The Mekons – Where Were You?

29th September 2022 · 1970s, 1978, Music, Punk

The Mekons were one of the quintessential punk groups, coming out of art school in Leeds in 1976 – the same scene that spawned Gang Of Four and Delta 5. Where Were You? – a minimalist masterpiece of bare-bones punk rock – remains one of the defining songs of the era.

Their debut single was a sideswipe at The Clash called Never Been In A Riot (a riposte to White Riot). This was their second, released in 1978.

And they’re still going strong after all these years, still with two of the same founder members, Jon Langford and Tom Geenhall.

The Mekons were signed up to Edinburgh’s indie label Fast Product at only their second show, supporting The Rezillos, and soon became big favourites of John Peel too.

After signing to Virgin, they grew in visibility, if not popularity, and I remember seeing them support Stiff Little Fingers, The Fall, The Human League and Gang Of Four.

But that increased visibility did not extend to their own label’s art department, which mistakenly stuck a photo of the Gang Of Four on the back of their debut album, the rather marvellously titled The Quality Of Mercy Is Not Strnen (which they had recorded using their labelmates’ instruments).

They had a brief hiaitus in the early Eighties, during which Langford formed The Three Johns, before returning with a new line-up including a new female vocalist (Sally Timms) and a violinist (Susie Honeyman), an accordionist (Eric Bellis), a veteran drummer (Steve Goulding from The Rumour) and my old school friend Lu Edmonds on guitar.

The new additions gave them a different and (dare I say it) more musical sound and they began to experiment with different genres such as traditional English folk, American country music and dub reggae.

The MIners’ Strike, which first drew them to folk, provided more inspiration 35 years later when they merged with Americana duo Freakwater to create The Freakons, performing songs about coal mining in Appalachia, Wales and England.

Founder member Kevin Lycett once described the band’s principle as being that “anybody could do it … anybody could get up and join in and instruments could be swapped around; that there’d be no distance between the audience and the band.”

That was the essence of punk – and it’s a principle that runs through all 24 of their albums.