Interview with Malcolm Eden Part 1
published: 13 /
"Oh, human life, we would like to value it / But if there's no profit in it, what's the point?"
Few persons have had the ability to say as much in two minutes as Malcolm Eden did with his lyrics
"Oh, human life, we would like to value it / But if there's no profit in it, what's the point?"
Few persons have had the ability to say as much in two minutes as Malcolm Eden did with his lyrics during his time as vocalist and songwriter for the British janglepopsters McCarthy. From the first single, 'In Purgatory' (1986), to the last, 'Get A Knife Between Your Teeth' (1990), his lyrics boiled with anti-capitalistic propaganda. But despite the often very aggressive lyrics, McCarthy managed to make wonderful, ultra-melodic jangle pop that in some strange way fitted Eden's lyrics like a hand in a glove.
McCarthy were formed by Malcolm Eden (vocals, guitar), Tim Gane (guitar) and John Williamson (bass) when they were about 14 years old and were at school in Barking just outside London (the same school protest singer Billy Bragg attended, by the way).
"I could play a little guitar because my brother taught me, so I taught Tim to play the guitar and John the bass" Malcolm tells me in his first interview about the band in a decade. " We had trouble finding a drummer. I think Gary joined in 1984. He made a big difference because he was technically much better than the rest of us. At that time, just after punk, when the first Rough Trade records came out, it didn't seem very important to us to be technically proficient. It never did."
When you are 14 years old, you often don't have strong political views, and that was the case with the boys in McCarthy (which by the way was called something else from the start, but Malcolm can't remember the name. The name McCarthy was meant as a joke, taken from the American politician Joe McCarthy, who started a witch-hunt against communists in the USA in the nineteen fifties) . They were influenced by punk, most of all The Sex Pistols, but they also played Buzzcocks-songs because they were easy to play.
But in 1979 when Malcolm was 16 years old, Margaret Thatcher first became Prime Minister of Britain, an event that would change his view of the world forever.
" She had a very forceful way of putting her arguments. Nobody in the opposition really had an answer to her. That's why she kept winning elections in fact. To find a good answer to the Tories, you had to go to the root of the matter. That's what got me interested in Marxism."
In 1986, the band took their saved money and recorded a single on their own label, Wall Of Salmon. The single was called' In Purgatory', and had a limited edition of exactly 456 copies,. That single now costs between fifty and sixty pounds if you ever see it up for sale.
"We sent our record to a record label called Pink. They signed us up and started to get us gigs. After C86 and Red Sleeping Beauty it was always easy to get gigs. Even abroad. I loved playing in other countries. People were always very kind to us."
That C86-cassette, released by the New Musical Express and Rough Trade in 1986, proved to be important, not only for McCarthy, but to guitarbased indiepop in general (See Tommy Gunnarsson's recent feature on the whole C86 movement in the Archives section of this magazine for more details about this cassette-Ed) . Bands like The Pastels and The Shop Assistants would be forever associated with the genre that was named after the cassette. McCarthy also contributed to this tape with one track 'Celestial City.'
"We were very lucky to be on the C86 cassette. It's what first got us attention. Musically we were pretty similar to those bands. I think our general attitude was a bit different though."
Usually Tim would write the chords and record them on a four-track, and then Malcolm would add the bass and melody.
"Gary did the drums, although Tim and I used to give him suggestions. I put the lyrics on last. Some of the songs I wrote on my own, like 'Frans Hals.'
Malcolm is still satisfied with the lyrics he wrote back then, but he thinks that he might have written some things a bit more elegantly.
"But I still think a lot of them are quite pertinent and funny. Although naturally I wouldn't say the same things the same way today. Not because I've changed my mind, but because the world has changed. The other members were always very supportive. They agreed with the general tendency in my lyrics, I think. I had a few big arguments with Gary about politics. But generally we were all on the same wavelength."
After the C86-compilation, Pink released the first "real" McCarthy single, 'Red Sleeping Beauty', which was a poetic stab at the Thatcher regime. In the song, Malcolm sings that he has been sound asleep for twenty years and that "she won't wake me". But above all, the song has one of the best intros of the popmusic history, an intro that during a mere minute goes from a few simple guitar chords to a cacaphony of guitars and rolling drums. The B-side isn't bad either. 'From The Damned is probably the roughest song the band ever recorded (in competition with 'In Purgatory'), with Baker's drums once again the focus.
McCarthy didn't stay very long with the Pink Label. Their second single, the aforementioned ' Frans Hals', was their last for the label, and their next stop would be new label September Records, who released the classic 'The Well Of Loneliness' as a single in October 1987, a single that ended up in the British Indie Charts' Top Ten ('Frans Hals' actually came in at Number 4). The same month, the long awaited debut album, 'I Am A Wallet', was also released, containing short, fast songs that could be read individually as a political manifesto. Titles as 'The Provession Of Popular Capitalism', 'The Wicked Palace Revolution' and 'The International Narcotics Traffic' speak for themselves. But the record didn't sell very well, and in an interview for Swedish fanzine 'Sound Affects' at the time of 'I Am A Wallet', Malcolm said that the band was ignored, something that he doesn't agree with today:
" I don't remember saying that, and I'm not sure if I agree today. We were only a little group, but we got quite a lot of attention. In the beginning, all we aimed at was to make a record and play some concerts. Everything else was a bonus."
Despite the setbacks (?), the band continued to be productive, and as soon as February 1988, a new 12" single hit the shelves, with a new song called 'This Nelson Rockefeller' as its lead track. On the B-side re-recordings of three old songs ('The Funeral', 'The Way Of The World' and 'The Fall') could be found, plus one more new song, 'The Enemy Is At Home (For The Fat Lady)'. But why did they record two songs from 'I Am A Wallet' just months after its release?
"We didn't re-record the songs because we disliked the originals. I think we did it at the suggestion of our manager, who wanted to put out two singles one after the other, very quickly ('This Nelson Rockefeller' and 'Should The Bible Be Banned?'). We didn't have enough songs for B-sides, so we redid some older songs. It was partly to experiment with drum-machines and keyboards. Up until that moment a lot of the "indie" people really liked us, but they saw this move to re-record songs as the Ultimate Betrayal. Notably the people who did the Sarah record label in particular."
Only two months later, another 12" single was released, the foresaid 'Should The Bible Be Banned?' The title track questionsif the Bible encourages murder. Eden sings of a person named Dave who has just killed his brother with an axe, and finds support in the Bible's story of Cain and Abel for his crime. Finally, he sings "should the bible be banned / to keep the peace".
Then it took almost a year until we heard from McCarthy again, this time with a new single 'Keep An Open Mind Or Else', the band's first release on Midnight Music. The single was a taster from the album 'The Enraged Will Inherit The Earth', which was released in March 1989. Now the band had a new producer, Ian Caple, and despite the album being more polished than the debut, it doesn’t feel as brilliant as the first album.' I Am A Wallet' had a kind of unproduced feeling, something that really fitted McCarthy's music, and now that they had a more producer-type producer,something was missing. But that isn't to say it's bad, no not at all. Here we find masterpieces such as 'Governing Takes Brains', 'Throw Him Out He's Breaking My Heart' and 'Boy Meets Girl So What'. Malcolm agrees with my feelings about their second album.
"Some of the songs on the second album were badly done. I prefer the first and last albums. We were very happy with 'We Are All Bourgeois Now' (the song the Manic Street Preachers covered), and some of the songs on the last album were quite well done, I think. I like' I Worked My Self Up From Nothing.' We could have recorded most of the songs a lot better though. I don't think I was a very good singer either, to be frank."
I really must say that I can't agree with the last thing Malcolm mentions. Personally, I think Malcolm has (had?) a very pleasant voice, which was not at all bombastic like many other indiepop singers at that time in the UK. In other words, it is a voice that can never annoy you.
Only a month or so after the second album was released, a new single reached the stores. This time it' was an EP with the name 'McCarthy At War'. On the EP, there's a remixed version of 'Boy Meets Girl So What', plus three new songs, of which 'All Your Questions Answered' probably is the best, with a superb guitarhook, and Malcolm singing "who destroyed our industry? / who can tell me that? / the Germans swamped the market with their German products".In 'The Lion Will Lie Down With The Lamb' he asks all the global industry corporations (he mentions IBM and General Motors) to move away from South Africa, so that the people there can be free.