Kevin Eden interview
Kevin Eden of WMO UK [KE] was interviewed by Graeme Rowland of Cracked Machine [GR]. Kevin wrote the Wire book, Everybody Loves A History (SAF), and co-instigated Wire Mail Order. The interview is split into three parts, which can be accessed via the links below:
1. Former Punk Mine
Time: afternoon of Sunday February 11th 2001.
Location: WMO (UK), Stockport
GR: How did you first get to hear Wire? I know Mannequin was the first Wire song you heard...
KE: It's touched upon in the sleeve notes I wrote for the reissue of the Peel Sessions CD. I heard them on John Peel when it came out. I was 17 or 18 and punk had come along.
The first things I heard which completely changed my head were Breakdown and Friends of Mine from the Buzzcocks' Spiral Scratch EP. The irony of it is, I was going to go out on a Friday night with a bunch of mates, and we were all bored and fed up and the only option we could come up with for something to do was to go and see the Led Zeppelin film The Song Remains The Same. One of my friends was into Led Zeppelin but none of the rest of us were. So we all went round to this friend's house and said, "Listen to this". And he put Friends of Mine on and, quite literally, the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end! That this group were from Manchester was something! We'd already heard about punk and the Sex Pistols but hadn't really treated it very seriously because it was slightly odd. We were into prog. And I'm not ashamed to say I still like some of it.
So punk came along, Buzzcocks were the turning point. We saw the Pistols and The Clash live. Wire had the single Mannequin out and very quickly afterwards the album Pink Flag, which at the time, being in Stockport, in the Manchester area, it was all part of the package. Everything was coming along and you went out and bought it and played it. It was after hearing one or two tracks on Peel and then buying Pink Flag and taking it home and looking at the lyrics in the context of the music that I realised that this wasn't punk. It was something different. Who else was writing about, "If he had a room he'd paint it white, survives the day prefers the night" (106 Beats That)? These lyrics were obviously intelligent and the Buzzcocks were doing the same and there was something going on beyond punk. To me that album is a concept album. It was very obviously not just thrown together. It had been very deeply thought about.
The singles followed and Chairs Missing came out in 1978. Of course, before that they'd done their first Peel session and performed three new songs! They did 106 Beats That but rocketing along, and they were promoting their first album with three unreleased songs (I Am The Fly, Culture Vultures and Practice Makes Perfect) and this just followed on the mystery.
GR: That's fairly standard behaviour with Peel sessions now. Colin was saying on the Totally Radio Web cast that Wire had pioneered the one-long-track approach with Crazy About Love but Faust did that years before!
KE: And King Crimson! All those bands did it!
GR: I wouldn't like to say if Wire were the first to record as yet unreleased material for Peel sessions.
KE: Of that new breed? Definitely! Siouxsie and the Banshees did it too because they didn't have a record deal.
GR: They must've ditched pretty much an album's worth of material before they got to record The Scream.
KE: There were a few bands that did it. Later XTC and Scritti Politti did it. That was the great thing about Peel. Tune in from ten 'til midnight and you knew you were going to hear something different or new.
So Chairs Missing came out and it seemed like a different group.
GR: That perspective is quite alien to me because Chairs Missing was the first Wire album I heard and I heard 154 before Pink Flag. There are massive leaps between those three albums.
KE: On Chairs Missing they were starting to sculpt.
GR: Do you use that phrase with hindsight, knowing Bruce describes Wire as 'a bit of sculpture', or did you think that at the time?
KE: At the time I was aware they were making shapes with the music. Think of the way the album opens with Practice Makes Perfect. It starts really quietly with that flanged echoey sound and then the chord progressions begin which are, and Colin will probably hate me for saying this, so Pink Floyd.
GR: I've never really seen that comparison to be honest.
KE: Well, it's the first two Floyd albums, the Barrett ones. Anyway Wire were being inventive and moving away from what everybody else was doing. We went to see them live. Then when 154 came out it was, "Hang on, same band again?" There is a more logical progression from Chairs Missing to 154 than from Pink Flag to Chairs Missing.
GR: Well, you talked about Pink Flag as a concept album, but could you possibly imagine a better order for the tracks on 154?
KE: No. With 154 Mike Thorne's involvement was so obvious, and of course it came with this four track 7" EP with a piece by each of them. Robert's track is the Repetitive Stoats: Desmond Simmons, Colin, Robert and Slim Smith.
GR: Who is Slim Smith?
KE: He's a graphic designer who went to Watford with them all and did a number of Wire sleeves and Desmond's, etc. Then you've got Colin's track.
GR: Which is the strangest thing he's recorded, with the vacuum cleaner at the end!
KE: He admits it's throw away. But I think it shows that Colin is quite capable of making a racket just as much as Graham or Bruce. Then Side 2 has these two incredible tracks. Graham's piece (Lets Panic Later) was fantastic.
GR: It could be regarded as the first Dome piece in a way.
KE: Exactly. There's that experimental edge going on. Then in 1980 the first Dome LP was the next new thing and there's Eno in there, all kinds of things going on and, for me, there was a logical progression.
GR: That first Dome album was very confusing! You said that to you Wire were the punk band that weren't punk, but in a way most of the best bands of that era didn't play by a set of punk rock rules. I mean later it devolved into that but in the post-punk era there were a lot of bands that were very individual.
KE: Like who?
GR: Public Image Limited for one.
KE: That was 1978. Things had changed. Punk was over. It had become new wave and PIL kind of tapped into the Can 'Krautrock' thing as well.
By 1978 things had broken the mould. Stuff was coming over from America: Pere Ubu, Talking Heads, Television, Patti Smith. To me that was all as intelligent as Wire. It had an American slant, but it was intelligent new rock music.
GR: It's interesting that Buzzcocks turned your head because they're the only punk band who preceded Wire that they've given much credit to. Wasn't it Colin who said Friends of Mine gave him the idea of the fast song where the words trip over themselves and don't quite fit?
KE: Absolutely. I think that first EP was what was needed to ignite Manchester. So many bands appeared after that! I was involved in a band at the time.
GR: What was the name of your band?
KE: Slight Seconds. I played guitar and sang. Spiral Scratch was the inspiration for listening to all that music and wanting to pick up a guitar. Probably I can speak for anybody who picked a guitar up at that time; it was a case of, "If they can do it, I can do it!" Desperate Bicycles adage "it was easy, it was cheap—go and do it!" For twenty quid you went and bought yourself a Woolworth's guitar and practice amp and you did it in your bedroom with your mates.
GR: A lot of people say The Clash were the best live band they ever saw. What did you make of them?
KE: The first album was great. It just seemed to capture the time. What I liked about that album was the fact that there was Police and Thieves on it and that opened up a whole new world of reggae. I went and found the original Junior Murvin version and then got into Lee Perry. At the time you get caught up in the excitement of being there and seeing a band. In retrospect I'd probably agree with what Colin said about them being a bunch of garrulous gits! They were way too contrived.
GR: But they were always worried about presenting themselves as not being contrived which was always the big contradiction of The Clash.
KE: Of course. I thought the support act was much better—Subway Sect. Another band I thought were brilliant were The Prefects. Rob Lloyd of The Prefects was one of the best performance artists ever! They were so funny! He'd come on in a pair of rolled down wellingtons like a brickie off a building site and stand there and go mad!
GR: Didn't The Slits support The Clash as well?
KE: I saw The Slits supporting the Buzzcocks and they were great. They had Palmolive then and she really couldn't play. She'd just thrash the shit out of the drum kit!
GR: When did you first see Wire live?
KE: It was at the Mayflower Club and all I can vaguely remember about that is that it was run by some black guys and half way or three quarters of the way through the set this black guy strutted on stage and grabbed the microphone off Colin and said, "It's finished!" Wire just walked off. No resistance. That was it.
GR: Was Mike Thorne playing with them by that point?
KE: He would've been, but he didn't come to Manchester. He only played a handful of southern dates with them. The next time I saw them, A Question of Degree had just come out with Former Airline on the B-side. We were intrigued by this B-side, what was this noise? It was another leap.
GR: There was an article on the Perfect Sound Forever website about records to play loud if you want to annoy your neighbours, and Former Airline was one that they listed.
KE: It was a big issue amongst me and my pals. By then Can had been discovered, and I was in a band as well. We were constantly debating the issue of harmony and melody against noise and rhythm; whether noise is a valid input. My argument was, yes, of course it is. The drummer and co-writer in the band was saying it was rhythm and harmony. Former Airline became this schism! At the same time This Heat were starting to be heard on John Peel and I thought they were the dog's bollocks! An incredible noise! There was a link there back to other bands like King Crimson.
So the second time we saw Wire was at the Factory in Hulme in late '78. They were all lined up at the bar and we just walked up to them and my friend asked Bruce what Former Airline was about because the name Gilbert was on it. Bruce just looked at him and said, "It's about everything!" Robert burst out laughing and walked away. I think my friend was a bit insulted by this answer. We got talking to Colin and later they played. Manicured Noise were supporting and we knew them. They were a Manchester band and we actually rehearsed in the same studio as them, but we didn't know the name of the band until we saw them on stage supporting Wire! I know Graham and Bruce loved them, but to be honest they came over to us as pretentious art w*nkers. They seemed very contrived. That's taste.
The final time I saw Wire was just after Go Ahead. It might even be the same gig to be honest, I can't remember. The way they were set up on stage was great. Robert had his drum kit side on at the front of the stage. They just did it for this one short tour to get away from the standard set-up. Colin was at the front bashing the shit out of this syndrum for Go Ahead and Bruce was at the back with his back to the audience as per usual. What made it so special then is that you'd heard the Peel sessions and bought the albums and the question was, "What are they going to do live?" You hadn't a clue! It's the 154 tour and they're playing three quarters of a new album already!
To see Wire then, and even now, was incredibly inspirational.