s New Hormones office) and it’s also interesting to note the unusual concentration of women-in-charge, unorthodox effects, provocative and poetic lyrics, wildly varied electronics and general non-punk stylings, which of all things, ushered in a new way of thinking that would sound track the 80’s.
Me?, Where was I? – I was in my first band in 1979, underage and under rehearsed, thrashing out proto-punk, gothic storms of distorted guitar music. Our only gigs were at the local youth club and then the youth leader had the great idea of contacting MMC and booking one of the bands. I can’t remember who it was but their band members are featured in the cover of the legendary compilation “A Manchester Collection”. I remember picking them out from the sleeve on a teenage browse through the racks at HMV on Market Street. That year I’d also saved up over the summer by collecting glasses at a local nightclub so that my band could record our first demo. The place was Graveyard Sounds in Prestwich, a place where many of the tracks here were recorded at pretty much the same time. For a young naive musician the existence of MMC was a pretty inspiring thing – you didn’t need a label, you just needed each other.
The album also re-animates the names of a whole list of other characters from Dick Witts Tony Friel and New Hormones boss Richard Boon, to many important movers and shakers of the time – too many to list, but we owe all of them a debt of gratitude for doing their part in building the very foundations of today’s music scene.
So there’s a history to this album, but it’d be a great disservice not to run through the music. As you’d expect and in the spirit of DIY some of the sounds are raw, but the recording standards are high – better in some respects than some of today’s demos. A completely analogue series of recordings it is, borne of valves and transistors but with the clatter of post-punk new wave. Manchester was reshaping its music scene after the explosion of punk, hence bands like The Fall, Magazine and the Factory Records rosta all began to paint new flavours of bleak pop, built on the influence of Manchester’s dystopian, industrial revolution heritage. Manchester was bleak – especially between 1976 to 1986 – no real venues, no real radio opportunities, no internet – people and musicians had to make exceptional efforts to connect with each other. This article for example would have no publishing media – it would have to be hand typed, photocopied (or even printed) and then handed out to people personally most probably at a gig. How often do you see that these days ? – NEVER is the answer as we all fall victim to MyFacebebo and our futuristic interactive anti-social society. Ironically without our digital drugs, this album may never have emerged...food for thought...
Back to Swan Street and lets get on with a roll call synopsis :
Mud Hutters (stop/start slow motion rock n roll),
Gods Gift ( a highlight with album classic “Discipline” a track that if published today would most probably have A&R aflutter),
Dislocation Dance (who live up to their name with bits of fractured new wave disco, excelling on “You Can’t Beat History” a veritable Manchester classic),
Elti-Fits (serving up a doomy, rumbling punk jazz jerk),
Diagram Brothers (off the wall robotic vocals and lo-fi guitar splinters that pre-date the first rumblings of 4AD’s dark wave),
The Liggers (top marks for anticipating the 80’s drum beat and for fusing reggae dub with lo-fi organs),
The Passage (who prove they could have been as big a force as Magazine with their well read poetic understated themes),
Bee Vamp (bits of Sax and wobbled vocals sound more like Josef K than Josef K),
Spherical Objects (bizarre progressive, wonderfully out of tune weirdness),
Grow-Up (frantic sax and jumbled guitars festooned with wild pop excursions),
Contact (a pleasing mix of Devoto and 60’s pop),
Slight Seconds (one of the few bands to ramp up the guitars in a kind of early Banshees style whilst struggling in a charming way with the singing bit),
Armed Force (another brilliant sparkling downbeat high point, from a band who could well have influenced the American 80’s indie movement),
The Manchester Mekon (inspired with their nervous melodies, hammond organ and off beat twang),
The Spurtz (a pantomime of bubbling bass lines and girl / boy weird vocalizations),
Diagram Brothers (who tumble their melodies over a tight, but wholly experimental series strict jangles) and finally;
The Hamsters who ring out the album with some kind of disturbed clockwork lullaby.
There’s a whole history to write about here and this is just one slice, just one snippet from a scene that is a retrospective reflection of todays unsigned force. We find bands using innovation and determination to get their music across whether they get signed or not. If you want a real cultural benchmark of what real people were doing, forget the fantasy, elite world of pop stars or showbiz folklore hearsay – this is the music of the streets, where art and social interaction create something bigger than one act or a record deal. When archeologists look back at this in a couple of centuries time (if there is indeed a planet left), they won’t just look up a couple of Fall albums (although odds on they’ll be playing one), they’ll be looking for a full and complete picture of youth culture and life in Manchester – and this is what we have here.
Manchester 1977-1982, I salute you.
Check out: Manchester Musicians Collective Retrospective
Take a look at: New Hormones
|Being a Chameleons fan is not just about liking a band, it's a way of life. Album covers are tattooed on limbs, T-shirts still worn like a badge of recognition. Wear one to a gig in town and you'll end up talking to some stranger about this most revered of Manchester bands.|
Walking around Middleton today you see a town still struggling to recover from the decline in manufacturing. It was here between the mills and the vinegar factory that childhood friends Reg Smithies and Dave Fielding formed a band called Years. After one single "Come Dancing", now highly prized by collectors the world over, Mark Burgess from local punk band The Cliches joined on bass and vocals, and with the addition of drummer Brian Schofield The Chameleons were born. Their dark-edged post-punk bristled with small town claustrophobia, the hopelessness the early Thatcher years wrought on such places, and the experiments with recreational chemicals which provided some kind of escape route from it all. This caught the attention of John Peel and after one session, the replacement of Schofield with Tamesider John Lever and some fairly appalling treatment at the hands of major record labels, their debut album "Script Of The Bridge" surfaced on long-forgotten indie Statik in 1983.
Listening to it today, its influence on "alternative" guitar music in Manchester and much further afield is undeniable. Burgess's deep rumbling bass and bitterly poetic lyrics, Lever's hammering drums, Smithies' timeless chord progressions and Fielding's uniquely fluid guitar sounds echoing through the late 80s indie scene to the latest crop of guitar bands barely even born when it came out. A second album "What Does Anything Mean Basically" followed in 1985, its sleeve artwork (drawn, as always, by Smithies) becoming the closest thing to a brand or logo the band ever had. The sound was more psychedelic than the debut, with songs such as "Perfume Garden" floating in a wash of keyboards and in places slightly muddied by less than perfect production, although it remains a favourite among some elements of the hardcore fanbase.
Eventually that elusive major label deal arrived and the band signed to Geffen, releasing their third album "Strange Times" in 1986. How their best-known single "Swamp Thing" failed to be a hit still remains a mystery, and 18 years on it's still a staple of Manchester indie nights. Follow-up "Tears" received radio airplay and even a small piece in pop mag of the day Smash Hits, but overall single sales were astronomical then compared to today and this too failed to cross over into the big league. The band's defiant, independent spirit and lack of compromise may also have counted against them - a brief mention of “smack” in the otherwise relatively commercial-sounding "Mad Jack" resulted in the single being pulled before release in the Just-Say-No 80s. Success was looking more likely in America after a tour in 1987 which was hugely successful but completely ignored by the UK music press.
However there were growing tensions in the ranks, not least over the decision to record the next album in America, and when their friend and manager Tony Fletcher died suddenly the band splintered. It is telling that the four tracks from these sessions, eventually surfacing as an EP entitled "Tony Fletcher Walked On Water", are among the greatest songs they ever recorded, leaving only tantalising speculation as to what that fourth album could have been.
Burgess and Lever quickly resurfaced as The Sun And The Moon along with two guitarists from Music For Aborigines: their eponymous debut retaining a lot of the Chameleons' sound, albeit with the very personal lyrics of old replaced by a more political agenda. They too were relatively short-lived; Burgess resurfacing in the mid 1990s via collaborations with Mancunian singer-songwriter Bryan Glancy and Wonky Alice's Yves Altana, and Lever playing for a while in indie rockers Wilson. Smithies and Fielding spent much of the 1990s as The Reegs with singer Gary Lavery, releasing a couple of little-heard (outside of the loyal fanbase) albums on Middleton indie Imaginary. Yet in their absence, the Chameleons became legends. "Madchester", "Shoegazing" and "Britpop" came and went, but those three classic albums stood the test of time, old fans played them to friends who played them to friends, and the fan base quietly grew.
When the reformation rumours started it felt just too unbelievable. Older and wiser, the four set aside past differences and booked a reunion gig at the Witchwood. It sold out quickly and one gig became two, three, four, five... fans from across the globe descended on Ashton. Realising they had most certainly not been forgotten, the band booked into the Academy one Saturday night in June 2000. Not the Hop and Grape, not the old MDH, but the big Academy. The atmosphere in there was like nothing I have ever experienced before or since. Although a fan in the 80s I was too young to have actually seen them before they split, I'd not been quick enough to get tickets for the Witchwood shows, and there were hundreds like me. Torrential rain lashed Manchester that day, wrecking the intricate hair of the goth contingent that bizarrely made up part of this most image-free of bands' audience. The unmistakeable introduction to Swamp Thing filled the room as it had the nightclubs and bedrooms of Manchester a million times, but this time it was live. Everywhere you looked people were in tears, overcome by emotion. "Are we back or what?" mused Burgess as he looked out across the packed venue. "I think so, I really do..."
Tours of Germany and the US followed, the band capitalising on the adulation that had grown up since their premature demise. Rasta MC Kwasi Asante, who had initially come onstage for the odd track here and there, became an almost integral part of the band's live performance. This surprised a few of the old guard but it worked. A new album "Why Call It Anything?" was released in summer 2001 - reactions were mixed, some old fans almost denying its existence to this day, and in retrospect perhaps the songs would have benefitted from developing live a little longer, but the spirit was still there, "Dangerous Land" in particular quickly becoming a highlight of the live set. Further tours followed, with the 2002 tour receiving a rapturous reception across the globe.
And yet even then, had anyone stopped to look, there were cracks beginning to form. "Why Call It Anything" had sold little ouside of the established fan-base, and without a record label there was little money to work on a follow-up. In their 40s, the band had their own lives, separated now by geography. A performance in Athens was scheduled for April 2003 and, as had become almost a regular occurrence, a bunch of us from the UK were heading off out there to watch them. Bags packed, I logged into the band's bulletin board to check for messages from a friend already out there. Instead there was an announcement from Mark Burgess: the previous night, the rest of the band had told him they were not going. I don't think anyone will ever know for certain what was said, but various members were unhappy with various others' plans for the band and somehow it all came to a head. Bound by contract, Mark played the show with Kwasi and a couple of technicians, but there was no avoiding the fact that he, the Greek fans and our little travelling contingent were devastated. Within a week Mark and Dave were fighting a vicious war of words on their own bulletin board - don't go looking for it now, it's long been deleted - and once again, it was all over. It could never have lasted for ever, four such passionate, creative, volatile characters - the very factors that made them the greatest band this town ever saw were the same things that blew them apart.
On a blazingly hot September afternoon, five months after the Chameleons splintered, this fan stood in the sunshine on the street just off Hamburg Reeperbahn where I'd last seen the band play the November before. The corner where I shook John's hand, still bloodied from the intensity of his drumming, as he boarded the tour bus. Across the street, the strange little club where Mark and Dave had raised bottles of beer in the air and hugged like brothers after playing a 90 minute set with the energy of men half their age. It had been an unnecessarily messy ending for such a great band, now apparently beyond repair. Yet how privileged we were to have them back at all….
Being a Chameleons fan is not just about liking a band, it's a way of life – and there amongst the sex shops and seedy bars I laid to rest the ghost of my lifelong favourite band, and walked away.
Or so I thought. The rumours have started around town again that they are talking again, with offers of gigs in Middleton and the USA towards the end of 2004. And whilst this is far from a certainty, the official line is “Keep the door open”….
CATH AUBERGINE 13/02/04
Dave Fielding now lives in Lincoln where he plays in a loose psychedelic guitar/beats/didgeridoo collective.
Reg Smithies has effectively retired from music and still lives in north Manchester with his partner and young son.
Mark Burgess lives in Hamburg with his German wife and is still writing music, playing occasional low-key gigs either on his own or with friends including Yves Altana, and is currently writing his autobiography.
John Lever divides his time between Ashton and Corfu, and remains the greatest drummer in the world.
Kwasi Asante MCs at Friends and Family and various other club nights around town.
Cath Aubergine saw the Chameleons 35 times across the UK, Germany and America between 2000 and 2002 and only regrets that it wasn't many more...
Check out: Official (and very comprehensive) Website
Take a look at: Fans’ gallery of reunion tour photos (including Cath Aubergine’s USAtour 2002 photo-diary):
|The Stone Roses|
|by Polly Dunbar|
I was 14 and completely caught up in the adrenalin rush of my first gig, but it was November 1995 and I was way too late. The sea of 20- and 30-odd year old blokes at the Leeds T & C wearing threadbare “She Bangs The Drums” t-shirts said it all: for the majority, this was a nostalgia trip, a chance to reminisce with mates about the hedonistic days of baggy, when the Roses were a band to really believe in. Things had changed a lot since then. The Stone Roses had recently emerged from their 5 year public absence with the Second Coming, which had been met with a near-universal sense of disappointed expectation, Reni had left amid rumours of drug excess and money troubles, and the band I saw was a band without impetus, beginning its demise.
History has a habit of neatening things up; trimming the frayed edges of stories and lending them a sense of inevitability which is unsurprising when you know how they end. At the time, there was a pervasive sense that the band’s best days were over, but it wasn’t inevitable it would be their last tour, and the gig was actually a good one. Part of the magic was still alive in 1995, and there was still a distance to go before it was all over. Like the Beatles on Hey Jude, the end was protracted and grew increasingly painful, and even after Squire’s departure in April ‘96, the remaining Roses refused to quietly admit defeat, instead opting to share the band’s death-throes with a horrifed festival crowd at Reading. That was the nadir, whereas at the T&C gig the band was teetering at the top of the decline, rather than plummeting down the slope. Despite Reni’s absence and a shambolic vocal performance from Brown, this was a band with presence in spades, and excellent songs by the bucketload. Still, this was all a far cry from six years earlier, when Brown announced “The past was yours but the future’s mine” and the Stone Roses had the pop world at their feet.
In the late 80s, “indie” actually meant something; in a musical climate dominated by PLW’s fluff and stadium rock, more often than not it meant shrinking from view, shying away from success on a large scale, and embracing cult status. The Stone Roses were different. They wanted to be on Top of the Pops; to have a number one without compromising or selling themselves to do it; to prove they were the band to bring the creativity which had been missing since punk back to rock. With their paisley shirts and flares, Pollock-tribute record sleeves, and jangly, Byrdsian melodies, the Roses eschewed the emphasis on alienation and all things drizzly and bleak which had characterised the approach of the former giants of Mancunian rock, Joy Division and The Smiths. Songs like Sally Cinnamon celebrated sunshine and good times, with lyrics (“You taste of Cherryade”) which evoked a sweet, nostalgic escapism, whilst Elephant Stone was mood-lifting, neo-psychedelic pop. Not that the Roses didn’t also embrace a darker side: Brown’s menacingly intoned, vindictive poetry on tracks like Turns Into Stone, on which he daydreams “Your pink fat lips let go a scream/ You fry and melt, I’m on the scene” hinted at the band’s earlier incarnation as goths. The sunshine was often shot through with a black cynicism, but overall, the spirit of the Stone Roses’ music was one of celebration, of freshness and vitality.
Manchester had changed, and though the hedonistic energy of “Madchester” really emanated from and pivoted around what was happening in the clubs, rather than the music made by white boys with guitars, the Roses reflected the new mood. They exuded a swaggering confidence, an absolute cool, with Brown in particular making offhand remarks such as “It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at” which would become ideals for the believers. Unlike Ian Curtis or Morrissey, Brown didn’t feel like a prisoner of his past or present circumstances, but similarly to both, his attitude struck a chord with thousands of fans: in Brown’s case, they were attracted by the sense that you could achieve anything; it was there for the taking if you refused to be put down. Or, if you weren’t looking for a creed, you could just copy the band’s haircuts, join the party and lose yourself in the music. Like all the greatest songwriting partnerships, Ian Brown and John Squire were in many ways opposites. Brown was the perfect pop-idol, all arrogant attitude, charisma and indie-boy beauty (before King Monkey took over), whilst Squire was creative and quiet, preferring to let his amazing guitar skill, and often Brown, speak for him. Drummer Alan “Reni” Wren and bassist Gary “Mani” Mounfield combined to make an outstanding rhythm section, adding to the band’s hook-laden guitar pop an acid house rhythmic sensibility.
The Stone Roses were lumped together with the Happy Mondays as key figures in the ecstasy-saturated baggy scene which crossed indie and rave. Tight funk rhythms aside, though, the dance beat only really came to the fore on tracks like the infectious Fools Gold. Their eponymous debut stands as a very retro set of carefully crafted songs, and with it, the Roses foreshadowed and provided inspiration for the 90s obsession with 60s guitar pop. In fact, John Leckie makes them sound as saccharine-sweet as Herman’s Hermits at times; despite this, for many people, it ranks as one of the best albums ever recorded. From the atmospheric opener “I Wanna Be Adored”, through the uplifting, catchy-as-hell pop of “She Bangs the Drums”, to the epic and mighty “I Am The Resurrection”, The Stone Roses is an amazing record.
Things started to go wrong during the band’s 5-year sabbatical, from 1990 to 1995, a period of bitter wrangling with Silvertone, personal acrimony, and very little creativity. The part played by drugs in the story is legendary. Brown was later to describe coke as “the Devil” for the effect it had on Squire, and Brown himself was smoking weed non-stop, whilst Reni’s drug of choice is uncertain, and Mani wasn’t limiting his options to one favourite. On Second Coming, when it was finally released on Geffen, the band eschewed the 60s harmonies and jangle of their debut in favour of a much heavier sound which took its cue from Led Zep. Packed with foot-on-amp riffola and thunderous percussion, there are several genuinely excellent songs on the album, including comeback single Love Spreads, Ten Storey Love Song, and How Do You Sleep? It was a solid sophomore effort, but not the work of genius fans had been waiting for, and the mixed reviews it gained reflected a sense of anti-climax after the long period of anticipation. Relations between the band members were becoming increasingly strained. On most of the songs on Second Coming, Squire’s 70s rock-inspired riffs were at the centre of the music, and Brown has since stated that for himself and Reni, at least, it felt like Squire was pulling the band in a direction they weren’t totally comfortable with, losing sight of what had made the Roses so great in the first place. When Reni sensationally quit the band on the eve of the comeback tour, it was rumoured to have been due to his own heroin problems, arguments over money, or total animosity between him and Squire. He was replaced by Robbie Maddox, a former member of Rebel MCs, for the 1995 tour. The band seemed to have acquired a jinx and after a succession of disappointments, including cancelling an appearance at Glastonbury in 1995 after Squire broke his collar-bone, the guitarist left in April ‘96, prompting considerable acrimony. This was followed by the band’s disastrous appearance at Reading, and the announcement it was finished three weeks later. Reading buried the Stone Roses and urinated on its grave, providing a dismal curtain-call for a band whose musical legacy was so great.
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Albums “The Stone Roses”, “Turns Into Stone” (an odds-and-sods collection containing B-sides like “Going Down” alongside classic singles like “Elephant Stone”) and “Second Coming” are all well worth owning, but if you can’t be bothered, then “The Complete Stone Roses” is a better compilation than the recently released “Best of the Stone Roses”.
Brown’s solo efforts, “Unfinished Monkey Business”, “Golden Greats” and “Music of the Spheres” are all meandering but intriguing, encompassing lo-fi, neo-psychedelia, dance beats, and a variety of sonic textures and effects. Squire’s debut solo album “Time Changes Everything” sees him achieving a warm, 70s rock sound. Mani can be found playing bass with Primal Scream.
“Garage Flowers”, a collection of early outtakes, charts the progression of the early days of the Stone Roses, when they were either gothing it up or emulating the post-punk sound of bands like Joy Divison and the Chameleons, and frankly weren’t very good. Also avoid “Do It Yourself” by the Seahorses, the band Squire formed immediately after his departure from the Roses.
The Stone Roses were probably one of the most influential bands of all time, and certainly the most influential of their generation. Hordes of bands owe a massive debt to the Roses, and with their debut album, they set the standard for all of Britpop’s chancers. The Charlatans, Blur, Suede, Primal Scream, and most obviously, Oasis were just a few of the bands to be influenced by them, with Noel Gallagher famously stating that without the Stone Roses, there could have been no Oasis.
|By Rob Allen|
A useful tool, the internet. It gives us endless pleasure in providing message boards and forums in which to vent our spleens, instant access to distressing images of the mutated human form and the opportunity to search out of date vacancies for employment. Amongst the swamp of online casinos and sites relating to the activities of Britney Spears I had spent a little time over the past couple of years trying to locate a Manchester based band from the 80’s named Easterhouse. With my knowledge thin on the ground, I tracked down an original copy of their debut LP and visited a couple of sites with identical, unrevealing biographies. There seemed very little to reveal about a band that I thought had to be of further significance than just being a bit part in the story of The Smiths, or if there was, no one was letting on. Then, via the ‘manchestermusic.co.uk message centre’ things started to change, phone calls and e-mails lead to a direct contact with lead singer Andy Perry and he spoke up.
Andy & Ivor Perry, Peter Vanden, Gary Rostock and Michael Murray formed Easterhouse in Stretford, Manchester in the early 1980’s.
“I had been living in Moss Side doing political stuff for about 18 months” explains Andy “After coming back to Stretford I hooked up with Ivor and after screwing around for a while I was drafted into the band to improve the quality of the lyrical content”. Andy brought with him a determination to express different ways of thinking in a country, which he saw as insular and paranoid. “Communist thought was central to this process as it was the single most cohesive, consistent, different way of interpreting the world, Britain only had a vague idea of the subcultures that existed here. Green peppers were considered exotic!” explains the man who penned such titles as “Get Back to Russia”, responding to the predictable order from objectors to the communist view, and “Out On Your Own”, a shot across the bows of the Labour Party. The delivery itself was in a voice as impassioned as the views held by the man himself, for a guy who ‘eventually’ agreed to sing, he did an amazing job.
The post-punk climate had Andy and Ivor taking contrasting opinions of the significance and value of what they had seen unfurl, Andy thinking that “the Sex Pistols and The Clash were a bit suspect”. He readily admits that as a cultural phenomenon Easterhouse couldn’t avoid being influenced, as the basis for getting involved in music had shifted and they now had a platform where they didn’t have to conform the traditional idea of British society. The brothers did eventually find a common musical appreciation in the music that had preceded the punk explosion, with a mutual love of MC5, New York Dolls and Iggy Pop plus a side order of The Doors and Velvet Underground. “The final musical ingredient was Bob Marley who used simplicity and directness in integrating political themes” says Andy. Influenced by DC Comics he had found imported from the US as a boy and coming from an Irish family still seen as ‘black sheep’, Andy had always thought wider than just that of the British mainstream and could now project that to a wider audience.
Ivor Perry changed the trajectory of Easterhouse’s development dramatically in a short space of time with two actions that were either brainwaves or just plain lucky. Firstly he took a decision to visit another local performer. He found himself stood on Morrissey’s doorstep as The Smiths kick started their rise to fame and requested a support slot, which in a fit of goodwill Morrissey agreed to and lined them up to open proceedings at Dingwalls in London. Andy says he was surprised by the debut single “Hand in Glove” as Morrissey was a “weird local individual who kept his change in a purse”. Secondly, in rehearsing for the gig in the capital, Ivor wrote a song later titled “Man Alive” which sounded like nothing they’d done before. They were taken by the folky, electric feel of the song and found a whole new direction which took them further towards a commercial crowd but retained and embellished the potency of Andy’s lyrics. What followed was a deal with Rough Trade and the superb “Contenders” album, a collection of songs, which let Andy run riot over the sorry nation he found himself tolerating. Somewhere amidst the odd wailing harmonica, the band had found a formula, which touched on what we were to know as indie. Whilst never extending their repertoire to either the humour tinged maudlin that The Smiths found so saleable or resorting to the epic stadium filling anthems of U2, the album delivers a melodic document recording the unrest of the times with an open, honest suggestion of the alternative.
“We were one strand of what became the legacy of punk, the alternative lifestyle strand was the one which became increasingly dominant degenerating into crusty’s, environmentalism and all that other social crap. This was personified by bands like James and the “family capitalism” of Rough Trade records.” States Andy and with this in mind, he had an alternative in Easterhouse. “It was important that the lyrical content was not based around protest or anger in a reactive sense, the purpose was not to reform or improve what was around but to offer a complete alternative. I understood that injustice was inevitable in the society we had”. Andy had vented much of what had been preoccupying him for many years but after the release of “Contenders” the line-up of the band would change. Andy and Ivor would go their separate ways, the latter leaving to form Candle with the fifth ‘Smith, Craig Gannon and the rest of the original band would eventually dissolve. It would be three years before the second and last Easterhouse record would be released, with Andy Perry writing alone.
Rough Trade had hit hard times following the boom time of the mid-Eighties when they had lead the charge of independent labels into the mainstream charts. Of all the weapons that they could find in their armoury to rescue their desperate situation, Andy Perry was still signed and waiting to record, it had to be done quickly and on a budget, conforming to the stylistic trends of 1989. “Waiting For The Redbird” was released with Dave Verner on drums, Neil Taylor, Lance Sabin and Steve Lovell sharing guitar duties. The cohesion of the original band and the fire that it put into the words of their frontman had been lost amid a more plastic, programmed and polished product which slotted in with the lack of inspiration surrounding Rough Trade. The only consistent quality between the two records was the voice that didn’t lose sight of the original blueprint with songs such as “Stay With Me (Death on the Dole)” and “This Country”.
“Free enterprise/But not free to strike/The privileged few can do as they like/And the rest can prepare for paying the price/I spit in the eye of your free enterprise” are typical of the caustic lyrical content that smothers the smooth, synthetic sound of “This Country”. The sound of the record was so far away from the agitation that the debut had displayed that it was obvious that what Andy had shared with Ivor was as important a combination of character and temperament as their old friends Morrissey and Marr. The sound of Manchester had changed with the rumblings from inside the Hacienda changing from shimmering guitars to thumping Chicago house, the ecstasy fuelled euphoria and baggy had shown the city a new route and subsequently wielded the axe on anyone not joining the ride. The descent of Easterhouse from the stage to the history books was complete by the end of the decade.
As the band members recollections of the time become hazy, “Contenders” picks out the mood of the 1980’s from a perspective that didn’t pull any punches, sought out an alternative so far removed from the norm and put it into nine tracks of accessible electric rock. Although the internet can’t provide you with many clues as to where this modest tornado of establishment baiting rock and roll came from or where it went, the album gives you everything you need to know.
Check out: Easter House Web & Info
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