with JEAN SMITH of

Mecca Normal photo by Jean Smith 2015 Jean Smith vocals David Lester guitar

“SONG FOR EWE” is the feature where artists beloved by VELVET SHEEP choose an obscure song they’ve been listening to that day. Today it’s an indie hero from the original incarnation of the fanzine, a Canadian lady who forms one half of an extraordinary band who’ve had records out on some of my favourite all time record labels Calvin Johnson’s K Records, Slim Moon’s Kill Rock Stars & Gerard Cosloy’s Matador. She writes and sings hard-edged lyrics about personal politics, while accompanied by discordant undulating guitar by partner in rhyme David Lester. Her band Mecca Normal have been going since 1984 but hit my consciousness around the explosion of riot grrrl vinyl and 90s post-grunge zines (circa Huggy Bear/Wiiija/Bikini Kill) that inspired me to write Velvet Sheep in the first place. She writes, she paints, she sings, she’s an activist, a feminist, and the epitome of DIY punk. It’s the brilliant Jean Smith and she’s got a timely song for ewe from one of her own first-hand heroes, someone she’s gigged with…the recently and sadly departed Vi Subversa from Poison Girls.

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My favourite Mecca Normal album and one I originally reviewed in the fanzine was the Matador release “Sitting On Snaps”, so it was a thrill to find Jean was a mutual friend of Justin & Vern from Unwound who’ve both featured in popular editions of “song for ewe”. Not only did she get back to me super quickly but she is a thoroughly engaging (as well as inspiring person) with plenty of tales to tell. And Jean’s not only chosen a very topical song by an untypical girl, she’s also given me a tale based in my home town of London, and a comprehensive update of her multifarious activities, which are best told from Jean’s own words…

“Hi Nick!

Here are a couple of photos (one from that same tour when we stayed at Vi (Subversa’s) house)

Jean Smith of Mecca Normal at Nick Toczek's house in Bradford, 1989
In addition to the projects below, I just started a part time job in the garden centre at Home Depot. I forget what you have that’s similar. It’s a giant

D-I-Y store for home-owners — which I am not one of!


Mecca Normal is working on new songs. A literary agent is currently submitting my novel “Obliterating History” – a guitar-making mystery, domination and submission in a small town garage” to publishers. 
I’ve been doing a series of $100 paintings this month that are actually selling!
I’m involved with a visionary project to acquire a guest house to turn into a free artist residency through a funding campaign that only allows $1 donations (from 500,000 people).
Mecca Normal collaborates in a weekly music, text and illustration column for Magnet Magazine online.”


Nick again, just for an update on some more recent Mecca Normal music, here’s one from their most recent album “Empathy For The Evil” (2014) recorded by Kramer, this is “One Man’s Anger”

Jean is a remarkable woman, and from one remarkable woman to another…it’s over to Jean for her “song for ewe”…

“After hearing of Vi Subversa’s death (1935 – 2016), I went looking for live Poison Girls footage and found there wasn’t much.

This version of “Another Hero” demonstrates Vi’s intensity – a political clarity that inspired me as a feminist punk singer in the early 80s.

When Mecca Normal toured in England in 1989, our first show was with Vi doing a solo reading at Apples and Snakes, a small club in London.

Some months later, we played an East London hall show with Poison Girls. Because we were staying at Vi’s house before and after the show, we were included in her 54th birthday party, a splendid event held in her back garden. Someone at the party told me that when Poison Girls needed money to make a record, they sold a slice of the backyard to the neighbours behind them.”