Friday, May 31, 2013

Nicholas Bullen "Component Fixations" (Type Vinyl)
 
What have the following combos got in common ? Jesu, Scorn, Godflesh, Carcass, Lock-Up, Lull, Extreme Noise Terror, Head of David, Unseen Terror, Painkiller, Meathook Seed, Quoit, Terrorizer, Venomous Concept, Fall Of Because, Mutation, Cathedral, Final, Pale Sketcher, Ripcord, Doom, Resistant Culture, Righteous Pigs, Gentlemans Pistols, Teeth Of Lions Rule The Divine, Benediction, Defecation, Ice, Brujeria, Council Estate Electronics, Firebird, Blood Of Heroes, Septic Tank, Disgust, Equations Of Eternity, Smear Campaign, Absolute Power, Zonal, The Weakener, Atrocity Exhibition, Little Giant Drug, Sacrilege, The Sidewinder, Filthkick, Black Galaxy, Techno Animal, Dumbstruck, Grey Machine, Praxis, Malformed Earthborn, Last Exit, Warhammer, Warprayer, Saskwatch, Freestate, Frequencies, Youpho, Aberration, Certain Beyond All Reasonable Doubt, Azagthoth, Cylon, Squandered, Krackhead, Matera, Umbilical Limbo, Valley Of Fear, Blood From The Soul, Dead Pulp, Hygiene, Subspecies, Optimum Wound Profile, White Viper, Adventure, Biomechanical, Cerebral Fix, Solaris, Antichrist, Crusade, Trace Decay, Sweet Tooth, Cracked Cop Skulls, White Static Demon, Witch Hunt and many, really, many others...?
 
That's right: they're all better than the Beatles. Not *just* that, though: they're also all branches of the same rock family tree, because all have featured in their ranks one-time members of the finest British rock band of the last quarter-century, West Midlands stalwarts Napalm Death. Even without going anywhere near 'guest appearances' etc, the list above covers pretty much every conceivable genre, from dubstep, drum & bass and electronica through forty shades of metal to free jazz (apart, you may say, from hip-hop, but we would just nonchalantly direct you to Shane Embury's guest guitar-playing on the fine "Jagged Edge" remix of Gunshot's formidable "Mind Of A Razor" single).
 
Pretty impressive really, isn't it ? To take former drumstool doyen Mick Harris as perhaps the most obvious example, it's difficult to comprehend how one musician could be so central to such brilliant records, in entirely different genres, as Napalm's eviscerating game-changer "From Enslavement To Obliteration", Mick's headcrushing "HedNod Sessions" and Lull's recent, glacially austere masterpiece, "Like A Slow River".Anyway. From this family tree, from this mighty oak that so blossoms with diversity, here's a new release that really maxes up the intrigue. For some 27 years after playing - as 'Nik' Bullen - on Napalm Death's "Scum", and a good two decades on from his work with early Scorn (which sounded absolutely nothing like Napalm Death), Napalm founder member Nicholas Bullen has finally come up with his first solo album. Which, inconveniently for yr reviewer, sounds absolutely nothing like either Napalm Death *or* Scorn. Or pretty much any of the myriad bands listed above. (It's not easy to work out quite how many musical ventures Bullen has been involved with since departing Scorn: in contrast with the dozens of records released over that timefeaturing Mick Harris, Justin Broadrick or Shane Embury, all that we have from him are two 18-minute long post-Scorn workouts released on Sub Rosa, as Nicholas James Bullen, in the mid-1990s).
 
Anyway. "Component Fixations" is one of those records which cares not a fig for line-ups or antecedents or influences or historical accidents, and indeed that implores you not to sweat over other 'little' details. So it doesn't matter if you can't work out which instruments were used, or whether any instruments were used at all; it's not really relevant to the listening experience to know whether the sounds herein are digital or analog; it's ultimately unnecessary to work out whether we're at the frayed ambient edges of rock or on the bleak outskirts of the minimalist classical tradition. What we have here is simply a bold but rewarding record, as extreme in its way as anything Bullen has been involved with in the past.
 
The first side, "Element Configuration III" consists of two, er, components. The longest, "I", begins with staccato bursts of processed sound, punctuated by oases of near-silence, before being anchored by a drone that's more pastoral than industrial, and enlivened intermittently by further shards of pent-up noise and the tiniest hints of glitch. It's a kaleidoscope of samples, rooted in musique concrète, but with a definite contemporary air. "II", as its sub-title ("Commixture") suggests, serves as a bridge between "I" and side two of the LP: it's a steady, sweetly and softly-oscillating hum that concludes with what sounds like a babbling brook as field-recorded, found-sound water samples surge in to envelop the mix.
 
The lone track on side two, "Signal Filament Extensions", settles early on into a becalmed and pure low-frequency burr. For a quarter of an hour, it unwinds and recoils - each time by the merest fraction - but with barely any other interruption or movement, making "I" seem playful, even mischievous, by comparison. Then, from nowhere, the sound of chimes rings out, and the speakers trace a delicious melange of grey noise and tinkling bells while the needle rolls on towards the centre vortex. We're almost back to nature. "Component Fixations" feels like an installation work in that, rather than rely on noise to shape the pieces of music, it uses silence and near-silence to create a gallery space; it then populates that space with atavistic, organic sounds, some that persist, some that either flit in or out, some that veritably crash in or out. We've become worringly intrigued with it, to tell the truth.
 
And we're all too aware that had Bullen never been "Nik Napalm" in another life, we'd probably have never come across this LP. That's something else to thank Napalm, and the quality control of their members' subsequent projects, for. Funnily enough, "Component Fixations" is so serene that it makes other present favoured flavours of ours, like Burial or Autechre, sound more like, well, Napalm Death. If this is the future sound of Birmingham, you know, then we're greatly looking forward to hearing more of it.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Fireworks "The Fireworks EP" (Shelflife)
Yes, as so helpfully pointed out by a bravely anonymous visitor to a layer of chips, the Fireworks' first 7" is a tad "derivative".
By way of full disclosure, names that popped randomly into our head on first listen included Shop Assistants, the Groove Farm, the Clouds, Baby Lemonade, the Pastels, Bubblegum Splash! and Meat Whiplash. So derivative it surely is (although there *is* more to it than that: the production and the unyielding floods of reverb owe something to rather more modern developments in indiedom, and give the record a contemporary buzz of sorts). Plus, all of the bands mentioned above were completely outstanding. Yes they were.
The important thing about the Fireworks' opening salvo, then, is this... it's really good. "Derivative" is too easy a word to throw around as an insult, because there is very little music that isn't. Possibly none at all. This EP accepts that and then knuckles down admirably to the task of getting all the vital things right. Three rapacious, rampaging sherbet storms (future classics all), plus a kitschly tolerable slowie to close. Ringing with boy/girl vocals that engage and interchange like Villa and Ardiles in their prime, and exuding a frankly *kissable* glee - this is really what justifies comparisons to the class of '87, I s'pose - the Fireworks completely eschew the charmless posing of yr average "alternative" pop combo right now. This is simply powering, positivemusic; fair crackling with radiance and energy. (Mad props to the label, too: with this EP snapping at the heels of the remarkable Hobbes Fanclub 7" last year, Shelflife have now served up two teasingly tempting, tantalisingly tasty treats in a matter of mere months).
And with the ride on the carousel over, the stylus glides back to base, and there's silence. I look up to see the plane trees outside shuffle their leaves, as they're tickled by benign May winds. I watch the last remnants of a pink sky slink below the rooftops. I often look out of this same window: do you remember another 7", the Garlands and the Sugarplums split ? It was cold that night, and we needed a cup of tea just to restore our circulation, but a little piece of black vinyl brought the magic back to the evening. We feel the same way tonight.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Pastels "Slow Summits" (Domino)
Another interesting thing that sprung from the ever-readable pages of "Death To Trad Rock" was Wolfhounds' Dave Callahan acknowledging how both his band, and their friends and labelmates McCarthy, donated somewhat unspectacular tracks to the compilers of C86, not realising quite how much that album would be subject to forensic investigation over the years that followed, or indeed that the likes of us would still be banging on about the record some 27 years later. This meant that the fact those two bands were without doubt two of the most stunning groups of that whole, incredibly fertile period would have been entirely lost on those who investigated C86 as a "one-off", not least the other kids at school or youth club to whom I lent it to at the time.
Incidentally, a reformed and resurgent Wolfhounds are responsible for two of the best songs of 2012/13, "Skullface" and "Security". Wolfhounds aren't totally alone, of C86 stalwarts, in still being "around": as far as we can discern, there are half a dozen bands who appeared on C86 but who are still writing and gigging in 2013. Another of whom, of course, are... the Pastels.
Whereas some of the other present-day survivors from the tape (Primal Scream, Half Man Half Biscuit, the David Lewis Gedge Project) have carried on playing live and releasing new records on a reasonably regular basis, the Pastels have taken a more relaxed approach, in keeping with the increasingly hazy yet magical timbre of their music (an approach far removed from the plaintive, but actually still surprisingly pretty strum of their C86 contribution "Breaking Lines"). This is amply illustrated by the fact that even though this blog has been stumbling on for fourteen years, "Slow Summits" is the first 'proper' Pastels album which has surfaced over that time.
The sleeve credits of "Slow Summits" (a very Halkyn-esque title, to our ears - *we miss Halkyn!*) suggest, fairly remarkably, that no less than 23 musicians have contributed, including Stephen and Katrina of course but also other longtime collaborators like Bill Wells, Norman Blake and the LP's producer, John McEntire. And at first, the task confronted by "Slow Summits" does seem enormous enough to merit two football teams' worth of investment. After all, it's their first LP of the century. There are nine tracks, one of which (the swingingly winsome if insubstantial "Check My Heart") has already preceded it as a 7" single, and two of which are goodwill-sapping instrumentals. That leaves only half a dozen songs with which to really make a mark. And yet... they do, they really do. None of the six left standing are duffers, and no less than four are *very* special indeed: "Secret Music", "Summer Rain", "Kicking Leaves" and "Wrong Light", the latter of which seals the deal, frankly and should really be subtitled "Why You Love The Pastels".
Going back to the score and three musicians point, there *are* times that the phrase "too many cooks" come to mind. The songs here are pearls that, with a couple of exceptions (the strings on "Kicking Leaves" certainly don't spoil the broth), don't need the additional adornment of extra instruments left, right and centre, especially when this drives things suspiciously close to that layer of Dante's inferno labelled "easy listening", and the ubiquitous flautist would probably have been our first choice for pruning. (There is a related, sneaking suspicion that if you played some of "Slow Summits" at 45 rpm, it would come out sounding like Cinerama).
That gripe aside, this is a terrific album of ambling (as opposed to shambling!) charm. There has been no dramatic change of direction in the band's modus operandi since they first hooked up with Domino: "Slow Summits" just takes you by the hand and leads a gentle waltz of warmth, nostalgia and longing. Music at this restrained, refined pace is *so* hard to do well: Kyoko, Brighter, the Jesus and Mary Chain maybe, but even otherwise great bands (the Shop Assistants, the Smiths) didn't work half as well when they checked their normal velocity. So there is no little skill in the way that the Pastels can negotiate wide open vistas of melody at their leisure, without tending to the soporific. Their now-languorous style may not have moved on far from that last LP, 1997's "Illumination", but "Slow Summits" proves how well they've settled into middle-age with a style that suits them.
Right. Can we gorge on some of our Pastels memories now, please ?
So... D'Alma and I blaring "Get 'Round Town" out of wound-down car windows when we cruised around south London back in the day, part of a fairly successful campaign to actively irritate Groove Armada-indulging Claphamites through the medium of 'proper' indie music. The charming first album closer "If I Could Tell You", which I loved and always put on compilation tapes alongside BMX Bandits' "Disco Girl" (as well as Glasgow, I think it must have been the orchestration, the strings, and the head-over-heels lovableness that united the two). The first Pastels records I bought, when still at school, the "Comin' Through" 12" and "Sittin' Pretty" LP, and how my band covered "Not Unloved" from the former as, um, "Not Ndlovu" (er, it was a football reference which, trust me, seemed v. humorous at the time).
Getting "Worlds Of Possibility" while 'studying' in Notts, and marvelling at its space and ambition, yet how it still remained at root a shy and gorgeous pop tune. Making sure that "Mobile Safari" standout "Classic Line-Up" was played at my wedding, although my favourite Pastels tune has to remain the undeniably shambling yet sharply romantic "Crawl Babies" (only a few years ago did I finally grab the 7" of that, from a shop in Ambleside of all places). In my mid-twenties, as a frustrated City professional, my immersion in "The Hits Hurt", a halfway house between the Pastels that once defined "indieness" and their new beginnings as they joined forces with a loftier-inclined, more cognoscenti-favoured Domino roster of the time.
Buying a "Pastelism" badge when I saw them at the Jericho Tavern in the early 1990s: wearing it with pride and still having it now (although "pastelism", being merely an "-ism", somewhat undersells them: I think of them now not so much as an ideology, but more a a lifecycle, a *process* - "pastellisation", perhaps). Seeing them in London - maybe at the Borderline - in the late '90s (it would have to have been around then, as they definitely played "Unfair Kind Of Fame"), when I have no doubt their mere continued existence would have comforted me as I struggled to adapt to that bruising, dog-eat-dog world of "grown-up" work. Andenjoying their set only a few years back at Jarvis Cocker's Meltdown, in a cavernous if sparsely-populated Queen Elizabeth Hall, when they supported East Kilbride's finest export and first let me into gems like "Secret Music".
Yes, the mere existence of new Pastels material, even before we listened to it, was enough to bring all those times flooding back. That "Slow Summits" is such a treat into the bargain is a wonderful bonus. Katrina, Stephen - once again - *thank you* for being you.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Fall "Re-Mit" (Cherry Red)
 
The young me, in grainy sepia, spins "Palace Of Swords Reversed" on ye olde Hitachi. I am fascinated. "I used to have a thing about Link Wray", drawls the singer, his words echoing around what sounds like a not entirely sympathetic bar-room. "I used to play him every Saturday" - he sounds about 56, but in fact was only in his early twenties at the time - "God bless Saturday".
 
Today *is* Saturday. The new me, in vivid HD with surround sound, immerses himself in some mp3s (o technology of a mere decade ago, I am finally your master). The same singer *is* now 56. The same singer sounds... the same.
 
As far as I can tell, Link Wray is no relation to "Sir William Wray", but that's the song I'm listening to, a pre-album single and the first song proper on the Fall's thirtieth long-playing studio outing. Is it about the first Baronet of Glentworth and MP for Grimsby (1555-1617), or the first Baronet of Ashby and MP for Grimsby (1625-1669) ? Either way, it's a life somewhat subtly reflected in the lyric, which seems to be a series of variations on a theme of "Rrrrrrrrraaaaaaaaarrrrrr" atop a mini-riot of guitars and backing vocals from Sparta F.C. ultras, underlaid incongruously by pretty little keyboard patterns. Smith is a wizened misanthrope, stumbling amongst the pigeons, bothering the passing cars: "Sir William Wray" the song is "Touch Sensitive", parachuted into the next decade, having sunk a few (more) pints. The Fall are on fire, but no-one cares, or perhaps notices in the first place.
 
After Sir William has left the building it's true that there's then a several-track nosedive, albeit a varied and entertaining one which includes the organ swirl of last year's "Victrola Time", but the last four tracks of "Re-Mit" somehow completely rescue proceedings: "Irish" could be rambling, grumbling C86 of the Ron Johnson school (as opposed to the poppier but equally surprising C86-style influence on earlier tune "No Respects"). "Jetplane" is that greatest of things, Smith as storyteller once more, a battery of grunge-grind guitar, a tale of unlikely business inspiration set in the departure lounge at Milan airport. "Jam Song" starts obliquely even by Fall standards, and takes an absolute age to get going, but suddenly, halfway through, you realise that it has become a monster, "Fall Heads Roll" as touched by the hand of proto-Madchester shufflebeat, grinning with anti-hipster glee. There is no pause before "Loadstones", a final song which on one hand resurrects the lost art of shout-along-a-Fall but on the other hinges on a single lurching chord change, almost mournfully garnished with Elena's keyboard, that comes from nowhere and pulls the track into a different direction altogether.
 
Everyone has an angle. But it's funny how the more voices there are, the more harmonised the overall narrative can get. The internet provides a multiplicity of commentators, yet just creates a lazy hivemind in which "Your Future Our Clutter" was 'return to form', "Ersatz GB" was 'crushing disappointment', "Re-Mit" is tolerable but not a 'return to form'. It's the reviews, not the LPs, which are pre-ordained.
 
Your humble writer would suggest an alternative narrative. "YFOC" had a handful of truly ace tracks, but didn't bear repeated listens as a whole: reviewers were too dazzled by it being a rare Fall outing for an in-vogue label, and containing evidence of production values. (They were perhaps also over-relieved that it wasn't "Imperial Wax Solvent" all over again). "Ersatz GB" was primal verging on ragged, but effortlessly pole-vaulted the low expectations we had of it: there's little that's bad there, and "I've Seen Them Come" has been wilfully overlooked as its definitive song / statement, one which harks back to and cements the legacy of their earlier outings, not least in its devotion to Smith's infamous three R's.
 
And "Re-Mit" ? It achieves its objective, which is both the easiest and hardest thing in the world: to be the latest Fall album. All else is baggage. Every Fall review - including this one - tells you much more about the author than the Fall. But here's the thing. When Smith sang that the North would rise again, he wasn't predicting the Stone Roses, Oasis or the Arctic Monkeys. In a just world, if any of those much-trumpeted idiot joy showlanders had heard him coming, they would have scampered quickly away from the proverbial cocked hat that he'd otherwise be prone to topple them into. No, he was referring to himself, decades hence, still leading a charge against the London press and London industry-fuelled mediocrity, but doing it pretty much alone (while the likes of the Kaiser Chiefs or the Pigeon Detectives acted as double-agents for the South).
 
But, like we said, nobody is listening properly. And that includes us relatively unquestioning fans, largely men of a certain age who are firmly ensconced in, and enured to a permanent cycle of annual Fall album and annual semi-shambolic gig. Which means that the Fall find themselves still, somehow, the soundtrack to a revolution that isn't actually happening. Yet.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Dale Griffin, Unsung Hero
(Book reviews, part two - John Robb "Death To Trad Rock": Ian Glasper "Trapped In A Scene": Albert Mudrian "Choosing Death")
We can, and will, bore for England about having been blessed enough to have seen so many Sarah bands, of memories of our Sarah days and of our favourite Sarah combo. But for so much of the other music we loved and still love, and as much as we bought it and digested it and listened to John Peel play it, we weren't physically there. We didn't go to the gigs, didn't have too many mates who dug the records with us, didn't have any "in" on the scenes.
That's why we've found such solace and value in three ever-intriguing, if not flawless, books that provide forensic detail about those times, and about the origins of, and motivation behind, music that we cherish and play today, almost as much as our most prized Sarah 45s.
* * * * *
We remain steadfast in our conviction that what some indie-pop apostles regard as "the dark side" of C86 the album - the assorted mavericks and oddballs, the Ron Johnson bands, the reluctant refugees from noise-rock - is very wrongly maligned in some quarters. Bob Stanley's uncharitable dismissal of three (excellent) RJ bands as "genuinely dire" in his CD86 sleevenotes is but one egregious example, and I for one only wish he had seen the light and put those bands out on Caff Corporation. (CD86, while mainly ace, has got fairly joyless stuff like the ironically-named Laugh for heaven's sake: which, Bob, is the plodding opposite to the teeming-with-colour A Witness).
The facts - and we say this as longtime and still-ardent devotees and defenders of Subway, Sarah, 53rd & 3rd and all who sailed in them - are that Bogshed and A Witness are two of the very best bands of the period (there's a persuasive case to be made that the latter delivered the outstanding track on the whole of C86), while bIG*fLAME are simply one of the most astonishingly complete bands that ever existed. And we're so many years removed now from those groups' heyday that we feel pretty confident this is now a position proven by history, rather than a mere side-effect of us having once been caught up in the thrilling, John Peel-curated mesh of the now and the new that might have driven our devotion at the time.
Whether you will relish "Death To Trad Rock" can be easily tested. If you (like us) can think of nothing more appetite-whetting than seventeen opening pages devoted to the marvellous A Witness, then you (like us) will find yourself dipping into every page of John Robb's almanac of quirked-out, wonky indieness. If (unlike us) you are not convinced that A Witness merit such in-depth treatment, and don't want to read more widely about the role played by Blackpool, the Dutch squat scene, the miner's strike or, er, Stafford Poly in creating a thrillingly visceral musical escape route from the Thatcherite ideology that hellishly ruled the 1980s, then go. Be off with you.
Within the book's pages, the author (erstwhile Sounds journo and Membrane, of course, though the marginally younger of you may be more familiar with his Goldblade routine) describes a 'scene' that few were perhaps aware even existed, one that goes much wider than the usual suspects (i.e. bands who recorded for Ron Johnson, bands who recorded for Vinyl Drip). Although the sleeve coyly heralds a "scene with no name", Robb more usefully deploys "post-post punk" as a shorthand (and subgenre fetishists will observe with pleasure that even post-post punk is itself sub-divided into several "waves" over the years). But labelling aside, this is really a tome about a loose aggregation of (mostly) great and (mostly) undersung bands of the era, many of whom kept their bass high in the mix and their guitars on the earsplitting side of trebly: and the thread that knits the book together is these bands' musical and sociopolitical kinship, rather than narrow, flayed scenesterism.
As hinted above, there was certainly no 'formal' scene that drew its net as widely as Robb does. The book profiles a number of strolling troubadors *not* always traditionally associated with the 'angular' bands including the Wedding Present, Wolfhounds and June Brides: but interviews with Phil Wilson, Dave Callahan and David Gedge respectively put you in no doubt that those bands felt they had plenty in common with their less glamorous, more obviously noisenik contemporaries.
Even aside from that, of course, there has (contrary to popular indiepop perception) never been a law against liking bands from both sides of the C86 "divide". Stewart Lee, who gets to write the foreword, is just as keen to lavish praise on Ron Johnson types as he was to shoehorn mention of his beloved Razorcuts into one of his BBC2 routines. Indeed, Sarandon's Crayola makes the point later in the book that being able to esteem both Razorcuts and Jackdaw With Crowbar - as we unapologetically do - should be regarded as perfectly natural, rather than somehow outré.
Robb's selection of more melodic combos within the book's compass is astute: partly because some TWP or JBs fans might buy a book they wouldn't otherwise have touched with the proverbial bargepole, but also because there always was a sonic crossover between the poppier and the shoutier independent bands, one amply evidenced within the grooves of the better records of the time. It can't just be us who heard hints of bIG*fLAME's mischievous anti-mellifluousness in some of the guitar scratchiness on "There Are Eight Million Stories", say. Nor is the mighty and unashamedly celebratory sound of the guitars on early Wedding Present singles too far removed from the kind of trebliness that "Death To Trad Rock" seeks to celebrate. (Apropos of nothing, we'd observe that the apotheosis of this crossover - this marriage of furious strummed-to-death guitars and glorious popshaped janglism - may have been another Reception 45, This Poison's "Poised Over The Pause Button").
Anyway. While there may be no place in this volume for This Poison! there are still plenty of splendid groups who do get chapters in what is a cracking encyclopaedia of noise and passion (including, of course, the holy trinity of bIG*fLAME, A Witness and Bogshed, described herein as the vanguard of the "second wave" of post-post-punk). Others include Stump (who found headaches rather than fame at a major label, a cautionary tale), the Noseflutes (we recently revisited "Several Young Men Ignite Hardboard Stump", which seemingly seamlessly melds the Fall, Pop Group, Josef K and a host of others), the Shrubs (oh, how we despise our younger selves for, I confess, not actually liking the Shrubs at the time, something we've since remedied in part through extensive resort to their "Vessels Of The Heart" LP), an epic chapter on Dog-Faced Hermans, Hull's furious and funky Death By Milkfloat, Prolapse, Fflaps, Dandelion Adventure (weren't they on "Are You Ready?"), the Ex, Age Of Chance, Five Go Down To Sea (the book sent us scurrying back to "Creation Soup" volume 3 and we are now prepared to accept not only that the undeniably hatstand FGDTS were rather good, but also that their compatriots Stump owed a little something to them too) and Ted Chippington (one's genial host on the neglected but actually era-definingly ace "Ideal Guest House" comp and, rather disturbingly, one of only a handful of the acts chronicled in this book who we've actually seen live).
Unsurprisingly, there's a full-to-bursting chapter on the Membranes, who are placed squarely in the middle of the scene and, judging by the testimonies of most interviewees, merit that. It's worth remembering that they were doing things like signing to Creation Records, or fetching in Steve Albini for production duties, waaaay before either became de rigeur. There's the intriguing story, too, about how the Pastels deserted Creation in protest at the Membranes being thrown off the label (after both groups were involved with Slaughter Joe Foster in what Nigel Blackwell would call a "running order squabble fest"), although the David Cavanagh book on McGee records the Pastels as having been sacked rather than walking away. Come to think of it, there's also a bit in Richard King's book "How Soon Is Now?" in which Stephen Pastel acknowledges the Membranes as kindred spirits: that takes us back to our central theme here, I guess.
Even more excitingly, there is rare and belated published recognition for the likes of Thrilled Skinny (complete back catalogue seemingly now on i-Tunes, with the likes of "So Happy To Be Alive", "Good Doss" and "Biscuits In A Tin" all thrillingly now public domain) and the ever-wondrous Rosehips, who we may just have mentioned before. There's also plenty of space for those in the contemporary firmament like seasoned in love with these times, in spite of these times favourites Sarandon, whose singer and guitarist Crayola has been the lynchpin of some of this scene with no name's 21st-century revival (post-post post punk, anyone ?)
Rifling through our record collection for other trad-rock defying souvenirs from down the years, we're reminded of the unenviable task Robb had in deciding who to include. Rote Kappelle, Morocco, Twang, Donkey and Eton Crop are but examples (although the latter two do get a nod in a handy round-up of the "Dutch scene"). We're also reminded of how few of these groups we ever got to see play, which I guess is where we came in. The closest we got to seeing A Witness was on an advertised and long-looked forward to Weddoes support slot, although for reasons set out in the book (the sad death of Rick Aitken, marked only by a sidebar short and photo in the next week's Sounds) that was a support slot that never materialised.
It's fascinating, too, seeing how the bands describe their influences, and establishing exactly which ones - at the start, at least - were familiar with Can, Faust, Beefheart and others in whose footsteps they trod. In many cases, these influences were only indirect, with peak-period Fall being the direct template. Sadly there's no acknowledgement in the Thrilled Skinny chapter of that band's debt to second-wave punk, although the Exploited are mentioned at least by the Dog-Faced Hermans as part of the wider Edinburgh scene back in the day.
At times the narrative of "Death By Trad Rock" perhaps gets a little excitable: the suggestion that A Witness might, in the 21st century, have been a chart band is as eyebrow-raising and, er, 'novel' as it would be frankly the best thing ever, and we're not convinced that Death By Milkfloat sound *that* much like either the Arctic Monkeys or Franz Ferdinand (notwithstanding that the latter had some 'form', given their amtecedents in Yummy Fur). But, overall, it's a book that's given us a valuable glimpse into a scene which we could never have dreamed would one day be documented in such detail.
There is also an accompanying CD. Along with Daren Garratt's superb "Commercially Unfriendly" compilation, the "Death To Trad Rock" compilation is an essential purchase, given the crying shame that so many of these bands' recorded outings are impossible to track down now (random stumbling across the original vinyl in Music & Video Exchange is as close as we ever get).
Highlights of the CD are plentiful. Wolfhounds' ever-excellent "Magic Triggers" really comes into its own in this company: it sounds even more vital than usual, and completely sympa to the noise-clutching tunes arrayed around it on the tracklist. "My Favourite Dress", obviously. AC Temple's anti-anthem "Food Of The Dogs" is sheer beauty, a harrowing yet inspiring revelation. There are fine songs too from the Ex, Dog Faced Hermans, the Turncoats, Age of Chance, Death By Milkfloat, Sarandon, the Ceramic Hobs (whose "St Petersburg Series", a song that could have been released by much-missed and insouciantly mentalist Bristol label Swarf Finger, makes even most other songs here seem middle of the road). The Membranes themselves are represented by "Tatty Seaside Town", perhaps not their greatest moment (NB one of their actual greatest moments was re-released on a Slumberland 7" not too long ago, oddly enough: see #46 here) but, as a song featured once on BBC2's ephemeral Snub music magazine show, it does at least remind us of our first exposure to the band on national TV.
'Twould be invidious, of course, to suggest too many other tracks that should have been included: we recognise that there couldn't even be room for every band in the book to appear, and of course that ex-Bogshed singer Phil Hartley has consistently vetoed the re-issuing of any of their material (we won't ever stop going on about how much of a public service it would be if he changed his mind, because songs like "Morning Sir", "Panties Please" or "Tried And Tested Public Speaker" deserve much wider airing). Mind you, the Keatons' classically catchy "Residivistish" would have been nice, as too the Noseflutes' "Harmony of Dogs" and the world is also being severely neglected in the continued absence of readily-available material from Jackdaw With Crowbar, MacKenzies or Twang. Please, if you're reading this and you're a person who works at Cherry Red, future indie compilation compiler, or just general all-round philanthropist, could you bear that in mind?
* * * * *
"Trapped In A Scene" (title of a Heresy tune, of course) is another Cherry Red book: it's punk / HC expert Ian Glasper's take on the hardcore / Britcore madness that blew up majorly in the second half of the 1980s. Like the bands outlined by John Robb, the groups described here were largely young, disaffected and raised well away from London: they used music to rail against the government of the time (doing so directly, rather than just obliquely). At the start, they were united by idealism and energy: by the end of the 1980s they had all pretty much either split up, or gone "full time" with music and begun to refine their sounds and widen their vision (not always for the better).
The rise of scene darlings like Extreme Noise Terror, Napalm Death and the Stupids is of course covered with detail and insight, but the true merit of the book is perhaps in bringing us detailed profiles of other bands of the era whose names no longer ring so vividly: Heresy (never undervalued within the scene, but wrongly ignored outside it), HDQ, Doom, Ripcord, Electro Hippies, Unseen Terror, Snuff, Hellbastard, Sofahead, Intense Degree, Doctor and the Crippens and the band who followed a 99-track album with a single-track epic, Sore Throat...
And you don't have to strain too far to find overlaps between the bands described here and the post-post-punk fraternity, either (honest). Stoke-on-Trent's Exit Condition shared many a bill with the Rosehips before going on to support the likes of Leatherface and Fugazi. A "Maximum Rock n' Roll" 'zine feature sees the early Napalm Death describe their main musical influence not as Celtic Frost or Discharge, but aforementioned 'indie' stalwarts the Ex. And there's an intriguing if unlikely link between two of the greatest labels ever, Ron Johnson and Earache: it sounds like it was the former's Dave Parsons who sat the latter's Digby Pearson down and taught him a bit about how to run a record label (the irony of this will not be lost on most readers, as the Ron Johnson empire went broke, whereas Earache went on to sell ten million records and become a worldwide brand. One assumes that amongst Dave's pieces of advice to Dig was "don't release a double-7" Ex single containing a 144-page book of Spanish Civil War photographs that loses a pound on every copy sold, and then shift 15,000 of them"). Oh, and more than one band mentioned in Robb's book mentions Napalm, ENT and their ilk in their lists of influences or inspirations.
As you know, the politics of it all is important to us, especially when explicit ('political' metal these days deals with its subect matter in terms so obscure that it is barely possible to discern exactly what is being railed against, save for some vague notion of general governmental badness). So it's really interesting to read Lee Dorrian's take on lyrics when he was in Napalm Death, and how he feared that Napalm risked becoming self-parody, rather than being known for the positive things they stood for socially (his interview also acknowledges the forgotten role of one-time bassist Jim Whiteley in contributing some of the best early Napalm lyrics). This chimes with the testimony from Hellbastard's Scruff, who is open about how disillusionment set in when the band moved away from politics and into rather more generic lyrical territory, even as their career was seemingly on an upward curve with Earache. It's a telling nugget that at the end of his last gig with Napalm, thoroughly disillusioned yet still showing a keen sense of punk history, Dorrian would ask his Japanese audience: "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"
* * * * *
A confession to make now. We are not huge fans of death metal. Don't get us wrong: we love Obituary, for example, and try to see them every time they're in London. And there are individual songs (Morbid Angel's "Chapel Of Ghouls" and Deicide's "Homage for Satan" being standout examples) which are simply stunning rock songs, however their makers might be pigeonholed. But Albert Mudrian's death metal primer "Choosing Death" isn't dealing with subject-matter that we find quite as instructive, or as vital, as the other two books.
Nevertheless, it is the best-written of the three books, and the only one that adopts an intertwined narrative (and disciplined editing) as it tells the story of new forms of music emerging on both sides of the Atlantic. There's even a foreword by John Peel, in what must have been one of his last pieces of writing before his untimely death. And despite its title, "Choosing Death" is not just about death metal: in order to do that topic justice, it first as to chart the emergence of what became grindcore, and so Mudrian, like Glasper, knows that chapter one of any book in this field can only start in one place: in Birmingham, and with Napalm Death.
The author has had access to a number of sometime members of Napalm, and lets each tell their own side of the story on those occasions when one ex-member is ranged against another, or the band are pitted against their former label, Earache. Like "Trapped In A Scene", "Choosing Death" helps us to reappraise Napalm, one of our favourite bands: the attitude of Jim Whiteley, Lee Dorrian and Barney Greenway especially reminds us that their lyrical and political direction really *is* the focal point, maybe even the crucial determinant of how good they are at any one time: while other band lynchpins might have driven the musical direction, the *purpose* came from their positive, no sell-out attitudes. And when Mick Harris talks about the hype that surrounded the band after Peel infamy and the success of "From Enslavement To Obliteration", he recognises that indie kids flocked to see Napalm, just as Barney Greenway more recently spoke of the long-term overlap between Napalm and Wedding Present fans, say.
Because Mudrian's book also surveys the world beyond British shores, it is able to give us insights into short-lived but almost scarily influential bands like Siege and Repulsion, and to more accurately document how American bands were taking on board both US and UK influences (seguing Minor Threat and Discharge with more metallic elements). He also looks at key bands in Europe, with the focus unsurprisingly on Scandinavia, and how black metal came to usurp death metal in the 1990s.
There is a real "decline and fall" narrative as the 1990s are documented, with Earache Records at its heart: their hook-up with a major label, the failure of their bands to break through, the unpopular retreat into electronic music (it wasn't unpopular with us, mind, because some of Earache's 'dance' stuff was amazing, and of course some of it came from members and ex-members of some of their erstwhile metal acts). One band at the heart of Earache's rise and fall was, of course, Carcass, and their ever-melodramatic story is played out through the words of Bill Steer and others, from the muddy rush of their first album through to their blossoming with "Heartwork" and then back to their rather stilted swansong (yep, "Swansong"). The book doesn't omit to mention the vegan / vegetarian angle to those early Carcass albums, either, as well as confirming our long-held suspicion that Steer got much of the inspiration for his er, "technical" lyrics by rifling through his sister's medical textbooks.
The book on the other hand is not technical, much as there would be scope for an Alex Ross-style treatise on DM given the incredible complexity and skill behind the playing, but there are some diverting clues as to how the bands managed to play as fast as they did: some of it was friendly competition; some of it was listening to traded tapes that played too quickly because they had been recorded via ropey cassette decks; much of it involved drummers having to practice by playing along to their rock albums spun at 45rpm, because no records yet existed that were as fast as they wanted to go.
The real testament to "Choosing Death", as with all good books, is that it sends you back to the source material. So I dug out my "Gods Of Grind" CD, and the Entombed tracks are marvellous. I dug out the "Choosing Death" CD and re-listened to it and whilst none of it had really improved (after Siege, Repulsion and Napalm it still kind of tails off for me), I wouldn't even have given them another chance were it not for Mudrian's engagement and purpose.
* * * * *
And Dale Griffin ? Well, yes, he was once the drummer in Mott the Hoople. But he is a recurring character in relation to bands described in all three of these books, courtesy of his later day job of recording Peel Sessions at the BBC's Maida Vale studios. Portrayed as a baddie by all and sundry for his obvious lack of patience with the chaotic lo-fi noise being made on his watch by unkempt and sullen young adults, it seems fair to say that he despaired of many of the bands that came into his studio, but as far as we can tell he largely bore this with great fortitude. However high his hackles rose, he nevertheless contributed to what, in many cases, turned out to be stunning Peel sessions. Nobody else seems to be actively praising him for his role in all this, but we think they really should, and note with some sadness that he has apparently been suffering from Alzheimer's over recent years. We wish him well, and salute him as a *true* professional.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Talk About The Past


(Book reviews, part one - Mike Jay and Ian Haddrell "Geoff Bradford: Bristol Rovers Legend": Edward Giles "Bristol Rovers: The Bert Tann Era": Keith Dewhurst "Underdogs")
Music is boring, isn't it ? Books, on the other hand, are the new crack, apparently. So it's fine - and not in any way a craven acceptance of the crushing triumph of capitalism over education - for Waterstones (formerly Waterstone's, but apparently that apostrophe was so difficult) et al to fill their window displays with authors of the calibre of Katie Price, Pippa Middleton or A.N. Other Bloke Off The Telly, because as soon as someone buys said volume it becomes a "gateway" drug leading to a lifelong addiction to the wonderful wider world of literature, and within days they'll be insatiably glugging down Proust and Baudelaire in the original French. Such classical delicacies are way beyond us at this hour, mind, so for this post we'll stick to non-fiction.
While wilfully refusing to review any records (UKIP-defying Euro-techno aside), we were reading Mike Jay and Ian Haddrell's biography of Geoff Bradford. Mr Bradford, for those of you who may somehow be unfamiliar with the post-war playing roster of Bristol Rovers, was an old-fashioned centre-forward, a remarkable striking talent.
Just to be clear: this is a man who played for England. While at Bristol Rovers. Unsurprisingly, nobody else has ever done that. Bristol-born Geoff bothered the Denmark net, too, in that one England match in 1955, leaving his all-time international goalscoring record to stand for the rest of eternity at a fairly impressive one goal per game. And this wasn't at a time when England had the thin pickings striker-wise that we've since become accustomed to: Geoff took his bow in a five-man forward line alongside Jackie Milburn, Tom Finney, Nat Lofthouse and Don Revie. Now *that*, in the words of the Pastels, is a classic line-up (plus, as Geoff would find to his cost, there was a fresh-faced youngster called Johnny Haynes coming up on the rails). (Despite not having been alive while it existed, we desperately *miss* 2-3-5, even to the extent that our all-time Rovers XI - of players we've actually seen - lines up roughly thus: Parkin; Tillson (c), Yates; Astafjevs, Maugé, Skinner; Stewart, Lambert, White, Roberts, Hayles).
The book recounts a strangely topical yarn, too. By the start of the 1960s, Geoff had already proved a great servant to the club (making his début in 1949, he was to spend his whole fifteen-year playing career with the Rovers). However, he then found himself shunned by the dressing room because he didn't agree with the younger players, who were agitating for removal of the footballers' maximum wage (this was at the time that Jimmy Hill was leading the PFA into battle on the subject). Geoff didn't, it seems, object to increasing the wage cap, but he did have the foresight to know the endgame of abolition: that one day, players would be overpaid rather than underpaid, the payer of the piper would call the tune, and all bets (pun intended) would be off as to the integrity of the game (yes, it is a game, and bobbins to all those overgrown children, bred on Sky and "EPL" hype, who tell you it's a just "business" now, usually as a way of justifying the latest atrocious free market assault on this once-great sport).
Geoff's loyalty to Rovers (and, some might say, his resolutely old-fashioned nature) was epitomised in 1961, when Bill Shankly came calling, but Geoff decided to stay in Bristol rather than decamp to Anfield. After retiring, he would spend the rest of his working days based in Avonmouth, driving a petrol tanker. And that wasn't even his first driving job: as the book recalls, even in his prime Geoff used to spend the close season driving a van around Bristol, selling lemonade.
So. As you know, we don't have much time for obsequious hero-worship or eulogy: Gang of Four's "Not Great Men" usually sets us straight on that. But as far as anyone can tell, Geoff Bradford really was a good guy, a fine footballer and a great ambassador for a sport that has now largely been ruined by cigar-chomping charlatans. He deserves this thorough and reverent biography.
* * * * *
"The Bert Tann Era" by Edward Giles deals with another Eastville legend. Londoner Bert Tann never played in the blue and white quarters: but he managed the side from 1950 to 1968 (and was on the club staff from 1948 until he died in 1972, aged only 58). This was a period of phenomenal strength for the Pirates which included, in January 1956, possibly their finest ever performance: the 4-0 FA Cup demolition of the Busby Babes, the same Manchester United team that was on its way to winning the Football League title that season (anyone remember the Football League ?) at an absolute *canter*. (And yes, a certain Geoff Bradford was on the scoresheet that day). Rovers, however, would miss out on promotion to the First Division at the end of the season by a mere four points, and it's generally thought to be no coincidence that Rovers, having been second in mid-April, fell away just at the point Bradford was out of the side through injury.
At the heart of Tann's reign was his "no buy, no sell" policy, the kind of thing that would make Harry Redknapp's head implode but that, aided by the minimum wage (a disincentive for players to jump ship and swim for better financial climes), helped many a club build well-knit squads of largely local talent. For those of us following Rovers in the last two decades, and witnessing the inevitable departures to higher planes of Marcus Stewart, Bobby Zamora, Jason Roberts, Scott Sinclair, Rickie Lambert, Junior Agogo, Nathan Ellington, Barry Hayles, Gareth Taylor, Jamie Cureton, Will Hoskins, Mustafa Carayol etc bloody etc, it's a salutary reminder of what could be achieved by such stability (accepting, of course, that it's a financial inevitability for clubs these days to succumb to the lure of the cheque book). The curtain came down on "no buy, no sell" of course when - despite Geoff Bradford's reservations - the maximum wage was eventually torpedoed. Indeed, only a year after Tann's death, another Bristolian Rovers recruit, Larry Lloyd, did what Geoff Bradford had not and joined up with Shankly at Liverpool, where he went on of course to achieve great success.
(A reverie: fast forward to 12th February, 2011. I am sitting in the stands at Orient, watching Dave Penney's Bristol Rovers side succumb to their fifth league defeat in 14 calendar days, a 4-1 spanking taking the total goals conceded over that fortnight to a fairly hefty nineteen. The Penney era lasted less than two months: in retrospect, the only surprise is the fact that included a whole 23 days after that Brisbane Road reverse. Bert, God rest his soul, would rightly have turned in his grave.)
Again, the book is full of insight. I hadn't realised, for example, that none other than Eddie Hapgood (who was he, you say ? Only much-admired 1930s captain of Arsenal and England, that's who) was another Bristolian, and one who was offered a contract by Rovers after turning out for the reserves. He rejected it, though. (Perhaps understandably, you won't find that on the blurb written in his name on the side of the Arsenal stadium at Ashburton Grove).
There are also reminders of the football authorities' diffidence to the fact that Rovers shared their stadium with a greyhound track, and the long-held view of the FA that gambling should have as little to do with football as possible. It's all rather touching, when set against your typical half-time commercial ad-break these days: betting firm advert, betting firm advert, Wonga advert, betting firm advert, repeat until skid row. The FA today are evidently - to use a Mandelsonism euphemism - "relaxed" about the gambling industry's continued encroachment on / annexation of the game.
* * * * *
But I know what you're thinking. Typical hipster blogger, going on about mid-20th century football. What about *real* football, decades before those johnny-come-latelys like Stan Matthews turned up with their fancy footwork and wizard dribbles ? What you want is something on the game in the true golden days, the nineteenth century, when men were men and a football weighed as much as a baby whale.
Try Keith Dewhurst's "Underdogs", then. It's ostensibly a book about Darwen FC's giantkilling run in the 1879 FA Cup. But of course it's about much more than that. It's impossible for a story about football not to be fascinating when it deals, so skilfully, with the era when the game was growing up, and crossing over from the public schools to the northern working towns. It's full of both interpersonal stories and intriguing details: how Darwen's ultimate nemeses, Old Etonians, could choose whether or not to play extra-time after a draw, and whether the replay should be in Lancashire or at the Kennington Oval (unsurprisingly, they opted for the latter). How even in those days, clubs could create journeymen professionals by tempting them from their home with promises of better-paid work (Darwen featured two talented Scotsmen, Fergus Suter and Jimmy Love, who in moving to the English mill town first laid the trail, perhaps, for the international mercenaries of today).
We would eagerly clutch more books on that era to our hearts. Maybe one about noble Upton Park, who withdrew from the FA Cup in protest when matched with a professional side. Or about the pioneering Clapham Rovers, who gave south London a rare taste of FA Cup glory in 1880. About the side Rovers conquered, Oxford University, claiming the prize six years before, something that feels rather more significant a sporting achievement than winning every other boat race. About the princely, peripatetic Wanderers, the first club team to dominate the trophy. About the great early rivalry of the two Blackburns, Rovers and Olympic. About Preston North End's unbeaten League and Cup double under the captaincy of Fred Dewhirst, one of the greatest ever England players (oh, the laughably-branded EBJT and his ilk would not be fit to tie Fred's outsized bootlaces). About the Black Arabs of Bristol who would eventually become the (not so mighty) Rovers of Bristol.
And "Underdogs" also, of course, acts as a stark reminder of how the FA, the most craven and supine organisation on the planet, now seemingly as spineless and as relevant as a trilobite, colluded in the watering-down of the FA Cup, what should still be the jewel in their crown, the world's first football competition. Since 1871/72, a season-long celebration of all the wonders and all the levels of the English game, culminating in a showpiece final. Its width and history are incomparable and, if tendered with the absolute minimum of competence and respect, no other competition would be capable of competing with it. Indeed, to mess up the FA Cup, to demean that legacy, requires rather more than mere incompetence. The trophy which bears their name rings with over 140 years of history: yet they bow down instead to the shrill call of modern marketing ephemera, of the ludicrous over-importance of those who actively pretend there was nothing before there was the Premership, or EPL, or whatever its acolytes call it these days.
Thankfully, these books are pertinent reminders that it wasn't always this way, and the joy that's still to be had when we learn about how things once were.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Something Special (Out And About)

Right. What now ? Ah yes. Three gigs, arrayed around the N1/N5 border: imagine a north London rip of the Korea DMZ, but with better kebab shops and a blue plaque to Joe Meek.

First came Wu-Block, the East Coast pairing of child of the Wu-clan and longtime world leader in gnarled MC-ing, Ghostface Killah, and his less celebrated sidekick, L.O.X. mainstay Sheek Louch. The two took to the Garage stage with the air a thick, encrusted fog of ganja and dry ice. Buoyed by champagne and dope, the decidedly non-straightedge Sheek and Ghost are genial hosts: whilst the set launched into life with hard & uncompromising turntablist rattle and vocal barrage, their demeanour was ever-avuncular, their between-song banter postively benign.

Towards the end of their allotted hour or so, when they'd clearly run out of Wu-Block material that they could be bothered to plunder (Ghostface also strangely deciding to eschew any mention of his own pending solo LP) they instead embarked on an entertaining karaoke / improv session, urging the DJ to spin random platters for them rather than attempt any actual, y'know, songs. There was also a bold, but in the end extremely successful take on "Protect Ya Neck", which involved brave / foolhardy audience members joining them to deliver the verses. And there was a Biggie tribute, as that bearhug of a bassline from "Hypnotise" briefly filled (and thrilled) the room. Boy, that man had *skills*. R.I.P.

* * * * *

Next, we rocked up to the Hope & Anchor to see laconic social commentator Will Hung, multi-instrumentalist and Branagh lookalike John Procter and ex-Voice Of The Beehive bassist and champion starer, Martin Brett. The three will be known to anyone who has read this blog for any length of time by their collective moniker: I, Ludicrous.

I, Ludicrous would be the first to admit their thrall to the Fall. The lyrics to "Bloody Proud", "My Favourite Records" and "Never Been Hit By Mark E. Smith" are all testament to that, even before you throw in just how many I, L songs musically bristle with juddering, eighteen wheeler Fall-isms (tonight's main culprit being the brilliant "Argument In The Launderette") and the fact that I, L can often be spotted as paying punters at Fall gigs, even when they're not actually playing at them (over the years, they've suffered the vicissitudes of M.E.S. adding them to one Fall tour without telling them, and, many years later, chucking them unceremoniously off another one).

But there is one aching vista between the two bands, we suppose. Smith's lyrics and themes are complex, high-level and obscure, a mix of Ballardisms, sci-fi and his carefully curated persona of hip Northern priest / angry drunken uncle. I, Ludicrous, on the other hand never pretend to be other than *grounded*. Their songs make wider points about humanity all the time, but the subject-matter is relentlessly parochial: naming names, they gleefully write songs about themselves, their mates, the places they've worked ("When I Worked At Textline"), the watering holes they've drunk in ("Hackey's Wine Bar"), the house parties they've been to ("Graham Drew's Party"), their most esteemed 45s (that'll be "My Favourite Records" again). Tonight, we get the middle two of those.

There were new tunes too ("Chinese Businessman" was one, I think) as well as old ("My Baby's Got Jet Lag", the fabulous "Fabulous" and the not-so-hot "Chav It Up"), and along the way they promised us a new album in "about 2016", but the set's twin peaks were supplied when they revisited both sides of their most legendary flexi-disc: the strangely moving period piece "Three English Football Grounds" and Festive 50 bullet "Preposterous Tales", a last-orders tale of beer-fuelled exaggeration that frankly never grows stale. By way of hastily arranged encore, we also get "We're The Support Band", their insightfully dour tribute to interminable support acts. Age shall not wither them: even the fact that Will sports a Bullet For My Valentine T-shirt can't take the shine off this performance.

* * * * *

And then, back to the Garage, we witness another trio, Repulsion. From Flint in Michigan, a name that nods to Polanski, but lyrics that leap from the pages of horror comics. The band whose tape-traded initial demo over 25 years ago effectively went "viral" and inspired the likes of Napalm Death over the water. Yet tonight, Repulsion are playing their first ever headline show in the UK (and only their second ever set in this country). As you would want, it's tight, merciless, head-down, almost tending towards the functional, but you have to concentrate because it's gone in a blink, a mere half an hour or so of piledriving drumming, occasional thrash-inspired and very short guitar solos, and a fug of high-speed noise from which discernible riffs sometimes break through, just as they did on that legendary demo.

They open, as they always have, with "The Stench Of Burning Death", doubly familiar since its intro was purloined by their Anglo admirers in Napalm for the latter's Peel Session version of "Deceiver". They punishingly pump out songs like "Spattered Cadavers", "Slaughter Of The Innocent", "Crematorium", "Six Foot Under" and a hungry, cranked-up and crunching "Driven To Insanity". They delve into covers territory twice: Slaughter and Venom (so no great surprises there). They dedicate a mid-set "Radiation Sickness" - one of their most complete songs - to the memory of the recently departed Jeff Hannemann. They replay "Helga (Lost Her Head)", one of the few products of their brief and overlooked 1991 'comeback'. They finish with the rousing double-strike of "Black Breath" and their unlikelily-titled signature tune, "Maggots In Your Coffin". They even reappear for a perfunctory if welcome two-song encore, and so "Horrified" still rings in our ears as we the sated punters spill back out on to the Holloway Road. It's not been astonishing: this was a bow from the old wave of grind, rather than the force of new wave nature that blew us away when we saw Wormrot a couple of years back. But it *has* been a more-than-satisfying skip down a leafily luscious memory lane.