Raygunesque #8: The Jesus And Mary Chain

Art & Culture

February 1985. My Pistols at the 100 Club; my first time at Shoom, my Beatles in Hamburg in leather moment, my Bowie on Top Of The Pops doing Starman: The Jesus And Mary Chain live at North London Poly. I’ve been dining out on it for almost 30 years. I was there. At the riot. And then, again, at the Electric Ballroom later that year, when the riots turned really nasty. Too young for punk rock (although I did see The Sex Pistols and coterie on the Today show with Bill Grundy, I remember running into the kitchen and telling my dear old mum some people were swearing on the telly; “I don’t know what their music sounds like,” I thought, “but I want to be part of it”). 

Thirty years of oneupmanship about seeing The Jesus And Mary Chain at their then biggest show, with support from fellow Creation bands Jasmine Minks and Meat Whiplash. It’s still being talked about today, in that Creation film, in assorted books, in old bloke’s music magazines (“I was there!”). My notoriety was enhanced by the fact that the picture used of the riot in next week’s NME featured someone who looked a bit like me right in the think of it. It wasn’t, but loads of people were coming up to me, asking me if I’d been there, what it was like and it if was me in that photograph. i never pretended it was me, but it added to my kudos of being there. It was the catalyst for a few thrilling years of pre-acid house shenanigans, buying Creation Records, writing fanzines, going to a ridiculous amount of dubious gigs, forming bands…; a bona fide punk rock moment. I saw them after those riots, once just after Psychocandy was released, in Norwich, of all places (one of the first times I’d travelled to something out of the London, a pre-cursor to rave days), another time around the release of sophomore album Darklands, where, with a stand-up drummer, it wasn’t as good. 

Almost 30 years later, I was at the Troxy, London, to see the band perform debut album Psychocandy live. It was far better than I thought it’d be, or than it had any right to be. At times, the feedback, the noise, the chaos, was nearly – nearly – as good as it had been at those legendary riot gigs… 

And as the feedback squalled around me, I noticed some things that I was sure I’d seen 30 years ago at North London Poly and Electric Ballroom. And there were some things missing. Here’s some of those things…

Five things you still see at The Jesus And Mary Chain concerts

1. People calling them the wrong thing

“Like Jesus And The Mary Chain, do you?” people used to say to me. “Er, no,” I’d correct them, “I like The Jesus And Mary Chain.” Then i’d probably have to leg it, fleeing an inevitable thump from some casual who thought I was getting a bit uppity. Such was my insistence on getting it right, that I’d get nearly as annoyed by people using JAMC (not even a proper acronym) or just, you know, the Mary Chain. As if you were a fucking insider. As if you saw them at North London Poly. You fucking didn’t. I did. At the Troxy, the venue’s own signage (on TV screens, wow, never would have imagined that happening in the future) called them Jesus And The Mary Chain. The divs. 

2. Indie couples doing that dance thing

I’d genuinely forgotten that thing that be-anoraked couples shyly holding hands together used to do at pre-acid house indie gigs. You know, the one they do when THEIR song comes on. Kind of holding hands, singing along and looking into each other’s eyes. I saw a couple doing this to Taste Of Cindy, off Psychocandy, despite the fact it was drenched in feedback. They were probably just having their moment. It would have annoyed me 30 years ago. It annoyed me now. Lou Reed would be turning in his grave, the curmudgeonly cove that he was.   

3. Stripey t-shirts

You can trace the lineage of the stripy t-shirt throughout rock n roll history, from Elvis (in Jailhouse Rock) right through to, oh, I don’t know, probably when I stopped caring about new bands or what the kids were up to. But, to my mind, it enjoyed its heyday in the post-punk, pre-acid house indie universe – a time when, as only someone as old as me would say, indie really meant independent (a bit like people who moan about remembering being able to use the word gay when they meant happy, or queer when they felt a bit ill). Except at the time, I would have hated a pigeonhole such as indie. Ugh. but that period, probably from early Orange Juice and Postcard Records through to The Jesus And Mary Chain and all who came in their wake, was a golden era. And even though it probably features in men’s magazines and Sunday supplements (“items everyone should have in their wardrobe”, if they still do those), it was good to see such a high concentration of stripey T-shirts in one place at the same time at the Troxy. I even saw the singer of a relatively obscure indie band, long since split up, wearing one. Earning me double points. 

4. People with their hands in their ears

We used to laugh in the face of people wearing earplugs. We also used to laugh out loud standing behind their backs, safe in the knowledge they’d never hear us. Even as tinnitus loomed large and a few very close friends and DJ types I know ended up sufferers and/or earplug wearers, I still feel as if it’s a bit of a cop out. The Jesus And Mary Chain gigs 30 years ago were loud, with great howls of feedback and distortion suddenly running through the venue. Heck, this was noise to riot too. But they’d always be someone stood with their fingers in their ears around the fringes of the event. This time round, I saw people with fingers in their ears, with earplugs and someone with one finger in one ear, holding a mobile phone and probably putting a message on the Facebook about how loud it was.

5. Random punks

Look at the old footage of the legendary North London Poly riot. There’s all kinds of sub-tribes there. And gigs in that era always had a proper old-fashioned punk rocker there. (One of the ones in that North London Poly gig is my old mucker Magnus, someone I haven’t seen for years, along with his then girlfriend Amy (probably Aimee, or Amie or something.) I’m still a bit saddened by the fact you don’t really see many punks around, unless you go to an anarcho-punk gig, which I did a few years back and had one of the funniest nights out I’d had for donkey’s (the toilets were packed with punks, mostly Scottish, having not-so-crafty smokes and doing glue and cider – “something to do, innit?”. (Just to redress the balance, I went from that straight down to Horse Meat Disco, just to put the disco universe back in order.) Anyway, I digress, for, just as I was lamenting the lack of punks, I only went and saw one. With a leather jacket. And The Damned logo painted in white on the back. And hair dyed two different colours – thus earning me double points. And look, over there, there’s another one. And another. And another one with something painted on his leather jacket too.

Five things you don’t see at The Jesus And Mary Chain gigs anymore

1. Riots

It's sometimes difficult to say just how exciting The Jesus And Mary Chain riots were, especially to a then impressionable teenager. I'd seen bands before – pivotal ones too (The Clash in 1981, with Futura filling a huge canvas behind them, then doing a live version of The Escapades Of Futura 2000, or, as it was known then, graffiti Rap – I have the Futura poster bought that night on my kitchen wall; Flowered Up at an acid-soaked knees-up; but those and others are another story for another day) – but little matched this for sheer adrenaline. There was an undercurrent of trouble throughout the night, a bottle lobbed from the stage here, a band member showing the hammer in his back pocket there. And when the band came on it was mayhem. The band were incredible. Ridiculously loud, falling all over the place, Bobby Gillespie resolutely keeping the beat at the back, playing drums standing up, Mo Tucker-style. And then, every now and then, you’d hear the tune – a bit of Syd’s Vegetable Man here, Upside Down there, In A Hole at another point. It was glorious. And then it all properly kicked off – a melee turned into a fracas, turned into a ruckus and then, before you knew it, a full-blown riot. Weird thing was, it was stupendously exciting, but not that scary. As a mate pinched some leads from the PA system, which was being pulled off stage and apart, along with the mixing desk, for our nascent Creation-influenced on-the-dole-band (The Excellent Scottish Football Fanzines), another rioter looked at him and aggressively stated: “What you doing?” Seeing there was little else he could reply, my pal just replied: “Nicking it.” “Great, I’ll help you,” he replied, grinning. It wasn’t necessarily a statement, nor was it about the band. It was a kind of boredom. It was making something happen. It was hugely exciting. And, on the Psychocandy gigs, due to be repeated next year, while the noise sometime approached the cacophony of those first gigs, I didn’t even see anyone spill my pint, let alone lob a bottle on stage…

2. Football Types

“This is better than Millwall,” said some young whippersnapper on the bootleg cassette we had of the North London Poly gig. The tape itself was 15 minutes of noise, followed by shouting, cheering (as the PA and mixing desk were pulled apart), laughing, the constant crunch of plastic beer glasses and more noise. You could also pick up the old bill arriving too. That line stuck with us, not least because I was Millwall. But it was completely different from Millwall in 1984. By the time of their next major London outing, just after Psychocandy’s release, and held at the Electric Ballroom, their reputation had spread. Instead of the sense of excitement, anticipation and danger, there was an undercurrent of nastiness. It wasn’t a case of if – part of the exciting chaos of the first one – it was when the riot was going to happen. No fey indie kids (actually, may be a few lurking on the fringes), but a lot of casuals and football types had turned up, drawn by the burgeoning reputation of the band. “Go on then,” the feeling was. “Let’s see what you’re made of. Then we’ll show you how we do it.” By that gig, with a towering PA brought down and some absolute nutcases roaming around, it was no longer fun. It was strange seeing Millwall lurking there, given that The Jesus And Mary Chain had played the Ambulance Station, a squat down the Old Kent Road and a beer bottle’s throw from the old Den. Some charmer from the nearby Aylesbury Estate threatened to cut open an ex’s face outside there once. Funnily enough, 30 years later, a lot of the old football lot didn’t turn up.  

3. Leather trousers

At the North London Poly gig, it seemed like every single member of every band on stage (Meat Whiplash, who made one outstanding single, recorded one great Peel session and promptly disappeared) and the Jasmine Minks, as well as The Jesus And Mary Chain themselves, were wearing leather trousers. A fair few in the audience too. It was almost certainly some kind of policy at Creation – if you had leather kecks, you were in. By 1987, they were rampant. I never had a pair, long realising that unless you were on stage, they were a no-no. It’s hard to be Jim Morrison when you’re a kid from just outside London, getting the train up to see some Creation night somewhere. And now? Well, Primal Scream stopped with the departure of dear old Throb. I can’t remember the last time I saw a bloke wearing a pair. The band had none on on the night, nor, thankfully, had anyone in the audience. And I still would never go near a pair myself.

4. Beetle crushers

These, however, I would – and still do – wear. I could even tell you the pair I was wearing in 1985. (I was rotating two pairs that year, actually, one from Shelleys for day to day wear and a gorgeous pair from Robot. They were so nice, I once managed to punch well above my weight purely on the basis of these shoes.) 1985, they were if not quite de rigeur, then for a post-punk-whatever like myself, an essential accoutrement. Sported by a few in the Love Ranch era (and Mr Weatherall at various Boy’s Own and Sabresonic moments, until he went all Childish). There was a brief comeback a few years ago, but, try as hard as I might at the Troxy gig, I couldn’t see a pair anywhere. Oh, apart from on my feet of course. I have three pairs as it stands, including a Visvim pair from the days before their pricing got ridiculous.

5. Records you haven’t heard between the bands

One of the great things about the Jesus And Mary Chain was their impeccable taste. Films, music, books – their seclusion in East Kilbride, brooding, planning, also saw them honing not only their sound, but the things that influenced their sound and thinking too. The Shangri-Las, The Birthday Party and Nick Cave, Einsturzende Neubaten and The Cramps, The Magnificent Ambersons (I think William Reid once said it was his favourite film) and Jodorowsky, Orange Juice and Subway Sect, The Fire Engines and Phil Spector, Suicide and Can… They drew the line from 60s pop through krautrock and punk with 50s rockabilly and 80s post-punk noise thrown in for good measure. They’d never have had Sisters Of Mercy playing between bands at their gigs 30 years ago. Gothic-lite was not the way it worked seeing them in 1984 or 85. But they did this time around at the Troxy. Highlight from their old influences was the appearance of Jodorowsky films on the backdrop as they were playing Psychocandy…

Demon Music has issued all The Jesus And Mary Chain albums, both as deluxe CD and DVD packages with loads of extras, and on vinyl, separately and as a lavish box set.

The Jesus And Mary Chain will be playing Psychocandy in 2015. Go and see them. Although there won’t be a riot.