Power Cut At The Electric Circus
Buzzcocks/ Magazine /John Cooper Clarke /The Worst /The Fall /The Prefects/ The Negatives/ Warsaw
Manchester, Electric Circus
OR WHEN 'critical' faculties get severely messed about by atmosphere . . .
Collyhurst Hill. A mile outside Manchester's gleaming inner centre. From the briefest of acquaintances this radius appears grim - low density/space, the gaps filled by disused Victorian industrial building, piles of rubble, anonymous housing projects... the Electric Circus stands near the crest of a hill. Opposite, there is a derelict 1930's estate, square acres of broken glass/grafitti/decaying stone, suggesting a post H-bomb no-life - the other side stands a Sixties model, its forlorn attempt at modernity peeling. In all this, the punks standing outside the doors provide a brave splash of colour/togetherness: the Electric Circus is needed to a degree that's hard for Londoners, especially, to imagine. Tonite, the surroundings and music merge into a complete picture, indistinguishable to these eyes..
But - let's rock let's roll let's deodorise/cauterise the night. Walk through the door and the atmosphere cuts you like a knife. As the song especially made up for the occasion repeats, 'Eeeeeelectric'. Already there is the crackle/snap of a great nite.
Hip disco (ska/soul/new Virgin product - they're taping tonite for a possible album) segues into Warsaw. They look young and nervous. Desperate, thrashing, afraid of stopping/ falling: 'What are you gonna do when the novelty's gone/You'll be back in the gutter where you came from' ('Novelty').
Quickly followed by The Negatives. At last! A group for whom the term 'minimalist aggregation' was coined. Led by local teendream/grafitti subject Paul Morley, fueled by the sibilant saxophone of Richard Boon, driven by the power-house drums of Kevin Cummins, they honk and lurch their way through fifteen minutes (the concept of 'songs' is irrelevant) before eventually finding the lines from the Buzzcocks' '16': 'How I hate modern music, disco and pop . . .' Of course what they're making in fact is a Godawful joke racket, but that's the point: the feeling is such that they're called back for two encores and nearly get mobbed . . .
The Prefects take some getting used to. As ever, the sound is terrible, but they're young (19), rough, but powerful. It's back to the old youth/growth potential argument. The music is utterly bleak urban noise, reminiscent occasionally of the Velvets' more monotonous passages - they are so involved that they demand some involvement back. Naturally, their approach holds problems, not the least the ideas/capacity ratio (far heavier on the former) - but capacity comes, and in the surroundings, their bleak, bitter approach makes sense.
Even more so The Worst. They look as though they've stepped right out of the industrial waste, totally uncompromising, blinking in the spotlight. No 'image'. They play not as though their life depends on it, but because it does. There's a hunger there. A three piece: the lead singer moves little, sings high - much is lost in the sound, and when his guitar breaks, they call it a day, with only one song, 'Fast Breeder', staying in the head. They're haunting, seeming to epitomise the evening's movie perfectly.
Maybe it's my energy lag, but The Fall don't move me. I register that the sound is better, that they're a five piece with a girl organist, but they don't prevent me from taking a quick breath of air. The hall is packed to the ! rafters, hot like an oven. ( Admitting that, you can take my recollection that they're competent but uninspiring with a pinch of salt. Or maybe I'm so hyped up on my own movie, and they don't fit it.
By this stage, it takes something special to retain enthusiasm/excitement, as one band begins to merge into another: the last three acts have it, in their different ways. Unannounced, Magazine play a short set of three numbers: 'Shot By Both Sides'/The Light Pours Out Of Me' (from the demo tape), and the old Buzzcocks number, 'Big Dummy'. Their debut. Immediately, they're more musical than the other bands so far, capable of different textures - the sound isn't as clear or as confident as on the demo tapes, but this is understandable, and more than complemented by the visual presence of the band. Still the centre of attention is Devoto: on stage he's a curious, compelling performer, awkward yet graceful, commanding yet ambiguous.
By now the bar's run out of everything except sherry. Upstairs, in the dressing-room, they're singing through 'Nuggets' ('Dirty Water'/'You're Gonna . Miss Me') with empassioned dedication, slicing through the sadness. John Cooper Clarke begins reading: small and skinny, reminiscent visually of 1966 Dylan, he declaims his poetry of wit and warmth fast, chewing gum, like wise-cracking. The audience claps along to his rhythm. 'Daily Express' lists the horrors of that failing organ, with the punchline 'You won't get nipples in the Daily Express'. Or The Sad Tale Of The Pest', where every other word begins with 'p': the explosive syllables fill the hall with popping phonetics. He goes down a storm: it's hard to imagine this in London, perhaps because up here there is no distinction between art/life. ('Uh/ Eh?' - Ed.) 'Art' or 'literature' is to be lived with, not revered or placed on a pedestal. A fundamental difference of attitude.
"Well, The Buzzcocks have always been one of my favourite new bands and here they're on home ground and are the stars that hopefully they will be on a mass level. They've grown naturally and consistently, no hype, no fuss. Tonite, they are on. While they're tighter and faster, they haven't sacrificed their intrinsically understated and warm approach: in an age of hectoring, that merely adds to their strength rather than diminishes it. An off-hand dry resilience which will enable them to survive for as long as they want.
Simply, their material is now very strong. Apart from the 'Spiral Scratch' tracks, each song's got plenty to recommend it: 'No Reply' has a flash-fast call/response chorus like Time's Up'; '16' has heavily accented military drumming dinning in the frustration of the lyrics. During 'Pulse Beat', a long instrumental, they stretch out: John Maher keeps up the rhythm solo, leading to a couple of fine guitar solos wrenched put of Tony Hicks' axe (The Hollies - now there's Mancunian roots for you) by Steve Diggle, his face contorted in concentration. Another number, 'What Do I Get', is one of the finest pop songs I've heard this year. From now on, things get heavily symbolic: the Buzzcocks end with Time's Up', and encore with 'Louie Louie' - remember the 'gotta go now' refrain? John the postman and several others get up on stage to help, and then the audience goes berserk and rushes the stage . . . the plugs are pulled, lights turned off, This Could Be The Last Time' plays . . .It had to end in lunacy. One of the finest gigs I've ever been to, with an atmosphere so charged it's stayed with me all week, given me strength. I felt honoured to have been there. It was hard though, to escape the end of an era feeling: the only way to look at it probably is to quote Shelly's introduction to Time's Up': "If we get another place, let'smake it better than this . . .".I hope the 'if isn't too hard .. .
(Jon Savage - Sounds October 15th 1977)