IT’S 9am on an autumnal Saturday morning and my world-leading not-so-full English breakfast is missing one vital ingredient.
I get a packet of Cauldron’s world-class Lincolnshire sausages from the Tesco Metro in Stretford Arndale and then head upstairs to check out the new record shop Suzie has been talking about.
Reel Around the Fountain’s doors are open but there’s nobody about as I quickly scan the sleeves poking out of the tops of a couple of dozen racks dividing up a pretty generous amount of retail space. There’s even a settee.
“Morning,” I say to the guy who emerges from the back.
“Is it?” he says, rubbing his head.
After a long day at work yesterday, Nigel got home to find DIY awaiting him, one glass of wine turned into another and, long story short, he’s now in work at 9am on a Saturday morning, hungover as fuck.
He was in the market downstairs for a couple of years but he’s only been in here for three weeks, and you need to put the hours in. The shop opens every day of the week, apart from Sunday.
Am I looking for anything in particular? Mate, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
ANOTHER reprint from the annals of GRUNT magazine, this time an interview with legendary guitar-botherer, microphone enthusiast and In Utero, Surfer Rosa and Pod engineer Steve Albini.
Big Black imploded at their darkest, angriest and most intense, when they’s simply done everything they wanted to do as Big Black. Albini got together with a couple of the guys from the brilliant Texan bluesy noiseniks Scratch Acid and created a band with a name inspired by their favourite cartoon character.
Steve ‘Weave’ Hawkins put them on in Leeds and the Brag editorial board (Mark, Marie, Doug and me) bugged him into letting us interview the band at their contentious Poly gig.
We were all major Big Black fans, but we were all as appalled by the name of the new band as any of the people protesting outside the venue. Well, maybe not quite as much. But they were great. The music Albini and his bandmates made was pretty fantastic, with Albini’s big, bad guitar accompanied by a muscular rhythm section that was simply out of control.
Albini was something of an indie legend already, from his work with Big Black. And Scratch Acid were just unbelievable, if not quite as well known. We were proper excited.
All the same, we had to walk through a picket to get into the venue. It felt very weird.
* * *
CROW PEOPLE came from some pit village near Doncaster but they seemed to play an awful lot of gigs in the ‘industrial garden town’ of Scunthorpe.
I first remember coming across them at one such packed, sweaty gig in the mid-Eighties, although when I ran into Mark (who now has a teenage daughter and a career as a teacher) at the Flux gig at the 1in12 in Bradford last year, he told me that we’d actually met a good few years before when I was wandering around the Arndale in Doncaster, trying to sell records I didn’t want to unsuspecting punk rockers. It’s news to me.
Although they only released a couple of records throughout their career, they never got any press attention (apart from the stuff I wrote myself) and were barely known outside our little patch of South Yorkshire / North Lincolnshire, Crow People were a tremendous live band.
I used to get absolutely blasted, sit on the floor cross-legged and spin-out to their chugging, swirling, psychedelic space-rock. Way fucking cool.
I even ended up putting them on in Leeds, at this mad Leeds Abortion Fund benefit at Leeds Poly with the Wedding Present offshoot the Ukrainians and LS6 indie-sirens Sharon. Coming through a decent PA, Crow People just sounded extraordinarily powerful and intense – though the evening was marred when, at a crazy post-gig party at the Sharon girls’ house, one of their knobhead mates from Donny had an argument with his missus and trashed Paddy’s bedroom.
Their lack of recognition always baffled me.
They released a couple of records on Armstrong’s Meantime label but I have no mp3s for you, I’m afraid. I lost my copy of Cloud Songs years ago. Anyone has a spare, or even photographs of the band, well, you know where I am ..
In the meantime, here’s an interview I did with Mark for GRUNT magazine in 1988.
IT’S easy to take the piss out of Goths – well, it was until the fashionistas went all Gothic-luxe on us. I’m sure it must have absolutely horrified original Goths, bless ’em. They must be an awful lot happier (it’s all relative) now that whole look is so last season.
I’ve never really had a problem with Goths. None of it really interested me. I never saw the Sisters of Mercy live, or bought any of their records – but I always used to dance to Alice and Temple Of Love when they came on at ‘alternative discos’. They’re great records. So sue me. Okay, so there may have been the odd Bauhaus record in my collection too. And maybe the Danse Society as well.
Though I thought the whole look and philosophy was indicative of an innate narcissism and rather prissy conservatism when it appeared in the early Eighties, there was a lot of it about. It was the early Eighties. When you actually got talking to them, Goths were often gentle, kindly and timid souls who read books, wrote letters and wore eye-liner. So what if they danced like girls? They often were girls.
There was still a lot of it about when I moved over to Leeds a few years later and Leeds 6 seemed to be full of wan little kohl-eyed romantics in black lace with big, big hair. Being in such close proximity all the time – well, they started to get on my nerves a bit. I was quite angry, quite a lot of the time. I blame Thatcher. And the drugs.
I was writing for a local arts, culture and politics mag called Grunt at the time, so when a Sisters ‘convention’ was advertised at the Astoria towards the end of 1988, me and Dallas got up ridiculously early one Sunday morning and went over, fully intending to take the piss.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
* * *
ME AND the Fall go back a long way but there are times when Mark E Smith’s grüppe have just been too heavy and noisy for me, when they’ve been too slickly produced, when they simply played too many guitars for my wildly oscillating tastes (this was, of course, during the rave era and I was a touch confused, a lot of the time).
No offence to our colonial cousins, but I’m not right keen on the current line-up of bearded Americans, it has to be said.
Not to worry. There’ll be another one along in a minute.
The fact that, sooner or later, I generally realise that I’m just being daft, and they were – he was – right all along, is neither here nor there.
Mark E Smith gets under your skin. He’s like a rash that won’t go away. Writing from his own unique and inimitable perspective, his insights into the northern, white working class mindset often have an eerily consistent relevance to those of us who have followed his work for a while – although I‘m sure they have as much relevance in New Zealand or Holland or Brazil.
Weirdly prophetic, darkly sardonic, accusatory, mystical, cynical, nonsensical, just plain odd – sometimes all at the same time – Smith can seem like he’s talking about your life just as much as he is his own, God help us all.
THERE were occasional vague rumours about scary shotgun-punctuated feuds with supposedly officially-affiliated northern MCCs, but the bikers in Scunthorpe always seemed a fairly amiable bunch.
True, there was one unfortunate incident – just after the legendary second freewheeling but typically professional performance by the Shreddies at the Rock Open at The Baths Hall – when my very drunk girlfriend, who was sitting on my knee at the time, tactlessly told one young biker we had a passing acquaintance with that he was “full of shit”.
He actually did a double take. It would have been funny in other circumstances, I’m sure. He was an alright bloke but he was built like brick shit-house, as hard as nails, and had a reputation for being a bit volatile. Plus, he was drunk. And my girlfriend had just told him he was full of shit. He looked properly pissed off.