Saturday, July 06, 2019

1979, again!


On the subject of 1979 and DIY... I enjoyed writing the liner note for Superior Viaduct's reissue of The Mekons debut album The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strnen. Got some good stories from Jon Langford and Mark White about the making of the record at Virgin's luxury residential studio in the countryside, the Manor - an incongruous setting for this radically anti-rock star rabble to do their work - and where their collective heads were at in those heady days.

This is actually the fourth time I've interviewed The Mekons. The first was in in 1986, for Melody Maker, during that string of wonderful country 'n' folk infused records they were then making. Second time was in New York in the offices of A&M - briefly their record company - around the F.U.N. 90 EP - that was for Spin, but I'm really not sure if it ever got published. Third time was for Rip It Up and Start Again, in the summer of 2002.

The first and third times were both at Tom Greenhalgh's Brixton gaff, with just him speaking for the band. It was in a little block / crescent, directly off of the High Street;  the flats had been taken over by some kind of a cooperative, which -  if I recall right - was involved in a endless drawn-out Bleak House-ian battle with the council. On each occasion I spoke with Tom in the kitchen, which looked the same in 2002 as in 1986 - as indeed did he. This created an eerie feeling of suspension from time, as though he had been sitting there - same chair, same kitchen table - for sixteen years, waiting for the return of the Interviewer.

Talking of cooperatives,  squatting, Leeds postpunk bands...  about that Grapevine guide to DIY that Scritti Politti made for the BBC and the How To Make A Record booklet. I've seen it suggested that these were both made by the other three Scrits - Morley, Jinks, Kay - in early 1980, while Green was spending months in a cottage in Wales recuperating from his illness. (Which would explain why Green doesn't appear in the program).  This raises an intriguing thought: could it be that while the three comrades were loyally continuing the Scritti Mark 1 program and disseminating these radical do-it-yourself ideas via state media...  Green,  frail and pale, was busily and determinedly obsolescing that entire set of ideas...  deconstructing concepts like the marginal, demystification, "anyone can do it", etc.... scribbling from his sick bed the famous book's worth of notes that laid out the program for Scritti Mark 2. I wonder if the Other Three felt a wee bit put out when they turned up the Welsh cottage, perhaps even bearing glad tidings of Grapevine triumphs, only to be informed of the New Pop Direction? How long did it take them to come around? And did they still secretly worry, "What the fuck are we going to tell The Door and the Window, the Desps and Methodishca Tune when we get back to Camden?!?".

I'm not sure if they ever committed it to paper, but The Mekons had their own program / manifesto, a statement of principles that they collectively laid out during the group's inaugural stage. As I write in the Quality of Mercy liner note:

"Among its tenets, interdictions and vows were things like: we don’t want to be stars;  we are nobody special; there is no set group as such; instruments will be swapped around to keep roles fluid; there will be no distance between the audience and the band; anyone can get up and join in; we will never make a record; we will never have our photograph taken; we will only be the support band; we will the punk band that plays slow songs, not fast songs… All of these principles would be very quickly broken or abandoned, as the band’s career unexpectedly took off, resulting in features (and photographs) in the music press, headlining concerts, and offers to make records. For a couple of years at the peak of postpunk, Mekons became “anti-star stars,”  unheroic heroes."