Smooth Wire
Wire – “Pink Flag”: THEN – “Send”: NOW.

Every year, without doubt, someone comes crawling from the wreckage of the past with something new. Sometimes it’s acceptable, sometimes it’s fun, sometimes you wonder why they bothered, sometimes you wonder how you lived without them for so long. Wire’s “Send” has both feet firmly planted in the latter option. “Send” is an album that could teach aspiring junior noizeniks of the parish a thing or two about being “dark”. “Send” scares the shit out of me with the lights out.

Self-released on the band’s own Pink Flag label, “Send” is fast shaping up to be one of the most essential releases of the year. Hard, uncompromising & inventive beyond the call of duty, “Send” is a fitting return to the fray for Wire.

Jean Encoule recently tracked down Colin Newman at Swim HQ to shoot the shit about history, the passing of time & the future.

trakMARX - How did Newman, Lewis, Gilbert & Gotobed define the term PUNK in October 1976?

Hard to know how the others did. October ’76 (as you’ve obviously researched!!) was just before Wire did their first gig (as a 5 piece, the “real” Wire didn’t emerge until ’77) I can only really talk about myself.

Me & my mate, Desmond (Simmons), got our haircut and ditched the flares in ’75, revelling in the fact that people thought we looked like convicts. Some kind of proto punk was definitely attracting us even if we weren’t sure what was going to come bombing out of the ether. There was a definite feeling in London that something was going to happen although most of what people were into was American (Ramones, Patti Smith, Jonathan Richman, etc). There was a rash of interest in 60’s garage bands, 13th Floor Elevators & Sky Saxon & the Seeds were names to drop (even if you’d never heard them), a lot of that stuff came through Lenny Kaye’s “Nuggets” series. Then there were the Stooges, the Dolls & and the VU who were references so obvious you didn’t need to bring them up in conversation.

However Wire really happened in ’77 by which time UK punk was old news. Post Grundy every kid with spots & an attitude wanted to be in the Sex Pistols. All that stuff became the bedrock for the next stage.

trakMARX - What were the individual influences fighting for attention within early WIRE?

Wire started in a peculiar way, it was actually someone else’s band which we stole. The earliest version of proto Wire (Bruce, myself & George Gill – 3 guitars & vocals through one amp in my bedroom in Leavesden Road N. Watford) was the point at which George’s traditionalist approach started to clash with Bruce & I’s desire to play a more brutal, more sonic style. However, this was being done within the frame of what were basically George’s songs. As we expanded and Graham & Rob came in, the band kind of developed into this rather shambolic affair. Everyone was into the idea of doing something that came out of punk rock but it was actually pretty directionless and frankly not very good.

The point at which it took off was when we started rehearsing and writing without George (it’s a long story you either know or don’t - but the synopsis is hospitalisation through drunken amp stealing). I wrote most of the tunes, Graham wrote most of the words. From my point of view I really wanted to do songs that were more interesting than George’s rather more traditional “rock & roll” type structures. In losing George we also lost a lead guitarist, ditching any notion of solos meant the songs could be shorter. Wire acquired it’s style very quickly, it was like everything clicked as soon as George went, which sounds very cruel as George was neither talentless or unlikeable - just the wrong person.

trakMARX - Bruce Gilbert has been quoted as saying WIRE were never a Punk band - apart from the access. Does that still ring true?

Absolutely and of course. When you look back at UK punk from the perspective of now a lot of it was hardly distinguished from traditional rock & roll. Perhaps of the “Class of ‘76”, only the Buzzcocks’ “Spiral Scratch” had the real touch of newness about it.

trakMARX - It has been said that WIRE were the thinking person's PUNX. You have often said that you were only taking the piss. Was it this amalgamation that made "Pink Flag" such an individual statement?

Wire weren’t at all regarded as a punk band by the time “Pink Flag“ came out! Remember, it came out in December ’77, virtually ’78. We were regarded more as being rather cold & mechanistic (“Bleak, Grey & Mesmerising” ran the NME review heading). Can’t remember being called “the thinking person’s punks” - sounds terrible. Most of the 2nd generation punks hated us. The 1st generation ignored us.

trakMARX - Many revisionist historians make a lot of noise about "inner circles" & even hint at a collective "agenda" - WIRE always seemed to exist outside of any loop - what was the view like from the sharp end?

That’s quite a big question. In regard to punk, Wire were rank outsiders. UK punk was basically the Pistols & their mates. There were so many wannanbe bands (some of those were pretty well known). I don’t think anyone from Wire can presume to know what all those others were up to, we didn’t know any of them. We also tended to avoid the ragtag band of “outsider wannabees”, most of whom were as desperate to prove their “punk credentials” as they were crap.

trakMARX - Now that those heady nights at The Roxy have passed into mythological folklore what do you remember of those early gigs & the club in general?

Very little. A lot of posing and John Lydon holding court outside the toilets.

trakMARX - Can you remember any of the sides Don Letts used to spin?


trakMARX - Did you share his (& by proxy, the "scenes") love of all things dub?

Of course, at the time it was the parallel. I remember buying my first Ranking Trevor 12” from Dub Vendor in Clapham junction.

trakMARX - WIRE's mastery of the art of sarcasm appeared to protect the band very well during the late 70s - with the benefit of hindsight, do think you were right to be sarcastic?

I’m not sure we were that sarcastic… We felt very strongly we had to distance ourselves from a lot of frankly rather piss poor bands. We wanted to engage with the future not wallow in trying to be a 2nd rate Sex Pistols, which so many bands seemed desperate to be.

trakMARX - "Chairs Missing" felt mysterious by comparison to "Pink Flag", as well as a marked musical progression. How did that come about?

What was kind of amazing to us was how few were genuinely interested in progressing the art. We were up for it all, we knew we were good and we felt that power of really being on a moment in time. “Chairs Missing” was an amazing album to make because all the material and our way of presenting it was very new. We also had absolutely no fear of being regarded as either pretentious or “progressive”. We wanted to be as good as Kraftwerk but in our own style.

trakMARX - If "154" had a theme, it was (allegedly) distance: the distance between WIRE & it's audience, it's label & even it's individual members. Had you all grown that far apart - or was it just time to take the piss out of each other?

That sounds a bit like a construct. Change & progress were very much in the air when we made it. It was a more difficult record to make than “Chairs Missing” and definitely there were personal divisions. However the vibe at that time was towards a more aloof sounding and mechanistic approach, stuff that was around in the late 70’s, which in a way pre-figured the early 80’s were things like Tuxedo Moon, Devo (who were unbelievably cool about the time of “Jocko Homo”), The Residents etc, there was also the whole Eno/Bowie trilogy. So “154” was a creature of it’s time and a means by which we showed that we were at the forefront.

trakMARX - What are your memories of that long goodbye at The Electric Ballroom in 1980?

It was depressing. Aggression from stupid Sham 69 fans who wanted us to be a punk band.

trakMARX – Every now & again a band pops up out of the blue that have obviously been listening to WIRE - in the case of Elastica, maybe even more than just listening. Once you'd all been paid in full (we hope/trust) - did it feel like flattery or plagiarism?

It would have been flattering if they had been any good! But at least they were better than Menswear.

The fiscal side was not so good. The publisher of that 70’s material (Carlin) failed to defend the copyrights properly and we ended up with somewhat less than we should have got. The riff to “Connection”, which is what you still hear everywhere, is actually a sample from “3 Girl Rhumba”.

trakMARX - WIRE lost an E during the 90s when every one else seemed to be getting on one - was this just a new start or an attempt to distance the band from it's past?

You could have said that Wire dropped an “e” when everyone else was doing the same! Not at all, just a logical adaptation to being 3. 80’s Wire, while having thrown up some good material & ideas, is generally not loved by the band. The Wir album has some great ideas but would have been better had we mixed it ourselves. BTW “Take It” is made out of samples from Wire records.

trakMARX - "Send" is a dramatic reprise to WIRE (1) - it has much of the energy & darkness that made "Pink Flag" so essential - but still sounds utterly different - was this the intent?

Of course, that was then and this is now!

The album has it’s roots in a deliberately constructed collision of a kind of de-formalised heavy metal shorn of it’s affectation and a rhythmic propulsion that could only be constructed by people having more than a passing acquaintance with the dancefloor. The way it is edited also really uses a kind of “Wire” logic to feed the decision-making, if it sounds like Wire then it’s probably right.

This work is way more conceptualised than anything we did in the 70’s or 80’s, yet is strangely possibly the first Wire album/material that is actually constructed as “rock”!

We aren’t really interested in becoming some kind of tradition so the work will always attempt resolute modernity. Despite it’s rather iconic status, there is a great deal about “Pink Flag” that is in hindsight either downright naff or shall we say a little fey. Of course, in a way it doesn’t matter if a particular tune is a bit idiotic because it’s over before you’ve had a chance to really work out if it’s any good or not, but we have recently had the chance to examine this material and see what is good (and less so) about it and how the new material has a power and directness that very little of early Wire did.

trakMARX - We understand that the vinyl edition of "Send" is another complete reconstruction of the CD content. How does it differ (that's right, our's haven't arrived from Rough Trade yet)?

Ahh you should have ordered it from www.posteverything.com - PE customers always get priority with Pink Flag releases.

The vinyl is another approach – entitled “PF456 Redux” it contains all of the tracks from “Send” plus all of the “other” tracks from “Read & Burn” 01 & 02 which are not included on “Send”. This is all fitted onto a single vinyl album by means of editing. Each track has had between 30 secs & 3 minutes edited from it by various means. This is achieved by edits rather than simple early fades so the tracks are somehow the same and different at the same time.

The idea is that it’s the same experience but you can have it in less time. Perhaps later on we will devise a pill that enables the receiver to feel that he/she has had the listening experience but without actually having to listen to anything. This would be especially useful to those with busy lives, perhaps several audio & visual experiences could leave their vicarious mark with one hit. Who knows?

trakMARX - How did the recent "Pink Flag" shows go down?

It wasn’t really a “Pink Flag” show as such, it was an event entitled “Flag: burning” at the Barbican, as part of their “Only Connect” series of collaborations in which there were two halves.

The first half, a collaboration with conceptual art’s naughty boy brother duo Jake & Dinos Chapman, had us performing the entirety of the album “Pink Flag” in front of a huge screen showing repeated video loops of inanely grinning aerobics demonstrations leading to a finale of a stage filled with dancers pumping step aerobics along with the band playing the song “Pink Flag”.

The 2nd half – designed by wiz kid set designer, Es Devlin, has us in 4 huge boxes, lit only by projections front & back, ranged across the stage. Heart monitors, brainwaves and huge close ups were variously projected onto the front of the boxes. Meanwhile the band played it’s newer material (from “Send & the “Read & Burns”).

In short the old was subverted and the new beautified.

trakMARX - Are you taking the same set to your upcoming shows in foreign lands?

Our set is based around the material we played in the latter half of the “Flag: burning” event – i.e. the new stuff. You don’t imagine we would be playing Pink Flag live for a living I hope? We leave it to others to do the “scampi in a basket” punk tours.

trakMARX - What else have WIRE got scheduled for the not too distant future?

We are off to America in the latter half of June for a short tour. We originally were supposed to play the Matt Groening curated LA – ATP but it just got rescheduled so we will do the rest of the shows and a fill in one in LA. We’ve been doing a series of European festivals through the spring and summer, we just did Primavera in Spain and have just agreed to do Pukkelpop in Belgium, we are looking at some other European festivals and perhaps another London show this autumn.

The studio priority is Read & Burn 03 which is half done but will get finalised over the summer.

trakMARX - And finally ... is there still a regular place for WIRE in today's musical landscape?

It’s not really for us to say. Our aim is always to be part of the contemporary artistic landscape but you can’t “be” it by just saying so - it requires intent and other people recognising that intent.

Jean Encoule – tMx10 – June 2003

Wire – “Send” – Review.

The “Read & Burn” EPs have set Wire alight once more. For those of you who failed to capture them, the group have now welded both together in the form of “Send” & it’s vinyl companion: “PF456REDUX”.

The first thing you notice on accessing “Send” is the darkness. Who turned out the lights – like the bully in “A Room For Romeo Brass”: “Go on, I dare ya. Make it go dark.”

“Send” does lack light, but is not without heart. It has a warmth & depth many current left field operators would sell their analogue grandmothers to replicate. It’s a grower, a slow burner that seeps into your brain by osmosis. “Send” has a density that can only be described as substance – its mass dictates that it hangs in the air as it leaves the speakers:

“In The Art Of Stopping”:
A cowbell drags a plaintive vocal along an autobahn – Satan directs. “Trust me”, implies Colin Newman.

“Mr Marx’s Table”:
Thom would love to be this good:

“You’ve come along way, for such a short stay,
And I’m sad to say, it’s too late to pray”.

“Being Watched”:
Bass line of the year so far. Slung low, underpinned & decorated with distortion.

“You are the audience – you are the star”

This moves at the pace of space debris through the portals of time. Don’t get in its way – your existence could be under threat.

“The Agfers Of Kodack”:
The vocal has echoes of Ian Curtis running through it. Anger is apparent. Controlled feedback threatens to boil over into ultra violence – put your preconceptions at the mercy of the strobe light & dance, dance, dance to the broken radio.

“Nice Streets Above”:
Pounding, incessant & not remotely pleasant. Somehow, you doubt it.

This is fucking awesome. Words are useless to describe the implied danger – only being saved can save us now.

“Read & Burn”:
This is where we came back in. Minimal is the new cluttered.

“You Can’t Leave Now”:
Post apocalyptic holiday snaps from the very edge of the forbidden zone. The authority has evaporated – only the confusion remains.

“Half Eaten”:
Half left: ever the optimist. Is this BAD – no, this is good.

The pulse is still alive, that can never die. The point is that there is no point - & that is overwhelmingly sad. It’s nobody’s fault but mine (or ours, if you’ve advanced sufficiently to take that on board) – I’m big enough to hold my hands up & say I expected too much too soon. I should have learnt to wait. However, the waiting is now over. Submerge.

PF456REDUX: the vinyl version of “Send” (see Colin Newman Q&A for details) has a different track listing to the “Send” CD:

Flagside (Side 1)

“In The Art Of Stopping”
“I Don’t Understand”
“Germ Ship”
“1st Fast”
“The Agfers Of Kodack”
“Half Eaten”
“Being Watched”
“You Can’t Leave Now”

Non Flagside (Side 2)

“Mr Marx’s Table”
“Read & Burn”
“Nice Streets”
“Raft Ants”

MAIL ORDER – www.posteverything.com/pinkflag

The Katestar – tMx10 – June 2003


Images: www.wireviews.com/reviews/live_reviews/0403_barbican_cg.html

+: www.esdevlin.com

www.pinkflag.com (soon to be updated & overhauled) www.posteverything.com www.posteverything.com/pinkflag for the Pink Flag label, includes news.
www.swimhq.com & www.posteverything.com/swim for Colin’s label, Swim.
www.pinkflag.com/resources.html gives a series of links to various Wire related resources - all the links go somewhere but I cannot vouch for the veracity (or legality) of the information and items found there.
You might also want to check out www.dinbot.com for some light diversion.

contact wastebin@trakMARX.com trakMARX.com - Punk Rock …and Roll