NOW: THE ROXY these days is not what it was – whatever shrill camera-lens sense of event there was in the Andy Czezowski days has totally gone. For atmosphere, read zero.
It’s a case of Take The Money And Run – if you can get as far as paying your money, that is. The crowd, if it bothers beyond the Token Badge, is mostly dressed in the First Roxy Style (Sue Catwoman) – fossilised six months on. Hardly the most receptive audience to anything outside the ‘new wave’ they’ve read about (in these pages) and heard on the Roxy album. See the concert of the album of the club… Frightening: from innovation to constriction/restriction in a few months, New/no wave.
All of which of course no doubt may seem and probably is an elitist point of view: mass fashions always explode. When they hit the streets, it’s usually in a form objectionable to the ‘originators’, or to the people who fondly imagined it THEIR very own property. But the question remains: what to do if you were in there at the start? And what happens when you become tired of writing about events and want to create them?
So this Thursday and Friday Sniffing Glue‘s Mark P is playing the Roxy as lead singer with Alternative TV: Alex Ferguson (guitar), Tyrone Thomas (bass) and (ex Gen-X) John Towe on drums. Their fifth and sixth gig – and John Towe’s last (he’s leaving to concentrate on his own band, Stratagem). Mark is quitting the editorship of Sniffin’ Glue after the next issue (11) – a guest issue, anyway: he’s COMMITTED to this band, to moving on.
The image is low-key: non-descript jackets and jeans (‘We’ve got no money’) – the music varies from straight-ahead 1977 rock, with pointed lyrix (‘Why don’t you do’/’How much longer’)’ through a great Velvets/Can/reggae number (‘Love Lies Limp’) to the out-and-out avant-garde – tapes/crescendos of noise/ pain/stuttering guitar. The structure of the set is thought-out – no time wasting – but loose enough to admit improvisation and the adlib.
Two songs, especially, are left open-ended; ‘Alternatives To NATO’, placed in the middle of the set, is obviously very important – it’s a chance for Mark to say whatever he feels like saying on the night – and ends with a segue into ‘You Bastard’. ‘Life’, the penultimate song, begins with tapes (which also change every night) and ends on a screech peak: the tapes finally fill out the silence at the end of the set, as the band Walk off.
TRUTHFULLY, THURSDAY is rather hesitant: there’s only about 25 people and it’d take WWII to move them. Mark’s ‘Alternatives to NATO’ rap is about a Russian take-over and the subsequent fawning acquiescence of politicians and the media. Already, he has a surprising presence, and the band play excellently – it’s no use experimenting unless your base is right.
On Friday though, they really catch fire: they do two new songs, ‘ATV’ (with a great hook) and ‘Depression’. Mark gets so involved with ‘Alternatives to NATO’ that he smashes his guitar to the floor at the end. Tonite, he talks about the deadening power of television – ‘I used to come home every night from work and watch the TV, every night, and all you’d talk about the next day was what was on TV the night before’ – and more.
The tapes are provided by Genesis P. Orridge: little girls scream (flash to the Brady tapes)/Lenny Bruce talks/Genesis’ band, Throbbing Gristle, meander through a subterranean insturmental, ‘DeadBait’ – the tape (and gig) ends with the Television album played at 45, while Mark stares the audience out. They don’t know whether it’s intentional or a cueing mistake: a brilliant messing with preconceptions, perceptions.
One of the songs, ‘How Much Longer’, deals with the new wave fan as a stereotype, among others, – ‘How much longer will people wear/ Nazi armbands, dye their hair/ wear safety-pins spray your clothes’ – I ask about Mark’s attitude to what’s happened:
‘The thing I’m confronted with at the moment, it’s like you said, there’s no new wave, only rock – but in the early days I was walking around with the false impression I was gonna change the world – y’know, the early Glues – I admit now I was naive.
‘The only way you learn things, like the media, like fashions change, is by experience: in the last six months, the experience turned into a restriction. And the bands: whether they wanted to or not, they packed it in, confined themselves to clothes – even on that level, we’re not gonna confine ourselves. We’d never pressure any of the band, like Tyrone, to cut his hair….’
Right. But aren’t you going to get some stick from the audience (a few people were barracking), and how you gonna, avoid making the same mistakes?
Alex: ‘Aah – the verbal backlash…one example was the Brighton thing: after ‘Alternatives to NATO’ we got one clap. And y’know that blank expression: it’s this attitude more. It’s really funny, but we expected it – it may get to a stage where it gets really heavy.’ Mark: ‘If anybody throws anything at us, I just wanna explain to them – not how silly they are, ‘cos they aren’t – but just explain our position when they do it. I do get a shock when people react like that…but when they talk…I think they’ve got just as much right to say anything as we have. I think it’s good – that they’ve got the guts to shout it out…I never had the guts.’
And what about the media’s policy of divide and rule via sensationalism – y’know, set the teds against the punx and they’ll waste so much energy fighting themselves that…and the use of TV/papers as a medium of social control? Some of Mark’s lyrics (‘Guardian Times Observer’) and Thursday’s ‘Alternatives To NATO’ touch on this:
‘I can’t wait to tell them kids the truth – what it’s all about. ‘Cos they read the Mirror and they believe it: that’s what’s so sad…’
© Jon Savage, Sounds, 23 July 1977