Well, at least I got that part right. What I could not have foretold, when I wrote this short piece about The Homosexuals back in the spring of 1979, was that precisely 25 years later, it would be quoted in a triple-CD, 81-song retrospective package as the lone example of the group's press coverage. Nor could I have guessed that this compilation (Astral Glamour, Hyped2Death) would proclaim The Homosexuals "the most important band of the D.I.Y. era" - and that contemporary critics would agree.
"The evidence suggests that they were magnificent as potent and visionary as Wire or Pere Ubu," Douglas Wolk gushed in New York's Village Voice the week of Astral Glamour's July 2004 release, before rightly asking, "So how come nobody's ever heard of them?"
The answer is simple: that's how they wanted it.
Flashback to the spring of 1979. The indie floodgates had opened. Alongside mainstream subjects like Paul Weller and Pete Townshend, Jamming! had featured interviews with indie pioneers Scritti Politti and Prag Vec; we were feeling our way through the cultural revolution. Meantime, there was a record shop at the end of Brixton Road, opposite the bus stop where many of us waited after school. It was a typical store for the era, selling major label "new wave" but almost nothing by way of the new self-financed releases, and I didn't spend much time there.
So when word came to me one schoolday that someone wanted to see me, I didn't imagine it was to buy in vast quantities of Jamming!. And it wasn't. Turned out that one of the employees was managing his brother's band and he wanted me to write about them for Jamming!.
There were only three problems with this request:
1) This was the fanzine age. We didn't write about people just because they asked us to. We wrote about them because we wanted to.
2) This was the post-punk era. Bands didn't ask to be written about. Particularly this band, which was apparently unaware of the manager's request and none too happy about it. (So I finally found out 25 years later and which helps explain why the subsequent jamming! coverage was the only coverage.)
3) The group were called The Homosexuals.
In these days of Queer As Folk and Queer Eye For The Straight Guy and the rest of it, the last of these concerns may seem the least of them, but this was 1979, South London, and in the dieing days of Jim Callaghan's Labour Government, fascism was seriously on the rise. Gay-bashing was a Neanderthal hobby second only to Paki-bashing. (Don't think I'm exaggerating: an early Homosexuals' drummer, Nyrup, whose mother was Pakistani, was beaten to death by National Front thugs.) Yes, The Tom Robinson Band had a song called 'Glad To Be Gay,' but they didn't dare release it as an A-side, and you'll notice they gave themselves a nice masculine name not the bloody Homosexuals.
Still, I didn't care and neither, obviously, did the group Anton, Bruno and Jim. It was Jim's brother who'd invited me to the record store and who subsequently took me down to the basement, so I seem to recall, to meet the group in some form of rehearsal. He also gave me a copy of The Homosexuals' debut single 'Hearts In Exile'/'Soft South Africans' and I'd like to think I immediately recognized something unique about this 45. Yet my review in Jamming! 7 was not particularly erudite: I quote it here in total:
"HOMOSEXUALS: Hearts In Exiles/Soft South Africans
important bit first - this record should cost you only 65p, which when complete with colour cover and lyric sheet, says something about EMI's £1 single. Hearts In Exile is great - very different, very syncopated, and when you expect it to break out it deliberately softens. Soft South Africans doesn't stand up though - nothing to remember it by, and rather jumbled. The lyrics are a total mystery on both sides though."
Hey, I was only 14 and fanzine journalism tended towards the plain. But I know that the more I listened to it, the more enamored I became with 'Hearts In Exile.' It sounds remarkably futuristic even now, the way in which the guitars and vocals slide in and out as the group experiment with dub techniques throughout the main mix. Hyped2Death's Chuck Warner writes on the Astral Glamour sleeve notes, "their songs display a primary tension between pop hooks and a careening sense of self-sabotage," and that seems as good a description as any
Suitably impressed, I went back to Jim's brother and asked if he wanted me to interview the group. He replied that No, they had no interest in being interviewed. But I was welcome to attend the group's next gig.
(I found out, 25 years later, that the group were quite angry that I was even approached to write about then. That's how totally opposed they were to playing the music biz game. And it explains why the Jamming! feature was the only published piece on the band.)
That show took place on May 3, 1979, at Kingston Polytechnic. I'd turned 15 the previous week, and was inadvertently celebrating by going on a run of five gigs in five nights. The previous evening I'd been to see The Who play their first show without Keith Moon at The Rainbow; over the coming weekend, I'd park up at The Wellington in Waterloo where The Chords and Purple Hearts were playing residencies. In the midst of such orthodox mod rock, The Homosexuals' show was an oddity, though it remains most memorable for the fact that it took place on Election Night. The Homosexuals placed TV sets around the Kingston Poly stage an uncommon act of multi-media interaction back then - and performed right as it became apparent that Margaret Thatcher was the new Prime Minister. For the next 18 years, the Conservatives would run the country: Britain had irrevocably changed.
The subsequent Jamming! write-up suggests that The Homosexuals ran through as many as 25 songs that night, constantly swapping instruments along the way, and that my main criticism was of a certain cliqueishness, the manne by which they invited personal friends on stage to dance but not the audience in general. (In hindsight, I see that this may have been a defence mechanism. Simply taking to the stage as The Homosexuals was to dice with death which surely explains why they were playing student Poly gigs and not a Brixton pub.) After the show, Jim's brother drove me back home to Dulwich, and that was, I believe, my last interaction with Bruno, Jim and Anton.
But for the six-song Homosexuals 12" EP. Officially untitled, it's become known over time by its lead track, 'Astral Glamour,' or its sleeve queer pink - and it says something as to its merits that I've held it close to hand over subsequent years, even as much of my record collection was sold, loaned or stolen as I made my way across the Atlantic. It remains one of the great records of the D.I.Y. era, a mad mix of psychedelic pop, African rhythms, prog rock, scratchy indie guitars, Kraut rock, Velvets minimalism, hippy bullshit, dub textures and pure freedom.
|Homosexuals in Jamming! 8
||Click on thumbnails for full-size image
In the fullness of time by which we're talking decades, long after the Homosexuals disappeared from sight - others would find the EP and its preceding single and come to a similarly positive conclusion. Yet these new fans were mostly based not in South London but in my adopted homeland of the USA. One of them was Dan Selzer, host of the NYHappenings list, who labeled The Homosexuals, on his web site, as nothing less than "The best band of all time," going on to describe them, with acute accuracy, as "Like the Buzzcocks covering the lost Pink Floyd/Beatles sessions produced by Lee Scratch Perry." Another fan was D.I.Y. archivist Johan Kugelberg, and a third was Boston-based Messthetics CDRom compiler and hyped2death label proprietor Chuck Warner. The latter pair set about collecting and compiling The Homosexuals' far flung recordings, until they found Bruno or he found them and they all set to work in earnest on the current completist's compilation.
Eighty-one songs across three CDs may seem a little excessive for a group that released little more than two EPs and a single during its heyday. Still, the first CD, collecting the aforementioned releases, is a record such as every freethinking music fan should be proud to own, bolstered by songs I'd never heard before, like 'Walk Before Imitate' and the atypically punkish 'Neutron Lover.' The second CD also has its moments, most notably the Syd Barrett-like six-minute 'Jesus,' and Bruno's brand new vocal tracks over a half-dozen previously unfinished instrumentals. And the third CD? With its plethora of cassette demos, and preponderance of vocals by the group's late-term member Suzy, it's only for the truly infatuated anoraks.
And me? I wrote up my brief encounters with The Homosexuals in Jamming! 8 which was, fortuitously, a New Group special. Looking back on it now, I'm more proud of the lay-out than the words: I sat there in my bedroom and typed my way down the inside of a heart until I could only fit one word on a line. I barely thought twice about putting the group's name on the cover, but I recall getting serious stick for it after publication from some of the punks I tried selling copies to at various gigs. Still, we were finally doing something right, and all 1200 copies Jamming! 8 were sold within weeks. It's easier to find a copy of 'Hearts In Exile' than it is to buy a copy of that issue. So, here is the piece in its innocent entirety. Click on the thumbnails for full-size page replicas.