November 14, 2011

LET'S MAKE A BAND (profanity alert):

A Quietus Interview: Brown Acid Black Leather: The Story Of The Jesus And Mary Chain's Psychocandy (Julian Marszalek , November 8th, 2011 Quietus)

Unlike the well-organised and generally well-behaved gigs of the 21st century, concert going in the early 1980s were frequently fraught affairs. With tribalism at its height, punch-ups were a regular occurrence but there had been nothing like the mess that the Mary Chain had left behind. With their reputation preceding them, the Electric Ballroom was always going to end in tears but no one could have predicted just how violent this gig was going to be. Indeed, this writer, though a fan of the singles that had been released during the previous year, went with the intention of witnessing the trouble that was going to happen but didn't expect anything quite on this scale. In addition the curious observers and voyeurs milling around the Electric Ballroom was a heavy contingent of squatters, people who'd dropped out of mainstream society in the wake of punk rock as well as some faces more at home fighting on football terraces rather than a gig.

"It was great standing there knowing it was going to go off," continues Jelbert. "I'd seen them before at the ICA and that really did stink; they were totally clueless. The atmosphere at the Electric Ballroom was very odd and I felt that it was almost like a pantomime riot; if there had been custard pies then they would have been thrown at the stage. People wanted to kick off because no one really knew the Mary Chain's music. They came out late and there was this really horrible humming noise coming out through the PA all the way through which went over the racket the band was making."

Adding to the melee were members of the Metropolitan Police who came running into the venue as the violence increased in its intensity and with them came the realisation that things had come to a serious head. This was no longer the kind of event that generated column inches in the music press used to create a mythology around the band but a descent into darkness and uncontrollable chaos. Something had to give.

"That was the end of that period and it had stopped being funny," bassist Douglas Hart tells The Quietus. "[Band manager] Alan McGee had sorted out body guards for that gig but I remember that on the second date of that tour, one of them got knocked out with a scaffolding pole and he quit because he couldn't handle the heaviness of it all. And I think he'd been ex-SAS and had been one of the guys who'd gone through the window at the Iranian embassy. He was like, 'No amount of money can make me put up with this.'"

It wasn't until the release of Psychocandy in November 1985 that the Jesus And Mary Chain's musical objective came gloriously into view. The hype, hoopla and carnage generated by both the band and manager Alan McGee obscured the fact that they were not only radical sonic visionaries but masterful songwriters capable of creating a classic debut album that not only captured the mood of the age but would also stand the test time while creating a new template for rock & roll.

Politically and culturally, 1985 was a watershed year. After nearly 12 months, the miner's strike collapsed in March. Bitterly divisive, the defeat of the NUM by Margaret Thatcher's government was an event whose ramifications are felt to this very day. The violence that had marred the dispute slipped into other sections of society. Brixton and Tottenham in London and Toxteth in Liverpool were engulfed in riots within a week of each other in the autumn. Earlier in May, pre-match rioting between Liverpool and Juventus fans resulted in the tragic deaths of 39 Italian football fans when they were crushed to death at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels, an event that was broadcast live on TV.

The pop landscape of 1985 had become increasingly grim. Daytime radio was fronted by any number of goons more concerned with their own increasing fame than the music they played and pop itself was becoming increasingly sterile. No longer a haven for outsiders and misfits, pop did its best to play safe as it increasingly relied on the promotional video becoming an end in itself. Smack in the middle of all this was Live Aid. As a genuinely altruistic event, Live Aid and its preceding single 'Do They Know It's Christmas' by Band Aid, can't be faulted. An incredible event, it was watched by a global audience of some 1.5 billion people and raised in the region of £40m for the starving of Ethiopia. At the centre if it was Bob Geldof. Though his own pop career with The Boomtown Rats had come to an end, Geldof's Herculean efforts to do the job that governments had failed to do did much to alleviate the suffering of millions.

Despite Geldof's protestations, as a cultural event Live Aid was a stinker with huge implications for pop music. Suddenly, bands that should have been out to pasture - indeed, many of them had been - were now welcomed back with open arms, mainly by people for whom pop was little more than light entertainment. Millionaire hippies were back while others such as Queen and Status Quo who'd made money from African suffering by breaking the cultural embargo on South Africa and playing the segregated environs of Sun City were now supposed to be helping starving Africans. Their record sales were boosted as a result and none, if any, of the revenues generated made it to the starving millions. Disgracefully, the London leg featured just one black act in the shape of Sade and the whiff of self-satisfaction - witness Phil Collins jumping on to a Concorde so he could play on both sides of the Atlantic - was overbearing.

"I was very suspicious of the whole thing at the time and I still am," Mary Chain vocalist Jim Reid tells The Quietus. "If money came out of it that went to the right people then so be it but I think a lot of people did it for the wrong reasons.

"It did create a change in people's perceptions of what a pop could be and then it seemed alright to be an iconic figure. A lot of those bands became something that went from being a dinosaur to being iconic and a lot of people did it to sell records.

"I remember at the time, I knew people who worked at the Virgin Megastore who'd say things like Simple Minds' albums were selling five times the amount they were the week before and you were thinking, 'Well, are they going to send that extra money to the starving millions? How can they live with that?'"

"I remember the Live Aid thing," adds Douglas. "We thought that punk had shaken things up; we really believed in that and we couldn't believe it when we met people who said they were going to go to Live Aid and we'd be thinking, 'What the fuck?' I suppose we then tried to compete on their terms and it made us work harder. We figured that if you'd get kids listening to that kind of s[***] then you'd get kids hearing us. It made us more determined to be bigger."

For a generation that was too young to appreciate punk on its first outing but had grown up on pop charts that regularly featured outsiders, seemingly sexual deviants and the kind of acts that would have parents frothing at the mouth during Thursday night's airing of Top Of The Pops, the Jesus And Mary Chain were a godsend. Combining the sonic fury and melodicism of The Velvet Underground - a band whose resurgence in popularity during the early 1980s cannot be overstated - and the sensibilities of pop at its most classic with a surliness that suggested that anyone could do this, JAMC's seismic arrival in pop's barren wasteland couldn't come quick enough. Indeed, it was precisely this kind of vacuum that galvanised Jim and William Reid into action.

"Music of that period pretty much appalled us," says Reid as he recalls the motivating factors behind the formation of the band. "A lot of people talk about the things that we were into that caused us to form a band but it was as much the bands that we detested that caused it too.

"I remember the NME going gaga about Kid Creole & the Coconuts and we thought, 'F[***] this!' That just didn't make sense in the pages of the NME. I wouldn't say that was the turning point but round about then there seemed to be so much garbage and we thought, 'F[***] it, there's no one making the kind of music that I wanna buy so let's go out and do it and make a band.'"
At our warehouse we have to play music that even the older ladies can tolerate, so the radio gets set to Oldies alot.  One of the youngsters was complaining and I tried to explain that the music of the 70s was much worse than he imagined.  Who can forget the excrutiating stretch where the airwaves were rife with: Billy Don't Be a Hero, Wildfire, The Night Chicago Died, Have you Never Been Mellow and Seasons in the Sun?  It may be that unless you lived through that aural assault you can't appreciate punk and its progeny.  Racket was a huge improvement.

Posted by at November 14, 2011 5:33 AM

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