Tag Archives: MEKONS


FOREWORD: This interview with the Mekons marvelous leader-by-default, Jon Langford, promoted the combo’s celebratory ’02 LP, simply entitled OOOH! In September ’02, the Mekons played three theme nights, each concentrating on a different era. I caught the CBGB set (early period Mekons) and the Mercury Lounge one (late period), but missed Maxwells. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.


Taking their name from TV’s Dr. Who, resilient British rockers, the Mekons, began as disaffected art school counterrevolutionaries from Leeds living the questionable punk rock dream. Barely able to play their instruments, the amateurish combo began recording what founder Jon Langford described as “vaguely irrelevant overlong songs” way back in 1977, culminating in ‘79s developmental, if awkward, The Quality Of Mercy Is Not Strnen.

After an early breakup, the Mekons regrouped for Country-folk-inspired post-pink classics such as ‘85s Fear & Whiskey, ‘88s calypso-reggae-tinged So Good It Hurts, and a series of resounding ‘90s albums that broadened their formidable reach and built upon an already avid cult status.

To celebrate their 25th anniversary as recording artists, this revolving lineup of Chicago transplants, grounded by Langford, guitarist Tom Greenhalgh, vocalist Sally Timms, fiddler Susie Honeyman, and drummer Steve Goulding, have unleashed the penetratingly triumphant OOOH! (short for Out Of Our Heads).


Reaffirming their position as fanciful warriors strutting beyond doomsday gloom, the Mekons follow up ‘00s brilliant Journey To The End Of The Night with another undeniable accomplishment. Dealing with the spiritual dislocation of our present tumultuous world climate, OOOH! drifts through turmoil and volatility in a sorrowful manner, offering hauntingly anthemic white Gospel illuminations amidst the fury and tension.

The solemn communal requiem, “One X One,” courageously pits united vigilance against the discontentment propagated by overzealous war monarchs. The war-torn, Timms-sung “Hate Is The New Love” whispers heart rendering resolve while the Fairport Convention-styled Gaelic folk of “This Way Through The Fire” shines a dim flashlight beyond the ominous post-Apocalyptic flames.

Between breaks from mixing new tracks for an upcoming record by the Sadies, which sets Langford’s lyrics to their Country-affected arrangements, I spoke to the unqualified leader of the band via phone.

I thought OOOH! dealt primarily with the religious warfare surrounding the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.


JON: I don’t wanna be like Courtney Love and say we predicted it. But the songs were written and recorded before 9-11. It’s funny how things take on different resonance’s afterwards. An alternative title was Dangerous Bibles, but we didn’t want to make it too topical.

There’s a hymnal religiosity throughout.


I grew up in Wales, where people sing at football (soccer) and rugby games. That was the sort of soundtrack. They’re really good folk songs. Tom (Greenhalgh) and I have been listening to a lot of old Alan Lomax prison and church songs. We’d been doing some art and thinking of putting text and words together. So inevitably we were looking at social historian, E.P. Thomspon’s Witness Against The Beast, which goes into a Lipstick Traces-like look at where poet William Blake came from (examining cultural milieu).

Critic Bob Christgau credits the Mekons with prefiguring alternative Country and the whole No Depression era. Do you get respect form Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar, former Uncle Tupelo progenitors?


We get no respect from Jeff Tweedy at all. No. I’m kidding. I’ve done kid’s concerts in Chicago with him and Tim Rutili from Califone recently. We have an occasional trio, the Dads Of Wiggle Worms. We have singing classes our kids have joined in a Chicago folk school.

The same Mekons lineup that recorded ‘85s recently re-released Fear & Whiskey did OOOH! as founding member Ken Lite has returned.


Ken’s been involved with the Mekons, but not live. He’s a collaborator with ideas and we’ve done art together. Being in a band during the ‘90s seemed boring (Ed. Note: due to DJ culture). So we got into art.

What are you trying to express through your art?


I’m trying to express the difficulty of self-expression. (smirky laughter) What’s interesting about the Mekons is we’re a smaller model of a way of working which is on the fringes and not about fame and money. A group of people working together doesn’t have to be about a battle of egos, but instead a community-based surrogate family. The only way to leave is in a box. We’ve been loved and regaled in England. People say we’re the greatest band in the world. Then we confound expectations by not delivering the goods commercially. People would say we’re the next big thing. Then we’d fly off on different tracks, so there was revenge for us to remain in existence.

Well. Mainstream radio could lick my ass. Are you telling me OOOH!’s enchanting sing-along, “Thee Olde Trip To Jerusalem” can’t be enjoyed fully next to spiritually awakened moldy oldies like “Oh Happy Day” or the Byrds “Turn! Turn! Turn!” It has a catchy hook line that’d be nestled next to the Beatles, Kinks, and Doors in the ‘60s.


That’s the trouble. Those were different times. When I was a kid, radio was the main outlet playing new stuff by Roxy Music and David Bowie. That turned me around. Even the Sex Pistols hit Britain’s Top Of The Pops with “Pretty Vacant.” Now, radio has the lid on very tight. The solidity of constipation of mainstream corporate rock radio actually helps people like us since we have our own clearly defined space to move around in now. The structure of that industry bares no resemblance to what we do.

The spiritual awareness of the melancholic, low key testament, “Take His Name In Vain” and the snappy “Only You And Your Ghost Will Know” counter the sexually deviant titillation of the explicit “Tourettes” (from ‘98s Me) and “Come And Have A Go If You Think You’re Hard Enough.”


Usually when we start an album, we have a theme in mind for the collection of songs written. There are ethical issues going on within the subject matter of how you exist.

Singer Sally Timms’ rhyming scheme for “Dancing In My Head” vaguely reminded me of Pussy, King Of The Pirates, the album you did with poet Kathy Acker.


The influence Kathy Acker had on us was clear. But the album was one of our least understood and most disliked albums. Yet we had a great time working with her.

“Bob Hope And Charity” seems to be an ironic paean concerning Hope’s touring duties entertaining wartime American troops.


There was a myth concerning a Welsh king who had his head chopped off while fighting the Irish. He said, ‘Cut my head off and carry me back to Wales’ and he went on to entertain the troops for eighty years. There’s all sorts of myths about the singing head and the magic of the power of voice – like Bob Hope entertaining the troops.

Do you hope downloading will destroy major label greed?


(Sinister laughter) I’m interested in getting paid but the majors are the enemy. Downloading is cool in the sense that Wilco put out their album on the internet and then when it came out, everyone bought it. The majors are too retarded to benefit from it and generate money for artists. All they think about is penalizing artists and keeping the sweets for themselves. They’ll get washed away as they get more extreme ideas how to squeeze money out of people and prevent the free passage of music and information. You can’t stop people from finding good music, but they keep pumping out crap for radio.


FOREWORD: The Mekons have been around forever, it seems. And they continue to release albums and work with many respected underground artists. Led by mainstays Jon Langford and Tom Greenhalge, the Mekons intuitively incorporate folk and country into righteous political punk. I’ve watched them perform at CBGB, Bowery Ballroom, and Mercury Lounge over the years. And they’ve always hit the spot.

Remarkably, Langford’s found time to be involved in ‘90s-initiated bands, the Waco Brothers and Pine Valley Cosmonauts, as well as sassy ‘80s crew, the Three Johns. Living in Chicago for a long spell, British-born Langford’s paintings have been displayed at Maxwells in Hoboken and been used as artwork for seminal Delaware microbrewery, Dogfish Head. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.

The term ‘underground rock’ might as well have been coined specifically to describe legendary underrated band the Mekons. Relying more on rootsy folk and rural country than just amateur ambition and flailing guitars, this Leeds combo bridged the gap separating British pub rockers Brinsley Schwarz, Love Sculpture, and Ducks Deluxe from late ‘70s punk nihilists the Sex Pistols and the Clash.

Founders Jon Langford (vocals/ guitar/ melodica) and Tom Greenhalgh (guitar/ piano/ autoharp), plus charter members Sally Timms (vocals), Susie Honeyman (fiddle), Rico Bell (accordion), Sarah Corina (bass) and Steve Goulding (drums), have maintained a respectable cult following by making consistently compelling albums while continually riling against new age rhetoric.

From its mellow, Old World fiddle ballad, “Myth,” to its chanted closer, “Last Night On Earth,” the understated 12-song Journey To The End Of The Night (Quarterstick) further refines the Mekons ambitious sound. Timms’ quivering voice counters Langford’s cigarette-stained baritone on both the pristine orchestration “Last Weeks Of The War” and the anthemic “Cast No Shadow.” She soars majestically on the ominous lament “City Of London,” then solemnly purrs through the cinematic trip-hop noir of “The Flood.” The accordion-laced “Neglect” comes closest to capturing the sinister folkloric revelations of their early Sin recordings while the atonal autoharp confessional “Out In The Dark” (featuring Langford’s gravelly, laryngitis-affected growl) appears in its raw demo form.

The Mekons astonishing canon includes ‘85s Fear & Whiskey, ‘86s The Edge of the World, ‘88s So Good It Hurts, and ‘93s I Love Mekons, to name a few faves. A short stint with major label A & M resulted in the staggering Mekons Rock ’n’ Roll and the quirky “F.U.N.” EP, but never afforded the combo the mass exposure they so rightly deserved. Timms has recorded a few swell country-imbibed discs in her spare time while Langford moonlights in the Pine Valley Cosmonauts and the Waco Brothers (and spent time during the ‘80s in the fabulous Three Johns). For a neat compilation of demos, remixes, and lost tracks, try the recently issued two volume Hen’s Teeth.

How’d you become interested in pursuing music full time?

TOM GREENHALGH: Before punk happened, I never really thought it was possible to be in a band. But when we heard punk, we thought some of us could do that.

JON LANGFORD: I was playing in bands since I was 15 because when you’re playing football, it’s all guys. We’d do cover versions of Black Sabbath and Hawkwind. In ‘77, with the Sex Pistols, the Clash, and the Damned, possibilities seemed unlimited. The shockwave was so great because everyone was affected by it. It’s so different now. Things happen now and nobody ever knows. Everyone’s looking in different directions. The major labels suck so bad.

The latest album benefits from a certain restraint.

JON: We restrained ourselves from recording it too fast and putting stuff on we wouldn’t be happy with – which we do sometimes when we run out of money. We thought about it a little more. The album hangs together tight. Different styles filter through the band, but the tone of the album may be stylistically different from song to song. There’s a pitch to it that’s pretty level. But we never made up our minds and said ‘this one is going to be a reggae (number).’ We never really jam.

How do the Mekons latest songs generally come about?

JON: This album has some simple melodic ideas that were pretty specific. We got Kelly Hogan, Neko Case, and Edith Frost in to record for only one evening. But that set off the album quite nicely because we were concentrating a lot more on vocals. There was a specific movement with this record to write songs that were more personal, confessional, and immediately engaging. I like songs I can sit and play on acoustic guitar. But that bloke from Wire, Bruce Gilbert, said ‘I can’t understand why you have a need for songs anymore.’ He thinks it’s year zero and with techno it’s obsolete to carry a guitar. I don’t like the idea of people thinking we’re too old to rock. That’s why people get into the folk thing. You could do that until you’re very old. It’s a career move. We’re all gonna peak when we’re 65.

Is it more comforting being on a respectable indie label rather than a corporate major?

JON: We’re finally turning the corner and making money. The majors are really unpleasant. You get a lot of people poking around in your life. It’s much easier now. There’s absolutely no pressure on us. I hope the majors go out of business. Internet access is fine but I worry about its faddishness. I think it will wither and drop off. I’m worried about corporations hiring all these drones to extract money from internet technology. We don’t see a need to go to a studio to record our next album when we can record at home now.

How’d you become interested in pursuing music full time?

TOM GREENHALGH: Before punk happened, I never really thought it was possible to be in a band. But when we heard punk, we thought some of us could do that.

JON: I was playing in bands since I was 15 because when you’re playing football, it’s all guys. We’d do cover versions of Black Sabbath and Hawkwind. In ‘77, with the Sex Pistols, the Clash, and the Damned, possibilities seemed unlimited. The shockwave was so great because everyone was affected by it. It’s so different now. Things happen now and nobody ever knows. Everyone’s looking in different directions. The major labels suck so bad.

Tell me about the reggae-splashed “Tina,” which seems to be a politically motivated song?

JON: It was just some bits of words that got pushed around and re-arranged well. Tina means There Is No Alternative. That’s the Margaret Thatcher/ Tony Blair slogan. It’s like nothing else will work so this is the way to do things. It’s very anti-democratic. You do think the world will get better, but through socialism eventually. But the corporate people are changing quicker than the people on the left. They’ve moved the goal posts so far. We don’t need chest beating right wingers going on about immigration. They’re an anachronism. You don’t have to say you hate immigrants, you just fuck them over. The right clings to the idea that it’s about the nation’s state when it’s really about corporations. It was amazing when the apartheid struggle ended in South Africa and Nelson Mandela was freed. But it was a battle that had already been fought.

Would you consider yourselves anarchists or existentialists?

JON: I’m definitely a socialist in a broad sense in believing society should take responsibility. In America, the baby boomers were afraid they’d get drafted for Viet Nam, so rich kids protested. When the war was over, they weren’t radicals.

TOM: We have a suspicion against subscribing to one notion of democracy. There’s no need for people to die of poverty. People take for granted that society has to rely on Thatcherism.

-John Fortunato