The first single by The Wall on the wonderful Small Wonder Record label. Formed in Sunderland, in 1978 featuring Ian Lowery who left the band in 1980 to form Ski Patrol then the Folk Devils. The Wall without Ian managed to put out some decent singles and a fine LP for Fresh records.
Text below courtesy of Andy Martin, a massive thanks to him for writing it all out.
Formed in Sunderland in late 1977, The Wall were presumably just another bunch of young hopefuls who climbed on the clumsy calliope called punk rock that by this time was already beginning to lapse into terminal decay. However, when they recorded 3 tracks for a proposed single, independent record company Small Wonder (based in Hoe Street, Walthamstow) financed its release to the public. To his credit, Pete Stennett, the proprietor of Small Wonder, rarely issued normal punk rock acts on his little label such as The Cravats, The Proles and poet Patrick Fitzgerald; he generally preferred to select outfits that revealed unusual or at least original elements in their work.
When Lowery and Griffiths elected to move to London to secure a more stable situation for the band, Hammond and Archibald chose to remain in Sunderland. When the remnants of the group arrived in the capitol, they soon secured the services of Scottish drummer Rab Fae Beith who had previously played for an obscure outfit called The Pack who released 2 superb singles – Heathen coupled with Brave New Soldiers and King Of Kings coupled with Number 12. (Only the first disc features our Rab). After this they and their eccentric singer, Kirk Brandon, whose tedious histrionics quickly became irrelevant in a world where rock stars were no longer tolerated with unquestioning indulgence, vanished into oblivion – or formed trendy pop groups, which amounts to pretty much the same thing anyway.
New Way. Uniforms. Suckers. 1978 – 4/10
Kiss The Mirror. Exchange. 1979 – 6/10
Ghetto. Another New Day. Mercury. 1980 – 8/10
Hobby For A Day. Redeemer. 8334. 1981 – 9/10
Remembrance. Hsi Nao. Hooligan Nights. 1981 – 10/10
Epitaph. New Rebel. Rewind. 1982 – 9/10
Plastic Smiles. Gumzy. Missing Presumed Dead. Victims Of Future Wars. 1982 – 9/10
Day Tripper. Castles. Animal Grip. When I’m Dancing. 1982 – 5/10
Personal Troubles & Public Issues. 1980 – 8/10
Fight The Fright. Windows. In Nature. Storm. Delay. Ghetto. Mercury.
Unanswered Prayers. Cancer. Career Mother. 1 Born Every Day. Syndicate.
Dirges & Anthems. 1981-1982 – 10/10
Who Are You? Wunderkind. Money Whores. Nice To See You. Footsteps.
Epitaph. Chinese Whispers. Only Dreaming. Barriers. Petes’ Song. Walpurgis Nicht.
Tyburn. Everybody’s Ugly. English History. Anthem.
Day Tripper. 1982 – 7/10
Day Tripper. Hall Of Miracles. Castles. Growing Up. Animal Grip.
When I’m Dancing. Ceremony. Industrial Nightmare. Spirit Dance. Fun House.
The 1st Single.
This inauspicious start to the recorded career of The Wall contains music that is hardly memorable. Indeed there is little here to suggest the group merit further attention apart from lyrics that are a cut above the usual dross peddled by punk bands.
New Way. This ponderous dirge trundles along for nearly 4 minutes with precious few properties in its favour aside from its occasionally inspired lyric. ‘Work work work sets you free. If this is freedom, give me chains I can see.’
Uniforms. Set to deliberately moronic punk rock with every cliché firmly in position, this sarcastic rant emphasises the absurdity of punks and their obscenely expensive haute couture purchased in the Kings Road via an allowance from daddy. ‘Buy a new when the old one’s worn; everybody has to have a uniform!’
Suckers. Musically the strongest of the 3 tracks on offer here, this has a less acerbic lyric but its passionate plea to escape the rat race (I don’t want to be taken in, just like the suckers) teeters on the verge of pure cynicism and it anticipates the dark, angst ridden texts that would inform later songs, ballads and anthems.
Ian Lowery – vocals, guitar.
John Hammond – guitar.
Andy Griffiths – bass guitar, vocals.
Bruce Archibald – drums.
The 2nd Single.
This is the only single to feature just 2 tracks. In general the group made it a rule to feature 2 tracks on the ‘b’ side of every single they released. Issued by Small Wonder, the group were still caught in turmoil as their singer remained dissatisfied and soon departed to form a group called Ski Patrol who failed to generate much interest anywhere.
Kiss The Mirror. This untidy mess, while not about to set the Thames on fire, is still an improvement upon their previous work. Again the lyrics are superior to the music, a common facet of their oeuvre.
Exchange. Recognised as their first top rank song, this charges along in barely controlled frustrated rage complete with guitar feedback and thundering drum rolls. The music does adequate justice to the lyric which explodes the myth and mystery of what actually happens when a man and a woman have sex together. ‘All I wanted was someone to care for, an open heart. Is that so strange? When all is said and done, it’s just exchange.’ Probably the most cynical observation of prosaic life the group ever wrote, this was the ‘b’ side and yet remained easily the more popular of the pair.
Ian Lowery – vocals.
Nick Ward – guitar.
Andy Griffiths – bass guitar, vocals.
Rab Fae Beith – drums.
The 3rd Single.
Unusually for the group, 2 of the 3 pieces on this single also appear on the album. This was their first release on Fresh Records, an independent label who also issued records by The Dark. They were another pop group who, like The Wall, revealed themselves to be technically far superior musicians to almost any of their peers and whose ability to create highly intelligent and frequently amusing lyrics set them apart from all that is gross, base and deplorable in punk rock.
Ghetto. Images of barbed wire, concentration camps and prison court yards are all used as a grim analogy for the bleak and depressing lives lived by the inhabitants of equally bleak and depressing council estates throughout the land in this frantic scream from the gutters. Only the technical limitations of the singer occasionally mar this otherwise magnificent little anthem.
Another New Day. This is the song that was not included on the album and frankly it does not rank among their best work and yet it still manages to combine melodic tunefulness with a cynical lyric concerned with the ephemeral nature of love affairs.
Mercury. Perhaps their most overtly ecological lyric, this study of the causes and effects of mercury poisoning on villages and communities is covered with consummate aplomb over fast, frenetic music that delivers the punch required to render sufficient support the words demand.
1st Album – Personal Troubles & Public Issues.
Fresh Records evidently believed in the value of the group since they financed their 1st album which was issued with a lyric sheet although vocalist Ivan Kelly generally sings with sufficient clarity for the words to be discerned.
Fight The Fright. Right from this first number the extreme limitations of singer Kelly become apparent. This proves to be problematic later in the album. The bass guitar melody is perhaps the most appealing aspect of this piece. Lyrically this shares much in common with ‘Private War’ by The Jam from their album Setting Sons.
Windows. Although this is one of the weaker tracks, this only applies to the music; the lyrics conform to the high standard usually set by the band. Here an observer expresses his envy and even jealousy of people with money and status.
In Nature. ‘Won’t you show me something in a vacuum that grows because ability may not determine your life?’ This is the slightly bizarre couplet with which this superb piece commences. It is a real rocker with some of the most powerful music on the album yet the text is actually a fragile commentary on the inability of a weak man to participate in a world of competitive greed and avarice.
Storm. ‘Find no shelter from the storm blow through me with the greatest of ease. Find no shelter in your arms compassion doesn’t cure the disease – in my mind.’ This curious study of the threat of mental illness is given a winderfully sympathetic treatment with gently rolling drums and sparkling guitar chords.
Delay. The rather weak and uninspired (but superbly played) music doesn’t hide an odd lyric about ‘an abandoned journey in the deleted zone’. Augmented guitar chords similar to those used by George Harrison (I jest not) add lustre to the song although the clumsy intonation of the singer is occasionally irritating.
Ghetto. The single ‘a’ side.
Mercury. The single ‘b’ side.
Unanswered Prayers. This is one of those gentle, reflective ballads at which the group excel. Although hardly profound in content, this brief study of a young woman at the end of her wits is remarkably effective, especially since it supported by music in total sympathy with its lyrical content.
Cancer. The longest track on the album, this has a deeply depressing lyric about a sufferer who chooses the freedom to chain smoke cigarettes despite the consequences. Again, the singing spoils the effect in places as Kelly forces out notes he can barely reach. Musically the ballad is superb with subtle guitar work (including the use of a reversed lead guitar, i.e. played backwards) and a subtle power that is only partially disguised by the restrained arrangement.
Career Mother. ‘On the wrong side of middle age; your prospects advance with wage. Into the office; you must show them who’s the boss. To hell with your husband because he was always a dead loss.’ More powerful, chnky rock music at its best accompanies this absolutely cynical observation of a woman who has grasped the yuppie mentality prevalent in Thatchers’ Britain at the cost of friends and family.
Born Every Day. Covering similar lyrical territory to Suckers on the first single, this exploration of trends and fashions concentrates on the perpetrators rather than the followers. ‘There’s one born every day. Isn’t that what you used to say? You’re all full of nothing.’
Syndicate. The best of the intensely powerful rockers on offer here, this tale of paranoia told by a man on the run from a criminal gang (or, possibly, a multinational corporation – which usually amounts to the same entity) is not only a product of the 1980s but a sentiment that is still relevant today. ‘Just who will it benefit and who will it complicate? You want to give your notice. You’ve been working for the syndicate.’
After this album was recorded, Kelly was sacked after he attacked an innocent passer-by in the street for no apparent reason as the group walked to the studio to finish work on the project. Nick Ward also elected to leave the group for reasons that remain unclear.
Ivan Kelly – vocals.
Nick Ward – guitar.
Andy Griffiths – bass guitar, vocals.
Rab Fae Beith – drums.
The 4th Single.
Andy Forbes was recruited to replace Nick Ward and from here onwards, the group entered what may be referred to as their ‘classic period’ where virtually every track they recorded was either very good, excellent or truly magnificent. Recorded almost at the same time as their 5th single, this was their farewell to the last vestiges of punk rock as the marched boldly into an idiom based largely around highly individual pop music. Griffiths’ subtle use of keyboards to augment their sound is also a notable feature of this period in their musical career. This was also the last record by The Wall issued by Fresh Records.
Hobby For A Day. In 1981 there existed in Britain a genuine fear of nuclear holocaust with two highly unstable and politically naive people – Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher – who had immediate access to formidable arsenals of devastating weapons. Songs, ballads and anthems concerned with armies, militarism and war once again became as fashionable as they had been during the latter half of the 1960s. The American invasion of Vietnam had been substituted with conflicts in the Malvinos Islands, the Persian Gulf, Kosovo and Serbia. This anthem features some of the strongest music and most inspired lyrics the group ever recorded.
Redeemer. Although this song does not feature music of strength or originally equal to its 2 partners, the lyric more than compensates for this as Griffiths recites a bitter litany of observations on the limitations and foibles among the higher echelons of the medical profession.
8334. Of all their many songs, ballads and anthems, this remains the most enigmatic lyric they recorded. It appears to relate the worries and anxieties of an inmate in a prison shortly prior to release yet there are other references that render this reading problematic. The music is utterly superb – it is deceptively simple yet highly individual in character and structure, with a highly effective section in the middle for multiple guitars that march along in harmony over the kind of sad procession that became a prominent feature of the group.
The 5th Single.
In late 1981 the group signed to Polydor Records, the same major label who issued records by The Jam. Indeed virtually all their attention was lavished on this latter outfit while The Wall had to struggle even to earn for themselves a tiny amount of advertising space in any of the 3 major music papers at the time (The New Musical Express, Melody Maker and Sounds). Widely regarded as their best single, such an opinion is entirely justified since all 3 tracks are excellent, each in their own highly individual manner.
Remembrance. Remembrance is a short, angry and frenetic variant of the lyrical territory depicted with the slower paced, grumbling contemplation in Hobby For A Day. This furious anthem builds up a tremendous head of steam and virtually erupts into volcanic violence towards the end. It stands the test of time as a superb indictment of warfare although Griffiths is only barely able to give it the vocal power the text requires.
Hsi Nao. ‘Hsi Nao I see now…’ burbles the chorus in what is musically one of the most adventurous works they ever recorded. The use of keyboards combines superbly in this magnificent anthem that is by turns gentle, whimsical, powerful and raucous, replete with curious twists and turns as the music attempts to maintain a pace with the lyric which refers to the nefarious exploits of the CIA and its use of innocent people to act as puppets for its orders derived from the Pentagon.
Hooligan Nights. Beyond doubt one of the finest anthems the group ever recorded, this exploration of futility and street violence encountered by squatters in crumbling council estates forms part of a quintet of works that explore this territory. (The others are Epitaph, Anthem, Growing Up and Fun House.) Again the subtle use of keyboards adds lustre to this account of street life at its most grim, bleak and barbaric.
Andy Forbes – guitar.
Andy Griffiths – vocals, bass guitar, keyboards.
Rab Fae Beith – drums.
The 6th Single.
Toward the end of the year the group secured the services of a new bass guitarist, Claire Bidwell, who also proved herself a competent writer of music. Her technical prowess is instantly evident on all 3 tracks of this single. She is arguably the most proficient musician the group ever employed and certainly all the bass guitar work is highly proficient in every number on which she is featured. Griffiths could now concentrate not only on singing but also indulge himself in other instruments. It was this latter factor which informed so many of the more successful works recorded by the group during the next year. To regard this as the definitive format of the group is entirely vindicated by the results of their creative work.
Epitaph. Enter the saxophone for the first time on a recording by the group – played by Griffiths who by now had begun to explore an increasing array of instruments, regardless of his inability to play them with any degree of proficiency! The addition of a piano completes this venture into pure pop music with its subtle ska inflection, despite the bleak and harrowing nature of the text which describes a violent assault in the street upon an innocent victim. The apparent incongruity of such a text when set against music that is so innocuous it is almost bland serves to exaggerate the content of the words and emphasise their horror. This is clever stuff indeed but typically went largely unappreciated upon its release late in 1981. It was also included on the second album, one of the rare occasions when a track from a single was so used – this was possibly at the insistence of the record company.
New Rebel. It is tempting to presume that this lyric refers to Kirk Brandon, the blond, blue eyed pop star who desperately sought fame and fortune in each of the groups he formed after the demise of The Pack for whom he was the singer. However, surely this pounding, grumbling anthem seethes with a quiet rage against all such aspirants to public recognition in the ephemeral society of show business.
Rewind. This painfully succinct lyric about regret for past mistakes and stupidity is set to deliberately fast and furious music intended to evoke punk rock at its most cliché ridden. It offers a brief catalogue of all the various daft and ridiculous activities in which most of us have engaged and poignantly asks if we would prefer to be tape machines so we could rewind those moments of our lives and record them again in a more sensible manner. I can most emphatically identify with such a sentiment.
The 7th Single.
The album Dirges & Anthems is 53 minutes long, a generous contribution from a group aware that their primary fan base probably consisted of unemployed teenagers. As if this was insufficient, a further 12 minutes of music is provided by this single which was given away free with the album. The group insisted the record company adhered to this format even if it meant deducting the extra cost from their own profits. Compare this with, say, the progressive rock group Greenslade whose album Time & Tide clocks in at a little less than 30 minutes or label mates The Jam whose final album produced rather less than 32 minutes of music (and even then, 2 tracks were included that had already been issued as singles) yet both albums still cost the same price as this second album by The Wall. Value for money was important and their audience expressed their appreciation by purchasing the records dutifully so that each disc sold out within a year of its release.
Plastic Smiles. Because this 5 minute anthem alternates between hard rock and mock disco, replete with synthesiser and highly infectious chorus, I suggest had it been issued as a separate single it just might have stood a chance of attaining a respectable place in the pop music charts (not that such an accolade is any indication of artistic merit of course). ‘Everything is going to be all right as soon I get my plastic smile.’ Where Redeemer featured an external observer who commented on the medical profession, here the singer waits impatiently to be laid on the operating table ready for his plastic smile. This is a profoundly cynical assault on the empty hedonistic gestures of the yuppie generation in Thatchers’ Britain. ‘I could be like Gumzy Elbow soon as I get my plastic smile’ sings Griffiths toward the end of the piece which is explained on the following track.
Gumzy. Here we have a curious but highly enjoyable tribute to a chap called Gumzy Elbow who actually comprised the entire road crew for the band when they played live concerts. The piece is a short, humorous chant for solo voices unaccompanied by any instruments.
Missing, Presumed Dead. The Wall reveal a penchant for chugging, trundling mid paced rockers and this is no exception. The vocals are mixed too low on this piece so the words difficult to discern – a fatal error on any track by this group where the words are generally important and worthy of attention. The music is strong with a nice contrast between verses, choruses and brief highly melodic instrumental passages. What a crying shame then that it’s well nigh impossible to discover what on earth it’s all about!
Victims Of Future Wars. Because this piece is in a similar tempo and with similar music, it is easy to overlook both these excellent tracks on initial hearing. However, here the vocals are mixed properly and the superb words can be heard. The victims are tramps, drug addicts, homeless people and the dispossessed; the future wars are the succession of governments whose only concerns are military power and financial gain. This prescient ballad clearly anticipates the dreadful era of ‘New Labour’ with Tony Blair and his horrific policies designed to oppress working class people with a callous disregard for anyone who isn’t a new labour politician or a businessman (which is basically the same thing anyway). For once there is no hint of the spiteful cynicism that so frequently informs the lyrics; it has been abandoned in favour of a passionate paean to all those vulnerable people who are crushed by corporate despotism.
2nd Album – Dirges & Anthems.
Even the cover of this record heralds the probability that the contents may deserve our attention: a huge metal scaffold for an unknown building upon a bleak, black hill set against a turbulent Thomas Hardy sky just after sunset. Yet our initial encounter is one of perplexity – very few tracks leap out at us as being either highly memorable or even particularly impressive. It is the exceptions – Barriers, Nice To See You, Pete Song and Anthem – that persuade us to revisit the album a second time. Part of the problem is the sound quality: because each side of the album is over 25 minutes in duration, the music is quieter than normal records of rock music and the bass frequencies are subdued. If ever a recording urgently required being rescued by a decent CD reissue then this is it. Part of the problem is that the majority of the pieces are finely crafted pop songs that merit repeated listens in order to appreciate their true subtleties.
Who Are You? There is a slightly surreal edge to these words that reminds me of late period Wire except that here there is a message rather than pure artistic indulgence. The music is simple and direct (if not especially rousing) but it’s a respectable start to the album (unless, like me, you always listen to the 4 tracks on the single first). The use of multiple backing vocals and guitar counter melodies, always a strong feature of the group, are certainly in evidence here and they add colour to what might otherwise be a less than memorable number, at least on a musical level.
Wunderkind. This tempestuous rocker, musically reminiscent of some of the faster tracks on the first album, takes the subject matter of New Rebel and applies it to the dying embers of the punk scene. ‘I have found a new shepherd for the sheep to follow. I can see a new prophet telling old stories – wunderkind.’ There could be an actual person who inspired the lyric but who? Paul Weller, Billy Bragg, Penny Rimbaud or Wattie Buchan are all contenders but real motivation behind this assault on the adoration of pop stars is the audience rather than the heroes they choose to worship. Rarely has fully justified cynicism been so convincingly set to music.
Money Whores. Another fast and furious slice of heavy rock (with an effective use of the flattened 7th) provides an entirely appropriate accompaniment to this angry retort against the yuppie phenomenon that swept the nation during the 1980s when Thatcher encouraged everyone and their mother to make as much money as possible by any means necessary, regardless of the consequences. ‘Money whores – see them kneeling at your feet.’
Nice To See You. Anyone old enough to have cringed with embarrassment and disgust at The Generation Game, a genuinely offensive programme where gullible members of the public were encouraged to indulge their greed, will appreciate this absolutely superlative little rant which is scored only for voice and drums. Actual quotes of the clichés used in the programme by the truly odious presenter Bruce Forsyth are incorporated into the lyric which is a delicious assault on all that is risible in such shows.
Footsteps. This curious number addresses the social problem of the irrational fear of strangers which induces a state of paranoia that in turn often leads to violence. ‘No, no – there’s another shadow at the window. No, no – there’s another stranger at your door.’ The synthesiser makes its appearance here in an effective contrast to the constant patter of drums, themselves a deliberate imitation of the footsteps mentioned in the lyric. This is an excellent example of music written specifically to match the subject matter of the words. Toward the end, the tempo increases dramatically – presumably this represents the victim running from an imaginary assailant and is a highly effective culmination to a number that is not initially impressive but, in common with so many works by this group, needs to be heard more than once to appreciate the subtle skill of its writers.
Epitaph. This is the track previously issued on the single.
Chinese Whispers. Now we come to one of the more eccentric pieces on this collection. Written by Claire Bidwell, there are frequent references to pagodas, chop suey and origami – so she evidently elects not to make any distinction between Chinese and Japanese people which could ruffle a few feathers among far east listeners. ‘The tall pagodas they’re hiding in, hiding in their yellow skin, maybe it’s the zen that’s in. They change their words in innocence and we will never come to know original sin or the way to win at Chinese whispering.’ There’s a recurrent instrumental refrain that is strictly from Hollywood cliché ‘Chinaman’ music: I mean, come now, chaps, steady on. As a bizarre lyric set to gentle, interesting music it’s a winner – but as an exercise in race relations it’s a loser.
Only Dreaming. Here we have an odd juxtaposition – a frantic musical frolic that scampers along at mercurial speed behind a poignant, almost whimsical lyric that refers to unknown solders fighting anonymous wars, teenage dreams of violence and so forth but as dream images. This is the only musically weak track on the album and frankly it fails to do adequate justice to the interesting words. Griffiths compensates for the limitations of the music by singing this with considerable panache.
Barriers. A nostalgic, poignant introduction swiftly cascades into a heavy, rumbling march that provides the basis for one of the strongest, most powerful lyrics the group ever wrote. The plangent sentiments are relevant to every isolated soul who has ever occupied a bedsit in hell. God knows how many lonely teenagers must have identified with this anthem when they heard it. ‘The evenings are the worst time. In your free time you spend time building barriers around you. So you sit in your small room building barriers around you, never trusting anyone ever again. Isolation, you’re all alone now. Living in your head with the old times, the good times, you’re only 17 you should have just begun but the barriers, you hold them down now.’ Of all the works they composed, this is the one that most effectively reaches out and touches the audience because it clearly reveals that the writers genuinely comprehend and appreciate the meaning behind its sentiments.
Pete’s Song. One of the very best pieces the group ever recorded, this is a purely instrumental work that features a violin in addition to the guitars, bass guitar and drums. The player is not credited but is likely to be either Claire Bidwell or Andy Griffiths since the group hardly ever invoked the services of session musicians. It’s odd how often bass guitarists also double on violin. This takes an odd harmonic turn for its middle sections in which the violin is silent and thus adds to the drama. It really is a truly remarkable effort from the group. The dedication is probably to Pete Wilson who was the producer of the record.
Walpurgis Nicht. The synthesiser is prominent on this highly disturbing anthem which is ostensibly about the vivisection of animals for research into cosmetics but later in the piece the analogy is made to battery humans being used as a substitute. Only toward the end do we discover the whole work is actually an attack on the torture and abuse of ordinary people by religious fanatics. ‘Walpurgis Nacht’s here again in British towns tonight.’ The fractured use of unrelated keys for the bridge sections accentuates the drama and emphasises the uncomfortable disquiet posed by the words. At over 6 minutes this is the longest work the group ever recorded and it’s duration is entirely justified both by the lyrical subject matter and by its musical substance. The title is a pun, for the substitution of ‘nicht’ (German for ‘not’) for ‘nacht’ (German for ‘night’) provides a clue to the content of the lyric.
Tyburn. This number was originally written by Rab Fae Beith in 1979 for The Pack although it was never recorded by that group. It is related to Walpurgis Nicht but only in terms of its lyric. The music owes a (mercifully small) debt to punk rock but in this arrangement it emanates a power derived more from power pop than its moronic safety pinned cousin. The aggression in the music is a formal requirement of the fury inherent in the words.
Everybody’s Ugly. A saxophone refrain punctuates this spiky, grumbling hybrid of hard rock and pure pop. Once again the music totally matches the content of the words which contain the couplet ‘Everybody’s ugly now and then. They show a part that’s usually kept in. Everybody’s not themselves sometimes. The blacker side takes control sometimes.’ It’s hardly first rate poetry of course yet its power derives from the juxtaposition of music and text to form a powerful statement about beauty and behaviour. This is easily one of the strongest tracks the group have recorded.
English History. ‘In the name of British justice…come with me on a journey through English history.’ Related to both Walpurgis Nicht and Tyburn, this piece is a powerful and deeply moving account of the brutality, recorded in blood and pain, of what English law actually means to ordinary working class people. The use of the major 9th during the chorus accentuates the expression of outrage inherent in the text. My only criticism – if one is necessary – is that, even at over 4 minutes, the work is still too brief. The work ends with an instrumental ritornello as if to suggest that the subject matter is too painful for any further words to be sung.
Anthem. Here we have a contender for the award of ‘best work by The Wall’. Written by Rab Fae Beith, it includes a prominent part for a recorder as well as the usual ensemble. The synthesiser enters later in imitation of bagpipes. Actually, the piece is quite evidently inspired by an earlier work from another Scottish outfit, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. They also recorded a work called Anthem in 1974 except that there the music was weak and the words were utter nonsense. In The Wall version, the melody is highly memorable and the words are absolutely superb. Only the structure is similar – a sparse accompaniment underneath a strident vocal after which other instruments enter to build up gradually to a glorious crescendo which cuts off to leave a solo snare drum that beats a tattoo to end one of the most original, exciting and interesting albums of the decade.
Andy Griffiths – vocals, saxophone, keyboards.
Andy Forbes – guitar.
Claire Bidwell – bass guitar, violin.
Rab Fae Beith – drums, recorder.
The 8th Single.
After the magnificent second album was recorded both Andy Forbes and Claire Bidwell departed from the group. Undaunted, Griffiths and our Rab elected to soldier bravely on with the instruments shared between the pair of them in order to record one last album of pieces. Live concerts were obviously no longer an option at this stage. This 8th single was evidently released as a sampler for the forthcoming album so it is rather odd that of the 4 tracks, only 2 of the stronger works were selected for it. Both this single and the final album were released by Oi Records, an independent label who specialised in moronic, dreadful and dire punk groups of dubious political intent who were generally handicapped by an absence of ability or intelligence. Records by The Wall (recognised as the intelligent and astute face of post-punk music) being released by this outfit thus constituted one of the most incongruous business relationships conceivable.
Day Tripper. Quite why the group elected to record a version of this daft song by The Beatles is beyond me. In any case, while I prefer Andy Griffiths as a singer, technically the guitar playing is simply insufficient to meet the requirements of the song itself.
Animal Grip. The pounding, ponderous music complete with rumbling drums and inspired guitar work make this potentially one of the more memorable tracks, especially with the use of curious vocal effects and a lyric that could be lifted straight from H P Lovecraft or Edgar Allan Poe. Indeed Griffiths proves himself a highly inventive vocalist on this track and it’s a pity he didn’t let himself go wild in this manner more often.
Castles. Another sad procession, this march displays music that has neither the inspiration nor the originality to carry the words which in any case seem to have nothing of particular interest to reveal.
When I’m Dancing. This version of an obscure song by Slade is actually as good if not better than the original and was worth the effort. My only minor quibble is that the key used is slightly too high for Griffiths who occasionally has trouble reaching the highest notes. The harmonies are slightly altered and the order of the verses are changed but it’s a superbly memorable account of this delightful frolic.
3rd Album – Day Tripper.
What we have here is the last gasp of a group (well, a duo) that barely possesses sufficient material to justify a further album. To be brutally honest, it could have made a much more convincing impact had some of the tracks been omitted entirely. It would also have been an advantage to have secured the services of a proper guitarist since occasionally the technical limitations of the performers impinge upon the works. That said, there remains much to enjoy on this admittedly uneven set. With a couple of exceptions, the lyrics are as strong and as interesting as ever. The cover is a stark reminder, in blue and yellow, of that huge metal scaffold from the second album.
Day Tripper. This is taken unaltered from the single.
Hall Of Miracles. This track (along with Day Tripper and Castles) suggests that ideas and inspiration really had begun to evaporate by this stage since there is nothing special to recommend it at all.
Castles. This is taken unaltered from the single.
Growing Up. It is a pity the music to this anthem is so weak and uninspired because the lyric is superb. Here we have a study of a man who recalls the gang fights, daft arguments and petty crimes in which so many working class teenagers indulge (usually because there’s bugger all else to do) with a direct reference to Hooligan Nights. Very similar territory is covered by Epitaph and Anthem on the second album and more explicitly on Fun House in this album.
Animal Grip. This is taken unaltered from the single.
When I’m Dancing. This is taken unaltered from the single.
Ceremony. A grim procession with marching drums and deliberately limited harmonic language lends a convincing aspect of menace and barbarism to this account of an unholy marriage between a man and a machine.
Industrial Nightmare. A slightly atonal bass guitar melody runs through this study of a man enslaved by a factory and thus is directly related to Ceremony. Even the music is similar although here there are disjointed, fractured chord progressions that offer a musical analogue to the desperate frustration of the working man unable to escape from his predicament.
Spirit Dance. Suddenly we’re back in first rate territory in this cynical assault on quacks, shamans, witch doctors, herbalists and homeopathic charlatans (all of whom deserve nothing but contempt), supported by powerful music whose verses are in 7/4 metre. However, it’s a pity one of the guitars is quite noticeably slightly out of tune!
Fun House. The subject of childhood memories with their wistful remembrances of teenage misdemeanours and family eccentricities forms a frequent concern of the group as we have seen in Hooligan Nights, Epitaph, Anthem and Growing Up. This is one of the stronger tracks on the album and it makes an appropriate end to a project that received far more than its fair share of criticism and odium when it was issued in 1982.
Andy Griffiths – vocals, bass guitar.
Rab Fae Beith – guitar, drums.
From 1978 until 1982 The Wall produced 55 recorded examples of independent and often highly original pop music of a generally high calibre and a plethora of live concerts at which they usually excelled. True, the first single is nothing special but then that was recorded by what was virtually a different band anyway. Certainly all 3 tracks of the Remembrance single and the entire album Dirges & Anthems (including the free single) represent some of the very best pop music to be released during the 1980s in a decade when otherwise the quality of independent music was abysmal. Why then has this group remained all but forgotten in the history of alternative (i.e. not commercial) pop music? There are 3 main factors, all of which contributed to the absence of recognition and respect this group actually deserve.
First: at no time during their career did they ever have a strong singer with an original or distinctive voice. Second: they rarely recorded tracks that were immediately appealing or which grabbed the attention when first heard. Third: because they forged their own particular style, they were ‘not punk enough’ to earn the support of the bondage strap and glue bag brigade, they were ‘too rough and unpolished’ to gain acceptance by purveyors of pure pop and they were too conventional to be of any interest to the supporters of contemporaries such as The Lemon Kittens, Five Or Six and The Pop Group. Thus they fell upon a no mans land between the major musical factions that were fashionable at the time.
After their demise, only Rab Fae Beith continued to work in music for a while (he played drums for The UK Subs) before he abandoned music and set up a motorcycle shop instead. Of the other members I know nothing. To their credit, the record label that specialises in reissues of old punk rock and skinhead groups Captain Oi has released a CD of their early singles plus selected tracks from the 1st and 3rd albums but the ‘b’ sides of Hobby For A Day are absent and all the more adventurous tracks from the albums are omitted – ‘not punk enough’ evidently! To this day, all their best work (the collection recorded for Polydor) has still not been issued on CD. There is no website to celebrate their work. Perhaps my little review may help to compensate for this deplorable situation.
Andy Martin © 2010.