The Membranes

If you’re a punk fan, you’ll probably know that the Membranes were an integral part of the punk scene in the 70’s (and the post-punk scene in the 80’s).  If it wasn’t for the Membranes, and the other bands that started up at the same time, there wouldn’t have *been* a scene.

The band has always been about as DIY as you can get – to be any more DIY, their lyrics would have to be about plumbing.  Case in point – when the band first started, they didn’t have a drummer.  Not to be put off, they used two bin lids.

How many bands these days would do that?  How many of the school leavers who start a band would care so much about the fundamental soul of music that they’d make their own bass guitar?  Then, despite not knowing how to play, they invented their own chords and tuning scheme so that they could get the sound they wanted.  There’s a lot of people these days bemoaning their lot in life; the attitude of the ’70s was this – don’t wait around for things to happen.  That was the point of Do It Yourself culture.  In their most recent album, they’re reported to have used a plastic bucket, some rocks they banged together, and a fire escape (like, literally played the fire escape itself).

The Membranes embody everything I love about punk.  They don’t conform to anything.

And while I always assumed I’d catch them at Holiday In The Sun (now called Rebellion festival), I actually ended up seeing them at Thursday’s Therapy? gig.

Surprisingly, they were the supporting band.  Given that I’ve also seen Alice Cooper as a supporting band, that doesn’t really mean what people think it means.  Which pretty much sums up the Membranes.  They are deliciously obscure and delightfully inscrutable.  I love that.

The line up is: John Robb as the frontman and singing and playing the bass and mouth organ, Rob Haynes on drums (and apparently anything else he can hit) – there was also something that looked like a large greek vase with a skin stretched over it, which I thought was a stool until he started hitting it.*  There were also two guitarists – Peter Byrchmore and Nick Brown.

*I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know much about music, but I know what I like and I know that I like stuff that sounds good and I don’t care what instruments (if any) it’s played on.

Here’s some pictures (email invokedelight@gmail.com if you are in the band and want the full size versions of any of these at no charge for use on your website etc, the full size versions have better definition but they don’t fit on my site due to the cost of data):

The Membranes band Leeds 3rd March 2016 The Wardrobe.
The Membranes.
The Membranes band Leeds 3rd March 2016 The Wardrobe.
The Membranes.

What I liked most was the amount of energy they had on-stage.  I mean, they were fizzing with more energy than calcium carbonate that’s had acid dropped on it (which is pretty fizzy).  They seemed to be playing their own thing, as if the audience’s lack of enthusiasm  was inconsequential (the crowd weren’t biting… until they suddenly were).

The Membranes band Leeds 3rd March 2016 The Wardrobe.
The Membranes.

I said yesterday about how when I don’t know the music, I’m quite happy to go along with it as long as it’s sounding good.  Well I didn’t know any of the songs but I was headbanging from my vantage point in the weird side balcony beside the stage.

The Membranes band Leeds 3rd March 2016 The Wardrobe.
The Membranes.

I’ve never seen a warm-up act manage to win over an audience like that… stepping back from my role as a member of the crowd, and going into analytical mode, I was awestruck by the audience’s transformation – at the start, the audience was mostly indifferent, then about halfway through, they very quickly got into it and suddenly there was bouncing and cheering and participating and all that sort of thing.

The Membranes band Leeds 3rd March 2016 The Wardrobe.
The Membranes
The Membranes band Leeds 3rd March 2016 The Wardrobe.
The Membranes
The Membranes band Leeds 3rd March 2016 The Wardrobe.
The Membranes
The Membranes band Leeds 3rd March 2016 The Wardrobe.
The Membranes

Membranes John Robb

Membranes John Robb

My favourite part?  When the mouth organ came out.  I mean, I guess that must be what a mouth organ looks like – I’ve never seen one of those before.

the Membranes John Robb

The Membranes band Leeds 3rd March 2016 The Wardrobe.
The Membranes

So by the time the band finished, I was sad to see them leave.  Before Thursday, although I knew of the band, I didn’t know anything about their music (except that it was recommended by my stepdad who played drums in a punk band in ’77).  I’d only really come to see Therapy? (I hadn’t actually looked at who was supporting, more fool me), at that point when the Membranes stopped, I would have been quite happy if they were the main act or if they’d done a long set.  All in all they contributed to Thursday being a very memorable and outstanding gig out of the long list of gigs I’ve been to so far on my quest to fulfil my Bands Bucket List, despite not actually being on the list because I totally overlooked them when I was writing it.  Don’t make the same mistake I did – they’re not a band to overlook.

Supporting bands get a lot of shit, and sometimes they get too much credit when they shouldn’t have any (the Last Internationale who were supporting the Who really failed to engage me on every level, I couldn’t believe anyone had hired them as a band for such a big event – perhaps this went a long way towards explaining why my patience wore too thin and I ultimately walked out of the Who early and got an early night sleeping on the floor of Dublin airport).  It’s a tricky line to walk, to be a good supporting band, because it takes different skills than being a good main act.  A lot of people think that supporting acts need to be new inexperienced bands who do it for the exposure to new audiences.  Sometimes this works out ok, other times it bombs.  Not many supporting acts understand their role well enough to really run with it.  I think of all the bands I’ve ever seen in their supporting role (rather than their headline act), The Membranes sit up there alongside Anthrax and Alice Cooper as the three best bands you could hire to really get the crowd stoked (and I’d actually say slightly better than Anthrax).

And, as with Anthrax and Alice Cooper, I was left wanting to see, hear and know more about this band.  I particularly liked the part when John Robb said to the audience “ask me any physics question” (I know for a fact that there were at least two physics teachers in the audience).  So someone asked something like “what’s inside a black hole” and the whole audience went silent.  Everyone’s attention was focussed on John Robb.  Everyone was waiting, thinking “what’s he going to say?”  He had clearly thought about all this stuff a lot and knew what he was on about, and I thought his answer was pretty impressive, especially since it was a random question asked by a member of the audience.  I like randomness (all my Youtube videos end with “subscribe for more randomness”), and I like thinking about the nature of the universe.  So I thought that was an excellent lead-in to the next song.

If the universe is being destroyed and remade from one moment to the next, then I never actually saw them because the past no longer exists.  Which means I need to go and see them again.  But when I see them again, they will be different and so will I, because you can’t cross the same river twice.  Hmm…

At the end of the day, if you’re looking for a testosterone-fuelled shoutfest using three (established) chords, go and see Agnostic Front or someone similar.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that side of punk, except that everyone thinks it’s the *only* side to punk, which just isn’t true.  If you’re looking for a thought provoking, entertaining, wide variety of music that defies definition (and thus becomes what punk is supposed to be about), the Membranes are for you.  Or you could take the blue pill instead.

Find the rest of my music articles here.

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Fog

Am driving to Edinburgh today to collect my father’s personal effects.  Last night was Motley Crue and Alice Cooper (5 hours driving on the motorway, SO worth it).  I will write it (and Bob Dylan) up when I get back.  Edinburgh’s a 9-10 hour round trip in reasonable traffic.

The roads are pretty foggy.  I don’t want to be on motorways in this weather.  I think it’s easier to drive in fog at night when the daylight doesn’t obscure the headlights.  Ick.

I want to be at home with my bunnies and my tea.

My Official Bands Bucket List

So I keep referring to my bands bucket list when I write about things I’ve been up to.  Today I wanted to go back and explain what it is.

You are probably aware that a bucket list is usually something written by people of all ages to ensure that they get to do all the things they’ve dreamed of doing in life – all the things they want to do before they “kick the bucket,” to coin a term.

In my case, that would be my ever-dwindling 30-list and my currently being written 40-list, which are the things I want to do before I reach age 30 and age 40, respectively.  It would probably not surprise you, then, to know that, when I was eighteen, I started this whole thing by writing a 20-list, a set of things I wanted to do before I turned 20.

The Bands Bucket List is very separate.  My age-lists are really more a set of things I feel would be achievements, accomplishments, or that I have some control over.  Things you can get with work and dedication.  They are lists of things that are within my power to make happen, however unique the circumstances would need to be for the achievement to be made.

The reason I don’t include bands on my 30-list and 40-list is because anyone can buy a ticket and travel to a gig.  Yes, some bands only tour in their homeland of Japan or The Faroe Islands, but by and large, live music is a capitalist, class dependent commodity (ooh er) that anyone with time and money can engage in.  For that reason I don’t think it’s an achievement to see The Who or Lynyrd Skynyrd, in the same sense that it would be an achievement to climb a mountain or get a master’s degree.  It would certainly be an achievement to play in a band, an honour that I have never been privy to (flutes tend to get stuck with orchestras rather than popular music bands, and ukuleles are the sonorous pariah unwanted in most ensembles), but seeing a band?  I am responsible for quality control of my lists and I decided it would cheapen the accomplishment of a PhD or climbing Everest to liken them with going to Download Festival (sorry, Download, it’s not that I don’t think your wonderful, but you are very easy).

I did need to keep track of a large set of data though, to make it possible to organize, and as I was spending more and more time on the internet typing different band names into Google, I thought I needed a spreadsheet.  I do love a good spreadsheet.

So I wrote them all down in alphabetical order, every band I could think of who, if their members died in a plane crash and they ceased to exist, I would feel like I’d missed out if I had neglected to attend them.  I know I won’t see all of them, but I wanted to make a concerted effort to see as many as I could while I could.

The list doesn’t distinguish between bands who have been apart for 30 years and those who are still coherent, it does separate out individual artists who are known to currently have a solo career and also link them to the band they used to be in (so, for example, the entry for David Gilmour states “Dave Gilmour/Pink Floyd” and Roger Waters’ entry is “Roger Waters/Pink Floyd”) ensuring that the musical genius that spawned the bands are placed to be seen even when they can’t be in the same room as one another.  Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are another example, where their entries are “Jimmy Page/Led Zeppelin” and “Robert Plant/Led Zeppelin” respectively.  Either entry can be ticked off once the required people have been seen, so if I’d seen Jimmy Page, it would then be at my discretion whether I decided the performance was sufficient to tick off Led Zeppelin, or whether I also wanted to see Robert Plant first.  I have ticked Guns n Roses off because I’ve seen Slash, and his performance with Myles Kennedy would be sufficient to tick off Guns n Roses (although GnR weren’t on my list) even though I haven’t seen Axl Rose and the band he’s put together when he kept the name Guns N Roses.

This list, and the ticking off part especially, has raised two very interesting dilemmas facing the modern music fan of older bands:  To what extent does the name of the band matter if none of the original members survive, and what actually counts as having seen a band?

The naming question is difficult.  So for example, there’s only one founder member of Lynyrd Skynyrd left in the band, but when I went to see them you could tell straight away that it didn’t matter.  Trying to define a band as who they were when they first signed on the dotted line of that fateful first record deal in the 1960s is a constrained and counterproductive way of going about things.  Take Pink Floyd again – guitarist Dave Gilmour wasn’t even in the original line-up, but for many people, he IS Pink Floyd, moreso than any other member.  Likewise, I need to be cautious about letting too many things be defined as the correct band.  It gets to a point where the only member of a band worth seeing is the drummer, and unless it’s Ringo Starr or Keith Moon, you might as well go and see a tribute band and tick off the real thing.  It’s false.  So somewhere between these two polarized opinions lies the way forward.

With The Who it was easy – the lead singer/guitarist and the lead guitarist are both still knocking around, the drummer is Ringo Starr’s son, and the bassist is an excellent session musician.  Hearing them play, you can tell they’re the real deal not some tribute band which have learned their songs meticulously to the letter and never deviate from the script.  They had the spark of Who-ness that made them Who-lesome.  I make no apologies for the wordplay.  Not all wordplay is a pun.

With Guns N Roses it would have been harder, since Axl kept the band name but is the only remaining member.  Seeing Slash play was such a jaw-droppingly stirring experience that I decided there was no way any replacement guitarist could ever possibly outdo him, unless Axl had hired Hendrix or Jimmy Page (which he hasn’t, which is a good job because Hendrix is dead and in either case, they’d want to play like themselves so you’d not get the same result).  It’s all a matter of style and substance.  Tribute bands and lesser replacement musicians can copy the style but have no substance.  Replacement musicians who are greater than the original will have substance but a differing style.  It takes a rare genius to walk the line between these two and still come out on top.  So I ticked off Guns N Roses.

The second dilemma is also one that I could spend years obsessing over if I wanted to:  How much of a band counts as “having seen” a band.  Here are my criteria:

1. It has to be live.

2. I had to be close enough to see and hear the band, not just watch the video screen, because that defeats the point.

3. I have to have heard the actual band play at least one full song.

4. Televised appearances are lovely, but there is so much loss of quality and atmosphere that they can’t possibly count, and the same goes for Youtube and other ways of seeing them.  For example, I watched the Pink Floyd Live 8 performance live on the BBC as it happened less than 20 miles from where I was sat (2 days after my mother had tried to kill me resulting in my being removed and never returning home, and 5 days before the 7/7 bombings), but it doesn’t count as having seen them, even though it had a profound and evelasting impact on the course of my life after that moment and probably stopped me killing myself.  That bit where they played “Wish You Were Here” and dedicated it to Syd had me in tears.

5. It doesn’t matter what they play:  If I wanted to hear a specific song I could buy and listen to the proper recording studio version.  That’s not what I’m looking for in my quest to see these bands.

Then there’s the single criterion for removal from the list:  If there are no living members of a band or if a solo artist dies, they are taken off the list.  Here is the list so far, there are currently 60 entries, and things are always being added:

Click to enlarge, again to zoom.
Click to enlarge, again to zoom.

For planning purposes, only the bands in white/orange matter:  The ones in pale grey are supposed to be ones who are just not touring at all, so they’re discounted from planning purposes (but breakups/reunions etc are so fickle that I don’t exclude reunion tours until the last member has kicked the bucket).  The ones in dark grey are ones I’ve now seen.  The ones in lime green are currently not attainable due to either dates, cost, or some other factor of sheer preposterous awkwardness that makes them unachievable such as announcing on the day of sale, selling out in 10 minutes and placing ridiculous resale criteria on the tickets, that only means that WHEN the tickets are resold, they’re triple the price they would have been so the resellers make even more money.  The ones in lime green are generally ones I’ve written off for this year.

So that’s my bands bucket list.  What do you think?  Who would be on yours?

Anything Can Happen At A Festival…

It’s anything can happen Thursday and I’m going to Download Festival on a three night camping ticket until Monday.   I have ordered a tipi for the camping to happen in.  When I return, I can tick the following bands off my bands bucket list:

(ahem)
Motley Crue
Billy Idol
Kiss
Dragonforce
Muse
Apocalyptica
Judas Priest

And possibly Alice Cooper if he’s making a surprise guest appearance (it’s a possibility, because he’s supporting Motley Crue on their farewell tour and is playing at all the other festivals that they’re doing).

Also I will see Slipknot, Lacuna Coil and possibly Marilyn Manson (possibly not, the set timings have NOT been thought out very well on the Saturday) although these aren’t on the bands bucket list – the list of bands I want to see before THEY kick the bucket.

Still, exciting times. I’m a little nervous as I’ve never camped at a festival before (last year we got a day ticket for the one day all our favourite bands were playing on, and got to see Iron Maiden, Slayer and Anthrax on one day), and I’m going with my best friend rather than my husband so I am concerned that I might not sleep so well. Add to that, the tent arrived while I was on the school run, literally two minutes before I got home, and now I’ve got to collect it from the depot this evening (they very specifically said I could only collect it at 6:30… bizarre), and it will need waterproofing (which I knew when I ordered it) and I am still off alcohol and sugar for reasons of sanity, and no, that’s NO pressure at all.

Still, I’m sure it will be great. I felt like backing out of Lynyrd Skynyrd at the last minute and it turned out to be the most awesomest show ever.

Lynyrd Skynyrd, the most recent band that I ticked off my bands bucket list.
Lynyrd Skynyrd, the most recent band that I ticked off my bands bucket list.