Sunday, February 20, 2011

Southern Death Cult – Moya 12” (Situation Two – 1982)

If the only aspect of The Cult you’re familiar with is as the famous hard rock stadium act churning out MTV crowd pleasers like “Love Removal Machine” (Beggars Banquet, 1987), this might be a good time to sit down, because you’re in for something of a shock.  The Cult as we know them today is nothing at all like their original incarnation as Southern Death Cult.

 The history of Southern Death Cult proper begins in 1981 with Ian Astbury joining an existant but dying punk band in Bradford known as Violation. He persuaded them to change their name to Southern Death Cult, the name both a Native American reference (an obsession of Astbury’s which would recur many times throughout his career) and also a nod to the disparity of power and influence between Southern and Northern halves of the UK.

The band toured with both Bauhaus and Theatre of Hate throughout 1982, providing them with massive exposure and coverage in the alternative media, rapidly becoming very big on the post punk scene despite lack of any significant amount of  released material.

The Fatman 7" - Southern Death Cult cover art here demonstrating just 
how thin the wall really was between punk and what would 
become understood as early "Goth".

Indeed, during their brief existence, the band released just two teensy pieces of vinyl, The Fatman 7” and the Moya 12” (both on Beggars Banquet, 1982), and each containing both of the title tracks, although Moya includes a third song “The Girl”. Both are interesting, not only musically, in the sense that the listener can easily sense just how far the influence of this band would be felt, but also in their political commentary, an element that would become increasingly rare as Goth continued to develop as a genre.

Looking at the footage below, it becomes very obvious just how far removed Southern Death Cult were, both visually and musically from The Cult that we know today.

Southern Death Cult would disband after just 16 months in February 1983. The explanation for breaking up that “expectations were just way too high” has frankly never satisfied me, it seems a singularly silly reason to disband. The explanation that Ian felt the various elements of Southern Death Cult were “working against each other” seems rather more reasonable (Mercer, Gothic Rock, Pegasus Publishing, 1991).

Never fear though gentle reader! Astbury with his new partner in crime, Billy Duffy (formerly of The Nosebleeds, Lonesome No More, Slaughter and the Dogs and most importantly, Theatre of Hate) would soon form Death Cult. The rest of them go on to form Getting the Fear, and later the hugely underrated Into A Circle.

But Death Cult is a tale for another time…

Track Listing:
1. Moya
2. Fatman
3. The Girl

After the band’s break up, Beggars Banquet released a compilation of various material, clearly sparing no expense on the cover art.

There are several different versions of this out there, with quite different track listings. Only the later CD releases include “The Girl” though, so you know what to look for…

Line Up:
Ian Astbury (vocals, guitar), David Burrows AKA: Buzz (guitars) Aki Nawaz (drums), Barry Jepson (Bass).

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Inca Babies – This Train (Black Lagoon Records, 1986)

I actually own several Inca Babies albums, but This Train has always been my personal favourite. Thundering out of Manchester in 1982 (or was it 83? Their own official site is a bit unclear on this), Inca Babies were another of the bastard children unintentionally spawned by pervasive influence of The Birthday Party and other acts in the Psychobilly vein. C.P Lee, author of several books on the Manchester music scene would later describe them as “the Hulme Cramps”.

The Interior 7” (Black Lagoon Records, 1983) on the band’s own label set the ball rolling,  several other singles and 12” releases emerged before the  debut LP appeared. Always ones to wear their influences on their sleeve, Rumble (Black Lagoon Records, 1984) took its name from an influential Link Ray song, and the cover art for The Interior depicts a dubious looking character apparently wearing a “King Ink” t-shirt. In the grand spirit of handing things down though, Rumble did contain a song called “Cactus Mouth Informer” , which now lends its name to a rather good blog, but I digress…

All this brings us to the This Train album (Black Lagoon Records, 1986), or to give it it’s full title; “This Train is Bound For Glory”, itself a Johnny Cash Song. The album itself remains a favourite of mine – imagine The Birthday Party stripped of the chaos and a slow surf-rock feel installed in its place.

Proceeded by the single “Splatter Ballistics Cop” (Black Lagoon Records, 1985), This Train is essentially an album of two gears – the relatively faster songs owing much to Birthday Party numbers like “Sometimes Pleasure Heads Must Burn” or “Release the Bats”, interspersed with the much slower, more in the mould of “She’s Hit” or “Deep in the Woods”.

After the release of This Train, the LP Opium Den (Black Lagoon Records, 1987) follows, but things seem to begin falling apart with various members leaving, and extensive tours of Europe, but little media coverage in their native UK. The Final LP Evil Hour (Constrictor, 1988) would see a significant change in direction, including keyboards provided by Clint Boon of Inspiral Carpets (well, it was Manchester afterall). The band themselves admit on their blog that they were disappointed in it. Personally, I’ve owned a copy of Evil Hour for many years in which time I think I’ve listened to it once which probably speaks for itself.

Happily though, in 2006 Cherry Red/Anagram Records approached the group to produce a best-of compilation which became Plutonium 1983-87 (notably excluding the Evil Hour period). You can get this from iTunes but inexplicably must download it as individual tracks rather than as one album. Still, I’d very much like to own this and will probably end up ordering a physical copy from – whoops, I just did.

Around this time, The Inca Babies roar back into life with a series of international gigs and in 2008 beginning to record a new album Death Message Blues (Black Lagoon Records, 2010) with 12 new songs on it. They no longer sound like The Birthday Party, although through an intriguing evolutionary process, they do now sound a lot like The Bad Seeds. Unfortunately, as Harry Inca records on the band’s blog, bassist Bill Bonny didn’t live to see the album’s release, apparently making a self-inflicted and sadly premature exit.

RIP Bill – and thank you for the music.

Track Listing
  1. Plenty More Mutants
  2. Correction Stack
  3. Hole in the Gulley
  4. Candy Mountain
  5. Splatter Ballistics Cop
  6. The Depths
  7. Backyard Bones
  8. Daniella
  9. Call Me Enemy
 Correction Stack, Daniella and Plenty More Mutants all appear on the compilation Plutonium 1983/87 (Anagram Records, 2006). The Depths is also included, although curiously mislabeled as Big Cypress.

Line Up:
Mike Lairs (vocals, harmonica), Harry Stafford AKA: Harry Inca (Guitars, piano), Bill Bonny (bass), Pete (drums, percussion, metal).

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Garden of Delight – Blessed Minutes 7” (Moonlight Productions, 1984)

Wait. I know what you’re thinking - but we’re not talking about the much better known  German Goth band that emerged in  the early 90’s here. 

What we have here is something much earlier, much more obscure, and from, of all places, Norway. Indeed, I must confess to having stumbled across them quite by accident on the net while looking for something entirely different. 

Apparently one of the first Goth bands in Norway but beyond that, not much information is available here, and short of any native Norwegian speakers with an access to fanzines of the time, I doubt there ever will be.

Garden of Delight popped out two singles in 1984 of which “Blessed Minutes” and its B-Side “Glory”, appears to have been the first. It may not be the be all and end all of Goth, but I’ve certainly heard far worse. They clearly had a taste for nice Pornography-era Cure style instrumentation, but whether getting in session musicians to include a horns section on “Blessed Minutes” was a good idea remains debatable. 

Despite its eccentric beginning and unusual lyrics (perhaps “glory to your broken leg” sounds slightly less daft in Norwegian?) “Glory” is a much stronger song, leaving one to speculate on why it was the B-Side? Stranger still, why make a video clip for the B side of a single? Meanwhile, the art work for the B-side certainly suggests the Norwegian music scene may have had a taste for blasphemy long before the Black Metal explosion of the early 90s.

By 1987 Garden of Delight had apparently shed the Goth trappings, releasing their only full length album Big Wheels in Emotion (Pale Records) which I can’t claim to have heard, but the cover art certainly doesn’t inspire confidence. Nor does the fact that no one seems to have uploaded any tracks from it onto Youtube, or that the band seems to have vanished into the void of obscurity shortly thereafter.

Rather more interesting though is Garden of Delight’s second single "22 Faces" (Moonlight Productions, 1984), not so much for its quality, it is in fact a substantially wimpier beast than its predecessor, as for The Strange Tale of The Riff That Wouldn't Die.

Does that sound familiar?
It should, because it’s extremely close to the riff used by Nirvana on their 1991 single “Come as You Are”. Yes! That riff! The one Killing Joke threatened to sue them for ripping off their 1985 song “Eighties”. A threat of legal action that must have taken considerable chutzpah, considering that not only did Garden of Delight beat Killing Joke to it by a year, but also, that the riff seems to have originally come from the 1982 song “Life Goes On” by The Damned, who so far have been very nice indeed in not threatening to sue anyone.

Youtube does also seem to have a couple of tracks from Garden of Delight's 1983 demo which for the sake of completeness we may as well include.

Track Listing:
1. Blessed Minutes
2. Glory

Line Up: Mai-Britt Kristoffersen (vocals), Bitten Forsudd (vocals, guitar), Heidi Hansen (bass), Atle Solberg (keyboards, percussion), Bjorn Pettersen (drums, percussion ).

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Clan of Xymox – Medusa (4AD, 1986)

Well, this is going to be a difficult one to cover since the band’s official sites, their Wikkipedia entry and entry don’t actually seem to be able to agree on any basic facts like dates and much information like who played what and when is simply absent.

Perhaps we can focus on what we do know and simply hope for the best?

Coming out of the Netherlands in 1983 (or 1981, depending on who you believe) Clan of Xymox were led by Ronnie Moorings, who remains a distinctive entity by remaining the sole constant figure throughout their various incarnations.

Never one to let a truly diabolical hairstyle stand in the way, Ronnie led his band, originally known as just Xymox to change their name to Clan of Xymox, to move to England and release a self titled album (4AD, 1985) containing the astonishing single “One Day”.

Clan of Xymox are best remembered though for their second studio release Medusa which came out on 4AD in 1986 (or 1987 if one believes the band’s official sites – I’m personally more inclined to believe the 1986 date stamped on the back of my 4AD copy).

I love the Medusa album  –  it’s pretty, it’s introspective, it’s darkly ambient, it’s soothing. Other commentators have suggested it may have pre-empted the Darkwave movement. Medusa remains a wonderful album and well worth your time.

A brief aside: I personally remain suspicious of “Darkwave” – initially it was used as a genre label designed to describe those more electronic Goth bands in the 90’s, especially European acts, who didn’t fit into the Sisters/Nephilim template. Nevertheless, it was later bandied about, abused (much as the term "Goth" is nowadays) and applied to pretty much anything in the mid 90’s that didn’t quite fit. I once saw a record catalogue from a normally very reputable distributor that had 45 Grave of all things listed under “Darkwave” which I daresay would have surprised Dinah Cancer greatly. 

I'm not clear about the vintage of these first two live clips. The first, "Louise" seems relatively recent. The second, "Michelle", I suspect is considerably older, possibly even dating from the Medusa period, but then, with Xymox's penchant for chronological inaccuracy, your guess is as good as mine.

The one thing in my humble opinion that stops Medusa from claiming total brilliance, is that it didn’t include “A Day” from their first album, and one of the great break-up songs of all time (All right – one of my great break-up songs of all time). But this is my fewkin’ blog, so for the sake of magnificence, here it is anyway:

After Medusa, the band would reincarnate themselves, losing the “Clan of” somewhere around 1988 to become just Xymox once again and release a large number of albums in a more non-goth but dance oriented vein. The discography on the band’s official sites curiously includes all these releases, but is very coy about mentioning the change in direction.

Somewhere around 1997 however sees Ronnie (now the sole remaining original member) having a “road to Damascus” moment and the Goth version of Clan of Xymox is reborn. This nicely anticipates the more electronic direction of Goth’s third wave and a string of much more Gothy albums, both studio and live would follow, much of which was very good indeed.

They may not be up there with Bauhaus or Sisters of Mercy in terms of influence, but Clan of Xymox are indisputably one of the longest living and prolific Goth bands on the planet.

Track Listing:
  1. Theme I
  2. Medusa
  3. Michelle
  4. Theme II
  5. Louise
  6. Lorrentine
  7. Agonised by Love
  8. Masquerade
  9. After the Call
  10. Back Door
The 2000 re-release through 4AD on CD also contains bonus tracks Blind Hearts, A Million Things and Scum, although none of these are listed on the album sleeve.

Line Up: What an excellent question! Ronnie Moorings was definitely there and the rest of the original line up according to Wikkipedia was Peter Nooten, Frank Weyzig and Anka Wolbert. Gothic Rock (Mercer, Pegasus Publishing, 1991) suggests Ronnie Moorings on vocals, keyboards and guitar, Anka (Anke?) Wolbert on bass, keyboards and vocals, Pieter Nooten on keyboards, vocals and someone called Burt Bartan on keyboards. This was written much later than Medusa however, and one can only speculate as to the lineup that actually went on to play on that album.  The 4AD site does note that Ronnie, Pieter and Anke were the main songwriters. Better information is welcomed.