By Jacqueline Howell
The Mekons, founded in Leeds, UK in 1977, make a most intriguing choice to close out the hidden-gem (unofficial) “punk stage” at TURF. Forever after, this stage should be called the Punk Stage or The Mekons stage. Here’s how the cool kids named their bands back in 1977 when they were sitting around at art college:
“They took the band’s name from the Mekon, an evil, super-intelligent Venusian featured in the British 1950s-1960s comic Dan Dare (printed in the Eagle).”*
The Mekons have some Venusian super powers that have allowed them to survive and continue in music for all these years and create 20 albums, even as their first major label release didn’t happen until 1989. They have, as one would expect, a devoted following. The devoted following presents itself like this at the stage in Toronto:
Ripe Old Punk, tapping on a photographer’s shoulder: “Right, now you’re going to be discreet, right? Be discreet.”
Photographer, who is not really a photographer but is a writer standing in for a photographer and loves punk music: “Yes, we’ll be here for just three songs and then out. And then I’m going to watch this gig, I’m excited for it.”
Ripe Old Punk, not getting the rise he wanted, mutters something to his female companion.
Female Companion to Ripe Old Punk: “Don’t worry about it. They’re only going to take a few pics and then they’ll all be out of here and off to Death Cab…”
Photographer, who is not a Death Cab fan, is avoiding them in fact for not the first time, and loves Punk music: “I’ll be watching the gig from the back of the crowd.”
Ripe Old Punk (Sulks).
The Mekons come out and fill the stage with all and sundry, like the best bands, can effortlessly work a non-stage, a tiny stage or a reasonable stage, and the same goes for environmental conditions, levels of drunkenness of various members, or crowds. One member comes out carrying a purse. This is something refreshingly non-hipster, isn’t it? This is something you won’t find anywhere near a Death Cab show. The photographers and audience members who choose to end their festival weekend right here, Sunday night when a hot day turns to a weird chill, are my people. Even the old punks who hate me and mistake me for a Millenial, and who dislike photographers for all the reasons they’ve earned so much dislike in crowds like these.
We are told that at The Mekons gig the night before at The Horseshoe, “A couple of Sadies fell off the stage!” Another great gig, a drunken gig, one joined on stage by members of Toronto’s The Sadies. I’m not only 30 years late, I’m a day too late. I wish myself back there, even though I was here, trying to see other bands. We are told “We aren’t as drunk tonight as last night.”
Tom Greenhalgh has a great, rambling stage presence, and a terrific vocal which is, tonight, in 2016, reminiscent of Joe Strummer. A notion they might find funny, considering their first music was a satirical take on The Clash’s White Riot “I’ve Never Been in a Riot”. He looks like something Tom Waits has been basing his act on for the past 30 years. He seems to be at least as drunk tonight as he was last night. The messiness is shambolic and beautiful, with unscripted moments today being treasured moments for my generation who knows better but never knew it would all go so sideways, and never took notes, or photos, back then.
I’m compelled to do something I haven’t done all day, and rarely do: pull out my notebook and write down lyrics. The lyrics I catch in the wind are amazing, from the type of band that comes from the thoughtful, well-read art student side of punk instead of the other.
I write down “Lose Your Head”
(fortunately this is the name of the song, so I can actually find it later)
I write down ” Where I land I will be renowned”
I’ve started to develop a critical ear, that real music lover’s ear. I knew from a 5 minute listen before TURF that I would like this, and I don’t, I love it. Sally Timms is fascinating to watch, in a simple white summer shift dress, ageless and naturally beautiful, a slash of red lipstick, the type of woman we don’t see much on stage anymore. The non-photographer with the camera takes frame after frame of this woman that won’t turn out, before giving up and just watching instead.
I write down “A stranger pulls the white sheet from your body” this is from “Now We Have the Bomb” and the lyrics are stunning, as is the delivery by Sally Timms. This song has stayed with me, and will stay with me. It’s everything. It’s about the life and death questions “we thought that we were natural survivors/ forgive me if I go out with a bang” she sings, nonchalantly, chillingly. The song contains a call for audience arm movements, followed by a free form dance break. Everyone does it. No one defies this amazing woman tonight.