UK Decay

[Rising From The Dread sleeve]"Rising From The Dread" (EP, 2015)  !Recommended!

UK Decay Records

I’ve been a fan of UK Decay since seeing them blow Theatre of Hate (my favourite band at the time) off the stage in early 1981 without appearing to raise a sweat. Given that Theatre of Hate were in their pretty much unassailable live prime during this period, you get an idea of just what a fantastic band UK Decay were.

It was the start of a serious obsession for me. Pretty much everyone I knew liked UK Decay, but no one liked them as much as I did. I went to every gig I could, bunking the fare to out of town gigs, dodging skinheads and sleeping in train stations.

They were arty! They were doomy! They were punky! They had tunes! And style! And a great front man! And a great bassist! And a great (really great) drummer! Theatre of Hate had all these things of course, but they did not have Spon, and they most certainly did not have Instrument X. Anyone who knows UK Decay will know what I mean, and if you don’t, stop reading this and go and find Decadance or Unexpected Guest on YouTube, listen to the astoundingly inventive guitar playing and then come back. I’ll wait...

This is a re-release as part of Record Store Day, and as such, the packaging is pretty much a recreation of the original 12” (designed by Bernard Chandler/Bernhardt Rebours of Poison Girls fame, fact fans) with the addition of sleeve notes (that could have done with some copy editing), and a slightly brownish tinge to the (originally grey) images. The record itself is pressed on clear vinyl, which is fine if you like that sort of thing (I’m ambivalent at best).

I loved (and still love) all UK Decay’s records, which got better with every release in a radical about face to the usual rapid decline, but until this release they’d been marred by flat production which never really captured their live power. However, this 12”, originally released in August 1982 on the Crass Records offshoot Corpus Christi finally caught their live lightning in the studio bottle.

It’s remastered from the original tapes, but to be honest I can’t really tell the difference, possibly because my hearing’s shot, but mainly because I don’t so much hear these songs as experience them, even now after all these years, they do something to my synapses that I can’t really explain.

Lead track Werewolf is possibly my favourite song ever. This changes depending on mood of course (sometimes it’s just nudged out of #1 position by Complete Control), but it’s never out of the top three. It’s also probably one of the oddest songs ever; prefaced by 2 minutes of disembodied growls, the song proper clocks in at just under 8 minutes (9 minutes in total!) with no chorus, no riff and no hook.

Anchored by a blisteringly intricate (and lifetime best) performance by drummer Steve Harle, it builds menacingly in the opening section, with bassist Twiggy powering through a circular, almost motorik groove. The rhythm section thunder darkly, with the rumble of a fast approaching storm, while slashing guitar chimes provide brief flashes of illumination, like lightning strikes at night. And when the bass drops into a descending double-time run around the 3 minute mark, it pulls you right into the middle of the maelstrom.

And this is when the whole thing just explodes...* Guitarists Spon plays ... I’m not sure exactly; it’s guitar; but unlike anything you’ve heard before. Feedback howls, space echo spirals, phasing, delay: all combine to create a shimmering, constantly shifting aurora. The phrase ‘sonic cathedral’ would fit here, if it didn’t have such diffident connotations. Make no mistake - UK Decay are a punk band, and they produce an intensely physical, almost claustrophobic sound.

The lyrics (and vocal delivery) are correspondingly dark and oppressive, with singer Abbo (literally and figuratively) howling lines like “Man is the beast... aware”. But as always with his work, he isn’t necessarily dealing with the subject that he first appear to be. Rather than being about a werewolf as such, the song uses the werewolf myth as a metaphor to examine the innate savagery of the human race, and the way both religious and secular rituals (a UK Decay gig for example), tap into that animalistic, primal energy to create altered mental states (“When the light of the day is dead/ The spark of night ignites/ Beast/ Dormant inside/ Comes alive”).

The most impressive thing about Werewolf though, is its visceral, transformative power, which almost has the ability induce the trance-like, hallucinatory state it describes. It really does do something to the spinal column and the brain, short circuiting the logic centres and reconnecting the listener to atavistic impulses that the patina of civilisation barely contains.

I was 18 when this record first came out, and I honestly thought it was the greatest 9 minutes ever committed to vinyl. 33 years later, I still do.

Compared to the A side, the three songs on the B side can sometimes be slightly overshadowed, but if they had been released on their own as a three track 12”, it would have been an impressive single by anyone’s standards.

Jerusalem Over (The White Cliffs Of Dover), references Blake, quotes Christian hymns, and deals with the legacy of Britain’s colonial past, describing how vicious Imperialism was masked in sanctimonious Victorian religious morality (“See Caesars aping Jesus/ With a bible or a gun/ How the west was won/ How the east began”).

Rising From The Dead is a furious attack on the hypocrisy of the death penalty, imagining an executed prisoner returning from the grave to wreak vengeance on the jury that condemned him (“But their consciences will be burning/ When you're rising from the dead/ You'll see them burn when you're rising/ From the dead”).

Testament is probably the best known song on the EP, by virtue of its inclusion on the Gothic Rock compilation CD, and is an optimistic, defiant call for individuality in the face of conformity (“Statutes stand like statues/ Laws stagnant in value/ For the rulers of the ruled/ The fools and the fooled”).

It’s fitting that this song is the last track on what would be UK Decay’s final release in their original incarnation. Dogged by bad luck and an unstable line-up, financially compromised by their refusal to sign to a major label for a large advance, and physically exhausted by constant gigging, they called it a day just four months after this record was released with two farewell concerts at the end of December 1982.

I can think of no better way to mark their passing than this glorious, transcendent record.

This is their legacy. This is their testament. 10/10

Buy it here.

Nick Hydra (May 2015)