THE STRANGEST thing about Uncarved Block is just how much everyone seems to hate it.
Flux of Pink Indians’ first album – the snappily-named Strive to Survive Causing the Least Suffering Possible – was a very likeable kind of angry, knockabout Crass punk with tunes and feedback.
By contrast, their second, The Fucking Cunts Treat Us Like Pricks, was a very unlikeable maelstrom of feedback, shouting and no tunes whatsoever. And that was kind of the whole point.
Even so, the greying, befuddled online remnants of the anarcho-punk community seem to prefer The Fucking Cunts to Uncarved Block, the band’s third album, an ultra-accessible collection of loose-limbed dub funk with lyrics inspired by Taoism.
“Uncarved Block was the most unexpected of the band’s three studio albums, delivering more polemic allied to dance and funk rhythms that left their previous audience totally nonplussed,” says some guy off the internet. “It was a dreadful effort.”
Uncarved Block is, it seems, “largely uninteresting”, “self-indulgent rubbish” and, according to Flux guitarist Kev Hunter in The Day the Country Died, “nothing to do with punk in the slightest, a completely neutered record with no balls at all. Trumpets and bongos on a punk album? Arty-farty shite, I’m afraid.”
You have to peer into some very dark and dusty corners of the internet to find another view.
IF EVER there was an archetypal ‘John Peel band’, whatever that actually means, then the Cravats are probably it. It seemed like they were doing sessions for Peelie’s legendary late-night Radio One every couple of weeks at one point but I only really began paying attention when they released their seminal single Rub Me Out on Crass Records in 1982.
Although they largely conformed to the Crass ‘format’ in the single’s packaging, with the front cover featuring the title picked out in the Crass label’s trademark circular stencil, the image in the centre wasn’t some convoluted hybrid CND/anarchy A logo or whatever, but actually featured a member of the band.
I imagined Crass fans all over the UK asking: are these blokes on some kind of ego trip or what? Maybe it was just me being as daft as a brush.
FORGET Glastonbury, forget Leeds Poly student union, forget the Radio 1 Christmas party – John Peel’s favourite gig was Scunthorpe Baths. Fact.
He used to play at the celebrated municipal venue at least once a year in the mid Eighties and generally spent the next couple of nights on his Radio 1 show going through enormous lists of shouts and requests he picked up from trollied patrons. And he always said that it was his favourite gig of the year. We loved him for that.
We loved him for other reasons too – the sheer variety and quality of music he came up with, night after night. We loved the avuncular, slightly dotty professional persona, which often found him playing records at the wrong speed or playing the wrong side. And we loved him for the fact that he bothered turning up in Scunthorpe at all.
His gigs were the highlight of the year as far as many punters were concerned, no question about it. And I think he liked the fact that he wasn’t playing to a bunch of student wall-flowers waiting for the new single from the latest NME-approved indie muppets on a full discretionary grant.
When he played at Scunthorpe Baths Hall, Peel was playing to a bunch of hard-drinking northerners who lived in an absolute shit-hole and needed to pack in as much fun as possible before they returned to the grim realities of the early shift at the steel works – if they had a job at all.
Everybody danced, all night.
I interviewed Peel after a gig at the Baths in 1986. He got the beers in and bought us a curry and was every bit as brilliant and hilarious and knowledgeable and impressive as you would imagine.
As of today, we can all listen to Peelie’s record collection.
Close your eyes and you could almost be at Scunthorpe Baths.
* * *
“I THINK a lot of people might come expecting something like the Mob.”
“The thing is, a lot of people come to see us in London who I never saw at a Mob gig. And nobody came to see Zounds in any case.”
“Out of London, it’s still very strange to people. In London we’ve had whole places dancing. People are even getting special dances together to cope with the slow ones ..”
It’s not like Blyth Power avoid talking about the past. They’re quite ready to talk about the past, even if you ask them direct questions like, how much is your popularity to do with the Mob? They’re not afraid of it. They just think that what they’re doing now is a lot more important and interesting. I’m inclined to agree with them.
Josef: “At Adam & Eve’s in Leeds, they put ‘ex-Mob’ on the posters and a lot of people walked out when we didn’t play Mob songs.”
Andy: “That happened in Doncaster as well. There was about 10 people and the hall was massive. There was a skinhead sitting at the front who obviously loved the Mob and he sat there through the set and halfway through he just got up and walked out. That was the past walking out.”
POSTAL interview alert! Another one from the photocopied, poorly laid-out pages of Airstrip fanzine, this time with the archetypal mid Eighties Hulme combo, Inca Babies.
Think quiffs and stubble, swampy blues and murky rock’n’roll, nasty drugs and bad housing (117 William Kent Crescent to be precise) and you’ll be in the right kind of area, more or less.
I never got to see this lot live for some reason but for a time I liked their records a lot. However, that didn’t stop me from putting together a list of hopelessly naive and ridiculous questions for guitarist Harry S to answer.
What can I say? I was just emerging from a scene where everything was very black and white and transparent lyrics and cheap admission to gigs seemed to be very important indeed.
* * *
I FIRST came across Brigandage when John Peel broadcast the session they recorded for his seminal nightly radio show in 1983, although they first came to national prominence in the NME’s examination of the so-called positive punk scene around the same time, alongside Blood & Roses, Southern Death Cult and The Mob in a piece entitled The Music, Mystery and Magick of the New Punks.
North would go onto to join the reformed Brigandage after they imploded following the NME coverage, while the scene he dubbed positive punk somehow ended up becoming Goth. They were never my favourite band or anything, and I don’t recall ever seeing them live, but I had a lot of time for Brigandage’s shouty yet tuneful punk, which occasionally seemed to take as much from Joy Division as it did the Pistols and Siouxsie.
As a result, I did a postal Q&A with lead singer Michelle (pictured with North) in early 1985 and published in my fanzine Airstrip*2, alongside interviews with Omega Tribe, Inca Babies, Lunatic Fringe and Toxic Shock. While the interview remains the product of a very particular time and place, it still makes for an interesting read, I think.
ALONGSIDE Discharge with their “screeching haikus”, Antisect were right at the very limit of what I deemed acceptable in terms of hardcore punk adopting the dynamics of heavy metal.
They were an intensely powerful live band, but it’s fair to say they were none too subtle. My main impression is of gigantic riffs, loads of feedback and even more shouting. And Sideshow Bob-style spiderplant hair, of course.
And they all seemed to be called Pete.
I got to interview them twice in the space of less than a year, first in Leeds and then in Gateshead, either side of the release of their debut album, In Darkness There Is No Choice. The interviews tell two very similar tales of perfectly affable people confronted with the relentless drunken negativity of a fanzine ediot who when it came down to it, just enjoyed arguing as much as anything else.
They were a little more relaxed second time around and among many world exclusives came the extraordinary and shocking news that they actually owned a television set.