theThe – The Concerts

Intro

It was 1986 when I first heard theThe. I was a sulky teenager aged 15 with acne and attitude. My hairstyle of choice was a thick fringe that covered my spotty forehead. One of my best friends at the time, a lad called David McManus who for his age, had amazing taste in music.  We would recommend different albums to each other and chill and chat shite. I seem to remember at the time, that he was loving The Waterboys “This is the Sea”, Tom Waits “Raindogs” and theThe “Infected.” Like I said, he had extremely good taste for a teenager.
What a stupid name for a band, I thought when he handed the album to me. The cover was very intense. Completely different to what I’d seen before. Mad colours and a vivid picture of a person in a state of panic with a smattering of snot around his mush.
“Infected” was the album and the cover art conveyed this.
I didn’t really pay much attention on my first listen, we were too busy yapping.

Ifected

A few days later I was at home and Channel 4 advertised that they were going to broadcast the new theThe Infected movie. This is what got me hooked. Each song from the album had a video that accompanied it.  As I watched the film I was intrigued and fascinated. Just like the album cover, the video was different, it was heavy going.  The film followed the overall theme of infection, prostitution, seedy sex, Americanization and fighting inner demons and a few creepy midgets amongst other things.
A healthy and fascinating alternative to Michael Jackson and Rick Astley and whatever dribble was polluting my ears at the time.
I needed this album.

Film

The film was very memorable. From the sight of a mad-eyed chubby prostitute riding Matt Johnson’s face during “Out of the Blue” with the old gurning cleaner in the background as Matt has it away in a very seedy room in the same video.  If you have never seen the video. Go forth and seek. It’s a visual treat.
“Infect me with your love,” what a line to start a song.  This was around the time when aids was big news. What a dilemma loving someone but not being able to have sex with them, without the risk of Infection.
“I’ve got too much energy to switch off my mind, ain’t got enough to get myself organised.” This line explains me to a letter, still does.  I struggle to sleep most nights and this summarises that feeling.
“I can’t give you up till I got more than enough, so infect me with your love,” sings the almost jolly chorus until you realise what he’s actually saying.  It’s a contradiction. A conflict.
I remember reading a quote from Matt quoting the late great John Lennon “Tell the truth and make it rhyme,” but sometimes the truth is scary.  Matt bared his soul with each song on this album.
“From my scrotum to your womb, your cradle to my tomb”. That’s a scary line right there.  Read it again.
From the opening line, it’s a blast of heavy percussion, driving bass line and flamboyant trumpets.
“Out of the Blue (into the fire)”, has a fabulous selection of stand out lyrics. The line, “She was lying on her back with her lips parted.” I mean wow, that line whacked me across the chops. I was 15 with lots of pent-up frustration. Sex was still a mysterious and fascinating subject for me but this song could and should be used to advertise STD and the benefits of using contraception.
“I was trying so hard to please myself I was turning into somebody else.”  Disassociation. This line spoke to me for a long time and still does. You meet someone and fall for them and over time you change yourself to please yourself. But is this what you really want?
Heartland was the biggest “hit” from the album. The chorus “This is the 51st state of the USA”, was a bitter reflection of the UK being nothing more than the 51st state of the good old USA.   This reflected with a McDonalds in every city centre, and satellite town, the privatisation of public services, greed, and corruption.
The UK nothing more than the lapdog to the USA.  Not very much has changed, 32 years later.
The stand out-line for me. “This is the place where pensioners are raped and the heart is being cut from the welfare state.”  The song charted at 29. I wonder how it even got playlisted?
The song starts with the sound of industry which leads to guitar and a beautiful jazz piano.
The overall theme for me personally was that Matt Johnson did indeed speak the truth.  It might not be everyone’s cup of tea but it was mine. The album was a revelation and it still sounds just as relevant today.
I could and should continue writing about the rest of the album, maybe I will one day.
I had fallen for theThe in a pretty big way. My other favourite musician was David Bowie.
I needed more.
This was around the time before the internet had taken off.  There was no YouTube or Google available.  You just had to trust your gut instinct, save up your pocket money and try to make the purchase.  That was an issue almost straight away.  Liverpool had 2 major record shops at the time.  HMV on Church Street and Virgin.  I checked both shops to no avail. Thankfully Liverpool had a few independent record shops, one of which was called Probe Records which at the time was down Cavern Walks. It was one of those places where you had punks and heads hanging around the front door. You dare not ask for a certain record in case you got a withering look of disdain from the seller. This was where I found Soul Mining.

Soul Mining

Soul Mining was a different theme from Infected.  More keyboards and soul-searching.  As soon as I heard the album I realised it was just as good as Infected. Over time it became one of my favourite albums.  Not as intense as Infected but still a beautiful testament to words and music.
Stand out tracks. “Uncertain Smile” still has one of the best piano solos. Period.  Jools Holland nailed this solo.
“Giant” and the title track, both immense.  “This is the day” what a beautiful, special song which even though it sounds quite positive could be interpreted a number of ways.  The first verse tells us about the subject of the song, not being able to sleep, with the days slipping by, reminiscing.   The chorus so simple, the same person telling him or herself that this is the day that their life will surely change.  I wanted to name this blog after this wonderful song because it’s a great song to start the day with and just a wonderful positive chorus.
I could write an essay about this song and album but this post is about seeing theThe live so I need to stop waffling and get to it.
I don’t think he toured Infected.  Not that I was aware of anyway and if he did, I was either too young to go or too skint.

Live

The first time I had the pleasure of seeing them was at Aston Villa Leisure Center in Birmingham around ’89 with my friend Alan Prior for the “theThe vs the World tour.”  That was a great line up.  Johnny Marr on guitar was special.  I remember catching the coach down to Birmingham full of anticipation and excitement. They were promoting the newly released Mind Bomb album with its black and white photograph of Matt on the cover looking like he meant business. I did miss Andy Dog’s unique album art all the same.

From what I can remember, the show was excellent. The new material was cool. Armageddon Days was ace, the intro was a cracker with each member of the roll-call replying to Matt on the Ballroom Blitz style intro. The Beat(en) Generation another catchy tune with world-weary lyrics that contradicted the melody. I was surprised by just how good they were live.

Matt chopped and changed the lineup for each album but this lot were a tight unit. For me, there is something magical watching a group play live especially during a tune such as Uncertain Smile. I remember watching in fascination as the piano solo kicked in and Matt, Johnny and I think it was James Eller swaying in unison as the solo played.

I was lucky to see this show. Life was good I was 18 and I had just seen one of the best groups in the world on top of their game. Then everything changed. I had a kid.

Not that having a kid is a bad thing but it definitely changed my life. Anyhow, I digress.

The next time I had the privilege of seeing this amazing group was the Jingle Hell tour.  This time I went with another friend.  My old friend Gary.  I was going through a little bit of an experimental phase.  I sometimes on the odd occasion divulged in certain items that sent my head west.  I am not one to advocate the use of recreational items but I was young and naive.  Both of us were quietly excited.  I was close to wetting myself in fact. I was also slightly concerned that Gary might not like them but I had a feeling he would.  Anyhow he handed me a microdot.  Which I subsequently swallowed.

I can’t remember if they had a support band, but I do remember being very hot.  The concert was in The Royal Court in Liverpool.  Which for a short arse like me was a great venue.  The floor sloped from the back to the stage and it had great acoustics and wasn’t too crammed.

The only real issue I had was that the walls and peoples faces had started melting.  The music smothered me.  I was trying my hardest to stay on my feet.

Every line that Matt sung on that night meant something to me and when your senses are very finely tuned.  The emotion of each word sunk deep within me.  It was interesting.

They were promoting “Dusk”  This time Andy Dog was back.  I love the cover.  A stressed out being floating across the blood red landscape of London with a look of despair.  “True Happiness (this way lies)” – a shouty acoustic number of Matt being a dirty devil.  Loving his woman but looking over her shoulder for something new.  “Dogs of Lust”, the title alone sounded like dirty sex with its shuddering throbbing melody.  Not what you need when your stoned and full of lust.

The concert was a beautiful blur.  I remember fragments.  “Love is Stronger than Death” almost brought me to tears.

My senses were very heightened.  Part of me regrets being in the state of mind that I was in at the time, but another part of me likes to experiment and push internal boundaries.

I do remember being fascinated by the microphone picking up the general chatter and noise from the crowd and this playing back through the speakers in front of us.  I shouted something out and I heard myself a fraction of a second later.  This merged with the weird noise at the start of “Lung Shadows” just before the ambient theme drifted in.

It was beautiful and will always stay with me.  “Lung Shadows” is an underrated song in my opinion.  Not many words but so very laid back and trippy.  It reminded me of Soul Mining in a weird way.  Like a long distant relative waving in the distance.

The concert ended and the lights went up. In my fragile mind, it had only started.  In our minds we were normal.  It was only when we saw each other we realised just how wired we both where.  I remember going for a piss and catching my reflection in the mirror.  My pupils were throbbing, pulsating almost.

We stumbled out into the December night.  The cold fresh air hit us like a brick.  We both hung around outside.  I think I was trying to tell the bouncers and anyone who was unfortunate enough to be within speaking distance, about how Matt Johnson spoke only the truth and that each song had so many deeper meanings.

Somehow we both wondered on to the tour bus.  The driver must have been so confused when these two strange boggle-eyed urchins where on his bus.  We shuffled off when they realised we were not meant to be there.

Somebody kicked me in the balls. Maybe the dogs of lust were playing in my mind.  I took my prescription glasses off convinced that I could see normal.  My friend propped me up against the wall next to the stage door, trying to get me to calm down. We got some strange looks from the roadies who were carrying the equipment out.

Meeting

Then it happened.  I was trying to get my head together staring at nothing in particular.  A few people walked out the stage door, my friend stopped one of them.  Matt Johnson was looking straight at me.  The album cover from Mind Bomb was there in front of me.  I snapped out of my malaise.  “Are you ok?” He asked.  “I think so” I replied.

“Thank you for your music.” I said. He looked a little worse for wear which was good.  We spoke very briefly but I will never forget this moment.  My mate passed him a marker pen.  He signed my top.  I had hand-drawn a t-shirt with one of the skulls from the inner sleeve from Infected.  He complimented the drawing and we parted ways.  Like I say a beautiful moment lost in time.

I made it home with Gary.  My ex-partner kicked off on us both because of the wild-eyed state we were both in.  I think I was frothing at the mouth at this point.  A few days later she boiled washed my tops.  The autograph and picture ruined. I never forgave her for this and we separated years later.

Then he disappeared.

The thing with being a theThe fan was you had to understand that they were like a lifelong friend.  Sometimes they were around and spent time with you but other times they wanted to be alone to do their own thing.  He has never been prolific.  Bowie spoilt us as he almost bought an album out each year.  You could count on one hand how many albums theThe brought out proper between Soul Mining and Nakedself. But what Matt lacked in being prolific, he more than made up in quality. Quality over quantity I would suggest.

NakedSelf

I had to wait 7 years to see them again.  They bought out a cover album of  Hank Williams tunes in-between NakedSelf.  Nakedself is very underrated, it arrived with very little fanfare.  There was no standout single that was released this time around.  The album cover missing a Mr Dog special. A single light bulb surrounded by darkness.  Well, Matt has always been the Lighthouse.

It was a strange combination of tunes.  The drawn-out sirens and marching drumbeat of “Boiling Point” with its weary lyrics.  “The Whisperers,” a sad tale of a woman going through a potential break up or just in a bad place.  This was different from Matt.  Not politics or religion.  It’s unusual and somewhat brave for a man to sing about the feelings and viewpoint of a woman.  I love the final line.  “There’s one thing in life that holds.  You’re on your own (you gotta grow).”

“December Sunlight,” another song from a woman’s perspective with its sad chorus of the character being “cried out” sung over and over again.  The final chorus where she finally finds redemption is beautiful.

The album also contains one of my favourite theThe songs “Phantom Walls” this song is so delicate and beautiful.  I remember listening to this song when my mum passed away at the age of 60.  She passed away holding my hand, suffering from a massive stroke.  She was fine one day and 3 days later she died.  As stupid as this might sound, this song helped me through the sadness and grief.  Each line was from the heart. “Hey embrace your pain, you cannot run away. And pain can be your friend. As it explains.” The chorus sang.

Life can be cruel at times. As we get older we all have to suffer bereavement at some time or other.  It’s inevitable and as we get older, you start to get used to the loss and sadness but the one thing that losing my mum taught me was that life was short.  Make the most of your time. Enjoy your friends, enjoy your family.  Enjoy being you.  I only found out last year during a radio interview that the song was about the loss of Matt’s mother.

This time around I travelled to London.  They were playing The Garage which is a very small venue.  For this reason alone I loved the concert.  Matt was in touching distance.  It was quite powerful seeing someone singing their heart out right in front of you.  Watching their fingers play chords and just this magic passing through me.  The muscles in his neck as he sung “Cried out” over and over again.  Sometimes small venues are the best.  The concert was just like the album, low key with no flashy gimmicks just Matt and his guitar and small band and the songs.  It was always just about the songs. Wonderful lyrics and beautiful melodies.
I saw them again later that year in the Glastonbury Festival, the year that Bowie headlined which was amazing. TheThe and Bowie in one weekend. Glastonbury was a trip. I won’t bore anyone with my stupid anecdotes of the festival but maybe one day.
Then in typical theThe style, he disappeared.

And so it came as a surprise, on Record Store Day 2017, yet again with little fanfare a new single from theThe. As much as he seemed to be out of the public eye, he still kept busy releasing soundtracks for his brother’s films. The soundtracks where quiet deep and moody. He also had Radio Cineola on his website. The song “We can’t stop what’s coming” was his first proper theThe tune in around 16 years. I remember being pissed off on record store day because it was sold out on the day in my local shop. I managed to order one online.

The song is a belter, it was so good to hear Matt doing what he does best. A nice laid back keyboard that leads to the fabulous chorus. The cover was great too a great illustration by his talented brother Andy Dog.

I only found out after the release that his brother had passed away and that’s who Matt dedicated the song too. Proper sad news. Life really can be shite sometimes. But as the song says “We can’t stop what’s coming,” we all suffer bereavement in our lives and we are all going to pop our clogs one day, what we choose to do and how we choose to live is ultimately our own choice, so enjoy your life and appreciate it.

I went to Manchester last year to the Inertia Variations with the meet and greet which I was excited about I tried to persuade my wife to come with me but she was busy. The film is interesting and very insightful. Some really poignant moments when they are looking through Andy’s drawings. The performance of “We can’t stop what’s coming” is excellent. I got my chance to ask him a question I said thanks for making such good tunes and what his plans where. He never really let on what he had planned. I also met Johnny Marr as well so all was good.

Return

A few weeks later, they announced after a 17-year gap that they would play a couple of gigs in the Royal Albert Hall in London. Part of me was really excited but the other disappointed because I rightly assumed that they were going to sell out. The day arrived the bloody website kept crashing I managed to secure 2 tickets right up in the gods for £85 quid with booking fees which would have worked out around £90 odd quid. Tie this in with the hotel and everything else and you are talking about £500 for me and my wife something I would struggle to justify. I hesitated and let them go feeling slightly disappointed, but then a day or so afterwards’s they announced more dates, this time in Brixton Academy London.  It was a strange way to announce a new tour.  I get the impression that it was something along the lines of,  let’s do a couple of dates and see how they sell and go from there.

London

This more or less brings me up to date.  Me and my wife Julianne where going to see them after such a long wait. I couldn’t wait.   I was deliberating between driving, getting the train or a coach.  It was a Wednesday.  I can’t stand midweek gigs they are a pain in the arse.  You have to book 2 days off work and when you work in a company where holidays are scarce I have to beg, borrow or steal them.  I dismissed driving due to congestion charges and parking fees.  The train tickets cost £85.00 each and they where the cheapest so we opted for the good old coach.  That’s when I started writing this post partly because I was bored and partly because I wanted to say thankyou to Matt.

I really felt for Matt.  On the Saturday he posted that his father had passed away.  He also said that due to financial constructs that the shows would still go on.  What a bloody shame, probably done loads of rehearsing and looking forward to the shows and life with its way of dishing out cruel blows kicked Matt in the nuts.

We had a couple of drinks in the local Wetherspoons in Brixton.  The ability to order drinks via an app was the dogs nuts.  I’d never been to Brixton Academy and was really looking forward to the show.

The venue is a good size with a nice sloped stage.  My wife was a little upset because they only sold large bottles of wine for around £27.00 a pop.

We made our way to the front on the right-hand side.  Wow, it was hot.  DJ Food was playing a set but the sound didn’t do him justice and then it happened.  Matt arrived on stage.  He told us about his father and my heart went out to him and what stuck with me that his father would want him to not cancel the shows and for all the internal upset, he played a blinder.

Matt Johnson, you really are a diamond.  I can’t imagine how it must have felt performing with this on your shoulders but like I said earlier on, nobody knows when their number is up and your dad was a grafter as is Matt.  I have had my share of bereavement and as you get older, you get more familiar with the heartache but given time the heartache diminishes and you will be able to grieve.  What a special man.

The band where good, really good.  They started with Global Eyes, straight away you could tell it was just as good as ever.  It was great to hear the B’side from “Heartland” get an airing.  “Flesh and Bones” was always too good to be confined to a b-side in my opinion.  “Heartland” was magnificent, the song still just as relevant.

It was nice to hear “We can’t stop what’s coming” live.  The lad on guitar was really good and DC Collard on the keyboard was immense.

It was a great setlist, a good mix of 7 songs from Dusk, 3 from Nakedself, Mind Bomb and Soul Mining.  Best of all 2 oldies from Burning Blue Soul.  “Like a sun rising thru my garden” is a very old forgotten trippy gem.

The only issue was the overbearing heat.  It was like a sauna.  It was rammed.  We could just about move at the front.  My wife went to the ladies, she never returned.  She couldn’t get back to me and were separated for a full half of the concert and they ran out of drinks in some of the bars, but none of this was Matt’s doing.  They did an encore with an excellent version of Uncertain Smile with DC Collard playing the piano solo note for note and making it his own.

It was a fabulous return and it was so cool seeing Matt do, what he does best.  Singing his heart out and sharing these fabulous lyrics that mean so very much to all us fans.  I have always admired Matt since I first heard Infected many moons ago.  His words have given me comfort through rough times.  They have given me a smile on my face and hope in my heart.  This wonderful man is inspirational and very humble.  My heart bleeds for this diamond geezer and I just wanted to say thank you.

It’s been a journey

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