By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — One of the most durable British bands to emerge in the wake of London’s mid-1970s punk explosion, the Mekons have explored a wide array of sounds during four decades of making music
Founded in 1976 by guitarists Tom Greenhalgh and Kevin Lycett, drummer Jon Langford, bassist Ros Allen and singers Mark White and Andy Corrigan, the Mekons came from the same the University of Leeds art student scene that produced Gang of Four. Signed to a record deal with Fast Product at only their second gig, the band produced two successful singles — “Never Been in a Riot,” a satirical response to the Clash’s “White Riot,” and “Where Were You?” — that led to a contract with Virgin Records.
The group’s landmark 1979 debut The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strnen was recorded on instruments borrowed from Gang of Four and featured angular (if less polished), politically charged anthems similar to the songs of their University of Leeds contemporaries. While the band would slide into inactivity after a their second album left Virgin Records bewildered in the early ’80s, Langford kept himself busy playing guitar in the post-punk outfit the Three Johns.
The Mekons would reunite to protest the 1984 British miners strike and rail against Prime Minister Margret Thatcher’s conservative rule. With Langford and Greenhalgh on guitar, the band’s new expanded line-up added vocalist Sally Timms, violinist Susie Honeyman, ex-Damned/PiL member Lu Edmonds, accordionist/vocalist Rico Bell and former drummer for Graham Parker’s band the Rumour, Steve Goulding. The band returned to the studio and in 1985 produced another seminal recording, the country and British folk influenced Fear and Whiskey that pursued a more roots-focused style of punk that they would further develop on subsequent recordings The Edge of the World and Honky Tonkin’.
However, the Mekons would edge back towards more straight-ahead punk rock by the end of the decade, issuing their first major label effort — the critically acclaimed The Mekons Rock and Roll for A&M Records in 1989 that cemented the group not only as still vital post-punk veterans but as a leading light of the burgeoning alternative rock movement. But despite the accolades, the increasingly prolific band would part ways with the label, moving on to a string of equally celebrated efforts that would be issued on several independent labels through the ’90s and into the 2000s.
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Despite the Mekons’ impressive output, Langford and his bandmates would also pursue other creative avenues. Both Langford and Bell branched out into visual art, while the guitarist developed a number of projects including the one-off supergroup Killer Shrews and his alt-country bands the Waco Brothers and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts. Timms and Edmonds would also record solo albums and other collaborative albums.
The band would team with Chicago-based label Bloodshot Records (Langford and several other band members also reside in the Midwestern city) for much of the past decade starting with the release of Ancient and Modern 1911-2011. More recent activity has included the compelling documentary film Revenge of the Mekons that came out in 2014 to excellent reviews and the band hosting the 40th anniversary celebration Mekonville in 2017 that featured a reunion of the Mekons’ original line-up that recorded an album of new material last year under the moniker Mekons 77. Langford and company have also become frequent guests at the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, regularly performing in Golden Gate Park as well as all over San Francisco at affiliated satellite shows each fall.
For the band’s current US tour, the group will perform fan favorites alongside songs from Deserted, the Mekons’ first new studio album in eight years that mixes the bracing punk sound of the early years with sun-baked. elegiac roots-rock ballads and dubby experimentation to great effect. The Mekons come to the Chapel in San Francisco’s Mission District Wednesday night supported by Skokie Girls, a Los Angeles-based duo made up of veteran players Ronna Bronstein and Geri Soriano.
Wednesday, July 24, 8 p.m. $26-$30