Sonic Archeology / Dig Deep

Mummies And Madmen Grow Dark in the Sun, Mummies and Madmen
(CD, Winter Hill/Adventures in Reality)

Back in the day – late 1970s and well into the 80s – music often lived underground, unheard and unseen. 4-track TEAC portastudios lurked in homes, borrowed and passed around friends and contacts, whilst D.I.Y. cassette labels flourished, nourished by zines, swopsies and word-of-mouth.

In Coventry, where I worked for a year and then stayed in orbit around for a few years more, due to frequent visits to a girlfriend, there was a thriving scene. For me that included the bands Attrition, Stress, Eyeless in Gaza and Bron Area (not all from Coventry itself); and the zines Adventures in Reality and Alternative Sounds. (Other bands, zines and memories are available.) Even these four bands contained an astonishing mix of influences and genres: soundscapes, electronics, punk, post-punk, electro-pop, distorted folk and what would become darkwave (Attrition) or drift towards M.O.R (Bron Area).

Eyeless in Gaza and Attrition are still in existence, reissues and/or compilations by Bron Area and Stress are available, and recent books on Coventry and zine culture in general have taken note of Adventures in Reality and Alternative Sounds, not to mention hundreds of other previously-forgotten analogue discards. Alan Rider was one of the key players in the Coventry scene, being one half of Stress, the editor of Adventures in Reality, and the provider of visuals for Attrition in concert. And now there’s another piece of musical archaeology to put alongside other excavated finds.

Most bands I knew in the 80s had several projects in hand at any one time, ranging from ad-hoc assortments of bands sharing various players, to solo efforts, to virtual bands producing music by posting tapes to each other for overdubbing, or one-off affairs made on a whim and usually released on tape with a silly moniker attached. Mummies and Madmen appear to be one such project, initially recording the title track of this release, and then a second track over a year later. These two long tracks would be released by Slob Tapes (!) as a C45 and are now rescued from oblivion and available again in digital or CD form.

The title track is by far the better one. A bass rhythm underpins the whole 22 minutes and the blurb isn’t wrong to compare it to PiL, though Jah Wobble might not think so. I was also reminded of Chrome, which is always a good thing. Bird song accompanies the intro and slowly other material is introduced: spiralling synthesizer, feedback moments and freeform guitar, distant half-heard voices. It’s slow, hypnotic and seductive, coming from nowhere, going almost nowhere, then sliding from view… Well done Alan, Gamla Stan and Cryptic Z!

The latter two (Gamla is apparently a drummer called Bob in reality) recorded ‘Red Front’ as a duo. This track is almost as long but has a very different feel to it, with a really annoying and relentless rhythmic loop high in the mix, and either a spoken or sampled monologue half-buried in the mix. This was recorded by someone who sounds very like Mark E. Smith, but presumably isn’t. To be honest, despite repeated listens there doesn’t seem to be much else going on, no hidden depths, subversive synthesizer sounds or hint of effects-laden guitars.

As someone whose ‘musical’ efforts are mostly buried and abandoned, but included very similar outings, including a very wonderful long piece made by going for a drink whilst the television, radio and hoover played together (We did remix it before it appeared on a compilation tape, honest), I wonder if a bit of self-mythologising might have worked better here? Release the title track and bullshit about the long-lost masterpiece. Just a thought.

Either way, I love the fact that so much forgotten culture, music and writing is being reissued, discussed and written about. This is a perfect example of three musicians having fun and exploring sonic space, hybridising, listening and creating original, strange music.



Rupert Loydell

Mummies and Madmen’s Bandcamp page is here.

Adventure in Reality: The Complete Collection  and Alan Rider’s Tales From the Ghost Town: The Coventry Punk Fanzine Revolution 1979-1985 are both published by Fourth Dimension. The former was reviewed for IT here.

Attrition live online here.





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