Easily the best political rock band of the 80s with jangly guitars and leftist politics!
Through my teenage years my choice of music was pretty much an exclusive diet of fast and noisy hardcore punk rock… but there were a handful of exceptions. I loved a bit of folk music. My Grandads Wolfe Tones albums I still cherish along with my Mammy’s Johnny Cash ones but I also fell in love with bands like The Kinks, The Band Of Holy Joy and New F.A.D.S who i just liked the music. One band though that has been a constant for me throughout my life has been Easterhouse. Virtually unknown to the outside world their brand of cool indie guitar rock and absolute unashamed working class communist polemic as well as support for the Irish republican movement reached to the very core of me and I’ve been listening to them ever since and I hope you will too after you have read this.
Now the first thing to say about Easterhouse is that they actually come from Manchester, Stretford in fact, and took the name of the massive Glasgow housing estate for poetic license. The vast Scots estate was built for the people bombed out of the old Gorbals and houses around 30,000 people. The band are another in the long list of Manchester bands with Irish backgrounds and with The Smiths popularity in the 80’s booming, and Morrissey himself helping, Easterhouse were signed to London Records in 1986. Under the misguided impression they had signed a standard ‘Madchester’ jingle jangle baggy jumper band what they had in fact got was a forceful political rock band led by the brothers Perry. Andy on vocals and Ivor on guitar.
Their first single. ‘In Our Own Hands’, also led to being their last on London Records and afterwards they signed to the famous indie label (and home of The Smiths) Rough Trade Records where they released their second single ‘Whistling In The Dark’. To the untrained ear it could sound like just like any other well played “jingle jangle baggy jumper affair” but the song is actually about getting working class people to turn away from the Labour Party that had betrayed them all their lives and stand on their own feet.
After this is where my relationship with the band starts. On a regular weekend trip to the local record shop with a couple of mates we were flipping through the new single releases and suddenly “BLOODY HELL THATS BOBBY SANDS” I shouted at the top of my voice. Yes sitting there was a single with a picture of Westminsters greatest ever MP on the cover as bold as brass. Well we were straight off to the counter to buy the only two copies of the single as well as the only 12″ in the shop and then rush home to play it not knowing exactly what we had got our hands on. The EP was called ‘Inspiration’ and is indeed a tribute to Bobby Sands the famous and legendary Republican prisoner who died on hunger strike fighting not to be labelled a criminal in 1981. He became a MP while on hunger strike and was also famous as both a poet and a writer. Other songs on the EP paid tribute to the 1916 Easter Rising and ‘Nineteen Sixty Nine’ was, and still is, the most virulently anti-Labour Party song I have ever heard. Callling out the party of the working class for defending the Union and sending in the troops to the north of Ireland.
“The savage beat of soldiers feet. Streets of broken glass.
That crushed the lie of justice that England brings to foreign lands.
The truth came out without a doubt in 1969.
How many must have thought that things would work out differently.
Labour men in government, the workers own party.
Who brought out their true colours and nailed them to the mast.
Served the Union Jack as they always have in 1969.
You have to draw the line sometime.
And I draw mine”
The EP’s remaining track ‘Johnny I Hardly Knew You’ is not the anti-war version made famous by the Dropkick Murphys but a song telling of meeting a Irish born British soldier “along the road to Wexford town” and extolling the virtues of fighting for Ireland and not for Britain.
“you’re worse than famine in the land”
It may seem strange in these days where X-Factor rules and processed pop starlets on a conveyer belt have their five minutes of fame before disappearing into oblivion (with nothing to show except the money in the pocket of the ‘svengali’ who invented them) but for a while in the mid to late 80’s the UK charts were awash with revoulutionary socialism and left-wing politics. The Redskins and The Housemartins regularly dented the Top Twenty and other bands aligned to the pro-Labour Party group Red Wedge like Bragg and Weller also troubled the top ten and outside the charts bands up and down the country played left wing music whether soul, punk, reggae, folk, indie, metal like it has never been before or, sadly, since. Of course some of these have gone onto obscurity while those who sold out their politics continue to gain applause from those they once declared their enemy but as the amazing Redskins said themselves
“Take no heroes only inspiration”
So it was then that our wee gang awaited their upcoming debut album with baited breath and boy when it came out we were not disappointed! Just a few years after and with the scars of the Miners Strike still vivid here came an album that seemed to talk to our merry band of 2nd gen Irish kids. The album kicks off with the explosive ‘Out On Your Own’ and their hatred of Labour continues
“A Labour party man comes knocking at my door
around election time, once more he’s counting on my loyal support
there’s changes needed he agrees, and there I have his sympathy
but we must think of unity get the party on it’s feet
What did his party ever do for me?”
Years before Blair finished off anything that was good and decent in the Labour Party Easterhouse could see them for exactly what they were but nowhere on the left do they see anyone worth while
“Where is the man who is speaking up for me?
Community leaders want more black shop keepers.
The unions a say in the jobs thrown away.
And I’m told that my home’s in a nuclear free zone.
But that ain’t much help when there’s bills to be paid.
‘Police accountability’ ‘No-nuclear defence strategy’
This foolish ideology has made our fight a mockery!”
The rest of the album is quite simply outstanding. Bold and brash and unapologetic. Music with balls for those who hadn’t fallen for the pomp of what had become U2. The band manage to have a clear and distinct lyrical content that could, but doesn’t, veer into sloganering and feels 100% natural… probably because it was. The bands involvement with the, now defunct, Revolutionary Communist Party is not often mentioned but their working class and Irish backgrounds made it inevitable that they, like many of that time, would involve themselves in some sort of left organisation. The amount of 2nd and 3rd generation Irish in the left at the time was incredible and many a organisation, especially the RCP, courted those disaffected and of Irish descent to join. Following is ‘Whistling In The Dark’ and ‘Nineteen Sixty Nine’ the polemic keeps up before the beautiful ‘Cargo Of Souls’ slows the whole thing down with the tale of the Irish escaping the so-called ‘famine’ of the mid-1800’s and flowing into the great cities across the world to work themseleves into early graves. Led by
“hunger that drives like a whip”
Its the knowledge that while millions starved to death, and many more left on coffin ships to try and escape that death, tons and tons of food was being exported under armed guard out of Ireland to feed the English ruling classes. That knowledge has always been there. Although referred to as a famine it was infact an attempt to wipe out the Irish Catholic and has led to a rebellious streak in the Irish ever since. As unlikely a story as you would find on an indie album comes next in ‘Lenin In Zurich’ and tells of the Russians exile in Switzerland. An incredible story of commitment. So ended Side One (this is vinyl I’m talking about kids!) and Side Two begains with ‘Get Back To Russia’ and shows their ability to change from bile to beauty in the same line. The boot goes into the Labour Party and the boys take the famous slogan shouted at all left wing paper sellers and turned it into
“England made me
And here I’ll stay
England made me
Let England deal with me”
This was during the cold war where any sympathy toward the communist state was simply unheard.
“At least the Russian working man knows exactly where he stands”
“you can’t get Levi jeans or pictures of James Dean
but these things i have seen and they don’t mean that much to me”
‘To Live Like This’ is probably my favourite track of this album as hard as it would be to choose one. Working as i was in a job for £50 a week while every single one of my mates languished on the dole the song hit more than a chord with me.
“We’re running to stand still”
The music is proud
“If I was to think I was wasting my time
I think it would drive me out of my mind
If I should live to see the day
when all of this is wiped away
Dead and gone and seen no more
Then its worth it”
and the lyrics prouder. ‘The Boy Can Sing’ is another album highlight and in an album where every track is superb then you know it must be good. ‘Estates’ ends the album and both jangly guitars and hard edged rock combine with the haunting lyrics to bring down the curtain.
“were we not born to free?”
Despite its hardline politics ‘Contenders’ was well received by press and public alike and reached No 3 in the UK Indie charts in July ’86. Back then I think the music press were a bit better at spotting fakes and phonies and could see Easterhouse for their sincerity. ‘Contenders’ is a fine album and still sounds great today and its politics are as relevant as ever especially in these times where the working classes are vilified everytime they try to assert themselves.
Nothing more was heard after until the time of their ‘difficult’ second album in 1989. Easterhouse had virtually imploded and Andy Perry was all that remained of the original band. the brothers famously tempestrious relationship had seen Ivor leave the band and the other members (Peter Vanden, Gary Rostock and Michael Murray) follow him soon after. ‘Waiting For The Redbird’ was not quite what we were expecting and to be honest it took me a few years to really fully warm to it. The music was much more radio friendly and the politics, though there, were much more subtle and the whole thing seemed to be aimed at breaking through into the American scene. I nearly spat my cornflakes out one saturday morning when the video from revolutionary communist band Easterhouse appeared on kids telly with ‘Come out Fighting’ which did eventually chart in the lower reaches of the
American Billboard Hot 100!
“Oh well there never was anything in my life
That I got just for asking
And I never heard of anything
That was won without a fight
Now I’m in another corner
Only the times have changed
A new page is turning over
But the book is just the same”
Sadly the band came to an end shortly after the album’s release but again with the album opening title track, the single ‘Come Out Fighting’, the sad yet poignant, ‘Stay With Me (Death On The Dole)’ the music had changed but the LP’s final track ‘Sweatshop’ shows the spirit of that debut album and is the closest to their oriinal incarnation. A record deal with Columbia Records should have opened up a bigger audience for Easterhouse but the anthemic ‘America’
“Who will protect us from our protectors?”
wouldn’t have done much to impress their new label bosses as well as those who controlled the country’s airwaves! The sleek production, catchy tunes, synthesizers, the danceable bass lines, the subtle politics should all have seen them break through. These were the most commercial songs to be recorded by the band and there is no doubt that it was Andy Perry that carried the songs it was not meant to be and Easterhouse split soon after. ‘Waiting For The Redbird‘ sounded hopeful and inspiring, as it should be being a call to arms to a lethargic populace that needs to stand up and be counted while there is still a chance. Many bands have climbed on board the ‘safe’ leftie bandwagon. Where politics are meant to only appeal to middle class students who will have no real interest in social change rather than to effect a different persona to their tory voting parents. Very few have ever had the bottle to put real authentic left wing politics forward even when, like with Easterhouse, it has cost them dearly.
No more has been heard from them, apart from a small reunion in 2005 with Andy Rourke from The Smiths joining them live, so I suppose their legacy is one great album and a bunch of unmissable EP’s and another album that is quite simply out of this world.
Easterhouse should have been huge but the odds were always stacked against them. They put their ideals first a rare enough thing in life let alone music but their music is still as fresh and as relevant as it was twenty years ago.
Buy The Album
the re-release of Contenders is available direct from Cherry Red Records here
with additional tracks.
a download of ‘Waiting For The Redbird’ can be had here
. It hasnt been re-released and is impossibe to get hold of so get it free here.
*would appear the link to buy Contenders has gone so anyone know a safe download link please share in comments,