NME - 08/10/1983
Blarney Haskyns Shoots The Apeshit With The Evolutionary Creators Of 'Men Like Monkeys'
JOHN IS one trick with three heads. He'd like to hold fourth a wile. (U can P in these johns and still walk away a Three man.)
"I've stolen from everybody without copying anyone."
"Our knack is we can make any style of music sound the same."
"We're a mixture of everything, plus Cajun."
"John writes the lyrics..."
"...while John writes the music."
What about John?
"What about John?"
Sir, you are taking the monkey.
"If it's facts you're after, we formed on the eve of the Royal Wedding."
"We dreamt of something humorous, something interesting, something that was not on the wall."
"We didn't really wanna do anything strenuous, just drink and sit in our bedrooms."
"We were inevitable."
"We had a synth, we fiddled with it. No one could play."
"Thanks for asking, it's been going pretty steady. No, we don't like to slog it out...we make the songs easy to play and take frequent sabbaticals."
John's from Leeds, makes records. Early summer of '82 was the 'The English White Boy Engineer', was Fall, was an angry banging, a tale of skilled limey and his employ in the land of apartypartheid. Presaged laughter, grit, rivvum'n'abuze.
"For a while there, we 'ad a nice little scene I believe you call it, what with ooz an' March Violets 'n' Sisters of Mersey. It were like a change from the Leeds University Stalinist Society...that's what's good, that the Sisters take the piss out of 'emselves and Redskins aren't po-faced political either, but are sort of carnival music."
Me No Kon I. You also will dig these scabby baboon toons.
"When we started playing, all the Leeds band, like MRA and Household Name, thought we were very dirty and naughty. This was because we wore leather jackets and played guitars. But we're not really naughty. When I, that is to say John, was in The Mekons, it used to be like we'd 'ave a meeting everytime someone wanted to change the bass line, and we'd then consider the theoretical implications of that change. It were daft."
Then what of the exciting nay positively pummelling 'Min Loik Moonkeys'?
"'Men Like Monkeys' is about the gap between knowledge/science/technology and ideology/belief."
Stone the crows.
"Like, the world is such that it's not capable of dealing wi'it...which is what we mean by the sound barrier."
"It's about democracy as well! Like, no one voted on inventing the atom bomb...the scientists' view seems to be that you can't vote on nuclear weapons because you don't know about them."
So it's not about primal apeshit, the "sound bubbling underground"? It's not "ahm a monkeeeah mayan"?
"This German guy came over, and he viewed it as a primal scream. Dionysian man, but it wasn't really that, though it does come across as that and it's built into the style..."
"...it's more about evolution, coz it's about monkey men clubbing together..."
But not clubhopping, right coz you guys are a filthy, absurd, visceral brew of everything that isn't safe, homogenized, anaemic – everything that's, heh, 'Safe As Milk'. I mean, you're Howlin' Wolf, man, you're Birthday Party, you're obsessive, crazy, subversive...am I gettin' warm or am I sizzlin'? Huh?
"Well, Blarney, we're not writing romantic songs, like bloody 'Horse Nation', y'know, 'I wanna go off and ride horses and be a red indian,' which is like bloody heavy metal...dunno why I'm swearing so much, I never usually swear, do I, John..."
"...must be because I'm struggling with ideas...but anyway, 'Men Like Monkeys' is the antithesis of all that Death Cult twaddle, it's logical and rational, and in that way it's not primal scream at all. We think of music and lyrics as something realistic that relate to the environment of the people who are making it...like cajun, reggae, blues...something that caters to the needs of those who make it and deals with what they understand...and, oh yeah, I think black people have a really great sense of rhythm..."
Wharrabaht poly-ticks'n'brakin' aht ovva yewsual benefit circuit?
"We're not really, er, bovered...but we do see ourselves as coming out of an older r'n'b tradition...and in a sense, the songs we're doing now, like the next single 'AWOL', are a lot closer to that than to 'Monkeys'...'Monkeys' to most folk were joost a big slab o' wieerd...now it's just like Peter Fonda B-movie drive-ins."
"I think the songs we're writing now come out of a long tradition of the British left, as opposed to the Gang o' Four comin' out of intellectual Marxism. In certain kinds of Marxism, emotions are denied."
"We're more related to our culture, not so much like The Fall, coz I think Smith's a bit fetishistic, but just closer to real things, things that concern us every day."
Eeow perlitical can pop music get? What can it achieve?
"I think The Specials did something to counter the NF, but all you can hope to do is hold a little candle aloft. All these new pop groups, though, they're just the new conservatism, getting their acts together, going out to grab what they can before it's too late."
"We're not, we're pretty good...probably the best band in the world right now...the social workers of rock."
What did you say yer name was?
SLEEVE NOTES FROM 'BEST OF'
One of the classic mid-80s underground bands - seemingly every fanzine of the day carried an interview with them - The Three Johns opted for humour and political belligerence at a time when all around them were intent on making their guitars jangle and handing out jelly babies to audiences dressed in anoraks.
Imaginatively enough, The Three Johns were So called because they comprised three Johns - Messrs Hyatt (vocals), Langford (guitar) and Brennan (bass). Formed on Royal Wedding Day in 1981 as a collective of Leeds-based students, their career began With a run of fine 7-inch singles, two of which '- AWOL' and 'Brain Box' - are included here.
It was immediately evident that they had the capacity to write songs that combined intelligence with caustic, exquisitely observed humour. Their debut album, 'Atom Drum Bop', continued to employ a beatbox in the distinctive absence of 'proper' drummer. While all around them bands were attempting to retreat to their adolescence, songs such as 'Dr Freedom' showed The Three Johns reaching lyrical and musical maturity. Not that they were in anyway po-faced - around this time some of us were treated to the most inebriated cover on of 'Like a Virgin' known to man, beast or blonde.
Following 'Atom Drum Bop' the group applied a little more polish and restraint to the sinister rhythms of 'Death Of The Europe. Despite an NME single of the week award it was released in the aftermath of the Heysel Stadium disaster and proved too topical for radio programmers - not that The Three Johns were ever regulars on the Radio 1 play list, but they were John Peel favourites . Come to think of it, who could forget their rendition of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' on their first Peel session - a shameless attempt to ingratiate themselves with the renowned Liverpool FC supporter (five further Peel sessions followed).
'Death Of The European' was actually a vicious attack on the American destruction of European culture while 'Sold Down The River' summed up the mood of resignation which followed Thatcherism's triumphs of the mid-80s. Both confirmed The Three Johns had musical deftness which belied their perceived on-stage daftness.
Far too often the group were dismissed as A1 blokes with an ocean tanker-like capacity for beer. None of them would deny they liked the odd pint - but they were committed to excellence in writing and performing even if they never took themselves seriously. You could rely on them to cut through the austerity of any Miners' Strike benefit with their acidic stage patter and Wide-eyed enthusiasm. The music? Distinctive -is one adjective which could be ascribed to Hyatt's careering vocals. His fellow Johns backed him up with a no-breaks musical assault course which was both restlessly creative and relentlessly energetic.
The Three Johns were always musicians and drinking pals first and socialists second. The politics were important, as their only other studio album proper, 'The World By Storm' confirmed. But instead of simple rhetoric their lyrics were always expressed in non-linear ways usually dripping with sarcasm.
1988's ' The Death of Everything' included the Adrian Sherwood-produced single 'Never and Always' which is about the closest the band ever strayed towards conventional rock. But 'The King is Dead' and 'Bulishitiaco', with their shifts in tempo and rhythm, confirm they hadn't straightened their backs quite yet. A half-live, half-studio affair, shortly after its release the group played their final gig in December 1988. Babies and family commitments then took precedence. Langford continued his association with the Mekons while Hyatt's art work was exhibited in Liverpool.
How good were The Three Johns? In their early days Alan McGhee of Creation Records was desperate to book them for his club (believe it or not) the Three Johns pub in Islington. Think what he could have done with Three Johns instead of just two Gallaghers.
(FROM RED MUZE LTD)
This Leeds, Yorkshire pop punk band, formed on Royal Wedding Day in 1981, set themselves a characteristic precedent by being refused permission to play a "Funk The Wedding" gig because they were drunk. The line-up featured John Brennan (ex-25 Rifles; bass), John Langford (ex-Mekons; guitar) and John Hyatt (ex-Sheeny And The Goys, Another Colour; vocals).
They met in Leeds while they were at college, although individually they are from Wales, Belfast and Wolverhampton. A drum machine was used in preference to an extra member, although, ironically, all three musicians were competent percussionists. They signed to CNT Records in 1982 and released two singles, one of which, "English White Boy Engineer", was a reworking of an old Mekons number. The lyrical focus of the song attacked hypocritical attitudes towards South Africa and apartheid, and the group were quickly designated as left-wing rockers, albeit heavy drinking ones: "We all have socialist convictions and obviously that comes through . . . but we're not a socialist band. We're a group of socialists who are in a band. It's a fine distinction but an important one". They quickly made their reputation via frenetic and comic live shows, even performing a version of Madonna's "Like A Virgin". A legacy of fine singles populated the independent charts, including "Pink Headed Bug", "Men Like Monkeys" and "Do The Square Thing'.
1985"s "Death Of A European" was a New Musical Express Single Of The Week, although by misfortune it emerged in the aftermath of the Heysel football tragedy and hence achieved no airplay. Unfortunately, there was insufficient success to allow the band to give up their day jobs. Langford earned his living as a part-time graphic designer for the Health Education Service, and Hyatt (who designed the band's covers) was a teacher of Fine Art at Leeds Polytechnic. Their debut album, Atom Drum Bop, bore the legend "Rock 'n' Roll versus Thatcherism', and included contributions from schoolgirl Kate Morath on oboe.
They worked with Adrian Sherwood on 1987's Never And Always, while 1988"s The Death Of Everything And More was summed up by one critic as "messy, snappy, guttural". After that came a long break in their musical endeavours: "We basically stopped working after our last gig in December 1988. We'd done a US tour which was a total disaster and we didn't speak to each other after that, we were all too busy having babies and things". Hyatt produced an art exhibition at Liverpool's Tate Gallery, and Langford continued to work with the Mekons. They returned with Eat Your Sons in 1990, a concept album dealing with, of all things, cannibalism.
This casual Leeds trio — Jon Langford (guitar; also leader of the Mekons), John Hyatt (vocals, lyrics) and John Brennan (bass) — began by specializing in discordant socio-political guitar punk with trembling falsetto vocals; their career-long use of a rhythm machine rather than a live drummer has lent a unique tension to the group's sound. Some History compiles two singles (from 1982 and 1983) on one 12-inch, and is very much indicative of the trio's approach. Save for a surfacing maniacal edge, Men Like Monkeys and A.W.O.L. stake out more of the same turf. Hyatt's whining vocals would grate in large doses, but brevity — four songs each — keeps these two records from becoming downright annoying.
The Johns plunge headfirst into dance-rock on Do the Square Thing. Lyrically oblique and riddled with innuendo, the title track is, for these thrashers, an extraordinarily slick piece of extended dancefloor fodder. Surprisingly, it makes a stronger impression than their usual dirges.
Characteristics that might be tiresome if abused are kept judiciously in check on the Johns' first LP, Atom Drum Bop. The vocals don't wander unnecessarily, guitar lines are blindingly sharp and melodic and the production is crystalline. "Teenage Nightingales to Wax," "Firepits," "Do Not Cross the Line" and the odd ballad, "No Place," all help make this the trio's most fully realized endeavour.
The two succeeding four-song EPs both show continued growth towards tuneful pop. Without losing any of their bite, the A-sides offer incisive comments on some pretty heady subject matter: America's destructive influence on continental heritage ("Death of the European") and yuppiesque self-centred apathy ("Brainbox"). The B-sides are more jagged, and just as strong.
The World by Storm, released with a limited edition 7-inch live EP, is highly recommended. The Johns have honed their craft to seeming perfection: it will be difficult for them to improve on tunes like "King Car," "Torches of Liberty," "Demon Drink" and the pre-LP single, "Sold Down the River."
Langford's commitment to the Mekons, as well as his high demand as a producer, temporarily put the Three Johns on hold. But that didn't stop the group from releasing records. Demonocracy is a highly recommended compilation of singles and LP tracks. The equally enlightening Live in Chicago — the Johns' first American release — dates from June 1985 and contains renditions (some of them already issued on the World by Storm bonus EP) of such material as "Teenage Nightingales to Wax," "Death of the European," "AWOL" and "The World of the Workers," as well as a brief (and unaccredited) version of Madonna's "Like a Virgin." Deathrocker Scrapbook is accurately described on the cassette insert as "some great fun and games recorded by a very informal the Three Johns during the 1980's." A mad dash through the Johns' back pages — live appearances, outtakes, rehearsals, acoustic one-offs, etc. — captures the three in the extremely entertaining act of being themselves. Highlights: "Conversations with Freud" and "Cheap Computer."
Although the sleeve credits utterly bollix up which cuts are from where, half of The Death of Everything was recorded live in Leeds at the beginning of '88. The rest of the tracks — including the Adrian Sherwood-produced pre-LP single, "Never and Always" (a straightforward hard-rock song that sounds like PiL) — are recent/new studio efforts. Although the Johns' range now includes thundering Glitter-rock ("Spin Me Round"), droning Fallish poetry ("The King Is Dead (Four Words Too Long)") and a neat Captain Beefheart cover, this diverse album is a bit short of the band's familiar ingenuity and fire.