Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Nazis 1994

Like the late '70s and, well, RIGHT NOW, the early '90s saw the paranoid and pathetic rabble which makes up Britain's extreme right raise their potato-like heads above the parapet. The rise of the BNP was attacked in song by the people you'd expect: Chumbawamba, Credit To The Nation and Anglo-Asian hip hop crew Fun-Da-Mental were all ready to "Give the fascist man a gunshot", lyrically at least. But the extent of people's concern can be seen by the broadsides from voices you wouldn't expect to hear piping up. Pop Will Eat Itself, a band whose previous work included tributes to an Italian porn star-turned-MP (Touched By The Hand Of Cicciolina), their favourite pop culture references (Can U Dig It?) and, well, "go(ing) downtown to hustle chicks" (the pleasantly-titled Beaver Patrol), hooked up with Fun-Da-Mental for the anti-racist single Ich Bin Ein Auslander, sonically something of a companion piece to their Prodigy collab Their Law. Even more surprisingly, Roger Taylor released Nazis 1994. You know things are serious when Queen's drummer puts out a wholly uncommercial single about holocaust denial, although we could probably have done without his naming one of its versions Schindler's Mix.

In East London, the BNP had scored their first council seat when Derek Beackon won a by-election in Tower Hamlets in September 1993. This would have been shocking anywhere, but in a multi-cultural part of London it seemed particularly worrying; coming only a few months after the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence, it was further proof that the spectre of Nazism wasn't going to go away.

On the 28th May 1994, the Anti-Nazi League organized a march through South London, culminating in a gig in Brockwell Park. Depending on your source, the march attracted between 100,000 and 200,000 people, with up to 250,000 showing up for the gig. A small number of those folks were me and assorted chums, including members of Carp Fever and some of our mates from Chamberlain Hall. While we were all assuredly opposed to the BNP, it's probably fair to say that the music on offer played a decisive part in encouraging us to London for the day. Carp Fever faves The Levellers were headlining, alongside performances by the Manic Street Preachers, Credit To The Nation and Urban Species. Also listed on the bill was a special guest, which dedicated Queen fan Matt Ross assumed would surely be Roger Taylor. At one point in the day, he did surprise Lucy by exclaiming "Roger Taylor!", but he was only referring to a poster for Nazis 1994, and it turned out that the special guest was Billy Bragg. His wasn't the only disappointment of the day, mind; we had to leave before the Levellers to catch our coach back to Southampton, obviously booked by people who were more concerned with the march than the bands.

A less political moment of summer 1994 was the decision Sophie and I made to go to Reading instead of Glastonbury, thus establishing a pattern of alternating between the two big festivals which I stuck to throughout the rest of the decade. I suspect our choice in '94 was influenced by the festivals' respective bills; where Glastonbury's delights sometimes seemed to be spread thinly across a multitude of stages, Reading was all about the alternative rock that made up the foundation of what I was into. That said, one of the first bands I can remember seeing that August weekend was our old favourites Trans-Global Underground, clearly more of a Glasto-friendly outfit. But the festival's first day was somewhat dominated by the presence of Hole; Kurt Cobain had only been dead a few months, and what felt like the entire festival turned up to see whether his widow would implode on her return to active service. There was a weird atmosphere; if everyone was united in their love of Nirvana, they were distinctly split in opinion when it came to Courtney Love, and it felt like the rubberneckers who wanted to watch her public self-immolation outnumbered those who were looking forward to hearing Beautiful Son and Miss World. I certainly wasn't in the former camp, and it proved too painful to watch her stagger through her back catalogue in a wrecked, wretched state. To be fair, Courtney made it through the whole set, but I didn't. Not sure where I went, but I was back for Pavement's set, which made me smile a lot, particularly with the anti-Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots lyric on Range Life seeming so appropriate at the festival which had seemed like the UK's home of grunge. Eschewing the main stage headliners Cypress Hill, we went to see The Wedding Present close the first day on the Melody Maker stage. I was a big fan of their Bizarro and Sea Monsters albums, along with the twelve singles they'd released throughout 1992, but latest album Watusi, while still quite good, was clearly a more lightweight affair than its predecessors. Obviously, they played quite a lot of it, which made their set a little disappointing. That said, Weddoes frontman didn't deserve to get punched by Courtney Love, an event provoked not by poor set list choices but, according to legend, because he knew Steve Albini.

Saturday began with the Reverend Horton Heat, the sort of act which would never get on a Reading main stage bill in the 21st century...which is the 21st century's loss really, as hell-raising punkabilly is a good way to start the day.

Next up were Kitchens Of Distinction, who I maintain were a great band. I say this despite discovering many years later that my future bandmates Jimmy and Steen were watching them and considered them one of the lamest bands imaginable. A harder-hitting performance by anyone's reckoning came from Fun-Da-Mental, bringing their hardline politics and thrilling hip hop to the indie kids. I don't remember seeing anybody else on the main stage that day, despite the rest of the afternoon and evening including heavy hitters Pulp, Radiohead, the Manics, Ice Cube and headliners Primal Scream. The thing is, I also don't remember watching Superchunk, Compulsion, Elastica or Madder Rose on the Melody Maker stage. I don't think I was wasted, but I have no memory of seeing any of those bands that year. I do, however, remember who Sophie and I went to see instead of the Primals or Madder Rose: Frank Sidebottom.

As it so often was, Sunday was rock day at Reading 94, although the state of rock in those still-post-Nirvana years meant it was scarcely less varied than the other days. Soundgarden had pulled out for some reason or another, but instead of replacing them with a band of similar stature, the organizers moved the bill up and shoved Collapsed Lung on the bottom of the bill. These rock-friendly Essex rappers were a bit useless, but one of the two frontmen made me laugh by introducing himself as Chris Cornell... The only real mark Collapsed Lung left on popular culture was Eat My Goal, a tune which will probably still be getting included on football-orientated compilation albums released to cash in on the World Cup when we're all dead and gone. Incidentally, one Collapsed Lung frontman is now Radio 1/1Extra DJ Nihal, while the other is doing this...

To demonstrate the array of bands united under the rock banner that year, Cop Shoot Cop were up next with a nihilistic blast of pre-gentrification New York noise, the sort of act which would never get on a Reading main stage bill in the 21st century...which is the 21st century's loss really. This tune isn't the best they played, but it is the only one I could find, and at least Tod A's shirt fits into the title of this chapter...

We'll sweep Stabbing Westward under the carpet and pretend that the next act on was Chicago's premier noiseniks The Jesus Lizard. This band were just INCREDIBLE. Their music was at once slinkily rhythmic and prone to bursts of jagged violence, and I'd never seen a frontman quite like David Yow, a shirtless shit-kicker somewhere between Iggy Pop and Dennis Hopper's character in 'Blue Velvet'. At one point, I looked up from my moshing and suddenly realised that Yow's crowdsurfing body was inches away from my head. I don't think I was particularly near the front, so he must have gone on quite a journey. They really were the sort of act which would never get on a Reading main stage bill in the 21st century...which is the 21st century's loss really, as there was more danger and excitement in one of their songs than in most of the main stage bill of a 21st century Reading put together. One of the coolest things Nirvana ever did was honouring a pre-fame agreement and releasing a split 7" with the Jesus Lizard at the height of the former's success. As Nirvana didn't bother with a video for Oh! The Guilt, a few seconds of The Jesus Lizard's Puss made it on to Top Of The Pops. Here's some poor quality footage of them doing it at Reading. This is their hit, remember...

Professorial-looking New York riff-masters Helmet made it a hat trick of fantastic American alternatives (we're forgetting Stabbing Westward, remember), but I think by this point Sophie may have been experiencing noise fatigue, so we went off to do something less eardrum-battering instead. After that, The Wildhearts' set was notable for two reasons: the presence of one Devin Townsend, now a cult figure in his own right but then primarily known for singing with Steve Vai, on guitar, and the fact that bassist Danny dislocated his knee within the first few seconds of the set but managed to get through the whole thing before seeking medical assistance. This is that first tune, their 'Only Fools & Horses' theme tribute Caffeine Bomb, and you can see the point when Danny goes down about 35 seconds in (and the look of pain on his face whenever the camera returns to him).
I think while the Afghan Whigs were playing, we might have been having an argument. Sophie had a minor panic attack triggered by crowds and dust, and I reacted in the martyrish way which will be familiar to subsequent girlfriends (and possibly some workmates). "Well, we may as well just go back to the tent and miss the rest of the bands, then," was my thoughtful riposte. Luckily, Sophie didn't call me out on my bullshit (or my obvious bluff) and things were better by the time Senser came on. This band have been discussed at length in previous blogs, so I won't go on again, but it was great to see them so high up the bill and I danced myself silly. Here's the nostalgia bomb known as Age Of Panic.

Henry Rollins and his Band were a pretty intimidating presence, particularly when Hank did an impromptu speech about how much he liked England, its food, its bands, etc, leading sarcastically into Liar. Sadly, I couldn't locate any footage of that, so here's Disconnect instead. Its lyrics, all about wanting to pull ones own brainstem out, are clearly what sunsets were made for.

With Soundgarden out of the picture, Therapy? were promoted to the penultimate slot on the main stage, which could well mark the high water mark of their entire career. They were pretty much my favourite band at that point, riding high on the back of Troublegum. Page from Helmet and Lesley from Silverfish both came out for the tunes on which they guested on the album and it felt, to all intents and purposes, like a headline set, particularly as me and Sophie weren't too bothered about seeing the actual headliners and ended up watching the Chili Peppers disinterestedly from a point so far back we were probably nearer our tent. One thing about Therapy?, though: they did something I'm not too into, where they did a medley of some of their older tunes instead of playing them in full, a token gesture for the pre-Troublegum fans in attendance. Typically, that's the video I'm posting here, apparently recorded for Spanish (?) TV.

That was it for Reading, but as with the previous year Simon and I made it to Pilton for their end-of-summer village fete. I'm pretty sure Trans-Global Underground played, but I can't remember anyone else. This was entirely my own fault. Simon, his girlfriend Sarah and I had bought a quantity of booze, which we couldn't take into the marquee where the bands were playing. In rather gung-ho fashion, I mixed the rest of my cider (maybe a litre or so) with whatever gin Sarah had left and proceeded to down it. I then spent most of the evening sitting against the side of the marquee trying to hold it together. I think this was then Sam Ogilvy, a kid I went to school with between '83 and '88, wandered up to say hello, obviously discovering that I was in no state to maintain a conversation. When Simon drove us back to my folk's house, I got out of the car and immediately threw up. If my folks ever knew it was me - and there is no good reason why they wouldn't - they kept it to themselves. Embarrassingly, this wouldn't be the last time I'd be sick in the vicinity of Simon's car, but you're going to have to wait until we get to 1997 for that story.

Drawing a line under that unfortunate incident, next time I'll be striding manfully into my second year, asking Baby Chaos rude questions, falling in love with Drugstore, marvelling that funk metal is still a going concern with Rub Ultra, enjoying even more Trans-Global Underground and Therapy?, catching the tail end of the crusty scene with The Sea... and the small matter of my first DIY punk show. See you back then.