The material on what has been variously described as Very Friendly and The First Annual Report represent the first recordings that Throbbing Gristle made under that name in 1975, in the midst of their transition from the COUM Transmissions moniker in a concerted effort toward making music rather than more eclectic arty initiatives.
These so-called “wreckers of civilisation” – Genesis P-Orridge, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Chris Carter and the late Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson – were no strangers to controversy when they decided to focus on what became Throbbing Gristle. COUM, while including an element of sonic exploration, was fundamentally a multi-disciplinary project, with imagery and ideologies that were often challenging, even for the liberal approach often taken toward the arts during the Seventies. Throbbing Gristle extracted the confrontational artsy angle but focussed that around sound, developing an aesthetic that was contemporary with the genesis of punk but which split itself off in a uniquely devastating counterweight to the Transatlantic feedback loop between The Ramones and The Sex Pistols.
This so-called first annual report begins with an almost twenty minute dirge of sound that recounts, in blunt, detached detail, the Moors Murders of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. Gen’s narrative on ‘Very Friendly’ spares no detail, taking on the dispassionate delivery that Patrick Bateman would deploy over a decade later in Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho; no detail is spared, whether that be the detailing of various proclivities on the part of the victims or the brutal violence that Brady / Hindley wrought upon those individuals. Gen’s voice takes on a manic, almost excitable and aroused quality as the sonic backdrop begins to pick up the pace to reflect the executions, with jarring synths and fuzzed-up guitars delivering the requisite nightmarish atmosphere for the story.
By the conclusion of TG’s opening gambit, the group are dealing in mere atmospheres, Gen’s voice stuttering the words ‘there’s been a m-m-m-m-murder’ with layers of echo that almost suggests a dreamy, sedated otherworldliness, as if what just played out couldn’t possibly be true. For a lot of people the serial killer antics of Brady and Hindley were something that couldn’t be rationalised, while for others they were a numbing tragedy that cast a pall over the North of England.
The rest of the album takes the same sonic foundations – the same grainy texture and noisy, clamorous atmospheres – and skews them, sometimes finding Gen vocalising some weird lament (’10 Pence’), adding TV news reportage while guitars and freeform noise structures push the TG sound closer to The Velvet Underground’s ‘Black Angel Death Song’ (‘Whorls Of Sound’), or into intriguing synth shapes (‘Dead Bait’) that belong on a Clive Barker soundtrack.
Though nowhere near as devastatingly confrontational as the opener, the most interesting piece here is ‘Final Muzak’, which propels itself forth on a dense, churning, sub-motorik metallic groove that’s part rhythm and part bass sequence. Noises whine and drone continually over that jarring rhythm, cycling round in queasy loops that suggest this early attempt toward the disciplinarian approach that would become one of Throbbing Gristle’s signature motifs could have run on far longer than the mere five and a half minutes presented here.
Very Friendly / The First Annual Report has never officially been released, but it has been bootlegged plenty of times over the years, with the name varying according to the release. I bought a CD copy of this released by the Genetic Terrorists label, with the above sleeve image and the name Very Friendly from an HMV on Oxford Street in 1997, which lead me to believe it was perhaps more official than it actually was. The most recent release was in 2001 on the Yeaah! label. Quite why the band never saw fit to release the record officially via their own Industrial imprint is something of a mystery, but just another strange decision in the history of this most uncompromising of British groups.
(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence