001 The Mob – May Inspire Revolutionary Acts (Overground)
Firstly, if you’ve never heard The Mob, this album is the wrong place to start. Score a copy of the Let The Tribe Increase CD. If you enjoyed that, then sit down with May Inspire Revolutionary Acts – it works better that way.
Of course, if you’ve sat through the twenty tracks on Let The Tribe Increase and found them not to your liking, I’d recommend leaving it for a week or two, and then coming back and giving the disc another shot. A quarter of a century or so ago, it took me more than one sitting to appreciate The Mob and I’ve no reason to believe that I’m in any way unique.
What this new compilation from Overground records represents is fragments of the shattered glass in which The Mob reflected the mood, atmosphere and zeitgeist of a specific era. In order to appreciate the significance of these fragments it is necessary to have some understanding of the whole. The trio’s sole studio album maps The Mob’s genome; May Inspire Revolutionary Acts offers sections of DNA.
The bald facts are that the CD is comprised of nine tracks from The Mob’s 1981 demo cassette Ching, an unused studio recording of the 1979 debut single ‘Crying Again’, the original version of ‘No Doves Fly Here’, which is rendered more stark and crystalline by the removal of Penny Rimbaud’s synthesized embellishments, five songs drawn from the Tribute To Bert Weedon cassette that also featured drummer Joseph Porter’s previous band Zounds, and a live quartet recorded at Meanwhile Gardens during the summer of 1983.
The bald facts are really only tangential to the music on this disc and the three young men who made it
The Mob existed in an age of slogans and rhetoric. As the grim and interminable Thatcher era gathered its venal momentum, those who felt galvanised to oppose her employed short, pithy statements of opposition aimed at articulating their resistance and galvanising others. These slogans served their purpose, or sometimes fell wide of the mark, or on closed minds. However, slogans are (by their very nature) facile, direct single-issue statements. Many (too many) well-meaning, naïve, impressionable, anxious young bands felt that to string such slogans together was sufficient to convey the whole of their being. Too many well-meaning, naïve, impressionable, anxious young bands wanted to be Crass.
However, Crass were already occupying the role of Crass with gusto and aplomb and would doubtless have told these young musicians to do their own thing. Crass strung slogans together in a manner that offered an entry point to a complex manifesto of ideas and abstractions from the norm. Too many well-meaning, naïve, impressionable, anxious young bands were too naïve, impressionable and anxious to support their adopted slogans with that kind of consideration.
Crass were wordy. Their songs appeared as granite chunks of typewritten prose that extended and defined the simple statements of song titles and rama-lama choruses. They also supplied lengthy text pieces that further explained and clarified where they were at and why they were so fucking angry. Eventually, Christ The Album arrived with a lengthy booklet that offered glimpses of the real life politics that drove the theoretical politics. Beneath the rhetoric, the ideas, the slogans, the symbolism were people and these people were like you or I and had feelings too expansive and nebulous to be contained within a four-word slogan.
The Mob flipped this paradigm. The lyrics of their songs dealt almost entirely with feelings, with the humanity of how it felt to be oppressed. Their political radicalism was implicit, evident from the dystopian landscapes occupied by their lyrical recountments of human suffering. This demonstrated an awareness and openness to ideas that existed outside of the culture within which they largely operated. This awareness was what made The Mob special and what led to their dissolution.
Both Crass and The Mob shared much ideological common ground. At the core of this ideology was an essential, human love. Whereas Crass employed their lacerating guitar shards and militaristic drum salvos as a sonic backdrop onto which ideas could be projected (a form of tough love), The Mob were, in an entirely secular sense, new testament. Their love was manifest, made achingly so through vocalist/guitarist Mark Wilson’s poignant lyrics and underscored by psychedelic and folk elements that combined with a ‘Lost In Room’ era ATV take on punk to produce a miasmic mesh of sound and imagery.
The Mob’s uniqueness leaked into the anarcho underground via a handful of singles, an album and gigs at festivals, squatted municipal buildings, pubs and concert halls. May Inspire Revolutionary Acts provides a lo-fi series of snapshots taken along this route.
Only one of the nine Ching tracks failed to make it onto vinyl – the coyly titled ‘White N*****s’. The song adds little to the band’s creative canon, but provides some indication of the kind of material discarded along the back roads of Britain and Northern Europe as The Mob developed from being an ATV influenced group not averse to performing ‘Louie Louie’. Three of the Bert Weedon tracks ‘Violence’, ‘No Time’ and ‘Clown’ also serve this purpose, as does – to a lesser extent – the versions of the two songs that comprised the a/b of their first single; Crying Again/Youth.
This process of development reached its vertex with The Mob’s final single ‘The Mirror Breaks’ – a beautiful, crystalline distillation of the direction that the band’s sound had been travelling in. Among the tracks taken from the Burt Weedon cassette is a formative version of the song, that – when compared with the single of three years later – illustrates the band’s creative development better than any other.
The final four tracks on May Inspire… present The Mob in their live element. A run-down public space in Westbourne Park overlooked by brutallist tower blocks on one side and brutalising forces of law and order on the other. Below, rainbow-haired post-punk-proto-crusties danced in the lead-infused summer air, as The Mob pumped out urgent versions of four of their best-loved songs in a spirit of freedom and defiance.
Within months of this performance, The Mob realised that they had successfully finished being A Band and went away to do some other things.
Nevertheless, they became very good at what they did and May Inspire Revolutionary Acts is an effective documentation of their journey. It also makes a convincing case for a live compilation