Wire Pink Flag: THEN Send: NOW.
Every year, without doubt, someone comes crawling from the wreckage of the past with something new. Sometimes its acceptable, sometimes its fun, sometimes you wonder why they bothered, sometimes you wonder how you lived without them for so long. Wires 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 bands 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 youve obviously researched!!) was just before Wire did their first gig (as a 5 piece, the real Wire didnt 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 werent 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 60s garage bands, 13th Floor Elevators & Sky Saxon & the Seeds were names to drop (even if youd never heard them), a lot of that stuff came through Lenny Kayes Nuggets series. Then there were the Stooges, the Dolls & and the VU who were references so obvious you didnt 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 elses 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 Georges traditionalist approach started to clash with Bruce & Is desire to play a more brutal, more sonic style. However, this was being done within the frame of what were basically Georges 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 (its a long story you either know or dont - 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 Georges 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 its 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 werent 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). Cant remember being called the thinking persons 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?
Thats 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 dont think anyone from Wire can presume to know what all those others were up to, we didnt 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?
Im 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 70s, which in a way pre-figured the early 80s 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 its 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 70s 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. 80s 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 its roots in a deliberately constructed collision of a kind of de-formalised heavy metal shorn of its 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 its probably right.
This work is way more conceptualised than anything we did in the 70s or 80s, yet is strangely possibly the first Wire album/material that is actually constructed as rock!
We arent really interested in becoming some kind of tradition so the work will always attempt resolute modernity. Despite its 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 doesnt matter if a particular tune is a bit idiotic because its over before youve had a chance to really work out if its 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 its 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 wasnt 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 arts 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 its 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 dont 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. Weve 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?
Its not really for us to say. Our aim is always to be part of the contemporary artistic landscape but you cant 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 & its 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. Its 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 Marxs Table:
Thom would love to be this good:
Youve come along way, for such a short stay,
And Im sad to say, its too late to pray.
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. Dont 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 Cant Leave Now:
Post apocalyptic holiday snaps from the very edge of the forbidden zone. The authority has evaporated only the confusion remains.
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. Its nobodys fault but mine (or ours, if youve advanced sufficiently to take that on board) Im 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 Dont Understand
The Agfers Of Kodack
You Cant Leave Now
Non Flagside (Side 2)
Mr Marxs Table
Read & Burn
MAIL ORDER www.posteverything.com/pinkflag
The Katestar tMx10 June 2003