I was asked by Peter from Alice in Kopenhagen to write something about the Mekons. I came around with this playlist I want to share with you:
(Titles are linked to youtube files)
1977-79 were the years where I got to know the Mekons as the different punk band. While songs were getting faster and shorter they put in Lonely And Wet, long and slow. While the Clash boasted about their white riot (before they sold their song to Levi’s) Mekons confessed Never Been In A Riot. Getting their name from a cold-war comic dream about bold Dan Dare against the evil Mekon in their life they waited for the girl which did’t arrive: Where Were You. Oh so miserable.
Their second album came with no information at all, no names, hardly song titles and you couldn’t tell a- from b- side. For me it was known as The Mekons – later I was told it went under the title of Devils, Rats And Piggies – A Special Message From Godzilla. That titles made as much sense as the next LP The Mekons Story. Gladly it had a sub title: It Falleth Like The Gentle Rain From Heaven. Which was the second part to the Shakespeare quote The Quality Of Mercy Is Not Strained (or “Strnen” in Mekonss terms, but that is another story: a remark about their musical abilities.) The Merchant Of Vanice might be an uncommon ground for a punk band, to some it made complete sense, sense as in “What the fuck does that mean”
It was not until 1985 that I came to the point where I could say why I followed that band with more eagerness than any other: Fear And Whisky. By some comsidered as the first alt. country record. To me it was the fulfillment of the promise that this band played the music that I loved most.
From Darkness And Doubt to darkness and despair (on their new Deserted album) is 34 years or just 6 letters. Knowing that we live in fragmented and desperate times the Mekons waved the red flag of revenge and called out: This is the start of our freedom. Last Dance is a perfect song to end a show or at least start the encores, for me it was a start of a special relationship.
For ten years each Mekons record was the best I had ever heard. Six LPs where each song would appear on my greatest hits box. Shanty is not the best song on Edge Of The World but a perfect example of the Mekons attitude of the drunken pirate song knowing we will drown but hoping for some saints watching over me.
Trimdon Grange Explosion (from Honky Tonkin). https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ikWB2_G7SEw
There is only one reason why I ever heard about the Mekons: John Peel. As Jon Langford who ran down to pub when he heard Peel play the first Mekons single I had to rely heavyly on Peel for any information about the band. In 1987 I heard a new version of the Trimdon song, another Mekons song about a catastrophe in a mine. I ran out searching for the LP and when I got it I knew that a record without reading suggestions to the listener don’t make sense at all. All the other tracks came along with a Mekons chosen book tipp. About Trimdon they wrote: Almost 300 miners were killed in the disaster. At the time this song sold over Two Million copies of broadsheet music.
I think 1988 (when So Good It Hurts was released) was the last tour with Kevin Lycett. I saw them in Dortmunnd and for years that was my favorite live show. The songs on the LP were flawless and Ghost was played on a german commercial radio station. Musically they added some afro pop to the country sounds that already were familiar with us.
They played it live ever since and the LP I Love Mekons was the nearest they ever got to pop music. On the other side they had four record labels in three years. It didn’t kill the band but for sure there have been better marketing strategies. Love in the LP title stands for all the fucked up things we do in the name of love.
Rock And Roll is considered as the best Mekons album by many critics and some fans too. And Memphis Egypt has long been my Mekons hymn: The struggles we fought were long and hard not to be consumed by rock and roll. What more can can you say if you spend your life between music and politics. And although you know that music doesn’t change anything you have to go on.
That one stands for the hedonist side of the Mekons. It first appeared on Retreat from Memphis. I like the version on Punk Rock better.
1989 brought the end of the so called socialist countries and two years later the band stated that the funeral was for the wrong corpse. If socialism hadn’t existed it couldn’t die. For me the fascination with the Mekons should come to a new stage. Magic, Fear And Superstition was certainty and curse, but the magic surely was working still strong for me.
When “Me” was released in 1998 I was in a completly different situation. In 1996/7 I had made contact with Jon Langford and started to build a Mekons website and an email group. ME was something different, it brought a new sound and was very much a one topic album. Exploring the space between romance and lust the songs could almost be misinterpreted as porno advertising jingles.
Starting with Journey To The End Of The World the Mekons produced four records which stand out as my favorites. Journey, Out Of Our Heads, Punk Rock and Natural have no weak songs and proved that a band can put out masterpieces in a row without being hardly noticed. Each record has its own history, theme and this playlist would explode if I tried to explain these four songs or records. The cover of OOOH contains more information and cultural links than most other cds from that period by other bands.
Ancient And Modern shows that English idyll and looming catastrophe were present in 1914 and still or again are dominating feelings in 2014. All songs have disappeared since then from their live shows, which indicates that Ancient And Modern will likely be heard as an whole album not of songs but of perspectives of different people on a common subject.
It’s the opener on Deserted and might be the song that survives when the Mekons have their 50th anniversary. If that sounds dull let me finish with Greil Marcus who said this about the Mekons new record (in their 42nd year):
“the group is more contemporary than bands that formed last week: more focused on the present moment”