Noise Annoys

You can blame this one on Daniel. I really wanted to write about something a little more off the beaten track; the role of music in Len Deighton's classic Harry Palmer (but which do not mention Harry) spy thrillers from the ;60s for example. So, what does Daniel do? He challenges: "if any Pop Trivia Kings or Queens out there can tell me something about the original ('Faith'), apparently by Manicured Noise and written by one S. Walsh, I'd be grateful." That was at the end of his Michael Head / Pale Fountains / Shack story, if you recall.

Now, I cannot really claim my crown, for I'd never realised that Shack covered 'Faith', but I do know a thing or two about Steve Walsh and Manicured Noise. And I do mean only a thing or two, sadly. There is a great story there, but it is not for me to tell. Go ask Jon Savage or someone. I can, however, offer up a few bullet points.

Now this may sound suspiciously Georges Perec-esque, but there are many Steve Walshes and it would be wise to link a number of them here. The ones we are interested in never played for Leicester nor were they ever very fat and very popular DJs on the fearsome soul, jazz and funk circuit.

In '76, we will start with a Steve Walsh as a passing player in the Flowers of Romance, a mythical punk outfit with fleeting input from Keith Levine and Viv Albertine and a supporting cast then unknown.

Our next Steve Walsh is a contributor to Sniffin' Glue, Mark Perry's infamous Punk Rock fanzine. Now even I am not old enough to have front line experience here, but you are as capable as me of rummaging among the debris and doing a spot of research. You would find Steve Walsh's contributions included an entirely inspirational interview with The Clash, where genial Joe Strummer proclaims "like trousers, like brain." He then follows through important trains of thought about The Clash being for change and creativity, and condemns punk colleagues for being about just entertainment. Perhaps most importantly, The Clash explain that they are into rubbish; using what other people have thrown out. That perhaps more than anything pinpoints the heart of the punk importance: a culture of search and salvage so at variance with the later blatant consumerism.

That brings us back to: "Like trousers, like brain." Lawrence used to talk about the significance of Subway Sect and The Pop Group wearing '50s style pre-r'n'r pleated front trousers with turn-ups, like Sinatra and the Rat Pack. I only mention that as our next Steve Walsh writes for Zig Zag and you can discover that his contributions there included features on Subway Sect and The Pop Group. These were revolutionary tracts and their importance resounds still.

Briefly, though, I should explain that Zig Zag was a monthly-ish publication that evolved from left field hippy roots (lots of Love, Byrds, etc) and discovered a new mischievous lease of life under the stewardship of Kris Needs at the time of the punk explosion. You can probably find out more in Kris' memoirs, but let's just say Zig Zag's erratic passage led to many a revolutionary spirit finding important signposts.

So, yes, Steve Walsh on Subway Sect in Zig Zag #76, September 1977: it is here they really come out with 'we oppose all rock'n'roll' angle, and they are talking about Debussy and Satie and Abba, and the accompanying photo of the drummerless Sect is awesome. Standing outside a hairdressers, 'Midweek Jubilee Cut and Blow £2.75' in the window, and they look so great: Hush Puppies, jumpers and trousers a size wrong, suit jackets and sneers.

The Pop Group interview in the April / May '78 edition was even more remarkable. Miles Davis, Tom Waits, Peirre Henri, dub, Gavin Briars, Phillip Glass, Booker T, bebop. No, it's not Rob's next 'Listen Hear' piece. These are names/references Steve Walsh cannot resists dropping, and this is where The Pop Group describe themselves as "the beatniks of tomorrow." And they were just kids thenÉ You need to see these, and if the urge is there, you'll find them.

Your next Steve Walsh can be found in Manicured Noise, say towards the end of '78, looking to translate so many ideas into a new form of expression. Like many at the time, maybe the ideas outstripped the ability and the resources. Maybe that is what made it all so much fun.

March 1979 would have Manicured Noise out on tour with The Pop Group, with Alternative TV and Linton Kwesi Johnson in tow. The Pop Group's extreme 'She Is Beyond Good and Evil' has just been released and they play at St Paul's church in Covent Garden. I loved that idea then, and I love it now.

If my memory serves me well, you can find me later that year in our kitchen, doing my homework, and Manicured Noise are in session on Kid Jensen's early evening show. I recall something special, but will probably never have the chance to know for sure.

By the end of the year, Manicured Noise have signed to Pre, a shiny new pop off-shoot of Chrysalis, where they will be label mates with Scars, Delta 5, Gregory Isaacs and Prince Far I (though I could be wrong on that last one) and that's pretty fine company for anyone to find one's self, though Pre do cultivate an anti-Midas touch.

The first single for Pre was 'Metronome' and you will be able to pinpoint the date of its release as it came out the same week as Orange Juice's opening salvo 'Falling and Laughing'. Both singles had Moscow Olympics theme flipsides, oddly. Possibly the last glamorous Olympics with the lure of the Cold War and Bolsheviks and Charlie Muffin and Le Carré.

'Metronome' was furiously funky, very clipped and tense, and a little ahead of the pack. You could say it was the missing link between The Pop Group's 'Thief of Fire' and Haircut 100's 'Favourite Shirt' and the enclosed postcard looks that way. It would be kinder to mention the early Talking Heads though, and stress that brass had yet to become a clichŽ and symbol of creative bankruptcy.

The promise of 'Metronome' was fully delivered a little later in 1980 with the release of 'Faith', one of the great lost pop classics of that time along with 'Tell Me Why' by Life and 'Revolutionary Spirit' by Wild Swans. 'Faith' is as fatalistic as Subway Sect's 'Ambition' (a close cousin) and as purposeful as Dexy's 'Dance Stance' (a blood brother), and that's about all you need to know. I'm sure you can still find copies to check for yourself. After that, well, the strange thing is I don't really know. I remember a solo Steve Walsh single which irritatingly had that early-ish '80s everything but the kitchen sink sound like Scott Walker's The Climate of The Hunter or a Pale Fountains' single, but that's a very vague memory and could be inaccurate.

I don't know really. There have been a lot of Steve Walshes since, but not for us. As I said, I have no idea Shack had covered 'Faith', though I have a strange memory of being at a 'secret' Felt show at The Black Horse and being approached by an Alan McGee and being asked if I knew 'Faith' by Manicured Noise. "Yeah, yeah, great" I say, and he nods approvingly and disappears.

So, can anyone else join the dots and fill in the gaps?

© Kevin Pearce 1999.


Here is my plea to Pop Trivia Royalty: if Michael Head and The Strands' The Magical World of The Strands is CD MEGA 01, and the astonishing Karen Dalton reissue of It's So Hard to Tell Who's Going To Love You The Best is CD MEGA 03, what did Megaphone issue here in-between?

E-mail Kevin with the answer: