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On-U Sound In The Area

Act Mothmen

The final line-up of the Mothmen
The final line-up of the Mothmen

An On-U Sound one-off 'collaboration' from its early days where new label and transient band had little more than a glancing encounter with each other. A few words from the Editor:

The Mothmen was a short lived splinter band of musicians from north west England. It was not only a side project for most of those involved but also a transition period for a number of them on their way to greater artistic and commercial success. It is perhaps easier introduce its members via the groups with which they were associated with at the time the Mothmen formed.

Alberto Y Los Trios Paranoias was a Manchester, England-based rock comedy troupe in the vein of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and National Lampoon. It was formed in 1973 by two former members of Greasy Bear; Chris "C.P." Lee (vocals, guitar) and Bruce Mitchell (drums), with Les Prior (vocals), Jimmy Hibbert (vocals, bass), Bob Harding (vocals, guitar, bass), Simon White (steel guitar, guitar), Tony Bowers (bass, guitar) and Ray "Mighty Mongo" Hughes (second drummer). The group mercilessly parodied the major rock names of the 70s - "Anadin" was a reworking of Lou Reed's "Heroin" / "Sweet Jane". As with many comedy ensembles, the Albertos belied their comic aspirations by their exemplary musicianship, but by the time it came to committing to record their finely honed act, the artists they had pilloried had ceased to become valid targets and the album flopped.

Their concept gave birth to "Snuff Rock". The play's run was punctuated by the comic disc jockey role of Les Prior. The accompanying EP, "Snuff Rock", released on Stiff Records, poked fun at the punk rock phenomenon, targeting the Sex Pistols ("Gobbing On Life"), The Damned ("Kill") and the Clash ("Snuffin' Like That") as well as a myriad of reggae bands in "Snuffin' In A Babylon". For once, the Albertos' act was successfully transferred to vinyl. They hit the UK Top 50 with the Status Quo spoof, "Heads Down No Nonsense Mindless Boogie" in 1978. The death of Les Prior in January 1980 from leukaemia left a large gap in the group, and although his illness had limited him to rare performances in his final years, his comic inspirations were sorely missed.

Tony Bowers went on to join the Durutti Column - primarily the vehicle of Vini Reilly, a guitarist born in Manchester. As a child, Reilly first took up the piano, drawing inspiration from greats like Art Tatum and Fats Waller, before learning to play guitar at the age of ten. Despite an early affection for folk and jazz, Reilly ultimately became swept up by the punk movement, and in 1977 he joined the group Ed Banger & The Nosebleeds. In 1978, Factory Records founder Tony Wilson invited Reilly to join a group dubbed the Durutti Column, the name inspired by the Spanish Civil War anarchist Buenaventura Durruti and a Situationists Internationale comic strip of the 1960s. Along with Reilly and Bowers, the nascent band included guitarist Dave Rowbotham, drummer Chris Joyce and vocalist Phil Rainford.

The 'Pay Attention!' LP
The "Pay Attention!" LP

After a 1980 split the Durutti Column became the sole concern of Reilly and so the Mothmen were formed. The first line up comprised of Chris Joyce (drums), Tony Bowers (guitar, bass, vocals, violin, percussion), Dave Rowbotham (guitar, bass) and Bob Harding (bass, organ, guitar, vocals, percussion).

The recording of an album's worth of material in the first half of 1980 left the group without a label to release it on. Thus in stepped the assistance of a young and cash-strapped Adrian Sherwood, having just launched On-U Sound. A deal was done and in 1981 "Pay Attention!" (ON-U LP2) appeared as its second album. The arrangement and production work remained the Mothmen's own with AMS playing no part in it's creation. In fact Sherwood's only direct involvement with the band was when he provided a dub mix of "Afghan Farmer Driving Cattle" [Rhythm 137] on On-U's first compilation release - "Wild Paarty Sounds Volume 1" (ON-U LP6).

During this period Chris Joyce also found time to be the drummer for another of On-U Sound's first generation 'crew', London Underground, as well appearing on Judy Nylon's "Pal Judy" set for the label. However, the Mothmen soon left for Do-It Records and in the process Dave Rowbotham was replaced by Ronnie Hardman (bass) and Charlie Griffiths (synths). The new line-up produced a handful more singles and a further album, "One Black Dot", before they split for good in early 1982.

The 'Infidelity' single by Simply Red
The "Infidelity" single by Simply Red

Of the Mothmen's former members, Chris Joyce and Tony Bowers were to have the greatest subsequent commercial success, forming part of the first Simply Red rhythm section between 1984 and 1989. The On-U association with Joyce and Bowers had two final outcomes in the UK in the form of Sherwood providing flip-side mixes to Simply Red's "Holding Back The Years" and "Infidelity" 12" singles. Through the Sly & Robbie connection Sherwood also contributed to Simply Red's 1997 "Nightnurse" cover of the Gregory Isaac's classic.

As a tragic footnote to the band, the Mothmen's founding guitarist Dave Rowbotham was murdered in 1991 - going on to inspire the Happy Mondays' song "Cowboy Dave".

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