Listening to the opening numbers from A Certain Ratio and 23 Skidoo confuse the very idea of post-punk recasting it more as post-funk. It was always an odd expression to begin with anyway, slightly ill-fitting yet also neatly apt to describe the flame of inspiration which fuelled Punk’s ethos while defiantly creating something altogether new in its wake. Almost as quickly as Punk became an expression it became a clique some could not escape from and in many ways this excitable, radical fusion of all things past, present and future was/ is all the more satisfying in retrospect. Bill Brewster’s thrill-seeking journey throughout the timeframe sees a perfect collision of guitars, synthesizers and political theory all rolled into one. So much so it’s hard to imagine now that contemporary music was once quite so varied, so experimental, so anti. As today’s industry feels like an industry in itself, a never ending spin on its own refection. There is something uniquely refreshing going on here.
John Cooper Clarke’s Post War Glamour girls is an all-time favourite for all sorts of reasons, as is Vicious Pink’s Cccan’t You See (thank you John Peel). Fashion, Modern Romance, Visage, The Surface Mutants, The Pop Group, Glaxo Babies, Fun Boy Three plus a whole host of the wired and wonderful, supremely funky, alongside the seditious collectively inspire and define what happened somewhere in-between 1978 to 1984. Those repercussions still echo. The final track from Family Fodder – Disco Purge says it all in under 2.30 minutes (listen below) also listen to Visage – Frequency 7 feed into Techno in 1981! A brilliant, inspiring listen that will tempt you into doing something else….
1978 felt like the year dot for me. Imagine hearing The Stranglers intoxicating 5 Minutes, The Outcasts crystalline You’re A Disease, Magazine’s Touch And Go or even The Only Ones – Another Girl, Another Planet for the first time. And that’s only from cd one. Previously I got excited by Sweet, Sparks then Alex Harvey and an assortment of bubble-gum probably best forgotten. But the cross-section which this year signified saw the excitement of music evolve in differing directions from Sham 69’s Borstal Breakout to the slow introduction of synthesizers, creating the feeling that something else was about to happen. It was a good thing the Sex Pistols exited that year, they said all they had to by that stage.
The next cd opens with Poly Styrene’s X-Ray Spex epic The Day The World Day-Glo which christens this compilation, and that’s one of things I remember most that year was the searing colour of everything from the clothes to the music and words. And yes that was even in Belfast too. Kung Fu International resolutely spat out by John Cooper Clarke is here, the crazy beauty of Ultravox’s Slow Motion as well. UK Subs – Live In A Car plays like a fiery rock n roll flipside to it all, there to remind you about the energetic nihilism still fizzing away.
Disc three begins with what the defining musical moment from that year Public Image Limited’s – Public Image which said so much in a precise three minutes it left you stunned, while proceeding to transform the landscape into what happened next. Then comes Stiff Little Fingers, Alternative Ulster and Scritti Politti 28/8/78 both stretching out politically charged guitars into the ether. One of the most beautiful songs ever written, You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory by Johnny Thunders follows. The Fall contrasts almost everything else, while The Jam’s In The Crowd feels unexpectedly twee in comparison now. 10.15 Saturday Night by The Cure is another forward pointer which meant everything to me that year, though it was the following year I got to see them live at the Ulster hall supporting Siouxsie and the Banshees. Not all of the music may be wonderful but that is also down to personal taste, however what still shines remains excellent. This being Cherry Red you also get fantastic sleeve notes highlighting all that vigorous fun plus the detail of insight this time from the hand of David Wells.
The Punks I hung about with from 1978 cared about three things: music, clothes and attitude. Despite popular belief we even had a great time doing so, just like anywhere else. What we didn’t like too much was being told what to do, how to think. Which is why Punk appealed to those of us in the first place. We didn’t like the Police, we didn’t want the IRA who tried to blow the place to pieces killing everyone in the process, and we couldn’t abide the confirmatory of Paisley’s DUP or for that matter the mindless sectarian slaughter imposed by either side’s self-appointed masters. You found yourself somewhere in-between. Outside of what was considered normal. But what you did have was music. Punk pulled people and resources together, more often than not.
Following compilations of the sounds emanating out of Manchester, Scotland, Sheffield and Liverpool, Northern Ireland‘s output from 1978 to 1982 has now been catalogued across 3 CD’s of 74 tacks. Plus of course the film, lending the title, Shellshock Rock is included on DVD.
Shellshock Rock is a 46 minute documentary on what was happening in and around Belfast Punk by 1979. John T Davis made what was the first of three features on the music scene capturing the spirit of the time, rough and ready, filled with life. What you see on the screen is the feel of grainy film, spliced and exposed reflecting memory right back at you. It has achieved legendary status since providing a snapshot of some of the bands, clubs along with everyday scenes from Belfast city centre. Today it feels like Derek Jarman channelled through the inspiration of Davis mentor D. A. Pennebaker, who filmed Dylan’s 1960’s UK tour and the Monterey Pop Festival while later collaborating on Depeche Mode ‘s American concert film, 101 among many others. The deliberate resolution projects like an abstraction pulling apart light from darkness, exposing ghosts of the past. Yet there is something almost poetic about the way it all seems suspended in time, so close to the heart. When it was first released the film even found its way to various screenings in NYC at clubs Tier 3, Hurrahs, The Mud Club, The Peppermint Lounge, Club 57, and CBGBs. There is also a great interview with the filmmaker containing this heavy-duty prose: Shellshock Rock is not about Punk. It is Punk.
The film inevitably arrives at the Great Victoria Street, home of Good Vibrations Records, greeted by the enthusiasm of Terri Hooley celebrating the labels first release from Rudi, Big Time: You drive your daddy’s car, But you drove it far too far. You’ve got so many things, But they’ll see you in the end…
Incidentally you can also see Gavin Martin/ Dave ‘Angry’ McCullough’s infamous, essentail fanzine Alternative Ulster (many others fuelled things too) pinned to the wall, intercut with the band live at one of the early venues where Punks played the Glenmachan Stables. The quality of the documentary lies in the fact that various venues like The Pound and Chester’s in Portrush expands the story beyond the capital as does the music highlighting the diverse record labels on offer. Also featured are Rhesus Negative who disappointingly only have this short recording of Love In Vein from 1978 to document an intriguing potential, plus The Outcasts playing You’re A Disease from their excellent debut release at Wizard Studios from that same year.
1979 might feel a little after the fact compared with other cities in the UK and how music was evolving, shooting off into different directions with the incorporation of electroinic sounds. It’s even been said that Belfast and its surrounding counties where the last bastion of Punk itself.
The Music Compilation.
The music begins via the strum of Mickey Bradley’s bass guitar on The Undertones frankly perfect True Confessions from their EP for Good Vibrations, the one with Teenage Kicks. Then unexpectedly takes a turn towards power-pop/ Springsteen-esque styled American rock n roll, guitar solos and all. However, The Idiots arrive to rescue the Punk flag with Parents. But to be fair a sizable portion of this isn’t really a Punk compilation expanding its scope to catalogue the styles found on various other labels, chiefly via George Doherty’s Rip Off Records which started in 1978 and released a large part of the music around. He also, not so incidentally, produced Rudi’s classic Big Time for Good Vibes as well as The Outcasts first EP from ’78 the equally brilliant Frustration on IT Records. They were also the first to release N. Irish compilation album, Belfast Rock likewise in 1978. Not so into the more R&B based stuff, but none the less captures moments in time. Although, it has been said that an early visit by Eddie and the Hot Rods was as much a catalyst to ignite minds.
By the time you hit the second CD opening with Stiff Little Fingers, Suspect Device which still remains one of the most powerful pieces of political realisation (alongside Alternative Ulster) to date. Have to say that Ruefrex’s lyrical One By One is just as powerful in other ways. The Outcasts, Magnum Force spikey skank is magnificent, while Rod Vey’s curious, electronically charged Metal Love stands out too. As does the twisted effects of Stage B’s mesmerising, Light On The Hillside.
The third disc has Rudi, the always excellent Defects, Shock Treatment along with a refreshingly different Dogmatic Element to end.
Dig With It (buy it) editor Stuart Bailie’s introduces it all with an in-depth analysis of lived-in events. While Spit Records Sean O’Neill provides further lowdown on the bands, alongside personal testimony from various members themselves. By the way the definitive book on NI Punk is his co-authored It Makes You Want To Spit.
Not having heard a lot of this music for a long time it’s great to hear just how great most of the Punk output remains, feeling vibrant, even timeless.
I was going to begin by saying I never cared for the term Synth Pop, though I had forgotten just how brilliant Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – Messages was/ is, containing those perfect opening bars which almost come to define the pleasure of these three discs. Also because the word Pop suggests certain words, phrases and melodies which can become less interesting, less relevant over time. However, nothing could be further from the intent of a lot of the music created here as you will soon hear. But before pressing play the accompanying sleeve notes by Electronic Sound magazine’s Mat Smith are temptingly thought-provoking, while his histories of the individual tracks are equally fascinating.
The proceeding intersection plays out between what evolved out of late seventies Punk in the UK and its prior USA counter-part, an awareness of the importance of Kraftwerk et el, synthesized Disco, alongside the more industrial, experimental ideas fizzing away across the globe, plus increased access to the employment of innovative keyboard sounds to speak the new language. Some artists took the influence of electronic music on board extending/ broadening their career, others became innovators, influencers in turn. Casting aside the overly familiar three chord structure a new horizon opened up for music with tracks such as these creating more international impact than was perhaps first perceived. The ideas and techniques heralded the dance music that was to come in the succeeding years, all of those loosely defined possibilities were entirely endless. Although, sometimes some of the numbers simply feel like rock n roll played by electronics. The compilation also demonstrates that electronic music could become something more than it was touching upon popular song, while also being radical if that was the path you wished to explore.
It being the 1980’s occasionally melodies cruise in certain directions but then you have the likes of Fad Gadget’s resolute Coitus Interruptus to correct the digression. In fact it quickly proves remarkable the breadth of wonderful, inspiring music there is on offer across each cd. And I’m not just referring to Gina X, John Foxx (of course), D.A.F, Visage, even a certain Phil Lynott’s exploration of electronic music, or The Residents delightfully dangerous Diskomo. As for every name that’s familiar there are those, forgotten, who this compilation pays tribute to as well.
In a sense this is music purely defined by its time that you probably won’t ever hear again, re-created elsewhere. I guess because the looser structure of recording analogue, alongside the injection of Punk attitude + the non-conformity of D.I.Y culture doesn’t seem quite as high on the agenda as it once did, creating a definitive, necessary ambience in the process.
Close To The Noise Floor embark on this invaluable project to highlight and expose the wealth of British Experimental and Avant-Garde Music between 1976-1984. Years in which you had the existence of Fleetwood Mac on one side of the Atlantic, while Duran Duran populated the other. Perhaps what is so cutting about this selection of pieces is how on-edge some of it is – although, perhaps more realistically, it all is. Opening with Trail Of Traps by Alterations is quite frankly on unnerving experience which jolts you when least expected (especially LOUD). The journey through the unexpected is then blissfully realised via the weird and wonderful as experimental sounds and ideas are rigorously developed, ever mutating into another world of riotous potential. What also exists here is an invigorating, breathless combination of hints and persuasions of every colour and rhythm from Classical input, through to dangerous explosions of sound, to free Jazz and more. So much so that its almost hard to take in all in one go. I’m not actually sure, at this stage, whether such a thing as standout tracks do exist as they all play a part in forming a document of the unconventional. But, as life progresses in ever more uncertain ways, releases such as this, play an ever more important role in cataloguing the unorthodox as it now feels entirely normal.
Joe Meek was a troubled genius who helped define the use of electronics in popular music. Not the most avant-garde as the likes of John Cage, Henri Pousseur, Luciano Berio and György Ligeti ripped up the music sheet of conventional thinking in ways beyond what anyone else at the time was doing, but none the less a self-defining, pioneering producer in his own right. What’s particularly brilliant about this three CD collection is that it files in context the contrasting styles and techniques of all those musical creators alongside England’s own Daphne Oram and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, plus the many other schools of thought dotted throughout Europe such as Radiotelevisione in Milan and musique concrète in Paris. Their experiments in electronic sound and magnetic tape alongside a radical new use of musical construction offers a rare glimpse into the unknown, yet feels strangely re-assuring like the return of a long lost friend who disappeared somewhere in the analogue of grainy, black and white television. And remember this was all happening in and around the turn of 1960 proposing radical, revolutionary theories only unfettered sound could denote.
But back to Joe Meek whose unreleased concept album: I Hear A New World from that year provides an insight into the opening world of possibilities as you will hear music washed and reverb and echo redefining what Pop could be. Not surprisingly it is a strange, otherworldly exploration which uses atmospheres as much as does treated melodies alongside an illuminating twist on the twang of Rock n Roll. Also included is the celebrated RPM restoration version from 1991 as well as an invaluable booklet detailing more about his life. And, on the story of the development and those involved in electronic music from that period now lost to time. Although not if you listen closely…
The word Joy popped into my head when I opened the box to reveal what lay within this tastefully packaged compilation of gems from the history of movie soundtracks. So it turned out to be entirely relevant as this selection charts moments of elation, alongside deeper darker terrain. From outright Classical via the brilliance of Claude Debussy and Beethoven through to old-time songs from the likes of Ray Charles this release contains it all. It’s enjoyable to let the sounds escape and weave from the room to room filling empty spaces, as not only music but likewise the accompanying pictures generated in your mind while remembering snippets from celluloid, or even imagining new ones. There’s also lots of Mozart with a great quote on the sleeve stating: “Mozart is for eight in the evening. Beethoven is for midnight”, Jean-Luc Godard. If indeed you did need reminding about the sheer strength contained in orchestras, as well as the traditional assembled array of played by hand instruments, then this is also an excellent place to start. Besides, Erik Satie is present too with his lone piano and for beautiful, unequalled poignancy there is none better: Gnossiennes No.3 Lent. A diverse selection of films are drawn on across the three-CD boxset from such disparate classics as Rosemary’s Baby through to The Italian Job and Clockwork Orange, alongside The Man Who Fell To Earth via the outstanding Mars by Holst. There are so many movements that feel reassuringly familiar, and yet almost forgotten until you reengage with them again – preferably with the volume turned up. And you really should engage again.
From the minds who compiled the ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ series comes this latest collection of music which is based around the creative power of synthesizers rather than the rock posturing of the guitar – although of course a good bit of rock guitar posturing is essential too. I guess if you approach this selection with the word Pop in mind i.e. the use of melody, just as in any other form of music, then this presents itself as a pretty uncomplicated equation by simply replacing the sound of six strings for the world of circuits. But, then comes The Normal – Warm Leatherette, Testcard F’s otherworldly Bandwagon Tango, Chris and Cosey’s October (Love Song), Fad Gadget’s brutal Ricky’s Hand, even ex-Hawkwind vocalist Robert Calvert’s haunting Work Song and so on, spread across four cd’s, which challenged conventional wisdom of how music should sound. If that’s the sort of theory which interests you then there is plenty to satisfy here, just as there is a wealth of Synth-Pop’s origins to discover along the route of history with those punchy keyboard motifs that would become so beloved of the early 1980’s. Interesting to note the sheer breadth of emotion which was created and utilised from the angry strains of Those Attractive Magnets – Nightlife, to the fizzy electrics of Colin Potter, to the chiming drum machines of Pink Industry’s Taddy Up. Contrasted by the more commercially accessible end of things, plus a fine version of T Rex’s Children Of The Revolution by The Fast Set. Some of the music leans towards the dancefloor such as Lori And The Chameleons delightful Lori, while other tracks seek out different things to play with. But whatever form things may take this is an intoxicating, always intriguing look at another side of how music evolved in the UK. And yes The Human League are here too – Circus Of Death.
If you have already been eagerly consuming with fervour the series including: Close To The Noise Floor, Noise Reduction System and the Third Noise Principle then this collection celebrating each of those individually brilliant compilations, which challenged the mainstreams of boredom and musical conformity, will feel like a conformation of everything you have already thought. Dazzling flashes of genius emerge including Nagamatzu’s spell-binding Faith alongside supremely tempting numbers from the likes of Thomas Leer, D.A.F, The Legendary Pink Dots, along with Richard Bone’s liquid-funk ingenuity of Mambopolis plus a whole lot more. Not only bravely corrupting a sense of music’s decency but underpinning, underlining inspiration for the electronic future that was about to erupt onto the population en masse only a few years later. A lot of these sounds were deliberately defiant and are all the more wonderful in doing so. But perhaps some of the best words are saved for last as the Simulation Stimulation (Edit) by Hunting Lodge completes this six sides of vinyl heaven (or hell) with an almost idealistic, unrepentant intensity to be savoured and relished in glorious, riotous technicolour.
Karlheinz Stockhausen was a prolific composer and creator/ manipulator of sound. He lived between 1928 and 2007 in which time he composed some 376 works. His legacy and the ideas incorporated within last and inspire to this day, perhaps in ways that you may not even be aware of. Beginning to compose pieces at the beginning of the 1950’s what you will hear contained from that time is Kontra Punte (Counter-Points) from 1952-53. Which rearranges the classical repertoire into new, almost shapeless forms as he and composers of a similar mind-set challenged how music could be made after the second world war. Remaining otherworldly – with a spiritual dimension – redefining what was possible/ acceptable is an accolade only afforded to a few throughout the history of music.
This three cd boxset from EL charts the territory explored by Stockhausen while also including work by Pierre Boulez, examples of musique concrète from Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry alongside others which used recorded sounds as raw material. These collages of stimulation exist in a unique space of their own, even now, reflecting an uneasy world around them, yet there is also something reassuring about the flowing, freeform of expression as they take your imagination and run with it. Stockhausen’s own Gesang der Jünglinge inspired The Beatles – Revolution 9 and you can hear how too (and he’s there on the cover of Sergeant Pepper’s). The third disc: Electronic Music For The Mind And Body features further studies in those concepts like John Cage’s magnificent Aria with Fontana Mix, as well as from Iannis Xenakis and the wonderful György Ligeti. The collection is accompanied by an invaluable booklet containing photographs and text setting this incredible story in context. And if you want to look beyond the familiar worlds of melody and syncopation then this is a perfect starting point.