Standstill to Motion: Live at the Melkweg 19-03-1981
, January 23rd, 2012 09:19
Sharp, crisp, live and alive (albeit in 1981), this live album and CD set captures a moment... and, as all Minny Pops wanted to be was 'a moment', it seems quite perfect. However, the band's welcome return to the stage after 30 years might seem to burst the bubble of that perfection. Entirely forgivable, really, especially as the chance to discover some Factory exotica set in today's predictable arena is a rare treat indeed.
Like Factory label-mates The Names, Minny Pops came from Holland. They came to the attention of Joy Division manager Rob Gretton while supporting the band at Eindhoven's lively Effenberg venue. Soon after, they found themselves working with Martin Hannett, who presided over the excellent Sparks in a Dark Room album and a series of thrusting, if comparatively unrecognised, singles.
Despite Minny Pops performing supporting roles at a number of gigs that I was in attendance – including the infamous Joy Division at the riotous Bury Derby Hall – I have retained no memory of their set. In fact, I didn't actually meet Minny Pops' enigmatic leader, Wally Van Middendorp until, bizarrely, we both appeared at a Factory talk-fest at an Eindhoven venue which carries the Effenberg name in April 2010. Wally seemed enthused – an artist reborn, perhaps – and very much looking forward to the start of 2011 and, indeed, the eventual rekindling of old passions and new ideas.
All of which has come about because of the excitable activities of James Nice's label LTM, a shadow Factory-esque affair that succeeds in the bright polishing of lost nuggets. Needless to say, back then, Tony Wilson was typically absurd in his claim that there were only two good bands on the Continent and that both of them appeared on Factory. Such unqualified nonsense was the spark of the label's press desk...such as it was.
In truth, Minny Pops never intended to be a band at all. Preferable to them was the notion that they were some kind of art installation; a floating and transient (lots of members and direction changes) jumble of ideas. Yet in the end their sound became quite distinctive and stands apart from the secondary mush of the post-punk era.
All of which is made completely abundant in this new collection. These two discs show a music – and a performance – that has retained an unlikely freshness despite the obvious echoes of its distinctive era. In fact, given that these are live recordings taken from such distant shows in New York and Amsterdam and captured on an eight-track, the quality herein is little short of staggering. New Order recordings from the same era do not carry such authority, perhaps understandably so. But this is a band of thumping confidence, genuinely pushing to a powerful new level, even if they carried such obvious references to Magazine and, less noticeably, The Pop Group and A Certain Ratio.
15 tracks crowd the EP. This is seamless, in the sense that it could so easily be one solid performance, rather than a clever splicing. Listening to the CD, you can almost sense the sporadic movements of Van Middendorp as well as the increasing attention of the initially wary audience. Wally now admits to being a conceptional artist surrounded by exceptional musicians who held him aloft. Nothing wrong in that, of course, and one might say the same of Mark E. Smith and John Lydon. Indeed, Wally might seem to be born from the Hannett school of musicianship, instructing his band members to make it "...make it sound like the high end of that Chopin record you played the other day..." or "make it more scratchy." Personally, I think the fact alone that these people were listening to Chopin in 1981 rather than, or as well as, PIL and Throbbing Gristle, speaks volumes, even if Chopinisms are somewhat obscured on these 15 tracks.
The timing of this recording is also interesting. Minny Pops exude a European-powered confidence, allowing those sharp, tight rhythm figures to template fifteen songs that no longer seem lost in time, space and era. Perhaps the recent 80s echoes – Horrors, Hurts – have helped, but there is a vitality that bodes well for their unlikely return.