Saturday, April 8, 2017
I first heard of the Jesus and Mary Chain in early 1984 but I didn't know it at the time. At a party in London, a Scottish hairdresser called Alan, who had recently moved to the capital from his home town of East Kilbride, told me about two brothers he knew of who spent most of their time in their bedrooms listening to the Velvet Underground and writing and recording songs. They hardly ever went out as even the littlest kids on their estate would shout abuse at them because of their black clothes, backcombed hair and sunglasses in all weathers; but, Alan told me, they had formed a band and, because they struggled to get gigs, they were moving to London. "They're going to be fucking massive," Alan said. If he told me their band name it didn't register; but the other details did - they sounded so appealing. And within a few months, another Alan had stumbled across them and by the end of the year - on the back of a wave of feedback and riot-strewn gigs - I, and everyone, knew the name of Jim and William Reid's band.
It's been a long and winding road from that controversial genesis to their current tour, which took in the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill under a warm April sky on Thursday night: a now-classic debut album that stayed close to their early principles; a follow up with melodic Top 30 hits; success in the USA in the early 90s; sibling hatred and a final album recorded on separate continents before an inevitable split as the millennium approached. Then, a live reformation in 2007 followed by a decade of intermittent and sporadic activity before an unlikely new album release this March, 19 years after the last. Damage and Joy may have been a long time in the making, and the new songs rub shoulders with tracks from 10-year-old side projects, but it all hangs together to make a cracking album.
The set opener, Amputation, is one of Jim's older songs, previously released online under a different title, but it could easily pass for mid-period Mary Chain, a time well represented here with seven songs from the albums Automatic and Honey's Dead. Jim takes sole responsibility for vocals and apologises in advance for his singing on Some Candy Talking as he finds it difficult. There is no need, as his deep world-weary tone sounds perfect. A man next to me complains that the vocals are being drowned out by the guitars. They always were, I say; that's the point. William spends the whole set bent over his guitar, his frizzy mop back-lit Eraserhead-style. With an additional guitarist in the line-up, they create quite a racket; it's loud but not loud enough the same man complains; this time I agree with him.
There is nothing from Stoned and Dethroned or Munki but the songs from Darklands sound magnificent, especially the hyperbolic gloom of Nine Million Rainy Days which starts off the encores; but the encores are all about Psychocandy with a quartet of songs from their debut kicking off with the peerless Just Like Honey. And then we end up where we started with the new album: War On Peace finishes a stellar gig as Jim Reid opines, "I once shone but now I'm old." They might be older but they're still shining.