ONE of the last, great undiscovered bands of the Eighties, Basement 5 are completely unknown to most, forgotten by many and utterly loved by a lucky few. Kris Needs nearly went and spoiled it by writing a piece about them for Mojo last year, the bloody bugger, but luckily nobody seemed to take much notice. I’m only telling you now on the condition that you keep all this to yourself, so think on.
Formed, so the story goes, by Don Letts with one-and-a-half grand of Chris Blackwell’s money, Basement 5 occupied a space somewhere between Killing Joke and PIL – like a real-life collision between punk and dub reggae rather than a theoretical one. I only know their stuff because some guy I happened to sit next to during registration at sixth form sold me their 1965-1980 album and the accompanying dub 12-inch for a fiver in 1982.
“You have to play it very loud to enjoy it fully,” said control room wizard Martin Hannett some time later. “It was the most difficult production, I must say, the heaviest. It was 18-degrees in the shade, the end of August. As I recall it has been the most physical album that I’ve ever done. Made me feel like I’d been carrying bricks around. Heavy work. Putting the bass lines in the right place.
“But it was good.”
It’s probably a bit much to call it a ‘mix’ so let’s just say I’ve put together a sequence of music which includes Too Soon and Omega Man from the album closely followed by the Holocaust dub from the 12-inch, book-ended by Careering by PIL and Killing Joke’s Turn To Red, for no other reason than I can. You can download it here.
After Basement 5 split up, singer Dennis Morris went onto form Urban Shakedown, who I saw on some late night youth-orientated post-pub light-entertainment show – perhaps involving Jonathan Ross – in the early days of Channel 4. They looked just extraordinary, two post-apocalyptic punky, funki-dreads, one white, one black, on drums and bass. No guitarist. And their sound was easily as arresting as their look. Drums and bass, pure and simple. It was a tantalizingly brief performance but I never forgot it.
The song they performed on the show, Big Bad Wolf, was one of the first singles on Paul Weller’s Respect label. It never did anything and they sank without trace – though I was very excited when I first heard Some Justice by Mickey Finn’s Urban Shakedown project. I’d hoped it was the same guys I’d heard ten years earlier. It wasn’t. Good tune though, either way.
I bought the seven-inch of Big Bad Wolf, with the dub, Rap The Wolf on the other side, from the marvellous Action Records in Preston last year. Strangely, around the same time, the BBC put out a teaser viral campaign for a Dr Who plotline which involved Big Bad Wolf.
Be quick now.