The Mekons, Leeds

Formed: Leeds, West Yorkshire, England, UK

The Mekons, Leeds

Mary Harron, NME, 1979: The new generation in rock has come up with only one brilliant insight: it came from The Mekons is very simple: Rock is the only form of music which actually be done better by people who cant play their instruments than by people who can.

This very left-leaning band had ties with Gang Of 4, sharing a political outlook, instruments, a rehearsal space, members, and a record label with each other. When the Mekons released their first LP in 1979, the back cover even featured a photo of the Gang of 4 and not the Mekons (although it remains unclear if this was a joke or a genuine mistake). For years the Mekons were generally considered to the less successful version of Gang of 4, but The Mekons were actually the better band, and proved to be more consistent and long-lived, eventually forging their own very distinctive sound.

From the get-go the Mekons took an unusual approach to their art, taking the DIY aesthetic to extremes. They were all rank amateurs and they did not attempt to act in the way that traditional rock bands (and a lot of punk bands, for that matter) behaved. Nobody was on a star trip, nobody craved a major label deal, they managed themselves, and they did not take themselves too seriously.

Kevin Lycett, NME: We didn't want to be stars; there was no set group as such, anybody could get up and join in and instruments would be swapped around; there'd be no distance between the audience and the band; we were nobody special.

The Mekons were formed in 1977 by Mark White (vocals), Andy Corrigan (vocals), Tom Greenhalgh (guitar), Kevin Lycett (guitar) and Jon Langford (drums). This lot were all students at the University of Leeds and were the basic core of the band through to the early 80's, although other people played with them and the aforementioned need not appear to play on all of their records. They were often compared with Gang of 4 but although highly political they were not opposed to twatting about for comedic effect. It's not surprising that they were Peel favourites (they recorded no less than four sessions for him between March 1978 and January 1981).

They made their live debut as support act to the Gang of 4, and their second gig supporting The Rezillos at the F-CLub in Leeds led directly to a deal with Fast Product, a brand new label set up by Bob Last, and in early 1978 the band's first single became the first record on Fast Product. Never Been In A Riot is a classic piece of utterly shambolic punk, the A-Side a sarcy response to 'White Riot' where the narrator hides in a toilet "pissing out the noise", the B-Side containing the jaw-dropping '32 Weeks', which is just a list of how long it takes to save up the money to buy certain consumer goods. The single was so crudely produced (on a TEAC 2-Track) and badly played that even Rough Trade in London refused to stock it (until it started selling of course). Credits on the record were sparse, but Jo Callis of The Rezillos helped out with the recording.

By the time of November's Where Were You? / I'll Have To Dance Then (On My Own) the Mekons had acquired enough musical muscle to start sounding properly good without sacrificing their post-punk noise credentials. With its extended guitar/drum solo introduction and humorously anguished vocals (the song concerns the horrors of being stood up, blanked and ignored by the object of the narrator's desires), it sold nearly 30,000 copies.

The Mekons - The Quality Of Mercy Is Not StrnenThe Mekons - NME March 1979 Part 1The Mekons - NME March 1979 Part 2The Mekons - The Quality Of Mercy Is Not Strnen

Following a mini-festival at the Lyceum, where they played on a bill alongside The Fall, Stiff Little Fingers, The Human League and Gang of 4, they signed with Virgin. Their first two records for the label are a bit disappointing: Work All Week is a dead-ringer for Gang Of 4, in itself not a bad thing, but there's a Gang of 4 already. The Quality Of Mercy Is Not Strnen (the title taken from a saying that if enough chimpanzees where given enough time to sit down at a typewriter and type, they'd come up with the complete woks of Shakespeare) is intermittently amusing but the group's amateurism becomes a trifle tiresome.

Teeth is much better, a double single that finds them firmly in post-punk/pop/punk mode, and is highlighted the brisk title track (which features prominent fiddle and a really heavy and delightfully ominous synthesiser), the quite frankly unbelievable 'Guardian' and the astonishing sinister dub noise of 'Kill'.

After the complete commercial failure of these records they retreated to the indies again, signing to Red Rhino for The Mekons and accompanying single Snow / Another One (both 1980). After that, they found a new home on CNT Productions, which released This Sporting Life (in 12" and 7" format, 1981 and 1982) and The English Dancing Master (1983) - more offbeat excellence.

The Mekons split briefly at this point, but returned in 1985 with a new sound, which was no less political but less shambolic and with a decided C&W slant. Throughout the 80's drummer Langford also played with the not dissimilar (and equally wonderful ) The Three Johns.


Other compilations not listed included below: I Have Been To Heaven And Back: Hen's Teeth And Other Lost Fragments Of Unpopular Culture Vol. 1 (contains rarities from 1980 to 1998); Where Were You? Hen's Teeth And Other Lost Fragments Of Unpopular Culture Vol. 2 contains a couple of tracks from the early 80's ('East Is Red', 'Polaroid (I Don't Own I Only Dote)') and Heaven & Hell (The Very Best Of The Mekons). If anyone is able to send in scans of any of these three I shall add them to the discography.

Singles / Albums 1978 - 1983

The Mekons - Never Been In A Riot The Mekons - Where Were You? / I'll Have To Dance Then (On My Own) The Mekons - Work All Week The Mekons - The Quality Of Mercy Is Not Strnen The Mekons - Teeth
Never Been In A Riot (7", 1978) Where Were You? / I'll Have To Dance Then (On My Own)
(7", 1978)
Work All Week
(7", 1979)
The Quality Of Mercy Is Not Strnen (LP, 1979) Teeth (2x7", 1980)
The Mekons - Snow / Another One The Mekons - The Mekons The Mekons - This Sporting Life This Sporting Life / Fight The Cuts The Mekons - The English Dancing Master
Snow / Another One
(7", 1980)
The Mekons (LP, 1980) This Sporting Life
(12", 1981)
This Sporting Life / Fight The Cuts
(7"", 1982)
The English Dancing Master (12", 1983)

Extraneous Releases

The Mekons - Guardian The Mekons - The Mekons Story 1977-1982      
(7", flexi, 1982)
The Mekons Story 1977-1982 (LP, 1982)      


Various Artists

Fast Product - The First Year Plan UK LP 1979 (EMI Records/Fast Product): Never Been In A Riot / Heart & Soul / 32 Weeks / I'll Have To Dance Then (On My Own) / Where Were You 2:43

Mutant Pop 78/79 US LP 1980 (PVC): Never Been In A Riot / 32 Weeks / Where Were You?

Rock Against Racism - RAR's Greatest Hits UK LP 1980 (RARecords): Trimden Grange Explosion

Another Spark UK Tape 1983 (Another Spark Tapes): Is This The Way? (Live London ICA October 1983)

Alive In The Living Room UK LP 1984 (Creation): Rock 'n' Roll Shoes

Communicate!!!! Live At Thames Poly UK LP 1985 (T.P.S.U.) Help Me Make It Through The Night

They Shall Not Pass UK LP 1985 (Abstract Sounds): Fight The Cuts / This Sporting Life

Dig This: A Tribute To The Great Strike UK LP 1985 (Forward Sounds International): Flitcraft / Trouble Down South

1-2-3-4 Punk & New Wave 1976-1979 UK 5xCD 1999 (Universal): Where Were You

No Thanks! The '70s Punk Rebellion US 4xCD 2003 (Rhino): Where Were You







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