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John Peel asks original punks the Mekons, the Slits & others about ‘punk, publicity and profit’
10.16.2017
11:42 am
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The Mekons
 
On October 6, 1978, on BBC Radio One, John Peel touted a TV program on which he appeared, to air the next week, on October 12—exactly 39 years ago last Thursday, as it happens. Here’s what Peel said: “The UK Subs are on Omnibus on next Thursday evening on BBC-1 television, along with the Mekons, the Slits, Jim Pursey, Alternative TV, the Desperate Bicycles, and the playlist committee among other things, and my good self, seen heading a football with more skill than I bet you imagined I had.”

Omnibus was a popular arts program that was in existence from 1967 through 2003. Peel’s documentary was titled “The Record Machine.” Recently the BBC Archive Twitter feed dropped a fascinating supercut from the doc featuring prominent punk bands discussing, often with great subtlety and insight, some of the issues bands were facing as to the ethical status of promotion, publicity, and product.

As the punk movement moved past its initial impact, bands had to confront some basic questions about the meaning of touring and releasing albums—in short, adopting punk as a career—when the underpinnings of the movement included a rejection of established modes and a commitment to the community of downtrodden and frustrated youth. As astute in the interviewer’s seat as he is as a DJ, Peel consistently presses the bands to explain where their heads are at in terms of signing contracts, releasing “product,” touring, and generally balancing the conflicting aims of gratifying fans, preserving artistic integrity, and making some goddamned money!
 

The Slits
 
In Leeds, Mekons manager Mick Wixey snarks that “we’re not on the verge of retirement yet” and registers the injustice of having to make an impact in London in order to get signed to a label. Jimmy Pursey of Sham 69 ruminates on the necessity of allying oneself with an established label in order to finance the process of touring before asserting that Sham 69 saved punk. Ari Up of the Slits whips a soccer ball at Peel’s head just when he’s trying to ask whether the Slits feel any political commitment to working with smaller labels (Viv Albertine says “nah”).

Mark Perry of Alternative TV—who earlier had put out one of the first punk zines, Sniffin’ Glue—relates how bummed out he was when the Clash signed with CBS and registers his disgust at the “two pound fifty” the Buzzcocks were charging for tickets at the time. The most epigrammatic of the bunch might be the UK Subs’ Charlie Harper, who reports that “we done a gig for fourteen pound—and we lost two quid.” Ouch.
 
More after the jump…

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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10.16.2017
11:42 am
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When a bunch of punks paid tribute to Johnny Cash at a low point in his career
02.21.2017
12:28 pm
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Last night I saw a concert by Billy Bragg, whose socialistic music and entire socialistic steez has taken on new ultra-relevance in an era in which Donald Trump is the President of the United States of America. Bragg was suitably fired up, and you can be sure he whipped the audience at Cleveland’s Music Box Supper Club into a righteous frenzy before the night was out.

Opening was the venerable Jon Langford of the Mekons, and he told an amusing story from the stage involving Johnny Cash. The starting point was the ‘Til Things Are Brighter project, which Langford and former Fall member and later BBC deejay Marc Riley spearheaded as a way to pay homage to Cash. This was the late 1980s—seven years after Cash was nearly killed by an ostrich in 1981—and Cash’s stock was at a relative nadir. As Langford explained, Cash was a bit dejected because it looked for all the world like his productive career was over and he had little to look forward to beyond a lengthy dotage and an inevitable slide to obscurity.

The roster of musicians is rather eye-popping. The album opens with Michelle Shocked, whose breakthrough album Short Sharp Shocked came out the same year, doing “One Piece At A Time.” Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks covered “Straight A’s In Love” while Cabaret Voltaire‘s Steven Mallinder took on “I Walk the Line.” The Triffids’ David McComb gave “Country Boy” his best while Langford’s Mekons and Riley played “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Wanted Man,” respectively.

All thirteen backing tracks were recorded by Langford and Riley and their house band in one day at RikRak Studio in Leeds, and the vocal tracks were picked up as various opportunities arose over the next several weeks. As the Guardian’s Graeme Thomson wrote in 2011,
 

Langford recalls that Marc Almond, the one “proper” pop star taking part, came in and “told me I’d cut “Man in Black” in the wrong key. He had a horrible fit in the studio. Sally [Timms, from the Mekons] talked him down and coaxed this fantastic performance out of him, but I think he was a bit nervous. It was maybe a bit odd for him to be doing Johnny Cash songs.”

 
Odd perhaps, but Timms did some good work there—Almond’s vocal track is arguably the best thing on the album.

One of Langford and Riley’s clever ideas was to have Mary Mary, the (male) singer of the Grebo band Gaye Bykers on Acid execute a cover of Cash’s classic song “A Boy Named Sue.” They were concerned that Cash might not be enthusiastic being covered by anybody associated with a band of that name, but not a bit of it, he was totally open to it and found the idea entirely amusing.

Keep reading after the jump…

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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02.21.2017
12:28 pm
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