With thanks to @spitzenprodukte
John Eden: BM Box 3641, London WC1N 3XX, England
Archive for the ‘t-shirts’ Category.
As part of the post-hack clean up, I found a few drafts of things I’ve not been able to finish – here is the first… comment welcome!
Some musings on Sigue Sigue Sputnik and their hyper-glamorised capitalism.
A wilfully optimistic reading of Mclaren’s “Rock N Roll Swindle” was that punk aimed to make ”cash from chaos” as a fall back position. If you fail to destroy society, you may as well be rich.
“a group has to represent what’s exciting around in the world today”
- Tony James, South of Watford TV documentary on Sigue Sigue Sputnik, 1986
Sigue Sigue Sputnik revelled in products, affluence and multinational corporations like Sony and EMI. Not because these things signified wealth and success, but because they were exciting in and of themselves. Tony James (the band’s defacto ideas man) had previously been a punk alongside Billy Idol in Generation X. Punk’s DIY “get off your arse” ethos translates well in to the business world – every “self made millionaire” has exactly the same attitude.
But before we get to Sputnik and their 80s “sado capitalism”, what are the precedents for bohemians adopting the aesthetics of commerce?
As Stewart Home has noted, the mail art movement had parodied and imitated bureaucracy from the early 70s onwards:
“Most of those participating used the new ‘hot medium’ of xerox alongside old fashioned rubber stamps. Certificates were produced in great number, which, like the rubber stamps, were used to parody officialdom.” (The Assault On Culture, Chapter 13)
Mail art was influenced by Fluxus. Genesis P-Orridge participated in both these movements and would continue to imitate and parody the structures and signs of corporate bureaucracy with Industrial Records, Throbbing Gristle’s “Annual Reports” and Psychic TV as band/TV Station/cult.
At the end of the seventies Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister and Johnny Rotten became John Lydon, director of Public Image Limited: “We’re a communications company, not a group”.
The transformation happened immediately after Rotten has spent three weeks in Jamaica with hip capitalist Richard Branson, scouting out talent for Virgin’s “Frontline” reggae sub-label: “Virgin offered me a job. It was the perfect break for me after the Sex Pistols split up.”
Early interviews with the band include reference to six Company Directors, including their accountant and Jeanette Lee (a non-musician who helped with mixing down tracks, video and interviews – Lee is now co-director of Rough Trade).
PiL’s business focus was a result of their frustrations with the music industry (being dictated to, being tied up in legal hassles) and a lack of autonomy. Adopting the guise of a businessman is punk’s DIY translated from the artistic to the economic. Like punk, it demystifies the role of “the artist” – as a special category for people with divine inspiration. But it also assumes that the corporate model is the correct/best one…
The PiL Corporation was followed by Heaven 17 and their “British Electric Foundation”
“The BEF are not just a group, they are a registered company with Marsh, Ware and Bob Last as the three shareholders – a business enterprise that is truly enterprising, and the essential tightness of The BEF is based around its organisation.
Ware: “What we’re doing is a much more realistic way of approaching things, you have just got to get out of the old cliched way of organising groups. I think that there are going to be more organisations like this in the future, with more of a business ambience about them.
I don’t think PiL have succeeded at all, they’re still just a group. Let’s face it, Public Image Limited are a moderately successful group. I can’t see any evidence of them being a business organisation at all.
I think that people may find it interesting, in as much as it’s an entirely different way of organising ones’ abilities and creative talents. It’s just getting away from the standard format of how groups are organised.”
So you’re trying to create an almost Tamla-like stable of artists?
Ware: ”Yes, because obviously it gives you more flexibility, and it also enables you to close down an enterprise that is not paying off. Not just financially, but also artistically.”
From an interview in Sounds, 11 April 1981 online here.
Ware, in the thrall of the business model calls for cutting of red tape, downsizing, flexibility. Heaven 17′s modus operandi here is very similar to the gradual breaking up of large workplaces in the into smaller units (with the consequent reduction in the influence of collective bargaining for workers). Or at least it would be if they had ended up being in any way distinguishable from any other group. As time passed there seemed to be less and less mention of BEF and more focussing on the core business of the Heaven 17 brand.
Sigue Sigue Sputnik might be the first band to admit that their branding was more important than the music. Indeed, Tony James never allowed record executives to hear SSS demo tracks, instead playing them a short video collage of futuristic and science-fiction movie clips.
The group signed to EMI, reportedly for 4 million quid. This arrangement was celebrated and presumably exagerated – in stark contrast to anarcho punks like Conflict who identified Thorn EMI’s links with arms trading and gave EMI groups like New Model Army a hard time:
Conflict’s ascetic vegan anti-capitalism is the polar opposite of Sputnik’s total embrace of hi tech corporate culture. The video for “21st Century Boy” includes a shot of Martin Degville licking a Sony Discman. Sigue Sigue Sputnik embraced commercial sponsorship at a time when this was still thought of as massively uncool by most “serious” music fans.
They also provided the press with enough ammunition for either pro (slogans, excitement, good quotes, video) or anti (they can’t play, they are immoral, it glorifies sex and violence) coverage. According to James they were accompanied on a UK tour by tabloid journalist Garry Bushell who proposed that they entered News International’s Wapping compound on top of a tank as a publicity stunt during the lengthy picket by sacked printworkers. James et al didn’t do it (and haven’t said why) but Sam Fox did.
Ultra futurism dates quickly, but alongside the brick like mobile phones, corporate logos (Sony/EMI/Atari), anime, video nasties, et al – the group scored some bonafide “crystal ball” moments:
“Flaunt It”, the debut album, included adverts between the tracks for products like hair gel, youth culture magazines, the never-to-appear Sputnik video game, pirate TV station Network 21 and of course The Sputnik Corporation itself. This prefigures “free listening” services like Spotify which squeeze in ads between tracks.
Less plausibly Tony James also claims that their “Live TV” multimedia gig at The Royal Albert Hall influenced U2′s “Zooropa” tour. And the timestretching and pitch bending of the beats on “Love Missile F1-11″ has resonances with Jungle…
Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s futurism looks old now, not just because it’s out of date but because futurism itself seems quaint.
Does anyone still sing about the future in utopian terms to escape from the harsh realities of the present? Maybe people realise that, whilst things are bad now, the future is going to be much worse.
Space travel has become mundane, computers have merely heralded new ways of shopping, new forms of alienation. And even shopping is less possible now.
Business, boardrooms and commerce look less sexy in 2012. Not because of the triumph of art or anti-capitalism, but because of the failures of business. Perhaps the re-emergence of the boardroom fetish will be the first signs of the recovery…
But a lot of those featured aren’t actually all that improbable, I guess.
Maybe Ashlee Simpson is such a tortured soul that she regularly plays the first three Sabbath albums on rotation?
For all I know David Beckham, Miley Cyrus and Charlotte Church really do all share a deep and profound love for The Maiden?
Metal is funny like that – despite all the moral panics about Satan and head-banging health hazards, I don’t really think it has any kind of criticism of society at its core. I mean you can argue the toss about punk, but surely metal can simply be reduced to the youthful hedonism of rocking out and/or getting wasted, with some stuff about dragons thrown in for good measure?
I’ve written about my thankfully very brief brushes with metal and rawk before, but it’s not really my thing. So I can’t really work up much defensiveness or laughter when its imagery is used by celebs.
So y’know – if Britney wants to be into Led Zeppelin, fair enough!
But there is still part of me that has a weirdly protective attitude about punk. I actually find this troubling and hilarious in equal measures. Disentangling my own bizarre personality traits is the reason for this series about t-shirts I guess. (That, and posting photographs of attractive bare-armed young ladies seems to have a positive effect on my blog views, for some reason…)
Getting back on track, here is Lindsay Lohan wearing some garms from eighties California hardcore punk groups:
And “It Girl” Alexa Chung in a “Am I more skeletal than my t-shirt?” pose.
(with thanks to Sharon)
This is Sir Philip Green, the billionaire boss of Topshop, Dorothy Perkins and Miss Selfridge among others.
These UK companies are part of Green’s Arcadia Group which is in turn owned by Taveta Investments Limited, which is registered to an office on the tax-haven island of Jersey. Taveta Investments is owned by Green’s family members living in Monaco, where income tax is 0%. It has been estimated that this set up enabled Green to avoid paying £300million in tax in 2005 alone.
Sir Philip was a vocal supporter of David Cameron, George Osbourne and the Conservatives before last year’s election.
Incredibly, he was asked to assist the coalition government with its spending review after it had been elected – a tax evader deciding on how tax revenue should be spent on services he doesn’t need to use.
The UK government has said with sinister monotony that tough choices have to be made in the current economic climate and that “we’re all in it together”. The tough choices have resulted in misery for ordinary people as wages have been frozen or reduced whilst Value Added Tax has been increased. Not to mention savage cuts to the welfare state and high levels of job insecurity.
(image above from Harpymarx blog)
So it’s hardly surprising that people got pissed off about this and protested at Arcadia shops in the run up to Christmas. What is more surprising is that these protests received reasonably positive coverage in right wing rags like the Daily Mail.
But what’s this got to do with the Sex Pistols, you might ask?
Well, after the protests Sir Philip spent the Christmas period at a £17,000-a-night Barbados resort with his family. Oh and his super rich chums Simon Cowell, Michael Winner and Sylvester Stallone. In fact Green likes his friends so much that he’s immortalised them on a special t-shirt:
Comparing himself to the Sex Pistols is clearly Green’s great new wheeze, because here he is again, this time with himself and his wife as Sid ‘n’ Nancy:
Punk was always a mixed bag of left and right influences, but surely a Billionaire Tory appointee like Green using Jamie Reid’s logo to bolster his own bogus “rebel” status is the ultimate in recuperation?
Or perhaps not – a number of people have pointed out that Green bears a striking resemblance to Sex Pistols guest vocalist and train robber Ronnie Biggs. But whilst Biggs and his accomplices in the great train robbery were convicted of stealing £2.6 million in 1963, Sir Philip’s ambitions are far greater – and completely untroubled by judicial complications.
It’s been a while since I did one of these so here goes:
First up Audrina Patridge wearing an Exploited t-shirt.
And OK, I’d never heard of her either, but apparently she’s a US reality TV show star who features in the lyrics of Tinie Tempah’s “Pass Out”:
Heidi and Audrina eat your heart out,
I used to listen to you dont wanna bring arms house
I got so many clothes I keeps em in ma aunts house,
Disturbing London baby we about to branch out
So that adds some early grime to the mix as well (Demon’s “you don’t wanna bring arms house / I’ll bring arms house to your Mum’s house / you don’t wanna bring no beef / bring some beef you’ll lose some teeth”).
I wonder what Audrina’s favourite Exploited song is?
Mild disquiet was expressed last year when Beyonce wore a t-shirt onstage with the words “punk ass motherfucker” and “Never Mind The Bollocks” on it “amongst other obscenities”
Finally, here is model Georgia Frost wearing a Sex Pistols t-shirt and a Prada skirt.
But if these attractive young ladies and their context-free fashion makes you seethe, just wait until the next installment…
22. Throbbing Gristle Ltd. Astoria, 3rd June 1988.
The Apocalypse Club put some good events on after the main gig of the night at the Astoria had finished. I remember weighing up whether I could get to see Into A Circle there after the Butthole Surfers gig at ULU, until my sister grassed me up to my parents for thinking about being out so late. Actually, I think they said it was up to me but I figured I’d better play it safe (being the revolutionary psychonaut that I was, ha ha!)
I was mystified and excited when I saw “Throbbing Gristle Ltd” in small print in the NME listings. I rang up the Astoria and the person on the other end didn’t really know much about it but muttered something along the lines of “yes I think they’re reforming for it”. At the time that was completely unthinkable, but that didn’t stop me handing over my Mum’s credit card details for a ticket.
Throbbing Gristle had played their last gig on 29th May 1981 at Kezar Pavillion, San Francisco. I wasn’t able to make it for various reasons including being eleven years old, living on another continent and never having heard of them.
By the mid eighties I had become an industrial music obsessive and knew that the group had split up pretty acrimoniously after that gig – and that the various parties had made snide comments about each other in interviews ever since.
TG product was readily available in the eighties courtesy of the Mute Records reissues of their albums. Needless to say I was too purist for them and waited patiently until I got my hands on cheap copies of the Industrial Records originals (except for the ultra limited 2nd Annual Report which I got on Fetish).
It should go without saying that the first four “proper” LPs (2nd Annual Report, D.O.A., 20 Jazz Funk Greats and Heathen Earth) sounded earth-shattering to these ears in the mid eighties and still cut the mustard in 2010.
I can still remember working as a temp, changing the oil in lathes at a factory in Enfield one summer and spending my lunch hour sitting in some waste ground, eating my sandwiches and playing Throbbing Gristle on my walkman. Which made for a very noisy day.
The two RE/SEARCH books dealing with TG were staples of my weirdo library, with a wealth of information and trivia. I had resigned myself to never being able to see them live. And to be fair, I never have seen them live – not really. Because this wasn’t actually Throbbing Gristle, but Genesis & Paula P-Orridge, Scott Nobody and other PTV types.
There was no support band, just lots of anticipation – on my part at least. Wandering around the venue I spotted the obligatory merchandise stall selling the usual bits and bobs, but also some ridiculously rare artifacts like Heathen Earth on blue vinyl. There was a bit of a scrum for the “antique” items, so instead I got myself a TG LTD t-shirt with union jack a la Jack the Tab but with a TG lightning flash instead of the inverted peace sign. It was a bit fascist looking, which went with the territory.
Years later I spent some time rummaging around in the London patents office on a P-Orridge related mission. One of the guys working on the front desk saw the TG logo and mentioned that he used to march under it. I twigged that he was talking about Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists. In retrospect I should have pursued that further, but the guy clammed up a bit when he realised we weren’t on the same wavelength.
On the night in question I think the Coum Transmissions film “After Cease To Exist” may have been shown. At the time I would have paid six quid just to see that, such was its legendary status. Side two of TG’s first album is the soundtrack to the film – lots of sinister pulsing electronics which are soothing on the surface but somehow also manage to create a sense of unease. A lot the film itself is completely black (an idea borrowed from Guy Debord?) which means that the audience is plunged into darkness, waiting. I can’t remember much about the the actual footage you can see except that it features a staged castration of some unfortunate man.
TG Ltd performed reconstructions of Throbbing Gristle that were pretty good facsimiles of the original. Moody lighting, black and camouflage attire. Minimal, militaristic. Very different from the recent “hyperdelic” Psychic TV shows.
I remember a lot of rhythmic noise and electronics, out of which emerged the familiar sonic attributes of tracks like “Weapons Training”, “Persuasion”, “Hamburger Lady” and others. They were probably all the better for not being faithful tributes. Gen was clad in black, improvising heavily around the lyrics.
In many ways this satisfied the itch I had to witness PTV performing darker pre-”hyperdelic” material. Paula P-Orridge provided some vocal samples on tape from the PTV library, stuff like Charles Manson talking about being “scared to live”, “This is a fucking war!” from a zombie film via the Jack The Tab album, moans of female pleasure and pain.
“Discipline” was the grand finale, with the mighty Jordi Valls appearing onstage brandishing a whip, looking out of his mind. Some people down the front were losing it a bit, I think there was some ranty screaming going on. It was pretty intense.
But what was it all about? Genesis described it both as “a banishing ritual” and “to pay the telephone bill” at the time. He went on to explain his take on the event in an interview with the Swedish T.O.P.Y. magazine “Fenris Wolf”:
The continuing historification of TG after this gig has thankfully allowed old wounds to heal. Throbbing Gristle reformed in 2004 and have performed live and released a few albums. I have to confess that all of this has completely passed me by, although people who I respect tell me that they are doing good works. I’m glad they are still out there, causing trouble.
Meanwhile, back in 1988, my ‘A’ Level retakes were looming…
21. Skinny Puppy plus comedian. Fulham Greyhound, 21st May 1988.
This was a really sunny day, so a bit of drinking outside the venue was called for. I can’t remember much about the Greyhound except it was a bit of a hike from the nearest tube. I suspect I was still wearing a leather jacket and army surplus trousers despite the heat. And the obligatory t-shirt.The unwritten rule was that you couldn’t wear a t-shirt of a band which was actually on the bill, but you should try to wear one featuring an act which was similar, but more obscure.
In those days wearing a t-shirt signified being a true fan with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the band in question. At least it did for me. So, yes, I get annoyed by goons wearing Ramones shirts these days who can’t tell you three of their favourite tunes. (Off the top of my head: “Beat on the Brat”, “53rd and 3rd” and “Rockaway Beach”).
The St Albans stoner goth posse were in full effect at this gig. One of the things which put me off drugs as a teenager was that they seemed to make people really boring. I swear I spent whole afternoons sitting around while people argued over whose turn it was to skin up. And then talked bollocks to each other.
They were OK people despite all that – some of them let my mate Wal camp in their garden for a whole summer when he fell out with his parents. Plus it was good to widen the circle of people you traded tapes with. I remember getting a C90 with “Tackhead Tape Time” on one side and Portion Control’s “Psycho Bod Saves The World” on the other, as well as a whole tape of Skinny Puppy. I played the former more often, but Puppy definitely had something going for them.
It’s just a shame that the future gets old so quickly. A quick shonky download of “Cleanse Fold & Manipulate” and “Bites” reveals some cheesy orchestral synths, plodding beats and pantomime growly vocals. And some samples of evangelical preachers and horror film dialogue and all that. Death and War and Disease and stuff, yeah? YEAH? It’s like… WOAH!
Nevertheless this sound proved to be hugely influential with yer Slimelight cyber-goths. In fact you just have to add heavy metal guitars and you have the template for a load of groups which followed – albeit after having passed through the intestines of Trent Reznor. Needless to say, during this process a lot of the more experimental and ambiguous aspects of the original wave of industrial artists got left out.
Meanwhile another branch of industrial would shed any trace of rock music and converge with house and techno… but that’s a different story.
I have no idea who the warm up comedian was – he ranted on and threw raw sausages in the audience. Quite an odd billing.
Skinny Puppy had been heavily hyped in the music press, notably in the Melody Maker as part of Simon Reynolds’ rather dispersed Arsequake “movement”. Much was made of their singer, Ogre, mutilating himself onstage. This seemed to bring the ghouls out, baying for him to do something outrageous.
There were some theatrics with fake blood and masks and possibly a staged vivisection, I can’t really remember. What stays with me is a packed sweaty mosh pit and a pummeling wall of noise and synths.
Part one in a probably-not-very-expansive and very occasional series:
(*actually the classic t-shirt just had the logo on with no mention of Psychic TV, spotters).
I’d busied myself assembling a collection of virtually everything Psychic TV had ever done. Working back from the psych-pop of “Godstar” and the eclectic Live Albums Series to classic albums like “Force The Hand of Chance” and “Dreams Less Sweet” as well as more, ah, experimental/conceptual records (like a ballet soundtrack!). I completely immersed myself in the philosophy behind the records too, corresponding with various industrial outposts and of course PTV’s ideological wing: Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth.
It all seemed much more open-ended than other belief systems on the market, such as anarchism. And if truth be told it satisfied the neural needs which I’d developed during a lifetime of churchgoing. I found it all fascinating, but I’d never really got to grips with the finer details or met anyone who was attempting to put all this stuff into practice in their lives.
What were they like, these people you saw at gigs with all the mad occult tattoos? In my head they all lived lives of uncompromising orgiastic excitement. And I didn’t, obviously.
Then one day another mailout from TOPY HQ dropped through my parents’ letterbox. I scrambled upstairs with it before they asked me too many questions.
It was a flyer. A flyer for an event. It used some graphics from a recent Vague Magazine cartoon which good-naturedly took the piss out of TOPY (a homage to “Apocalypse Now” set in Hackney, with Genesis P-Orridge as Kurtz, naturally). This suggested a sense of humour lurking in the Temple, which was encouraging. Maybe they weren’t slavish cultists, maybe there was something in this?
There was no mention on the flyer of Psychic TV or the P-Orridges, which also interested me. Perhaps TOPY actually had a life of its own after all? Or was this just a cunning ploy to lure the gullible in? I didn’t really give a toss either way. I was going up to London to meet some sinister sex-magickians and that was that.
The venue was a specially procured squat in Holloway. I got off the train at Kings Cross and walked all the way up the Caledonian Road, I was that hyped up.
When I reached my destination about an hour later there were about 30 people milling about with shaven heads, combats and occult jewelry. It was dark. The street was lit by flickering flames from a burning brazier. It was like a scene out of Jarman’s “The Last of England” and I fucking loved it. But I was on my own and everyone else seemed in deep conversation.
Luckily I was put out of my social embarrassment by a kind soul who came up and proffered me a welcoming smile and another flyer from amongst a pile he had hidden inside his jacket:
I grabbed it with some excitement and probably gabbled away with about a million excruciating questions.
The flyer revealed that the venue had been abandoned because the police and fire brigade had taken too much an interest – they had actually contracted someone to demolish one of the building’s walls. This had undone weeks of preparation, but the resourceful old moles in TOPY had come up with another venue with a day to spare. I was told to get to Old Street and await further instructions.
I headed to Holloway tube station, eager to get to the main event. I found an equally earnest young man there, also covered in Psychic TV badges. Neither of us really knew what was going on, but we paired up and headed to Old Street together. I’d never heard of Old Street before. The tube station was deserted. But someone had sprayed a trail of psychick crosses to lead our way…
Outside the tube station, Old Street itself was also completely deserted. Seriously – a lot has changed in the last twenty years! There was literally nobody around and it was really dark. We followed the graffitti trail and carried on sussing each other out, chatting musical trivia ten to the dozen. The new venue seemed to be a massive warehouse. Which was also completely deserted and dark.
We found a pub called The Glue Pot and cautiously opened the door, not knowing what to expect – who the fuck comes to a pub in a deserted dark grim area of London? Did they like freaky industrial fanbwoys? If not, could we make it back to the tube OK? Luckily for us, the pub was also pretty deserted, except for half a dozen earnest young men with all the right insignia sitting around a table.
We sipped our well earned pints with some relief and bonded over tunes, gigs, weird ideas. Nobody there was actually involved with TOPY bar one older guy who I think had come down from Manchester. He seemed sound, as did everyone else.
After a few pints we headed over to the warehouse and were greeted by a squatter who I can only describe as resembling a Dickensian urchin – head to toe in dirty black rags, his face obscured by soot. He tried to sting us for an “entry fee” significantly higher than what we expected, so negotiations began in earnest.
There were a few people lounging around in the warehouse but it was mainly empty – the main mob from Holloway and/or Hackney was yet to turn up. It was the first squat I’d ever been in and curiosity was compelling me to have a wander. My traveling partner came along. The place was massive. Someone had sprayed “Foetus Art Terrorism” on one wall in huge black letters. It was, we agreed, a pretty awesome space.
We headed into yet another cavernous room with a low ceiling. At the other end of the room was a disheveled crusty. With an iron bar. The crusty started moving slowly towards us, brandishing the iron bar. Every time he passed under one of the strip lights he smashed it with the iron bar. Behind him lay darkness, in front of him – us.
He got closer and closer – smash, smash, smash went the lights. Glass on the floor. Quickly exchanged whispers between two virtual strangers.
Run? Fight? Stand rooted to the spot, gawping? We went for the latter option.
So there we were – stood in a cavernous dark room with iron bar man in front of us. There was a pause. He muttered something incomprehensible and carried on walking. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.
After that episode we decided to rejoin the main group, which had swelled in numbers. Scott Nobody from Psychic TV was around, as were some familiar faces from gigs. Some nice conversations were had. It turned out that the squatters were nothing to do with TOPY, which was something of a relief. Once again people seemed OK – impassioned and a bit eccentric, but they had their heads screwed on, for the most part.
I left before things kicked off properly – so I guess I wasn’t so far out that I wanted to miss the last train home. And I think I’d really turned up to check it out and talk to people rather than get down in an impromptu drumming ritual, so it was job done for me. The tube back to Kings Cross was deserted. I was buzzing.
20. Psychic TV, Spacemen 3, Hiding Place. Astoria, Sat Apr 30 1988.
So the Old Street happening wasn’t a gig, but it was the backstory to the Psychic TV Astoria bash which took place a week later. There were a few familiar faces there, so I had a bunch of people to hang out with. It was shortly before the proto acid house “Jack The Tab” album came out, so I remember a few of our number grumbling about the new direction. Which is funny, because we were all supposed to be about boundless experimentation and throwing off the shackles of conformity. But some people didn’t like deviating from the template too much.
I happened to love the Jack The Tab album anyway. As I’ve previously said, it did good things to my head – conjuring up an alternative reality where clubs were even greater and freakier.
I probably bought one of everything from the merchandise stall again. I used to enjoy wandering around St Albans of a weekend wearing a Psychic TV t-shirt and grimacing, so I needed to stock up.
I’m sure I enjoyed Spacemen 3. But I suspect PTV blew them away, because I remember this as being one of the best times I saw them.
The gig was released as part of the same Live Album as the Finsbury Park one. So I can tell you that it began with Genesis P-Orridge informing the crowd that Alex Sanders “The King of the Witches” had died earlier in the day so that the concert was dedicated to him and his battle to make witchcraft legal in the UK: “But the WAR goes ON!”
It’s a lot less “acid” than I remember, which is yet more proof that my memory of these things is much better than actual recordings of the events. Possibly because my recollection of the sound is more accurate, but more likely that my brain enhances both the sound and the other, social, aspects of what happened.
The gig ended with a long percussive freakout, a stage invasion, and large amounts of nudity. I’d come a long way since Howard Jones.
I ended up signing on at the local Higher Education College to study for ‘A’ Level resits a year later. Having done a round of visits to Universities and Polys I’d had a taste of student life and was all the more keen to get my head down and escape work and my parents for another few years.
Physics had been my worst failure – a “U” grade (Unclassified) indicating that I was now worse than when I’d passed a physics ‘O’ level two years previously. I tried to swap it for Philosophy, but nobody else wanted to take that, so I plumped for Psychology instead.
My other two subjects were retakes of Maths and Chemistry. On reflection I should have torn everything up and started from scratch.
College was a breath of fresh air after school – there were girls there and the staff mostly treated you like adults. My classmates were in the same situation as me – people who had screwed up their exams and were giving it another go. People who had learnt a bit of humility.
I responded quite well to all this regime initially and got my head down. This meant less gigs, not least because everyone I used to go out with had fucked off to a better life somewhere else. Wal had headed for Manchester, Peter had jammily managed to set himself up in Vienna. And so on.
I can’t really remember, but I might have gone to this by myself:
15. SWANS, Dave Howard Singers, The Sugarcubes. Town & Country Club, 14th October 1987.
Something of a dream line up, really. The Sugarcubes were of course “Bjork’s band”, evolving out of Icelandic anarchopunks Kukl. There was quite a buzz around them and I think this might have been their first or second London gig.
They were pretty upbeat and poppy and odd, especially in terms of banter. I guess it seemed obvious that they weren’t going to remain a support band for very long.
To quote myself: “Much madness ensued as Dave ran around the stage with his acetone on a wheelchair. He also dragged some unsuspecting guy out of the audience to do a keyboard solo.”
SWANS had just released their “Children of God” double album. This was a turning point for the group as it combined the brutal sludgy minimalism of their previous work with the more folksy material which was to come.
I’d been fed tidbits of gossip about their previous live shows – people running out with hands over their ears, lots of stuff getting thrown, that sort of thing. This was also really really LOUD. Apparently some poor punter kept falling over because the sound messed up the balance control in his inner ear. The noise aspect has inspired some wimp at Uncut to rate this as one of the worst gigs ever. Pah!
It was pretty intense. Pounding. Gira was possessed. And he had a rug. A large rug covering most of the stage, which allowed him to pace up and down barefoot, wearing a thong. Intoning balefully. He stuck his arse in the first few rows of the audience. I don’t really know why.
It was hot and sweaty and a crowd surfer managed to dislodge my specs, which then got trampled under the feet of other audience members. I managed to retrieve them. They needed some serious attention from an optician the day after – she seemed pretty impressed with my account of the gig. As was I.
You used to be able to buy “Time Is Money(Bastard)” t-shirts in Carnaby Street. They were grey shirts with the text and iconic dollar sign in purple if I remember rightly. Not wanting to antagonise my Mum and more than I had already, I plumped for a “Greed” one instead with a nice gold dollar sign on it.
Peter went one better by acquiring a “Public Castration Is A Good Idea” shirt which caused our boss some consternation when we worked alongside each other in some shit temp job at a warehouse.
I don’t think I fancied any of the shirts at the gig, though, possibly because I was skint or more probably because I didn’t want to be wearing anything with “Children of God” written on it. I do seem to recall having this poster on my bedroom wall at some point, though: