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Throbbing Gristle / Chelsea - ICA
"But darling, mutilation is so passe . . ."
"IT'S A SICKENING OUTRAGE! Sadistic! Obscene! Evil! The Arts Council must be scrapped after this!" So spoke Tory MP Nicholas Fairbairn of this gig. The Daily Mirror enjoyed it, too: "Porn-pop art show! Distasteful and unartistic! Hare-brained schemes of a few trendy elitists!" That's from the Mirror Comment, and the outraged Tory MP quote is from the national press.
Fairbairn also wants an explanation from Arts Minister Harold Lever in the House of Commons to tell the rulers of our fair land just how the Institute of Contemporary Arts, with its grant of £80,000 a year, was permitted to put on a show of such decadence that the whole of our pious national press were up in arms . . .
Betcha dying to know what happened, ain'tcha? Okay, here's what . . .
Some pornographic, photographs stuck on the wall , a few used tampax in glass cases, a great stripper and a lot of music is the gist of it. Seems like everybody in the audience was an artist, a painter, an actor or a writer. "Oh, daaah-ling how are you?" was the battle cry around the makeshift bar. Still, the drinks were cheap and the conversation was amusing and by the time a party load of kids decked out in latest punk fashion wear arrived, closely followed by the national press, things were starting to warm up.
Throbbing Gristle, music from the Death Factory, were the first band to appear. The lead singer and bass player, Genesis P. Orridge, had ratty shoulder length hair that was shaved bald up the middle of his head, as if he had been run over by a crazed lawnmower. While he went into a rap about the decay of humanity Peter Christopherson took his place behind his tape machine, Chris Carter got behind his keyboards and Cosey Fanni Tutti settled himself on a wooden chair to handle lead guitar.
After Genesis finished his opening speech of doom and destruction the band went into their, uh, music which consisted of lots of weird sub-psychedelic taped sounds rolling around random keyboards played plonk-plonk style, lead guitar that Patti Smith would have been ashamed of and moronic bass on a superb Rickenbacker by old Genesis P. Orridge himself.
I went to get a screwdriver from the bar and came back just in time to see the band start mutilating itself. Genesis seemed to be really enjoying himself but most of the audience were bored. "Oh, daaaaaaahling! So passe! Nigel said at the party it would be interesting and artistically fulfilling!"
Backstage Genesis talked about his obscenity bust over a bottle of Scotch and told me he was soon off to the States to see his hero and main influence - William Burroughs.
"He's living in an old people's home now," Genesis said. He's had contact with us for a long time now ... the obscenity charge was because we want to give the people information ... we want to stop the decay of civilisation through our music."
Leaving Genesis backstage with his bloody face, his shaved head and his-plans to save the cosmos I went back to the audience to check out why so many kids decked out in
punk outfits had come along to the ICA tonight. Surely they weren't interested in all this, uh, culture?
"NAH, MATE," one of them told me while adjusting the safety pin in his carefully ripped tee-shirt. "We've come to see Chelsea. They're on after the stripper."
But LSD are on after the stripper.
"Yeah, they're billed as LSD but their real name's Chelsea. Got a great guitarist, they have. Good as Wilko, he is."
Alright, thanks squire. Shelley the stripper comes on decked out in full Cherry Bomb outfit and she is GREAT! While looking a few years older than the fourteen summers that the MC had announced (ah, if only that were true) she is a true artiste and takes about four records to slowly get out of her ensemble. She really stretches it out. The crowd love her.
Chelsea come on and by the end of their first number it's evident that they're coming from the same direction as the Pistols, Damned and the Clash, but at the moment their act suffers from the problem of the band not having played enough live gigs together.
But what the four of them lack in polish they more than make up for in committed energy. They're aggressive, but through their music, not their actions. Meaning that they want attention from the audience but they want it because of their music and not because they're spitting over the people in the front rows. A good set of 1977 dole queue rock, only two of the numbers not written by the band.
They're all from the London area, Billy the bass player tells me after the gig: "We've known the Pistols for years, we could be that big if they gave us a chance. We've been turning up at venues with our gear and asking them if we can get up on stage and play but most of them tell us to piss off.
"We've been rehearsing in an office. There's a lot of people like that bird you just mentioned who are trying to ride on the bandwagon of all the kids that are playing in high energy bands at the moment. We want to play music we believe in, we don't want no thirty year-old manager telling us what to do."
That's Chelsea. You'll be hearing that name again. Okay, promoters - book 'em.
Tony Parsons, NME, 30 October 1976