Wire is a band known for evolving at a fast clip, especially in their early years. The first three Wire LPs—Pink Flag (1977), Chairs Missing (1978), and 154 (1979)—all vary stylistically. Being that the group refused to stand still, it’s no wonder that good songs got left behind—this is early Wire we’re talking about, after all. Some of this initial, subsequently discarded material was recorded during what would turn out to be momentous gigs for the group.
The Roxy club was the focal point of London’s punk scene. The live album recorded there, The Roxy London WC2 (Jan - Apr 77), is an essential document of that era, capturing a number of bands during their formative stages. Two Wire songs were included on the LP—“Lowdown” and “12XU.” Both would be subsequently re-recorded and included on Pink Flag.
Wire formed in August 1976, and initially consisted of five members. When guitarist George Gill broke his leg, the other four continued to rehearse, and quickly realized that they sounded better without him. Gill was sacked soon after. Wire performed on both dates of the Roxy’s two-day punk-themed event, which took place on April 1 & 2, 1977. These were the band’s first appearances as a four-piece.
Wire opened the first night of the punk fest, playing to nearly no one. But they made an impression and were moved up to slot #3 for night two. Punk historian Jon Savage, then writing for Sounds, caught the second performance. Savage later recalled that this version of Wire “were conceptually fascinating, horribly sarcastic and very funny.” Here’s an excerpt from his original review for Sounds:
(Wire) short circuit the audience totally, playing about 20 numbers, most about one minute long. The audience doesn’t know when one has finished and another is beginning. I like the band for that…good theatre. Image-wise they look convincingly bug-eyed, flash speed automations caught in a Mod time-warp. There seems to be a scheme of things, but this is buried in the poor sound and limitations in the format. There were glimpses of genuine originality.
In 1995, EMI Records put out Behind the Curtain, a collection of previously unreleased Wire demos and live tracks from 1977-78. Some of the songs hadn’t been available before in any form. Six of those unheard tracks—five originals plus a cover of JJ Cale’s “After Midnight”—were taped at the first of the April ’77 Roxy gigs. I’m particularly fond of the spastic-n-snotty “Just Don’t Care” and “New York City.” There’s a looseness here that’s not heard on their records, adding to the fun and excitement of these early Wire tunes. I dare you to sit still:
In 2006, Wire issued the double disc, Live At The Roxy/Live At The CBGB Theatre via their own label, pinkflag. The release includes the complete April 1-2, 1977 performances at the Roxy. Though the group didn’t know it at the time, their Roxy tapes began circulating, acting as a kind of demo tape for the band. Within months, they were signed to the Harvest label.
A playlist of the complete Roxy/CBGB set is on YouTube. The Roxy ’77 sets are virtually identical. In addition to the aforementioned numbers, there are additional tunes that would wind up on Pink Flag, as well as Dave Clark Five’s “Glad All Over.” At the end of the first gig, someone can be heard remarking, “That was awful, that was shit.”—HA!
The shows were recorded by Mike Thorne, who would produce the first three Wire records.
The below 16mm footage of Wire was shot for an art school project in January 1977 (not 1976, as indicated in the clip). As the footage didn’t contain sound, a Roxy recording of “12XU” was added later.