10. Psychic TV with With Tiny Lights, Zoskia Meets Sugardog, English Boy On The Love Ranch, Webcore. Hackney Empire, July 3 1987
June 1987 was taken up with hay fever and sitting my ‘A’ levels. I wasn’t very confident. I’d managed to pass nine ‘O’ levels a couple of years before but hadn’t dealt with the increasing demands of the sixth form all that well. I was doing subjects that didn’t suit me, I hated most of the teachers (and indeed a good few of the other pupils) and was easily distracted by music, fanzines and mad stuff I’d got out of the library.
There was a fair bit of parental pressure to knuckle under and succeed. I didn’t respond well to that either. So I sat in the exam room nervously and did what I could. The stakes were pretty high – if I got good enough grades then I could leave the parental home and live somewhere much more exciting as a University student. If not, well I was fucked. Maybe, it was suggested, I might consider working in a bank?
I left school for the last time and tried to put all of that to the back of my mind. The results weren’t due for a few months. Time to cram in as much as possible.
This gig was a BIG DEAL. After a couple of years of being obsessed with Psychic TV (even more than I was obsessed with lots of other things) this was the first time I got to see them in the flesh.
Various envelopes with funny symbols rubberstamped on them had been winging their way to me in the post from PTV HQ and I’d amassed a fair amount of literature and interviews with Genesis P-Orridge also. Not to mention faithfully trogging down to Our Price every month to see if they had the latest installment of the Live LP Series, and slowly amassing the back catalogue via 2nd hand shops in London and classified ads in Record Collector magazine.
Psychic TV were still flush from the success of the “Godstar” single (“It’s about Brian Jones, the one of the Rolling Stooooones”) and surrounding exposure. This “hyperdelia” was a definitive break from their previous “skulls/skinheads/scarification” phase, although the sub-VU influences were present from day one. I seem to recall that people attending this gig were encouraged not to wear black. Which probably means my clothes were even shitter than usual.
We knew which direction to go in when we got out at Bethnal Green tube because we’d been to the Empire already to see Test Dept. Oh how we delighted in pointing this out to anyone who looked vaguely like they might be going to the gig, which generated a singular lack of acclaim. We didn’t care, we were just well up for it.
I’d rung up the venue several times before the tickets had even been printed, such was my youthful eagerness. We’d been allocated seats in the 3rd row. I was very very excited. The audience was a suitably mashed up selection of mid-80s London subcultures – goths, punks, industrial skinheads, traveller hippies, straight looking types. A lot of weird t-shirts, a lot of tattoos and piercings. A lot of people clamouring around the merchandise stall, myself and Wal included.
I spent as much money as my zeal allowed. Wal bought a black t-shirt featuring two people shagging on a psychic cross (like on the yellow flyer above. “Oh… That’s, ah… nice, Wal…” – my Mum). I got a more modest one with the cross hidden behind some psychedelic flames. Plus a sew on patch, plus some badges and probably some records as well. If they had been selling Psychic TV fag lighters and car tax holders then I would have bought them too, even though I didn’t smoke or drive. I was so ripe for manipulation it must have been hilarious. Or terrifying. Or perhaps just slightly endearing.
We wandered around, soaking it all in. I spent as much time looking at my fellow gig goers as I did the acts on stage. Most of the support bands were on PTV’s own Temple Records.
I think we must have headed up to the balcony to check out Tiny Lights (quite good psych folk), English Boy on The Love Ranch (synth pop / proto techno / hi-nrg, featuring Dave Ball out of Soft Cell) and Zoskia Meets Sugardog (industrial funk with live sampling, featuring the legendary John Gosling). I don’t think any of them were on for very long.
None of them were all that memorable I’m afraid. The non-PTV Temple Records roster was a regular fixture of the MVE bargain bins in the late 80s and does contain some jewels as well as some nonsense. Turning Shrines were always a favourite of mine – an early project by Fred Giannelli, who would go on to collaborate with Richie Hawtin on Plus 8 records
Webcore were pretty great – electronic psychedelia which encapsulated PTV’s ideas about making “acid dance” music. I know Genesis P-Orridge has tried to blag his way into history by inferring that he had quite a lot to do with the creation of acid house, which is pretty spurious – but PTV were most definitely talking about making “acid dance” music around 86/87. (See also “Dr Ecstasy” on the flyer above). Webcore were definitely a product of the free festival Hawkwind/Ozrics traveller scene but were using drum machines instead of wibbly guitar freakouts. That eventually bled into things like The Orb, Club Dog, Spiral Tribe and perhaps even (shudder) Goa Trance over the ten years that followed.
Webcore had a nice manic edge to them and my mate Wal was well into it. Yet another stamped addressed envelope was sent off and I got back a nice letter and load of very hippyish flyers. I sent off for their “The Great Unfolding” cassette, which the good people of Kill Your Pet Puppy have duly uploaded here. Worth a listen if the above hasn’t put you off.
And then, Psychic TV. Why did I like them so much? Well, I think they were just a really good window into several other worlds. The ideas were more important than the music for me (which, I have to say, explains a lot when you hear some of the records!). I liked all the subversive anti-religious stuff, I liked the pseudo culty vibe to it, I liked all the stuff about self exploration and sexuality. I liked noise and William Burroughs and all that stuff. There was a wide streak of compassionate libertarianism running underneath the brutality, at least I hoped so. If I’m honest I liked the obscurity of it all, the vast amount of things which could be collected – records, books, ideas.
I wasn’t even doing it to annoy my parents – after the numerous arguments around the dinner table I went for the quiet option for a lot of what interested me. Eyebrows were raised a year later when a really heavy 10 inch psychic cross made of solid steel turned up in the post. Not to mention what I was posting to people myself, but that’s a digression best left for another time.
At his best, Genesis P-Orridge is one of the most charismatic people I have ever seen on a stage. He came on to rapturous applause, took a look around the Empire and said “Well they were saying in the music papers that nobody would come to this, I don’t know about that…”
I can’t remember the line up but I don’t think either Alex Fergusson or Fred Giannelli were involved that night. Gen was pretty intense, getting right in people’s faces. Including mine, as I was pressed right up against the stage, soaking it all in like a true believer. Wooo! Musically this may not stand up as their best gig, but it was a pretty intense experience for an intense teenager. I am sure the set included a couple of live fixtures of the time like “Riot in the Eye” and also some new takes on old tunes like “Unclean” and “Twisted”. There were also some wibbly ambient pieces which I remember not liking so much. Psychedelia maaaaaaaan – and I still thought I was more of a punk than a hippy, of course.
I do remember being profoundly affected by the massive projections, however. I’d never seen imagery like Catalan before – an incredible dreamy surrealist piece shot by Derek Jarman in the outskirts of Barcelona and starring Jordi Valls of Vagina Dentata Organ. All of the early PTV films were really powerful back then – we didn’t even have a video at home so the only way I could check this stuff was on a massive screen with the band doing a live freakout soundtrack.
There was also some heckling – people shouting “Godstar” and other stuff (“Weetabix!” for example – wtf? Presumably a rubbish pun on “porridge”). I have a memory of Genesis being pretty adamant that they weren’t going to do Godstar. Which is pretty odd for a gig organised on the 20th anniversary of Brian Jones’ death. Maybe they were sick of it, or maybe it was too much of a product of the studio (and the absent Rose MacDowell’s harmonies?). I enjoyed the banter between Gen and the audience anyway – this was a fucking great gig.
But then I discovered that my wallet wasn’t in my trouser pocket any more. The gig was over, I was scrabbling around an emptying venue trying to find my train ticket. And the remainder of my money. And feeling a bit scared, frankly – how the fuck was I going to get home? Had I dropped it amongst the dancing throng or had one of these sinister hippy occultists nicked it? My partner in crime had spent all his money as well so a loan was out of the question.
There was talk of an after party around the corner at Club Mankind (a squatted venue where the Hackney Central Club is now located). We had no idea where that was and didn’t fancy wandering the dark streets trying to find it and blag our way in. A vague plan about walking back to Kings Cross and bunking the train was hatched.
But then Peter Rehberg showed up and heroically mentioned that he could give us a lift home in his car and why the fuck hadn’t we mentioned that we were coming anyway?
After that Peter’s beaten up blue VW Beetle became my preferred method of transport to London gigs.
And my wallet? The next day I pestered the Hackney Empire again, on the off-chance. It was posted to me a few days later, completely intact with my bank card, remaining money and even my new psychic cross patch inside. “Yes we’ve got it. Apparently it turned up backstage.” Hmmm, I thought. They can’t be that bad then…