Joy Division, Teardrop Explodes, OMD, Echo & The Bunnymen et al: Leigh Rock Festival, Lancashire

A movement with no name… and a festival with no people (But a ‘staggering event’ all the same, says our man Middles)

THE AGE of serious pop is with us.

Finally, the partially underground side of the rock scene has produced a movement with no name, no fixed mode of dress and certainly no stereotyped sound. A large number of bands relying more on their own invention than on image or musical (in) competence.

These bands have provided countless stunning debut singles during the last 12 months and subsequently they have managed to corner a huge amount of music press coverage.

So, when five out of the ten most innovative bands in this movement are gathered together for an open air event, one could reasonably expect a large turn out. But the crowd figure couldn’t have been more than an insulting 400.

In years to come, this line up will be too big for the likes of Knebworth. But who cares? The lucky ones who saw this staggering event have earned the right to a boastful future.

But things began badly with the messy Elti Fits. Even the steady drumming of Karl Burns failed to hold together a band who were shooting in a thousand different directions at once. After a while the singer’s Siouxsie-style droning became unbearable and the majority of potential fans lost all interest. Elti Fits badly need to decide on their own direction.

The same could almost be said of the overrated A Certain Ratio. Despite being a firm Factory favourite, this band insist on producing sets full of flat, meaningless noise that offers absolutely no inspiring direction at all. A band that are, sadly, totally forgettable. Perhaps they are slaves to their own hipness. They were as cold as the Lancashire wind.

The Distractions followed and the gig began to change character. The Distractions’ brand of pop is unique. Complex yet catchy. Hard yet romantic. It’s packed with interesting little twists and turns both lyrically and musically. A much more wide open approach to commercial pop than the Undertones.

The Distractions utilise their songwriting talent in a way that makes the music beg for constructive mistakes to be made. They are forever creating their own school and this seems to keep a feeling of freshness at their live gigs. All their songs are strong and nobody seemed to notice the absence of the traditional ‘Valerie’. The crowd response was warm rather than enthusiastic but this must certainly have been due to the somewhat spacious surroundings.

Teardrop Explodes immediately impressed with their contrasting brand of memorable music. A strange band in that their music couldn’t be described as ‘pretty’ or ‘poppy’. It contains an odd lovable ugliness that steadily grows on you. Luckily for them their unimposing friendly stage charisma helps to display the music in the correct way.

The set begins quietly and, song by song, your instant curiosity is changed into an excitable fondness.

The band are improving at every gig and are showing every sign of becoming a major attraction in the next couple of years. They use an orthodox basic sound and add the ideas on top of this, which is in direct contrast to Orchestral Manoeuvres in The Dark who practise quite the reverse.

But an open air event is hardly the place for OMITD to achieve their full atmospheric potential. They missed the fluorescent tube lighting that usually accompanies their stage show. Musically, they were fine but the sight of two blokes playing keyboards isn’t exactly the perfect formula for a successful festival set. But nevertheless, the bouncing, dancing, vibrating sound of OMITD stands leagues above the sickly sweet noise of Numan or the hip pitiful throb of The Tiller Boys.

Now Echo And The Bunnymen worry me a little. They do seem to suffer from a lack of variation. Each song rolls along, revelling in its own Velvets-inspired mystique and its Liverpudlian casual fashion. Each song is fairly strong and each song would make a nice single. But place them all back-to-back in a live set and they tend to merge together in one whole Bunnysound.

Maybe this is a deliberate attempt to stick to a noticeable formula but I’d prefer it if they strayed into unfamiliar territory once in a while. But, having said this, it must be admitted that Echo’s set was enjoyable and did inspire the first signs of dancing movement at this gig.

And so on to the remarkable Joy Division. I couldn’t really care if the guitarist was named Barrington-Smythe and held a ministerial position before joining the band. The fact remains that Joy Division are the most compelling live band in the country at this moment.

Anyone who is under the impression that the band’s onstage ‘moody’ expression is a contrived image is very wrong indeed. It is a direct result of the intense concentration needed to produce that phenomenal Joy Division sound. A sound so tight it almost strangles the involved listener. It’s a completely original experience. To outsiders it’s an unknown pleasure.

At this gig Joy Division were only at half strength due to the fact that they rely on enclosed, small clubs to produce their sound. But they still managed to turn in a set that left the crowd ecstatic and still demanding more after the second encore (which incidentally was the next single, the mesmerising ‘Transmission’). This band is busily doing the groundwork for the music of the Eighties. Fitting bill toppers for the only open air rock and roll event so far this year.

Many thanks to Factory and Zoo records for providing the soundtrack to what became more than just another day out.

© Mick MiddlesSounds, 8 September 1979

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