This website tells the story of New Hormones records. The label that started the indie revolution, later overshadowed by Manchester rival Factory, and now unjustly and inexplicably forgotten. It’s time to set the record straight.
To read the story of New Hormones, click on the relevant sections in the Categories bar to the right. The story is told in both long (’the full story’) and shortform (’the short story’) versions. Other sections expand on key areas touched on in the main story, namely: the label’s sleeves and packaging (’Graphic Design/Packaging’); a full discography (’Discography’); the story of The Beach Club, inspiration for The Hacienda (’The Beach Club’); the relationship between New Hormones and Factory (’Factory’s shadow’); the chaos of the New Hormones offices at 50 Newton Street, Manchester (’Fifty Newton Street’); The story of City Fun fanzine and Crone Management (who shared office space with New Hormones) (’Fun with the Crones’); full interviews with New Hormones acts Biting Tongues and Diagram Brothers; a selection of sleeve imagery, flyers and photographs (’images’); choice quotes from some of the key protagonists (’Pull quotes’); and a personal selection of the best New Hormones tracks (’My New Hormones mix’). Added to the site as of March 12, 2oo8, Jon Savage’s 2006 essay on The Secret Public (’The Secret Public’), republished with permission – many thanks Jon. Links to various related websites can be found in the section dubbed The Associates in the right nav bar.
I’d like to say a big thank you to the 30+ people who very generously agreed to be interviewed for this story. And a special thank you to Stuart James for inspiring the whole project. Tour manager, producer, sound man and sometime performer, Stuart is one of the unsung heroes of the music business. “The poor man’s Martin Hannett” indeed!!
Enjoy – and listen to the music! Postpunk Manchester was definitely not just about Factory…
Update: June 5th 2008: Just added to the site – an interview with former Gods Gift guitarist, Steve Murphy. It was a great please to speak to Steve, particularly as Gods Gift proved so hard to track down during my earlier research. To read the interview scroll down or click on ‘Gods Gift’ in the Categories bar to the right.
An interview with former Gods Gift guitarist, Stephen (Steve) Murphy, Sunday May 25, 2008.
SM: I think we were a bit of a fringe group in many respects, and at times we could be very good, but when we were bad we were very bad. It’s really nice that [your website’s] allowed people to have some sort of memories of the group. As for members of the group, I’m still in pretty regular contact with Steve Edwards but Steve’s an internationally noted academic now.
JT: Is he? In what field?
SM: Nursing ethics.
JT: That’s pretty impressive.
SM: I’ve told him everything that I’ve read and has happened because there seems to have been a flurry of activity. And obviously Steve’s dead interested but he’s got to safeguard his position in a way.
The basis of the group was from a psychiatric hospital in the first place – Prestwich Hospital in – well it’s Salford – but Manchester. I worked there, Steve came to work there, Iain Grey worked there, also Andy Glentworth, so, at one point there weren’t much hope for us.
JT: How did the group actually start and when?
SM: I think it was 1978 after a few dummy runs with Steve and myself and groups of friends. We came from different ends of the spectrum musically – Steve at the time very much liked Roxy Music and Bowie type stuff and I liked rock, weird I know, but… And pretty much early on the punk thing had happened and we both liked that, and we had a mutual coming together – we’d been friends since we were 13 – but we had a mutual coming together group-wise, boring, but The Velvets. And it grew from there because we both thought ‘well, they can’t play, but they’re brilliant’. That really was the cornerstone I suppose.
JT: Well, up until punk everyone had to be really musicianly, didn’t they?
SM: That’s right – we saw loads of groups that weren’t particularly good throughout the punk thing and we were proud to become one(!) I think we improved and we had our own little niche I suppose.
JT: What was the original line-up of the group?
SM: The original line-up was Steve Edwards vocals and saxophone, myself guitar, Laura Plant who played bass and sang occasionally, and then Paul Leadbetter drums. Paul was a mate of mine who worked at a giant cash’n’carry, and Laura was Steve Edwards’s girlfriend’s best mate. So it was always a group of friends. When Laura left we two or three stand-in bass players, then we had Rob Hall, a couple of years he did, Rob. He was about 10 years younger than us and I think he was a bit caught up with it.
JT: How old were you at this time?
SM: Probably mid-20s. Well, ’78, I’d be 21. But we’d be 25-26 when Rob started and he was 17. You know he was a few years younger than us. Eventually Iain Grey joined who was a friend of the group. He was just like a mate who used to come and watch the gigs. We said, can you play bass and he said yeah.
JT: Course ‘e can!
SM: That’s it. And Iain Grey’s got this thing, he’s mentioned all the time: he was friends with Ian Curtis. It’s quite incestuous the whole thing, i’n’t it? Like we went to school with Joy Division, like Barney Dickens and Peter Hook were in our school, a year older than us.
Drummer-wise after Paul got a bit fed up of it we had two or three stand-ins and eventually settled on Andy Glentworth, who again was a friend from work. That was the final version of the group: Steve, myself, Iain Grey bass and Andy Glentworth drums. I think that was the best line-up; probably the original was the oddest line-up.
There was plenty of progression but it stayed using a similar sort of formula, if I’m honest. It used to be fun because if things were going wrong we’d make them go even more wrong. We figured you’re just as well making a show of it rather than having people drifting out saying, ahh, they were crap.
JT: Yeah, you might as well be really crap!
SM: Well that was the attitude. We supported Adam and the Ants at the Factory once and our drummer at the time was Paul Leadbetter – he was a nervous wreck because all our mates were there, it was a big gig. I think he took substances he shouldn’t have took and it made him play very fast if you know what I mean, so the set lasted about three minutes. Well, we beat him up [laughs]. Some funny things happened along the way.
JT: Where was the first Gods Gift gig?
SM: The first ever Gods Gift gig was at a Christmas party, the nurses’ home at Prestwich Hospital. If you could find a greater baptism of fire I’d be surprised, because we knew them, they knew us. We played White Light/White Heat for 40 minutes – I think they thought we were going to be like Joe Tex and the Sex-o-Lettes. It didn’t quite work! A girl I used to work with invited me to a party years later and said please promise not to bring that dreadful group, Stephen. So that was the first gig we played.
JT: Always good to start with a hostile audience.
SM: Oh we crossed over as well. The first proper gig we played, we supported a group in Yorkshire called The Bombers in a big hotel in Leeds. For some reason I’m sure it’s called the Ford Green Hotel – I wouldn’t stake my life on that, it just rings a bell. We got there and it was like a Hell’s Angels convention. It really was, everybody was in leather. We were really worried because they were real rockers these lads. I mean they were decent lads. But we got them, we absolutely won this audience over immediately because they had a lad on mixing desks and a lad on lights and they asked ‘what lights do you want?’ and Laura Plant in a lovely sweet voice said, ‘just a black one please’. And you could see everyone go ‘what?’ So we sort of had ‘em: it was quite good. Really I suppose we were pretty amateurish, but absolutely like nothing anybody there had ever seen, so we went down okay.
JT: One of the other people I spoke to said you looked like a bunch of civil servants. How would you have dressed for a show in those days?
SM: Like a civil servant to be honest with you! We always figured – as I’ve read on your site, I was a big fat bloke: I was and I am. I can’t hide that in a gold lamé suit: I’d have a blue jumper on and a shirt. I’d perhaps been working 12 hours in the loony bin prior to that – I was a charge nurse. I’d quite often finish work and we’d go and play. Ian Curtis might have been able to act it, but I was it, you know!
Steve Edwards used to wear some dreadful, ill-fitting suit. So I can’t fault it that, we did probably look like civil servants, we made absolutely no effort to be liked. No effort to gain any acceptance by dress.
JT: What about the band name? Who came up with that and was it the first choice or did you go through other names?
SM: It was actually me. Gods Gift: we thought it was a brilliant piss-take because we’re definitely not. We weren’t, we aren’t: we never will be. It was Gods Gift. And we thought it had a strong image: A big G and ‘ods ift’. The alternative name when we started – and it shows we were very similar in our thoughts, Steve and I. Steve came up with John Smith & The Insignificant. It was just looking at the same problem from different ends so to speak.
JT: That’s interesting: probably The Smiths would never have come up with their name if you’d taken that one.
SM: That’s absolutely right.
JT: Morrissey would have had to call himself God’s Gift!
SM: I think they made a mistake there, didn’t they?
JT: So you started playing around the end of 1978. Your first record [‘These Days’, 1979] was on Newmarket records, how did that come about?
SM: Well, we used to practice at Steve’s dad’s pub. He had a pub in Pendlebury , Salford and the pub – get ready for this – it’s the Newmarket. All the practising used to go on there: we used to practice new songs and the group practiced – there was enough noise in the place. I think Steve was the driving force with that: we wanted to do it and everyone was making singles off their own bat. We just put money in together and did it ourselves basically. We went to Hemel Hempstead to have them pressed, came back with them, bought a rubber stamp to stamp one side of ‘em and on the other side we wrote different comments on every one. So every one’s different. There’s some junk written on them, but incongruous junk, so it’ll probably look intelligent really.
JT: How many copies did you get pressed?
SM: We did 2,000. And I think we probably got rid of three-quarters of those. Steve actually told me he thinks he’s got a couple of boxes in his loft. Hold on to them!
A funny little nothing anecdote: where we used to practice, The Newmarket, it was a real boozer’s pub, and they were all like engineers who went there. When we used to come down from practicing, they all used to applaud us. They were all old fellers and I’m one now. And they used to call us ‘the turbines’ because of their engineering background, because they used to say all we can hear is [makes whirring noise]. For one brief moment we thought we should call ourselves The Turbines.
JT: Then you thought better.
SM: Yeah, definitely.
JT: So you put out the single and you sold most of the copies. And then you were involved with the Manchester Musicians’ Collective.
SM: It was a means of getting regular gigs, and it was also good because everybody was pretty affable. There wasn’t really any aggressive competition and people tended to pal out with other bands. It was really good. And there were actually some really good groups. There was a bunch of kids, when I say kids it sounds a bit patronising, I don’t mean it that way. But at that time we were perhaps mid-20s and these kids were 15, 16 – we used to share gigs with this band called The Enigma – they were fantastic. I’m astonished that nothing ever became of them. The lad that played the guitar, sang, did all the songs, he was only 15 and he was brilliant. Martin Tivnan he was called. They were a good band.
The collective, I quite liked it. Playing at the Band on the Wall regularly with good groups and then the Cyprus Tavern when it went there; at a squat in Manchester, the Mayflower when it was there.
We had a track on the album, Unzipping the Abstract. I think everybody put their best song on and we figured that’s what everyone would do. So we knew we had three minutes so we actually made one up. That’s completely made up off the cuff that. I think it’s pretty good, it’s strong, it stands out: it’s not like anything else. That was recorded in – Frank Ewart – cracking fella, a real hippy – well that was recorded in his loft – it was just like 3 minutes, go. We got some decent reviews.
JT: Some people seemed to think the musicians’ collective was a bit earnest, all the meetings and stuff. Did you go along to the meetings?
SM: We went to most of the meetings, yeah. If I’m honest I don’t know that we were overly enthusiastic with the hippyness of it, the sharedness. We went to try and get more gigs. It was an exchange of information, with regards that it was great. I still remember having meetings in the Sawyer’s Arms and what were Joy Division being bladdered in a pub in Manchester laughing their heads off with everyone.
JT: So, after Unzipping the Abstract you then got involved with New Hormones, with Richard Boon and his crowd. How did that all start?
SM: I think Richard approached Steve. Steve was really the mouthpiece. I think in fairness, I was married with a child at the time and Steve did a lot of the chasing about. Steve got on quite well with Richard and he asked us if we wanted to release something on New Hormones. Of course we snapped his hand off because we knew obviously of the Buzzcocks and Ludus were involved with them and we said, oh, definitely. And I think the first one was the EP, the 12-inch EP [Gods Gift EP, 1981].
JT: That’s really good, I like that a lot.
SM: Thank you. He helped us greatly with it but actually told us to do what we wanted and bring it to him when we were done. I thought he was a good bloke. I’ve not got anything negative to say about anyone really – it seems such a long time ago, I’ve got only positive thoughts of it. I think Richard Boon was quite visionary and he had strong ethics and strong morals. That didn’t come across a lot with a lot of people.
He had some funny little things. He got this night where we played at the Venue in London with Eric Random. That was quite funny because we were told to take our gear to a place in Salford to meet up – we were going to be driven there. And when we got there, there weren’t enough room. I’d worked the night before and I had to drive to London and I’m still half-convinced that Richard had something to do with that. Coz he knew that we were pretty spiky, fired up like. We had to drive to London, play and drive home. I remember seeing Richard standing at the mixing desk, sort-of-smiling, sort-of-gloating. We started playing and this is where the quote I’ve seen on your site comes from, Steve Edwards screaming his head off saying “what you dancing for, it’s tuneless, you pillock!” You know, why are you dancing? We decided we’ll change this, we run off the stage and we played the same song for 40 minutes. We got off and people were just like absolutely stunned and we made it funnier because we had to drive home then – we jumped off the front of the stage and went home.
JT: Just walked out?
SM: Yeah. It was quite funny, it was like the parting of the Red Sea – everyone dived out of the way of these psychopaths from Manchester.
JT: That’s cool. So, the Gods Gift EP, some of it’s live and some of it’s in the studio, yeah?
SM: One of the tracks again was done with Frank Ewart. I know one of the tracks was definitely done at the Derby Hall (Bury).
JT: Actually, I’ve got it in front of me. Track one recorded 102 Studios Withington.
SM: That’s Frank Ewart.
JT: So Soldiers and No God were recorded at Frank’s. Anthony Perkins was done at the Derby Hall and then track four, The Hunger of Millions, recorded at Newmarket Recording Suite. So, is that in the pub?
SM: In the pub, yeah [laughs]: Newmarket Recording Suite, that’s full of crap that!
I think that was sticking with the ethics of what we’d grown up around. It certainly weren’t Strawberry Studios!
JT: Was it a four-track mixing desk or something?
SM: Absolutely. No more. I think Frank Ewart had an 8-track in his loft. The one that was done in Steve’s pub would have been a four-track – that was owned by a guy called Chris Brierley, a lecturer for Manpower Services, believe it or not. He used to give us a lift and he had, well, a glorified tape recorder, four-track.
JT: Do you know how many copies that EP sold?
SM: I have a feeling that was again 1,500-2,000.
JT: After that you did one more record for New Hormones, which was Discipline, which a lot of people really like, they think it’s your best track.
SM: It’s terrible to say you like your own songs, but I think it was good. It was poppy but powerful. I think the words were brilliant – it’s almost visionary [of] the way we live our lives today.
JT: Was it the other Steve who wrote the lyrics, or did you do them together?
SM: Steve wrote the words to Discipline and it was my riff. I think it was probably half and half with the writing. Iain wrote a couple of songs here and there, but virtually everything was either Steve or myself. Discipline was Steve – cracking words. That did well in the Independent Charts if I remember correctly.
JT: Richard Boon said he had one more Gods Gift track lined up but he ran out of money before he could release it – something called Clamour Club.
SM: The funny thing about that: last week I actually found a cassette copy of that that was a recorded in a studio: a belting copy. When you read things like Richard Boon saying he was disappointed that he couldn’t put it out it’s really gratifying. I think it’s a very catchy pop song. I did the words for that and the words are ultimately I suppose about Taxi Driver the film. But the chorus Steve put in – Clamour Club. The Pope came to Manchester in 1982. Steve had watched it from a distance drunkenly with Iain and he referred to the people who were waving and shouting as the Clamour Club. So, it’s about Taxi Driver and the Pope. If you’re interested I’ll pop you a copy in the post.
JT: Yeah definitely. Actually I’ve had a bunch of people from different independent record companies in contact with me who are interested in reissuing your stuff.
SM: My God. It’s really strange you know when your last memory of playing was people saying ‘oh, not them!’ [laughs]. “Manchester’s hippest band, but sadly they’re bastards”, I remember that one as well.
JT: Who said that?
SM: That was in a Manchester magazine: “Manchester’s hippest band, but sadly they’re bastards”. I thought it was quite funny – I never thought we were, like.
JT: You talked about a show in London earlier: did you tour much outside Manchester apart from that?
SM: Yeah, we played in Leeds a few times. We once played in Leeds to two people. That was bad, but eventually we asked one of the lads at the bar to play guitar with us(!) We played locally quite a lot; we played in Scotland. We did a little tour in Holland and Belgium, which was fantastic. I suppose that was the peak of it all – we found it weird that people knew the words of the songs we were playing: in Manchester people would turn their backs and carry on drinking. I think sadly Manchester went very cool: too cool to listen to anybody.
JT: After New Hormones finished did you do any recordings with anyone else, or was that it?
SM: We did a cassette release with a lad called Robert King who lived in Glasgow. It was called Pleasantly Surprised, his label. We did a 10 or 12 track cassette through him called Folie à Quatre [actually 11 tracks]. There’s a mental illness problem called Folie à Deux, where two people share one person’s madness, so we figured we’d be four people sharing one person’s madness.
JT: So when did that come out?
SM: That was probably ’84, early ’84, something like that. And the last thing we recorded was in – you know Mike Harding, the folk singer from Rochdale?
JT: The Rochdale Cowboy.
SM: That’s the feller. He had a studio in Levenshulme in Manchester [Spirit Studios]. We were friends with the lad who was an engineer there [Joe] and he’d let us in at night. So we went three nights on a run: we’d never been able to afford studio time like that. We did five tracks and sadly for me they were the five best things we ever recorded and nothing ever came of them. It’s typical. I think there was some sort of poetic justice – we got good and packed it in. After years of being shite we actually recorded something that we thought, God, that’s not us.
JT: You sounded too good you mean?
SM: It sounds really stupid this, but we sounded like a group, we sounded professional. I think that was the death knell, particularly for Steve, who wanted everything to sound like Mark Smith. Steve liked The Fall, loved The Fall – still does.
JT: His voice is quite similar to Mark Smith, but lyrically certainly very different – he’s much more direct than Mark Smith.
SM: Yeah. The Fall also had great connections with the hospital we worked at. Una Baines from the original band worked at Prestwich and Kay Carroll, the manager, Smith’s girlfriend, was a staff nurse.
JT: So did you know The Fall?
SM: Reasonably, yeah: the original members – Karl Burns and Martin Bramah and Tony Friel. In actual fact Tony Friel’s girlfriend played bass with us for a while. As you say, it’s very incestuous.
But we recorded something worth listening to and thought that’s it, we’ve done it now… You’ve won!
JT: After Gods Gift split did you get involved with any more bands or was that it for you?
SM: Steve and Iain did a sort of improvised, jazzy thing a couple of times but Steve’s heart wasn’t in it. It was a bit acrimonious when we packed it in – not between Steve and I, I might add, we’re still good friends. I carried on with our drummer Andy Glentworth and started playing bass with another group, which was called Brutal Grey Killers, the emphasis on the Grey, so you can work out where the acrimony came. That was more for enjoyment – a group of mates.
JT: Who designed the Gods Gift logo?
SM: A lad we went to school with called Mike Turner. He did all of them – Sorry, I just remembered, the very first thing we ever did, before the Newmarket one, we did a cassette called The Greatest Story Ever Told. That was Mike Turner’s first thing for us, and he did all the covers after that. He was a mate: I think we bought him a couple of pints and that was it.
The Discipline single: out of interest, the centre of the record is a picture of the secure unit at Prestwich Hospital. The drawing is Steve Edwards on his haunches – that actually came from a picture of him locked in a seclusion room at Prestwich. I got a written warning for it.
JT: Are you still working in that field?
SM: No, unfortunately, I had my back broken a few years ago – an attack from a patient – and I’ve not worked since. I was a senior charge nurse at the hospital for 20 years. I’m still walking, so that’s what matters.
Of the other lads, Andy Glentworth works in a secure hospital on Merseyside, the one where Ian Brady is [Ashworth].
Now I’ve still got guitars, still got a bass, still got a little recording studio at home, mess about. Steve sold his sax when he was skint. Steve and I had a chat for an hour last Wednesday or Thursday and we were having a laugh about [the band] and I asked him do you ever fancy doing it again and he said no, I’ve done it and I’ve enjoyed it and I think if I’m honest I feel the same. We always said when we started everyone’s gonna hate us because we’re just going our own way, said it’d be great if in 25 years someone picked a record up and said ‘oh, they were all right them’. It’s really bizarre to think that that’s happening. If we’d have been Simply Red I couldn’t have been any happier.
The following article first appeared in “Linder: Works 1976-2006” (jrp/Ringier, 2006)
THE SECRET PUBLIC
“JS: I’m fascinated by gaps in communication…
HD: I‘m all for them. I don’t believe in closing them up. I believe in trying but not succeeding. They’ve got to be big enough for an average-sized adult to pass through comfortably. There will be communication gaps until they’ve got the whole world bugged. There’s something totalitarian about complete and perfect understanding. Do you see what I mean? They give you room to breathe, time to think”
Jon Savage: “Howard Devoto: Heart Beats Up Love” (Sounds, 5 November 1977)
“S&D: You wrote ‘Autonomy’ – can you say what it’s about?
Steve (Diggle): Well, it’s a discussion between the two sides of your personality – it’s about discipline in yourself, like then you say you’d really like to do something and you haven’t got control: you’re not autonomous.”
Jon Savage: “Buzzcocks” (Search and Destroy 6: April 1978)
The Secret Public was published in Manchester during the first month of 1978. It was the second New Hormones product – catalogue number ORG 2 – after the Buzzcocks’ already iconic Spiral Scratch, and was distributed through Rough Trade and other independent outlets. Priced at 40p (although, as this was nowhere mentioned on the cover, the prices tended to vary), it failed to sell out or make any money. Not that that was the point, which was to do it, get it out there, and see what happened.
Like many products of that time, The Secret Public was the result of a far wider collaboration than just the two featured artists. Linder and I may have physically altered the images, but also involved were: Richard Boon (finance, distribution and support), Howard Devoto (creative and practical support), Ruth Marten (the lettering on The Masculine Principle Has Gone Far Enough), Steve Montgomery and Geoff Travis at Rough Trade (distribution), Malcolm Garrett, Judy Nylon, Vivienne Goldman, Vale of Search & Destroy, Ian from the Worst, and the four members of Buzzcocks, just then recording their first album.
The wider creative matrix of The Secret Public was: David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’, Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust For Life’, Buzzcocks’ ‘Orgasm Addict’ and ‘Sixteen’, live shows by Siouxsie and the Banshees, Subway Sect and the Fall, the first three Pere Ubu singles, Devo’s ‘Live At the Mabuhay’, Kraftwerk’s ‘Trans-Europe Express’, Throbbing Gristle’s ‘First Annual Report’, Sounds’ ‘New Musick’ issue, Paul Morley’s Girl Trouble, Eno’s ‘Music For Films version 1′, Wire’s ‘Pink Flag’ and Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’. Between the last night of the Electric Circus and the Sex Pistols’ last show at Winterland, this period encompassed the death rattle of first-wave Punk.
Responding to this, The Secret Public attempted to dive further into the sea of possibility heralded by Patti Smith. It seemed possible to do so because of the extraordinary proliferation of the fanzine economy: by autumn 1977, there were literally hundreds of self-published magazines that you could buy in Rough Trade, Compendium, and similar alternative shops around the country. Most were formatted like junior issue tabloids, but ‘zines like Glitterbest’s Anarchy In The UK and Andy Palmer’s Observer dispensed with all but the most minimal text and focussed on imagery and texture. This then was our self-imposed remit.
“enclosed are the latest montages I’ve done – hope you like them…I’m very excited about the idea of doing a magazine – I think our work would mix well together. If we’re going to do a 12 page broadsheet size format (ie Anarchy in ther UK size) we’ll need 13 montages…I can produce 4/5 right now, using old stuff as well by next week. I’ll try and do 2/3 more to give plenty of choice. Cos don’t forget we need one extra for back/front covers…I dont’ know about printing costs etc…Some of them would need screening up from the size they’re at…I can provide up to £100 if necessary but maybe Richard Boon can come up with something between Buzzcocks traumas…it might be cheaper in Manchester too…(should be black and white). Shown your montages to various people – Rough Trade, Viv Goldman, Judy Nylon…general verdict is that they’re amazing – so there you are. New Bowie album is beautiful (dreamt about it last night) – post everything music.”
Jon Savage: letter to Linder, early November 1977
It all came together very quickly. In late October 1977 I went to Manchester to interview Howard Devoto for Sounds and to review the last night of the Electric Circus. During the course of that weekend, I met Linder – who shared a house with Devoto in Lower Broughton Road, Salford – and was awed by her handbill for an October Buzzcocks show: ‘cosmetic metal music/manicured noise’. I thought it was roughly along the same line but much better than the montages that I’d been doing for my own amusement and occasional commissions. By this stage, Linder had just completed – in collaboration with Malcolm Garrett – the now classic single sleeve and full-size poster for Buzzcocks’‘Orgasm Addict’ 45.
Both of us had come to a similar place by chance design. Linder was already receiving art training [ay Manchester Polytechnic]: “I remember the pure pleasure of photomontage. I had spent three years working with pencil, paint and pen trying to translate lived experience into made marks. It was a moment of glorious liberation to work purely with a blade, glass and glue. Almost a scientific methodology. Sitting in a dark room in Salford, performing cultural postmortems and then reassembling the corpses badly, like a Mary Shelley trying to breathe life into the monster. For a short period I’d found a perfect mode of articulation.
“Punk was cutting out the question, ‘Can I do this?’ I began to do bits of collage, quite naturally. I took lots of photographs and wondered, what could I do with them? I started to get bored, and then moved from collage to montage, using scalpels, glass cutting. I’d always loved magazines and I had two separate piles. One you might call women’s magazines, fashion, romance, then a pile of men’s mags: cars, DIY, pornography, which again was women, but another side. I wanted to mate the G-Plan kitchens with the pornography, see what strange breed came out. I did it all on a sheet of glass with a scalpel, very clean, like doing a jigsaw. Rising above it all.”
For my part, the attraction was in being to express myself in purely visual terms. My day job was as a trainee lawyer, my second job as a journalist for Sounds, but neither was enough. I’d always worked with parallel text and visuals but here was a chance, such as would not be found in hierarchical London, to let rip with the imagery of Dawn Ades’ Photomontage: the accumulating skyscraper stacks of Fritz Lang and Walter Ruttman, the dismembering done by Max Ernst and Hannah Hoch, the political savagery of John Heartfield – whose summer 1977 exhibition at the ICA was a major stimulus. Then there was Norman Ogue Mustil’s beat/ surrealist Flypaper and Skot Armst’s contemporary Science Holiday.
It was all coming to one point, and that was given precision by our instrument of choice: as Linder writes, “The knife used was a surgeon’s scalpel still made in Sheffield by Swann Morton Ltd. The packets of blades look like condom packets, I think we used blade No 11a for our cutting out work.” Cut-ups were in the air of 1977, a way to cut through the detritus of twenty years’ plenty – in my case, old copies of National Geographic and Picture Post – the sheer boredom of commercialised punk rock. The knife offerred a certain visceral, brutal control: it was a process at once violent and peaceful, which allowed the subconscious to come through.
Looking at the magazine now, I can see that Linder’s five montages have a distinct unanimity of theme: the dismemberment of women by conventional attitudes to gender and sexuality. They are all set in the home, perhaps the prime location for violence. The centrepiece is T.V.Sex, a startling vision of sexual alienation, where the distinctly human bodies (hairy, a bit fat) are topped by TV heads (the racing’s on: must be weekday afternoon); the background is catalogue furnishing 1977 style, pristine, with no hint of bodily secretions or emotional entanglements. These techno-humans are divorced from their bodies and themselves.
On page 2 is the image that titled Buzzcocks’ first album: a perfect kitchen dominated by a woman, naked and bound, inserted within a saucepan; inverted eyes and a slashed, lipsticked mouth leer from her mixer-head. Pete Shelley: “Another Music in a Different Kitchen was a mixture between Linder, Howard and Richard. We were trying to think up titles for the montages in The Secret Public and Howard said,‘ another housewife stews in her own juice in a different kitchen’. We shuffled it around a bit and it came out like that. It’s like an extension of dada where you get a meaningless phrase and you free-associate with that to find out what it actually means. And it gets a meaning and then you DO the meaning.”
Applying this to the Savage imagery, I can see various strands coming to the surface: Strength and Health is the homoerotic man-machine, taken from a nudist magazine; pages four and five are Metropolis transplanted to New York, with strong hints of media saturation (like the Slits sang on‘F.M’, “my nightmares don’t project my dreams”) and eco-doom. I’m a New World Fan was a simple depiction of my day-by-day life in 1977, going round and round the Circle Line, and The Masculine Principle Has Gone Far Enough is self-explanatory: like Linder, I had been attracted by the freedoms that Punk offered to the sexually divergent. We were both, for different reasons, appalled by the return of culturally-sanctioned laddishness in the latter part of 1977.
Despite the fact that The Secret Public sourced both hetero- and homosexual pornography, we were genuinely surprised when we had trouble trying to find a printer who would print the magazine. As Linder writes: “The one we eventually found wanted paying in cash without receipt. Some left wing bookshops wouldn’t take TSP because of its content.” It seems obvious to me now that the Secret Public is not erotic and that any sexuality in there is either covert or highly polemical. A case in point: the only penises in there, while engorged, are placed next to missiles and lipstick to make a point about phallocentricity in social life rather than sex.
“Then you do the meaning…” The most striking thing, twenty four years and two snake cycles later, is how predictive of our biographical future The Secret Public seems. I look at those images now and see the desire to work with imagery that saw me move to Manchester to work in television, the obsession with sexual politics that has been a constant in my writing, and the sheer fascination with New York that has led me to visit Manhattan over 30 times. Read as a visual diary of 1977, I would have to say that I can’t have been very happy then, but then I don’t remember happiness being possible or even desirable at that point. I feel sympathy with that person, but I am no longer him.
In Linder’s case, The Secret Public marks the meta-feminist concerns that have taken her through montage to music – with Ludus – and video performances, to installations and performance pieces. As she writes now: “I didn’t realise it then but the process of montage (as the ultimate container of dichotomy) has formed an invisible continuum throughout all I’ve done to date. Even The Return of Linderland had the audacity of montage to let Ann Lee cohabit with Clint Eastwood, old with young, faith with nihilism, north Manchester with the West.”
I now think that The Secret Public wrote its own script. It was a deliberately hermetic document that forced you to enter on its own terms. There were few concessions to any ideas of marketing and accessability. Hearts were not worn on the sleeve. It fully explored its dichotomies: cool designed outer images covering angry, savage montages, women placed in bondage but by their own design (or is that in itself a product of internalised oppression?), metropolises that offered opportunity and excitement at the same time as they ate you alive. Its impact was qualitative rather than quantitive: perhaps this is why, at its best, it has not dated at all.
 See “London’s Outrage” (Dec 1976) and “London’s Outrage 2” (Feb 1977) and sundry issues of Sounds, eg Singles Reviews for 5 November 1977.
 Dawn Ades: “Photomontage” (Thames and Hudson, 1976)
 Norman Ogue Mustill: “Flypaper” (Beach Books, 1967) – this and other Beach Books including William Burroughs’ “Apo 33”, were on sale cheaply at Compendium Books, Camden Town during this period.
COPYRIGHT JON SAVAGE 2006 – Republished with permission.
Buzzcocks – Boredom
Ludus – Sightseeing
The Tiller Boys – Big Noise from the Jungle
The Decorators – Twilight View
Eric Random – Fade in
Dislocation Dance – Vendetta (Theme)
The Diagram Brothers – Bricks
Biting Tongues – Denture Beach
Ambrose Reynolds – Holy Mackerel
Ludus – Box
Dislocation Dance – You’ll never, never know
CP Lee Mystery Guild – Gabble natter chatter
The Diagram Brothers – Fondue Soiree
Eric Random meets The Bedlamites – Bolero (Version)
Ludus – Mistresspiece
Gods Gift – Soldiers
Dislocation Dance – Rosemary
Eric Random meets The Bedlamites – Eastern Promise
Ludus – I stabbed at the sheep
Dislocation Dance – Remind me.
Richard Boon: “Part of my, and that punk rationale, was: make things happen. Make the place that you happen to be living a place that you want to be living in”
Richard Boon: “We put out a fanzine that says fanzines can be anything you want”
Richard Boon: “It was play. Play is very important because it’s transgressive and transformative”
Eric Random (The Tiller Boys): “I watched people in the audience throw up”
Eric Random: “I was still in the same sort of frame of mind as with Tiller Boys: Still quite an aggressive physical sound, but using a lot of repetition”
Cath Carroll: “It was said that Eric’s personal energy field caused electrical and electronic equipment to malfunction, he had trouble even watching TV”
Ian Runacres: “Andy (Diagram) has the perfect blend of musicality, individuality and freedom”
Cath Carroll: “(Gods Gift) looked like civil servants who’d had their desks stolen”
Liz Naylor (on Gods Gift): “One of the great lost bands”
Richard Boon: “A typical day at 50 Newton Street is beyond description. It was an open house to derelicts”
Liz Naylor: “Alan Wise is one of the most bizarre people you’ll ever, ever encounter”
Ian Runacres: “In those days Morrissey was a bit like Zelig”
Lawrence Fitzgerald (Diagram Brothers): “It was almost a family with New Hormones”
Simon Pitchers (Diagram Brothers): “Things weren’t going brilliantly and you don’t want things to go sour, I think. It’s a bit like doing a set that’s too long – best to leave everybody on a high note rather than a low note”
Cath Carroll: “Richard had a contrariness about him that allowed to him see things like Danger Came Smiling as a valid business move where others would have simply viewed such a release as indulgence. He enjoyed Art and allowed it to resonate. He really seemed to enjoy its meaning, not just its effect or symbolism”
CP Lee: “It was probably just hopeless speed paranoia. At the time it all seemed terribly significant”
Liz Naylor: “Richard’s very generous with his advice, or his enabling of other people to do things. And subsequently has been a lot less successful than anybody else. He really was an important person in Manchester’s music history”
Richard Boon: “I would have loved to do something with Basil from Yargo. He walked into the office one day and said, ‘I want to be produced by Thom Bell’ Fantastic – he had ambition. With the last 90 quid of New Hormones’ money I stuck him in a four-track”
Fraser Reich (Diagram Brothers): “Richard was really a vital glue conceptually for everybody. I think from him came that sense of it’s a creative house and I support you in your creative stuff. Richard was so clearly committed to the idea of the creative part of it that actually money hardly got discussed at all”
Richard Boon: “People helped each other. And if someone had a hit: ‘good for them’.”
Liz Naylor: “People were very respectful of Richard and the Buzzcocks, but as a label it never quite captured people’s imagination”
Dids Dowdall (Ludus): “New Hormones actually had better bands than Factory”
Nathan McGough: “New Hormones was important because it was the first independent in Manchester if not the UK. But it hasn’t left the same footprint on Manchester [as Factory]”
Graham Massey: “There was no great vision with Factory, which is odd because Factory has this reputation of being a visionary label”
Malcolm Garrett: “The personae of the bands at Factory were certainly subservient to the overarching persona of the label itself, with the caveat that Joy Division and New Order really were the persona of the label embodied in vinyl, so their visualisation was indistinguishable from Factory itself”
Ian Runacres: “If some of the New Hormones bands had been on Factory and vice versa the world would have been a different place. In some ways better”
CP Lee: “One tends to think of all the Factory bands being quite the same… (New Hormones) was definitely a whole mess of individuals, which possibly led to its eventual demise”
Ian Runacres: “I’m really proud to have been signed to New Hormones, but I sometimes wish I’d have signed with Factory when I had the bloody chance”
Graham Massey: “New Hormones was more of a family thing than Factory”
Stuart James: “Maybe New Hormones as a label was a little bit too diverse. The bands were diverse. Even though a lot of the bands shared the same producer, there was no signature sound necessarily. The artwork didn’t have a unified style. Even though they were more of a family, it wasn’t perceived as that”
Richard Boon: “If there was an ethos it was just that this music should be heard. And these players should be paid attention, because they have hopefully something to say, or they are making an interesting racket. I like interesting rackets. There wasn’t an overarching ideology. I didn’t want to be Ahmet Ertegün or anything like that”
Ian Runacres: “New Hormones was a better label than Factory: of that I have no doubt. Not just because of Richard Boon’s extraordinary vision – he isn’t just a music ‘fan’ in the way that Tony Wilson was, nowt wrong with being a fan, of course, but because Richard’s vision ‘became’ the music – such was his influence. He was the Malcom McLaren of the North. A truly brilliant man – broke, but brilliant. Richard wasn’t the sort of individual who would be taken in by the drug-fuelled drivel of Salford scallies. He loved the artform and he loved individuals. My conclusion: Eric Random – more important than Fat Boy Slim. Diagram Brothers – more important than Madness. Ludus – more important than, well Morrisey, I suppose. As for Dislocation Dance, well I think we could have been more important than New Order”
Richard Boon: “I’m not bitter – about anything actually. It was a great adventure: set out with that map and see where you land”
On February 23, 2007 Biting Tongues played live at Islington Mill Studios in Salford, their first show in Manchester for two decades. I met up with Graham Massey, Howard Walmsley, Ken Hollings, Colin Seddon and Eddie Sherwood at the venue earlier the same day to discover more about the band’s past and what it was like to play together again.
JT: How did Biting Tongues start?
HW: I’d begun experimenting with film. I was already a musician. I’d made a short film with a friend, Richard Roberts, and we went to a gig at the Russell Club one night and ‘thought this is terrible, we can do better than this’. It was a punk period [band], Singing Bananas, someone like that, and we said, let’s show the film and we’ll put a band together to play a live soundtrack. And I more or less introduced people to each other on stage.
GM: To provide a bit of history to that: there were a couple of performances when I wasn’t in the band, and each performance was almost a different set of people. Until the third performance.
HW: And then the film elements kind of got left behind after a while. We still used slides and film loops and then the first proper version of [Biting Tongues] would be the band that played the ICA I s’pose.
KH: No, it would be the Beach Club.
HW: Yes. Which is where New Hormones comes in.
KH: That was the first time that particular five-piece performed. I was living in London so I was commuting up to do performances [and] that was the first time that particular five-piece got together and we worked phenomenally well.
JT: Do you remember the precise date?
GM: I’ve got the flyer [the flyer is dated June 3, 1980]
HW: There was a lot of little envelopes with cassettes flying up and down [between London and Manchester] with ideas for tunes. Ken would send ideas for texts and presentation.
KH: Quite a lot of the early shows, a lot of it was improvised around loose structures or cues set up. I knew Howard from before Biting Tongues, I knew he was working on films and that was the element that I was interested in. And then Graham knew Colin knew Eddie. But what was really interesting was the five of us didn’t know each other as a five – we hadn’t got together socially.
HW: At that time we’d put quite a lot of work into a particular piece and then crash it. We just didn’t do the same things twice. So the evolution of what we were doing, which was always at the edge of our ability – we were playing things that we couldn’t play, that were impossible to play – kept it very fresh and very challenging.
KH: Going back to your criticism of the post-punk stuff, I remember you saying that Punk was just a bit too ‘off the shelf’, a bit too much of a mould or matrix that you could just fit stuff into, and we wanted to completely get rid of all that and just bring elements together and see what would happen on stage. And now I look back the innocence and arrogance and stupidity of some of our decisions like never playing the same numbers twice. When we started recording the first album it was all done in one take – all new material, hardly rehearsed. I was barely on nodding terms with Graham, we’d played like one gig together, and I seem to remember the first thing Graham saying to me, ‘you mind not doing that’, because I was fiddling around with his amplifier in the studio, because I didn’t really have anything else to do.
HW: We didn’t sell that at the time. We’ve only just realised what that actually meant. That opportunity – someone’s paying for you to go in a recording studio – and we’re sort of, ‘let’s just see’. We never really traded on that. So people listening to it didn’t really know what they were listening to.
GM: It was a bit more of a slash’n’burn culture though, wasn’t it? You didn’t expect things to last. Things barely lasted months: they just went (makes noise like a fly) and that was the culture back then a little bit more than it is now.
KH: I think slash’n’burn is a good image – there was a sense of ‘no, you don’t want to do this, you don’t want to do that’.
GM: Coz bands nowadays they start with a career plan and then they get signed before they’ve even got four tunes.
JT: Plus you had the multimedia aspect from the start, which is unusual.
HW: The interesting thing about that is that it really was old school. Until the digital age there was never really an easy way of putting that together.
GM: You were lucky to have a video player [in those days].
KH: It was really labour intensive. We were mostly using 16 mil, thanks to Howard. And the great thing about slides is they were 35 mil, so you’d get quite a good projected spread onto the stage.
GM: Ilford culture.
HW: That first film we used every single frame what we bought – the positive, the negative, the lead offs – and a lot of it, it was black and white, we coloured it in with felt-tip pens.
GM: All that stuff that’s so easy to do with computers now. Even to do just a slide image used to involve weird colouring in and superimposition.
HW: And actually physically cutting up negatives… weird colouring in. Letraset… And now that’s half an hour on Photoshop for some bright kid.
KH: We used to get some text on acetate and cut them into the images as well.
GM: We used to get through a lot of Letraset, didn’t we?
KH: And that’s where “First Use All the Gs” comes from – coz they were always the first ones to go, weren’t they, on your Letraset. Small footnote, the film was called Biting Tongues and the band took the name from the film.
HW: Because it was a performance.
JT: Who would you say you were influenced by at that time?
HW: The punk reference earlier is interesting, because punk referenced rock and I think we actively fought against rock influence. Sun Ra, Miles Davis.
KH: For me a lot of Parliament, Funkadelic and early George Clinton. And at the time you were laughed at, because they were on Casablanca they were disco. And you weren’t supposed to listen to disco. That interest in Clinton didn’t really come until the early 80s.
HW: Some of the Germans – Can, Faust.
KH: Coz we kind of grew up with Krautrock.
JT: Postpunk breaking out of punk’s three minute ramalama.
HW: They may have been punk but they were still straight.
KH: I always get disappointed by retrospectives of punk, because they never mention the funk element, listening to Krautrock; bands like Suicide, they showed what could be done; bands like This Heat: I remember being very struck by what they were doing back in the day.
GM: The band me and Colin had before Biting Tongues that was running a little bit parallel, we used to do Chrome cover versions. There was all that American slant on post-punk culture that came into it. The things that we had in common when we met were things like the Sun Ra.
KH: Impulse tried to reissue Sun Ra’s back catalogue and then they ran out of money or they decided just to scrap the whole project.
GM: So Manchester was flooded with…
KH: That’s never really been given its full credit – all those punched out Impulse reissues that you could get for like 75p. Massive influence. And that was one of the things, we all said, ‘oh, you know Nubians from Plutonium’.
GM: That was a badge. That was a sparking point. Other things that flooded the market at the time were ECM albums. I know me and Colin had a lot of those in common. I wouldn’t say it was an influence, but there was a lot of jazz connections between what we were doing, so jazz was in the pot.
HW: But jazz as in the edge – Bitches Brew, Eric Dolphy.
GM: But it certainly wasn’t just punk. There was a punk attitude.
HW: What punk did was for that time was open the doors to a lot of new, smaller gigs that made things possible.
KH: That whole DIY ethos. I mean up till then, 101 Pop Culture History, but I mean this notion that you either had to have a degree in music or banks and banks of equipment to do music. That was great – all that was cleared away. I think there was an element, the notion of the five of us just going into a studio and recording an album side. Here it is, just go and do it.
GM: Also one of the things we had in common is that we came from a making tapes culture. We messed around with tape recordings. I always see it as two factions – they were the older ones from my perspective. They had all these recordings that were just like ours, where they were messing round with tapes, and cutting up tapes and just generally having a social occasion round the tape recorder and then seeing what you could do with cutting it up. And we did that as well. It was one of the things we had in common and yeah, we’re working in a collage type way.
HW: We never played a song.
GM: No. And that collage culture was around in Zappa and Beefheart and that kind of thing so that was a common ground. Even though we weren’t obsessed with Zappa and Beefheart and that, we knew the common language of collaged record making. And Faust Tapes.
KH: Certainly Faust Tapes again were a cheap…
GM: 49 pence records
KH: Everywhere. And the seeds that those things sowed. And that notion that you could take almost like a social event and re-edit it and re-cut it. Also, and we haven’t even mentioned it, the importance of having tapes running on stage. We called them backing tapes but they weren’t in any established sense of the word, they would be bits of news broadcasts, TV station chopped, things running backwards.
GM: It was there as a texture, it wasn’t there as any kind of cueing system. It was just random, flowy. That had come from bands like Can [who] used to do that with the shortwave radio. It was floating around in the culture to do that, it wasn’t new to do that, but we did it, perhaps turned up the dial on it a bit more than most bands. And those occasions when we got together to make them were equally part of the ritual of what we did. Make the films, make the tapes, then make music. And the text is nothing to do with song writing.
KH: Not at all.
GM: It’s much more from that same idea of, it’s another layer in the collage, it’s got its own place in the overall picture, but it isn’t song writing.
KH: It was the perfect opportunity for cutting text in a venue and a format that would allow the text to interact with everything else. And certainly when it came to the recording, some of the recordings you’d get these really interesting moments where you can’t actually tell whether it was the text being cut up or some random elements being introduced off the tape. Those moments were really great.
GM: And that is almost very common these days in Computer World, when all media lives in one box, but that then it was more out on a limb.
HW: And the fact that it had to be brought together brought its own quality.
JT: Because you were trying to bring all these different elements together and each show had a different set, I guess you weren’t regularly performing live because it was too much work in a sense, you had to prepare everything.
GM: But it was a lot easier to get gigs because in that post-punk culture of do-it-yourself and collectives – there was this Manchester Musicians’ Collective thing going on where you’d go to a meeting once a month and they’d hand out, there’d be a rota of people doing concerts, so we had a regular flow of gigs, but they were mostly in Manchester. We didn’t set out to conquer the world, we were happy to do Manchester gigs, and Ken had a similar connection in London so Ken would be getting us London gigs to do with his scene in London, so we had a sort of Manchester-London axis. We rarely played outside that.
KH: Very rarely.
JT: When you did your first recordings how did you go about choosing what to put on record?
GM: It was whatever we’d rehearsed that week, wasn’t it?
HW: Side two of ‘Don’t Heal’, which was the first thing we recorded, which was for New Hormones. They put us in touch with Stuart [James].
GM: He was a Radio Piccadilly producer.
HW: He produced Mark Radcliffe’s show.
HW: And working towards the recording of that stuff, we did something which is the best thing we do, we started from scratch there. And the principle of that we had actually done before when we did that thing with Bob Jones at the Film & Video Workshop. Bob was a video maker, a film director, and he said, oh I’ll do some film of you. So in a room similar to this [upstairs room at Islington Mill Studios, Salford], he was just sitting there with a camera, and we played for, I don’t know how long, three-quarters of an hour or something. So there’d been a bit of a precedent.
KH: God, I’d forgotten about the Noh Luck Ritual! N-o-H as in Japanese theatre. It’s the kind of thing you wake up screaming over 20 years later.
HW: There’s not really a story [with ‘Don’t Heal’, side two] because it’s simple: it was played live in the studio. I think there was possibly bits of overdubbing or bits of post-production, but essentially the chassis went down in the duration at the time.
JT: Where was it recorded?
GM: It was a place called Drone Studios in Chorlton. The fashion for studios then was to have a very dead sound, so it was a padded room in a cellar, padded with denim, so it was actually like being in someone’s jeans.
KH: A Status Quo fan convention [laughs].
HW: I think it was 8-track.
KH: It was 8-track. You know we even left in stuff like the vocal fluffs. It just stayed in.
GM: Well we couldn’t afford. In some ways it was like, it’s four hours and that’s it, bang! Because that was the budget. It was do or die. It wasn’t take 3 and take 4 or anything like that.
KH: I just remember having this music stand with sheets of A4 paper and index cards with different treated texts on them. And I was just picking them up as we were going along and dropping them in. And there is some kind of odd fragmented narrative through the whole session.
GM: So that’s side two and then side one happened about a year later or something.
HW: We realised that New Hormones were never going to get it off the ground.
GM: I think that’s the first time they ran out of money.
HW: So we had what in our view and in actual fact was a very fresh recording, that from our point of view that needed to be out there. Nothing was happening, we were starting to get more exposure, more people were starting to see us and someone had heard a track on a tape and somehow found us and said I’ve heard this have you got any more like that. What was his name? Peter Kent! He was essentially from Warner’s, from Beggars Banquet, Situation Two. We said, well we’ve recorded it for this other record company but it’s sat on the shelf. And he said how about if I buy that off them and we’ll pay for you to do some more and then there’ll be an album and everything will be great and away you go. So the second side we recorded [side one of the LP] was a slightly fancier affair in a 24-track studio.
KH: I think we actually had two days.
KH: It made a big difference to us to have people like Richard [Boon] and Peter [Wright – the guys who ran New Hormones records] come to us and say, that was amazing, that was really exciting, come and do something. And I think up until then, it had been well this is a really interesting experiment that you are doing. And that was the first time anyone had said, no, this is really vital, come into the studio, we’ll do it for you.
JT: Was that just after the Beach Club show, or later?
KH: That was immediate; in fact it was practically while the audience was still leaving the Beach Club. I just remember, I think it was Peter, coming up.
HW: At that time, we were friends, it was all amicable. I now know, years later, that look in people’s eyes where nothing’s gonna happen. I didn’t then. Oh, isn’t the album coming out yet? Oh, soon, soon. And the rate we were working, it was becoming less and less vital. Although we really liked it as a piece. So when we got the opportunity to release it somewhere else – either put it out or sell it please. And to their credit, because they appreciated what the music was about, they say ‘yeah, okay’. I’m sure they did all right financially out of it as well.
GM: Then the next thing was ‘Live It’, wasn’t it? Which [New Hormones] did get to [release]. It was a cassette, so it wasn’t hard to get together.
KH: But it also put us into a way of working which we hadn’t done before.
Which was working in an eight-track studio, using a small studio, but using all of it. Spending our time layering tapes into the mix. Some of it was performed live. I think even for Live It, three of the tracks were performed live straight to the master tape.
GM: I think it was all two-track because the machine didn’t work.
KH: No, some of it was mixed…
Colin: It was all mixed at the time as we played.
KH: One session was done [like that]: “Denture Beach” and “42” and “43”.
GM: It was done at Roger Salmon’s [studio].
Colin: That’s right.
KH: But “Reflector” and the others…
Colin: It was from two sessions.
KH: And it was Stuart James that did the straight to two-track session. And then I think we kind of [produced] the other tracks.
JT: Why did you have the two sessions?
GM: Again it was kind of like, here’s a bit of money, oh we’ve got four tracks. Here’s another bit of money, oh we’ve got two tracks. Here’s another bit of money. It’s a product. It was never sort of, here’s the album: this is the concept of the album. [It was] oh, we’ve got some money to do some recordings, oh we’ve got a collection of recordings, that way of doing it.
HW: The ones that went straight to tape are for me the most fresh, right recordings.
JT: Why did it come out on cassette?
GM: There was a definite vogue for cassette at the time. I mean it was cheap to manufacture, but there was a culture of cassettes.
Colin: Major labels were doing it as well.
GM: It was the Walkman era. Cassettes were the format of the moment, so to speak.
Colin: The Walkman was a really big thing when it came out.
GM: It was such a big deal.
JT: And only 500 copies of ‘Live It’ were issued originally?
GM: Was it?
HW: No idea. Sounds right.
JT: What about the packaging – ‘Radio Sweat’ and ‘Pickpocket’ [the other cassettes released by New Hormones in the same series in 1981] came in quite fancy cases, with stickers?
GM: I don’t remember a lot of the other ones. I remember they had a magazine on cassette, ‘Northern Lights’. We did some stuff for that. It would be things like – on one there’s an interview with Ian Curtis in a pub that you can barely hear, some percussion improvisations actually by one of the guys that’s in the support band tonight, Richard [Dick Harrison of Spaceheads and former drummer with Mudhutters and Dislocation Dance]. And they intended to release one a month, like an audio magazine, to go along with this cassette mania that was going on.
They were just running with that idea at the time. It was also because the magazine culture in Manchester at the time was pretty thin… Considering that Manchester had quite a vibrant music scene, nothing was really covering it. And in a way [‘Northern Lights’] was an attempt to redress that.
KH: The other advantage of a cassette release was, you could do it in small batches and kind of tweak the release, which was what happened with ours [‘Live it’]. There was one edition, blue on white cover, and there was only seven tracks. And I don’t think the sound quality was that great. I remember being a bit disappointed by it. And then it was reissued, white on blue and we added an extra track on side one, which was a live recording we’d done at Manchester Poly.
JT: The thing with ‘Northern Lights’ is nowadays you’d probably do it as a podcast.
KH: It was the podcast of its day.
HW: It definitely was. That’s exactly what it was.
JT: And then you were going to release ‘Libreville’ on New Hormones initially.
HW: I can remember the same conversation again, which was, hi guys, we’ve been approached for the material. I think we were more active about trying to push that around, actually. It was a serious thing. We’d put a lot of work into that: we’d had a producer, Roland Beelans, come over from Belgium.
JT: How’d you meet him?
KH: I think he’d heard the first album.
HW: We recorded in a variety of studios. We had our heads a bit more round how we would record the material. But from the New Hormones point of view, once again well intentioned but the wheels fell off.
JT: Do you think that New Hormones, if they’d had the money could have been a really influential label?
KH: I’d hate to think that it was all down to money: they were an influential label. To go back to what I was saying, just the enthusiasm that allowed us all to focus on what we were doing, it was really useful. And there was an awful lot of energy. I remember when we did the Body Repairs night. New Hormones actually had a night at The Venue – Eric Random and God’s Gift.
JT: What’s happened to God’s Gift, by the way?
KH: I don’t know. I lost track of them after that gig, actually.
But I remember Richard [Boon] saying, because I was shuttling between London and Manchester, rehearsals and gigs, and working on ‘Feverhouse’ with Howard. And Richard said, look if you’re going back to London on Monday morning, drop by the office and we can do some flyers and get them out in Soho. I was, ‘yeah, fine’. And I turned up, quite early in the morning, and Richard hadn’t started them yet, he was still laying them out, and basically, he’d taken an old copy of Search and Destroy and had just cut out these old African tribal marking pictures, and I think there was an eye surgery one as well. And he was still doing all this Letraset. But done really quickly, really efficiently – taking an A4 sheet and putting the flyer on it, putting it through the Xerox machine and guillotining it. And I think I was only in the office for 20 minutes and by the time he had finished I had a thick wad of flyers. In fact, the opening lines to “Reflector” were inspired by the flyer, the ‘filed down teeth’. So there was a lot of energy as well.
HW: In answer to your question about money, [Richard Boon was] management for Buzzcocks and Buzzcocks had been a very successful mainstream pop act. One of the first films I ever worked on, again with director Bob Jones, was working on a Buzzcocks promo. That’s how I got to know Richard more closely than before. They used that kind of core momentum and bank balance to begin the experiment. But then Buzzcocks starting crumbling, they weren’t selling quite as much, didn’t have their deal renewed, etc, etc.
KH: I remember evenings spent in the New Hormones house, which was five minutes walk from where Howard lived.
GM: And about 100 yards from where Tony Wilson lived!
KH: The first time I met Tony Wilson he was sitting on the floor in the front room showing someone out of Dislocation Dance how to solve the Rubik’s Cube. That was my introduction to him.
GM: Most of the Manchester music scene was in literally one square mile of Didsbury at one point.
JT: So they all lived there to be close to the Factory office?
HW: And then the floor fell in on the house and they had to move out.
HW: The floor eventually fell in on the house.
KH: It was the weight of all the vintage magazines and paperbacks.
HW: Unissued recordings
KH: And old copies of Jackie annual from about 1965. I remember the most amazing collection; it must have been Richard’s.
JT: You later went on to record for Factory – what would you say was the main difference in ethos between the two labels, apart from that Factory had a bit more money?
HW: Factory didn’t know who we were. They had no idea who we were or what we did, but they did it. ‘Feverhouse’ was a bit of a Trojan horse there, because Ikon had put out the film and done some kind of shuffle where Factory put out the album and that establishes us as a Factory band. And then it’s like, ‘well we’ve got this other stuff that we do’. ‘Ok, fine’.
KH: The other advantage was, we were sort of running out of money to finish the actual film of ‘Feverhouse’, I think we wanted to do one last shoot and some post-production, and I think that was actually part of the deal as well, that Tony Wilson would underwrite…
HW: That was part of the deal but it never happened, they never shelled.
KH: Did they not?
HW: Not for that. I remember a conversation with Wilson which was more or less, ‘well, that was then’.
KH: I seem to remember the film was on his coffee table for about nine months, a rough cut of it.
HW: The other thing was, because I had an ongoing relationship with Ikon – I used to work with them sometimes with other bands – I was in and out of Factory’s office quite a bit. And the main issue there was just dealing with the weight of the machine that was dealing with New Order.
JT: It seems to me from the outside that Factory would have these periods where they would have one very successful band and everyone else was a tiny fragment of interest for the label.
HW: Tony [was] well on record as saying he doesn’t like, doesn’t understand, doesn’t want anything to do with anything remotely connected to jazz. We’re very connected (KH: Remotely connected) to jazz. But I think they understood our position and I think they understood the kind of intention of what we were trying to do, which was kind of beyond and outside of the music. And they were interesting – interesting people to deal with.
GM: I don’t think we had one person there who we dealt with. There was no one who was championing us and bringing us in. Which felt odd.
HW: Essentially we were dealing with Tony and Tony was very distracted and didn’t understand us.
GM: The whole catalogue – occasionally you’d go and try and blag records from the office and you’d be like, ‘what’s this?!?’
HW: What are you doing?!
GM: Who’s commissioned this? Like weird Afrobeat things. It was a real mix.
CS: Later when you’d find out how much they used to spend on sleeves and really successful chart successes didn’t make any money because the sleeve art cost so much, you can see why that was. They could say yes to anything; you could see how there was a lack of selection going on.
GM: There was no great vision with Factory, which is odd because Factory has this reputation of being a visionary label.
JT: Peter Saville’s artwork was visionary maybe?
GM: Yeah, and a lot of it is front. I don’t think it was a particularly visionary label: it just did some good things and had a big wake of – no pun intended.
HW: We were very much further down the food chain than New Order or whatever. It seemed even more absurd when – I remember Tony phoning up and saying, he’d just got this bill off Dave Pringle who’d charged himself at some pittance an hour, but it was too much: ‘How can you pay that for a producer? I’m not paying that’. And for that he did the recordings, he did all the post [-production], he came to London, he mastered it with us. ‘Oh that’s alright then, okay fine’. But then you look at the bill for the cover for that, for the sleeve art, it was Trevor Johnson, and it was preposterous, and it took months. The same thing again, of a value system that didn’t actually understand the thing that seemed to be at the centre of it, the music.
GM: [New Hormones was] a much more sort of family record company. They all practically used to live in one house: Richard and Peter and [Ian]. They lived in this massive house and it was more of a family thing than Factory. Tony always had this media connection as well that sort of widened it out. Didn’t feel quite as cottage industry. Two different styles, definitely.
JT: Factory’s legacy in Manchester is pretty clear – Hacienda, Dry Bar, Madchester, etc. New Hormones doesn’t have any visible legacy. What do you think the legacy was?
GM: For me, I think the Beach Club was a very important club. It was an important in changing clubbing in Manchester as the Hacienda. It was earlier, and a bit more…
GM: Yes, it was dimpier, but it was the first time Manchester focused in that arts way, because it had cinema on and everything as well. It had that feel.
ES: It was more than just a club where you went and got drunk and watched a band.
JT: Which records/songs of your own from that time stand up best?
ES: “Evening State” stands up for me.
HW: “Heart Disease”.
ES: “First Use All the Gs”.
KH: We’ve got a track on a compilation on Soul Jazz called ‘DIY 80s’. And they’ve taken a track from the very first session we did, the one that New Hormones stumped up for, “You can choke like that”. And listening to it again I was really quite surprised at how fresh it sounded.
GM: I like all of [‘Don’t Heal’] – I like the naivety of it, I like the mistakes in it. I love some of the worst stuff on it like “Blue Traces”. Doesn’t work any way you look at it, but I just love the folly of it.
CS: Folly, yeah, folly: there’s a kind of unquestioning thing, I don’t know whether it’s a youth thing, we had a kind of unspoken rule amongst ourselves that if anybody else does it or follows any rules of musical harmony, then we don’t do it. So it became a real self – not self-referential – but mix that with a high level of energy and arrogance.
Well we found later on that other people followed that and we got lumped in with Pigbag and that kind of thing.
CS: That sort of post-punk jazz thing. But that were actually a lot of people experimenting with the same sort of ideas but from a different angle.
JT: What about people like Throbbing Gristle? Did you play with them?
GM: No, we were very aware of them. We had a friend that had the 24-hour box set and we did do the 24-hour box set party [laughs].
KH: I do remember we played the old – when it was still the Whiskey-a-go-go, just on the edge of Chinatown, Wardour Street – with 23 Skidoo. And I remember it was a really great night, I really enjoyed the set that we did. Graham had had some food poisoning and had to run off stage at the end to throw up. And I’m trying to put some of his gear together at the end to clear up and Gen and Paula [Orridge] are right at the front of the stage, and Gen is just staring at me, just fixed. And I’m going, I can’t deal with this right now, I really don’t want to talk to him right now, because I’m still vibrating from the set. And the next morning someone from Rough Trade phoned up and said, ‘it was a really great set last night, I really enjoyed it, what happened to you though, Graham raced off the stage’. ‘Oh, Graham was ill and then I was getting sick of Genesis P. Orridge staring at me while I was trying to clear up’. ‘Oh, it was coz he thought you were all absolutely brilliant, but it’s him, he won’t come over and say it’.
ES: There were a few faces in the audience that night.
KH: Richard Strange was there.
ES: I heard, and this is going back a few years, rumour that Debbie Harry and Joe Strummer were in the audience. I might be wrong.
CS: It’s been interesting relearning some of the stuff for the gig.
JT: Are you using the same equipment?
GM: It’s kind of quite faithful.
ES: Same drum kit.
CS: I’ve got completely different gear, but I’ve realised, with the bass sound, if you just turn the treble up full you can do it with any bass guitar.
HW: You can’t not have had the last 20 years, but…
GM: In readdressing it, we’re not trying to modernise it or update it in any way.
CS: We thought we would actually. When we do the ICA gig we thought we’d bring all the different experiences we had had, and electronics, filmmaking and different things we had all done.
GM: Which we could do if we were in a four-week workshop.
CS: If we were devising new material obviously that would come along, but there didn’t seem to be any reason to change the stuff.
HW: There’s enough essence within that material to still engage us enough to just keep fighting with each other.
ES: There’s still the same vibe in the band. We’re all a bit older, bit maybe wiser, but there’s definitely that energy.
GM: It’s not the sort of band you would design on paper, you know what I mean.
CS: The difference 20 years on is it makes me laugh – when you’re in the middle of it it’s just really funny sometimes, but it was incredibly earnest and serious when we did it. You can kind of step outside of it – what is this? This is really funny.
KH: Colin came up with a thing during the rehearsals yesterday when he said it’s almost like I wish I could reach back 23 years and just smack myself for doing this impossible bassline which I’m now having to relearn.
CS: I must have sent a curse back to my former self because it’s such a horrible thing and then I realised that my former self must have sent a curse back to me anyway for saying that, because it got even harder when I said it. Ridiculous.
HW: For me, having played quite a lot of music of different sorts, looking back at this the chemistry and the shear volume, a lot of what I’m doing, it just deteriorates into texture: there’s no question of any kind of lyric or interpretation of music: it’s just about listening to the other elements and the sax kind of melts under the amount of force I have to put into it to make it survive.
CS: It doesn’t use traditional harmony and song structure at all. I think we were aware of that and deliberately avoided it. I’ve learned lots about that since. It’s always really interesting to go back to it and see why it works, because it does work still, even though it ignores all those rules. It’s like choosing a different medium in visual art, you know.
KH: The same with the text. I want to curse my former self for putting two incredibly complicated arrangements of text, where one idea isn’t in any way related to the other: there’s no verse structure, there’s no chorus, there’s nothing – it is an assemblage of text that needs to be memorised 20 years on. But it still works.
GM: For me, coz later on I get involved in music technology and everything, Biting Tongues was such a great grounding that when the sampler came along – this is the perfect instrument. It would have been so the perfect instrument for Biting Tongues.
CS: You’d made loops and stuff out of reel-to-reel and then deliberately broken the erase head on them and used coat hangers and stuff and then technology comes along and makes that possible.
GM: The language of collage music is definitely something that I took into techno and stuff later on. I think I learned ‘most every musical trick I’ve ever used in anything else in Biting Tongues.
It’s just more of a viewpoint on music – seeing music not in terms of harmony and structure. And just seeing it as organised noise, which is the main thing we used to do.
CS: Sound sculpture.
GM: And me personally, I’ve never come out of seeing music that way – I see music as organised noise and this was the best band for organised noise as far as I’m concerned.
CS: You can see that with ‘Recharge’ – sometimes a track comes on at random and you think, is this early 808 State or is this Biting Tongues? But you can’t quite tell, because they were happening at the same time doing the first stuff. You can hear the stepping-stones of the transition.
GM: But it’s that idea that everything can be included so long as you organise it the right way, and very dense textures in music. And Biting Tongues you can just peel back layers and layers and layers and layers and tune into the most minute detail and that can be the most important thing. I love that about Biting Tongues – it’s depth of ways of listening to it. I can listen to it now and still not be bored by it – there’s surprises in it.
JT: Are you going to do any new recordings?
GM: We-ell… We’re recording tonight.
KH: I think the one thing it would be great to do would be to have a great live recording, because Biting Tongues live really was something to behold. I always thought our greatest strength was the live performances. I mean the studio stuff was really interesting and we did push a lot of barriers, but, the vibe, I mean that’s why I don’t have any qualms whatsoever about coming up and doing a show like 20 years [later] because I know what we do together and I know that it’s good, and it’s still good. I don’t have a second thought.
ES: Four years ago [for a gig at the ICA] was the first time for 20 years that we’d all actually met each other. Me and Ken anyway. The first time we actually got together in a rehearsal room, started going through the tunes and that and you came out with it after about half a day: ‘sound like us’, dead chuffed! It’s like nothing else I’ve ever done before or since. Like Graham says, there’s a lot of different layers, a lot of different influences as well: Stanley Clarke and Bird and Charlie Watts. And it’s still got that vibe about it; when we performed at the ICA the buzz was amazing.
GM: It’s energy music above everything else. I mean, you can break it down in an intellectual kind of way, but really it’s very visceral energy music, if you are in a room with it, it makes your blood go faster.
CS: Maracatu is a North Eastern Brazilian music and it has got a sort of insistent drive that’s really similar to this.
ES: It’s the only thing I can think of [that’s similar].
…You can’t do it half-heartedly.
GM: It’s total commitment music.
ES: I’m knackered this week, but happily knackered.
GM: And that’s the thing you remember from any of the gigs we used to do – total commitment. That’s a good lesson that we’ve had to readdress.
CS: The thing you ask about is there any new music. It’s all about finding the right context. We’ve all got different lives in different parts of the country and it’s finding a situation where we could all happily give up the things we do and spend weeks or months in a studio and see what comes out.
It’d be really fascinating. And 20 years ago you’d go, okay if somebody throws money at us. But now there’s loads more to consider as to whether we could find time to do something like that. I’d love the luxury of it, it’d be really interesting. Coz there were little hints coming out yesterday, just bits, and it was weird – just that combination of people and instruments, things that would have no place in any other context – I don’t play these kind of basslines in any other musical situation – it only works with this. So, it’d be very interesting to see what we’d come up with.
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