Prolapse

TrackAlbum
Psychotic NowCrate EP
Headless In A Beat MotelPointless Walks To Dismal Places
Doorstop Rhythmic BlocPointless Walks To Dismal Places
Tina This Is Matthew StonePointless Walks To Dismal Places
TCRLove Train - PUBE 06
Flexbacksaturday
Slash/ObliqueThe Italian Flag
DeanshangerThe Italian Flag
Visa For Violet And VanThe Italian Flag
Cylinders V12 Beats Cylinders 8Ghosts Of Dead Aeroplanes

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Prolapse photo

Prolapse (l to r): Pat Marsden (guitar), Mick Derrick (vox), Tim Pattison (drums), Linda Steelyard (vox), David Jeffreys (guitar), Donald Ross Skinner (guitar), Mick Harrison (bass). Photo by Jason Redpix

 

Contributor: Duncan Harman

“Cor, this beats the lot,” says Sid James, famous star of TV, radio and films.

Yes, it’s December 1960, and Sidney James, famous star of the turf accountant and bedrooms of ladies who aren’t his wife, is officiating at the grand opening of – warning: promotional blurb ahead – Britain’s largest and most up-to-date supermarket and discount store. In Leicester. Shitty, god-forsaken Leicester.

Actually, I rather like the place (no need to write in and complain). I appreciate Leicester’s anonymity; its habit of flaunting municipal success and malaise with the same, modest shrug. Take Britain’s largest and most up-to-date supermarket and discount store, for instance; a Tesco situated on the ground floor of the Lee Circle multi-storey car park, and a building so aesthetically soul-destroying that – even to this day, with the store long gone – the entire vicinity feels as if it should be twinned with a J.G. Ballard novel. Truss me up against the ring road like a boxer on the ropes, Leicester – you know I love it.

Glamour arrived wearing different garb in the early 60s, and Sid James’ personal appearance – not to mention the opportunity to experience the future of ‘stack ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap’ – was mobbed, grey-faced denizens flocking from miles around to fight over tinned peaches and the 30 denier American tans. The police were called. At least one gent had his flat cap knocked off in the crush; heady times.

I mention all this because the event is quite clearly the most important in Leicester’s history. Forget Roman heritage, Victorian manufacturing vigour and successive waves of successful multiculturalism (and for the record, the only interesting thing about the Richard III connection is his remains being found buried in – of all things – a car park); it’s Sid James opening a supermarket that epitomises the city’s affectionately naff spirt.

Sheffield: The Human League, Cabaret Voltaire, Pulp. Liverpool: Echo and the Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes. Manchester – well, I’ve heard that a few bands hail from thereabouts. And Leicester’s gift to the world of music? Engelbert Humperdinck, Showaddywaddy and Kasabian (all three of whom receive heavy radio play in Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell). Oh – and a scruffy, shambolic sextet who formed under a table in Leicester Polytechnic’s student union bar, and intent on making the most depressing music they could muster, called themselves Prolapse.

Between 1994 and ’99 the band released four albums (and a handful of singles) on a bewildering array of different labels; a period that coincided with the rise and fall of the moral repugnancy that was Britpop. And yet as musical construct, Prolapse were about as far away from bouncing down Camden Parkway on Union Jack-coloured space hoppers as it was possible to be. Think non sequitur lyrics, hacking guitars, concussed melodies, caustic narratives. A rhythm section beholden to throb and pulse, the twin guitars radioactive – frequently understated, yet at turns dissonant, spicy, and provocative.

The Fall are the obvious reference point, although that’s a lazy comparison, selling the band short. Post-punk textures backlight much of their material. Other tracks, and it’s clear that a love of Neu!, La Düsseldorf and Faust is at play.

Yet even then that’s not the entire story; that’ll be the theatricality of girl verses boy vocals – underwritten by a twist of sexual tension and embellished with improvised, battered wordplay – and how such vox interplays with the backing to create something very special indeed. It’s difficult not to conclude that Linda Steelyard (with her aura of being slightly bored, somewhat above all this) and Mick Derrick (all brash, abrasive Glaswegian with a wink about his personage) were in competition with one another; they shout over each other, interject, mumble, fight onstage, simultaneously sing different songs …

There’s no recipe for great records; if there were, we’d all be banging them out. But the sheer joy behind Prolapse (and it is a joy) is the manner by which they assemble disparate ingredients and force them through the rusty metaphorical cheese graters they had lying around their student digs, somehow creating something that doesn’t quite sound like anything else. Unless you slot Leicester’s post-industrial landscape into sonic canon; then it begins to make even more sense. Because Prolapse sound like Leicester; I swear they were present when Sid James opened that Tesco.

In fact, here’s their setlist from that occasion…

Psychotic Now

From the Crate EP, the band’s first ever release, and Psychotic Now is incredibly raw, horrifically produced, and quite, quite adorable. The high bass and jangly guitar – both of which were quickly jettisoned (or at least evolved away from) – give the track an unscrubbed, C86 feel that clearly illustrates formative influence, but it’s the vocal sparring that elevates this above the swash of maybe-similar, back-room-in-the-pub acts around at the time. A live staple for years, this is not a twee record, and that’s important, considering what came next …

Headless In A Beat Motel

There are quite a few reasons why debut album Pointless Walks To Dismal Places sounded so distinctive on release (it doesn’t do too much of a shabby job of that these days, either); the band’s aesthetic subscribed to the contemporaneous (and surprisingly rigid) rules of indie pop trope closely enough to generate music press interest and the occasional Peel session, yet they remained distinctly separate from the revisionist vogue that hogged guitar-centric music at the time (spoiler: Prolapse do not have a Country House in their repertoire).

One factor in this being Mick Derrick’s uncompromising vocal style, the microphone regarded on purely antagonistic terms, the words – falling from his mouth in a gushing torrent of hard-edged consonants and splattered vowels – delivered in the sociolinguistic working class West of Scotland voice that can still be regularly heard in the less gentrified quarters of his home city (yes; Prolapse do sound like Leicester, but what’s any town without an inebriated Glaswegian shouting from the gutter? And again, I mean that affectionately – I live in Glasgow, after all. No need to write in and harangue…).

Cue Mick:

“Ah wiz carryin’ the can for every other guy’s mistakes.
Ah wiz boxin in the bastards at alarmin’ rates.
But ah never thought ae checkin’ where a wiz that day.
Ah’d fucked up completely and ah never really know.
That the guy was comin’ back at me alarmin’ly slow …”

It’s wordplay that’s frantic, frazzled, and perfectly in keeping with its background, rushing onwards to the determined, nonsensical dénouement:
“And ah always end up Heidless in a Beat Motel…”

Doorstop Rhythmic Bloc

Should you be wishing to define Krautrock (whilst ignoring the nomenclatural issues around naming it as such), then aside from the obvious – German, 1970s – there’s few better options than identifying the importance of repetition. Each percussive pattern, guitars that lull the listener into a false sense of security, relentlessly driving through the same motif until such phraseology begins to reveal hidden depths.

Doorstop Rhythmic Bloc achieves something similar. “All aboard the Ark Royal,” exalts Scottish Mick (so-called in case we ever confused him with the far-more reserved, bass-playing Geordie Mick) above a grindingly static headbutt of a riff, the track a travelogue of fucked-up proportions in which musical contours (as well as Steelyard’s dovecot annunciation) act as foil to all shenanigans taking place up top.

Indeed, it’s the vocals that often attract attention where Prolpase are concerned, the rest of the band content to lurk at the rear of the stage. But with Pat Marsden and David Jeffreys ploughing away at their instruments, the weight and panache of the fretwork should not be underestimated.

Tina This Is Matthew Stone

Pretty much the only song ever influenced by the 1974 low budget schlock-horror flick Impulse (starring William Shatner during a particularly savage career downswing).

The film’s crap, and uncomfortable viewing – crap and uncomfortable also springing to mind when discussing the finale to Pointless Walks To Dismal Places (albeit a very different variety). A kitchen sink drama; seven plus minutes of abrasive, feedback-heavy hooks above which Linda goads Mick into a full-on fight. “Why don’t you shut your mouth and let someone with something good to say speak?” by stages descend into screams of “Your mother’s a whore,” “When I think of you I think of a little piece of shit,” and finally: all out fisticuffs. As glorious as it is rumbustious, I’m having it played at my funeral.

TCR

A non-album single from 1995, TCR spins on a neat line in post-punk sprightliness, still in league with opaque vocalisation and verbiage that’s difficult to transcribe, but as a construct it’s somewhat more restrained than the album that preceded it (he at the mic doesn’t sound drunk, for one thing). It’s not overt pop, but bouncy enough to at least trouble the bottom end of the Top 40 (it didn’t).

In fact, Prolapse never had a hit record, which is no surprise considering the direction those musical winds were blowing back in 1995 (the NME’s tracks of the year included works by Black Grape and Oasis, The Boo Radley’s painful Wake Up, Boo! and, of course, the aforementioned Country House, which I’m fairly certain is the worst single ever recorded); sometimes, and the Great British public had no idea of what they were missing.

Flex

The headline piece from backsaturday, the band’s second album. Recorded over the space of a day or two, it’s an LP in which Krautrock leanings are far more pronounced, the music to the fore, vocals added as if an afterthought (Scottish Mick admits that he spent most of the recording session in the boozer, waiting for the cue to supply improv to the tracks already laid down).

Flex in particular presents the band in a very different light; 15+ minutes of bend and stretch, it doesn’t really get going until just before the four-minute mark, but even such a generous intro can’t preclude a sense of embracing momentum, the portend of a manic grin broadcast through a rapidly evolving resolution. And when that squall does hit, it’s with a blast of warmth, texture, and context, the duelling vox framing the mesmeric thrall of guitar, bass and drums; it’s the type of record that wants to lock you in the cupboard.

Slash/Oblique

“I know I need my head examined…”

Album #3 – The Italian Flag – introduced a wider stylistic aperture without ever sullying the overall impact. Lead singles Killing The Bland (see MTV clip) and Autocade (see MTV clip) represent the band at their poppiest and most accessible – signed to Warner imprint Radar Records at this stage, an increased budget saw Julian Cope producer Donald Ross Skinner at the controls; so impressed (or traumatised) was he that he subsequently joined the band, adding keyboards and a third guitar salvo to the armoury.

But the album isn’t a compromise, as the railroad bulk of Slash/Oblique handily demonstrates. Another coy yet feisty high-tempo run through cultured gibberish accompanied by crashing instrumentation, the whole affair cruises on adrenalin, threatening to plummet at any second – somehow, it doesn’t (although it’s not readily apparent why).

Deanshanger

“Do you remember the 1980s?” asks Scottish Mick. “The clothes were crap. The hair was crap … Warsaw was crap. Solidarity was crap.” An anti-nostalgia rant, supplanted by choppy guitar, low-in-the-mix bagpipes (!), and Linda’s subversive commentary? A celebration of historical naff, of surroundings growing up? Or a back-handed reference to Derrick’s beloved Joy Division – “The music was crap … except one,” being the telling line?

I’ll go for all three.

Visa For Violet And Van

One of the neat tricks behind The Italian Flag is how the sleeve notes display male and female lyrics on separate pages. It underlines the interplay between the two by counterintuitively emphasising the differences, be the song Linda-lead (with Mick drunkenly mumbling in the background), or Steelyard’s dispassionate narration working as contrast to full-on Glaswegian hyperbole, such as on Visa For Violet And Van.

The album version begins with another simple, concrete riff, first on scuzzy bass, then replicated by the guitars. For her part, Linda’s mantra is a chilly incantation of disjointed fragments. “Armful, aimless. Nameless, blameless,” she coos in 4/4 time. “My floor, kitchenware, underwear, haircare.”

This alone makes for an interesting dynamic, but it’s Derrick’s frantic storytelling that drags first impressions onto the street-corner for a kicking.

“Me n’ big Jinky went doon the arcade. Plans were there are times were made …”

From a listener’s perspective it is not necessarily easy to keep up with this tale of schemes gone awry – there are moments when it’s like comprehending an early Arab Strap vocal that just happens to have been recorded on amphetamines – but each lack of pause or intake of breath fosters that sense of urban unease, of driving too quickly at brick walls. It’s the sound of something gone deliciously wrong; a two-chord template that roots you to the spot.

Cylinders V12 Beats Cylinders 8

Final album – the planespotter-friendly Ghosts Of Dead Aeroplanes – is probably Prolapse’s least immediate record, riding more on nuance and inflexion than the pugilistic energy of yore. The amateur dramatics have given way to textures not a million miles from post-rock in places (quite possibly a sign of Skinner’s influence), and on release it wasn’t as warmly received as previous LPs.

Prolapse split after this record – there was always one eye on respective grown-up careers – and despite a brief (and warmly received) reformation in 2015 at the behest of Stuart Braithwaite, who wanted them on the bill for Mogwai’s 20th anniversary shows, there isn’t any new material.

This probably isn’t a pity – the world doesn’t need more bands besmirching their legacy – and it means we get to keep tracks such as Cylinders v12 Beats Cylinders 8 pristine; a discordant dirge of a lament that clangs and wobbles around Scottish Mick’s distended, “he was a septic tank of a man” refrain, long into the evening.

Cylinders… is never in control of itself, sounding in turns ambivalent, belligerent and one shandy too many, and whilst maybe atypical of the band’s wider sound, there’s real beauty amidst the ugliness. Cue further Leicester metaphors – and that tannoy announcement classic: “Spillage in aisle six.”

 

The Palace of Prolapse

Prolapse on Facebook

Prolapse on Bandcamp

Duncan Harman interviews Mick Derrick (April 2015)

Prolapse biography (iTunes)

Record obsessive and occasional drunkard, Duncan Harman usually writes at Lazer Guided Melody.

TopperPost #508

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