Thursday, January 04, 2007


Basement 5

I've just read a rather nice article in the January edition of Mojo as part of their on going series Buried Treasure. The article has been penned by Kris Needs who was editor of the much missed UK monthly Zig Zag during the 70's and unknown by me was also manager of the long defunct Basement 5 who much to my surprise have a rather good MySpace page, not too many friends but they do seem to have more of those that count than a lot of other bands. The article had the necessary effect on me and I dully dragged my CD copy from it's hiding place to give it another listen too, and yes I must say that I agree with Needsy, to use the old reggae idiom a crucial release.

The band, as with so many others at the time, were motivated to start their short adventure by the punk movement. Formed by genuine punk legend Don Letts in 1978 the band wasted no time in scoring the prestigious opening spot for Public Images coming out gig at London's Rainbow Theatre on Christmas day of the same year. I am rather ashamed to say that despite being present at the aforementioned gig I have no recollection at all concerning the opening act. Letts did not last and was replaced by Island Records art department employee Dennis Morris, who dully gave up his day job only to have his band signed to Island. This new version of the band entered the studios with Martin Hannett at the controls and laid down the tracks that were to become their sole album '1965-1985', which interestingly enough was preceded by the critically acclaimed dub version of the album called rather disappointingly 'Basement 5 In Dub'. The band had problems keeping a drummer and if rumour is to be believed the skin basher on the album was Charlie Charles on loan from the Blockheads who laid down his contribution in one day! At another period the drum stool had been occupied by Richard Dudanski whose other notable bands were the 101ers and of course Public Image. The album did not sell as well as expected and as with so many other bands before and after them they fell in pieces and were never to deliver a follow up. Denis Morris, who returned to photography after a nervous breakdown, in a rather bitter but droll manner blames their lack of success firmly at the feet of Island who according to him were spending all of their energy on breaking U2. He goes further by saying that after playing together Bono and the boys borrowed various elements from the Basement 5 that helped to contribute to their success! It is somewhat criminal in my mind that there is nothing freely available from the band, despite '1965-1980' being coupled with 'In Dub' for a CD reissue this has long been out of print, so it's happy hunting on E Bay or wherever.
Musically the band were very much at home with the post punk spirit of mix and match experimentalism. They painted a rather bleak landscape both musically and lyrically that could come from no other period than the dismal years of Thatcher's reign. Mixing rock elements with reggae and dub they were one of the bands that broke down the barriers and paved the way for black kids to play rock music. The album's opening track 'Riot' comes over as cross between The Fall, 'My Sharona', 'Riot in Cell Block No.9' and the song that many think inspired it, 'White Riot'. 'No Ball Games' takes it title from the notice that would often be found on public housing estates at the time and does a good job of conjouring up the urban misery of the masses that were doomed to live out lenthy periods of unemployment at such savory places. They also came close to scoring a hit with the punky 'Last White Christmas' I'm never quite sure whether this was tongue in cheek coming from a band that was three quarters back!

I caught them at the Music Machine (as was) in Camden, I had been to see the Cockney Rejects at the Electric Ballroom and was on my way back home. Getting a free ticket helped ...

I had heard Silicon Chip, as far as I know not released on LP and didn't really know what to expect

Fuck me, they were one of the best bands I ever saw

Missed their last gig in Aylesbury ... Wish I hadn't
Unfortunately being an old Yank on the West Coast I never had a chance to see Basement 5 live, though I would've loved to! (Heck, it took 'til May of 1980 for PiL to reach our shores - the LA Punks still thought it was OK to spit, and ruined one of the most amazing gigs - to start off with, anyway - I've ever seen.)

Anyway, I'm a huge Basement 5 fan nevertheless and have every record (though, for some reason, my copy of "Last White Christmas" is a 7" not a 12"). I posted this on the Basements' MySpace page comments but I'll repeat it here - given that the first record was "In Dub", if you look at your copy (or the pictures of it on Discogs) you'll see that it was clearly marked "45 RPM" when in fact it was supposed to be 33 1/3! I was bitterly disappointed when I first heard "1965-1980" because "Ball Games" (that you kindly linked to here) is of course the source for "Paranoiaclaustrophobia Dub", which at 45 was one of the most mind-blowing things I had ever heard in my life! To find out that the Basements didn't actually play at that speed was such a bummer to me - "1965-1980" sounds like "In Dub" on Mandrax in comparison. Nevertheless, I got over it - "Last White Christmas" and "Silicon Chip" were great singles. You gotta love Basement 5 - respect!
I've been looking for a copy of the cd or somewhere to down it from forever;do you know any source that may have one of the above???i'd pay a pretty penny to have it in my library before I DIE!
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