The Jesus and Mary Chain; Why They Still Matter in 2017.Written by Mike Robbo
The Gig: Leeds Church 27/3/2017 I’ve just got back from a converted church in Leeds, where two brothers in their mid-to-late 50s have just shaken me to my core.
This highlights three things: Am I so caught up in the nostalgia train that only music from my youth can move me to enthuse like I was still in my youth? How are two brothers that fucking hate each other, plus assorted cohorts still delivering the most blistering gig I’ve seen in the last few months?Why are a 55-year-old and a 58-year-old appearing more fucking dangerous than any of the young bucks?
It may be indeed true that nostalgia sells, and I am guilty of sucking it up willingly. In the last year or so, I’ve seen The Stone Roses, Black Grape, The Cure, The Charlatans, Pixies, New Order, Super Furry Animals, The Wedding Present, Teenage Fanclub, Cast and a whole slew of others I’ve probably forgotten. The only current bands I can remember travelling to see are DMA’s and The Courteeners, who I probably like because they sound like the bands from my youth.
My home town of Hull has a great home-grown music scene, with a handful of young bands making waves nationally, such as Vulgarians, Cannibal Animal, The Talks, Life, Counting Coins, Pearl’s Cab Ride, Fire (The Unstoppable Force), The Holy Orders, No Nothings and Black Delta Movement, among others, and I apologise profusely if I’ve missed your band off that list, but they’re up against it; the music scene has changed beyond recognition since I was in my teens. Their talent would be celebrated in the music press, and their upward trajectory would be swift and hyped. A cursory glance at a few of the front covers of the biggest-selling music monthly mags sees the likes of Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Kasabian and Green Day staring menacingly at us, as if to ram home that there is no new music worth covering. NME, the one-time bastion of new music, has long since descended into a comic-like joke, so much so that it’s now free, tens of copies remaining untouched wherever they’re strategically placed. No fucker even wants it for free.
It’s as if the music press is squarely aimed at the over-30s; print media is dying, so let’s market retro-featured lazy mags with pointless, monthly lists at those stupid enough to part with their expendable wealth. So, it’s to the internet, which is so expansive, it’s exhausting sifting and wading through swamps of shit to find nuggets that will remain in your listening radar for a couple of weeks at best, until the next Pitchfork Best New Music record appears on the horizon. There is literally too much good new music out there that the majority of the media isn’t interested; it’s too much like hard work, so it regurgitates and celebrates the inception of Pink fucking Floyd. Again. With a list of the best 70s prog-rock albums to complement the cover feature. I quite enjoy some of these retro mags, cos I’m a middle-aged fucker, but if I was in my teens or twenties, and had the likes of Fleetwood Mac thrust at me monthly to tie in with their latest mega-tour, I’d want to smash shit up,like The Mary Chain used to.
Cabbage are the only vaguely dangerous band getting any major coverage. Why? Because they’re from Manchester? Which they lambast on one of their best songs? They embody the spirit of our anti-heroic favourite musical agitators, but they seemingly stand alone.Blossoms? Fuck off.
The Mary Chain gig I’ve just been to was 70% pre-1994, with a smattering of tracks from their new, surprisingly decent album, Damage & Joy. It’s no Psychocandy for sure, more a mixture of Automatic/Honey’s Dead rockers and Stoned & Dethroned-era quieter, more acoustic numbers. It’s a respectable effort from two men in the advanced stages of middle age. Live, they were blistering. The Gallaghers’ sibling rivalry always seemed amped up for the press, whereas the Reids genuinely hated each other, regularly coming to blows, often onstage. It’s a miracle they still share the same stage, not that you can see William; only Jim remains visible through swathes of dry ice, still belligerently staring out the audience at the lip of the stage, like a caged lion, marking out his territory.
The Psychocandy numbers remain as visceral as they always did, there’s no dilution with age; Automatic is well-represented too, the songs beefed-up, sounding bigger and more violent than they ever have. Honey’s Dead and Darklands’ sometimes more tender moments spat out with renewed venom, the kind reserved for the more anthemic April Skies and main-set closer Reverence. The new songs fitting in well, ensuring that piss/fag/bar breaks are minimal, because you don’t want to miss a second. It’s all delivered with the menace that belies their advancing years. I’ve been to my fair share of ‘reunion’ gigs in the last few years, but few have seemed as though they meant it like these boys. This is how the young bands should be performing; as if they’re in combat with the audience.
It’s simply not good enough just to be good musicians these days; you may make it if you’re lucky, but if you’re too nice, it’s impossible to achieve greatness. The Mary Chain were fucking ‘orrible when they first started. They had the tunes, they had a unique sound, but their notoriety was achieved through their attitude and their riotous live shows. Literally riotous, in the fact that riots actually broke out at their gigs, most notably at London Poly in 1985, when they had to hide backstage as carnage reigned in front of and onstage. They’d opened with two minutes of white-noise feedback and were gone after about 15 minutes, leaving the crowd incensed. People had come to cause trouble because they’d read about this nasty band, who were deliberately confrontational, and it kicked off like holy hell.
Read more about it here
They were probably one of the first bands since punk who caused this reaction in people. The ‘fuck you’ attitude begged for it, they were the logical progression of punk, and people were waiting for a band like them to come along; the spirit of punk had been missing in British music since the late 70s. The potential for chaos was palpable. People wanted it. Their reputation for being stubborn, difficult and antagonistic was bearing fruit. Excitement and violence was back on the live music circuit. Their iconic infamy was assured.
Their next move was a swerve away from that sound, on the cleaner, more polished and melodic Darklands album, but they had cemented their reputations as rock’s bad boys. The sibling rivalry between the brothers only enhanced their reputation, and was much rawer than the Gallaghers’ cartoon version a decade later. The melody had always been prominent, even on their most raucous, feedback-driven numbers, but Darklands was a surprising move, as if they were saying, ‘here’s our more mature album after we’ve rained bloody chaos on you.”
Every great British band has embodied this anti-establishment spirit. From The Stones and The Who, Bowie, through the whole of punk, Joy Division and New Order, The Smiths, The Roses and The Mondays, through to Oasis, The Manics, The Libertines, and finally ending up with Arctic Monkeys. All these bands exhibited absolute refusal to play the game, to do things strictly on their own terms, deliberately rubbing people up the wrong way. The Mary Chain were the first band since punk to do this as careerism overtook punk’s rebellion in the Thatcher-era, where ambition and pursuit of money reigned over creativity and bloody-mindedness. And the best bands since then were taking notes.And now it’s seemingly stopped.
Right now, only Cabbage, Sleaford Mods, M.I.A., Cobby & Litten, Fat White Family, Kate Tempest and a handful of others occupy this space. The ability and willingness to antagonise an audience has all but disappeared from British music from what I can see. I’m talking music that permeates the mainstream because of its edge and combative nature. Which is bizarre as we’re living in some seriously fucked up times, so where’s the anger?
That the Mary Chain are still around is miraculous in itself, but it’s fantastic that they are, as they are a reminder of a past fraught with danger and aggression. Jim Reid may wear a suit jacket onstage now, and have a respectable haircut, but the truculence still oozes from him behind his cloak of dry ice. He’s more polite and even speaks occasionally onstage, but the sound coming from the stage is powerful and filled with a sense of urgency that younger bands should take note of. A reminder that you can be a threatening presence and still have a career.
Look through any music magazine now, and read an interview. Are any as entertaining as Liam Gallagher’s? Are any as downright surly as The Roses or The Bunnymen at their peak? No. Are any as anti-everything as The Mary Chain in ’85? No.
I hope out of the handful of young people in attendance tonight, kids form bands as a result, and put the menace back in British music. The Reids are living testimony to the fact that you can have a career without being so fucking nice.
The very fact that Jim Reid was bellowing “I wanna die just like Jesus Christ” in a church on a Monday night in Leeds is both gratifying and should be inspirational.