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Archive for the ‘Thought-provoking band’ Category

In 1988 The Shamen faced down religion with a loaded statement that implied that Christianity was built on deceit and deception.

The incident is now merely a footnote of history, and a thorough web search found precious little information. However, I recall it quite vividly and, to be honest, rather fondly, as it was a very clever put down of religious fundamentalism.

Early that year an evangelist bookseller from Southend-on-Sea, Paul Slennett, who clearly was not short of a bob or two, paid the British Post Office tens of thousands of pounds for a postmark that Jesus Is A Liewould be franked onto millions of letters in the run-up to Easter. With Thatcherism in full flight the Post Office turned to other methods of raising money, even it meant being in league with fundamentalists. The postmark featured the words “Jesus Is Alive” in bold capital letters, with a cross.

The Associated Press reported that Slennett did it because God told him to.

It provoked a barrage of criticism, including some from the moderate wing of the church – Bishop Ronald Gordon, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie’s chief of staff, described it as inappropriate and insensitive.

In stepped The Shamen who called their national tour the Jesus Is A Lie tour. The slogan was a simple but evocative re-working of the postmark, with an inverted cross as part of the promotional material. It was clearly a call-to-arms for those who found the postmark and the ideology of certain elements of religion offensive.

We’re into psychedelic experiences and certain sexual practices,” said The Shamen’s singer Colin Angus. “And we certainly don’t go along with the hypocrites who peddle this form of organised religion.”

Those people were largely the Jesus Army who they branded as “fascist paramilitary Christians”. In an article in the Northampton Chronicle from June ’88 the paper attempts to portray a “devil of a row” between the two groups although it is clearly the Jesus Army that picked up the first stone. Twenty-four hours after their Birmingham gig, the Army destroyed as many Shamen records as they could find during an evangelical rally. “We are opposed to the anti-Christian stance that this group has adopted,” said Army spokesperson Liz Donovan, adding that The Shamen were “in favour of Satanism” and “they are in the hands of evil.” The claims were rubbished by the band with Angus telling the newspaper “we are into forms of spiritualism and don’t like the pseudo-Judaism that they pump into people.” See also the interview that’s part of the video below.

The Shamen formed in 1984 in Aberdeen and were initially a sixties influenced psychedelic band, a long way from the acid/ dance crossover act they would become. By 1988 their stage show had led to them being booted off the bill of the Glasgow Mayfest for a clip played during Knature of A Girl that was deemed pornographic. Their espousal of drugs also resulted in them losing a beer commercial. And later, of course, came the heat from the Ebeneezer Goode single that was No.1 in the UK. (“Eezer Goode, Eezer Goode, he’s Ebeneezer Goode.”)

The Jesus Is A Lie tour was not the only occasion The Shamen took on organised religion, and in the same year, they released a single called Jesus Loves Amerika, which nailed their hatred of religion quite succinctly. “These are the men who break the right in righteous/ Such hypocrisy, stupidity is out of sight, yes/ Jesus loves Amerika but I don’t love neither.”

The Shamen went on to sell millions of records, Christianity in Britain has been dwindling in influence and numbers for decades.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zyavxpg6TzM

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Gang of Four: Auckland, February 24
Gang of Four: Entertainment! (EMI)

Seeing the Gang of Four in Auckland inspired Porky to seek out what is generally regarded as a post-punk classic, Entertainment! Luckily, they had in Real Groovy for $15.

We’ll come back to this seminal work soon but first a few words on the Gang’s show in Auckland, their first-ever in New Zealand, despite forming in 1977.

The Leeds outfit retains its two lynchpins, singer Jon King and guitarist Andy Gill, with Thomas McNeice now on bass and Mark Heaney on drums. It’s always a curiosity to see ageing, founder members with younger turks replacing former members (Hugo Burnham was involved up to 2006, Dave Allen until 2008) but it worked, the energy of McNeice being matched by the effusive King.

This show was booked some time ago, but it was overtaken by the massive earthquake in Christchurch, an event mentioned by King, who offered his condolences to the families of the victims and everyone affected by the disaster. I had the flights from Wellington, the accommodation and the tickets but, working in the media, I was asked to work extra hours, so I headed north a little guilty at not being able to help out, though I was on board soon after returning. The writer of this great blog had it far worse though:

http://spatulaforum.blogspot.com/2011/02/concert-review-gang-of-four-auckland.html

Jon King (picture; Craig Stephen)

Gang of Four focused largely on the classics, the new album Content barely getting a look in – and while I have heard of poor reviews, it would have been good to hear some of the new material. Of what was played, the rock-esque You’ll Never Pay for The Farm, sounded as brilliant as it did when they guested on the David Letterman Show.

Bands who do get to New Zealand (a reasonable number surprisingly given its isolation, small population and lack of a decent mid-sized venue in the capital Wellington) usually give of their best, I assume because they realise fans here get few opportunities to see their favourites in action. And there’s no doubt that the Gang were on form at Mt Eden, doing a double-encore and playing for some time. The above link gives more detail; suffice to say with King’s madcap lunacy and Gill’s faux-glumness it was an entertaining night, which brings me to the 1979 album that made their name.

Looking back now, with the likes of Flea of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and REM’s Michael Stipe both espousing its virtues on the reissued version’s sleeve notes, and so many new bands such as the Futureheads and Bloc Party clearly inspired by them, it’s hard to explain what a groundbreaking album this was on its initial release. By 1978, music in Britain was mourning/ recovering from the end of punk, a movement that was the equivalent of a molotov cocktail thrown in a shopping mall.

With its razor-sharp rhythms that seemed influenced by funk as much as punk, and it’s literate and incisive lyrical form, Entertainment! set the tone for a burgeoning post-punk movement that would take over the punk flag. The Gang are name-checked all over the shop now, but, despite fawning reviews of the album, the Gang of Four would never go higher than 58 in the UK singles charts (At Home He’s A Tourist). The respect of John Peel and topping the Independent charts partially made up for their failure to crack the mainstream.

Entertainment! begins with Ether, which heralded their unique vocal style, King’s obscure lines followed by some crisp words by Gill about the situation in Northern Ireland (eg “Censor six counties news”). Such a vocal delivery was typical of the band: King was the more illuminated of the two, while Gill was the hectoring chap at the back.

They wrote about politics; eg the alienation of work in Natural’s Not In It, and how history is rewritten to create heroes (Not Great Men); but the quartet were also intrigued by the politics of the individual. In 5.45, King explores the notion of war coverage and viewing it on the news at home (ITV formerly broadcast their tea-time bulletins at that time): “How can I sit and eat my tea, with all the blood flowing from the television.”

There were even songs about love, but with a differing perspective from the usual boy-meets-girl take in pop music … “Love’ll get you like a case of anthrax, and that’s something I don’t want to catch” (Anthrax) and “Sometimes I’m thinking that I love you, but I know it’s only lust,” (Damaged Goods).

The CD version I have is the 1995 reissue with 1980’s Yellow EP – Outside the Trains Don’t Run On Time, He’d Send in the Army, It’s Her Factory but missing a revised Armalite Rifle that apparently was included on this reissue. The most recent reissue, from 2005 on Rhino, has four further additional tracks – alternate versions of Contract and Guns Before Butter and two live tracks, Blood Free and Lou Reed’s Sweet Jane.

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In the early 1980s, during a dismal political and economic time in Britain, there emerged a opinionated, committed and musically brilliant band from Yorkshire who, in terms of cutting edge polemic and absolute confidence in their beliefs, have never been bettered.
They were called the Redskins (or just Redskins), were card-carrying members of the Socialist Workers Party, and adopted soul music as the sound of revolution. Their support for the SWP was unwavering: a speech by Tony Cliff, the de facto leader of the party was used on the only studio album, Neither Washington Nor Moscow, named after the masthead on the party’s weekly paper, Socialist Worker.
There was nothing frivolous about the three-piece; politics had to be lived and breathed, and if they weren’t singing about revolution and the class struggle, there were plenty of benefit gigs, in support of jobs or the Greater London Council, for example, to support.

Redskins comprised singer Chris Dean, a former NME scribe who was inspired by Joe Strummer, drummer Nick King, and bassist Martin Hewes. Changing their name from No Swastikas to Redskins in 1982, the trio moved to London and released their debut single Lev Bronstein in July of that year and bagged a John Peel Session in October, where they paraded a brass section, featuring Kevin Robinson, Trevor Edwards and Ray Carless, who would become a regular fixture.
Their emergence was timed perfectly. In 1979 Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party won a parliamentary majority and soon began a series of cuts and attacks on working people and communities that never let up. I recall as a primary school child the chant ‘Thatcher, Thatcher, milk snatcher’, after one of her first moves, to stop free milk in schools. It seemed callous but this was merely a portent of things to come: heavy industry was destroyed, especially in Scotland, local government powers were limited, millions were added to the dole queue, and the unions were bound in suppressive legislation.
Out of this era arose several leftist acts, such as Billy Bragg and Style Council, but Redskins were the only ones to be so committed to a cause. Later, Manchester indie band Easterhouse, with their far-left politics and alliance to the Revolutionary Communist Party, would be carry the red flag hoisted by the Redskins.
In the early days, Redskins were more punk than soul, the ardent Peasant Army containing an inflammatory, and angry chorus. It was only a B-side, the A being Lev Bronstein, otherwise known as Leon Trotsky. Another single was released on CNT, the label which was also home to the Three Johns, Lean On Me/ Unionize!, although the B-side was as good as it’s supposed superior.
This incredibly upbeat paen to working-class solidarity was their breakthrough single, reaching no. 3 in the then critical Independent chart in the UK. Dean’s message couldn’t have been clearer on Unionize!: “We can talk of riots and petrol bombs all day long/ But if we fail to organise, We’ll waste our lives on protest songs.”
I have recently been listening to all these songs on Epilogue, a barely promoted compilation released by a largely punk Canadian label called Insurgence. Living in New Zealand I had to pay through the nose for postage this, but it’s worth every cent.
It contains three tracks by No Swastikas, which signified their commitment to radical politics, none of which have been released on CD or vinyl before: Strike/ Unnamed/ Stickies, which reveal among some raw and edgy music, a commitment to the cause. There’s also the excellent The Most Obvious Sensible Thing from an unreleased John Peel Session, as well as B-sides and demos.
For me this is as good as music can get. I only became aware of them through a friend, who was a member of the SWP, in 1986, the year they broke up.
They had released their debut album earlier that year, and before that released more fantastic singles, one of which made the national charts. Bring it Down! (This Insane Thing) peaked at 33 in 1985 but it felt like a rocket up the establishment.
By this time Redskins were on Decca, a move that seems remarkable for a band of such noted political persuasion.
But understandable as well. In 1984, Britain was in the midst of the Miner’s Strike that polarised the nation, and brought to our television screens pictures of picketing and violence as miners fought for their livelihoods. The media portrayed the battles as the fault of aggressive miners, but there is much evidence of deliberate police provocation.
Redskins were at the forefront of the miner’s campaign, playing benefit gigs and releasing Keep On Keepin On!, which was backed with Reds Strike the Blues. The A side solemnly noted “Can’t remember such a bitter time, The boss says jump, the workers fall in line.” And while the workers were let down by union leaders and the media lie machine, Dean rallied the troops, urging them to keep fighting and not to give up. It didn’t sound like typical lefty politicking, these lyrics just sounded right, the most suitable words for a difficult situation.
Around the time they formed, Dean predicted a surge in industrial activity and was proved correct when the National Union of Miners called the nationwide strike. In essence it was a battle between an industry on the wane and a government not doing enough to save it. But this was a test for Thatcher; win this and she could claim to be the hammer of the unions to business interests, and feel she had the upper hand when it came to reforming union laws.
After a year on strike, the miner’s went back to the pits, defeated, but the Redskins’ campaign had only just begun. Bring it Down was followed by Kick Over the Statues, the Power is Yours and It Can Be Done, all of them as much inspirational than political.
Since they broke up at the end of 1986, virtually nothing has been heard of Chris Dean, and apart from a CD release of Neither Washington Nor Moscow, with extra tracks, the only addition to their limited recorded material has been a live album, called simply Live, on Dojo in 1995.
More recently, several left-leaning bands got together to record several of the band’s tracks, for an album called Reds Strike the Blues. Somewhat surprisingly, many of these acts are from America, although they never toured there, and one of those are Peasant Army, named after one of their first tracks. It also features Negu Gorriak, a fiercely nationalist and socialist band from Euskadi/ Basque Country. An Italian band, Ned Ludd, covered Names Were Named, a rare Redskins track played live toward the end of their lifespan.
They split because of a number of reasons – Hewes, in an article for Socialist Worker at the time, under his pseudonym Martin Bottomley, put that down to things like losing the spontaneity of the band and being unable to do their bit for the party. “It’s hard to get up for a paper sale when you’ve got back from Bradford at five in the morning,” he wrote.
Their split was timely, perhaps. Given that Neither Washington Nor Moscow contained few new tracks and was full of previously-released singles, they may have been struggling for motivation by 1986. They wouldn’t have been spoilt for inspiration, however, had they continued. Thatcher continued her divide and rule tactics, and the hated Poll Tax, which meant people on the dole paid the same on their council house as a millionaire in his mansion, would have provided a jolt in the arm at the end of the 1980s.

Redskins left on a high, however, with a wonderful legacy of a back catalogue full of spiky, punk-soul classics that made an impression on, maybe a small amount of people, but people who generally took on their ideals, if not purely of a socialist revolution but of using art in politics and of not allowing the bastards you grind you down. Keep on keeping on indeed.


* Epilogue available on CD and download from Insurgence records:

http://www.insurgence.net/

 

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The Phoenix Foundation are a six-piece from the capital of New Zealand, Wellington, who are one for the tuned-in.

They’re not the attention-grabbing, headline-making, hype-spinning band that the country sometimes produces and, unlike some of those particular acts – chose your own from the list – are capable of making some Damn Good Pop Music.

Buffalo (EMI) is the latest example of a sound that’s captivating with a thoughtful touch. Please take a trip through the city’s Town belt and hill suburb of Mt Victoria on the opening track, Eventually, and take your brolly with you.

Be enchanted by by the child-friendly Flock of Hearts, be invigorated by Pot and singalong like a mad thing to the wonderfully fruity lyrics of Orange & Mango.

Buffalo is a gloriously simple record, one that is very New Zealand in its themes, but also sounds like it could traverse traditional musical snobbery and parochialism, and appeal to, say, indie fans in Manchester.

It’s the fourth album from a band that’s been around since the late 90s, and is garnering positive reviews from the national press.

The ride began with the debut album Horse Power in 2003, progressing through Pegasus (2005), and Happy Ending (2007) which was given a decent run when released on limited scale in the UK.

Before a gig in Wellington, as part of their national tour, I caught up with frontman Samuel Scott in one of the city’s cozy wee cafes.

How’s the tour going?

The tour’s been going great. We’ve just had a show at the Powerstation in Auckland which sold out. That’s pretty cool as that’s probably the biggest venue we’ve ever played at, so it felt like we were stepping up another level.

After this tour I believe you’re going to London?

Later in the year, that’s the plan. We did a soft release of Happy Ending last year, putting it out on iTunes and doing limited runs at Rough Trade stores and other independent stores. On the back of that it got great reviews, such as in The Independent newspaper, so we felt we should go back there and capitalise on that. Hopefully, we’ll get a record deal over there soon.

Tell me about the recording of Buffalo, as it was done a little bit differently.

Yeah, we did some of the initial recording work at our own studio so we had more time to mull over the first set of ideas but we also worked from those initial recordings, so in a way we turned what were kind of demos into finished recordings. On previous records we fussed over things in the studio and over-worked them. On this one I think we got it just right. It was definitely an un-angsty album to make and I think it sounds like our least angsty album to date.

It seems to have worked as the reviews have been pretty good.

Well, people have been either calling it our best album or our worst one. Personally, I think it’s got qualities that weren’t on the last album. Happy Ending has that extra level of professionalism and big kind of big radio-friendly rock tunes but Buffalo has a humble quality to it which I relate back to Horse Power, our first record, so it’s more of a continuation of what we were doing six/ seven years ago, sort of bedroom recording music, low-key and intimate. It’s very close to our heart in terms of the music we want to be making.

And I guess doing things here in Wellington and New Zealand is very different from how you would do those things in London and Europe?

We have a lot more time in Wellington, like what I was saying about recording in our own studio here. But finding the same kind of kind of facilities is almost impossible in London, people are actually recording in their bedrooms because that’s the only place they have to do something. The two cities are so different in so many spheres. I like London, there’s always things happening there but I mainly enjoyed London as a travelling musician. I don’t think I could live there for too long, it’s too fast. I’ve lived in Wellington all my life and there’s so much more for me to enjoy here.

And there’s a bit of a Wellington influence on Buffalo, for example there’s a line in the opening track, Eventually, about Mt Victoria, which obviously would mean little to people in Christchurch and Auckland but clearly means a lot to yourself.

Yeah, that song’s about going for a walk in the Town Belt around Wellington during stormy days, something I enjoy quite a lot, going out in the worst-possible day and actually embracing the awful weather in this town, such as what we’re having today (it was raining heavily – ed). Wellington doesn’t always influence the way we write but it does creep in.

Are you benefitting from downloads or suffering because of them?

We do okay sales wise, every record feels like it’s getting us to more people. We’re not particularly concerned with the shrinking of the CD market because as long as you keep innovating, things will pick up in some way that no-one has picked up on yet. And vinyl sales have picked up over the last couple of years, they make up a really tiny proportion of the market but they’ve gone up quite a lot and they appeal to people who like us, to a slightly older audience who want that high sound quality. And if it’s a download, they want a decent sound not a crappy MP3 from a file-sharing site.

And what about solo projects, I know the band members like to do their own thing outwith the Phoenix Foundation, are there any plans on the horizon?

Not from me at the moment. I’m just focused on the Phoenix Foundation and ensuring that we’re doing everything we can to push Buffalo, and try and get it out there overseas. I’m already thinking of another Phoenix Foundation record before any solo project. I had a lot of fun doing those solo records and soundtracks but I’m really excited about the band again and being part of a group.

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Crass. Just the name makes you think.
And that was the intention: Crass were a punk group who would force you to consider your own ideals, and attitudes, even the way you approached life.
They are a band people tend to either love or loathe, and even those who admire Crass can find them in some way obnoxious, arrogant, musically unchallenging and who’s potential was limited by those very failings.
Personally, I come from the reasoning that as much as they antagonised many people, including those who would naturally lean towards their purist brand of punk, they paved the way for an alternative culture, re-igniting punk and leading to second wave bands such as Conflict, GBH and the Subhumans, as well as non-punk activist bands like Chumbawamba, Redskins and maybe even Rage Against the Machine.
Crass lived a lifestyle they espoused in their lyrics, being pretty much self-sufficient but also keep their distance from the mainstream, giving interviews to fanzines and the alternative culture. If they’d formed in this past decade, they would be the darlings of the non-aligned online media.
Without question is the interest they engender three decades after their peak, a period when questions were raised in the British Parliament about their anti-Falklands War stance and hatred of the Government.
In June last year I reviewed The Feeding of the 5000 in this blog, and have received a regular stream of hits since, in fact, it’s by far the most read thing I’ve done. Click on https://craighaggis.wordpress.com/2009/06/03/lowdown-on-the-new-4/
This surprised me as I’ve reviewed plenty of albums and written features on a broad range of acts. Crass clearly have a fanbase built up through word of mouth and the internet over the years.
Southern Records objected to the term middle class in that review, but they operated out of Penny Rimbaud’s large Essex home, Dial House, and Rimbaud himself admits to being middle class in his book, Shibboleth: My Revolting Life.
Ignorant, on the other hand, was a working class lad, far younger than Rimbaud and Gee Vaucher, survivors of the hippy era and much mocked for their background.
The first album, Feeding of the 5000, was a rallying call for the dispossessed, tackling religion, on Reality Asylum (removed because of plant problems with its ‘blasphemous lyrics’), war – General Bacardi – and class control on the album’s standout, Do They Owe Us A Living?
It’s fair to say Crass would not have been the punk band they became without the Sex Pistols and The Clash asking pertinent questions and defying authority. But Crass showed little gratitude, deriding The Clash for supposedly selling out to CBS. White Punks on Hope is a song that really does not stand up on closer scrutiny, especially this line: “They won’t change nothing with their fashionable talks, their RAR badges, and their protest walk, thousands of white men standing in a park, objecting to racism like a candle in the dark.”
Quite why Crass objected to concerts supporting Rock Against Racism isn’t clear as they were instrumental in alerting the public to the threat by the nazi National Front.
But then anarchists, as Crass proclaimed to be, don’t like Socialists in any form so you wouldn’t expect any class solidarity in times of struggle. Anarchists had their own party and brigade in the Spanish Civil War so they were never going to take a unity platform in something as trivial as the Punk Wars.
They followed Feeding of the 5000 with Stations of the Crass (1979), Penis Envy (1981) and Christ – the Album (1982).
None of these were as good as Feeding … , and they had virtually dropped the punk style with something more experimental.
One track on Penis Envy was a brilliant wind up that wasn’t seen until it was too late.
Crass recorded a deliberately saccharine MOR love song called Our Wedding, which was stuck on a flexi disc with a cheesy label and given away free to readers of teenage girls’ romance mag Loving. The idea had been suggested to the magazine by an organisation calling itself Creative Recording And Sound Services (look at those initials).
The tabloids went ballistic at the subtle message, that marriage is about nothing more than control.

Back to basics


Things changed for Crass when the British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, sent the troops in to defend a little island of less than 2000 people, the Falkland Islands, from Argentina, who had historically claimed them as their own.
They released two crucial back-to-their-roots singles, Sheep Farming in the Falklands/ Gotcha (the Sun tabloid’s headline when the Belgrano ship was torpedoed with hundreds on board apparently sailing in the opposite direction) and How Does It Feel (to be the Mother of 1000 Dead)? which brought the ire of the Government.
The latter song was particularly vehement, showing an unparalleled amount of anger towards Mrs Thatcher and her warmongering, right-wing Government:
“You never wanted peace or solution,
From the start you lusted after war and destruction.
Your blood-soaked reason ruled out other choices,
Your mockery gagged more moderate voices.”
Tory MP Tim Eggar described it as “the most vicious, scurrilous and obscene record that has ever been produced.”
He also said it went beyond the acceptable bounds of freedom of speech and was an insult to the country and the armed forces. This only added to the fire and How Does It Feel … sold 20,000 copies soon after its release.

The court battles and the barrage of criticism from the establishment around the record sapped the band’s strength and after N.A. Palmer left, they split, in 1984. They’d peaked, they had been given something to get their teeth into but they were gone by the Miner’s Strike of 1984-85 though they played some benefit gigs for striking miners, and their swansong was at one such event, in Aberdare, Wales.


Crass have left an impressive legacy, less so in musical terms – it was basically rehashed punk – but the way they played gigs, gave interviews, and released records, most of which was on their own label. They were part of a genre in which women flexed their musical muscles, that encouraged free expression, an uncompromising attitude and tackled ‘taboo’ subjects like feminism and religion.
I have a vinyl copy of Best Before, the posthumous double album compilation that features some unusual album tracks and infamous singles. It is abrasive, uncompromising, and while sometimes difficult to listen, has some great punk tracks such as Do They Owe Us A Living? and Yes Sir, I Will. Ignorant is at his brutal best on Gotcha and there are times when Crass sound like a truly great punk band.
The arguments for and against Crass could take a whole chapter and I would recommend going to punk77.com for articles both supporting and attacking the band.
For me, they left some classic records and paved the way for bands to release records and play gigs outwith the standard rock and roll way.
But in that review of Feeding of the 5000 I also said this:
“At times, Crass were over-the-top in their criticism of society and capitalism but were guilty of failing to back it up with solutions and alternatives, other than the vague notion of anarchist revolution.”

 

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Ten City Nation are one of the more exciting and independent-minded bands on the circuit in the UK, so it was a great pleasure to interview their frontman Seymour Patrick for this site.

The three-piece were born out of Miss Black America, an English band that gained a lot of deserved attention in the early part of the last decade for their blistering rock that had a certain respect for American indie whilst retaining a quintessential Englishness.

The initial incarnation broke up in late 2002, following a moderately-received self-titled debut and various personal problems. Seymour Glass, as he was called then, was the sole member of that version of MBA to coninue in Mk II. I saw them a few times in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk when I was living there,  this was following the split, and they sounded edgy without setting the heather on fire.

Eventually, with MBA past its sell by date, Glass, met with Neil Baldwin and Mike Smith over a drink and the original MBA line-up was back, under the name Ten City Nation.

I talked to Seymour about the reformation, their unusual methods of working, how he went “completely mad” and the fight against the crypto-fascist British National Party.

In the next Lowdown on the New I will review their second album, At The Still Point.


Porky: The new album sounds quite menacing, such as on tracks like Room 10101. Was there an event, or feeling that resulted in this aggressive sound, or was that the intention from the outset?

Seymour: I don’t think the way an album sounds is ever intentional, but there was a very strong feeling being totally removed from the world when we were making it.  We’re very aware that as far as music scenes go, we don’t fit in anywhere at all, so there’s that feeling of confident insularity, which may come across as menace and aggression.  We’ve learned over the years to be wary of outsiders, which is sad in a way but it also means we turn up to gigs feeling defiant, like a 3-man gang. We’re working on the next album at the minute and there’s that same feeling – that because we’re so removed from everything, all we have to worry about is whether we like what we’re doing.  What I’m essentially trying to say is that as a band, it’s incredibly healthy to have no friends.

Porky:  How did the transformation from Miss Black America to Ten City Nation come about?

Seymour: It was very long, slow, gradual and painful.  Me, Mike and Neil were the original line-up of Miss Black America – we recently celebrated 10 years since MBA started, in that I texted them bemoaning the fact that you get less than 10 years for manslaughter.  We wrote a lot of the songs from the first MBA album as a three-piece, so we already knew that we wrote well together.  The problem in the interim was that during 2001-2002 we toured the UK toilet circuit constantly, living on beer and crisps, my marriage broke down and I went completely mad.  By the end of 2002 Mike and Neil had had enough and quit, which I can’t really blame them for.  They formed a really good band called My Hi-Fi Sister, with Mike as lead singer, while I struggled on in MBA and eventually made a second album, which I was really proud of but the line-up in MBA was like a revolving door nightmare and I ended up having a complete breakdown.  So I’d just convinced myself that I never wanted to be in a band again when Mike and Neil invited me for a pint, completely out of the blue, bought me a drink and asked me if I wanted to form another band – I said “yes” and they finished their drinks and left, and that was that!  It was like something out of a 60s spy movie.  I’m amazed they didn’t turn up in disguise.

Porky: There’s been some comparisons to Nirvana and grungy/ punky US music in the press and in cyberspace. Are they fair or do you feel you’ve been misunderstood?

Seymour: It’s entirely understandable because we definitely don’t sound British when compared to 99% of British music that’s happening right now, at least in the mainstream – and by “mainstream” I don’t necessarily mean bands who sell lots of records, I mean bands who lazily conform to the rules of how a UK indie band is “supposed” to sound.  That whole costume cupboard trust fund indie sound means absolutely nothing to us, so we have no interest in developing what’s currently seen as the “UK” sound.  There are a lot of bands currently getting press for sounding exactly like early Creation Records bands, but they only seem interested in apeing those bands rather than creating something of their own and they tend to be Anglophiles from elsewhere in the world. There are a lot of very good bands in the UK doing their own thing, it’s just that very few people have the balls to write about them or play their records on the radio.  We do sound like a lot of UK bands used to sound in the early 90s, particularly stuff like Th’ Faith Healers, Jacob’s Mouse and early PJ Harvey, and we’d be lying if we said we didn’t love Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age and Fugazi.  But Mike sings in quite an English accent really, and my voice is a lot less grating and emo than it used to be.  We just don’t milk our plums like so many indie singers do when they want to sound “English”.

Porky: What’s your future plans?

Seymour: Album number three, and lots of gigs.  We’re planning a Love Music Hate Racism compilation EP with R*E*P*E*A*T Records first of all, then a couple more EPs on my label, then the album.  We’re also planning UK festivals and tours in Germany, Japan and hopefully the US.

Porky: If Ten City Nation were to be killed a group of Cornish nationalists on Tuesday week what would your legacy be?

Seymour: Mike’s legacy would be his paintings and his collection of 2nd World War memorabilia.  Neil’s legacy would be an almighty flood caused by all the women on Earth weeping uncontrollably forever.  My legacy would be … a really, really good collection of T-shirts?  And I buy ace presents for my family, which I’m sure would be treasured.

Porky: Is downloading music good for TCN and for indie music in general?

Seymour: Yes – more people have heard TCN’s albums with minimal publicity than ever heard MBA’s records, which had the full hype machine in operation behind them and cost everyone involved thousands and thousands of pounds they’ll never see again.

Porky: How important is your involvement with Love Music Fight Racism and fighting against the British National Party?

Seymour: It’s very important to me, but what causes me a great deal of frustration is that it shouldn’t be my job to try and help convince people not to vote BNP: it should be the job of the other parties to show themselves as something other than a bunch of cretinous, self-serving wankers and to make the British public believe that they actually have more inside them than a gaping vacuum where a soul should be.  A vital job of any Government should be to make its citizens – regardless of background or ethnicity – feel that their best interests are being served.  Either this Government isn’t doing that, or they’re doing the worst PR job in history, and the other main parties seem incapable of offering anything that even resembles a tempting alternative.  Meanwhile, the BNP are going door-to-door and talking to people like they actually matter, in their own language rather than in the language of politics, and are offering scapegoats for their woes that seem logical in the context they’re given, so of course people are voting BNP.  I dream of a time when I actually want to vote FOR a party rather than AGAINST the ones I hate most.  But that time ain’t now, so we’re left with idiots with guitars like me handing leaflets to people who probably agreed with me in the first place.  It’s a shocking state of affairs and if I ever meet Gordon Brown, I’m going to punch him in the tits.

Porky: Any other Bury St Eds/ Suffolk bands the world should wake up to?

Seymour: Cure Caballo just won the BurySOUND Band Competition and their song Predators is ace, I’m looking forward to hearing more stuff.  Thee Vicars are brilliant, but you’ve probably already heard of them.  Tell It To The Marines started with the standard post-hardcore/emo sound and are rapidly turning it into something entirely their own, which is quite an achievement – we’re hoping to do lots of gigs with them this year.  And we also love Kunk, from Norwich, and The Resistance and Hyman Roth, who’re from Cambridge.  You can’t afford to worry about county boundaries when everyone everywhere is basically trying to rise above the same old crap.
Porky: What’s the weirdest or most outlandish gig you’ve done?

Seymour: In MBA we played at Soham Village College while Ian Huntley was still the janitor there – it was literally a few months before he killed those girls.  That’s only weird in hindsight, but thinking about it still makes my blood run cold.   In terms of actual gig weirdness, MBA were once asked to play at an actual Masonic lodge in Otley, West Yorkshire.  There are clips from it in the video for the Miss Black America single (it’s on YouTube).  And last summer, TCN played at a festival in a rural life museum in Farnham, supporting Jethro Tull and Mungo Jerry.  They had a TARDIS in one of the sheds.  We drank locally-brewed cider under the string lights, then Neil commandeered an abandoned stall, put some Northern Soul on the boombox and caused a mass pile-up of grooving revellers.  It was fantastic.

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As a teenager during the 1980s, music was best consumed underneath the table, like a dog with a bone it had pinched from above.

Big hair and shambolic, flourescent clothing wasn’t for independent sorts who’d bemuse our parents (and most of our peers) with our preference for Echo and the Bunnymen, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions and other long-named bands. Indie kids were to be seen, but not heard.

The radio and the charts were an endless stream of post-new romantic synth pop, and all sorts of corporate-grown recycled product.

But I had fallen in love, with a band by the name of the House of Love. I was smitten and it would take some time for me to get over the inevitable parting.

In my mid-teens I was of that breed that was too young for punk and too immature for post-punk. We’d missed a lot, and there was little of substance to make up for the shortfall.

In my small north-eastern Scottish town I would be recommended, by the plumbers and joiners of the distillery that provided me with my first wage, Brothers in Arms, Queen Greatest Hits Vol 1 and the latest album by Level 42, which I would buy at John Menzies in the High Street (and truth be told I actually quite liked).

Then, at the equivalent of sixth-form college, those ears were turned to the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Cocteau Twins, The Smiths, New Order and Primal Scream, who with 60s revivalists, The Thanes, would perform at my first ever gig, in Aberdeen.

In 1987 indie music was preparing to say its goodbyes to shambling, the floppy-fringed sub-genre whose godfathers were The Byrds, and which even Bobby Gillespie was one the Ace Faces. It had been the dominant scene for a couple of years and produced some of the decade’s finest pop records. But all scenes have a lifespan.

Baggy, Madchester, rave, techno and grunge were months, or years, away.

There was a vacuum, and into that came the House of Love.

Led by Guy Chadwick, he was ably assisted by his ‘Paul MacCartney’, Terry Bickers, a German Andrea Heukamp, New Zealander Chris Groothuizen and Pete Evans. Heukamp would leave after the first two singles, Real Animal and Shine On.

Destroy the Heart was the single of 1988 and John Peel’s listeners agreed, when voting in their Festive 50. A monumental self-titled debut and a fourth single, Christine, followed; Fontana snapped them up and released an album, confusingly also called The House of Love (but known generally as Fontana) and a re-released Shine On gave them their sole British chart hit.

But Bickers had left, famously while travelling on an English motorway, and some say the gloriously tense, edgy sound had been removed.

Two albums followed, Babe Rainbow in 1992, which I personally think almost matches their debut, and the seminal ahead of its time Audience With the Mind a year later. And that was it. One minor UK hit was scant reward for their immense talents.

Chadwick went solo, recorded a decent album in 1998, and in 2005, in a surprise move, the band reformed – with Chadwick and Bickers having set aside their, ahem, bickering to reform for a tour and an album, Days Run Away.They were softer but hadn’t lost their edge.

What made them so good? I often wonder if they were just another indie band but there was something mystical, almost spiritual about HoL. I was an impressionistic teen, lacking in self-confidence and I found a bedfellow in the band, the same way others my age did with The Smiths.

There was nothing in the lyrics that was aimed at creating a new world or addressing current trends, just simple heart-filled lyrics about love, lust, life and everything inbetween. Chadwick’s beautiful voice, Bickers’ deranged guitar playing, the intense musical relationship between the four.

The albums have been re-released in the past few years along with a series of compilations so there is clearly still considerable interest in the band, more than 15 years after the original line-up split up.

As part of this article, I tried to contact Chadwick or anyone involved with the band to find out what they’re up to and arrange an interview. Emails went out to addresses (or presumed ones) of people associated with the band such as Suzi Gibbons, Mick Griffiths, the company who dealt with their PR for the previous album, the unofficial website and Art and Industry, which released Days Run Away, to no avail. So where are the House of Love?

The only reply I received was from Dave Roberts of the unofficial website, who had been told by Terry Bickers in May that the band were “rehearsing new material and planned to record a few songs “in the not too distant future”.

Here’s hoping.

The excellent unofficial website can be found at: http://hem.passagen.se/nyholm/holindex.html

The cover for the debut album: no words, just two gaunt faces.

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