Friday, April 15, 2016

Weekend Mix: The Curse Of The Mekons

The Mekons should be better known. They are so much more interesting than Radiohead, or Oasis, for instance.

They were briefly signed by A&M, and released one great album, "The Mekons Rock 'n' Roll" in 1989, but the fit was poor, and they were soon back to indie purgatory. 
Their next, "Curse Of The Mekons", which is even better, didn't even see a US release initially.

I used to gauge a new record store by how many Kevin Ayers albums they had. Then I'd check for Roy Harper and Lee "Scratch" Perry. A quick indication of the depth of their catalog.
In the early '90's I added The Mekons to the list. Their cd's were pretty hard to find, but over the years I managed to collect a baker's dozen. This compilation covers from 1987-2002.

Formed in 1977 by a group of Leeds University art students: John Langford, Kevin Lycett, Mark White, Andy Corrigan, and Tom Greenhalgh (Gang Of Four and Delta 5 came out of the same group of students). I just now found out that they took the name from the Mekon, an evil, super-intelligent Venusian featured in the British 1950-1960's comic Dan Dare.

The band's first single was "Never been In A Riot", a satirical take on The Clash's "White Riot".
They're debut album, "The Quality Of Mercy Is Not Strnen", was recorded using the Gang Of Four's instruments, and due to an error by the Virgin Records art department, features pictures of that band, instead of The Mekons on the back cover.

                                                                 The Mekons in 2015    

Through the years, the band's musical style has evolved, incorporating country, folk, rock, and occasional experiments in dub. These days, The Mekons are often described as a post-punk, cowpunk and/or alt country band.

The Mekons
Jon Langford
Tom Greenhalgh
Sally Timms
Sara Corina
Steve Goulding (The Rumour)
Susie Honeyman
Rico Bell
Lu Edmonds (The Damned)
J. Mitch Flacko

Past members
Ben Mandelson
Dick Taylor (original Rolling Stone and Pretty Thing)
John Langley
Kevin Lycett
Mary Jenner
Robert Worby

Mekons Mekons Mekons



Anonymous said...

Although I'm familiar with the name, it's amazing that this is the first time hearing The Mekons in my years and years of listening/collecting music. Sounds like I've been missing something really interesting and good. Another reason I love this blog. Being a big Roy Harper fan, I'd sure be interested in hearing of your mixes. Thanks, Randy

William Repsher said...

Even in my own head, I downplay the importance of The Mekons in my life. They just never seemed like a band that demanded respect - which is a quality I like! But as a result, they're never going to get mentioned in the same breath as Costello, Replacements, Smiths, etc. It's like they have a secret history that a select few know about.

Their early punk stuff leaves me cold - always has, always will, tremendously disappointed when I back-tracked and got those early compilations of the late 70s/early 80s punk years.

1985: Fear and Whiskey. That was the game changer. Shifting into that punkish/country mode and stumbling onto a whole new genre. I'm not really sure if anyone else was doing the same thing at that time? Or if that record is ever recognized as the milestone it is? But when I first came to NYC shortly thereafter, that was one of the first album I bought at Sounds, thus the Mekons, NYC in the 80s, St. Marks Place, East Village ... it all rolls together for me, such a great time to be in this city.

And then they branched out. Stuff like "Fletcher Christian," "I'm Not Here (1967)," "The Curse" ... they pushed boundaries with what they were trying to do. I thought "Rock and Roll" was a let down at the time, sounded like they were trying too hard to make it. They've had flashes of greatness since. "Last Night on Earth" has become a go-to track.

My best memory of them is seeing them at Summer Stage in Central Park, July 1991, right as "The Curse of the Mekons" was coming out. Rowdy show, ended with the band inviting audience members up on stage so there was this heaving mass of people dancing around, and as the song progressed, each band member gave up his instrument to an audience member, and the show dissolved into this weird senseless jam. No one quite when to leave, and that's how the show ended.


Thanks BBJ -- a true Blast From My Past!

I'm looking forward to listening.

Have a great weekend!

dogbreath said...

Works for me. For 3 reasons: just back from a week's stay in Rome (the one in Italy not the 8 or so in the US) and the only respite from the ubiquitous Italo-Europop was a young guy blasting out an instrumental version of Metallica's "Master of Puppets" outside the Colosseum and Peter Frampton's acoustic version of "Baby, I Love Your Way" on our taxi driver's radio on the ride to the airport. I first tuned in to the band because I was big fan of the Dan Dare strip in "The Eagle" comic. And now my stepdaughter goes to the same Uni from where the band emanated. Plus, natch, I trust your judgement on these things. (Stop sucking up and that's 4 reasons - Ed). So, many thanks for sticking it all together for us. Nice one! Have a great weekend.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, BBJ!!! Mekons are one of those bands I tirelessly promote, declare my love for, etc, but actually only own/have heard two of their albums. So this comp will go a ways toward closing that fantasy-reality gap.

Anonymous said...

"Revenge of the Mekons," a likeable documentary about the band, is on Netflix right now. (also, "Lemmy") My one quibble with the doc is that it alludes to Jon Langford as the man of boundless energy and ideas, but doesn't delve too much into his side projects, beginning with the Three Johns and still going on today. Maybe that material doesn't belong in a movie about the Mekons, but Jon was keeping the songs alive when the band was in the wilderness between "Quality of Mercy" and "Fear and Whiskey".

One of the talking heads in the doc gets it right, tho - their most recent album, "Ancient & Modern," is one of their best.

William Repsher said...

I should point out that aside from the first song on your compilation, mine would be completely different! That's the kind of band they've been: different meanings for different people.

Anonymous said...

Just finished reading Will Oldham on Bonnie 'Prince' Billy and The Mekons were mentioned a lot. Never Been in a Riot is the only one I really know (thanks to the NME and its wonderful series of cassettes) so this is a propitious opportunity to catch up and see why Will was so enthusiastic, thanks very much!

buzzbabyjesus said...

Well, William Repsher at least you got one right.

I tried to include something from "Fear And Whiskey", but it just didn't work out. It's all about pacing and flow.

William Repsher said...

When I visit relatives in PA, my car back there only has a CD player, so I've gotten in the habit of burning copies of compilation discs from my iTunes playlists. So I figured, why not the Mekons now that it's in front of me. Here's what I came up with:

1. Slightly South of the Border
2. King Arthur
3. Darkness and Doubt
4. The Lost Dance (remix of Last Dance)
5. I'm Not Here (1967)
6. Fletcher Christian
7. The Curse
8. Wild and Blue
9. 100% Song
10. Back to Back
11. Gin & It
12. Orpheus
13. Antigone Speaks About Herself
14. Last Night on Earth
15. Ordinary Night
16. Thee Olde Trip to Jerusalem
17. Cockermouth
18. Blow the Man Down
19. Land Ahoy (with Robbie Fulks)

Went more for chronological order here. I'm drawn less to their rock side and more to their folkish/world music type ventures, which really aren't that way at all. Again, you could have another person post a favorite mix, and it would make it seem like they were a bunch of punk rockers. I actually revisited some of the earlier punk stuff and might end up pulling a track or two ... couldn't grasp that stuff at all for years!

buzzbabyjesus said...

Where is "Coal Hole?"
They revisited the punk years in 2004, and "Teeth" almost made my mix.
About half of your selections were considered. I made more than one prototype, and the first included "Darkness and Doubt", as it's a personal favorite, but it's really long, and the real estate too valuable.
If pressed I'd say "The Curse Of The Mekons" is my favorite, and I started with songs from it I thought were essential. "Wild And Blue" narrowly missed inclusion, as well.
There was too long of a gap between the most recent songs and Robbie Fulks 2015 collaboration, plus I haven't really listened to it.
I just acquired "Ancient & Modern", thanks to Anonymous, and I look forward to getting into that as well.
Jon Langford's brilliant "Drone Operator" was on a recent mix.

William Repsher said...

Their more recent albums are veering towards a more traditional folk/British direction, last one themed towards sea shanties and such (while not being sea shanties ... that seems to be their M.O., tinkering with different types of music and adopting them to their style).

So Good It Hurts really hit home with me in 1988. I loved that "south sea isles" direction they veered off into, like a ship with a broken rudder. For me, their best songs have really dark lyrical content, thus what I think may be their signature song, "Darkness and Doubt." But "Fletcher Christian" is a close second, really captures that sense of mutiny, abandoning one's home country and sense of morality, sailing off into uncharted territories, with the suspicion that you're really going in the wrong direction. The Mekons' theme!

As I recall with Curse, they were in a terrible place after Rock N Roll tanked their major label shot at success with A&M. (I still have problems with critics befuddled by the album wasn't a hit ... when an album starts with the line "Destroy your safe and happy lives/Before it is too late" ... this aint Bon Jovi.) The trend at the time was to try to adapt all these indie bands to the major label systems, a la R.E.M., and everybody wins, but much as The Replacements lost, so did The Mekons. As well they should have - some bands were meant to be indie.

I recall not even being able to find The Curse in stores as there was some strange distribution issue going on -- I guess they presented the album to A&M, who balked at releasing it, and it eventually came out on an indie after much finagling? All I know is that when I heard the track "The Curse" (wouldn't argue with anyone calling it their best song), I thought, this is a band just hitting its prime. At that point, they sounded like a bunch of mutinous pirates, which was a good place for a rock and roll band to be!

Dr Wu said...

Loved the mix! Enjoyed the documentary. Thanks for reminding me what a thoroughly incredible band they are.

buzzbabyjesus said...

I watched the doc last night on Netflix. Terrific.

Biffles said...

yes, they came out of the Social History of Art M.A. program at Leeds, which Andy Gill and Jon King were in the first class of. I know because I graduated from that program, too but there was no band my year, my fellow grad students were way too earnest about studying...

Anonymous said...

Fantastic collection as always. Now I need to buy the documentary disc ASAP.
Keep spreading the love!