OBVIOUSLY, I was a bit dubious about Punk n Disorderly, a shop selling punk rock clothing in bohemian Chorlton, south Manchester.
Taking its name from the Abstract Records punk compilations of the early eighties (featuring Vice Squad, Disorder, the Insane and the like), Punk n Disorderly specialises in the kind of mail order punk attire you could find in the back of the music papers in the days of yore.
You see, we made our own studded biker jackets when I were a lad. But miserable no-fun puritans have been boring on about boil-in-the-bag rebellion ever since Viv and Malc set up shop on Kings Road. It’s getting a bit old.
Either way, the woman behind the shop was lovely, and if it’s choice between kids buying T-shirts of bands they know nothing about from Punk n Disorderly or buying them from Top Shop, I’ll keep it local, thanks very much.
I was never big on band T-shirts in any case. But I made an exception for an excellent Cravats T-shirt, featuring the front of the Cravats’ single for Crass Records, Rub Me Out.
Now I’m not going to tell you that I still have my original copy of this record, that I know all the words, or that I could probably even have a decent crack at naming all the members of the Cravats – even though all those things are true.
There are the rules for buying a band T-shirt, right? Everyone knows that. It’s a given.
Unfortunately, the shop’s lease ran out and the owner decided not to renew – they’re still online. I guess there are only so many old punk rockers who want to buy Cravats T-shirts out there. I didn’t spend enough money in there, clearly.
The only other thing I ever bought was a little A5 comic which, in its own way, is every bit as excellent as my Cravats T.
Una Baines was a founder member of the Fall alongside Mark E Smith, Martin Brammah and Tony Friel, and played keyboards – she was meant to be the drummer but couldn’t afford a drum kit, says Wikipedia – on seminal early tracks like Psycho Mafia and Bingo Master’s Breakout.
I’ll Be Your Mirror is the charming and fascinating tale of Una’s teenage years in Manchester, rendered as a graphic memoir by her lodger, New Zealand illustrator Keith McDougall.
Part one opens with our heroine questioning the existence of god at her Catholic high school and being “completely obsessed” with Bowie, Mott the Hoople and T-Rex. It details her developing political awareness as she begins to hang around with people who were “trying to restructure society and change everything!”
And then, because there’s not much to do in Manchester in 1973, she goes to the fair at Heaton Park and meets a strange young man named Mark.
“He looked a bit wild. His tweed coat was two sizes too big. And he wore drainpipes. No one wore drainpipes …”
This is a very sweet little tale of a smart, ballsy girl from Manchester who wanted more than what was expected for her, and who just happened to play a starring role in the early days of one of the great cultural phenomena of our time. I hope they get it together to do the next one, focusing on the early days of the group but, in the meantime, you can get the first one from Keith McDougall’s site.
More Fall-related memories come with Brix Smith-Start’s autobiography, on the back of Steve Hanley’s book, Dave Simpson’s obsessive search for former Fall members in The Fallen, and Smith’s own Goebells-style tome, Renegade: The Lives and Tales of Mark E Smith. I’ll be reading Funky Si Wolstencroft’s memoir in due course, no doubt.
The Rise The Fall and The Rise is a very readable account of Brix’s life that begins by cutting right to the chase with an account of the Brix and MES songwriting methodology – and his uncanny knack of writing lyrics for songs Brix hadn’t actually composed yet – before bouncing back to her early life in Los Angeles and college at a well-regarded liberal East coast college.
The book goes on to detail her eventual relocation to her mother and step-father’s house in Chicago, her growing anglophilia and discovery of the Fall’s Slates 10-inch in Wax Tax, her obsession over said record (we’ve all been there) and her fateful meeting with the singer of said band (ditto, but probably not in the same way).
I’d be interested to know how much was removed by the lawyers because it all seems very candid, excrutiatingly so at times. It is also hilarious.
“I never expected Manchester to be so grim,” she says of her arrival in the city in 1983. “Glowering red-brick buildings lined the sides of the streets. They looked like mean structures, where horrible atrocities had been committed in decades past ..”
Given everything he’s put her through, Brix is a good deal more charitable towards MES than I suspect many of us would be. But while the Fall geek in me loves to read about the real-life hotel that inspired Hotel Blodel, and the stories behind Cruiser’s Creek and Vixens, sometimes it seems like too much information.
MES is, apparently, “not the kind of guy who likes black lace, garters and stockings. Mark’s more of a copy-machine kind of guy, much more excited to fuck you on a vibrating washing machine than pull you out of a strip club.”
I’m not sure I need to know this.
You think you’ve reached the tale’s nadir when they’re performing Michael Clarke’s I am Curious, Orange, what Brix describes as “one of the high points of my career in the Fall” and the couple’s marriage is finally breaking down. Onstage, sat on top of a giant Big Mac spun by a manic Leigh Bowery, she muses: “My life was spiralling away a lot faster than that giant hamburger.”
But it gets much, much worse than that.
But not forever and, happily, everything turns out okay for Brix in the end. Meanwhile, the last time I saw the Fall a couple of months ago, MES seemed to have a completely new and not particularly inspired group with him, having just sacked people who’d been in the band for years, including his current wife Eleni. Some of us, it seems, still dig repetition.
Gad Whip definitely dig repetition. That’s about the one thing I can say about them with any certainty. This is a good thing.
I heard about them via my old friend Pete Davies. Pete and I first began to converse via mail as we swapped our respective fanzines, produced from different but equally desolate parts of north Lincolnshire, in the early eighties.
Pete and his mate Geoff were the first people I met who were seriously into US hardcore. They also had motorbikes and actual jobs.
According to the tags on their Bandcamp page – let’s go meta, baby – Gad Whip is an ‘experimental art noise post punk experimental weird’ project, put together by Pete and Geoff and an ever-changing supporting cast. Peter was kind enough to send me a couple of cassettes – I know. Crazy, right? – complete with some really nicely put together artwork. They just blew me away.
There’s nothing particularly new about a bunch of grumpy, middle-aged men looking at the way the world has changed over the last three or four decades – a world of online apology generators, precision smart bombs, and politicians who fuck pigs – and responding with outrage, disbelief, and gallows humour.
Don’t get me wrong. They’ve got a point. But doesn’t everyone reach a certain age and start yelling, what the fuck is this shit all about? What happened to us? Who the fuck are you people?
But let me stop you there. While the Sleaford Mods have an undeniably great name, their music is largely shite – whereas Gad Whip have a shite name and make largely great music, drawing as it does (I would opine) on youths misspent listening to bands such as Velvet Underground, Flipper, the Butthole Surfers, Sonic Youth, PiL, Crass, Rudimentary Peni and, obviously, the Fall.
Gad Whip have a woozy, multi-layered, ever-shifting sound that’s hard to pin down, bouncing between unsettling sound collages and heavyweight industrial clanking and clattering, loopy punk funk and booming doomy dub stylings. There is also good old-fashioned thrashy hardcore, as well as some occasional, surprisingly tender interludes with actual acoustic guitars.
Their ‘lyrics’ – field recordings, cut ups and samples, live, actual singing, spoken word monologues – are smart and clever. Packed with witty wordplay and very often laugh-out-loud funny, the words are delivered in a variety of flat northern monotones.
While Gad Whip seem, on the whole, pretty comfortable with just how strange this shit is, at times I wish they’d dial down the wacky and zaniness and just concentrate on letting their genuine innate weirdness come to the fore a little more.
They might’ve been doing stuff like this for years but they bring something genuinely fresh and unique to the table. The decidedly-anologue delivery method they have chosen – tapes, for fuck’s sake – probably doesn’t help their cause but I have every faith in them.
Eighties kids have been fighting for lost causes all our lives. Why should now be any different?
Like the man sez, we dig repetition.