Saturday, July 23, 2011

Actifed – Dawn of a Legion 12” (Jungle Records, 1983) / Crucifixion 12” (Jungle Records, 1984)

A curious enigma Actifed present us with here – while it’s very easy to find downloads on the net, it’s also very difficult to locate any solid information. Even that Mercer chappie isn’t much use here, with Gothic Rock (Pegasus Publishing Ltd, 1991) omitting them altogether and mentioning them only in passing in The Gothic Rock Black Book (Omnibus Press, 1988) with the description

“bandwagon terrorists…(who) might normally have been allowed access but for the sheer proliferation of bands.”

So let us consider what we do know.

Actifed evidently started up around 1981 in London and despite some brilliant coverage in the UK music press, promptly ran into a whole shitstorm of legal entanglements with pretty much everyone. Contractual issues with dodgy promoters and record labels abounded and worse was to come. A certain pharmaceutical company evidently had misgivings about the band’s name, based as it was on a brand of cough & cold syrup which later became famed and in some regions banned for its high content of pseudoephedrine.

This wouldn’t be a promising start for any fledgling band, and probably links into why the band in their original incarnation released just two 12” albums although they apparently had a full length planned.

The first of these 12” was Dawn of a Legion in 1983. The magnificent cover art of a bishop praying over a soldier, and both wearing gas masks aside, this is quality stuff, but still clinging to a very punky quality, just as The SistersTemple of Love” single (Merciful Release, 1983) was beginning to see the scene moving away in a completely different direction.

Although it would probably be safe to say that Dave was not the most talented vocalist to ever to grace the Goth scene, he was certainly far from the worst and Dawn of a Legion stands the test of time as an enjoyable listening experience. We begin strongly with “Creation”, a tale of John Merrick, better known as the Elephant Man. “Prophesy” and “Innocent” follow, providing catchy, if simplistic hooks that make them hard not to like.

The 12” closes with the dynamic and very punky indeed “Exit”, which one can easily imagine setting the dance floor on fire in a live performance.

That's not a quiff! This is a quiff!

Fast forward a year, and we arrive at the  Tony James produced Crucifixion 12”. Crucifixion was easily the strongest song of the band’s first incarnation, and indeed appears on at least three Goth compilations that I’m aware of (Flesh, Fangs & Filigree - Dressed to Kill, 1996, Gothic Rock 3 - Jungle Records, 1998, and the DIY Make it Dark in Here - Raw Goth Insurrection, 2011). It’s a real testament to the song’s power that Actifed by this point had acquired a saxophonist (I really fuckin’ hate saxophone) and yet, “Crucifixion” still manages to delight.

Unfortunately, side two is rather less pleasing. Apart from irritating Ska tendencies in general, did I happen to mention that I really HATE saxophone? It honks annoyingly throughout both “Black Skin” and “Blue-Eyed Boy” (effectively different versions of the same song - itself a cover of 60s funk outfit The Equals ("Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys" - President Records, 1969)) in a way that makes me wish I had a time-machine so I could go back in time and shove that fucking horn right up his...

Sorry, I got a wee bit carried away there.
But seriously – you know that pair of Muppets?
The ones with the car-horn ears?
Yeah - the ones who honk their nose and their ear-horns go off?
That’s what this sounds like.
And it makes me want to punch Actifed every time I hear it. Which is a real shame for an otherwise decent band. It may also go some considerable way towards explaining why Richard Kick made one of the single most silly statements in the history of music journalism when prior to the Crucifixion 12” he wrote


And while we’re here, we also have this spectacularly uninformative interview from 1983.

And like so many others, Actifed are back too after a 25 year hiatus, releasing the full-length Chains No More (Revelation Records, 2009) which appears to be mostly old songs they never got to release the first time around, and in an apparent attempt at the world title for cheesiest album name ever, Rhythms of Mass Destruction (Revelation Records, 2011) which reportedly may be a return to the Ska influences.

Boy, do they love those gas masks - I sure
hope they’ve lost that fucking saxophone.

I do wonder if they normally perform in gas masks? Surely a tad on the warm side?

Dawn of a Legion - Track Listing
  1. Creation
  2. Prophesy
  3. Innocent
  4. Exit

Crucifixion – Track Listing
  1. Crucifixion
  2. Black Skinned
  3. Blue Eyed Boys

Line Up: Dave (vocals, guitars), Clinton (guitar), John (bass), Stuart (drums) and some really, really irritating unknown person (saxophone).

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Red Lorry Yellow Lorry - Talk About the Weather (Red Rhino Records, 1985)

Yet another of the sprawling Horde of Leeds, The Lorries actually released their debut single “Beating My Head” (Red Rhino Records) right back in 1982, but it would be another three years and two Peel Sessions before their first full-length Talk About the Weather would see the light of day.

Their first single which for a band who by popular perception 
became slotted into the Goth genre, had about as un-Goth 
a piece of cover art as it is possible to imagine.

Taking their name from a lesser known tongue twister (go on, you try saying “Red Lorry Yellow Lorry” five times fast after a couple of pints), the group brandished a musical style, both belligerent and bleak, not unlike a much less restrained version of Joy Division although the Lorries themselves would maintain that a much bigger influence was post-punk outfit Wire.

Talk About the Weather is a loud and desolate piece of engaging post-punk, that for better or worse saw the group labeled as Goth. If we accept that The Lorries at this stage, did indeed fall under the Goth umbrella, then they make a compelling argument for what Goth with maturity can be – tales of vampires, belltowers, Crowleyesque references, and girls with unlikely exotic names ending in “a” are simply unnecessary when human angst, cynicism and ennui are sufficient in themselves to render bleak atmospheres and dark soundscapes.

Nowhere is this better demonstrated in the album’s accompanying single “Hollow Eyes” (Red Rhino Records, 1984):
“I’ve seen that look, I know those eyes, I think this is a thin disguise,
Alone at last, but no surprise, I’d seen it in those hollow eyes,
You should have seen them…
An empty room, an empty space, But you can’t really hide your face,
I’ve seen that look of hate inside, I see it in those hollow eyes.
This is the place where I have seen, you hide behind your sunken dreams,
I had this feeling deep inside, you hid behind those hollow eyes.”

‘tis a merry little ditty no?

Around the 84-86 period the artwork became decidedly darker

But you don’t need to listen to me banging on about RLYL’s sound, not when various helpful netizens have put Talk About the Weather in its entirety on Youtube. Go – hear it for yourself.

A second single “This Today” (Red Rhino Records, 1984) was also in the mix there somewhere, but after Talk About the Weather, drummer Mick Brown would depart, joining Wayne Hussey and his chums on the run from The Sisters of Mercy to form what would become The Mission. Meanwhile Red Lorry Yellow Lorry under a new configuration would release Paint Your Wagon (Red Rhino Records, 1986) and a small litter of new singles.

Later RLYL albums like Nothing’s Wrong (Situation Two, 1988) and Blow (Situation Two, 1989) would grow to display more musically rich textures and while arguably less bleak and Gothy, nevertheless remain quality work.

I must admit, none of those videos were that visually engaging, so here is some live (and presumably bootleg) footage of them performing Talk About The Weather in Brussels in 2004 to make up for it.

Come to think of it, that wasn’t too visually spectacular either, but at least it contains images of people who were reported to be actual living beings – oh well, moving right along…

As the video suggests, they’re still going, releasing the self-issued Black Tracks EP in 2004, their first since 1991’s Blasting off (Deathwish Office, 1991), and playing live at Slimelight as recently as October 2010.

And so we end as we began with The Lorries continuing their 
long-running penchant for very un-Gothy cover art. 
Note the distinct absence of gargoyles...

Track Listing:
1)      Talk About the Weather
2)      Hand on Heart
3)      Feel a Piece
4)      Hollow Eyes
5)      This Today
6)      Sometimes
7)      Strange Dream
8)      Happy

Talk about the Weather was re-released on CD first as a split with their second album Paint Your Wagon by Cherry Red in 1994 and again as a CD in its own right in 2005 with massive amounts of bonus tracks, also through Cherry Red.

Line up: Chris Reed (vocals, guitar), David Wolfenden (guitar), Paul Southern (bass), Mick Brown (drums)