The Apostles/The Joy of Living: ‘Death to Wacky Pop’

I first got to know Andy Martin in 1982, when The Apostles, an experimental anarchist punk band from East London, released their first piece of vinyl, an e.p. called Blow It Up, Burn It Down, Kick It Till It Breaks. Although the recording quality was quite poor I found the songs quite extraordinary; musically quite ferocious with shades of the Velvet Underground and early, raw punk rock, and lyrically just burning with anger. Class anger, racism, homophobia – all were faced head on. The band had a terrible reputation for violence and generally being impossible to get along with. I hadn’t long left school and was angry about everything. They were perfect for me. I’d written to a lot of punk bands and sent what was probably a long rant to Andy and to my surprise he replied. From then on we corresponded regularly and I began to visit him and Dave Fanning in their housing co-op in Brougham Road, Hackney. I found the pair of them to be extremely intelligent, funny and respectful – despite Andy’s insistence that he was a misogynist. I was honest with him and he was honest with me. Some of his letters were an absolute work of art and much of the band’s music showed a more melancholic side that described mental illness, sexuality and alienation. Their reputation was, it seemed to me, unwarranted; they were just passionate people who couldn’t stand bullshit.

I was getting various forms of a band together with my sister and, briefly, my brother, and once a line-up had settled (Lloyd Pettiford: vocals, Sharon Cooper & Helen Povey: backing vocals, Lol: guitar, me on bass guitar (a beautiful but incredibly heavy 1967 Les Paul Thunderbird) and Yvette Haynes: drums) we began looking for and later organising, gigs. I’d managed to get in touch with The Assassins of Hope and our first gig as The Joy of Living was supporting them at The Green Man pub in Stratford (which no longer exists, as far as I know). My first live appearance had been with The Light, in around 1981/82, at a Royal British Legion Club in Eastcote, Middlesex and we had to practically run from the place with lots of angry right-wing suburbanites in our wake who didn’t like our rather shouty attempts at punk/goth. Jamie Stewart, later of Death Cult/The Cult, was in attendance, along with the rest of his band at the time, Ritual. The first JoL gig was probably worse than this; we were virtually ignored.

The problem with the band was its lack of direction. I was influenced by punk, a bit of the darker Goth stuff (Sex Gang Children, Blood And Roses) and more avant-garde/Industrial music (Cabaret Voltaire, Psychic TV, Fad Gadget) but I didn’t really know what I wanted to play and I wasn’t a good enough musician or simply confident enough to experiment. I’d heard of other bands working well because they were friends first and fellow musicians later and I persevered with working with friends even when it was obvious that none of us was clear on where we wanted to go. Lloyd’s friend Sham joined us for a while on guitar, but they both left after a couple of gigs. We did one good gig at a community centre in Harrow, where everything clicked, but after our fifth gig (in Woking, supporting Brigandage and the Lost Cherrees), I had another argument with some of the band who just weren’t pulling their weight and it all fell apart. I was still intending to work with Yvette and we were still on speaking terms with Sharon, so when Andy asked if we’d be interested in playing a song he’d written called The Wasteland, which he felt wasn’t quite right for The Apostles, I jumped at the chance. We spent some time in Hackney rehearsing it and then Andy wanted to try our instrumental number, The Joy of Living, with the solo done differently to the way Lol (a real rock ‘n’ roll guitarist) played it. He also liked the time change in another song, called Dying For A Fag, so we played that one and also a couple of others, Regime Of Kindness and A Walk With Love And Death – which I was keen to get him doing backing vocals on. Of course he and Dave learnt our songs in minutes, while I had my work cut out trying to keep up with them. I got there in the end.

Dorothea Tanning, 1946

Dorothea Tanning, 1946

Andy and Dave had released a lot of records by then, including at least one on Conflict/Colin Jerwood’s record labels (Mortarhate/Fight Back) and he’d agreed to let us release an e.p. on Fight Back. So in 1985/86 we recorded five tracks at Redchurch Recordings in Shoreditch, London. Most of the recording went well but Andy and Dave left us to do the production ourselves and we were out of our depth, so it didn’t come out well. Andy turned up to produce The Wasteland and his experience really showed – the layering and sophistication of the song was way above anything I ever wrote. By that time Yvette and myself were  barely on speaking terms with Sharon (this happens in all bands, from what I can tell) and so it became quite tense when putting the A3 size cover together and rerecording some of A Walk With Love And Death (Dave’s guitar had been knocked out of tune and clashed terribly with the vocals; we repaired it as best we could at Abacus recording studio in Eastcote). Again, we had all the space in the world to say whatever we wanted to say, but we couldn’t agree on what that should be. It felt like a terrible waste, although the poster on the inside of the cover was appropriated from Dorothea Tanning’s 1946 surrealist painting A Little Night Music, (original above), redrawn by singer Sharon. We all liked the dreamlike quality of the work although I’m not sure Tanning would have been happy with what we did! We gave some space to The Apostles and Andy sent me instructions and artwork on squatting and how to make a bomb. Very Apostles! It was probably the most coherent part of the cover. I spoke to Colin Jerwood a couple of times (someone else with a bad reputation but I never had a problem with him) and had to wing it a bit when he found out the band had split, but by that time Yvette was in A Strange Desire and I was working with Leda Baker and Rubella Ballet, so some of us were still involved in music and that seemed to satisfy him. The e.p., with four of the five tracks we’d recorded (we dropped Dying For A Fag due to time constraints on the vinyl), came out on the Fight Back label in 1986. I never knew how many copies it sold. It got a decent review in one fanzine but I never read any others. There was talk of The Apostles supporting the Dead Kennedys at a gig in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which we were invited along to in order to play The Wasteland and perhaps a few other songs, but it fell through. Despite all the problems and the disappointing quality of the recording, I’d been proud to work with The Apostles and had enjoyed the rehearsing and much of the recording process – including getting the record cut by the legendary ‘Porky’. I just wish I’d been more assertive, about every aspect of the record.

The only copy of the record I had (apart from one of the Mayking test pressings) had been sitting quietly in my now-pared down record collection, more or less forgotten for a decade (having had no record player for years), until I found out that Mortarhate had put together all their singles, in A Compilation of Deleted Dialogue, on a double cd, in 1997. The cd’s front cover was excellent but the accompanying booklet was a bit of a mess and selected random extracts from the record’s cover. But it meant that I could hear the songs again. And recently the single appears to have had a bit of resurgence. A couple of copies have been sold on Ebay for over £20 each and reviews (rather kind reviews, actually) have appeared on various punk/anarcho websites from Britain and America, calling us a punk-folk and anarcho-acoustic band. As labels go, they’re not too bad. And the review on Amazon, describing the double album as excellent apart from a couple of slower tracks that ‘suck’, made me laugh. I expect the review’s referring either to our songs or the Flowers In The Dustbin tracks. More recently, Yvette was sure that one of the tracks was played on the radio – as a backing for announcing Saturday afternoon football results. This has not been confirmed! The Apostles’ Facebook page (an unofficial band site) has listed links to all of their singles, so the e.p. (their 7th) is downloadable for free. Which is fine by me*. I play the e.p. now and again. It brings back some happy memories and although it has a thousand things about it that I’d change, I’m proud that I was involved with it.

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UPDATE 2 JANUARY 2014: I’ve just found out that A Walk With Love And Death from the e.p. was included on a compilation cassette, called Safety Pin Stuck In My Heart – Punk Rock Love Songs, released on Hick-Up Tapes (HICKS 003), Germany, 1992. While I’m happy for the song to appear, an attempt to contact one of us and check that it was okay to use it would have been appreciated!

* Andy Martin has written comprehensively on The Apostles’ records and it appears that all of the singles were reissued on cd by BBP in 2009 (although it should be noted that Stephen Parsons of BBP crossed the Threshold late in 2012, so I’m not sure what has become of the label and its releases). Andy is quite scathing of the quality of the recordings and the musicanship (he describes The Wasteland as the only track on the DTWP e.p. that he can listen to without wincing) and urges people not to buy either of the two volumes of the cd, but he did so some of the remastering. And anyway, that’s Andy – always expect unflinching honesty. Anything less would be a disappointment.

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8 thoughts on “The Apostles/The Joy of Living: ‘Death to Wacky Pop’

  1. Hello! I lost touch with Andy many years ago, but last I heard he was still involved in Unit (http://www.unit-united.co.uk/), although the website’s a little out of date. He’s also been writing a few accounts of life in anarcho London and The Apostles, which have appeared in various places around the ‘net. And he’s still in East London, I think. All power to him and Dave.

    • In an update to this: I am now back in contact with Andy and he’s about to publish his first book. Hopefully news of this will appear on Unit’s website, but I intend publicising it here, too.

  2. Nice work! Takes me back to my own youth in the SF punk scene. I played keyboards in a band called “Malignant Growth” (I know, I know), and those heady, chaotic times were some of the best, and most adventurous, of my life. Your band name(s) were much better, and it sounds like your music was, too. Will definitely check out the FB page.

    • Wow, SF punk! Much respect. Excellent band name – very much in line with the time! Being in a band can be an awful lot of fun – as Andy Martin said to me, the cameraderie is priceless. But I think splitting from a band is like splitting from a partner – or several at once. Ouch.

  3. For what its worth I bought this ep at the time and liked it – especially (from memory) ‘A Walk with Love and Death’…

    • Thanks for your kind comments. I’m familiar with your website and it’s good to have honest documentation of the political music around at the time. As for the e.p. – despite my own comments, it was a great experience. I remember rehearsing in Andy and Dave’s house in Brougham Road and being about as happy as it was possible to be. The fact that anyone bought or listened to the record is a surprise – I never got any feedback at the time – but a nice one. But the prices the record is getting on ebay seems a little too much. Or am I just saying that because I don’t have any spare copies to sell? ; )

  4. Pingback: UNIT re-records ‘The Wasteland’ | LEVANTHIA

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