Paul Artrocker looks back to the turn of the century, when the world REALLY needed the ARTROCKER CLUB

So it was that Tom set me the task of re-living some of the experiences of our early live Artrocker outings. Despite both of us having prematurely dysfunctional and selective memories he decided this would be darned easy for me seeing as I kept some of the year planners featuring our band bookings and had kept a diary for some years. Problem is, of course, remembering where those two sources are! (The problem remains!).

Flying in the face of proper research I thought I should kick off with purely ‘winging it’ and seeing where we got to. What threw the dynamic duo, Tom and myself together is for another story but once finding ourselves ‘officed up’, we’d already been telling everyone we knew on email what we thought was cool and what was decidedly not cool every week. ‘Live’, was always going to play a crucial part in how Artrocker would develop so then it was more a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘whether’we should roll our sleeves up and get involved.

Pre Artrocker Club nights, we began in what is now a Cross-rail station in Oxford Street but was then, The Metro. Why the West End ? This is a ‘Tom’ thing and I will pester him about it and return with the answer ( I have a recollection that George Melly’s ‘Revolt into Style’ was a book Tom implored me to read with regard to rock’n’roll in the West End). I think ….. it was due to the fact that rock’n’roll had traditionally found a home in the West End from the 50’s onwards but was being forced out, like everything else creative, by redevelopment. I think we also had a craving to hark back the a vibe of rock’n’roll being both glamourous and sleezy at the same time, and this is what the West End can provide. We looked at several options but it was an old friend, Paul Tunkin, who had run his legendary Blow Up club in the West end for years, who gave us an invitation to , in effect, join him, at The Metro. (Tom and I had played The Blow Up Club in our garage band Dig Dag Dog not that long previous, but Paul’s Club now resided at The Metro, at the Tottenham Court Road end of Oxford Street).

My in depth research will reveal, when I get around to doing it, what our first gig at The Metro was, but Tom ‘threw’ one at me recently to get me started. From New York ….. LIARS …… 2000, probably, or possibly 2001. Artrocker was so much in its infancy that we had another name for our live events – ‘The Rock’n’roll Club’ – very straight forward, does what it says on the tin, but primarily, lifted from a track on the first Richard Hell and the Voidoids album (setting our stall out correctly, right from the start has always been essential).
Why LIARS and how LIARS ? I’m gonna guess it was with the help of long standing friend of ours, Paul Smith of Blast First Records fame, the kind of man who you take a tip off from, very seriously indeed. This would make sense because LIARS would become a Mute band and Paul had very much worked closely with the Mute Label. I can’t recall what we were allowed to hear ….. maybe nothing, except with the guarantee that they were seriously hot New York shit in a Pop Group, Gang of Four, PiL, sort of way – a band who ticked our boxes. Until I do get hold of my research documents I’m not going to know the exact bill EXCEPT THAT, in 2000/1 the problem with putting UK bands on as supports was that they were all a complete embarrassment – a problem that would take a clutch of years, and us and others shouting wake-ups at the UK scene relentlessly, to resolve.

I reckon there was one band in the country who were capable at that point of sharing a stage with LIARS and, thank goodness, that band’s demo had found its way to the dynamic duo’s office space. 80’s Matchbox B-Line Disaster was a band name I knew I wanted to remember, because the demo was ace, and, considering it was a ludicrous name, it was also super cool. I reckon one afternoon of repeating said name over and over at steadily increasing  speed did the trick for me. The demo, it turns out, contained a version of the later 80’s classic ‘Celebrate Your Mother’. It’s not so much their warped pycho-punk-hearse-a-billy was a perfect musical match, but just that it seemed they had a swagger and irreverence and edge about them that was in such short supply in the UK.

Now the really stupid part about this story is that, pretty much, I can’t recall anything at all about the gig itself. Some of this, it has to be said is probably due to the layout of the venue. It was a concrete bunker down two flights of stairs and our ‘ticket booth, was about half way down those stairs. This meant that one or other of us dynamics had to be away from the gig and ‘at the door’ at all times and that actually reaching the live room, especially on busy nights, was a considerable quest. As far as I can recall…. we did have a ‘hot ticket’ on our hands that evening. I was going to see both bands at later shows and also in later incarnations when I could actually get to enjoy what both had to offer. How I did pine when we heard that the original lineup of LIARS had imploded, but how very artfully did they re-group and hit us again with fresh sounds. And what an absolute pleasure it was to put on a reformed 80’s Matchbox lineup on our Artrocker Stage and the short-lived but extraordinary Offset Festival in 2010.

The (mostly) excellent news is, of course, that musicians never die, they just re-form, start a side project, get a job on radio, get another band together: I was suitable impressed when I saw Piano Wire for the first time at The Victoria in Dalston. The Victoria itself, at least initially, seemed to me exactly the kind of place I’d be likely to restart an Artrocker Club because it had similar traits and atmospheres. Initially it had a backroom with peeling paint and damp toilets (so close to the stage you practically had to choose which song you wanted to join the band on to go for a wee) and a wonderfully village hall feel that lent it self , no doubt, to vintage sales, book stalls, wedding receptions etc as well as rock’n’roll. And an unassuming front bar full of Jamaican locals bemused at the racket behind. Since its early day, however, it has been up-graded, but not destroyed, by the Jaguar Shoes ‘lot’, and remains ‘one of the best’ in Hackney. Piano Wire have been formed by Sym and Andy from 80’s Matchbox and are cool – I’m not hear to review them… but, almost bringing this piece full circle, I’m going to tell you, bravely, that the band they brought to my mind, were the artfully punky Richard Hell and The Voidoids – the right kind of band for us… again.
LIARS ? I haven’t checked what those guys are up to now but, hell… how many really good albums do you need a band to make, and how many great performances do you need them to make before they decide enough is enough. ie LIARS have to prove nothing – in fact they did that in 2001!!