Factory Records has a lot to answer for the legendary story of Ian Curtis and the ascent of Joy Division, the continuing rollercoaster saga with New Order and subsequent off-shoot projects, the haphazard, druggy swagger of the archetypal bad boys Happy Mondays who wrote a surprising amount of great songs in their short burst of creative stardom...oh and thats it....well isnt it? The next division of bands could be classed as the should-have-been-contenders A Certain Ratio, Section 25, Stockholm Monsters and Durutti Column all had a raft of quality releases cruelly ignored by the press and, if they were not being ignored, then they were being given a damn called written shoeing by narrow-minded journalists who judged that all Manchester bands sounded like Joy Division...except that they didnt.
The remaining division is made up of the one-off bands and infrequent releases that sneaked out undetected partly due, no, mainly due to the policy of Factory Records - little marketing and even less song-and-dance from either party plus a huge budget spent more on the sleeves than the recordings. The Names were one such band who recorded one awesome single that has earned respect pretty much from its release including a Single Of The Week in the music inkies and more recently an appearance on the recent Factory box set (reviewed on this site). Nightshift/I Wish I Could Speak Your Language was also given props by upcoming London fire-brands The Firm during a recent interview.
Yes, The Names were certainly in that last division but not through choice. They wanted to be loved and famous but probably didnt make enough noise themselves - well they did with their instruments but not with their mouths. Now, some 30 years later after their very first single (recorded as The Passengers) and 27 years after their only album on Crepuscule entitled Swimming, produced by Martin Hannett, The Names now want to be very very noisy indeed. Last week I travelled to Brussels to watch them play their first live date since Christmas at a launch event for a new album called Monsters Next Door, and to meet 2 members of the band who speak predominantly in one language (French), sing in another (English) and are huge in a completely different territory (Italy). The album is reviewed elsewhere on this site....meanwhile its time for some Pils, Trolls & Belly-laughs.....
Belgians love many things with a passion bordering on nerdy geek-dom.....this is good because it normally involves beer very strong beer that is twice as strong as the lager over here and 10 times as tasty. Good start my partner and I chose a glass or five of Troll beers and mingled at the event. Add in some jovial people celebrating the Brussels International Fantasy Film Festival at a massive converted warehouse (called Tours Et Taxis) on the outskirts of Brussels centre and you have a fairly unlikely venue for an album launch party. Except that the singer of the featured band knows the organizers. Fair enough. The stage was in the musty, damp and chalky old basement of the aforementioned venue and somehow this seemed ideal visually at least. After watching a couple of sound-checks with them, I coughed through the clouds of dry-ice, drank more beer, turned around and suddenly there were a couple of hundred people crammed into the show-space including friends and families of The Names. Dry ice and more coughing.......the first song starts....
Album opener and tonights set opener, I Am A Stranger Here Myself kicks off proceedings and coaxes us nearer to the stage where lead singer Michel Sordinia grabs the mike like a man would strangle a snake and the rest of the band settle into an hour-long set of memories and new beginnings. The new songs are greeted with almost as much enthusiasm as the classic old ones. Flesh Wounds must surely be a single and, on the strength of this performance, will no doubt become a crowd favourite in the years to come. Lets be sure about one thing this is not a one-off gig but an announcement for a fresh start and a string of further dates later this year. So it seems fitting to wheel out the familiar strains of Discovery during the final chords of FW confidence oozing from every pore. The audience whoops with acknowledgement and heads nod with respect. Suddenly everyone grins what a version! Other highlights of the night include a thunderous run-through of 1982 album track Shanghai Gesture, a sucked and spat-out scream through another new song, I Liked You Better When You Were Dead and the stunning, glimmering pair of encore choices with one of their shining hours, I Wish I Could Speak Your Language coupled with an even-better-version-than-the-original-version of Psychedelic Furs Heaven, a song that, in its original form on the Mirror Moves album, has always been constrained by its own arrangement and lack of power. Yet here it was positively unleashed it really was better by far.
I cant remember the last time I went to a free gig where a band put so much effort in if half the bands at Glasto put in half as much passion then there will be many happy punters this year. Even the more plaintive songs such as Friendly Fire and The Astronaut are greeted with cheers and more! in frequent bursts (not least from this writer). They did indeed give us more in the shape of the familiar favourites Calcutta and Nightshift were tight and turbulent and delivered with feeling that made the speakers crackle.
Their early gigs during the last days of the 70s included a support slot with Magazine. It seems more than a coincidence that the other amazing gig I have been to this year was that aforementioned band at the Forum. Its good to see their support from those days back with a vengeance on an equal scale.