Before Neville Brody made his name as Art Director of The Face he designed a series of very distinctive sleeves for the left-field indie label Fetish Records. This was at the beginning of the 80s when post-punk was getting in the jungle groove with the likes of A Certain Ratio, Rip Rig & Panic, Pigbag, and the Byrne/Eno album My Life In The Bush of Ghosts making a tribal, rhythmic racket that sounded like funk music being put through a blender.
Fetish act 23 Skidoo were on the extreme cutting edge of that scene, tearing apart funky beats and using the pieces in a abstract collage with electronics, samples, tape loops, white noise, and African percussion. Their sound was like Fela Kuti having a fight with William Burroughs and Brody’s sleeve for their debut album Seven Songs perfectly captured its voodoo stew of the ethnic and industrial with its iconic image of disfigured clay hands playing an African drum against a background of chicken wire. All done with real objects either found or made by hand of course, but I would think that even if Photoshop had existed back in 1982 Brody would still have done it this way because he couldn’t have achieved the same raw, made-by-aborigines feel on a computer.
Fetish had a whole roster of similar arty punk-funkers and No Wave noise merchants on the label, and the rest of Brody’s work for them had an equally ragged, primitive feel, often using his own bold paintings (as did his early work for The Face.) But he evolved out of that style as his design became more formal and clean with the slickness we know as “80s design” in much the same way that the wild post-punk-funk sound evolved into the shiny pop of ABC and Haircut 100.
I bought a lot of weird, out-there records in those days — I was young and adventurous! — but Seven Songs really pushed what was already a very flexible envelope at the time, sounding more like a confrontational art installation than anything resembling “rock and roll” music. Being a designer I’m far more likely to buy a record or book if I like the cover and I probably wouldn’t have taken the risky plunge of buying it unheard — most likely prompted by a rave review in the NME — if I hadn’t liked the sleeve so much. The sleeve is the reason I still have my copy of the record too, because even 30 years later it still sounds like head-fucking music made by aliens and isn’t a album I play a lot (I filed it under “interesting”). But I’m glad I have it as a document of an exciting time when people were making new things out of the rubble left by punk, not just in music but graphic design too.
I used to work for someone who was friends with Richard Jobson so I had a beer with him on a couple of occasions. You’d think he’d be all pretentious, going on about poetry and the Weimar Republic or something, but he was more interested in talking about football.
I did like reading a book on the Tube but now I’m no longer in London I have to make do with reading books on the Tube like this lovely-looking series of 12 books Penguin have put out to celebrate the Underground’s 150th birthday. Each one is about or inspired by a single Tube line with the authors taking a variety of approaches — historical, personal, humourous, political — to capture the meaning and, er, pyschogeography (big word!) of the system that binds the city together. I don’t think I’ll be shelling out for the whole boxset but to start I’ve ordered the ones about the lines that mean the most to me personally: the District (home), Northern (work), and Piccadilly (clubbing). Though I am intrigued by what Paul Morley has to say about the Bakerloo Line.
This is from The Passions debut album Michael & Miranda which I wasn’t crazy about at the time (think I sold my copy) but its very 1980, nervy indie jangle sounds really good now. It appears to be out of print which is a shame, I guess they didn’t get “rediscovered” during the recent post-punk vogue.
I saw The Banshees live several times in the early 80s and they never failed to be brilliant. I had one of those Star of David t-shirts too, it went very well with my black jeans and suede Chelsea boots. It looked better on Siouxsie though.
Blazing guitar work by John McGeoch in this clip too.
Amazing how something so quiet and introverted could be so radical, but Young Marble Giants were revolutionary at a time when every other band was being shouty and noisy. I remember being hypnotised the first time I heard them on John Peel and they still sound remarkable.
Well, this was a real find. For years there was a grand total of one Pauline Murray & The Invisible Girls video on YouTube which was frustrating for someone like me who adored Ms. Murray and the album she made with that lot. So finding this clip of them performing three songs was like discovering the Holy Grail, the lost city of Atlantis, and those keys you dropped behind the couch years ago.
I saw her live in 1980 with the Invisible Girls and it’s still one of the best gigs I’ve ever been too, and not just because I had a huge crush on Pauline. They played the entire album and when the audience shouted them back for a third encore Pauline said “we’ve run out of songs” so they played them all again.