- by Andy Brown Rating: Release Date: Label:
How do you begin to describe The Mekons? During Fig by Four’s support set, singer Sarah Statham hits the nail on the head; “The Mekons have a way of bringing people together…community bands are important”.
Formed at Leeds University in 1976, The Mekons are intertwined with this community; an integral part of the cities musical tapestry. 42 years after playing their debut gig down the road on Woodhouse Street the band remains one of punk’s most unique, beloved and enduring acts.
The Mekons have approached everything with open arms. Their music has embraced country, pop, reggae and rock ‘n’ roll. Political and passionate while never forgetting to have a little fun along the way. It’s an attitude that has clearly served them well.
Last year I saw Tom Greenhalgh and Jon Langford perform as part of the original 1977 line-up - The Mekons 77 - a band that exists alongside the line-up I’ll be seeing tonight. Greenhalgh and Langford play in both iterations but they’re all part of the same Mekons community.
The Wedding Present plays over the PA as new Leeds band, Fig by Four, get ready to take to the stage. The band was formed from the ashes of Sarah Statham’s last band, Esper Scout. Appropriately enough, they played their final gig supporting The Mekons 77 at this very venue last year.
The three-piece make a taut, atmospheric and powerful sound; Statham’s voice a commanding and kinetic presence. The set starts off quiet and restrained, drama bubbling just under the surface. When the tension breaks it’s all the more satisfying, a soaring chorus or an explosive instrumental. Post-punk played with plenty of heart and soul, no wonder The Mekons approve.
Then The Mekons arrive; the veritable last gang in town, armed with a selection of instruments and casually moseying into The Brudenell Social Club. Greenhalgh and Langford are joined by Sally Timms, Steve Goulding, Susie Honeyman, Rico Bell, Lu Edmonds, and Dave Trumfio.
The Mekons may be a punk band in spirit but their music reaches far beyond those original, rather confined, parameters. It’s a rich, raw and exciting sound composed of guitar, bass, drums, violin, accordion, saz (the lute of Turkish folk music) and harmonica.
It’s those wonderful gang vocals that hit you first though. Greenhalgh, Timms, Langford, and Bell belting out new song ‘Lawrence of California’ as the collective bursts into action. ‘I Have Been to Heaven and Back’ comes next, the euphoria and passion are palatable. After decades together you can still feel the electricity emanating from the stage.
The old songs and the new songs all feel utterly vital. Never calling it in, never going through the motions; the band are energised and actually looks like they’re having a great time. You can leave the cynicism and the filthy lucre to those other punks.
Each and every member of the band brings something special to the collective, each contribution essential to the overall sound and aesthetic. Rico’s furious harmonica at the start of ‘Hard to be Human’ and Greenhalgh’s passionate yet unsentimental vocal delivery on ‘Harar 1883’ sticking in my mind long after the show ends.
It’s perhaps Sally Timms that provides my own personal highlight when she sings the glorious ‘Millionaire’. The whole band coming in for the chorus and nearly lifting the roof off in the process. A clever and, more importantly, truly joyous pop song. A lot of these songs are just that, fantastic pop songs; pop songs with something to say.
The encore brings an enthusiastic and brilliantly energetic appearance by Mitch Flacco. Flacco brings high kicks and a kind of joyful chaos to proceedings as he leads us through a suitably riotous ‘Where Were You?’
Tonight this brilliant band of punk rock pop stars and storytellers have taken us from the hills above Bradford to the starry skies above the desert in the Australian outback; all this without leaving the comfort of the Brudenell Social Club. The Mekons might be one of Leeds most iconic acts but their music remains a gift to the world.