Jon Langford: The Executioner's Last Songs

A first Review      More reviews    Forthcoming Performances


Saturday, April 23 8 PM
A world premiere commissioned by Alverno Presents, Walker Art Center and the National Performance Network. “Possessed by the demon of rock'n'roll, haunted by the ghosts of old country music.” Paul Verna, Billboard The 2004/2005 season concludes with Alverno Presents first commissioning of a new work from protean artist Jon Langford. Best known as the fiery frontman for the Mekons, one of the most resilient pop-punk bands to emerge from Britain in the late '70s, Jon has also been involved in numerous side projects, including the Waco Brothers and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts. Langford fell in love with American country music when he was a kid, and he’s played his permutation of it ever since. When Langford met anti-death penalty lawyer Dick Cunningham in 1999, he became involved with the Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty and decided to use his music to make an anti-death penalty statement to benefit this cause. “Murder. It’s as American as apple pie, lynching, trial by the press, life imprisonment and other cruel and unusual punishments. Songs of murder, revenge, infanticide and other bloody minded pursuits have a long history in both Britain and the United States, so when head Cosmonaut Jon Langford got involved with the Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty, he decided to use music to make his contribution.” (J. Poet, “Pulse”, April 2001.) Langford’s exploration of these “songs of murder, mob-law, & cruel, cruel punishment” led to the discovery of a secondary but no less passionately held theme. Jon was taken with the idea that, once upon a time, the popular culture could embrace without flinching subjects and stories about life and death. He sees this in sharp contrast to what he refers to as our present “vacuity of culture” where the mainstream cannot appear to tolerate anything more profound than “bread and circus” theatrics. In many respects, this is a theme he has taken on in his paintings. Langford is not only a musician, but also a painter and comic artist. (He got his start as an art student in the same Leeds University scene of the mid 70's that produced the Gang of Four.) His multi-layered paintings take imagery from old country music publicity photos and sheet music and envelope them in a haze of ironic nostalgia. His use of the iconography of the country music artist depicts a conflict between the authenticity of intent and the demands of corporate entertainment. Alverno Presents has approached Langford with the following idea: what would it be like to create a performance the joins The Executioner’s Last Songs with the imagery of Langford’s paintings. Langford responded to the request with an almost electric enthusiasm. Thrilled with an opportunity to create a total and singular performance from his varied artistic explorations, Langford has commenced work on what will be a career-defining performance that will bring the 2004-2005 Alverno Presents season to a magnificent and exciting conclusion.

Forthcoming Performances:

Nov 14: Luminaire, Kilburn
Nov 16 & 17: Den Haag
Nov 20: Newport, Wales
(more dates tba)