Sunday, August 4, 2013


This weekend I immersed myself in Wire. Not the ferrous material or the TV programme or even the alternative music magazine (although the last one's close). Nope, a book called Read & Burn: a Book about Wire by Wilson Neate, about a band who've been a part of my life since a teenager.
In some ways this is a story that countless bands go through. Four guys trying to be true to their individual instincts while also trying to function as a unit. They had art school backgrounds and were keen to experiment, but they could also write a decent tune and might have dented the charts if only they could agree on a common direction. But there was always something difficult about Wire. They had attitude, they didn't play by the rules, do encores or play old material. They fought. They split up three times. The drummer (ousted by technology) left in the 90s and came back again. The guitarist left in 2004 and remains estranged They were useless at business. But somehow Wire remain. And amazingly they're stronger than ever.
circa 1979
I have pretty much everything they recorded and have spent the weekend listening to all of it (one of the advantages of temporarily being without family). It made me reappraise a lot of their stuff. Funnily enough I was rather less taken with what most people think is their seminal album, 154 (although it's still great), and warmed a bit to their early 90s albums, Manscape and The First Letter (though they're still the least interesting of their oeuvre). And my favourite is still A Bell is a Cup... despite the band themselves not liking it. 
Live they could be amazing. I first saw them in '85, at Oxford Museum of Modern Art - their first comeback gig - and again many times in the late 80s (usually great),  early 90s (usually bad), once in 2000 (almost unlistenable) and the last time in 2004 in Tokyo, which turned out to be one of Bruce Gilbert's last shows. By then, ironically, they'd returned to their punchy best and even started playing older songs - but not to the detriment of the new. The three remaining members, Newman, Lewis and Grey, are all bordering 60 and yet they create with the abandon of twentysomethings. The new album is titled Change Becomes Us. Say no more. 
circa 2012
The book itself is excellent, and at 427 pages incredibly thorough. There had been an earlier book, in the late 80s, by Kevin Eden, but Wire were just mid-period then. The thing that struck me most about Neate's opus is its sustained critical stance drawn from long, exclusive interviews with each member (as well as producers and other associates). The result is an incredibly balanced account, and for the band a sort of therapy. It makes for uncomfortable reading at times: their wilful self-destructiveness, the missed opportunities, the very English male way of 'not talking'. And yet, it has a happy ending. For now.  

1 comment:

  1. Loved "Ideal Copy", "The Drill" & "A Bell is a Cup.." - it was you that got me interested. Been a few OK ones since then, but haven't followed them that closely.