- by Andy Brown Rating: Release Date: Label:
When they first got together in the late seventies and named themselves after a Dan Dare comic book villain, I wonder if The Mekons ever thought they’d still be around 40 years later? A collective of art students who met at Leeds University, the band embraced the spirit of post-punk while channelling their anger through an increasingly broad spectrum of music. Folk, country, dub and pop have all played a part while the bands left-wing politics have continued to form an important part of the group’s ethos.
The line-up has changed over the years yet the posters for tonight’s gig proudly proclaim that it’s the ‘Original 1977 Line-Up Reunited’. Having lived in Leeds for around 16 years, it doesn’t feel right that I’ve never seen The Mekons but that’s all about to change.
First we get a set from London’s I, Doris. Dressed in dinner lady chic and all going by the name Doris, the band starts by reading out The Pledge of Doris, “I Doris swear that I shall be a friend to my fellow Dorisses”. The audience pledge their allegiance after each line, we’re all Dorisses now. Feminist post-punk delivered with a fun DIY attitude and heaps of humour. They play a few cover versions, giving each song the unique Doris spin.
Squeeze classic ‘Up the Junction’ is delivered with new words by socialist-feminist poet Janine Booth, Bananarama suddenly decide that “he was really saying nothing” after all while a genuinely hilarious take on NERD’s ‘She Wants to Move’ reveals and revels in the songs inherent ridiculousness. They even give The Mekons ‘Where Were You?’ a fresh female perspective, “Were you looking at my hair? That’s creepy!” I, Doris are hilarious, thoroughly entertaining and ready to take the patriarchy on one gig at a time.
Next up we get a blistering set from Leeds locals Esper Scout. Opening with the explosive clatter of ‘Assumpta Tang’, the band sounds nigh-on unstoppable. They’ve been playing as Esper Scout since 2011 but sadly tonight will be their swan song. With founding member and guitarist Kirsty Morton setting off on an around the world trip the band has drafted in Furr axe-man Sam Jackson to be an honorary, one night only, Esper Scouter. The fact that they sound this focussed, this fierce, after one practice with a new guitarist is testament to their abilities, Jackson sliding effortlessly into the bands well-oiled machinery.
Vocalist and guitarist Sarah Statham throws herself into each and every song, bending backwards with the force of each riff. Drummer Abbi Phillips and bassist Rebecca Jane don’t exactly hold back either. Make no mistake, Esper Scout are a rock band and that’s exactly what they intend to do. As ever, the songs are big, bold, heavy and melodic. The wonderful ‘Gaps in the Border Fence’ practically lifts off the ground as Statham sings, “I got a piece of the Berlin wall”. A fantastic and assured performance, here’s hoping for a glorious, Mekons-style reunion show in 40 years. Although much, much sooner would be preferable.
The show starts with some sad news delivered by vocalist Andy Corrigan, close friend to the band Andy Sharp passed away on Thursday. It becomes clear over the next hour that The Mekons are more than just a band, they’re a family. The band then crash straight into the glorious, ramshackle punk of ‘32 Weeks’. “Get a job/get a car/ get a bed/ get drunk” spits vocalist Mark White, as the song lurches through 2 minutes of noisy, knowing nihilism.
The next song is introduced as a song about the time drummer Jon Langford waved at bushy eye-browed politician Denis Healey 30 years ago. The band remains fiercely political but they haven’t lost their sense of humour. “This is history/ this is the future/ this is the past/what we do now” they sing on the anthemic, appropriately titled ‘Healy Wavin’’ (from this year’s It is Twice Blessed). It’s all starting to come together.
1982’s ‘Fight the Cuts’ comes next, the band pointing out that it’s a shame that it’s still so relevant. The bands politically charged punk still rings true and it’s something that crops up again and again throughout tonight’s performance. This isn’t a history lesson, it’s happening outside your front door.
The passion is palatable throughout and it’s never more apparent than when White delivers a sweaty and magnificent rendition of ‘The Building’ a-capella to a quietly stunned crowd. The ominous ‘Corporal Chalky’ puts us under a spell too, Tom Greenhalgh’s guitar and Ros Allen’s bass stalking the stage as White sings, “lying in bed with my girl from Sussex/reading the writings of the man from Kent/and the earth in the garden gets blacker/just another war we say”.
Corrigan explains that a friend of the band once described their music as being “left of tune”. A rather brilliant description that goes someway to capturing the spirit of the witty punk classic ‘Never Been in a Riot’. The bands “only slow song” ‘Lonely and Wet’ takes us in an altogether different direction, a sprawling melancholic epic with the band howling “why doesn’t it rain when I’m sad? / I’m just not happy anymore”. A genuinely powerful song, it really knocks me for six. Is there anything The Mekons can’t do?
They finish with a suitably riotous run through ‘Where Were You?’ and invite I, Doris and Esper Scout up on stage to dance and sing along. They’re all part of The Mekons family now. It’s been an absolute pleasure to finally see The Mekons perform, who knew you could mix fun and politics so effectively? The band leaves the stage triumphant but not before Corrigan tells us he loves us. It’s heartening to think that The Mekons are still bursting with anger, energy and love all these years later.
Thanks so much for the kind words! Big love, Doris x