When I was still at Primary School I asked my Gran to buy me 'Death Disco' by Public Image Ltd. To me, now, this seems completely mad! My Gran had asked me if I wanted a record, which were still a luxury for a pre-teen, and I had asked for this particular disc having seen the band perform the track on Top Of The Pops earlier that week (which now seems every bit as mad!!). The reason I say it seems mad is because 'Death Disco' is an extreme listen....to put it mildly! When people gush about how John Lennon's debut album 'Plastic Ono Band' is the ultimate example of Janov's Primal Scream Therapy within music, it often occurs to me that these people have never heard 'Death Disco'.
'Death Disco' is John Lydon's howl of rage at the slow wasting death of his beloved mother through cancer. It's a pretty tough listen even now, never mind for a child not yet reached his teens. But I loved it. Something about it's madness appealed to me directly and probably shaped my taste for 'outsider music' there and then.
The reason I mention all this is because it was actually the B-Side that would prove detrimental in removing the starry blue-eyed wonder of innocence from my child's mind.
The B-Side was called 'No Birds(Do Sing)' and can really only be described as apocalyptic. Up until then I recall that I was safe in the knowledge that there would never be a third World War. The previous two wars now seemed so long ago, and we were friends with Germany now, and I had even once overheard my Granpa say to my Dad that "There'll never be another World War".....of course what he meant was there would never be another huge land war within the theater of Europe.
'No Birds(Do Sing)' was the first chink in the armour, the first sign that other people may not share my cheery Utopian view and that maybe some impending holocaust was just around the corner. Pretty soon the reality of Thermo-Nuclear Destruction would slip into my consciousness and soon, like everyone else of my generation, we felt like we lived in constant fear of annihilation.
The early 1980s in particular seemed a pretty worrying time to be alive; Thatcher would repeatedly tell us that "there can never be a nuclear war whilst nuclear weapons exist!" Um, no Maggie, I think you'll find that there's far less chance of a nuclear war if there are NO nuclear weapons....I mean, call me mad by all means!
TV shows, especially political comedy shows repeatedly insisted that nuclear destruction wasn't just inevitable, but imminent. How on Earth did we stay sane in those days? Maybe we didn't!
The apocalyptic image of there being no birds in the sky, singing or otherwise, would be put to good use in another superb single of the times, 'No Doves Fly Here' by The Mob.
The Mob were an Anarcho-Punk band and, though they had released a couple of singles on other labels, 'No Doves Fly Here' was released on Crass Records and would prove to be one of it's finest releases.
First off, 'No Doves Fly Here' sounds nothing like what one would expect from a Crass Records release. Far removed from any kind of Punk-by-numbers, the song is a huge, slow-burning, atmospheric epic of a thing with synthesizers and sound samples creating a haunting post-apocalyptic vision.
The lyric is set in the immediate aftermath of nuclear attack as the protagonist views the forever altered landscape; "The sky is empty and it's changing different shades of colour// It never did before and we never asked for war" before concluding every verse with an angry "AND NO DOVES FLY HERE!" insinuating quite correctly that all beauty, as well as all life, has been destroyed.
Like 'No Birds(Do Sing)', something about this image of no birds in the skies must have triggered something in my psyche for I have always associated a lack of birdsong with the end of the world.
Of course, The Mob could argue that the lyrics refer to there being a lack of 'doves' within the then current UK and US governments, that both countries military's were rather full up on 'hawks' with nary a 'dove' to be seen. Both analogies work perfectly.
The B-Side was a track called 'I Hear You Laughing' which seemed to suggest that too many people within the British Public simply weren't taking the whole nuclear threat seriously and that unless they did, the government were going to keep piling up the warheads. While less impressive musically as the A-Side, I think there is a fair amount of righteous, indignant anger within the vocal to give the song a vital edge.
'No Doves Fly Here' shoots down all the rubbish that right-wing music journalists used to fire at Crass and their record label that all they peddled was cheap imitators of themselves. A lot of records released by Crass Records(many of which I hope to cover here soon) were every bit as diverse as those released by Rough Trade or Factory.
Bands like The Mob sounded nothing like Rudimentary Peni, who in turn sounded nothing like The Alternative. There was also the feminist soundscapes of Annie Anxiety; the experimentalism of Icelandic noise terrorists KUKL(featuring a teenage Bjork); Ireland's D&V who used nothing but drums and vocals(hence the name); future Pop star Honey Bane; the radical music and politics of Poison Girls; and the spoken word releases of Andy T.
Crass Records really should have been taken a lot more seriously than they were at the time, not only as pool of diverse musical output, but also as a forum for radical leftist political theorising.
Just the kind of thing we could be really be doing with today....
Both sides of The Mob's single can be downloaded below:
No Doves Fly Here
I Hear You Laughing