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NEW KIDS IN TOWN

Lost Souls Of Leeds

May 03, 1987|RICHARD CROMELIN

Band: The Mekons.

Personnel: Jon Langford, guitar, vocals; Tom Greenhalgh, guitar, vocals; Kevin Lycett, bass; Steve Goulding, drums; Susie Honeyman, fiddle; Sally Timms, vocals; Robert Worby, keyboards.

History: Langford, Greenhalgh and Lycett are the only remaining originators of this loose-knit crew, which has seen more than 75 members pass through its ranks. Born in 1977 as a raw, undisciplined punk sextet in Leeds in northern England, the Mekons released two singles in 1978 before signing with Virgin Records, which released several singles and the 1979 album "The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strnen." Dropped by Virgin, they put out their second album in 1980: "Devils Rats and Piggies a Special Message From Godzilla" (on Red Rhino) had no name or title on the jacket--typically, the group planned to inscribe each copy by hand; just as typically, they never did. In 1980 the Mekons retired from performing, but continued to write and play. They issued a 12-inch single and an abrasive album of outtakes and drunken dialogue, "The Mekons Story" (with liner notes by the late gonzo rock critic Lester Bangs). In 1983 they toured Holland and were soon working hard on the benefit circuit in support of the British miners' strike. "The English Dancing Master" (on CNT), a 1983 EP, marked the beginning of their folk direction. They then encountered Cajun music and became absorbed with American country music, and 1985's "Fear and Whiskey" LP (on their own label, Sin, a salute/parody of Sun Records) combined their North country roots with the spirit and sound of the American South. They began gathering U.S. critical support, and in a prolific 1986 they issued "Crime and Punishment" (an EP), "The Edge of the World" (an LP dedicated to the late Richard Manuel of the Band) and another EP, "Slightly South of the Border." The Mekons signed with Minneapolis label Twin/Tone this year, and in March released their first U.S. LP, "Honky Tonkin' With the Mekons."

Sound: After their early periods of punk minimalism and eclectic experimentation, the Mekons settled on country music--the music of the dispossessed--as the vehicle for their harrowing explorations of lost souls in troubled times. The closest reference point for U.S. listeners might be the Pogues, though the Mekons' anarchic approach tolerates a fair degree of amateurism. But Honeyman's fiddle work is skilled, the vocals rough and riveting, and the songs often superbly chilling.

Shows: Club Lingerie, Friday and Saturday.

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