THE MEKONS + HAGAR THE WOMB + DUNSTAN BRUCE – PATTERNS, BRIGHTON 04.04.19
It takes something special to get me to travel to Brighton for an early start on a Thursday night and the opportunity to see Hagar the Womb’s favourite band, The Mekons, was one that I could not let pass especially as I have to confess that I had never before caught them live in their 40 plus years of existence. The closest I ever came was seeing The Three Johns, starring Jon Langford (The Mekons original drummer, now guitar and vocals), at a Miner’s Benefit back in 1984, so not very close at all really!
First onstage was Dunstan Bruce, former frontman of Chumbawamba and the lead singer of Interrobang‽ since 2012. The ordinary Joe in the street will remember him for ‘Tubthumping’ which reached number two in the UK charts in 1997 and ‘Amnesia’ which peaked at number ten early the following year. The ordinary Punk though will more likely remember them as an Anarcho-Punk band formed in 1982 and politically influenced by the likes of Crass, and not adverse to a bit of controversy.
Interrobang‽ described themselves as “an agitpunkfunkstorm. An angular assault course of taut techpop. Agonised surging urgency vigour and vim. Pulsating present intense intravenous interrobang. We’re totally wired, can’t you see?”
For those of you who don’t know, and that included me, according to the dictionary the interrobang ‽ is a non standard punctuation mark used in various written languages and intended to combine the functions of the question mark and the exclamation mark. A sentence ending with an interrobang asks a question in an excited manner, expresses excitement or disbelief in the form of a question, or asks a rhetorical question. I hope that clarifies where the band’s name comes from.
Anyway, tonight there was no band, it was just Dunstan with a microphone, a typewriter on an airline trolley, pint glass, dressed very smartly in his grey suit black shirt and tie, and a backing tape. This was the first time that he had actually played this format in front of a live audience so nobody knew what to expect, probably least of all Dunstan. He knew exactly what he wanted though and after the first track he requested that the backing tape be turned up louder so that he could do battle with it. What followed was poetic genius. An autobiographical lyrical onslaught, this really was a middle-aged militant rant. The lyrics resonated with me and I should imagine a lot of those of a similar age in the audience. They went from light-hearted to hard-hitting and brutally honest within moments. Hailing from Billingham, his north-eastern dialect made it highly-effective. Dunstan is here now and he certainly does have a lot to say. With material like this I can’t see him fading away anytime soon. Tonight’s set included seven tracks off their self-titled album released a year ago, including ‘The Inclement Weather’ with the lyric “embracing adventure with comfortable shoes” which I wholeheartedly concur with and is what happens to many of us in our fifties.
A definite addition to my playlist as there was so much to take in that makes me want to delve deeper into the mind of Mr Bunce. I look forward to seeing him complete with band in the not too distant future for a different take on Interrobang‽. They are booked in to play at the wonderful Glastonwick (May 31st-June 2nd) for those of you who are looking for a cheap festival to attend this year.
More information on Interrobang‽ HERE.
It had only been 76 days since I first saw Hagar The Womb at The Prince Albert and even though fresh in the mind it actually felt longer as I had enjoyed the gig so much and couldn’t wait to see them again, if that makes any sense? I know what I’m trying to say anyway.
Having waited almost 40 years to see them, it was great to have the opportunity to see them play live again so soon again afterwards. In preparation for the gig I had been warming up by listening to ‘Hagiography’ for the week leading up to the gig. On the hour-long journey to the venue I had reached track 20 of 25 and I was raring to go.
As I found out last time they are a reviewer’s dream. There is so much interaction between the group members, and also with the audience. There is never a dull moment from the drummer being seemingly lost and arriving late on stage, to Karen telling us tales about how she had once snogged a Mekon but was unable to remember which one. No wonder they are her favourite band! Tonight Ruth was responsible for band admin and handed out setlists on 15cm x 8cm paper (austerity is hitting hard) which some band members found difficult to read prompting bassist, Mitch, to throw his copy into the crowd.
With her ceaseless jumping during each song Karen reached 2,000 steps on her Fitbit some three numbers in and hit her 15,000 target well before the set ended. Ruth was also wearing a Fitbit, matching in colour, but not troubling the pedometer quite as much, though if she had been wearing it on her left wrist then she might have upped the count with her swigging on what I can only assume was Ribena or another popular blackcurrant beverage!
Onto the music and once again they delivered. ‘Idolisation’, the setlist was obviously completed in English U.S on Word, is my favourite track and playing it early in the set is a masterstroke as it is definitely a tune that gets the crowd going. We were once again treated to their most recent offering, which is now two and a half years old, ‘Visible Woman’ which is available on the International Women’s Day compilation album ‘No One’s Little Girls.’
I enjoyed the rendition of ‘Dressed to Kill’ which is particularly impressive considering by their own admission they still sometimes can’t remember the lyrics. To top it off Mitch handed me his bass guitar at the end of the set, but if he wanted me to have a play then he had picked the wrong crowd member as my musical talents are extremely limited and I did almost drop it which would have been highly embarrassing.
I am now of the opinion that half an hour of the Hags is not enough and you can only imagine my excitement when guitarist Steph handed me a flyer afterwards advertising a new 6 track EP which is due out soon in 10” coloured vinyl with a lyric sheet. I will be rushing down to my local record store when this is released, or more than likely ordering it online due to the sad demise of such shops. Thankfully Hagar the Womb are as strong as ever and there are no signs of such a demise in their ranks.
More information on Hagar The Womb HERE.
The main event for tonight brought together The Mekons fresh from having just released their first proper album in eight years ‘Deserted’ which was released only last week on the Glitterbeat label.
With an extensive back catalogue to choose from the challenge was laid down for the band to satisfy the crowd with a mix of the classics from years gone by and of course promoting the new album. We were informed by the band that they only have three copies left on vinyl of which could include a rare mis-pressing as some people had already found out. Tonight was the chance to see how they have changed over their 42 years.
It looked like Sally had made a special effort for the night wearing a patterned dress to play in Patterns but she pointed out that she was only wearing it because everything else in her tour wardrobe smelt! Still it was appropriate for the evening and a bargain at only $4 from H&M somewhere in the USA.
They opened proceedings with ‘Lawrence of California’ the first track on the new album and if anybody was in doubt about the quality of their new songs then those worries were soon put to bed. This was followed by the 30 year old ‘Heaven And Back’ to please those in the crowd wanting a bit of nostalgia.
As is often the way with groups who have been around for a while, the back catalogue is often what the public want to hear so ‘Hard To Be Human Again,’ Fantastic Voyage’ (a song about sexiness according to Jon) and ‘Millionaire’ were particularly well received by the crowd. I also enjoyed ‘Thee Olde Trip To Jerusalem,’ the story of British Socialism condensed into 4 minutes.
They finished off the set with a track from the new album ‘How Many Stars,’ from which the only thing missing was a crowd with mobile phones raised above their heads and torches turned on.
Jon completed an unwanted hat-trick of broken strings during the encore but luckily Mitch (Hagar the Womb) was on hand to provide a replacement guitar from ‘Cousin Ed’ on each occasion and carry out the necessary repairs.
Unfortunately the encore was cut short after ‘Memphis Egypt’ due to the early curfew though they still dared to overrun by almost 10 minutes. With the crowd baying for one more song, after a minute’s worth of debate between Jon and Sally they called it a day not willing to risk the wrath of the venue. I also think Sally might have been deafened by the ramped up sound coming from Rico’s mouth organ.
A shame as there were a couple of noticeable missing classics from the set, but maybe that was their way to entice the crowd to catch them at a future date on the tour. Being an 8 piece band, the small stage at Patterns did mean that some members were hidden away including the talented trio of Susie Honeyman on violin, Lu Edmonds on saz and Dave Trumfio on bass guitar.
Musically they are a tight knit band and space wise for tonight they were also pretty tight. This didn’t detract from their performance and they appeared happy as a unit sharing good exchanges. Their sharing of vocal duties between half the band works very well. They have matured over the years, but their new offering still has the old anger and attitude of years gone by. The Mekons have been in the music business for many years with a few personnel changes along the way, but they still continue to perform at the top of their game and you can’t doubt their talent. Dan Dare still isn’t safe as The Mekons continue on their quest to conquer Planet Earth.
The Mekons are:
Jon Langford a.k.a Joshua T Landfrog (Chicago, Wales): founder member 1977, originally the drummer, Jon sings, plays guitar, performs with Three Johns, Waco
Brothers, Four Lost Souls, Pine Valley Cosmonauts, Men of Gwent, Skull Orchard and
Sally Timms a.k.a. Sahara Timms (Chicago, Yorkshire): first sang with Mekons in 1982,
Enjoys a parallel solo career and has performed with The Dirty Three, Magnetic Fields,
Marc Almond, Pete Shelley, Freakons, Moxie Tung, The Shehees, Skull Orchard.
Susie Honeyman a.k.a. Florence of Arabia (Bethnal Green, Scotland): joined Mekons
in 1983 as a violinist. Susie’s other projects include Echo City, Little Sparta, Fire Engines, The Higsons, Rip Rig and Panic, Vivian Stanshall and an art gallery in London called the Grey Gallery.
Rico Bell a.k.a Yucca Bell (Aptos CA, Wales/Liverpool): accordionist and singer since
1985, an acclaimed oil painter who has made a series of solo albums with his band the Snake Handlers and worked with Martin Barre of Jethro Tull & the March Violets.
Tom Greenhalgh a.k.a Tom E Kalaharihalgh (Devon, England): Founder member vocalist and guitarist since the Mekons formed in Leeds 1977, Tom is a multimedia artist and has also been a member of Edward II and the Red Hot Polkas and King Tommy’s Velvet Runway.
Dave Trumfio a.k.a. The Baron Waste (Chicago/LA USA): Began working with Mekons
as a sound engineer in 1994 and has played guitar, keyboards & most recently bass in the band. Other projects include Pulsars & a new Dark Wave combo Viktor Fiction.
Lu Edmonds a.k.a. Tak Lu Makan (Citizen of the World): a Mekon since 1985 first as a
bassist but now on stringed instruments including the saz, cumbus and oud. Formerly a
member of the Damned, 3 Mustaphas 3, Billy Bragg and the Blokes currently a member of PIL and Les Triaboliques.
Steve Goulding a.k.a. Steve Gobi (Brooklyn, UK): joined Mekons in 1985 on drum-kit,
other projects include Graham Parker & the Rumour, Gang of Four, Waco Brothers,
The Cure, Elvis Costello, The Associates, David Bowie, Roxy Music, Nick Lowe, Wreckless Eric, Fond Farewells.
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