Sunday, 16 November 2014



My second favourite last gang in town.

"I don't think I'm gonna let you stay in the film business."
(Image: BAD Central)

In the 1980s, everyone seemed to be doing stadium rock: Simple Minds, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Then Jericho (remember them? Me neither). Big Audio Dynamite were a refreshing alternative. Front man Mick Jones had (arguably) made punk iconoclasts The Clash global superstars, by introducing reggae and dance beats into their music. When he was fired from the band he’d founded by Joe Strummer, Jones set up a new musical collective with DJ and filmmaker Don Letts.
Mick and Don were backed up by Leo ‘E-Zee Kil’ Williams (bass), Dan Donovan (keyboards) and Greg Roberts (drums). In the image-obsessed ‘80s, BAD were a great package, looking like a cross between guerrilla rastas and Sergio Leone anti-heroes. This outsider aesthetic continued into the music itself, with BAD’s second single – and the first I heard – ‘Medicine Show’ sampling cool dialogue from A Fistful of Dollars (1964), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), Duck, You Sucker! (1971), as well as the Humphrey Bogart classic The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). BAD went a step further with ‘E=MC2’, a tribute to the films of Nicolas Roeg, littered with samples from the psychedelic gangster flick Performance (1970). JoBoxers they weren’t.
They blew me away live, heavying up the bass and guitar riffs and playing everything faster. At a spectacular gig at the (sadly now demolished) Astoria on the Charing Cross Road in London, Mick fired witty quips from the hip and at the drop of a baseball cap went into Chuck Berry-style duck walks. By the time I saw them, BAD’s set was full of great, clever songs from their second LP No. 10 Upping Street (1986), including ‘C’mon Every Beatbox’, ‘Beyond the Pale’, ‘Limbo the Law’ and ‘Sightsee MC’. If the rousing attitude sounded familiar, it was because Joe Strummer had patched things up with Mick and had co-written some of the songs, also producing the album with attack and vigour. From this distance, maybe BAD missed a trick by not getting Joe out to do a few numbers. On the other hand, perhaps it was just too soon for an on-stage Clash reunion.
On their third album, 1988’s Tighten Up Vol. 88 (which built more bridges with The Clash, as bassist Paul Simenon supplied the cover painting – dancers at a rave by the Westway), BAD delivered their best set of lyrics yet. Together with songs about Imelda Marcos, horoscopes and the simple joy of playing music, ‘Applecart’ was a brilliant vignette of a once loving relationship collapsed into tedium and habit:
The silence between them
Makes the loudest sound.
Thinking it’s the wavelength
Turns the radio down.
They hardly know each other
And they don’t know where to start.
Don’t rock the boat
Upset the applecart.
The other stand out was ‘The Battle of All Saints Road’. I’d lived in London for two years by now, and the Zydeco/‘Duelling Banjos’ from Deliverance (1972) mash-up, about the increasing yuppyfication of areas of the capital that had been on the frontline in the 1970s, struck a chord with this immigrant Londoner. I was really looking forward to seeing BAD on the Tighten Up tour, but Mick fell seriously ill and was out of action for over six months.
BAD returned to the fray in 1989 with Megatop Phoenix. I didn’t get it at the time, but since then it’s become their album that I play the most. Ahead of the game as usual, Mick had been inspired by the Second Summer of Love and moved away from conventional rock song structures into a kind of Cockney house music. ‘Around the Girl in 80 Ways’, ‘James Brown’ and ‘Everybody Needs a Holiday’, among others, have an appealing nursery rhyme quality that’s hard to get out of your head once you’ve heard them. Reflecting the mash-up ethic of rave culture, the samples were more diverse than ever, including Laurel and Hardy, Laurence Olivier, The Who and Bernard Cribbins’ ‘Right Said Fred’.
BAD remained brilliant live. Their gig at the Town and Country Cub (still going as the Forum, happily) ended with a stage invasion and all the equipment disappearing from the stage. I can’t remember now if it was Mick or Don, but one of them came out and said, “Look, we’d like to do an encore, but can we have the gear back please?” Drums, guitars and amps duly bobbed over the sea of heads back to the stage until only Mick’s microphone was missing. The call immediately went up – “Where’s the mic? Where’s the mic?” – until the required item returned to its owner, ambling from shoulder to shoulder for all the world as if it was out for an afternoon stroll.
That was it for me really. For some reason the original line up split and the reconstituted BAD II recorded Kool-Aid (1990), which I’ve still never heard. Call me fickle, but my interest had switched to the Happy Mondays who, with their pounding dance beats and rock riffs, inherited the dance floors BAD had loosened up. The Mondays even sampled Performance on ‘Mad Cyril’.
I never thought I’d see a BAD reunion as, up until it happened, members of The Clash didn’t do nostalgia. Just getting to see BAD play live again in 2011 was an event, as for some reason the whole Underground network decided to go on strike that day; maybe Mick was testing our resolve. He’s a man to age gracefully, now sporting a fine line in bespoke suits, while Don looked as if he’d been defrosted direct from 1985; the rest of the band didn’t stop smiling. Tight but loose, they played everything I wanted to hear and encored with a triumphant ‘Rush’, easily the best of the BAD II recordings. Job done.
Mick remains inspirational. His touring archive, showing just how much of a pop culture magpie he is, was a great idea. On New Year’s Eve a couple of years ago at a Dreadzone gig in Notting Hill – his manor – he came on and sent everyone wild by playing ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’, and followed that up with ‘You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two.’ Of course.
Four years ago, an expanded and remastered This is Big Audio Dynamite appeared to coincide with the reunion, but there’s been nothing since.
So, fellers – how about legacy releases of the other albums?
Recommended Listening
This is Big Audio Dynamite (1985)
No. 10 Upping Street (1986)
Tighten Up Vol. 88 (1988)
Megatop Phoenix (1989)
The Globe (1991)

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