JON LANGFORD – Lucky 7

LUCKY 7 is the feature where we ask artists to name their 6 favourite songs by others, and a lucky 7th song of their own… today it’s the 100th Lucky 7 on Velvet Sheep and it’s an absolute and timely cracker. The last time punk behemoth Jon Langford of The Mekons, The Three Johns and Waco Brothers was on these pages, he’d released a killer 7″ with Martin Bramah on the ever exhilarating Tiny Global Productions label and he chose a “song for ewe” by John Cale (“Half Past France”) which compelled me to go and buy the “Paris 1919″ album which is now a firm favourite chez Hutchings.

Now Langford is back with an absolute bang, and the tie-in is fortuitous to say the least. This year, through Tiny Global, Jon is releasing a series of 23 x 7” singles (yes you read right – TWENTY THREE – had to write it out just like those big football scores on the teleprompter just to confirm your eyes aren’t deceiving you) which he is calling (you guessed it) THE LUCKY SEVEN SERIES. And Jon has the peaked hat to match (see photo above), so it’s only right he should come back to be the centenarian of this feature, choosing some tunes that are apt for the disturbingly crazy times we find ourselves in.

He was also responsible for incisive songs that were on the nose the last time the world was burning, including this one that I love and have retrospectively admired from the Soul Jazz “Punk 45” comp about underground punk and post punk in the UK 1977-81 – “There Is No Such Thing As Society” whose sub header “Get A Job, Get A Car, Get A Bed, Get Drunk!” is borrowed from The Mekons “32 Weeks”…

Before he literally Trumps that (you’ll see), welcome back to VS, “lucky” Jon Langford!

You might think that a series of 23 x 7″ singles is lunacy, and it’s not something I’ve seen the like of which attempted since The Wedding Present launched one a month in 1990 to equal Elvis Presley’s record of most UK top 30 songs in a year (chronicled later as “Hit Parade 1” and “Hit Parade 2”), but this is an art and activism project to be admired, and is inspired by Robert Wyatt’s “Nothing Can Stop Us” singles opus and possibly Bob Dylan’s Neverending Tour (or even Damo Suzuki’s).

In a Tiny Global social post it was stated that fellow Mekon “Sally Timms once remarked that The Mekons make their best music when the world’s at its worst, and that truism works for the individuals members as well” and this is spot on.

The first single is a new tune called “Losers” (more below) with Jon accompanied by one of his many bands Skull Orchard, and the b-side is a recitation of The Mekons’ “Aberfan 1966” (about the notorious mining disaster and political whitewash in Wales) by GW Sok & OMA – Sok being one of the main members of late 70s/80s Dutch post punk band The Ex.

Jon Henderson from Tiny Global explains that “Each single will have a different theme or odd juxtaposition, and because they’re singles, we’re announcing organising them in batches of three, but announcing them one by one, and when the third one’s ready, we’re ship out all three.”

It’s definitely a singles (going steady) club you should be part of (with signature Langford artwork to boot).

Jon is inspired by “those fine musicians who regularly use their medium as a means of encouraging political change, expressing those truths which go untold in mainstream media, offering perspective to the inquisitive and camaraderie to fellow travellers” and with the world becoming an increasingly more belligerent place full of social division, racism, tyrannical despots and the rise of the right, the time is right now to kick out the jams again.

Despite his roots in Wales and later Yorkshire, England, Langford is a long term resident of Chicago, Illinois and he sent this Lucky 7 as the streets kicked off in repudiation to the police brutality precipitated by the recent horrific murder of George Floyd. The tunes Jon has chosen are, as you’d come to expect, impeccably observed and well appointed, and offers a message of hope amongst the hatred.

1. War Inna Babylon – Max Romeo
Walking around the Chicago Battlezone the last few days I’ve been singing Lee Perry’s production of Max Romeo singing War Ina Babylon in my head. We got to play this on a boat with Scratch himself in the Caribbean only this January and that already seems like a lifetime ago. In the early days of punk in the UK there were no punk records to listen to between bands so we listened to a lot of Lee Perry. Punk was very much about white kids reaction to seeing young West Indian kids fight the cops at the Notting Hill carnival and learning to dig their music and rebel stance. The protest against institutional racism and police brutality all over the US this week are encouraging to me because the participants are so young and so racially mixed. Maybe this is the generation that can turn the tide.

2. Streets of Your Town – The Go-Betweens
Although this song is about Brisbane in sunny Western Australia it always sounds to me like a song about my hometown Newport in rainy grey South Wales. Grant McLennan wrote this and I only met him once when he opened for my band the Three Johns at our first London gig in 1983. It’s a song about a town being torn down.

3. Johnny Dowd – Worried Mind
Brilliant and uncompromising the Dark Lord of Ithaca mashes up Hank Williams and a Cajun Vietnam vet’s less than satisfactory return home to the bayou. We’ve played a lot of gigs with this man over the years and it’s always like a wildly enjoyable tutorial with a scary professor who demands you try harder. This came out on the late lamented but ultimately brilliant Chequers Past label.

4. Silverlake – Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore
This Steve Young has been on my mind the last few days. A friend of mine who lives in Silverlake in Los Angeles posted a beautiful photograph of the sunset the other night and also a video. When I clicked on the video and hit unmute there was a crazy disorientating contrast between the beautiful palm trees and orange sky with the mayhem of sirens, helicopters, flash bombs etc. on the video soundtrack. A love song to a place and a time executed perfectly by two of the true greats.

5.  Susan Cadogan – Hurt So Good
Used to hear this at the late night Blues in Chapeltown, Leeds, Yorkshire. A Blues was a private drinking club usually in some old Jamaican guy’s basement and was of course totally illegal. After the pubs shut painfully uncomfortable punk rock art students clutching cans of warm beer in the darkness and learned to keep their heads down and were tolerated as the Bass pounded and the tweeters sizzled.

6. Ether – Gang of Four
My wife picked this. Just heard it sampled by Run the Jewels and I liked the way Killer Mike stood up and said some pretty powerful stuff this week. We thought things were pretty bad in 1977 – never saw this shit coming.

The Lucky 7th: Losers – Jon Langford & Skull Orchard 

THANKS SO MUCH TO JON LANGFORD, AND TO JOHN HENDERSON AT TINY GLOBAL PRODUCTIONS

You can pre-order Jon Langford’s “Lucky 7” series on Tiny Global Productions via their Bandcamp here…

https://langford.bandcamp.com/album/jon-langfords-lucky-seven-series-part-1

 

Author: Nick Hutchings

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