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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Lance Hahn on The Mob

This is just the first part of 10 000 words Lance wrote about The Mob for ' Let the Tribe Increase', the book he was working on right up until his recent death.

The Story Of The Mob by Lance Hahn 1967- 2007

“No Doves Fly Here” is one of the most powerful musical statements to come out of what we’re calling anarcho punk and if you didn’t know any better you would have it all wrong. By traditional standards, it’s barely a punk song at all, dead slow in tempo with repetitive, hypnotic bass lines. In some ways, the music is gothic with roots in songs like “Hollow Hills” by Bauhaus. Lyrically, it’s poetic. Previously, anarcho punk had great difficulty marrying poetics into their music. Poetry was meant to stand alone serving as an introduction to the song. The faster tempos and aggressive chord progressions made poetry in lyrics difficult usually coming off as cartoon-ish. But with the down tempo of “No Doves” it worked. The Mob were hippie punks. But there was something dark and ominous about a lot of their music. They were death hippies, tripping on the apocalypse. And it was all coming from the unlikely area of Yeovil.

Mark, guitarist and vocalist, “When punk came along, me and Curtis were punks overnight. We went to watch bands like the Cortinas and Siouxsie and the Slits… anyone who played in the West Country. We would take our gear along and try to play. Occasionally (very) we would succeed. I remember reading of punk in the NME and I hadn’t got through the first paragraph and I knew it was for me. I remember praying I’d like the music that went with it. There were no punk records and none on the radio. It’s hard to imagine now, but we would buy any record as it was released if it was vaguely punk; Eater, Slaughter and the Dogs, Wreckless Eric, anything!”

Even before Mark discovered punk, he had been interested in playing music.
Mark, “We had a band at school called Magnum Force. We played old rock music at school discos. We only played easy songs as I’ve never been much good at playing guitar.”
Josef, the group’s final drummer, “Up until late 1976, remember, the nucleus of the band that became The Mob still played Status Quo covers under the name 'Magnum Force'. The first real influence upon Mark was the art school decadence and dynamism of The Clash and their ilk. The second was Here & Now. Neither of us ever forgot those early Clash records...”

Mark, “I didn’t like our early music much but it was of a time. And it’s hard to see now but 1976 was a long way from ’77 and by ’78 there were millions of so-called punks.(To my mind this early music of ours sounds crap now) but It was still somehow radical back then.”

With punk changing Mark’s musical interests overnight, the times were also affecting his political outlook.

Mark, “As with punk, radical politics were the only politics that ever interested me – as soon as I was aware of politics. I lived in Canada when I was young and was very aware of the Patty Hearst kidnapping, Black Power at the Olympics and the kidnappings in Quebec in the ‘70s. As I’m writing, people are massed in Genoa on the TV and the world is taking notice. My favorite band at the time of early punk was The Clash. I think the same would be true of Josef and Curtis although Curtis probably favored The Damned. We would get backstage at Clash gigs and chat with the band members. I was gutted when I realized they’d sold us all up the river in “Whiteman In Hammersmith Palais”. I remember listening to it over and over again. “Stay Free” was an anthem to the youth in Yeovil, Weymouth where we hanged at the time.”

With bass player Curtis and drummer Graham Fallows, Mark formed the Mob playing an anarchic form of punk completely autonomous to what was happening in London. A punk band with a unique and personal perspective, the Mob drew from local and outside influences. But like the most common story in British punk, they were largely driven to escape for boredom of daily life.

Mark, “The West Country is a totally tedious place to live when you’re young and boredom breeds bands. I remember the Buzzcocks singing ‘Boredom’ and I thought, ‘you’ve no idea – you live in Manchester.’”

More open to different ideas, the Mob were less antagonistic towards the hippies. A local performance from Here & Now proved to be something of an epiphany.
Mark, ““When we were doing our “trying to blag a gig job” we met up with Here & Now who were playing in Yeovil. We found we shared a lot of ideals with these people. They were doing tours, playing for nothings and passing the hat round after to get the money to get to the next gig. We tagged along and followed them to Holland where we indulged heavily in the “relaxed” atmosphere. If you listen to Gavin’s synthesizer or Steffi playing guitar you could hear so much of what today would be called “dance” music. They were way ahead of our times – we all were to some extent. We’re talking about at time where you would be beaten up in Yeovil for not wearing flairs and having short hair. This was all a brave new world to me.”

In general, it seems that the “Never Trust A Hippie” vibe was more Sex Pistols agit-prop than the reality of the times.

Mark, “I think when people talk of conflict between punks and hippies it was always more to do with student Genesis fans etc. Funny enough, these days I’m referred to as “Hippy Mark” by my Gypsy acquaintances. They mean it condescendingly but it amuses me to no end. In this country hippy has come to represent a wild spirit that lives in a bus and is at war with society (although the truth is probably saddeningly different).

“We called the album “Let The Tribe Increase” to reflect all this It was somewhat what I had in mind – but I’m not sure the reality lives up to the dream although it’s fair to say that it does for a great many people.
“I think that punks mixing with hippies was usually ok – we both wanted to change the world. We introduced hippie children to punk rock at free festivals. They would all dive on the stage and pogo along while the shocked hippies stood and watched. I like to think we appealed to the disaffected of whatever persuasion. We used to have hellish trouble at gigs in Somerset in the early days but that was mostly with bikers.”

Josef, “…Here & Now were far more radical and influential than any of the bands who came onto the scene through Crass Records. If it hadn't been for them, The Mob would probably never have left Somerset, and almost certainly wouldn't have followed the Anarchist line.”
Though not a direct connection to Stonehenge as with Crass, the Free Fest scene was both a vivid childhood memory for Mark as well as an inspiration.

Mark, “When I was at school, we had a day trip to London and we drove past what must have been about 500 hippies camped by Stonehenge. I don’t know what it was but I thought it was fucking fantastic – it was like a scene of outright “fuck you” defiance and celebration all at once. As soon as I was old enough to go out without my Mum, we would go to the festival and spend a week or a month towards the end of it camped out by Stonehenge. The last year of the festival, there were 30,000 of us for a month – un-policed and getting on fine – in my mind it was proof that we could govern ourselves. And the government seen it too – and they smashed it to pieces and replaced it with heroin.”

At this point, at the end of the ‘70s, DIY was a staple in the punk scene with self-published fanzines, indie labels and bands working without managers. In the country, it was set free to manifest itself in different ways. For the Mob, they were lucky enough to have made friends with Here & Now and gained access to their touring resources.

Joining Here & Now for a series of free tours, as Alternative TV had done previously, the Mob were able to develop their sound quickly putting together a set. It also gave them the chance to play abroad for the first time. Many of these early versions of their songs appeared in numerous cassette compilations sold at the performances through Here and Now.

Josef, “Seekers of unreleased Mob songs might look out for 'Weird Tales', a compilation of bands from the tours, which features 4 tracks from the band's tour in Holland with Here & Now. ‘Youth’, ‘Crying Again’, ‘Never Really Cared’ and ‘Frustration’. The latter written and sung by Graham.”

These free festivals were a testament to the groups adherence to the community’s cooperative vibe. Money and musical career were not part of the picture.

Mark, “We just played when we could and where we could. We were never driven to be big stars.”
This friendship with Here & Now would also bring them together with other likeminded punk bands like the Androids of Mu and Zounds. Eventually these support acts found themselves together on tour organizing their own free shows under the title Weird Tales.

Mark, “Weird Tales was like a tour of Here & Now support bands. Grant was along for the ride. It was organized by JB a legend of the Latimer Road squatting scene and the Acklam Hall in Portobello. We met up with lots of other like-minded people whilst on this tour and I think it’s where Zounds met Crass. It was interesting how Zounds underwent a transition from hippy “guitar solo” band to punk band overnight under Crass’ guidance. It always amuses me when people say about Zounds being a punk band. Although they were fundamentally the same songs, their entire set was “punked up” to go with the new image (Not that this matters of course).”

Josef, “Just before I joined Zounds, they were touring with The Mob and The Androids of Mu in an old bus. The tours were known as The Weird Tales, and the idea was that all the shows were free, and a collection was taken. Needless to say it was doomed to failure, as your average UK anarcho would rather spend money on cider.... The bands had all been support acts for Here & Now, who had started the whole thing up. One night they got a puncture somewhere out in Essex, and entirely by accident, some of Crass happened by and fixed it for them. They liked what the bands were doing and invited Zounds, and subsequently The Mob, to record for them.”

The tours weren’t without incident.

Josef, “Actually their was some enmity between Zounds and The Mob, stemming from the 'Weird Tales' tours. Zounds more mature rational perception of anarchism and politics didn't mix well with The Mob's 'vivid but vague' approach.”

‘Vivid but vague’ was certainly an accurate way to describe any overreaching ideology for the group.
Mark in Kill Your Pet Puppy fanzine, “I’d like to see a society built on trust, where everyone trusted everyone else until they couldn’t be trusted anymore, then carried on trusting them anyway. Eventually this would instill enough trust into people so they could give it back. I can’t do it myself yet. I’d like to. If this is anarchy we’re anarchists.”

After the free tours, the group was somewhat in the mode of DIY and by 1980 decided to do a record on their own. Rather than send off demo tapes to established record labels, the started their own label.

Mark, “I never had the slightest interest in mainstream success. It would be the easiest thing in the world to write popular songs with catchy tunes. But that’s no interest to me. Here & Now enjoyed small success probably along the same lines as ourselves. Like I said before, we were before out time.”

All The Madmen was the Mob’s label, though originally a fanzine and a way to release the super obscure “England’s Glory” 7” by the Review. Financing the initial operation was someone named Captain Max. Josef, “No history of The Mob should omit Captain Max. Max was Mark's friend and ally throughout, and as far as I know is with him still. 96 Tapes released a cassette of Captain Max and the Flying Pigs, which was Me, Curtis , and any others who felt like it, with Max singing piss-take covers of old rock and roll songs.

“He also traveled as roadie for Zounds to Europe, and is a far more prominent figure in the Mob's personal legend than me - I think he put up the money for Youth/Crying Again. He was there all along. I was just the drummer for the last couple of years.”
Mark, “We borrowed the money off Max. There were loads of us that hung around at Geoff’s house, 20 Larkhill Rd in Yeovil. We made a fanzine “All The Madmen” there was a group of about 20 of us that loosely did everything together. Max was the only one who had a job. He kept us all in beer and drugs.”

Their rawest studio recording, “Crying Again/Youth” 7” sounds something like a really well done demo. The whole thing was recorded and mixed inexpensively through their Here & Now connections.

Mark, “We recorded the single with Grant Showbiz from Here & Now. He later worked with the Fall and the Smiths. I don’t recall a lot about it to be honest.”
Josef, “I wasn't around then, so I can't really say much about that. I think they made 500, but it was pretty dreadful. The best thing about it is Graham Fallows, the original drummer. He was absolutely the best - he started playing when he was about six. Listen to the way he plays ‘Witch Hunt’. I always hated trying to play that song, because without him it just sounded limp-wristed.”

Not nearly as dire as Josef makes it out to be, the two songs capture a lot of the elements that would be key to the Mob’s sound. “Crying Again” is both an emotive personal song as well as a memorably catchy punk song.

Time spins around
The wall closes in
I think of the places I used to know
And I’m crying again

“Youth” is a quirky slower track with something of a dub rhythm. The creative drum work colors the repetitive bass line. The descriptive lyrics are sung somewhere between anger and disgust.

He’s disgusted
Mixed up

Mark, “This was very early days and “Youth” was our big number live in Yeovil. John Peel started playing it on Radio 1 at night. But he preferred “Crying Again” so that got taken on as the A side by most people. I don’t like either of them much.”

Using the little resources they had, they were able to sort out just one pressing of 500 copies.
Mark, “We released it on our own ‘cos that was the thing to do – it was what everyone was doing – you could put it out yourself for about 500 pounds.”
The 7” was also the beginning of their working with local artist Wilf who would do the rest of their cover art.

Mark, “Wilf hung around on the fringe of the Yeovil scene. He was a brilliant artist and I’d love to know how he’s getting on. I have a couple of watercolors that he did for “Let The Tribe Increase” that were never used.”

Josef, “As for the artwork, that was all done by a chap from Yeovil called Wilf. Most of the faces he drew are fairly accurate portraits of people from the town that he knew, and his specialty was accurate drawings of helicopters, which constitute the local industry at Westland's in Yeovilton.”

While there wasn’t an anarcho scene in their area at the time, they did find gigs with other local punk bands.

Mark, “The time we spent in Yeovil was previous to the anarcho scene. The bands we were around then were Bikini Mutants and Steve Rudalls Weymouth based Dead Popstars.”
But the London anarcho scene was still influential.

Mark, “We listened to a little bit of Crass but more so the Poison Girls. I was attracted by their politics much more than their music.”
The Mob quickly followed up “Crying Again” with “Witch Hunt” which would be one of their defining songs.

Mark, “We released “Witch Hunt” when we were still in Yeovil. It took months for us to raise the money to release it. I got in my girlfriend’s Dad’s car to get a lift home one night and it was on the radio. There were hundreds of minor classic songs released on obscure labels that never really got heard as much as they deserved. “Witch Hunt” was right up there with them.”

Not a hardcore song at all, not a normal garage band sound, it’s hard to exactly pinpoint what the Mob sound like especially at this stage. While it’s not at all your usual rock structure, it’s somehow catchy as hell.

“Witch Hunt” is also the first song from the Mob to really create the eerie atmosphere that has made them so fascinating to the goth crowd. While possible to find a political context to the song, it certainly can stand alone as evocative.

Stubbing out progress where seeds are sown
Killing off anything that’s not quite known
Sitting around in a nice safe home
Waiting for the witch hunt

By the time the record finally went out of print, they had gone through many pressings with foldout as well as glued sleeves.

Now wanting to find more likeminded people, Mark and Curtis decided to relocate to London.
Mark, “Me and Curtis were keen to spend more time with like-minded people which inevitably led us to London. I’d fell for a girl that lived in London and didn’t go back to Yeovil very often.”

Said Mark in Kill Your Pet Puppy fanzine, “(We) have drifted further apart through having more opportunity to develop our own individual things. In the sticks you’re tied together through isolation, in London you can spread out much more… Being with people of similar belief most of the time makes it easier to cope with things like loneliness, insecurity or these feelings like you think you’re the only person for miles around who doesn’t believe in the state, the police, fighting and football; which is how it was in Somerset.”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lance was a lovely guy, knew him pretty good...I have all these original texts in San Fransisco's Maximum Rock n Roll magazines, at which base I first met him many many years ago. Hope the book goes ahead.

9:13 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for posting this. I like The Mob, and I respect what Lance Hahn did musically and with his writing. His lyrics always seemed unusually earnest and intelligent.

I do a weekly show/podcast, Radio Schizo, love bands like The Mob, Killing Joke, Rudimentary Peni, etc., and the last show I did, Radio Schizo 56, was a tribute to Lance Hahn, Paul raven of Killing Joke, who just died as well, and Paul Fox of the Ruts, RIP.

It's here:


Thanks; this looked to be great piece.


11:04 am  

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