Saturday 22 July 2017


St. John’s Church, Bethnal Green, London, Sat 15th July

“That had ‘em rocking in the pews”, Jon Langford jokes after one number. The rare acoustic gig turns out not to be enforced by the Church venue, or even due to their having recently made an acoustic album (‘Jura’) but by the drummer having to attend his Mother’s birthday. While the support act were the children of one of the band. Reaching forty year anniversaries while almost entirely bypassing the mainstream, they can go like that.

The Mekons may best be defined by their label, Bloodshot, boasting of “the finest folks out there playing the waters between roots and punk and rock ‘n’ roll”. Or by their own imprint, Sin, a play on the classic Sun records. Which might seem something of a left turn, given their beginnings as a post-punk band based in Leeds. (They describe themselves as “folk-punk lifers.”)

For post-punk was based around the twin imperatives of not making music which had ever been made before, and of learning as little as possible about the instrument you were ostensibly playing. It was not normally a recipe for longevity.

Whereas a move to America and an embracing of country mainstayed the Mekons. Though their appearances these days arrive Brigadoon-like amid a welter of other projects, including Lu Edwards doubling as the guitarist in the current line-up of Public Image.

The nearest comparison from recent sightings would be Blyth Power, even if they took their chess move from anarcho-punk. Yet while they’re crafted, literary and allusive, the Mekons (particularly live) are rawer, more rambunctous and perpetually edging on ramshackle. I’m not sure one number had a single singer, with many performed chorally. At one point they reassemble around the grand piano in the corner of the Church, and sing the words off a sheet.

The songs are political (they jest cheerily about jumping on the post-Corbyn socialist bandwagon) without being pedagogical. They often feel simultaneously spirited and reflective, like that vital but unsustainable jolt of punk energy was transformed into something more durable.

One of my favourite images is the narrator’s irrefutable tattoos from ’Sometimes I Feel Like Fletcher Christian’. Within the song, they represent life experience manifested as a set of illustrated scars. But I like to imagine it also stands for their songs; the way individual lines tend to be direct and straightforward, as distinct and iconic as tattoo images, while suggesting bigger connections they never quite spell out.

This clip’s neither acoustic nor in a church. Good, though…

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