Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The Mob - Let The Tribe Increase

THE MOB - LET THE TRIBE INCREASE

Taking its name from the sleevenotes of Patti Smith's Easter album, Let The Tribe Increase by The Mob stood proudly out from the pack by virtue of its uncompromising individuality. By choosing their own path, The Mob had found their own voice which was now ringing out loud and clear for all to hear. Whilst many of their Anarcho Punk peer group had so obviously sprung from the well of Crass, The Mob were coming from somewhere altogether different. Theirs was a natural, earthy sound born from the Somerset countryside and transplanted to the inner city estates of London. Having travelled with hippy stalwarts Here And Now playing various free festivals and benefit or donation-only gigs, they had picked up and acquired a certain vibe where the important thing was not the music or the money but the audience - the actual community. The Mob were a genuine people's band. Driven by prominent bass and perfect, practical drumming augmented by rudimentary guitar and soaring backing vocals, the voice of lead singer Mark Mob - clear, precise and sure - called out to the world at large.
Inscriptions on the run-out grooves of the album - 'Take a trip down' and 'Electric turkeyland' - alluded to the band's penchant for drugs, particularly of the hallucinogenic variety though within the songs themselves there was absolutely nothing illusory or escapist in the slightest. In fact, living on the breadline in squats in the East End of London placed The Mob and their friends firmly at the bottom - if not actually outside - of society where they would face on a daily basis the hardships and dangers of inner city life.
In such a position there was nothing the politics of Thatcherism of all things could possibly offer them apart from a prejudice and selfishness based on cold economics. Indeed, The Mob and their friends were a good example of the Lumpenproletariat that Bakunin had cited as being the true revolutionaries within society. The desperately poor. Those with no stake in society and therefore nothing to lose.


Laying out a distinct world view immediately and to mightily good effect, the opening track of the album found Mark Mob waking up to Another Day Another Death: "I wake up screaming from the nightmare that's begun again, cold tears of sweat trickling down my face..." For Mark there is no escape and no hiatus from "the cold and frigid wind that blows through every crack." In the jaws of bleakness - like Bakunin's potential for revolution - any hint of hope or beauty is grabbed at and held fast: "I'm reaching out again clutching flowers thrown in the breeze, they are quite meaningless and yet they mean so much to me." All too aware of the pain of everyday living, his voice shaking, all Mark really wants is the answer to one very simple question: "Why?"

In Cry Of The Morning, Mark describes the looming presence of an authoritarian 'other', signalled by "the wail of the siren." The omnipotence of this unnamed power offers no chance of escape, redemption or mercy as like an animal caught in the headlights of an oncoming vehicle, Mark's fate is no longer in his hands. There is simply no time for anything. Not love, not hate, not tears, fear, running away or goodbyes. Nor "if they come in the morning" is there even any time to fight back. Resistance is futile.

In Dance On (You Fool), the bass groove of Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Two Tribes is pre-empted, as the subject of violence found "in the pubs and streets" is equated with "impotent lovers." Inadequacy and hate "bred from the cradle and reared in the schools" begets aggressive masculinity. "Above all a man or above all a fool, which are you?" Mark asks "Above all a man or above all you, which are you?"

Raised In A Prison relaxes the pace to a contemplative stroll as a captive life is described in sad detail: "Raised in a prison with iron bars and walls too high to be climbed. Raised in a four-cornered corridor, always kept silent and blind." Conformity, obedience and good manners are taught from a young age before being thrown into the world of work and then entering the sanctimony of marriage. Sterility, boredom and repetition are the rewards with possibly "a garden and wonderful view of kids playing war in the streets after school." Living prescribed roles of home-maker wife and breadwinner husband, the happy couple are trapped in a thankless existence, one of the few 'benefits' being that they are at least safe from harm: "Watching the TV til hubby comes home, unable to stand on his feet. Black and white pictures of policemen with sticks smacking fuck out of kids on the street."

The unacknowledged quirkiness of The Mob is shown to good effect in the track Slayed, where a Mark E Smith of The Fall influence is suggested in the way the ends of words are accentuated. To a driving bass and chopping guitar, the song finds Mark Mob searching through what he refers to as 'the desert of his soul'. Surveying an outer landscape of bureaucratic piles of waste, putrid smell and concrete towers he sees hope only in the children who are playfully "destroying all your sacred cows." He sees that adults are a lost cause and the hope of a better world might only lie in the hands of children: "In these wars that you have made, through the shit you now must wade. You were the slayer - you're now the slayed." The juxtaposition of Mark's baritone and the softer backing vocal is put to beautiful effect in the final refrain of "You were the slayer," with Mark declaring it as a statement of fact whilst the backing vocal almost whispering it as an accusation.

Side one of the album ends with a mini-epic in the form of the track Our Life Our World, in which Mark paints a primitive picture of the world as he sees it: "Our life, our world mapped out in stars, carved in wrists and back of arms which paint in blood on sheets of white. Our children never quite at home." It seems that once again the world of adults holds nothing for its children who turn their pain upon themselves in acts of self harm. In the prime of their infancy - their "golden age" - no-one cares to listen to their cries of rage.
Midway through, the song lurches into a slow, three-chord soliloquy and Mark's voice turns fragile and terribly tender: "This is my love now and this is my war, do not suffer my children... This is my nightmare built from your hell on earth, do not damage my children."
Unlike most other Anarcho Crass bands, The Mob weren't offering any real solutions or any calls for action but instead were simply describing the way they felt and the way things were. Whilst Crass et al were inspiring through anger and by putting forward pacifism and direct action as answers, The Mob were inspiring through simply being very truthful. The Mob were a lesson in love and tenderness born from anger: "Leave my world for my children, they didn't ask to be born. Leave my love for my children, and let them be warm."


Gates Of Hell kicks off side two of the album and without any delay is a despairing leap into the void where Mark is found, his body "a bombed-out shell." To a chiming bass line he once again describes the world in which he has found himself where "the sun is blacked out by the rain that keeps on falling as the blood keeps flowing," and where "the only sound is the toll of your death bells." There in the most miserable of places, even though there are "no peace flags flying in the breeze of illusion," such things to him are still "the lights at the end of the tunnel," even if they are but "a mirage in the desert."

Could the world ever be more sad and more wretched? Of course it could. Within the realm of popular (and not so popular) music there has always been a tradition of morose or troubled artists exploring the darker depths of the human condition. From Leonard Cohen and his tragically sad love songs to Lou Reed and his Berlin-era meditations, from the elegiac musings of suicidal Nick Drake to the 1980s world weariness of Joy Division and The Smiths. Criticised for being 'depressing' their songs were in actual fact beautifully uplifting, more often than not serving as a genuine antidote to melancholia.
Joining this select canon was The Mob whose songs, whilst projecting a profound sense of sadness, inspired not only hope but a real sense of closeness. A fine example of this being the track I Wish, in which a broken and tired-sounding Mark ponders to himself: "I wish I could love, it must be fun to love cos so many people do it, it must be fun to love." This same line is then repeated over again, each time changing the word 'love' to either 'hate', 'fight', and 'kill' before ending with "I wish I could die, it must be fun to die cos so many people do it, it must be fun to die."
From an admission of feeling isolated from the crowd or 'the many', it's at first dubious that Mark wishes he could love as this is clearly an emotion he already feels as evidenced in previous songs. Or perhaps he sees the love that "must be fun" that "so many people do" is somewhat different to the love he himself feels? If his love is not 'fun' then is it somehow inadequate or less real or less worthy than the love of others? The answer is given over the next lines of the song where Mark wishes he could hate, fight and kill "cos so many people do it, it must be fun".
This is Mark playing Devil's advocate as clearly he has no wish to hate, fight or kill at all; and it follows that to not want to do these things - and in fact to wish for the complete opposite - is perfectly fine even if it does mean isolation from the many. In turn, Mark's wish to die really means the complete opposite also: Mark actually wishes to live.
Taken at face value, I Wish appears to be a thoroughly depressing song but is in actual fact clever and very life-affirming. Not withstanding this will to live, however, there is still the horror of the world to suffer. "I wanna know why?" Mark declares at the start of the album in Another Day Another Death but there is no answer, no reason and no explanation on offer.


In the track Never Understood, Mark comes face-to-face not only with the inevitability of the death of others but of his own mortality too: "And as I fight to find an empty place, the yawning gap amongst the bodies fits my face. I gave my life for something never understood." Over and over and over again he repeats the song's title and with no pause for breath the words obliterate everything else until the song finally bursts like a bubble leaving only... oblivion.
The next track, entitled Roger, drifts slowly into being as a lilting nursery rhyme turns round and round: "Phantom, oh phantom, come out, come out and I will kiss thee upon thy snout." Evoking memories of ancient daydreams, voices emerge, cross-over and submerge; exclaiming, whispering and pronouncing odd phrases such as "I touched it!", "These are the dreams of children, they are the children of dreams," and "It's normal! It's normal!"
Roger conveys the similarity between a possibly drug-fuelled altered state of mind and the surrealistic senselessness of formal, regulated society. Appearing at first to be an experimental, abstract diversion from the main thrust of the album, the song actually fits in perfectly; adding another peculiar twist to The Mob's profile.

The album ends on a massive high with a re-recorded version of Witch Hunt, The Mob's most powerful of songs. As a stand-alone single release, Witch Hunt was profound, provocative, uniquely fascinating and utterly brilliant. Placed within a whole album of Mob songs, however, the words and their meaning are underscored and puts everything about The Mob into context, leaving no question over the album's classic status: "Stubbing out progress where seeds are sown, killing off anything that's not quite known. Sitting around in a nice, safe home - waiting for the witch hunt. Idle plans for the idle rich, knitting the economy not dropping a stitch. Destroying anything that doesn't quite fit - waiting for the witch hunt. Still living with the English fear - waiting for the witch hunt, dear."


On first hearing, Let The Tribe Increase was an unexpected experience. Though the music being played by The Mob was relatively simple, the sound they were producing was very big and translated well from small, squatted premises to larger, commercial venues; and from playing to small groups of friends to playing to much larger festival audiences. Equally important, the sound translated well to each individual listener alone in their bedroom. Let The Tribe Increase not only demanded repeat listenings but welcomed them.
There was a warmth about Let The Tribe Increase, an intimacy that drew the listener in close that appeared to come quite naturally, as though it wasn't even being considered. In all likelihood The Mob were not even aware of it themselves and had no idea of just how close they were to their audience.

A few years earlier, Mark Perry of Alternative TV had recognised that the trail blazed by the like of Here And Now in their promotion and support of free gigs and festivals was the way for Punk to go. His own band had gone for this with varying degrees of success, gaining much respect but losing the interest of many fans along the way due in no small part to the somewhat difficult avant-jazz Punk records released by them. In Crass, Mark Perry saw the way that a Punk band should be though through no fault of their own Crass's position was changing from being as one with their Punk audience to being leaders of the Anarcho Punk movement. An oxymoron if ever there was one.
Because they appeared to be ahead of everyone else in their analysis, their power and their actions, Crass were finding themselves in an isolated position not helped by the fact that they were living out in the Essex countryside as opposed to being based in the city wrestling with all the problems which that entailed. Not that Crass were out of touch at all, it was just that they weren't having to face the grind and hostility of city life in the same way as for example, The Mob and their friends had to whilst living in squats and housing co-ops.
Crass and The Mob were both very much 'people's bands' but with differences between them. Crass may have had an open-house policy at their countryside home and they may have been both working and living together communally as people but The Mob were actually living alongside their audience. There was no separation. The Mob and their audience were one and the same.


This was the tribe to which The Mob's album title referred, the tribe The Mob wished to see increase. Adam And The Ants in their early days had touched upon a similar idea also with their 'Ant music for Ant people / Sex music for Sex people' totems as had in their own way Killing Joke and Theatre Of Hate. It soon became apparent, however, that it was commercial success that these groups were after whilst for The Mob this particular aspiration held no appeal whatsoever. There was the potential for The Mob to be huge but their concern was obviously for other things, not least of which was for simply getting on and living their lives. The music business held no attraction for them in the slightest and commercial success was clearly not on their agenda. If they even had any agenda at all?

There was an intangible air of consciousness about The Mob, captured in as much as could be possible by their album and to recognise this consciousness demanded an awareness that reflected well upon their audience. Let The Tribe Increase suggested an understanding of true meaning. An understanding of what was important and of what was not, of what was good and right and of what was bad and wrong.
The Mob were the living embodiment of the spirit glimpsed at the Stonehenge free festival and their album was a representation of that spirit. Radical, free and wild; full of potential yet assailed on all sides by forces of ignorance. Awareness in a world that not only discouraged awareness but actively sought to destroy it. The Mob were one of the most beautifully brilliant bands of the whole 1980s Anarcho Punk Rock era and Let The Tribe Increase was one of the greatest albums.
What made it all so doubly remarkable was that whilst their audience recognised how special The Mob were, The Mob themselves seemed not to know it. All that was happening was that they were simply being and doing what came quite naturally to them. In essence, The Mob were simply being themselves but this was what was ultimately giving them their edge and making them so very special.

2 comments:

  1. Love this bit "Crass and The Mob were both very much 'people's bands' but with differences between them. Crass may have had an open-house policy at their countryside home and they may have been both working and living together communally as people but The Mob were actually living alongside their audience. There was no separation. The Mob and their audience were one and the same."

    I remember a gig in Hackney (Chat's Palace) Hagar the Womb were playing then the Mob. When the Hags finished, the Mob climbed up out of the audience on to the stage and started playing.Meanwhile the Hags jumped down off stage to dance about to the Mob.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Love this bit "Crass and The Mob were both very much 'people's bands' but with differences between them. Crass may have had an open-house policy at their countryside home and they may have been both working and living together communally as people but The Mob were actually living alongside their audience. There was no separation. The Mob and their audience were one and the same."

    I remember a gig in Hackney (Chat's Palace) Hagar the Womb were playing then the Mob. When the Hags finished, the Mob climbed up out of the audience on to the stage and started playing.Meanwhile the Hags jumped down off stage to dance about to the Mob.

    ReplyDelete