The Temporary Return of Prolapse
I can no longer remember for sure where I first heard Prolapse. It was almost certainly on a mixtape supplied to me by Wibble sometime in the mid 1990s, and it was almost certainly the single ‘TCR’ that jumped out and grabbed me. I soon had a copy of third album ‘The Italian Flag’, and I’ve been buying the band ever since – there’s a lot to go at, another three LPs, a bunch of singles and various compilation-only tracks, on a bewildering number of different labels. I only became aware of their first two singles after hearing ‘Psychotic Now’ for the first time at the reformation gigs, for example. Looking through various discography websites I realise I still don’t own the US release of second LP ‘Backsaturday’ – one for the next lottery win I suspect.
Prolapse were one of a trio of bands who took three very different routes onward from what is usually known as Krautrock towards the end of the twentieth century. But whereas Stereolab and Th’ Faith Healers had grown out of the fertile and thriving indie music scene in the capital, Prolapse appeared to all intents and purposes from out of the blue in Leicester. The East Midlands city had a certain musical history of producing one offs – Family and Yeah Yeah Noh from the 1970s and 1980s for example – and Prolapse were no exception. Forming almost as a joke at Leicester Polytechnic, they retained a seriously un-serious edge throughout their career, certainly so far as their live performances were concerned, but were also capable of an intensity every bit as, er, intense as anything The ‘Lab or Th’ Healers ever achieved in a recording studio.
Prolapse live and Prolapse on record were two different beasts really, but whereas many bands could cut it live but never managed to capture it on record, or made great records but were disappointing live, Prolapse were that rare beast that you could more or less guarantee would be great both ways. The studio offerings up to and including that second LP were suitably messy, with the uniquely aggressive dual vocalists Linda Steelyard and ‘Scottish’ Mick Derrick always giving the songs an air of menace. But it was when Donald Ross Skinner came on board that Prolapse were elevated above whoever their peers were. Skinner had learnt his profession playing with and producing Julian Cope, a man so into Krautrock he wrote the book about it, and I have little doubt that he pushed the band harder and further in that direction than would have happened otherwise. He produced ‘The Italian Flag’ in 1997 and then joined the band, now a seven headed monster boasting three guitarists, a rhythm section made up of a pair of Geordies and afore-mentioned twin vocalists. He stayed with them to the bitter end too, producing fourth and final LP ‘Ghosts of Dead Aeroplanes’ which came out on Cooking Vinyl of all labels. That was recorded about forty minutes drive from where I sit now, near Llanfair Caereionion – by the time the record label put it out the band had quietly broken up, going out on a high – I am especially fond of the track ‘Cylinders V12 Beats Cylinders 8′ with it’s caustic refrain of “He was a sceptic tank of a’ man.”
So that was Prolapse in the studio. Meanwhile, on stage you got all of that with the five-piece back line very capable of locking into those motorik grooves whenever required to do so, but with the endless theatre of Derrick and Steelyard often going at each other with hammer and tongs, physically and vocally. Between songs, Steelyard always seemed able to keep her cool despite Derrick’s ceaseless needling, but when the music started she gave as good as she got. For his part, ‘Scottish’ Mick (there was also a ‘Geordie’ Mick, he was the drummer, maintaining a fine tradition of Geordie drummers behind wildly innovative bands – think Paul Thompson of Roxy Music – who Wikipedia tells me also drummed with the Angelic Upstarts?!… Wtf?!….), he never moderated his strong Glasweigian one iota and kept up a running battle with any member of the audience brave enough to throw him a heckle. Like I say, it was theatre.
Gigs were far and few between for me in the late 1990s for one reason or another, but when Prolapse swung by Wolverhampton not too far from where I live it went straight into the diary.
Urusei Yatsura/Magoo/Prolapse – Wolverhampton Varsity, 13th March 1998
The Varsity was a room above a large pub near Wolverhampton Polytechnic where our good friend Shawn had studied art in the 1980s. He studied at the poly, not the pub, well not THIS pub, it tended to be The Feathers, a genuine sawdust-on-the-floor establishment behind the John Ireland stand at Molyneux. But I digress – The Varsity was a decent-sized venue for this kind of gig, not too big, not too small and less than a ten minutes walk from the station too, it was ideal. Urusei Yatsura were part of a wave of Glasgow bands who had risen to prominence at the time, I could take or leave them, including their crowd pleasing number, ‘Kewpies Like Watermelons’. They were ‘hot’ though so there was a decent turnout, no doubt in some way increased by their presence on the bill. Magoo on the other hand were far more interesting. For some reason they too had ended up on Yatsura’s Scottish record label, Chemikal Underground, but Magoo were from Norfolk and therefore almost like local heroes to those of us who spent time living in Cambridge in the early nineties. I was a big fan of their first LP, ‘The Soateramic Sounds of Magoo’, most especially the 11th track on that record, ‘The Queen Of The 8-Bus Singers’. Every track on that record sounds like it could have been recorded by a different band, and they could certainly pull it off live too – over twenty years later I can still recall a great set, including the hoped-for ‘8 Bus Singers’. A recent YouTube clip suggests they could still pull it off in more recent times too.
The trouble with writing a gig review twenty two years after the fact is that specifics can become impossible to recall. It was the overall experience of watching Prolapse that made an impression – they were so full of life, the musicians making a magnificent noise for Derrick and Steelyard to act out (?) their monstrous psychodramas in front of. I’m pretty certain they did ‘Tina, This Is Matthew Stone’. I know they played TCR. Deanshanger, Killing the Bland and Autocade were in there too. Autocade was a Prolapse outlier, just a Linda Steelyard vocal and whilst the lyrics slotted in comfortably with the rest of the repertoire (“There’s a manacle by the door/You can find out what it’s for.”), the tune was as close to polished pop as the band ever came. Rumour had it that Derrick hated it so much he wouldn’t appear in the video, which is the perfect excuse for linking to it here..
I can remember watching entranced as the band ran through their set – the music was great and you didn’t know what the front woman and front man were going to do next. The chemistry between them was hypnotising – did they love each other or was it a hate thing? You couldn’t be sure, with all the sparks that were flying around up there. Anyway, it was all over too quickly and no doubt there was a mad dash for the last train home after the gig – missed encores were not unknown in such circumstances. Wibble has confirmed he was at this gig and I am fairly certain Mike and Guy were too so quite possibly they all headed off in a late car back to Leicestershire. Prolapse sadly called it a day a year later, and though avids missed them, they remained absent from the growing list of bands from ‘the old days’ either doing heritage tours in medium sized venues or insisting on adding to their discographies, which is more worthy, but which tends to happen in smaller places to smaller audiences. The return of Prolapse, with so many members scattered so widely (Mike Derrick having relocated to Norway, for example) seemed too much to hope for. But it happened anyway. In a similar scenario to the resurrection of The Membranes with MBV being the catalyst, former Chemikal Underground labelmates-made-good Mogwai requested Prolapse reform for some marquee gigs at The Roundhouse in Camden, and so it came to pass…
Warm Widow/Sex Hands/Prolapse – Manchester Roadhouse, Thursday 28th May 2015
The record shows that Prolapse played about eight gigs between the 28th of May and the 24th June 2015 – three at the end of May and the others leading up to the Mogwai gig at the Roundhouse on June the 24th. I’d bought a pair of tickets for this gig at The Roadhouse the second they had gone on sale – the venue were promoting it with the strapline “1991 formed cult punk band return, playing 16 years to the day of their last show.”. That had been in Glasgow (Glasgow again…), for their return they had chosen a venue that was to close down three days later. The Roadhouse had been a popular city centre venue for many years, a basement room that only held 200 people. It had played host to a number of bands on their way to stardom, including the White Stripes and Elbow, four of whom had actually worked behind the bar at one time or another. But the owner and manager had decided to turn it into a restaurant so it was going the same way as so many other small venues.
A two hour drive across Shropshire and Cheshire and an easily-found parking spot on one of the mill-lined streets of what is now called the Northern Quarter (one that hadn’t yet been gentrified) had my daughter and myself in the venue good and early. (My daughter’s full review of the gig is “I don’t remember anything bad happening…”). I was most gratified to find a small merch table with two or three t-shirts, badges and CDs and vinyl that had probably been stored under various band member’s beds since 1999. Whilst browsing the tees (I went for a ‘Ghosts of Dead Aeroplanes’ number) I was clocked by the drummer who made a comment about my absolutely unofficial ‘Italian Flag’ shirt and potential royalty payments. A quick and friendly chat ensued. The vibe was already good.
There were three bands playing that evening, but I’ll deal with second on the bill ‘Sex Hands’ first, because they were pretty crap and forgettable. In fact, that’s about as much as I want to write about them to tell you the truth. First up were ‘Warm Widow’, a guitar & vocs/bass/drums trio I had certainly never heard of before, although I now know they had been around the Manchester circuit for years – never in a ‘we have important contacts so we can get to play support to anyone popular coming through town’ sort of way, more in a playing on the fringes, doing the £5 for 10 bands all-dayers, rarely going further than Salford or Ashton kind of way. A slight guitarist who quickly proved to know many noisy tricks, a substantial bassist and a female drummer, they looked interesting to start with, worth getting front and centre for anyway, which Sex Hands certainly were not. They whipped through a 30-35 minute set and were very impressive, I was particularly taken with one number which later turned out to be the title track from their first album, ‘Widower’. That track isn’t on YouTube, but this one is, and there’s a link there that will take you to Bandcamp where you can listen to ‘Widower’ itself, and purchase it too if you see fit.
Onto the main attraction. Once Sex Hands were thankfully out of the way Prolapse quickly set up and shuffled into view. This was no partial reunion, the whole seven-piece were there including the afore-mentioned Donald Ross Skinner. Most of the band had aged extremely well, certainly better than I’ve managed since 1999. They launched into early single ‘Psychotic Now’, a typical Prolapse number with first alternating then overlapping vocals, most of the time seeming like they had no relation to each other but locking together at the end of each verse. For a band that hadn’t performed in public for sixteen years before this moment, and with only a minimum of everyone-in-the-same-room rehearsal time too, they sounded very impressive. No let up – Headless in a Beat Motel was next, from the first LP ‘Pointless Walks to Dismal Places’. Again, the music was spot on, although Mick’s vocals were somewhat tentative. To my surprise, this turned out to be a near-evening-long state of affairs. As recalled above, my main memory of Prolapse live was the chemistry and physicals between the vocalists, but it was taking Mick a little while to pick up where the band had left off. Perhaps it was the crowd. Perhaps it was the long period of inactivity. The room was pretty full, and there was certainly a lot of love for the band in there too, there were people who had come a very long way to see these gigs (I’d see many of the same faces in London a couple of days later, and pick up on Transatlantic commutes via comments on social media and YouTube), but quite possibly the audience didn’t have the same ‘crackle’ they would’ve done as a mob of carefree, drink-fuelled students and twenty-somethings, and there wasn’t that energy to feed off. Deanshanger, Pile Tent (great choice) and Killing the Bland came and went. You could almost see Linda willing Mick on to catch fire as it were, Mick though was taking out whatever he was feeling on the mic stand, dismantling it bit by, which in retrospect reminded me of the kind of stunt Mark E Smith might have played in the later days of The Fall. (As an aside, The Fall had played The Roadhouse too – our valued acquaintance Chris Flewitt of Chester’s best ever band Emperor Julian had invaded the stage to give MES a hug several years before, a sight I can hardly imagine, though I have no doubt it happened.. (And as an aside to the aside, when I was an Emperor Julian completest I found a copy of a split EP they appeared on called the ‘Big-Bollocked Bonfire Blow-Up’ on eBay – this was one of a pair of EPs sold at a music all-dayer in West London, where one of the other bands on the bill was Prolpase. And the person who was selling it turned out to be Linda Steelyard. Wheels within wheels kids, wheels within wheels….)).
As is the way of the world these days, much of the gig was captured on phones etc and is up on YouTube. Mick is side on to the audience for much of the time, there’s banter, he’s not silent by any means, but it took almost the whole set for him to relax into it. Slash/Oblique, the marvellous TCR, the equally marvellous Government of Spain from that final LP and Visa for Violet and Van finished the set. The last number in the main set was Flex, most of which is seen and heard here, by which time Mick was back to more like his old self. But even in the encore, Tina, This Is Matthew Stone, Steelyard still didn’t seem to be getting the usual response from Mick Derrick…
Don’t get me wrong – it was fantastic to see Prolapse again, and I was equally as made up my daughter had seen them too (after all, nothing bad had happened…). It was just, different. I was expecting too much really, you can’t think a band is going to just pick up where they left off when the live dynamic is so important, it’s not just a bunch of musicians trying to make the songs sound just like the record with Prolapse. And anyway, I’d be seeing them again in a couple of days in very different circumstances. There was still plenty to look forward to.
The Wolfhounds/Prolapse – The Dalston Victoria, Saturday 30th May 2015
Yes, a Saturday night in east London was a very different proposition to a Thursday night off the corner of Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester. A fast train down to the capital in the afternoon, a pint or two at the Bree Louise round the corner from Euston station then the tube to Highbury & Islington and thence what used to be called the North London Line to Dalston Junction. I spent many Saturdays in the 1980s going to and fro in this corner of London for reasons we don’t need to go into here – if the abbreviations WN, OC, SF and Class 501 EMUs mean nothing to you then we shall swiftly move on. One thing is for sure though, the area looks very different than it did back then when I was an occasional weekend commuter between various well-stocked motive power depots. Walking from the station to the Dalston Victoria pub, the venue for the evening, put us on a route where you could almost see the money seeping east as new apartment blocks rolled over old terraced housing with built-on street level shop fronts, all boarded up for the most part and awaiting demolition. The pub itself seemed safe enough for now though, on a busy road where the residential streets start, you’d guess the building itself was built in the late 19th Century and it very likely stayed a nice local boozer until such things became far less tenable. It had a bit of a refurb around 2010 and the large back room, holding about 150 (although it actually felt larger than the Roadhouse when we got in the room itself, via a door in a false bookcase!) had regularly put on bands ever since. The bar-room was a decent size too, there were a number of familiar faces within, we bought our drinks and sat outside in the late spring sunshine.
We had a few quick chats with those familiar faces – with The Wolfhounds who we’d seen many times since they’d reformed long-term in about 2010, with a bloke I’d seen in Manchester who turned out to have come down from Lancaster for another helping of Prolapse, with Tim of Prolapse again, and with our valued acquaintance Dave Radford who lived fairly local, who we mostly bumped into at Membranes gigs. Eventually that false bookcase was folded aside and we filed in to see The Wolfhound rip through a lengthy support set, eleven numbers the majority of which were new or newish. This band, despite having a back catalogue to die for from the first time round, ditch the old material as quickly as they can. The most recent time we saw them they played a set made up almost entirely of songs from their next LP which still hasn’t been released six or seven months later. So we were lucky to have a smattering of old favourites like ‘Blown Away’ and ‘Anti-Midas Touch’, but the new anthems are as good as the old anthems, as ‘Middle Aged Freaks’ shows.
It’s just a shame they couldn’t fit everyone’s head in, but you should get the idea of the energy levels The Wolfhounds manage to maintain.
Prolapse had played the same venue the evening before – we’d chosen to see them on the Saturday night because they had a different support band on the Friday. I wondered how much the setlist would change between gigs. As mentioned above, there had been absolutely minimal time for full band rehearsals (Scottish Mick wasn’t the only one who now lived abroad) so an extensive repertoire probably wasn’t on the cards. In the event, the Friday setlist included three songs they hadn’t played in Manchester – Screws, Pull Thru’ Barker and Doorstop Rhythmics Bloc. We got to hear Doorstop as an opener, and they also threw in Tunguska and Flat Velocity Curve. Hey look, someone managed to nab a setlist..
So mainly drawn from the first and third LPs, with just one track each from Backsaturday and Ghosts…, plus a smattering of singles and EP tracks over the three nights. But what was also very quickly apparent was that we had the full Prolapse live experience back, with Mick Derrick fully present and the old to and fro between him and Linda propelling the gig on. Watching and hearing them roar through the likes of TCR and Killing the Bland, played just as intensely as all those years before in Wolverhampton, well it was a joy to behold, magic moments that are never guaranteed at a gig but which lodge in the memory never to be removed once they’ve been experienced. Between songs, Mick mentioned fellow Leicester band Yeah Yeah Noh, which prompted a member of the audience to quote a Bog-shed lyric back at the band. We got a couple of lines from ‘Hand Me Down Father’ in response.
The home straight of the set ended, as with each of the previous gigs, on Flex. A brief pause then straight into the encore, Psychotic Now and finally and inevitably Tina, This Is Matthew Stone. I haven’t found any footage taken at the Dalston Victoria gig on the 30th, but someone had their phone out for most of the previous evening’s show – here’s Psychotic Now from the night before.
There are plenty of links from there to Matthew Stone, I thoroughly recommend following them all.
It was yet another late night mercy dash thereafter to the NLR, tube and Tottenham Hale for the last train back to leafy north Essex. We saw Dave (Radford) again on the platform at Dalston Junction – all were agreed that it had been a very special night. The Sunday morning Pendo back to Shropshire was accompanied with extortionately priced cheese & ham croissants from the Upper Crust sandwich bar at Euston and ‘The Italian Flag’ on the Walkman. Whilst searching YouTube for videos for this piece I’ve discovered that Prolapse played another one off gig near Loughborough in 2018, and the musical component of the band are still active, posting rehearsals of new material from late last year. It’d be great to see them in small venues again as per 2015. We can but hope.