A side group started in 1982 by Mekons co-founder Jon Langford, the Three Johns, originally made up of Langford, John Hyatt, Phillip "John" Brennan, and a drum machine, specialized in abrasive, politically charged, danceable rock. Sounding almost nothing like Langford's main band, the Johns were a silly-serious bunch of political and cultural provocateurs. Recording during the height of Margaret Thatcher's ill-conceived Tory rebellion, the Johns were openly antagonistic to this new, conservative...
A side group started in 1982 by Mekons co-founder Jon Langford, the Three Johns, originally made up of Langford, John Hyatt, Phillip "John" Brennan, and a drum machine, specialized in abrasive, politically charged, danceable rock. Sounding almost nothing like Langford's main band, the Johns were a silly-serious bunch of political and cultural provocateurs. Recording during the height of Margaret Thatcher's ill-conceived Tory rebellion, the Johns were openly antagonistic to this new, conservative vision of Britain's future. And while their elliptical and epigrammatic lyrics might not offer the sloganeering that would easily identify them as lefties, certainly there were enough hints dropped along the way to remove any doubt. Unlike other rock agit-prop, the Johns played a fairly accessible version of polemical post-punk anti-pop that embraced big, messy arena-rock-sounding guitars and hard, repetitive, quasi-hip-hop dance beats. Perhaps the most subversive thing about the Johns is that, despite Langford's and Hyatt's goofy vocals, they were, in their own weird way, pure pop for now people, especially those who hated Thatcher. With collective tongue planted firmly in cheek, the Johns took on British and American obsession with materialism, the diabolical Reagan-Thatcher lovefest, the machinations of the pop music industry, all of it done with a great sense of humor mixed in with genuine fear and horror. Frequently hard to pin down, the Johns reveled in being slippery, exhibiting a love and loathing for pop music. In some respects, the Johns resembled friends and fellow Leeds, England mates the Gang of Four, but where the Gang of Four was dour and serious (bordering on academic), the Johns were loutish and boisterous, which when combining politics and rock roll can, ultimately, be a good thing. After the release of Eat Your Sons in 1990, Jon Langford turned his attention full-time to the Mekons, putting the Three Johns on what has turned out to be an indefinite sabbatical.
(Sleeve notes from the Dojo best of)
One of the classic mid-80s underground bands - seemingly every fanzine of the day carried an interview with them - The Three Johns opted for humour and political belligerence at a time when all around them were intent on making their guitars jangle and handing out jelly babies to audiences dressed in anoraks.
Imaginatively enough, The Three Johns were So called because they comprised three Johns - Messrs Hyatt (vocals), Langford (guitar) and Brennan (bass). Formed on Royal Wedding Day in 1981 as a collective of Leeds-based students, their career began With a run of fine 7-inch singles, two of which '- AWOL' and 'Brain Box' - are included here.
It was immediately evident that they had the capacity to write songs that combined intelligence with caustic, exquisitely observed humour. Their debut album, 'Atom Drum Bop', continued to employ a beatbox in the distinctive absence of 'proper' drummer. While all around them bands were attempting to retreat to their adolescence, songs such as 'Dr Freedom' showed The Three Johns reaching lyrical and musical maturity. Not that they were in anyway po-faced - around this time some of us were treated to the most inebriated cover on of 'Like a Virgin' known to man, beast or blonde.
Following 'Atom Drum Bop' the group applied a little more polish and restraint to the sinister rhythms of 'Death Of The European'. Despite an NME single of the week award it was released in the aftermath of the Heysel Stadium disaster and proved too topical for radio programmers - not that The Three Johns were ever regulars on the Radio 1 play list, but they were John Peel favourites . Come to think of it, who could forget their rendition of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' on their first Peel session - a shameless attempt
to ingratiate themselves with the renowned Liverpool FC supporter (five further Peel sessions followed).
'Death Of The European' was actually a vicious attack on the American destruction of European culture while 'Sold Down The River' summed up the mood of resignation which followed Thatcherism's triumphs of the mid-80s. Both confirmed The Three Johns had musical deftness which belied their perceived on-stage daftness.
Far too often the group were dismissed as A1 blokes with an ocean tanker-like capacity for beer. None of them would deny they liked the odd pint - but they were committed to excellence in writing and performing even if they never took themselves seriously. You could rely on them to cut through the austerity of any Miners' Strike benefit with their acidic stage patter and Wide-eyed enthusiasm. The music? Distinctive -is one adjective which could be ascribed to Hyatt's careering vocals. His fellow Johns backed him up with a no-breaks musical assault course which was both restlessly creative and relentlessly energetic.
The Three Johns were always musicians and drinking pals first and socialists second. The politics were important, as their only other studio album proper, 'The World By Storm' confirmed. But instead of simple rhetoric their lyrics were always expressed in non-linear ways usually dripping with sarcasm.
1988's ' The Death of Everything' included the Adrian Sherwood-produced single 'Never and Always' which is about the closest the band ever strayed towards conventional rock. But 'The King is Dead' and 'Bulishitiaco', with their shifts in tempo and rhythm, confirm they hadn't straightened their backs quite yet. A half-live, half-studio affair, shortly after its release the group played their final gig in December 1988. Babies and family commitments then took precedence. Langford continued his association with the Mekons while Hyatt's art work was exhibited in Liverpool.
How good were The Three Johns? In their early days Alan McGhee of Creation Records was desperate to book them for his club (believe it or not) the Three Johns pub in Islington. Think what he could have done with Three Johns instead of just two Gallaghers.
(From Red Muze Ltd)
This Leeds, Yorkshire pop punk band, formed on Royal Wedding Day in 1981, set themselves a characteristic precedent by being refused permission to play a "Funk The Wedding" gig because they were drunk. The line-up featured John Brennan (ex-25 Rifles; bass), John Langford (ex-Mekons; guitar) and John Hyatt (ex-Sheeny And The Goys, Another Colour; vocals). They met in Leeds while they were at college, although individually they are from Wales, Belfast and Wolverhampton. A drum machine was used in preference to an extra member, although, ironically, all three musicians were competent percussionists. They signed to CNT Records in 1982 and released two singles, one of which, "English White Boy Engineer", was a reworking of an old Mekons number. The lyrical focus of the song attacked hypocritical attitudes towards South Africa and apartheid, and the group were quickly designated as left-wing rockers, albeit heavy drinking ones: "We all have socialist convictions and obviously that comes through . . . but we're not a socialist band. We're a group of socialists who are in a band. It's a fine distinction but an important one". They quickly made their reputation via frenetic and comic live shows, even performing a version of Madonna's "Like A Virgin". A legacy of fine singles populated the independent charts, including "Pink Headed Bug", "Men Like Monkeys" and "Do The Square Thing'. 1985"s "Death Of A European" was a New Musical Express Single Of The Week, although by misfortune it emerged in the aftermath of the Heysel football tragedy and hence achieved no airplay. Unfortunately, there was insufficient success to allow the band to give up their day jobs. Langford earned his living as a part-time graphic designer for the Health Education Service, and Hyatt (who designed the band's covers) was a teacher of Fine Art at Leeds Polytechnic. Their debut album, Atom Drum Bop, bore the legend "Rock 'n' Roll versus Thatcherism', and included contributions from schoolgirl Kate Morath on oboe. They worked with Adrian Sherwood on 1987's Never And Always, while 1988"s The Death Of Everything And More was summed up by one critic as "messy, snappy, guttural". After that came a long break in their musical endeavours: "We basically stopped working after our last gig in December 1988. We'd done a US tour which was a total disaster and we didn't speak to each other after that, we were all too busy having babies and things". Hyatt produced an art exhibition at Liverpool's Tate Gallery, and Langford continued to work with the Mekons. They returned with Eat Your Sons in 1990, a concept album dealing with, of all things, cannibalism.
This casual Leeds trio — Jon Langford (guitar; also leader of the Mekons), John Hyatt (vocals, lyrics) and John Brennan (bass) — began by specializing in discordant socio-political guitar punk with trembling falsetto vocals; their career-long use of a rhythm machine rather than a live drummer has lent a unique tension to the group's sound. Some History compiles two singles (from 1982 and 1983) on one 12-inch, and is very much indicative of the trio's approach. Save for a surfacing maniacal edge, Men Like Monkeys and A.W.O.L. stake out more of the same turf. Hyatt's whining vocals would grate in large doses, but brevity — four songs each — keeps these two records from becoming downright annoying.
The Johns plunge headfirst into dance-rock on Do the Square Thing. Lyrically oblique and riddled with innuendo, the title track is, for these thrashers, an extraordinarily slick piece of extended dancefloor fodder. Surprisingly, it makes a stronger impression than their usual dirges.
Characteristics that might be tiresome if abused are kept judiciously in check on the Johns' first LP, Atom Drum Bop. The vocals don't wander unnecessarily, guitar lines are blindingly sharp and melodic and the production is crystalline. "Teenage Nightingales to Wax," "Firepits," "Do Not Cross the Line" and the odd ballad, "No Place," all help make this the trio's most fully realized endeavour.
The two succeeding four-song EPs both show continued growth towards tuneful pop. Without losing any of their bite, the A-sides offer incisive comments on some pretty heady subject matter: America's destructive influence on continental heritage ("Death of the European") and yuppiesque self-centred apathy ("Brainbox"). The B-sides are more jagged, and just as strong.
The World by Storm, released with a limited edition 7-inch live EP, is highly recommended. The Johns have honed their craft to seeming perfection: it will be difficult for them to improve on tunes like "King Car," "Torches of Liberty," "Demon Drink" and the pre-LP single, "Sold Down the River."
Langford's commitment to the Mekons, as well as his high demand as a producer, temporarily put the Three Johns on hold. But that didn't stop the group from releasing records. Demonocracy is a highly recommended compilation of singles and LP tracks. The equally enlightening Live in Chicago — the Johns' first American release — dates from June 1985 and contains renditions (some of them already issued on the World by Storm bonus EP) of such material as "Teenage Nightingales to Wax," "Death of the European," "AWOL" and "The World of the Workers," as well as a brief (and unaccredited) version of Madonna's "Like a Virgin." Deathrocker Scrapbook is accurately described on the cassette insert as "some great fun and games recorded by a very informal the Three Johns during the 1980's." A mad dash through the Johns' back pages — live appearances, outtakes, rehearsals, acoustic one-offs, etc. — captures the three in the extremely entertaining act of being themselves. Highlights: "Conversations with Freud" and "Cheap Computer."
Although the sleeve credits utterly bollix up which cuts are from where, half of The Death of Everything was recorded live in Leeds at the beginning of '88. The rest of the tracks — including the Adrian Sherwood-produced pre-LP single, "Never and Always" (a straightforward hard-rock song that sounds like PiL) — are recent/new studio efforts. Although the Johns' range now includes thundering Glitter-rock ("Spin Me Round"), droning Fallish poetry ("The King Is Dead (Four Words Too Long)") and a neat Captain Beefheart cover, this diverse album is a bit short of the band's familiar ingenuity and fire.
a favourite memory...classic introduction from John Hyatt (can't quite remember which song, i 'think' it was 'Teenage Nightingales to Wax') on UK music show The Tube, commenting on the Miner's Strike in December 1984 and the return to work of 'so-called scabs'...quote : 'It's not your mince pies that need examining and it's not your turkey that needs stuffing...', i will never, ever, forget that one... Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply.
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