11th April | Exchange
The irony is not lost on The Mekons’ Mark ‘Chalkie’ White as he states that here they are, over 40 years on, still singing songs against government cuts and inequalities. The political landscape is as harrowing now as it was when the art collective known as The Mekons were formed in Leeds in 1977 – from the same group of art students that threw up the Gang of Four and Delta 5 – becoming one of the first wave of punk bands. Having split briefly in the 80s and reformed with the addition of new members and taken on a variety of new influences and spread far and wide geographically, last year they decided to re-form their original line-up.
The Mekons 77 are that brief return to the gloriously jagged political punk of their early years for a short tour following that reform at their Mekonville festival in Ipswich last year. “We used to think that if we could start at the same time and end in the same bar – in both senses – then we’d be alright,” says Chalkie, as the shambolic tunefulness and ear for discordant melody shows that it’s never left them.
The Exchange is the perfect setting: small, atmospheric, with just the right amount of grunge. The audience all of a certain age who were there back then. Support band, Pinup certainly weren’t there back then, but the young London three-piece kick up enough of a punky power-pop racket to show that these influences will always span generations.
Mekons 77 take the stage with the easy demeanour of old friends. Indeed, it’s that type of gig. There are mistakes, missed chords and restarts, there is humour and laughter amid the old punk diatribes and clever political and observational wordplay, smiles along with the polemic.
But let’s not take away the undoubted power that these old songs still have. After the short introductory burst of ’32 Weeks’, one from the Mekons 77 new album, It Is Twice Blessed, ‘Healey Waving’ – with its “when did they get bored with peace?” refrain – named after the late bushy-eyed Labour politician, Denis Healey, shows that their political edge has never wavered.
‘Roseanne’ might be an angular love song, but ‘Fight The Cuts’ is straight-ahead protest, with vocalists Chalkie White and the behatted Andy Corrigan giving it shouty attitude and moving in a lovely dad-rocker kinda way. As is the tongue-in-cheek ‘Never Been In A Riot’ (a satirical take on The Clash’s ‘White Riot’ when it was written).
The two numbers from the new LP – ‘Still Waiting’ being the other – go hand in hand with their signature sound and their old classics here tonight. The scattershot drumming of Jon Langford and the jagged guitars of Tom Greenhalgh (Langford and Greenhalgh are the only two original members in the current Mekons line-up, not Mekons 77 who are all of the originals…) and Kevin Lycett, the bass of Ros Allen, the double vocals of White and Corrigan: It’s lovely, vibrant, rough-edged, gold-plated nostalgia.
‘Lonely and Wet’ and ‘After 6’ capture melodically-barbed, wistful, lovelorn moods, ‘Trevira Trousers’ is stutteringly addictive and brilliantly worded (“drinks, fags, fun at night, dirty books and a Ford Cortina”), ‘Dan Dare’ is cartoony and, after all, that’s where their name came from. They encore with a great version of their compadres’, the wonderful Gang Of Four’s ‘Elevator,’ and of course their own old, timeless single ‘Where Were You.’ Indeed, if you weren’t at The Exchange, where were you?