A GUEST POSTING by ROL HIRST
My Top Ten Blog
Compared to The Auteurs (4 albums and a handful of EPs) and Black Box Recorder (3 albums and a compilation of odds & sods), Luke Haines’ solo career is pretty hard to keep up with. Indeed, during the course of compiling these ICAs I discovered the great man had released a new album, I Sometimes Dream Of Glue, earlier this year to very little fanfare. Haven’t been able to track a copy down yet so nothing from that is included here, but there’s much to enjoy in Haines’s solo career if you’re not afraid of concept albums and you’re prepared to humour the odd missteps such as the BBC-Radiophonic-workshop-does-apocalypse-instrumentals of British Nuclear Bunkers. Anyway, here’s a bunch of my favourites…
The opening track from The Oliver Twist Manifesto, Haines’ first official solo album, (although many argue that title should actually go to the last Auteurs album, How I Learned To Love The Bootboys), this is as clear a manifesto as you could want from any pop star.
This is not entertainment
Don’t expect me to entertain you
Any more than you could entertain me
It may not be pretty
People might get hurt
Reputations could be tarnished
(People round here don’t like to talk about it)
Run away if you don’t like it
You don’t need to worry your pretty head about it
Don’t beg for mercy, you’ll get none, now it’s war
This is rock ‘n’ roll communique No.1
Hell for leather, spare no expenses
Jammy bastards, sod the consequences
All named and shamed
This is not entertainment
Except it is! It really is!
Nostalgia for the 70s and 80s – the “good old days” of our youth – is a big part of Haines’ act these days. There are no rose-tinted glasses here though. Haines sees much to love in those halcyon days… but isn’t afraid to peer into the murky underbelly of the time either.
Saturday Afternoon is the most approachable track from the wonderfully bizarre concept album 9 1/2 Psychedelic Meditations On British Wrestling Of The 1970s & Early ’80s, a record which does pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. As such, its appeal will largely depend on whether you remember these days in the same way Haines does. If, like me, you grew up watching Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks fight it out on Saturday afternoon TV, this will push all the right nostalgic buttons…
There’s Evel Knievel
Catweazle’s false teeth
Fly out of the telly
And land at my feet
Mother, what’s for tea?
Liver sausage sandwich and cheese
They’re fighting on the terraces
Starting at two
There’s a tag team in the corner
Of our front room
3. Leeds United
The darker side of that particular vein of nostalgia is seen here, in a song that works well as a companion piece to David Peace’s Red Riding novels. Violence on the terraces and the sinister threat of the Yorkshire Ripper. My dad worked in Leeds during the 70s. Although I was very young, I recognise the shadow cast over that city that Haines successfully evokes here in a song told from the perspective of a young man in serious danger of being dragged into hell.
No leads for the West Yorkshire police
In Victorian Leeds, concrete Leeds
There’s a killer on the terraces, better call in Doris Stokes
The devil came to Yorkshire in the silver Jubilee
It could be Kendo Nagasaki, Jimmy Savile or the Queen
Leeds United – Leeds United – Leeds United – Leeds United
The North, the North
Where we do what we want
The North the North
Where we do what we like
At the time, Haines took a bit of flack from northern fans for the lyrics here. What right does that Southern Jessie have to talk about how grim it is or was up north? I’m reminded of Neil Young laying into Lynyrd Skynyrd in Southern Man, and Skynyrd hitting back with Sweet Home Alabama. In America, the North-South divide is reversed, of course. Alabama and Leeds were kindred spirits… and I say that as a proud(-ish) Yorkshireman.
All of which led to this track, Haines’ response to the Leeds United hecklers. As proud a celebration of being a southerner as the aforementioned Skynyrd track, this tries to reclaim the term “God’s own country” from greedy, grabbing Yorkshiremen and relocate it to Haines’ beloved south coast. Tongue is, of course, firmly in cheek again, and anyone who takes offence at this really needs to get a life… or risk becoming the same northern cliché Haines was parodying above.
Haines’ nostalgic obsession with the land of his birth reached its zenith with the North Sea Scrolls album, a collaboration with Cathal Coughlan and journalist Andrew Mueller. Described as “an alternative history of the British Isles”, it chronicles through alternating songs and spoken word pieces a bizarre parallel dimension where DJ Chris Evans is burnt at the stake, Enoch Powell becomes Poet Laureate, and Princess Anne’s kidnapper is the lead singer of Gomez (they’re both called Ian Ball, see). To be honest, pulling one track out for inclusion here doesn’t really work – you have to listen to the whole album to appreciate its true glory. But equally I couldn’t leave The North Sea Scrolls out of this ICA, because it is Haines at his surreal and acerbic best.
You may not appreciate the comparison, but this is Luke Haines’ version of We Didn’t Start The Fire by Billy Joel. You know how on that song (which you probably pretend to hate, but I’ll forgive you) Billy chronicles his life through the big names and events in the news and pop culture? Well, In 21st Century Man, Luke Haines does just the same. So this is the We Didn’t Start The Fire it’s cool to like! You don’t have to hide it way in back of your record collection the way you do that secret, stained Billy Joel 12”. Really. It’s the first step… after that, you can join my support group. We meet every Tuesday night in the old church hall behind the Spar.
Have I used the word “iconoclastic” in this feature yet? Here’s a typically barbed love letter to the editors of Mojo and Uncut… and, I guess, most members of the music blogosphere – talk about biting the hand that feeds!
I love rock ‘n’ roll
I hope it never dies
Put it in a chocolate box and
Bury it alive
Of course, just when you think you’ve got Luke Haines neatly pigeonholed, he goes and releases a record like New York In The 70s, reminding us that for all his grumpy Englishness, he’s long been a fan of American music too (as discussed in more detail back in Volume 1 of this ICA). The album pays tribute to many of Haines’ musical heroes from the titular city and decade, including the New York Dolls, Lou Reed, Jim Carroll, and especially Suicide’s Alan Vega. The repetitive lyrics and low key electro-punk work as a perfect tribute, making for one of Haines’ most accessible albums of recent years.
There comes a point in your live when you realise that rebellion and revolution is a young man’s dream. The title track from Haines’ 2016 album invites us to embrace Morris dancing, admit that we love the Monkees, and riot for the summer. Mid-life, middle-class crisis in song. Perfect!
And finally… If you haven’t yet read Luke Haines’ two excellent memoirs – Bad Vibes and Post-Everything – well, I realise there’s little chance of me persuading you… but perhaps you’ll listen to JC: here and here. As a taster, I offer you the final track on this most difficult to compile ICA (oh, the ones I had to leave off!), which is those two books condensed into one song. The manifesto from our opening track comes full circle here. And of course, Haines reveals his long-suspected God-complex in all its glory.
At the age of 33 and a third, the time that Christ spent on earth
I decided to cut all ties with showbiz
As the awards piled up in the bath, well I started to laugh
At all those who died in the name of light entertainment
Be thankful Luke Haines never became a big star. I’m pretty sure he is. He’s made far more interesting work on the sidelines. Continued success is overrated anyway.