FLIES ON YOU lumber onto the stage, and contain not one, but two of my very oldest and dearest friends, while the crowd contains lots of other old and not-so-old friends from far and wide. It is very much a family affair, and all the more wonderful for it.
I even run into the lovely Maureen, who used to sell me pot back in the day. It’s like some kind of obscure DIY band, fanzine writer, drug dealer convention.
Having missed the debut gig of the Extricated in Manchester a couple of months ago, due to circumstances beyond our control, going to see them at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds was the next best thing, particularly when I found out my old friend Doug’s band, Flies on You, were supporting.
The gruesome twosome of Doug and Paul (who is standing in for studio bass monster Andy Watkins), plus a couple of guys I don’t know, play short, spiky, angular rock tunes with great titles like Can You Smell That Burning Noise? and You’re the Anaesthetist, John.
They’re more punk than punk funk, but there’s a distinct pop sensibility in there too. They also, at various times, sound a bit like the Fall, Wire and the Gang of Four. And Rudimentary Peni. The best bands you’ve ever heard, basically. And a few that you haven’t. No doubt the band would disagree. Vehemently.
All told, they were a bit odd and a bit fantastic and I like them a lot. They even have a few genuinely killer tunes – such as Action Stations!, All Out of Proportion and Mysterious Jill. And in the superlative Katie Hopkins in Human Form, they have created an anthem for a generation of the great unwashed.
I’m not sure about that reggae number though. Then again, people probably said that about the Clash too.
Flies on You’s second album, etcetera, is out now. It comes highly recommended. They even have a French-language Balearic classic in waiting in the form of Ugly Cousins. Incroyable. I bought a T-shirt. This almost never happens.
The Extricated are former members of the Fall – Paul and Steve Hanley, Jason Brown, Steve Trafford – fronted by fashion goddess, TV star, and kick ass rock’n’roll chick par excellence Brix-Smith Start, playing songs by the group that they variously devoted greater or lesser parts of their lives to.
Steve Hanley was in the Fall for the best part of 20 years. You’d serve less time for murder.
These are five seasoned musicians whose skills have been honed, burnished and battered in the fiery white-hot furnace of the MES thousand-year-reich. Individually and together, they have played a huge part in some of the most fertile periods in the group’s long and distinguished history.
This is far from some glorified covers band. Songwriting attribution in the Fall is an opaque business at best, with MES often throwing credits around, or withholding them, as the mood takes him. The reality is, these people wrote these songs so why the fuck shouldn’t they play them if they want to? They have as much right to play these songs as anyone else – including Mark E Smith and whoever he’s got in the group this week.
Initially however, whether it’s just my latent misogyny, my innate fear of change, or just simply not really getting the point, the footage I saw on YouTube of Brix singing words usually sung by MES didn’t sit well with me. It just seemed a bit wrong.
I remember thinking I’d almost rather they had a MES impersonator. Let’s all take a minute to imagine that.
In the event, I’m 100 per cent wrong. It all works, wonderfully. And while Brix snarls out the words with a delivery that is absolutely true to her own voice – literally and metaphorically – it’s also informed by the very individual style of the man who first sang them. That is the only way to really sing these words, after all. How else would you deliver them?
The classics come thick and fast: LA, Cruiser’s Creek, 2×4, Big New Prinz, Lay of the Land – it’s like the greatest hits set the Fall will never ever play. Shamefully, I didn’t actually recognise everything – what kind of Fall bore am I, right? – but there might have been a few Adult Net songs scattered among the set, which I’m not really familiar with. Maybe there were news songs too. I hope so.
One thing I do know is that I’ve never heard Leave the Capitol live before. This melodic, catchy and quirky catalogue of the vacuity of London (or something) came out on the ace Slates 10-inch, and it’s one of my favourite Fall songs ever. Happily, the Extricated more than do it justice, breathing new life into an old tune while remaining absolutely true to the original. I had a bit of a moment.
I thought there might have been a big, surly, pissed elephant from Prestwich in the room but it all feels very natural and right. There’s nothing forced or fake. Part group therapy session, part no-holds-barred celebration of some of the best music ever, the band are clearly having a whale of a time playing the music they love. They present an as exhilarating and thrilling live experience as any of the numerous recent incarnations of the group proper, put it that way.
Apart from one very big and obvious difference, of course, in that the Extricated’s singer is much better dressed than the singer in the Fall.
Any fears that the Brudenell Social Club had been colonised by bearded lumbersexuals sporting extensive sleeve tattoos proved baseless. It remains very much a Hyde Park affair. They’ve got everyone from the Saints, MDC and Adam Ant to the Seaford Mods, Jane Weaver and Jah Wobble playing in the near future. And big shout out to my former Chumbawamba / Passion Killers / Regular Fries / Salvation home boys, Interrobang and Two Car Family appearing next month.
The only thing the evening is missing is some inky-fingered kid wandering around selling fanzines.
I guess this is where Not Just Bits of Paper comes in. This is a book of memories and artwork of the early Eighties anarcho-punk scene, written by people who were there at the time, and put together by old punkers Greg Bull and Mickey Penguin.
A deliberately non-glossy, non-coffee table, non-mainstream publishing DIY endeavour providing a timely reminder of those chaotic, poorly-photocopied, Letraset-and-Pritt Stick fanzines of anarcho-yore, Not Just Bits of Paper is not a million miles away from some stuff I do on here, in that it seeks to document the inside story of a marginalised, misrepresented and misunderstood scene. Although, obviously, in my case it’s as much about finding new ways to talk about myself.
Appropriately enough, Crass are everywhere. There are tales of people seeing them and Flux for the first time – only to see them play their notoriously un-fun Yes Sir, I Will and the Fucking Cunts Treat Us Like Pricks sets.
There are reminiscences of “drawing poorly-dimensioned two-headed snakes on our bags and schoolwork”, asides about Crass looking like teachers, one of them doing John Cleese’s funny walk, and even a cutting from the local paper of Andy Palmer being presented with a lamp by an NUM official after playing a benefit for striking miners in Aberdare.
There’s also an absolutely fascinating piece by Rich Cross about putting on Crass in Exeter and finding that Phil Free and Pete Wright had done the washing up from the backstage catering, while someone else recalls the band responding to skinheads running amok at a gig in Bristol by chanting their ‘fight war, not wars’ mantra. We can all laugh about it now.
Co-editor Greg Bull contributes a splendid piece about seeing the mighty Antisect and Amebix at the Boat Club in Nottingham in 1983 (I still feel a twinge of sadness at missing this gig), while someone else remembers a Conflict, Icons of Filth, Exit Stance and Toxic Waste gig in Oldham (I literally cannot think of a gig I’m gladder I did not attend, apart from, maybe, the Rev Jim Jones’ last gig in Guyana).
Meanwhile Penguin writes a revealing piece about his experiences at 96 Tapes and All the Madmen, and as one of the people behind the excellent Kill Your Pet Puppy blog.
One of my favourite pieces in a book full of very personal and wonderful memories is Chris Low’s chapter about visiting the Centro Iberico (an anarchist centre in Westbourne Park funded by the profits from the Crass/Poison Girls Bloody Revolutions/Persons Unknown single) to see a rare live performance by the Apostles.
“Approaching the door, we hand our pound notes to Ian (Pigs for) Slaughter, who then thrusts a photocopies sheet proclaiming ‘WHY PUNK IS A TOTAL FAILURE’ into our hands … more flyers are handed to us with headings such as ‘THE ONLY GOOD NAZI IS A DEAD ONE’, ‘BLOW IT UP BURN IT DOWN KICK IT TIL IT BREAKS’, ‘BOOTS AND BOMBS’. Yes, that’s a bit more like it!”
Chris, who was at the gig with his friends Nic and Miles from Napalm Death, went on to join the Apostles a year later. But, he writes, “it wasn’t about the anarchy centres, the bands who played there, or even the ‘message’, it was the people who made it what it was ..”
And so say all of us.