The Buzzcocks – Time’s Up (The Grey Area album, 2000)

buzzcocks_timesup

“No-remix demos, all recorded live, no overdubs … October 1976, 4 track, cost about £45.”

For many, the Buzzcocks story starts (and perhaps ends) with their crossover single ‘Ever Fallen In Love With Someone’, a distilled pop-punk gem that was a deserved hit for the band. However, to focus on this single three minutes or so ignores the immense body of work that the band, largely fronted by seminal guitarist and singer Pete Shelley, who died yesterday, have accumulated over the years.

On the surface, Mute‘s decision to release this much-bootlegged collection of early Buzzcocks demos and studio sessions seems ill-advised – except that it really does make a degree of sense. The Grey Area sub-label originally developed as an outlet for re-releases of material that was held to have had a devastating influence on counter-commercial music styles; to this end, re-releasing tracks that influenced a generation of punks and launched the career of Howard Devoto (née Trafford, singer and chief songwriter with the band at this point, later frontman of Magazine and responsible for introducing Barry Adamson to the world) – is every bit as understandable as their re-releases of post-punk pioneers Cabaret Voltaire, Wire and Throbbing Gristle.

I never held much of an opinion in my early years on the perceived greatness of the Sex Pistols, although after watching The Filth And The Fury, I’m prepared to change my mind. Not so my opinion of Buzzcocks, especially on this collection. Their sound, even at this early stage, was less prone to excess, and the songs are delivered with a precision and exactness that carried forward into live (documentary) evidence from the period – just check out the classic post-Devoto Live At The Roxy compilation. These are very much well-executed, catchy underground pop tunes, with only Shelley’s fuzzy guitar work and Devoto’s sneering vocals planting the band in the punk firmament. Other members at the time were John Maher and Steve Diggle.

Social comment is not prevalent here, Howard Devoto’s lyrics preferring to deal with the more pressing post-teenage issues – sex and lust (‘Orgasm Addict’ and ‘Love Battery’ being two of the more crudely obvious examples) and frustration (‘You’re Messing Me Around’, and the classics ‘Breakdown’ and ‘Boredom’). Devoto’s lyrical take is pretty raw here, unlike his studied poetry-like work with Magazine, while still hinting at his future greatness. Knowing his future direction helps understand why a song like the cover of Captain Beefheart’s ‘I Love You Big Dummy’ fits here so damn well.

Eleven historic tracks are presented here, bolstered by a collage of video footage of the first Buzzcocks gig at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall in 1976 – the scene of the Sex Pistols entrance into the Manchester punk movement. What’s worth the entry price alone is the inlay booklet, which is so fat with pages that you can hardly close the case. The content is an obsessive collector’s dream – photos, scribbles, concert setlists etc, as well as the original press release for the seminal Spiral Scratch EP, liner notes from Greil Marcus and a 1977 interview with Devoto. Overall, Mute have done an excellent job on this reissue, marking this out as the most comprehensive, definitive and hopefully final version to date.

Originally posted 2003; re-posted 2018 following the sad death of Pete Shelley at 63 years old.

(c) 2018 Documentary Evidence

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Nitzer Ebb – 1982-2010: The Box Set (Pylon Records, 2018)

Nitzer Ebb is a band whose music dominated my teenage years. My happiest moments may have been soundtracked by Erasure and my uncertain adolescence by Depeche Mode, but it was Nitzer Ebb that I turned to when I was angry and full of rage. Had I been less scared of guitars I might have found that rage vented through Nirvana’s Nevermind like all of my friends instead of the lurid Ebbhead in 1991, but I remain forever thankful that it was Douglas McCarthy and Bon Harris that I trusted with my bitterness.

More or less all of Nitzer Ebb’s output – from their self-released Basic Pain Procedure collection to 1994’s anguished-but-brilliant Big Hit – are now the beneficiaries of a deluxe vinyl reissue boxset courtesy of Pylon Records. Over expanded double LP editions, Pylon have added rare and forgotten mixes to the albums, lovingly restored the original artwork and put back into circulation five important records from the Mute back catalogue that have been out of print for years.

Head to www.pylonrecords.com to pre-order one of two available editions of the boxsets. 1982-2010: The Box Set will be released on October 5, 2018.

Postscript: after a link to this post appeared on Twitter, the official Mute account responded “Mute Ebb catalogue release news coming soon!” I don’t any more than that, but it tantalisingly hints at a separate reissue programme from the label that the band called home for most of their career. Further details will be announced soon, I hope.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Start To Move: A Short History Of 1970s Wire (Clash feature, 2018)

On the occasion of last week’s release of deluxe hardback reissues of Wire’s three 1970s albums, I was asked by Clash to contribute a short piece reflecting on the (perhaps overlooked) importance of those albums. Sections of the piece appeared originally on the first version of the Documentary Evidence website about ten years ago and haven’t ever gone back online; the original piece formed part of a longer bio covering the three chapters in the Wire story.

The Clash feature can be found here.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith for Clash

The Residents – Santa Dog (Superior Viaduct single, 2014)

The Residents 'Santa Dog' 2x7" artwork

reissue: superior viaduct | 2×7″ | 29/04/2014
original release: ralph records | 2×7″ rr1272 | 20/12/1972

It would be misplaced to state that Santa Dog, a double 7″ released in 1972 by the new Ralph imprint, firmly impressed the strange world of The Residents on the contemporary conscience. Misplaced, because hardly anyone heard it: 500 copies were pressed and mailed out by the label, a lot of them were returned and a further batch can be presumed to have been discarded, like unwanted Christmas gifts, by the baffled recipients of what looked like a strange corporate gift. The sleeve indicated that Santa Dog was an advert of sorts for the film Vileness Fats, a 14-hour epic that has never fully seen the light of day.

Given the few copies in existence, it’s no surprise that Santa Dog has become an expensive, sought-after artifact, much bootlegged and any copies that do come up for sale are pounced upon by moneyed fans of art-music-weirdness with intense zeal – one copy went on Discogs for GBP650. Mercifully, the Californian reissue label Superior Viaduct – a name which has all sorts of Residential nonsensicality about it – can now rescue us all from either financial ruin in the pursuit of this eleven-minute curiosity or horrible YouTube rips of the tracks, thanks to a new replica pressing of the original gatefold double 7″ which will set you back a mere fifteen dollars.

The original release was weird to its very centre; side D followed side A, side C more naturally followed B. Why Ralph did this, we’ll probably never know. Why The Residents decided to attribute the four songs here to four fantastically-monikered pseudonyms we’ll also never know. Check them out: Ivory & The Braineaters, Arf & Omega (featuring The Singing Lawnchairs), Delta Nudes, The College Walkers. All four ‘bands’ are linked by a uniform oddness or archly experimental aesthetic, but each does indeed sound like an individual band, of sorts. We assume, of course, that these really are pseudonymous groups of this supposedly San Francisco-based unit, but can we really be sure? With The Residents you can never be totally sure, and that’s part of the fun of the chase.

Each of the four pieces here are, effectively, collages; nothing stays in place for long, almost as if the technical limitations of specific tape-loop lengths meant that the layered recordings only had a short lifespan before being abruptly moved out of focus in favour if something else – a tropicalia-flecked rhythm, a chorus of vocals singing about (I think) kicking a cat, clattering distorted noise bursts. Heard as a whole, Santa Dog is both lighthearted, one might say almost twee, and yet malevolently dark at the same time; a subversive hand gesture whilst grinning innocently simultaneously. The Beatles, whose album sleeve The Residents would shamelessly co-opt later, did this more or less contemporaneously with ‘You Know My Name’, itself an assemblage of sundry disembodied short studio vignettes, and achieved the same effect with swathes of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; but whereas the Mop Tops flirted with the possibilities of musique concrète from within the confines of the richly-equipped Abbey Road, The Residents commenced their journey in that gear and never really changed it (a lidless eyeball cannot blink, after all).

‘Fire’, credited to Ivory & The Braineaters finds our vocalist delivering a performance that sounds like Bryan Ferry at his most tremulous, blended with assorted plunderphonics and an effortless wonky garage rock groove, almost as if The Residents might have been a straight R&B group at some point in their shrouded past. ‘Fire’ is the most accessible track here, if you squint; ‘Aircraft Damage’ has the feel of a radio play where the script had been crafted entirely from advertising slogans for mythical products, a (Santa) dog yaps in the background, a military drum rattles and ghostly voices fill the void left by the players; familiar Christmas melodies open ‘Explosion’ before things descend into a skronking over-amped free jazz stew – with manically-treated horns – and finally a queasy klezmer-style fiddle and chimes; ‘Lightning’ finds wandering Moog of almost cartoon-ish proportions getting jump-cut into a cycle of ominous drums and Latin rhythms spiked with clipped voices and the sort of future-facing sloganeering that might have graced a promotional video for Walt Disney’s original vision for his Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow before an apocryphal newsroom tale involving a turkey and some cranberries concludes this (sort of) festive brain-melting record.

Superior Viaduct’s re-release of Santa Dog is faithful to the original, maintaining the double 7″ gatefold format, the quirky sequencing and the same faceless anonymity that surrounded the original mailing of this record. The Residents would return to Santa Dog many, many times over the years, becoming a seasonal staple like a Dickens novel realised by Zappa. Nevertheless, it is fitting – on a very wry level – that Superior Viaduct have opted to release a Christmas record at Easter.

Buy at www.superiorviaduct.com

Track listing:

2×7″
A. Ivory & The Braineaters ‘Fire’
D. Arf & Omega (feat. The Singing Lawnchairs) ‘Aircraft Damage’
B. The College Walkers ‘Explosion’
C. Delta Nudes ‘Lightning’

Thanks to Sam / Superior Viaduct.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence