I first came into contact with Leeds band The Mekons when I bought their fantastic single "Where Were You" ( I still have it ) . I loved it's repetitive twanging guitar chords and propulsive percussion .It had a terrific melody but sold it with a sneer. Then I promptly forgot about the band only registering them when fiends , a couple of whom are massive fans of theirs , mentioned them.
Yet it transpires that the evolution of the band that first emerged in the punk explosion of the late seventies is one of the most fascinating and artistically compelling in British music. Formed at Leeds University from the same bunch of students that invigorated The Gang Of Four ,The Mekons debut single "Never been In A Riot" was a sarcastic riposte to The Clash's "White Riot" and the band released numerous singles on various labels. Their debut album "The Quality Of Mercy Is Not Stmen" arrived in 1979 , and was recorded using The Gang Of Fours instruments and this lead to an administrative error by Virgin records who pictured the wrong band on the albums back cover. After the compilation album The Mekons Story in 1982 the band took a hiatus which allowed lead man Jon Langford to go off and form The Three Johns.
The band returned in the mid eighties , galvanised by social events like the miners strike and augmented by new members like vocalist Sally Timms, accordion player/vocalist Rico bell and former Graham Parker And The Rumour drummer Steve Goulding. It's here though that the band began their transition drawing on influences like parochial folk , more traditional rock and most tellingly country and western. The mixture of astute social commentary , and the melding of various influences eventually led the band to the inevitable fractious dalliance with a major label -A&M- who released their arguably finest moment the "Rock And Roll" album in 1989.
The bands sound continued to expand adding slide guitar and fiddle and even though their time on A&M came to an end they continued to release albums up until "OOOH!" in 2002. This best of contains may of their finest moments as best of,s are wont to do, including that magnificent single I bought all those years ago. The pinnacles come on the songs with Sally Timms who is blessed with a voice that is all honey dew coating over emotions that swell and throb like the pain of an aching tooth. "Millionaire" and " Ghosts Of American Astronauts " are stunningly beautiful songs but the rambunctious "Old Trip To Jerusalem " is ace as well. Indeed CD1 is more or less perfect .The second disc is less so, with too many of the moments where the bands wilful experimentation and desire to meld disparate genres result in disjointed and painful sound trials .The mighty "Insignificance" , a straight up rock song but a superb one highlights that the group might have grasped the commercial nettle more firmly .
The band recently celebrated their 30th anniversary with a live show in their native Leeds( most of the band now live in the States ) These are people making music because it's in their heart and blood which might explain their reluctance to court the mainstream . They have assembled a very fine body of work and it's contentious , as it usually is with these things that Heaven And Hell really does them justice . As a entry point into the world and history of this band though it does a pretty good job. Definitely more heaven than hell.