Untypical Glastonbury weather greeted me on arrival yesterday. Very sunny and very hot. The chances of it remaining like this are not likely according to forecasts with rain expected in the next 48 hours, but to be honest it will be a relief as long as it is not a downpour and the wellies are not required. No matter the weather it remains an exciting place to be. I took these pictures on a wonder around the site today. The smells emanating from food stalls cooking their assorted and universal menus are starting to infuse the site. The yearly bustle of cider drinkers at the Brothers Bar (West Holts) is well and truly underway. Live music is due to start tomorrow and teams of technicians are working hard to complete the final pieces of the jigsaw. Sound systems can be heard across the site and people are smiling. Let the show begin.
A sense of deja vu awaits as I leave the summer drizzle descending from the clouds hovering over Glasgow and the a 24 hour flight to reach Adelaide, Australia. Yet here I am in the capital city of South Australia, the country’s fifth-largest city with a resident population of 1.29 million and the next stop on my virtual Old Man Adventure in Bandcamp. Adelaide is city with many stories emerging from its humble history. Prior to 1836 Adelaide was inhabited by the indigenous Kaurna Aboriginal nation. Today it is another ‘modern’ industrialised city dealing with its aspirations and tensions, which provide the perfect conditions for creative forces. Adelaide is also home to the joyous No Action.
Patti Smith once said, “punk rock is just another word for freedom” which I can relate too and is reflected in the reinvigorating army of small, independent, lo-fi, do it yourself bands beavering away in towns and cities across the globe. I get jaundice with people, normally men my age, who have deluded themselves with romantic memories of the 1977 punk scene as some type of musical year zero. This was not the case. The DIY garage band ethic has always been a feature in modern music with artists swimming against the tide, challenging convention and giving the middle finger to the corporations. My enduring memory from this period is not the bands who swore and spat their way into the headlines, but the small regional bands. The bands consisting of the neighbourhood shy boy who had secretly been scribbling down lyrics and the kid who had managed to achieve a 3rd chord. A few weeks later they were to be found playing in a local pub, youth club or garage gig. The crap posters that seemed to look cool and the limited cassette run for your small group of fans. The results were often messy, but strangely beautiful given music ultimately is about people, having fun, celebration, connection and expression. No where is this reinvigoration more evident than through the band No Action a self titled soul punk rock group. I like the injection of soul given this creative tension sums up the band perfectly.
Bandcamp comes into its own when you stumble across bands like No Action, who are an absolute gem to discover. Unlike most bands of this genre you never quite know what you are going to get with No Action be it 3 minutes of punk, a reflective acoustic number or indeed a mixture of both in a single track. In an era of mass produced and corporately manufactured music No Action are a shining beacon of integrity. There blistering and brilliant 7″ vinyl Never Close/Riding in the Whirlwind is testament to this. Riding in the Whirlwind is a melancholic and bittersweet acoustic affair, “got a record no one wants to buy and a t shirt no one seems to fit. had a date with an empty bar” chronicling the struggles of a band and relationships. “Call me ungrateful, call me broke, call me when you’ve got the credit.”
Never Close is a different kettle of fish altogether, which opens up with pounding drums followed by a grinding bass. As Nick Godfrey (bassist with the band) explained to me, “The main influence on the Never Close song would be Silkworm and maybe Archers of Loaf but it sounds more like U2, the main influence on the Ride in the Whirlwind song was Comet Gain but it sounds more like You Am I or the Lucksmiths. The important lesson here is to BE YOURSELF and let your true creative voice shine through.” Personally, my observation would be the guitar work on Never Close is more aligned to Keith Levene (Public Image Limited) a quick search for PIL’s glorious Albatross track will confirm where U2’s The Edge stole his licks from.
A further No Action release I managed to obtain is the spilt cassette tape release (yes you heard me right a cassette tape), which paired No Action with UK band Plaids from Nottingham. Plaids provide a punchy angular punk/emo rock approach played out in frenetic pace against No Actions more subtle and gritty lo-fi tracks. So what where the influences behind the two tracks provided by No Action on the spilt release I asked Nick, “The tape is a funny story so I’ll start with that. The acoustic song was one we originally wrote when we found out we were going to do a split release with Roger King from Bakersfield California, home of Korn and Merle Haggard. Up until that point Roger King’s solo output had been acoustic stuff, so we wrote and recorded an acoustic song that would match that. Then he sent his track to us and he’d done a rockin’ plugged in track! So we ended up palming our acoustic song off to the Plaids split.”
The two No Action tracks, which appear on the cassette, Nick rates the second track Solar Steps, as his personal favourite by the band to date, “It’s the most fun to play on the bass. It was the second song we wrote and we probably haven’t got any better since then. The rockin’ plugged in version of the Solar Steps song which will appear on our one-day-to-be-relased debut album is good too” And the obligatory Old Man question, If the band had the opportunity to collaborate with any other artist or band who would it be Nick, “John, this is a really tough question that I’ve been puzzling over all weekend. I like the Mars to Stay band and what they’re all about, so I’m going to say them.”
No Action are a very coherent and exciting band who in many ways defy logic. Bands like this tend to take a single approach when facing their musical crossroads. It is refreshing to hear a mix of influences as a platform rather than a band simply trying to replicate something they’ve heard elsewhere. So we end up with creative tensions. Grinding punk, which is not simply trying to get as much noise and lyrics stuffed into the required 3 minutes as possible, alongside subtle acoustic offerings. The lo-fi recordings just add the imperfections that make these recordings stand out from the crowd. I can’t wait for the album when it does finally appear.
You can also enjoy further No Action tracks on their Soundcloud site and keep up with their journey via their Facebook page. Enjoy and respect.
The long journey up north past my native North East over Hadrian’s Wall and to Glasgow where the wonderful Electric Company Label is beckoning me on the next stop of my old man adventures. Unknown to myself, well until I wrote this blog, I have a deep appreciation of the Scottish rock scene beyond the parody that is Rod Stewart. I will blame Rod for my ignorance given he inflicted his phoney Scottish jiggery pokery on me from a young age, caused serious trauma and inflicted Scottish blindness. At a time when any self respecting youngster was exploring The Clash, Pistols, Damned, Ramones and Buzzcocks, Rod in 1977 released his Hot Legs single from the equally bombastic album Footloose and Fancy Free. Unlike now there was no fast forward on live TV, so we duly had to sit through Rod swinging his thing before 3 minutes of punk was allotted its given time on Top of the Pops. My trauma was recently reinvigorated when I discovered Bon Jovi apparently perform Hot Legs occasionally as part of their live set, but a quick google search for Rod Stewart 1970s and then Jon Bon Jovi 1980s and it all makes perfect sense.
Anyway enough of this nonsense. A quick dig through my music collection whilst preparing this blog reveals Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, Teenage Fan Club, The Vaselines, The Rezillos, Belle and Sebastian, but to name a few all lurking there and all originate from Scottish shores. I hold my hand up in shame and accept my ignorance, which I take responsibility to tackle. As with any vibrant music scene an ecosystem is required, which is is independent, experimenting with the past and probing the future to produce a glorious wall of sound. This cultural ecosystems by its very nature is often known only to the locals until a buzz emerges, but the rise of the internet has created opportunities for the virtual traveler to be exposed to these gems. This is particularly rewarding when, if like me, you have a leaning towards lo-fi fussy guitar rock and sublime songwriting with twisted lyrics that often fail to penetrate the mainstream pop world. Yet it is these humble cultural ecosystems, which create the fertile ground for mighty musical oaks to grow and the catalogue of Glasgow’s Electric Company label sits there like a shiny emerald.
Launched in April 2013, Electric Company release and distribute music by some of the most exciting and forward-thinking artists, on a wide range of formats, including vinyl, cd, cassette and digital download. Boasting a passion for DIY ethics and armed with their own studio enables the label to support artists to be heard without the pull of corporate strings. This in turn creates a unique artistic hub where everything from recording, artwork and merchandise to live booking can be done in house and purely for the love of music. As with any small business running an independent music enterprise takes nerves, commitment and to a certain degree of passion bordering on obsession. So it is always an immense pleasure to stumble across a label like Electric Company. On my initial dip into the label’s catalogue I purchased 3 offerings.
The New Fabian Society: Cyclothymia/Homily 7″ vinyl and digital download £5 (digital download £2)
Released on a limited run of 250 copies Cyclothymia is a pulsating 3 minutes 27 seconds of glorious guitar infused post punk delivered at Ramones break neck speed whilst Homily is reminiscent of Joy Division (before the hype) at their desolate best. The band follow up release Barbarossa which is also available on Bancamp (name your price offer) demonstrates a band growing in skill attitude and craft Provided with the right opportunities and presented with the necessary good luck all artists require this band have all the credentials to develop into something rather special.
The Dirty Lies: Release EP cassette and digital download £5
The Release EP is a collection of 6 brilliantly twisted pop songs. Athough I feel it only right to give you a little warning before you take a listen. Beneath the pleasant beats and harmonies are some rather spine chilling lyrics, which make one feel the songwriter was abandoned on the steps of a church at birth and left to be reared by a couple of zealots. The sublime opening lyrics to Shallow Grave, “I hope you fail in love, I hope you break your heart, I will be your enemy, I’ll be your shallow grave” are just about the most soberingly and brilliant opening lyrics for a track I’ve heard for quite some time. Each track on the cassette comes in at about 3 minutes, which means there is little too no fat in production and delivery.
Various: DIY or Die Volume 1 cassette and digital download £4
Four bands, four songs for four quid no bad going and a cassette thrown as well. The cassette opens with Twin Mirror’s New Edition a good old fashioned punk rally. Secret Motorbikes – Is Dis 4 real a swaggering pop anthem. Deathcats – Saturday Night Golden Retriever a guitar riffed to the ceiling romp. Future Glue – Time to Kill a burning blend of punk surf meets 1950s trash rock. All together this is a mighty fine split tape, which is ready made for rolling down the car window on a warm summers evening and terrifying the neighbourhood.
My ignorance has been well and truly laid to rest and like Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool and London, Glasgow is up there with the best and I thank Electric Company for the education.
14th January 1978, The Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco, USA and the Sex Pistols have just brought their set to an end with a version of the classic Stooges song No Fun. As the final traces of feedback belch from the amplifiers and over the heads of the assembled audience Johnny Rotten is poised, crouched down and defiantly staring at the crowd. He utters the immortal words, which are etched on the toilet walls of the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, “ha, ha ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated.”
No sooner had the band left the stage the disintegration started and within days the Sex Pistols crumbled into dust. Guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook went on to prostitute what dignity remained of the band. The ex manager (Malcolm McClaren) desperately cobbled together an embarrassing film called The Great Rock n Roll Swindle with a very dubious narrative. By February 1979 Sid Vicious (bass player) died a lonely and squalid death from a heroin overdose whilst being under investigation for the murder of his girlfriend. Meanwhile former frontman John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) had jetted off to Jamaica with no other than Richard Branson to scout reggae bands for Branson’s Virgin record label. The Sex Pistols were to leave behind a maze of legal wrangles and bad taste. The punk scene sunk into wall to wall leather jackets and mohican haircuts.
In the hands of McClaren The Sex Pistols legacy was to become a parody, although what emerged from the ashes was to be much more musically interesting. By May 1978 John Lydon was already assembling his new band and later that year under the name Public Image Ltd they released their self titled single ‘Public Image’ The record was well received and reached No.9 in the UK charts.
As a teenage fan of Lydon I recall dashing down town on release day to scour local record stores and seek out a copy that also featured a limited edition newspaper insert. At the time the single with its insert were considered the holy grail and from small independent record shops to the high street dealers I ventured, bus journey’s to the neighbouring town (Middlesbrough) my crusade continued through the day and occasionally bumping into fellow fans on the same crusade. The song written by Lydon whilst still a member of the Sex Pistols bares the hallmarks of a Pistols track with its sneering lyrics directly aimed at his ex band mates. The A-side of the single was not a major departure and as such held little surprise. It was the singles B-side the aptly entitled The Cowboy Song that was to provided a glimpse of where the band were heading. The Cowboy Song sounded like a rambling assortment of studio outtakes and random noises all mashed together in no particular order. Uponfirst listening it was easily forgettable. Lydon himself viewed the track, “it cost us approximately £1 to make. It’s just a jolly good disco record and it came about cos we were bored and couldn’t think of a b-side.” It was not until the first album appeared that the creative manifesto for the band started to be exposed to their fans.
Public Image, First Edition was released in December 1978 is now considered groundbreaking, but at the time of its release the record polarised fans and was met with outright hostility from music critics. The earlier single release had provided a false sense of expectation for those fans seeking solace in Public Image Ltd becoming The Sex Pistols mark 2. The album was in effect pulling in two different directions. A type of confused halfway half way house between looking backwards and pointing forward.
Dub baselines, traditional rock/pop tracks, screeching guitar work, a poem left many fans confused given the albums lack of focus and mixing seemed disjointed. This was no doubt a consequence of the band running out of money during its production, which necessitated recording sessions to be concluded hastily. The album to this day remains one of experimentation, a band findings its way with mixed results from the sublime ‘Low Life’ assault on the personality Sid Vicious had became towards the end of his life and through to the amusing, but largely forgettable ‘Fodderstompf’. Record boss Richard Branson who commissioned the LP was reported to be less then impressed. Whilst the record was a moderate success in the UK staying in the album charts for 11 weeks and peaking at 22. It would take until 2013 before the album received its full American release given it was deemed to be far too uncommercial for American ears by record executives. Love or hate this album its importance cannot be disputed given it laid down the blueprint for what many would call the post punk period.
The results were far from pretty, but to the credit of Lydon and his fellow bandmates they had decided upon a route away from the commercial mainstream, which at the time was an open door beckoning for Lydon after the demise of the Sex Pistols.With the first album completed PIL ventured out into the world to perform live. Playing 4 concerts in late 1978, Brussels Theatre Belgium on 20th December, Paris Le Stadium 22nd December and Christmas Day and Boxing Day at the Rainbow Theatre, London. By early 1979 PIL were left with the challenge that often demolishes many bands – the fatal 2nd album.
The glorious Metal Box/Second Edition LP arrived in November 1979 and is generally considered to be one of the most influential albums of all time. In many ways the album was a radical departure from the first album and ventured more towards avant-garde territory. With its cryptic lyrics, brooding baselines, tribal drum patterns, metallic guitar, synthesised drones and random noises the album was unlike anything before in sound or presentation. The original album packaging consisted of a 16mm film canister tin embossed with the bands logo, which contained three 12″ singles. The album drew from several influences including deep-dub-raggae in particular the early work of dub pioneer Keith Hudson known as the “dark prince off reggae” and bands like Can. The opening track Albatross sets the standard. Recorded in free form the track gathers a life of its own as it weaves along. The songs structure is reminisce of the interplay between Jim Morrison and the Doors when their performed live.
Metal Box/Second Edition was a far more focused effort, which unlike its predecessor was received with critical acclaim and considered a classic of its genre sitting alongside the likes of Can and Captain Beefheart. The albums influence cannot be emphasised enough, Sonic Youth, The Strokes, Simple Minds, REM, Joy Division, Portishead, Manic Street Preachers, Massive Attack, Radiohead have all drawn influence from the album.
In 2001 Thom Yorke during an interview with The Wire Magazine said, “We could never do a record on a par with Metal Box.'” The Rolling Stone Magazine listed Metal Box in the top 500 albums of all time. With album literally in the tin PIL started to increasingly perform live, although like their studio output the norm was not to be expected. In New York the band decided to perform behind large screens creating a physical barrier between them and a bewildered audience who had come to see the band perform a more traditional rock show. The resulting disturbances required the concert to be cancelled mid way through as the crowd throw items at the screen and started to dismantle the stage equipment.
In Leeds the band were met with hostility when the audience became bored with the new material and demanded Sex Pistols songs. PIL ignored the audience, often turn their backs against them and carried on until they simply walked off stage.
The 1980 live album ‘Paris au Printemps’ offered little to nothing in terms of creative output. In fact Lydon reputedly advised fans not to buy it because the band only got involved in the project to earn enough money to pay for Metal Box. By 1981 and the bands 3rd album ‘The Flowers of Romance” the wheels had already started to fall off the first incarnation of the band. Jah Wobble who provided the brooding bass on the first two albums had been sacked for allegedly using PIL material as backing tracks for his solo work. The name ‘The Flowers of Romance’ was taken from an early band Sid Vicious and Jah Wobble were members, as well as it being the title of a very early Sex Pistols track, which was never studio recorded and released.
The stark, severe and minimum style of the album is in contrast with the bass heavy influences of Metal Box. A variety of sources were deployed and used to generate sounds for the album including amplified wristwatches, reversed piano, televised opera. John Lydon played violin and saxophone, although he was not know to be trained to play any particular instrument. Keith Levane the groups pioneering guitarist played through reversed tapes, treble distortion and synthesisers drones.
Interviewed at the time Levene pointed out that, “AII it amounts to is that we don’t like any music at the moment.” John Lydon added, “well it ain’t rock & roll, that’s for sure.” The album quickly gained a reputation for being the most uncommercial LP to have been made and presented to a mainstream record company.
The Flowers Of Romance entered the UK Charts where it stayed for 5 weeks and reached No. 11 in April 1981. The album spawned a minor hit single in the same year that reached No. 24 and stayed in the charts for 4 weeks. The third studio album for many concluded PIL’s pioneering period. Similar to Jah Wobble original guitarist Keith Levene left the band acrimoniously shortly afterwards. John Lydon then shifted the sound and structure of the band towards a more commercially friendly zone with differing results given the creative challenges were not putting the breaks, or shaping some of Lydon’s ideas. By the late 80s PIL effectively Lydon and an assortment of musicians were touring America extensively, including a support slot for the Australian band INXS on their Kick tour.
The end for PIL was more a damp fizzle than bang. By 1992 and with a lack of interest from the general public Lydon put PIL into hiatus whilst he concentrated on other projects, including his autobiography, TV work and ultimately regrouping with the original Sex Pistols line up for a number of lucrative tours, which properly provided the only real opportunity for the original 4 members to earn any significant cash from their legacy. In September 2009 Lydon announced that PiL would reform for five UK shows, their first live appearance in 17 years. The regrouping of PIL was financed via the money Lydon earned through a UK television commercial, “The money that I earned from that has now gone completely – lock stock and barrel – into reforming PiL” The pursuing concerts were warmly received and the band has continued to perform live since, as well as releasing new material.
As one review of the first 3 PIL albums states, “PIL managed to avoid boundaries for the first four years of their existence, and Metal Box is undoubtedly the apex it hardly sounds like anything of the past, present, or future”. These first 3 albums, including the glorious Metal Box/Second Edition alone has secured my enduring respect for Lydon.
30th June 2013 and 35 years after buying the first Public Image Ltd single (with the limited edition newspaper insert) I find myself with my 14 year old daughter walking aimlessly through the Glastonbury Festival site. We have not paid much attention to the running list on the various stages. We are just soaking up the atmosphere, floating along with the crowd and just stopping to watch whatever emerges before us. Its a glorious summers days and in the near distance I hear driving base of PIL’s Death Disco vibrating through the air. We quickly make our way to the Other Stage and sure enough we find John Lydon and co.
I look to my daughter and ask if she is enjoying it? She relies, “yes.” I turn my attention back to the stage, feel the sun on the back of my neck, scan the large crowd and look back at my daughter – we smile at each other. Sometimes things just fall into place for all the right reason.