The Mekons came staggering through darkness and doubt on the lost highway breaking new territory with the original sin of this rootsy rebellion. The art punk consortium had distinguished themselves from the start with their early singles ("Never Been in a Riot" and "Where Were You") and albums (The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strnen, The Mekons [aka Devils Rats and Piggies a Special Message from Godzilla], and the compilation The Mekons Story); but by 1981, they had all but disbanded. They continued to experiment in the studio, releasing The English Dancing Master EP in 1981; but it wasn't until they were asked to play a benefit concert for striking miners that they returned to live performance.
Tom Greenhalgh remembers: "When the yearlong miners strike of 1984-'85 came along, the Mekons were approached to play benefits in support of the striking miners, whose communities were being starved...Having previously been known to get politically involved with the likes of Rock Against Racism and Anti-Fascist Action, we had to get a live band together and recruited then friends of friends -- Susie Honeyman, Steve Goulding, Lu Edmonds, Dick Taylor -- specifically for that purpose...At that time -- the drab post-punk/new romantic early '80s -- people were looking for other music and finding things elsewhere in reggae, African music, German electronics, folk music and country music. One day I met Terry Nelson, legendary Chicago deejay, in my house in Brixton. He had been invited to stay, unbeknownst to me, by Hugo Burnham, the drummer with the Gang of Four. Terry was well into all the good country stuff and pretty soon the difference between the three chords of country and the three chords of punk became blurred...As a band, we were ready to go, making music that was really great to play and apparently great to get involved with as an audience."
'Fear and Whiskey' was produced by The Mekons and engineered by John Gill and Shelagh Quinn at Lion Studios in Leeds with Jacqui Callis on vocals; Lu Edmonds on bass; Steve Goulding on drums; Tom Greene on guitar, piano, and vocals; Tom Greenhalgh on mixing and vocals; Suzie Honeyman on fiddle; Jon Langford on guitar, harmonica, and vocals; Ken Lite on bass, rhythm guitar, and vocals; Terry Nelson on walkie talkie; Dick Taylor on guitar; and Robert Sigmund Worby on drums; plus Jim Chapman, Mark J. White, Carlton B. Morgan, Dolf Anonymous, Sabien Ex, Ralph Mulcahy, Dave Haines, Dolph Anonymous, John Moor, Stoke Newington Jr., Brendan "Crowkey" Croker, Cobie, and Terrie. The album was released on their own Sin Records label and celebrated by critics as it floundered in obscurity. Still, it became the first album to be categorized as alt-country.
Jon Langford reveals: "We never really split up, but we didn't function much as a live band after 1981...But during the miners strike, the Mekons wanted to get involved, and after we started playing a few gigs, we realized we needed something a bit more ... We spent a long time working on the ideas for that record, thinking about what we should be doing. We had been a professional band on a major label in the late '70s, and we were reluctant to become that again. But we knew we had to play the game a bit, or we would cease to exist...Once we started taking it seriously, we tried to find strategies to write songs that made sense to us. The Mekons were always very good at knowing what we didn't want to do. Basically, we thought everything was crap, so we always ended up doing what little was left! ... We were listening to a lot of country stuff, but we weren't really trying to play it. We just kind of steeped ourselves in it because it was interesting. With the Mekons, a lot of people always told us we [had influences] that we didn't even realize. You know, that we were really like a honkytonk band because all the songs were about bars! ... I think country and western is a big problem for a lot of people. Even if we didn't think we were playing country and western, the fact that it was even mentioned was a problem. We talked about people like Merle Haggard as influences, and the people in Europe didn't get that ... I think for us, everything was so wide open with punk when it first started...I didn't like the politics of punk rock; I liked the freedom of it that let you do anything you want. I liked that you could be in a band, express yourself, say whatever you want, without having to play the music-industry game. That's where the Mekons really came in. We were non-musicians, and we played rock 'n' roll like it was some sort of primitive folk music.,,I mean, we didn't have anything better to do, so we got back into being a proper band. We felt like we had the firepower we were lacking before."
"Hard To Be Human"
'Fear and Whiskey'
All songs written and composed by Mekons, except as noted.
1. "Chivalry" 4:03
2. "Trouble Down South" 4:15
3. "Hard to Be Human Again" 3:58
4. "Darkness and Doubt" 5:15
5. "Psycho Cupid (Danceband on the Edge of Time)" 2:52
6. "Flitcraft" 3:23
7. "Country" 2:54
8. "Abernant 1984/5" 2:21
9. "Last Dance" 3:13
10. "Lost Highway" Leon Payne 2:59
liner notes for 'Original Sin' reissue/compilation:
You'll all have known the feeling that sometimes makes you sad... lying all day all night only knowing the fee) of 5km or sheets never opening the shutters to the sunlight. The bottle and the glass lie empty... a small stain has spread across the carpet and you know outside (5 darkness again... and then you hear a sound above the growl of cars crawling through the steaming ram: in a bar down the street a band begins to play... the sort of music that drags you from your sweat soaked bed and makes you want to put your clothes on and maybe take ,em off again a bit later... Sensational... But not so fast meatball... A drinker (5 full of dreams... dreams so full of drink they can't stand up... trembl-ing you untwine your naked body from the sheets as another dying days light fades into neon... these days hang as thick as the sodden nights... avoiding the crushing gaze of the mirror your hands slack with shame you shake the shards of glass from the underdothes rubbing numbly at the stains trying to pull nothing together... from the night beyond the drawn shades a drum roll, a dis-tant chord chiming like a death knell; your blood moves - only the music can speak for a soul in such depths. Winter comes to Chicago cutting through the love-knots like the judgement of Solomon. Outside the red wind sears the jangling night: reeling through the neon haze you stumble across the street-automobiles blare, in the dazzle of their lights your shaking fingers find the door... down the stairs through the spinning dark, the heat slams against your crushed dothes, your pulse pounding, you fight through the brawl at the bar to the deep back corner of the room... a hillbilly orchestra of eight pieces dres-sed in ill-fitting mexican jackets and purple shirts smiles glassily into the fog of cigarette smoke - your spine is an electric arc as the music roars around your aching head and floods into your heart...
Late night sitting at the bar revulsion shuddering thru your body as you try to recall who it was and what you said - knowing you've talked too much once again... are you remembering dancing that time... your face flushed as you held hands... laughing... the sting of death (5 sin and the strength of sin (5 the law, there (5 nothing more dangerous than a confident man, your thoughts staggering without direction, staring at the pools of liquor on the chipped bartop, realising you can trust no-one, something you once read somewhere... ,1 only know that he who forms a tie (5 lost. The germ of corruption has entered his soul'... your elbow slips from the bar.
SOPHIE BOURBON Chicago
John Peel 1985
1. Hey Susan! (0:07)
2. Beaten And Broken (2:37)
3. Deep End (5:25)
4. Chop That Child In Half (8:48)