Two nights out in a row? What is this, 2019 or something? Well, daily figures suggest we’re far from over this damned virus, whatever those trying to save their political careers might try to spin. But there are positive signs regarding a return to where we once were, not least regarding live music, venues on my adopted patch such as The Continental and The Ferret in Preston showing the way.
Friday night at The Conti marked one such event. There were more punters for the following night’s Hacienda event with Dave Haslam, but those of us with a passion for late ‘70s/early ‘80s punk and new wave showed up the evening before at the third time of asking for a twice-rearranged date with The Members.
And while I’m still no way near attending the amount of shows I once did, I could hardly let JC, aka Jean-Marie Carroll, and fellow stalwart bandmates Chris Payne and Nick Cash travel all the way up from my old Surrey neck of the woods and not put in an appearance. I’m glad I did too, those attending treated to a healthy dose of punk rock’n’roll entertainment.
As it turned out, support Acme Sewage Co. pulled out, presumably flushed away, but next on the bill Blackpool low-fi punk trio Blow-Up did themselves proud, with plenty of fire, fuzz, Ramones spirit and a few ‘70s glam rhythms thrown in. Natalie’s voice reminded me of Placebo’s Brian Molko until the drumming of hubby Dan (also pitching in with the singing) made me re-think, hearing Quatro-esque qualities, confirmed by her dedicating the last song to Suzi Q. I’d hate to think how raw those vocal cords are the morning after, mind, that full-on rasp surely punishing. But together with lead guitarist Howard, they were the first of the night to prove the power and worth of the humble three-piece line-up.
Favourite moment? Maybe Natalie’s, “Here’s another song … can’t remember the name…” mid-set introduction. Smiles all round. Check out their Bandcamp page for details of a debut LP, not least ‘60s-surf punk-inflected lead song, ‘Bodybag’.
I’ve written plenty about The Members on these pages, not least the fact that I regret missing out on their first coming, at least live, 1979’s At the Chelsea Nightclub and 1983’s Going West (or Uprhythm, Downbeat, according to 1982’s US pressing) LPs making a big impression on a teenage me. Not being around for the reunion gigs, I missed out on seeing Nicky Tesco out front, but this was the second time I’d caught this stripped-down version – albeit last time out as a four-piece, with the addition of guitarist Calle Englemarc at the Star and Garter, Manchester in late 2018, reviewed here – and was again impressed by their authentic spirit and stamina in the face of on-rushing years.
From debut LP opener ‘Electricity’ and ‘Soho-a-Go-Go’ onwards, they were on fine form, ‘Working Girl’ – their big US and Aussie hit – then taking us from ’79 to ‘81, while ‘Offshore Banking Business’ reminded us how relevant they remain today, and their skanking reggae take on Kraftwerk’s ‘The Model’ always impressing. There was even a then and now moment as ‘Bedsitland’, the title track of last year’s LP currently topping the Heritage Singles Chart (recently with a Surrey 1-2-3 as The Vapors’ ‘One of My Dreams Came True’ and Paul Weller’s orchestrated ‘English Rose’ revisit completed the top spots) giving rise to older sibling, ‘Solitary Confinement’, perhaps still my favourite Members number.
Behind them, a banner proclaimed we were witnessing ‘The Original Sound of the Suburbs’, and while neither Carroll nor Payne featured in the first line-up, full attendance from ’77 to ’83 and ‘07 onwards is not to be sneezed at (particularly now covid masks are starting to come off), while Cash has warmed the drum-stool since 2008 (give or take a three-year gap when The Damned’s Rat Scabies sat in).
Their ability to fuse punk with reggae always appealed and they remain masters of the art, Chris and Nick providing the driving heartbeat, not least on brooding dub number, ‘The Streets of Nairobi’ from the latest LP. And then there’s the mighty ‘New English Blues, Pt.2’ from 2012’s Ingrrland, a rousing modern-day Mott the Hoople-like anthem, JC in Ian Hunter territory for a band that has certainly left its mark down the years, and on Friday’s showing are here to stay.
They don’t take it for granted though, as the on-stage asides suggest, JC now and again – on a brief break from (as his autobiography suggests) Still Annoying the Neighbours – checking in with Chris as to where he feels they should head next, not wanting to finish his band off with too many fast ones, assuming a role of caring younger bro among ageing punk brethren, the baby of the band a mere 66-year-old.
As we all know too well, not everyone’s made it through these tricky last few years, and there was a respectful nod on stage to old friend Larry Wallis (ex-Pink Fairies, early Motorhead), lost aged 70 just before the pandemic truly hit, before the second LP’s cover of ‘Police Car’ (1980: The Choice is Yours also served by ‘Muzak Machine’), the song’s police chase relocated to the M6.
And then of course there was that giveaway guitar intro as ‘The Sound of the Suburbs’ sent us home happy, JC in inspirational mode during another mid-number breakdown, telling us it’s our song not his, a celebration of all those forgotten or non-celebrated towns that made and moulded us. True, that. As fellow old stagers Slade would have put it, ‘Keep on rocking’, fellas. There’s plenty more life in you yet. And this is the sound, after all.