THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN PSYCHOCANDY
Amy Britton considers the cultural, musical and political importance of one of the great albums of the 1980s
The closing of 1985 was a great time for Scotland, securing a world cup place and unleashing one of their greatest musical acts on the world. There were also flickers of hope for the UK as a whole in the socio-political world, as the CBI called for the government to invest £1billion in unemployment relief, a move which would cut unemployment by 350,000. The latest MORI polls also showed Conservative and Labour support were almost equal at 36% - the future was not clear. How appropriate, then, that this aforementioned great band would make music which famously lacked clarity. This band was the Jesus and Mary Chain, who had already come to attention with Upside Down, the first ever release for the iconic Creation records.
Considering the wave of unemployment, they were perfectly qualified to provide a relevant soundtrack, given that the heart of the band, brothers Jim and William Reid, had spent five years on the dole. This was time well spent however, as it was used writing and recording, as well as constructing the moody gothic image of the band.
The early sound was fairly conventional, but the introduction of heavy walls of feedback marked them out. William Reid claimed we began using noise and feedback (because) we wanted to make records which sounded different. Early live shows continued this route of unconventionality - Jim Reids guitar was left out of tune, drummer Murray Dalglishs drum kit was limited to two drums, and bassist Douglas Harts bass had just two strings. To quote Hart, thats the two I use, what's the fucking point in spending money on another two? Two is enough. This was everything Thatcherite Britain was against - minimalism, unconventionality and a refusal to succumb to spending. However, the Conservative government itself was in as much chaotic disarray as the sounds of the Jesus and Mary Chain on 22nd November, Thatcher was urged by her MPs to call a general election for 1987, even though the deadline was not until 1988.
The Jesus and Mary Chain were breaking all the rules, with their amphetamine-fuelled twenty minute gigs to small audiences. Events at the gigs quickly became exaggerated by the tabloid press The Sun claimed that their gigs descended into riots, and ran an article focusing on the drugs and violence aspects of the band, labelling them The New Sex Pistols. As with politics, the press was whipping up fear over the revolutionary once again. Liverpools council may have been hitting the headlines for its broad horizons, but other local councils were proving quite different to this as several banned the Jesus and Mary Chain from playing in their area.
In spite of the brilliance of the album, it was still the gigs which gathered the most attention, with Alan McGee saying of one particularly riotous gig, this is truly art as terrorism. Whilst the album is peppered with sweet imagery candy and honey the impact of this band in a world apparently frightened of progress was anything but a sugar coating.
From a future book on key albums of the Thatcherite age. Read Rosey's piece about The Jesus and Mary Chain in the R*E*P*E*A*T Book - details here