In 1978 in Leeds, England there were three excellent post-punk groups emerging from a group of friends in an art program at the University of Leeds. Of course the biggest was Gang of Four, then the catchy and dancey Delta 5, and then there was the Mekons. As a post punk band they emerged and quickly faded away releasing a series of excellent singles and a couple of inconsistent albums from ’78 into the early ‘80s. Once they disbanded and reformed things were a lot different as they focused on trad folk and soon got into country music where they have stayed until this day.
As a post punk band, the Mekons were never a success like their compatriots in Gang of Four or, even, Delta 5; they didn’t even put out the consistently good material like their friends, they never even released a decent album. But the singles! The singles were outstanding. Songs like “Where Were You” and “Work All Week” were like amazing ‘76/’77 styled punk with the self
Never Been In a Riot
awareness spawned by the post punk scene. Near enough to punk’s origins to sound exciting, raw and legitimate, but removed, allowing them to stray from spitting political rhetoric.
Their first three singles were an exciting progression from snotty and noisy to more focused and still sloppy punk rock. The first was “Never Been in a Riot”, an off tune, off time, slacker anthem with the memorable lyric: “I’ve never been in a riot / Never been in a fight / Never been in anything / That turns out right”. As a direct response to the Clash’s suspect “White Riot”, it embodied post punk’s awareness, not to mention its conflict with punk’s original ideals.
The following two singles explored the vulnerability, uncertainty and defeatism first introduced here. Where punk groups were only able to show two emotions: anger and outrage, the Mekons and other post punkers were able to reveal emotions outside of that narrow scope, moving on to often complex and conflicting conditions. Beginning with “Where Were You” and moving onto “Work All Week”, we’ll go through a lyrical exploration of the Mekons’ early singles.