Lang Time Coming But Well Worth The Wait! Langfest by Bob Oram - The Morning Star
Bob Oram sees the legendary Mekons — “the most revolutionary group in the history of rock'n'roll” — reunite for a brilliant session in an alehouse.
Photos reproduced with kind permission from Rachel Bevan. Video by John Boocock.
Flying back home from the US to pay his respects at Aberfan, Jon Langford was never going to miss an opportunity to get together with his glorious Men of Gwent. But this time he took things to a whole new level. Looking forward to next year’s 40th anniversary of his legendary band The Mekons, he gets the original line up to play at this inaugural Langfest.
It's a moment fans thought they would never see but one many have dreamt of. For all those punks who wanted something more than cliched gobbing, the angular alt post-punk noise coming out of Leeds was a beacon of light on the future.
They still cast a shadow on the history of rock'n'roll today and have as much right as anyone to represent the true standard bearers for that great explosion of punk talent that was the class of 1977. From their first singles through to The Quality of Mercy is Not Strnen album, the Mekons opened up a world that not only expanded horizons but challenged boundaries.
Their constant desire to progress, encompass, digress and do what exactly what they wanted has meant they have survived and constantly evolved as writers, performers and artists while still pleasing an army of new fans.
Langfest is a celebration of not only the Mekons but Langford himself. A human dynamo, the pace of his life is unrelenting and this festival celebrates three of his best bands along with an exhibition of his art work at Fred's Gallery. Over 35 pieces showcase not only a hugely talented artist but his love of musical heroes and history.
There are fans here from all over Europe. The excitement is electric and emotional as the band shuffle through the crowd and take the stage.
Marching-beat extremism fills the air as a grinning Langford pulverises the drum kit with the intro to 32 Weeks, the B-side of their 1978 first single. Shouty, staccato vocals from Andy Corrigan bounce off the guitar and snare to recount — “32 weeks to buy a car” — how long you will need to work to earn the cash to buy the things you want. It's a wry reminder that life for the male working class has always been about "get a job/get a car/get a bird!"
Next up is the A-side, which Kevin Lycett launches into with an unmistakeable guitar strum. A yobbish Northern retort to the Clash's paean to black youth uprisings, Never Been in a Riot explains that “I've always been in a toilet missing out the noise.”
Both songs have stood the test of time and yet who would have thought that the poverty and alienation that inspired punk would be as vivid as ever today outside in the street? Lonely and Wet predates Joy Division and PiL and is still as emotionally intense.
Ros Allen's steely bass and Langford's drums launch into its short-fuse burn. “I am just not happy anymore” sings the iconic Mark White and you know he means it. “Why does the sun shine when I am sad,” he pleads and the audience join in, recapturing a moment from 1978 they thought had forever gone. The bedroom meanderings of a teenage Morrissey owe much to this masterpiece.
The frantic guitar-and-drums anthem Trevira Trousers is up next with its chorus: “Drinks! Fags! Fun at night! Dirty books and Ford Cortina! Randy girls in plastic shoes” reminding the audience of an age of innocence and the band's daft, observational sweetness.
Tom Greenhalgh sings the lovely After 6, a forerunner of the move away from punk before they play Where Were You, an all-time forgotten anthem which, like Wire's 12XU, is a song that will never age. The crowd go mental as we pogo on to that historic question: “When I was waiting in a bar, where were you?”
And that's it. Six perfect songs keeping aloft a true DIY punk mentality and the memory of one of the greatest bands of the 1978 generation. An amazing reunion of friends and band alike.
By contrast, Langford’s The Men of Gwent are not quite as well known as the Mekons but, like his song about llamas in Llanyravon, they're all legend. A collective of brilliant musicians, they play country, folk and good-time rock and roll all rolled up into one. Looking and sounding like a bunch of comrades, they sing passionately about their memories of Wales. They open with Tubby Brothers, in memory of lost youth, followed by Pill Sailor, delivered by that awesome accordion player Guto Davis.
It tells of a man's disorientation when, returning from the navy, he finds the docks closed in his home town of Pill: “Find me a skipper with someplace to go, 'cause these ropes are all knotted and tangled around me; I’m a sailor who wandered a little too far from the sea.” Achingly heartfelt, it flows straight into the supremely talented guitarist Julian Hayman singing The Coves at Aberystwyth.
Adrian Street, as flamboyant as the 1970s glam wrestler, is a homage to every working-class lad who has dreamt of a better life — “Get me out of this hole” — and like so many of their songs here it is full of childhood memories.
It's echoed on the slowed-down sea shantyesque Old Wet Argus with Langford lamenting “history ground into dust.” Dirty Grey River, with its rolling accordion, follows before the Chinese riots in Newport are commemorated with the stunning Ballad of Solomon Jones.
Llamas in Llanyravon has everyone singing along. Mental. Then roadie Mitch bounds on stage and the Mekons wanderlust resurfaces first in a reggae workout folloed by a shanty singalong and then the barnstorming classic Rock and Roll, a frenetic and powerfully emotional burnout.
Guitars blaze a trail, the vocals follow, the crowd screams, the floor bounces. It ends. Perfect.
This was a celebration mostly of tales about, and of, Wales. But the Men and the Mekons are all cultural scavengers. They deliver history songs, drinking songs, protest songs, biographies and oral histories but, most of all, swaggeringly anthemic singalongs.
They are legend and, as Lester Bangs once said, “The Mekons are the most revolutionary group in the history of rock 'n' roll.”
Fred's Ale House, which hosted this fest along with a cheap beer festival, is one of the best in Manchester. It thrives on a great atmosphere and Langfest certainly produced that, with Quiet Loner, The Three Johns and the wonderful Abstract Man, all making their mark at an unforgettable weekend.