FEATURE: Mechanical Mouse Organ – Bunch Of Fives | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Ahead of their show at Cluny 2 on Saturday 13th January, rough and ready rock and rollers Mechanical Mouse Organ to share their top five tracks by North East bands.

The Smokin’ Coconuts – Animals
If you haven’t experienced the Coconuts live, you’ve yet to fully grasp life’s nettle.  Last time I saw them, they looked like a once-proud show band, cavalierly galloping down the road to ruin, while delivering a blistering cocktail of Caribbean, Indian and African rhythms, galvanised with bursts of pure noise and hook lines that grab you by the ears and won’t let go. They embody contradiction: tight but loose, chaotic but focused; avant-jazz noiseniks forging dangerously infectious pop songs.  In the midst of this mayhem, laconic frontman, Manly Bannister delivers wittily eccentric rants that might echo Mark E Smith if he was more like Mackenzie Crook, channelling William Borroughs.
On Animals, Bannister chants “It’s so logical, completely rational, we’re all free range and multi-national, you don’t mind the taste, but we don’t mind the scandal, how about trying something cannibal?”. Says it all really.

The Exes – Mary Teresa Margaret Malone
I’m told that The Exes are holed up in a rehearsal room, bashing out a raft of new material with the intention of retiring their back catalogue. Well, if they intend to put this bona fide classic out to pasture, we’ll have it.  We’ve covered it before. The Exes were kind enough to be our Special Guests at the launch of our debut album. They opened the show in style with a storming rendition of Mary, Theresa. We closed it with the same song, hauling them on stage to sing the call and answer refrain. They had no idea we were going to do that, and their faces were a picture.
I’d like to think our cover was definitive, but it wasn’t. That honour belongs to the recording that opens their first E.P. It takes the riff to Substitute and shakes it around until it resembles the Stranglers. A razor-sharp garage punk anthem and something of a moral in these times of acquisitive excess; it tells the story of an Irish matriarch who has little, but wants for nothing: “Life lived within walking distance, six streets where everything happens…  There’s whiskey in the coffee and gin in the tea, funny at eleven, hilarious by three”.

Mos Eisley – We Are Solution
I believe you can go to college now, and learn how to make pop music. That strikes me as wrong on so many levels and a recipe for a future of formulaic, insipid elevator music. It’s also totally unnecessary. If you want to know what the perfect pop song sounds like, just listen to We Are Solution by Mos Eisley. Our drummer, Dave suffers from a moral quandary as to whether it’s OK for him to rate the album as his favourite when he produced it.
He shouldn’t worry. Everyone I know who owns this, puts it right up there among their favourites. The eternal mystery is why there aren’t millions more of those people. The influences I hear are all American (Pavement, Guided By Voices) and yet they have produced something resolutely English and tighter and more uplifting than any of those references. We Are Solution is one of those joyous bursts of euphoria that cannot help but lift your mood.  Shitty day? Stick this on, you’ll be dancing round the room.  We ripped off a bit of the melody for our song “It’s Just Love (Get Over It)” – by some distance, the most popular track on our first album. It’s a pale shadow of the song that inspired it, but former Eisleys were graceful enough to compliment us on it. Gentlemen as well as geniuses.

The Lake Poets – Vane Tempest
In the 1980’s, the Thatcher government threw heavy industry in Britain under the bus in favour of financial services. While the City of London made a killing on the newly deregulated currency markets, across the north of England, mines, shipyards, steel works and factories closed; and with them, the shops, pubs, cafés and everything else that relied on the disposable income those jobs generated. Low wage, part time, sometimes zero-hour opportunities in call centres or retail have taken the place of skilled, secure, well-paid vocations. It wasn’t just jobs that were lost, but communities, ways of life, hope and prospects, most of which have never been replaced. It’s soul-sappingly depressing to talk about and can lead to endless arguments about economics and, worse, pointless finger pointing at Europe, or migrants or anyone else who can be conveniently blamed. But when it’s sung about with compassion and conviction, it can make your spirit soar. It can lift you above ill-tempered, prosaic, party-political mud-slinging and open your heart to the human cost. And when that humanity is expressed in achingly emotive melodies, rooted firmly in the folk traditions that grew up with those lost industries; and when amongst the despair, sparks of hope still ignite – because we’re human and we feel love and we need to believe; then something exquisitely beautiful and poignant is forged. I give you Vane Tempest by the Lake Poets.

Puppy Fat – Document
Way back before the dawn of time, before there was an internet; when phones had dials and plugged into the wall; and didn’t run apps, because they hadn’t been invented; and DJ’s used old women’s shopping trolleys to haul their vinyl collections to venues; Newcastle had a ground-breaking indie venue called The Riverside. Chief booker was a wonderful woman called Babs Johnson who firmly believed in giving breaks to local bands. Serendipitously, there was an explosion in local creativity, which made for a genuinely exciting North-East scene. It perhaps reached its zenith with a number of sold-out, six -band, festivals, that Babs hosted at Riverside. MMO’s singer was into Fisher Price music at the time, but the rest of us were in a band called HUG, who were lucky enough to share those stages with the likes of Crane, Deep, Drill, Pout, Lime Green Violent and St James Infirmary. The band we became closest to, though, was Puppy Fat. We released our debut singles at the same time and we played many memorable gigs together. Frontman, Big Niall Mercer, was a legend in Newcastle and has remained so ever since. Artist, DJ, vocalist; a man whose taste in music was as large as his physical stature and very nearly as big as his heart.  He was always full of encouragement and sound, practical advice, “Go out there, turn it up to eleven, give it everything and don’t save your rider ‘till after your set”, “Why not?”, “Because I’ll drink it”.
In 2011, Puppy Fat and Hug reformed briefly to play at the launch of Hazel Plater and Carl Taylor’s book about Riverside.  It was as if the years had melted away.  When the menacingly insistent riff to Document kicked in and Niall’s toweringly charismatic figure bellowed, “this is my final warning”, then, as 20 years earlier, the hairs on the back on my neck stood on end.
What makes it all the more poignant is that Niall died last year. His humanist memorial at the Cluny attracted such numbers, they had to put speakers outside for the benefit of those who couldn’t fit inside. Many old faces from the Riverside era were reunited. So, it seems, in death, Niall managed to do what he always did in life – he brought people together. 
Even if I could find a digital link to Document, I wouldn’t share it.  If you scour the internet hard enough, you can probably find a vinyl copy of the Manifesto/Document/Big Flame e.p.  If you do, snap it up.  It’s the stuff of legend.

Mechanical Mouse Organ play Cluny 2, Newcastle on Saturday 13th January.

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