reviews may 2005

Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation (MVD) DVD/CD
It is 1987. I've got spots. And a side-parting that won't stay. And a bag full of homework. And a Sunday job pushing trolleys on the Makro car park in Halesowen. And a fledgling collection of hip hop. I've recorded it onto cheap C90s to listen to on my cheap walkman (door sellotaped on, batteries blu-tacked in, volume wheel hanging off) on the bus to college, at college, and on the bus home from college. I've just met the girl I'll be living with nearly 20 years later but I haven't yet managed to wean her off The Psychedelic Furs, Depeche Mode and The Sisters of Mercy and onto Run DMC, LL Cool J, Eric B, Boogie Down Productions and the band that's currently occupying all my waking hours, Public Enemy.

It's now late 1987 or maybe early 1988. I'm in the back of a rusty Maxi on the way to the Birmingham Hummingbird, giddy with anticipation. Beddy, the chap I sit next to in Maths, parks down an empty back street miles from the gig. The car has the fuel efficiency of an oil tanker and the same turning circle, so I can't complain if he takes the easy way out but my legs wobble as we walk back across town. I worry that I've brought a shopping list instead of my ticket. I start to panic that perhaps I've rubbed the ink off what might be the ticket, clutched so tightly in the sweaty hand jammed tightly in my pocket. I start to draw it out. Then I'm worrying: what if the wind blows and takes the ticket with it? Perhaps I'll leave it where it is and take my chances on the door.

This is my first gig. I've been listening to Yo! Bum Rush The Show on repeat since it came out. I know all the words. I don't know what all the words mean. I don't live in the ghetto. I'm not black. I live in the middle of a vast council estate in the Black Country. I never have too much posse and I don't know anybody whose Uzi weighs a ton (although I know a few people whose sister comes close.)

We're in. The ticket was in my pocket. The ink hadn't rubbed off. I'm in. I immediately buy a t-shirt, one I will wear pretty much every week until it disintegrates 10 or 12 years later. It's black with Public Enemy screenprinted diagonally across the front and the brother in the crosshairs logo on the back. I pull it on. I'm in. Hijack are playing and their DJ scratches the 1812 overture. They tear the place up but I'm wishing them off the stage. The She-Rockers are playing. Professor Griff is producing their single, someone tells me. I don't care. Get off. I'm only here for one thing. The lights are back down. A klaxon is blaring. Two S1Ws strut harshly but simultaneously camply in step onto the stage, toting their Uzis, scowling. Griff strides out, scowls, stares, throws a couple of shapes. A beat drops and Griff barks a few lines about the revolution before Chuck D and Flavor Flav shoot in from the wings.

Dressed all in white, Flavor is a hypermanic hypermaniac, hyped up on the tangible expectancy of the crowd. He sprints across the back of the stage and onto the speaker stacks, lurches off and crosses again trying to keep an imaginary football up on his knees. His arms flail, the oversize clock hanging round his neck swings violently, his kooky lop-sided grin is somehow wider than his face and his plastic seaside sunglasses give no clue where he's really looking as he whine-drawls his half-nonsense lines into the mic, counterpointing Chuck's bass back-to-basics.

White head-to-toe also, Chuck D is a lesson in working the crowd as he spreads the word. Like a tightly coiled spring he releases energy in abrupt bursts, every other rhyme punctuated by a left or right hook or a finger in the face of someone in authority. If you could plug him into the grid he'd light up half of Birmingham for a week so intense is his presence, so powerful his delivery.

The young Jimmy in the crowd is blown away. The gig is seared into his memory. That gig was years ago. That gig was yesterday.

In fact that gig's today. Well, almost. The first in a series of Public Enemy archive DVDs brings that experience back to life. It's a bit earlier than the Hummingbird gig - the Hammersmith Odeon, November 1987 - but everything else is exactly the same. You can't live in the past (although I try) but this DVD is a welcome second chance to see PE at their raw best.

The live footage is cut with backstage clips that show a young Chuck still perfecting his explanation of the PE manifesto in interviews and giving Flavor some grief for spilling orange juice in the dressing room. Outside, Flavour is outdone by a totally random old woman who tries to take his pulse and then hilariously bursts into song and some berk who looks horribly like Nigel Kennedy bumps into the band wearing a bomber jack with a 12" stuck to the back. There's a bonus CD with audio footage of the gig which anyone with a copy of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back will recognise (all the live samples from that record are from this gig) and a bunch of remixes the pick of which is DJ Spooky's Drums of Death remix of Public Enemy Number One.

We saw the band again a few months after the Hummingbird gig (we went on the bus, and the future missus came along that time) supporting Run DMC. Griff had said one or two controversial things about Jews and wasn't allowed into the country and the band knew that the second album was in the bag, was like nothing before it, and was going to be massive. The show was still tight and they still rocked and I still bought another t-shirt, but the chance to see them doing it for the first time, when it was all new to them as well, had gone.

Until now.

Vanity Project 13
Most 'zines tend to be the work of one hand, one wayward soul whose stamp is apparent in the style and content of their labour (of love, hopefully). The Vanity Project employs a team of writers and reviewers (though the bulk of content is provided by the main man Skif) in a straight ahead, whimsy-free format that just gets on with it. "It" being supplying us with interviews (Scaramanga Six/Wrath Records, Akira the Don, and Snap Ant), label focuses (My Secret Garden and Suilven), and lots of live and record reviews. It's free, appears with industrial regularity, and you should really all be getting this by now. (Laurence)

Butterfly Crush 7
This is Peter's 'zine, and continues along it's individual path. Page borders are countless cut'n'pasted photos of a multitude of varied faces, reviews are large and long, and in this issue the interviews are with The Conspiracy and Lights Out Asia. It's £1.30 inc p + p from 12 Glenarm Square, Belfast, BT10 0FD. (Laurence)

I'd Rather Be Fat Than Be Confused 7
This is Ben's 'zine, he seems to have been unlucky in love recently - but this hasn't prevented the production of the bulkiest issue so far. Interviews with (big breath) Nullsleep, Bit Shifter, The Broken Family Band, Charlie Parr, Early Winter Recordings, and Misplaced Music. Lot's of reviews, and some tangential excursions into Ben's world make this a publication that's hard not to like. A free CD too, courtesy of the Big Eyes/Early Winter Recordings people ensuring this a package that's very much worth getting. Costs £3 (inc p+p) from Ben Sharpe, First Floor Flat, 8 Attenborough Lane, Chilwell, Nottingham, NG9 5JW. (Laurence)

Vanity Project 14
Forsooth! The review for issue 13 is no sooner despatched to the boss robot than issue 14 arrives in the post. This one has interviews with The Magic Band, Dawn Of The Replicants, and Hackpen Records. I forgot to mention Skif's pithy but elegant use of words in the review of issue 13, that holds good for 14 too. (Laurence)

Polka Dot Ceiling 7
Aw flamin' 'eck, a poetry 'zine - just what we all need really. Well actually this isn't half bad at that. In fact despite all prejudice, the poetry contained within from a variety of contributors is very good on the whole. Some cut'n'paste picture compositions are a bit peurile but if you think "Poetry For The Fucked" might mean you then get a copy. £2 from (Laurence)

Sidney Skeleton's Syndicate, Sidney Skeleton's Syndicate (Sparticus Stargazer) LP
A quixotic release even by the quixotic standards of this noble label. Could have been recorded forty years ago, or forty minutes ago - who knows? A small jazz combo sets up in a corner of your local, they look like Frank Skinner's band (you know, off the telly) with dicky bows and everything. Then some tall skinny bloke with bird's nest hair and tatty jeans slouches over a microphone and sings in a throwaway, couldn't-care-less croon as an assortment of old standards are given an airing. You're not sure quite what to make of all this, and when it's last orders and the bands packing up to go - you're still not sure. (Laurence)

Mittens On Strings, 4 song E.P (Pickled Egg) 7"
Alt-country you could call this I suppose. Another one? I hear you pout, and pretty authentic all round too I reply. When the jews harp came in I was back on the ol' porch in that ol' rocking chair sipping moonshine again, like it was only yesterday. But the off-centre beauty of the songs is more than enough to charm the most cynical of hearts in the end. (Laurence)

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