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Badge of the Week – Joe Jackson

"I'm The Man" promo badge 1979

To celebrate the demise of a certain newspaper it’s a pleasure to feature Joe Jackson – writer and performer of the brilliant ‘Sunday Papers’, his second single release in 1978. The acerbic paean to the self-proclaimed ‘Street of Shame’ later appeared on his debut A&M album, the excellent ‘Look Sharp!’. The classically trained Jackson, an outstanding musician, singer, songwriter saw his first two albums and volley of singles bring him an unlikely new wave following.

A prodigious gigger, Jackson built up his reputation as a regular on the capital’s pub rock scene with a snappy delivery, razor sharp wit and a super backing band consisting of Gary Sanford (gtr), Graham Maby (bass) and Dave Houghton (drums). On top of this was a repertoire which resonated with sharp social commentary. Has there ever been a better song that sums up male teenage angst than ‘Is She Really Going Out With Him’?

This badge derives from his second album release of 1979 and features Jackson garbed as a spiv for the appropriately titled ‘I’m The Man’. It was this release that spawned his biggest hit, the sublime ‘It’s Different For Girls’. Pretty much in the same vein as ‘Look Sharp!’ the new album could loosely be described as ‘power-pop’ and the title track is probably at the very height of the genre. A blistering, high tempo opus that would still get a room full of strangers rocking, Jackson stretches his extraordinary vocal range to the possibilities that would soon present themselves.

Promoted exhaustively by A&M Jackson did not perhaps achieve the commercial success of say label mates Squeeze and Jackson was inevitably re-positioned to try his luck in the US with impressive results as a jazz performer. Achieving considerable commercial success throughout the 80’s and early 90’s he fell out of love with his adopted country following restrictions on smoking in public and has bizarrely become an ardent campaigner defending the rights of smokers. He did get the old gang back together for a tour and new album in 2003 and continues to make serious music across a number of platforms including soundtracks and continued explorations into jazz. An excellent ‘Live at the BBC’ double CD, released in 2009 is a superb testimony his prolific late 70’s output.

Jim Heath

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Badge of the Week – Glastonbury

It’s interesting to hear that Glastonbury chief Michael Eavis wants to see politics return to the festival this year and welcomes the proposed protest against headliners U2 and their alleged tax dodging schemes. It’s perhaps a far cry from the early Glastonbury festivals when politics and agit prop were probably just as important as the music.

Glastonbury ’79 was a curious affair with an eclectic line-up and a massive site with acres to roam around. The setting and weather could not have been more perfect and the estimated 12,000 gathered enjoyed some great music and a very chilled out vibe. It was so different from the commercial Reading festival, very informal with music continuing throughout the night. It definitely had a political edge to it as well, with lots of interesting stalls and there was even a cafe dedicated to struggles in Central America. The Only Ones were the perfect headliners for Friday and despite the generator failing on a couple of occasions they produced a great set well received by both the older hippies and young post-punk stoners who dominated the crowd. When they came back on stage after the first interruption guitarist John Perry said “Actually there was nothing wrong with the generator at all. We just wanted to check our make-up.” They then launched into ‘the Beast’ and followed-up with the brilliant ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’.

I vaguely recall Peter Gabriel closing the festival on Sunday night and also Sky (a quasi classical band) having some amazing lazers. The UK Subs refused to play (too many hippies!) and the Leyton Buzzards seemed totally wrong for the festival. I met up with a good crowd from Bracknell and we all vowed to be back next year. The event lost £49,000 and as it was the first one since 1971 Michael Eavis was sufficiently impressed to give it another go.

Peter Perret at Glastonbury 1979

However it did not materialise in 1980, but was back in 1981. This time bigger and better with the iconic Pyramid stage in situ. Organisation was a lot tighter, there were more stages, a theatre and cinema tent and the profit would go to CND. Another mixture of bands with New Order the highlight for me as they played their first major gig. A lot more reggae with Aswad and Matumbi, a bizarre fist-fight on the main stage between Roy Harper and Ginger Baker plus the first dance arena hosted by Hamish from Better Badges – strangely I recall bouncing around to ‘Pulse’ by the Psychedelic Furs at 6am on the Sunday morning.

By 1982 Glastonbury had become the ‘go-to’ festival and it felt like that with about 40,000 in attendance –double that of the previous year. It also was the first mud bath with a massive rain storm on the Friday evening just before Black Uhuru’s headlining set. They were probably the highlight as many of the acts seemed a bit of a throwback with artists such as Jackson Browne and Richie Havens appearing. After being chaperoned to the site personally by Michael Eavis, Van Morrison produced one the most mind numbingly boring sets ever witnessed at Worthy Farm with the majority of the Sunday afternoon crowd sent to sleep by the droll Ulsterman. There was also a CND backlash with an aeroplane flying low over the site draping a banner saying something like ‘Support CND, Back the Russians’. Brilliantly, Eavis sequestered the biggest rockets from the closing firework display and they were fired at the plane when it next circled. It was spot on with all these particles exploding around the plane, the crowd cheered and it didn’t bother coming back.

Jim Heath

One for the Ark - Bootlegging Van Morrison in '82

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The Jam Badge Competiton – We Have A Winner!

"I'm delighted said Howard, I don't normally win anything. I can't quite believe it!!"

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Badge of the Week – The Jam

Whitsun bank holiday eh? James Bond movies on the telly, daytrips to the seaside, the football league play-offs, the Hay book festival, first test match of the cricket season and the incessant patter of rain. Here comes the Summer! In the sixties however, mods versus rockers at your nearest seaside town would have topped this list and for a couple of years it caused quite a stir as the nations youth cultures clashed against a background of old fashioned British sobriety. It certainly caught the imagination of a young schoolboy from Surrey and a decade or so later he was causing a stir himself with his three-piece band the Jam.

Punk gave Paul Weller the perfect opportunity to launch the Jam and together with the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Stranglers and the Damned these five diverse combos went mad for it in 1977 and in the process created a whole new musical youth landscape. With their mohair suits, rickenbacker guitars and pop art symbolism the Jam were unashamedly wearing their mod influences on their Ben Sherman sleeves, but it was the sheer energy of their live performances and Weller’s song writing that made the Jam such an important part of the punk scene.

It certainly had me hooked and between 1977 and 1979 I saw them half a dozen times, the first being at the Lafayette Club in Wolverhampton just as their debut single ‘In the City’ was released. A small club with a violent reputation the ‘Laff’ was not for the feint hearted and when our possee (all three of us!) from Telford rocked up on a warm June Wednesday evening we were a little bit anxious to say the least. The place was deserted apart from about six or seven lads idly kicking a football about on the car park outside the club. It turned out to be the band and their crew waiting for someone to come and open up – after establishing we didn’t have the keys, the band engaged in a bit of small talk and gave us a bundle of badges. Soon we went happily on our way when the Jam were finally admitted and we were told the club opened to punters at 10pm.

Thankfully being a midweek the number of psychopaths at the gig was at a minimum but they still made there presence felt during the opening numbers with a barrage of beer and phlegm in Weller’s direction. It soon became apparent that the boy from Woking was made of stern stuff and he gave as good as he got and after he threatened to pull the show the silent majority found their voice and the perpetrators dispersed.
It was a decent performance, but not the best and the atmosphere was tense throughout as Wolverhampton’s punk bashers never seemed far away.

Paul Weller at Shrewsbury 1977

Within a month and a couple of appearances on TOTP the Jam were back in our locale this time at Tiffany’s in Shrewsbury. This was a fantastic gig and were fortunate to meet both Bruce Foxton and Weller again – he said the Lafayette gig had been ‘pretty scary’ and thanked us for being there supporting the band! Now of course the Jam were big news and the gig was packed out with Jam fans and it was all energy and lots of leaping around. By the autumn and the release of their ropey second album ‘This Is the Modern World’ the band had moved onto concert halls and to be honest were suffering over exposure. It was not until the fantastic ‘All Mod Cons’ in 1978 that saw the Jam fulfil their initial promise and by 1979 the band found themselves at the vanguard of the Mod revival. Suddenly hoard’s of spotty parka clad kids started following the Jam and the anthem ‘When You’re Young’ was adopted as they descended on Southend on wet bank holiday Mondays! My run of Jam gigs were bookended by two of their infamous Christmas shows at the Rainbow which saw the venue trashed and the band at their creative peak. “…the wine has gone flat and the curry’s gone cold… I don’t want to be down in the tube station at midnight!”

Competition!

From the swag of badges acquired from that first show back in ’77 I have one going spare…..to be in with a chance of winning it answer this easy question:

What was the title of the Jam album released in 1979?

Please submit answer on the contact form….providing your name and address. The winner will be selected randomly on 12th June, 2011. UK & ROI residents only.

Jim Heath

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Badge of the Week – Elbow

Elbow Badges 2011

This fine quartet of coloured buttons were picked up on Elbow’s visit to Birmingham this week. Depicting the cover of the new album “Build a Rocket Boys!” the Bury based band were in the middle of their first UK arena tour playing the cavernous NIA in the city centre. I’m not the greatest fan of these huge venues and with some nine and a half thousand others it was hardly the intimate surroundings I like to see bands perform. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how well it worked and the atmosphere, sound and show were of the highest quality.

The two hour set mainly dovetailed between unfamiliar tracks from the new album and the coveted songs from the million-selling break through “The Seldom Seen Kid”. These tracks have dominated the sound scape for the last couple of years and are now so familiar they are reminiscent of very close friends – all were delivered brilliantly and linked together cleverly by lead singer Guy Garvey. In his crumpled three piece suit and looking like a cross between a provincial solicitor and David Brent he’s a natural raconteur. The fans lapped up his witty anecdotes, joined in dutifully with his wacky ideas for audience participation and got drunk on the general banter which made you feel as cosy as if you were in the snug at the ‘Dog and Duck’. Garvey felt so at home he even purposefully slipped into a couple of hilarious Jim Kerr ‘rock pose’ impressions as he prowled Elbow’s newly acquired stage catwalk.

Mirrorball - Elbow at the NIA

Elbow’s music is altogether unique and apart from the rousing anthems of ‘One Day Like This’ and the new ‘Open Arms’ is hard to categorise and define, which I suppose is a huge part of their appeal. They can veer from a full on rock sound to fragile solos, spatial arrangements and sparse instrumentation. ‘Night Will Always Win’ captured this perfectly when the bands four musicians discarded their instruments and gathered around a block of keyboards / synthesizers and despite looking as though they were facing each other at a urinal collectively knocked out a backing track for Garvey’s sensitive lyrics, which some how worked really well. It’s a measure how far this talented group – Mark Potter (gtr), Craig Potter (keyboards), Pete Turner (bass) and Richard Jupp (drums) – have come in the last four or five years adapting seamlessly from clubs to the mega stages they now reside.

Arriving early enough to catch support band Villagers turned out to be a good move as they were excellent and their 2010 Mercury nominated album ‘Becoming a Jackal’ could well warrant further investigation. As for the ‘arena’ experience I’m not totally convinced. The seats on the upper deck were decidedly cramped and the merchandise hideously over-priced (£15 for a programme!). And with the issue of e-tickets, I only have a sorry bar-coded A4 print out as a keepsake. At least there were the badges and the abiding memory of the smiling faces of my teenage children as our family shared a thoroughly enjoyable experience. One thing is for sure, Elbow will be perfect for the summer festivals when they play at Glastonbury and Reading later this year.

Jim Heath

Up on the Catwalk - Garvey on the prowl

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Badge of the Week – Pigbag

Pigbag badge from 1981

The latest 80’s band on our radar to re-form are the highly innovative jazz, funk, afrobeat mash-up Pigbag who originally formed in late 1980 before splitting up in 1983. They were a fantastic live act and had a big appeal with post-punk stoners. Throughout 1981 they were a regular seed on the London circuit building up a loyal following based on a reputation for a top night out with non-stop dancing guaranteed.

I first saw Pigbag open up for the Gang of Four at the Lyceum and then at their own shows at the Venue in Victoria where they regularly used to play to full houses. By now their self-proclaimed anthem, ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag’, was causing a mighty stir and became ‘the’ summer hit of ’81. The title was, of course, a parody of James Brown’s ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag’ (a big influence on the group) and live improvisations would often see the band perform versions that would last up to twenty minutes plus. Released on manager Dick O’Dell’s label Y records it topped the indie charts for most of the year following its release in May.

Ollie Moore and Simon Underwood

The band was formed in the west country with the line-up of Simon Underwood (bass), James Johnstone (saxophone and guitar), Chris Lee (trumpet and steel drums), Ollie Moore (sax), Roger Freeman (trombone & keyboards), Chip Carpenter (drums) and Chris Hamlin (clarinet). It was very young group with all the members between the ages of 19 and 23, only Underwood having previous band experience with the Pop Group, a radical left-field combo from Bristol.

As with several of the bands we have featured on the Ark, the ogre of ‘Top of the Pops’ reared its head as the band were offered a slot for ‘Papa’ – on the basis it would be edited. The band responded as you would expect any self-respecting artist to, ‘thanks’, but, ‘no thanks’. Even if mainstream chart success would elude them on this occasion the single continued to sell steadily and in New York the single would become a big dance hit on the urban radio stations. Pigbag’s second single release ‘Sunny Day’, another uplifting instrumental, would scrape the top 50 and was top of the indie charts as Pigbag capped a fine year.
It was in 1982 that mainstream success would arrive in the form of a major re-release of ‘Papa’, this time accompanied by a TOTP appearance and subsequently reaching number three in the charts with cumulative sales now reaching over 100,000. It didn’t come with out a cost. Underwood was very reluctant to do the show because he claimed the ‘band had moved on’ and Freeman did a runner on the day as he was asked to replace his donkey jacket with a suit for the performance. Eventually the stresses and strains of personnel changes, keeping a six-piece band fresh, innovative and on the road took its toll and citing ‘musical differences’ the band split in early 1983.

Some twenty years later, ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag’ re-emerged as a hit on the football terraces with the distinctive instrumental used over the PA to celebrate goals and teams walking out. To be honest it’s become a bit annoying. It’s a shame that this once very proud band has had its legacy tarnished in such a way – perhaps the new Pigbag will restore it. They play the Jazz Café on 26th March. Tickets available here.

Jim Heath

Pigbag Ticket from the Venue - 1981

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Badge of the Week – R.E.M.

As R.E.M. release their fifteenth studio album, ‘Collapse Into Time’, it’s a good time to salute the longevity and brilliance of this fine band. With a career spanning thirty years, their debut single ‘Radio Free Europe’ was released in 1981, they have broken many rock rules and set the highest benchmarks in consistently delivering quality music and product.

For instance, this stylish little item came as part of the seven inch single package ‘Strange Currencies’ from the 1994 album ‘Monster’. The badge portrays the album cover, a bears face, deliberately photographed out of focus by artist Chris Bilheimer, (to me it resembles a freaked out cat) and is the only one in my collection that comes with a gold plated stem that slips neatly into a jacket lapel. It was the third single from the album and reached number nine in the UK singles chart in early 1995.

R.E.M. were without doubt the biggest band in the World at the time (they sold a staggering 30 million albums between 1991 and 1995) and ‘Monster’ was a curious affair coming off the back of the sensitive almost sombre ‘alt’ rock of ‘Out of Time’ and ‘Automatic for the People’. ‘Monster’ was a massive full-on in your face rock album complete with loud distorted guitars and a worldwide stadium tour to boot. Some even said that Michael Stipe and co were being ironic.

Despite its mixed reception the album was a huge commercial success and they re-signed with Warner Brothers for $80m – the largest ever recording contract at the time – and released arguably their finest work, ‘New Adventures in Hi-Fi’ in 1996. Despite the original drummer, Bill Berry leaving in 1997, the band continued as a three piece augmented by session players and continued to deliver haunting, provocative albums and be a substantial live proposition as I witnessed at Glastonbury in 2003.

Michael Stipe, in a recent interview with NME, continues to be enthusiastic and as keen as ever about the band as they enter yet another decade and commenting on the new album ‘Collapse Into Now’ says: “It’s one of the best things we’ve ever made. I’m really proud of it – we’re all really thrilled with it. It’s been a long time since the idea of an album has been at the front of people’s minds and this is a tiny little R.E.M. attempt to explore what an album is in 2011.”

Although there does not appear to be any free badges with the album, R.E.M. pay homage to their indie roots by supporting ‘Record Store Day’ (16th April) with the release of three seven-inch singles (in individual gatefold sleeves) exclusively to the participating independent record stores on the day. The 45-rpm discs are:

Disc 1. “Mine Smell Like Honey”/ “Supernatural Superserious” (live in Raleigh, NC)

Disc 2. “Oh My Heart”/ “Harborcoat” (live in Riga, Latvia)

Disc 3. “Überlin”/ “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” (live in Oslo, Norway)

Start queuing now!

Jim Heath

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Badge of the Week – Lynyrd Skynyrd

“It can be said very simply. On stage Lynyrd Skynyrd are as white hot as a band can get” Cameron Crowe (Contributing Editor, Rolling Stone, 1976)

I suppose we all have our guilty pleasures and Lynyyrd Skynyrd were definitely mine and in the ‘glasnost’ spirit of the Ark it seems appropriate to celebrate the fact that for a couple of years in the mid seventies Jacksonville’s pride were pretty much the hottest property in rock and I’m in fairly good company if Cameron Crowe thought as much too.

The anticipation of the bands UK tour in early 1977 was palpable with tickets for their shows sold out several months in advance, which in that day and age was the exception rather than the rule as even the larger promotions relied on a ‘walk-up’. The Birmingham Odeon was buzzing with a hirsute crowd pretty much reflecting Skynyrd’s hard drinking, hard living, hard rocking image. Their lifestyle of rucking and run-ins with the police defined them as anti-authoritarian rebels, albeit red neck ones who played every gig under the gaze of a disconcerting confederate flag. Battle lines were drawn following the single release of ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ from their second album ‘Second Helping’ a stinging riposte to Neil Young’s disparaging views on the south in his songs ‘Southern Man’ and ‘Alabama’. The bands founder, self elected leader and vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, a cross between Colonel Patton and a Circus ringmaster, was aware of the possible consequences when he was quoted at the time of its release “Its either going to break us wide open or piss everyone off so bad that we don’t get a second chance”.

It earned the band a prestigious slot on an arena tour supporting the Who and there was no looking back as Neil Young was even quoted as saying “They play as though they mean it. I’m proud to have my name in a song like theirs”. The first time I saw the band was on the OGWT when they performed their epic ‘Freebird’ (a homage to band hero Duane Allman) like there was no tomorrow, which Mark Ratcliffe remarked recently that there probably wasn’t as there were so many false finishes it is probably still going on. At least it amused whispering Bob Harris.

I first saw them in the flesh at Knebworth as support to the Rolling Stones at a massive one day festival (over 200,000 attended) where they unveiled the classic seven piece Lynyrd Skynyrd line-up of Van Zant, Gary Rossington (gtr), Allen Colins (gtr), Steve Gaines (gtr), Leon Wilkeson (bass), Billy Powell (keybords) and Artemus Pyle (drums) and augmented by three female backing singers including new boy Gaines’ sister. The set was played in the early evening sun and fitted the mood perfectly as the days events began to overrun (the Stones loped on to the stage just after midnight) and the crowd responded magnificently to a full set especially the three pronged guitar attack which saw the encore ‘Freebird’ eclipse over twenty minutes.

In the autumn Collins and Rossington were involved in drink driving incidents which occurred separately on the same night. Collins escaped fairly unharmed but Rossington passed out at the wheel in his brand new Ford Torino crashing into to a telegraph pole then splitting a tree in half. It almost cost him his life. Van Zant was not impressed and he and Collins penned the song “That Smell” which contained the poignant lyrics: “Whiskey bottles and brand new cars / There’s too much coke and too much smoke / Look what’s going on inside you”.

Little did we know as the band completed their set at Birmingham it would be the last time most of us would see them again. On 20 October 1977, Van Zant, Gaines and his sister Cassie perished as their privately chartered plane crashed travelling between gigs in Missouri and South Carolina. The plane ran out of petrol. Just three days earlier the critically acclaimed and fate tempting album entitled “Street Survivors” had just been released. Initial copies of the album cover showed the seven band members emerging unscathed from fearsome flames lapping around them. This cover was soon withdrawn as the album went platinum but was subsequently restored for an anniversary edition.

The band are beautifully referenced in the blockbuster movie ‘Con Air’ featuring John Cusack, Nicolas Cage, John Malkovich and Steve Buscemi whose character ‘Garland’ says while “Sweet Home Alabama” is played in the background: “Define irony. Bunch of idiots dancing on a plane to a song made famous by a band that died in a plane crash”. Cameron Crowe also includes ‘Simple Man’ in the soundtrack to his wonderful film ‘Almost Famous”.

Inevitably the bands name re-emerged in 1991 with new material and they continue to play to this day with a new tour starting in Hollywood on March 4th. Judging by tickets prices (they range from $55 – $105) they seem to be doing Ok. Just don’t expect to see many from that classic line-up. Still a seven piece only Gary Rossington survives – since the plane crash the other four have all died.

Jim Heath

Loving Those Guitars!

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Badge of the Week – Another Pretty Face

This little gem came as a freebie with the cassette only release, the magnificently titled ‘I’m Sorry That I Beat You I’m Sorry That I Screamed But For A Moment There I Really Lost Control’ which was released by Another Pretty Face (APF) in early 1981. A mixture of studio recordings (which were initially intended for an album on Virgin records) and live performances the cassette also contained a gloriously informative mini-zine. After escaping the clutches of a major label, APF came back in fine style and this release marked a return to the punk roots of the band which was fervently independent and idealistic.

The band was formed in late 1978 by Mike Scott and John Caldwell and the first single ‘All The Boys Love Carrie’ followed in 1979 and achieved the accolade of NME single of the week. This created quite an interest in the Edinburgh based group and they signed a contract with Virgin. The band came down to London to record their first album at Britannia Row and this is where I first met the group as I was working in the Mount Pleasant Hotel where the band were decamped for the sessions. On their second trip they invited my self and several mates to their London shows, this comprised of a busy week of gigs at the 101 Club (Clapham), The Rock Garden, Moonlight Club , Marquee (supporting Original Mirrors) and the Golden Lion in Chelsea. Many commentators described them as the Clash meets Springsteen which was probably a bit lazy, but that’s pretty much how they sounded and looked to my young ears and eyes – full of passion, angry guitars and a sense of the epic – check out ‘Graduation Day’ and ‘Out of Control’. Of course this was only a hint of the future and Mike Scott’s ‘Big Music’ vision of the mighty Waterboys.

Another Pretty Face - backstage, 1979

A single release, ‘Whatever Happened to the West’ followed a front cover feature on the band in Sounds (Scott later described it as a ‘kiss of death’) and a nationwide tour opening for Stiff Little Fingers. But problems with the record company over the proposed album lead the band to leave Virgin and in limbo for most of 1980. With the core of the group now down to Scott and Caldwell they released several singles on their own label Chicken Jazz before being picked up by Ensign. The end of Another Pretty Face came about in strange circumstances as it was discovered there was a US band with the same name. Not wanting to restrict any future opportunities and avoid confusion Scott re-named the band Funhouse (after an Iggy Pop album). Sadly this turned out to a short affair with just one single released on the new label under the new name, a re-recording of ‘Out of Control’ with the superb flip side ‘This Could Be Hell’, a vitriolic paean to the major label experience and referred spikily to their former bosses in the immortal line ‘the crooked apostles of Vernon Yard’.

This Sunday (Jan 30th) Mike Scott and the Waterboys unveil the live UK premier of ‘An Appointment With Mr Yeats’ in Glasgow as part of the ‘Celtic Connections’ festival. This is followed up with shows in Liverpool (Feb 1), Warwick (Feb 2) and London Barbican Theatre (Feb 3 & 4). Click here to buy tickets.

Jim Heath

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Badge of the Week – Wire

Chairs Missing - Wire badge

It would seem a bit remiss to overlook the latest album by Wire, ‘Red Barked Tree’ which was released last week. When most blokes in their mid-fifties should be looking forward to their dotage these venerable souls still have the energy, edge and vitriol to scream expletives from a highly entertaining eleven song set. But then again they have a longevity and legacy that defies the natural order and to be honest you’d be disappointed if they didn’t. Wire can lay claim as the world’s first post-punk band when they established themselves during the height of punk rock itself. Not only did they sound different to the run of the mill three chord thrash merchants that dominated the scene in 1977 they looked, acted and were culturally a world a way from the landscape they inhabited at the time.

The astonishing debut album ‘Pink Flag’ contained twenty one tracks varying between thirty seconds and three minutes in length, they all dressed in black, the drummer was the wonderfully named Robert Gotobed and EMI mischievously released Wire records on their revived Harvest label – which was originally created in 1969 to promote the progressive rock bands in their stable. In some quarters Wire were known as a prog rock punk band. The songs themselves were a mad mix of the slow, the fast, the brutal and the sensitive. One thing they did have in common were titles that sort of leant towards odd military references which were stark and precise, like instructions and commands to the front line.

The two badges featured here are from the second long-player, 1978’s ‘Chairs Missing’, both are annotations from the original sleeve art. The inviting vase of flowers sitting on a window shelf (or is it some sort of plinth?) has been culled from the larger album cover image and improbably betrays the perfect idyll that either lurks outside or within the curtain frame. Fortunately, we seem to be on more familiar territory with the grid like offering which is from the picture sleeve single ‘I Am The Fly’. Again a microcosm of the bigger picture, surprisingly it is not part of a graph or an unlikely crossword, but of something that looks like a parlour game , not dissimilar to snakes n’ ladders or perhaps a scrabble board.

I Am The Fly - Wire

The Harvest years (77-79) spawned three wildly innovative and provocative albums and the band were promptly axed by the label as commercially they were a disaster. But it wasn’t for the want of trying. Wire were prodigious giggers and I was lucky enough to see them a couple of times in the provinces. Live they were equally extraordinary, with punters not knowing how to react to them. Early gigs at the famed Roxy club in Covent Garden were met with stony silence. As an entity the band has tended to keep going through one form or another over the proceeding decades with various splinter projects, solo work and ironically a stint on Mute records as they experimented with electronic / synthesiser material.

‘Red Barked Tree’ is a return to Wire’s original ideals and with a host of live shows planned now is a good a time as any to see these living legends perform once more.

Jim Heath

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