Saturday, June 24, 2006
Twenty years to the day today - my first experience of Wire on stage, the stage being a small one in an upstairs room in a hotel in Hammersmith. A shy young art student adrift in an anonymous metropolis, I knew no-one. Forced to decamp to London for summer work. Events like tonight's were one of the few trade-offs in an otherwise interminable summer serving beer.
Visual memories very dim, not helped by the fact that I stood right down the back, as I was recording the gig on my walkman, and was afraid it would distort if I was too close to the PA. Automatic record level. It distorted anyway. In my innocence I was also afraid of being seen with a clip mic on my lapel. No-one would have either noticed or cared if they had. I'm sure I was one of many recording. I only wish I'd brought my camera. Though that would have meant a compromise with the recording - camera clicks right next to the mic. Wouldn't be an issue nowadays with digital.
The band played raw versions of what was to appear on The Ideal Copy and A Bell is a Cup... Some of the titles were slighty different to what they became: The Point Of Collapse was called Three Legged Waltz, and Over Theirs was called Nuisance Over Theirs. This material was all new to me, so it was a real treat. I loved it - simplicity and intelligence delivered with nonchalant aplomb. Interesting to hear the beat combo still capable of creating engaging new shapes with the minimum of means. The songs had an immediacy that got squeezed out on the overproduced records—technological teething troubles well documented in Kevin Eden's biography. I remember being very impressed with Robert's stripped-down kit: snare, bass drum and hi-hat. The simplicity really appealed to me; there was something very workmanlike about it—a craftsman's touch.
Couldn't get over the ignorance of some members of the crowd, who stood with their backs to the band, chatting loudly. Then, when Come Back In Two Halves began but fell apart, before it was quickly counted in again, some porridge-for-brains sneers, "Play some fackin' mew-zik..." I wanted to thump him. Give them a chance for fuck's sake ! The song was announced by Graham as though each word was punctuated with a full stop. Elsewhere, he camply exaggerated his intros: "Cheeking Tonguesssssssah.." (touch of the Mark E Smith surplus syllables) "Kidney-(feedback flare)- Kidney.. BINGossssss..." I seem to remember him getting rather annoyed at some feedback problems that dogged him at various points, the amp wailing like some rusty old elephant.
Regarding that stupid heckler, doubtless today it would be the cursed mobile phone that'd be the distraction. Harold Pinter, interviewed by Kirsty Wark on Newsnight last night, described them as "an excrescence", "a disease", and bemoaned the collapse of communication into a series of meaningless shorthand gestures. He speaks my language. Doubtless Wire could write a tune about that. He had written an hilarious two-hander called "But apart from that", which he performed with a young actor, revolving around a mobile phone conversation that goes: "Hello ! How are YOU !" "I'm fine, how are YOU ?" "No, I'm fine.. and you ? " "Very good. Really good" "Really ? Considering all - " "Yes, despite everything" "Really ? No, how are you REALLY ?" "I'm losing - " "What ?" " I'm losing you" "What ? What do you mean you're losing me ? I'm still here !" and so on...
I sometimes wonder what Wire's set would've sounded like if they'd gone into a very basic studio right after that gig and committed these tunes to tape, how fresh they'd be. None of that sequencing lark to wring the life out of them. Of course, some of them ended up on the magnificent Snakedrill EP, and that production was just right. This outstanding record seems to get overlooked in dismissive debates about Wire's 80s output being substandard. It would've been interesting if Wire's first hiatus neatly covered the period when the newer production techniques were past their difficult first stage. Of course, life's never so neat. Apparently they were within two weeks of playing in 1983, then Colin went to India. I wonder what a record would've sounded like then. One can only wonder.
Looking at the remains of my gig ticket, carefully conserved in the tape box over the years, it's tempting to retrospectively view the band name without the last letter as predictive of the the change to the short lived WIR trio of the early 90s - itself an outcome of both production and creative issues that rendered Robert redundant. The ticket shows that the door charge was a mere £4.50. Seems so paltry. Well, it was twenty years ago.