Bristol Archive Records Blog

The McAllisters

Folks check out these three great albums just released via the Archive from the mighty McAllisters

McAllisters biography/history…..
Knucklehead Reduction Strumming

Life’s all about 2nd chances innit? Or 3rd. Or 4th even……Being perfectly positioned (puberty = glam, post-puberty = prog, post-post-puberty = punk) in the late-boomer/early-bloomer demograph, and therefore with a palette of reference almost to die for (really, no-one in pre or post rock history had ever had it so good) we’d all had a few bites at the punk and post-punk-flavoured cherry. Uh, we’d all been in groups before, is what I’m saying. Anyway, this was the 4th or even 5th bite for most of us…..In my (davidthomaskettle) case, 1st school-formed band featured both a future art object with cool-dad-+-Clifton-postcode-cred and a pig-in-embryo with even-cooler-dad-+-Clifton-postcode-cred. Livin’ a hard life in the country/city netherland, I didn’t have a whole lot of cred myself, but crucially nurtured the desire, fuelled by guitar guidance from The Only One (J Perry) himself, to play searing guitar solos based on the blues scale. We named ourselves after an obscure American comic book character, worked up cover versions of Cream’s White Room and the Floyd’s Matilda Mother, wrote a bunch of punk-prog tunes inspired by a close attention to the works of Van Der Graaf Generator, played to some school girls a couple times, and then………A-Levels! Fuck those eh? But we nonetheless felt compelled to knuckle under and hunker down. For we were all, as they used to say back then, and still do now, middle-class. Make of it what you will, but most of the true geniuses who sprouted like magic bean stalks from the art-school soil back then seemed to be didn’t they? Syd was. And David. AND the two Rogers, and Peter. And Don. And Viv. And Peter (Hamill). Not to mention Marc. Also Mark E. HE was middle class too. Even, stretching a transatlantic point, Jim and Lou……Definitely David (nee Crocus)……Anyway, for the sakes of our futures (the no-future thing still being a way off) those A-Levels seemed awfully important, god love us! And God Bless Us too…….

So, the next time I’d see any real action (after a detour up to the grim north, where I’d begin a life-long love affair with northern grimness and poetry and witnessing many a hero – including the legendary secret PiL performance in ’79 – at the Russell Club in Manchester’s grim modernist-designed Hulme district) was in a group featuring those whom God had indeed blessed, but also, crucially, those for whom God was already dead. A little known and barely remembered (even by its own members) noise outfit, we were the short lived Atmospheric Walkers who, in the halcyon summer of ’82, nonetheless headlined the legendary Dinner With Franco event at the Clifton Hope Chapel, which ended explosively in orgiastic scenes of mayhem and none too subtle violence. As with the celebrated Lesser Free Trade Hall Sex Pistols Manchester gig, many of those present to this day toil in workaday jobs, and probably a few were inspired to form other short lived bands. Chris Bonnington is also rumoured to have been present. This particular MAP (bless him) to the palace of excess was, though, subsequently lost somewhere along the Cumberland Basin Road. But cassettes were made. And exchanged. And then re-cycled, in early eco-minded deference to future generations. And that same DIY ethic was still abroad well into the mid-80s…..others in this group (including future McAllisters) were also, slightly later, to appear in another short lived but crucial group, the delicately nurtured and amusingly named noise merchants, The Six Poisons…..
Click on link to open pdf: Mc4 God botherers

Gathering our thoughts, drinking in the Old England, sloughing off the reactionary 2nd term/post-Falklands lethargy, signing on, and in face of New Romantic and pop tosh of all stripes, the embryonic McAllisters began to move, stir and feel the rush of life upon their keel in the post-post-punk dog days of ’85. I was the only Bristolian (allegiance: Rovers) among us…the rest of the group hailing from as far afield as Wakefield (via Tirana), Southampton (via Andalucia), Birmingham Alabama and Toronto. Wham were top of the charts, Labour was irretrievably enmeshed in the long long process of disintegration, the miserablists were lording it in both main and indie stream, SEX was still a distant staging post in the career of the rapacious Madonna, and charity rock was beginning to gather its defining Geldoffian and Red Wedge-head of steam…….

So, pretty much a wasteland. And, it seemed to us, very much an open field of a wasteland. Shakedown. For the Territory. And the glittering prizes would be ours for the taking. Or so we conjectured. Initially a Cotham-garage-band two-piece – dtk guitar/vocals & markstevenaldridge (Rovers) on drums, our initial impulse, as dyed in the wool van vliet fans, was to give free vent to those good ol’ beefheartian inclinations for a delirious minute, or month, or two………before accepting that the good ol’ captain could best be saluted by avoiding that kind of inevitable pastiche-effect entirely. Exhibit A – Stump. Exhibit B – Bogshed. Fire Engines, Gang o’ Four etc etc etc……one can reel off the names of the books n bands……and it seemed everyone in a raincoat with a sort of bog brush or floppy fringe haircut appeared to consider it a birthright to essay a sort of 2nd/3rd gen scratchy guitar relationship to the Magic Band…..but for us, purists (if not puritans) at heart, that way, the way of emulation, lay the worst kind of pretence. Or so we judged. So no itchy, angular intertwining guitar figures, odd stop/start structures, field recordings, surreal/dirty lyrics or freeform Ornette Coleman type blowing for us…..and definitely no animalian white funk – we wanted punters to move to the rhythm, not dance (a nice distinction, but a real one nonetheless)……instead we went downwards, and inwards, below the designated line, in search of the lost Avonmouth delta blues…..the lost estuarian sound. Heavy on the riffs…….and pre-grunge grungy…..until, a bit later on, the onset of the grebo sub-genre reminded us to steer well clear of that particular mess, and to massage our postpostpunk sensibilities in another direction entirely. One vaguely sign-marked rockabilly, post-fall ramshackle hooks, intensified and riffed into heavy stooge-repetition, leavened with hyper-romantic washes of melody.
Click on link to open pdf: Mc1 Live reviews

But with the limitations of the guitar/drum line-up becoming all too apparent, we then became 3, joined on bass by Frank Hoxha (City) from Tirana (via “the north”) and began to hone the dirty, estuarian/swampy style reverb-guitar sound and the heavily repetitive riff thing……and in this 3 piece form, we suited up, braved the crusty element, the dogs on bits of string, and played our first ever gig in early ’86, opening for the Idiot Sideshow at the Montpelier Hotel. The punters appeared to love it, and expressed their enthusiasm in forthright manner. Yet things were still not quite right. I was quickly forced to admit (like many a strummer before me) that I was quite incapable of simultaneously playing the guitar and singing. I could do a bit of one, and then a bit of the other. But not convincingly. Nor at the same time. So a guitarist (David H Ryman – also from north of “the north”) was added and our sound rapidly coalesced into something, as we played more and more gigs, that journalists began to characterise as both hypnotic and compelling. And brutal. The thudding and tight-as-fuck rhythm section augmented by a guitar that seemed distilled from an essence of gut-rot Lynchian unease, Hieronymus Bosch phantasmagoria and a precognition of Hideo Nakata’s Ring cycle, but played with the exquisite yet esoteric precision of Richard fairy feller cracking his big nut….

This then was our first signature sound. Approaching the well-established (revered, even) Bristol funk/punk nexus with a degree of abandon, we had eschewed the funk, and more or less by default embraced the punk. Or at least the post-punk. We felt at that moment we were the rightful post-post-punk heirs, and were ready to claim our birthright. So we didn’t dilly-dally. We didn’t shamble, shimmer or gaze at our shoes. We went on the attack. And played a hateful of gigs, responses varying in degree from profound indifference to wildly expressed enthusiasm. And demo’d a series of songs that, on the face of it, followed an apolitical course (as far as such a thing was possible in an era when Thatcher was really starting to get on peoples’ wicks big time – at the same time, paradoxically, as consolidating power in a manner that convinced most of us that there’d never EVER be another reality) but that accurately documented, as far as we were concerned, yer actual mid-80s dysfunction and anomie.
Click on link to open pdf: Mc2

Elsewhere, most contemporary groups and the punters who followed them lost no time in nailing their colours to the designated mast, but we preferred a less overt line of attack. We flirted with our audiences who were mostly, let’s face it, proxies for the alternative consumer society (proxy itself for the BigCorp actuality of life as lived then that we all affected to despise). But we felt a sort of solidarity nonetheless. And after our own fashion, we loved our audiences. For this was when there really WAS, or seemed to be, an alternative society of sorts, before hindsight was to confirm the precognition of Mark E Smith, the horrible reality that the mainstream IS now the alternative. And vice-versa. Nothing is hidden any more. Click, and it’s yours. Never mind the bleedin’ dark web. And we’d like to be able to say that we’d foreseen this all along, but we’d be fucking lying if we did. And we all of course felt jolly self-important in our hermetic enclaves and self-curated, self-sustaining, mutually supportive, semi-autonomous structures-for-living. As you do…..if you feel you’re onto something secret, something non-mainstream. Anyway, these songs went out of their way to celebrate non-mainstream (over)consumption of that which was always anyway readily available. Also celebrated, in true Dionysian style, were irruptions of JGB-style existential and automotive excess, noir films reimagined/sound-tracked with thrash feedback, Cary Grant morphing into Eraserheaded Jack Nance (Bringing Up Baby X 2), numinous pre-dawn river walks that might as well have been, and indeed soon would be, the inspiration for yer Machen and Lovecraft type tales, and none too numinous night time hospital visits……

Despite having co-authored this unique (signature #1) sound, David H left us – to concentrate on his own project (the oddly compelling and frankly fantastic ReVega channelling God Bless U) – so Frank H shed the bass and took up the discarded Hofner violin-body guitar, adding depth and soul, honing and refining the previously reverb-heavy cellar-sound into something relentless, grinding, exoteric. We began to feel the need, however, for a further melodic edge to cut against the remorseless homogeny of the sound, so I began sticking in some atonal keyboard melody daubs, like ice shards cutting through the waves of the wine dark sea of sound. Soon after, the group mutated into a 5 piece, growing a bass player – Dave Britton (City – and Bristol boy #2) to replace Frank, and a 2nd guitarist, Andrew Wallace (unknown allegiance – skinny trousers/Gibson SG/Southampton) to further augment the sound with harmonics and precisely calculated harmonies. And so we began to fashion what we, and others, notably the late, lamented Marc Crewe – our principle champion at the time – regarded as our 2nd, but not ultimately defining, signature sound. A churning, melodic, repetitive, rockabilly-inflected, ice-cold, guttural, quiet-fire soundtrack to the established neuroses of the age.
Click on link to open pdf: Mc3 Record reviews

With this line-up came a slew of new demos, including embryonic versions of our pseudo-hits, “Mother Confessor”, a paean to the hypnotic effect that the reigning female demiurge appeared at this time to have on ally and enemy alike, and tally-ho hunt sabs workaround “Grey Suit Rebel Search”. Other songs fingered the C of E hostage to fortune and self-defined destiny, city road street life, more numinous Machen-inflected bloody stories, and among other snapshots of the orgiastic and the excessive, a sort of quasi-cover of the Madonna’s Like a Virgin – we weren’t big on covers, our only other stab in that direction being a rattle-along version of Devo’s “Sloppy (I Saw My Baby Getting)” that we used as a stage livener……
Click on link to open pdf: Mc5 EP promo

At this point, like Nic Potter leaving Van Der Graff Generator due to the crushing psychic unease induced by the burden of continually sharing a stage with Pete Hamill and cohorts, Dave B decided he’d had enough. He had been tight, and very efficient, his bass lines unerringly precise and to the point. His replacement, chrisbuffalomartin (Toronto), was a shoe-in. The Buffalo selected himself. Equally tight, he also brought the kind of propulsive energy that feels no pain and the drive to succeed that it’s possible we might otherwise have lacked. Plus, as owner, and experienced Visconti-o-typed bassist/chief engineer of the studio where we recorded (E-Plus, later “The Facility”) we didn’t need to think twice. Chris and Andy, with their relentlessly upbeat personalities, added a kind of can-do positivity that wasn’t always necessarily apparent in the demeanour of the original group members. Certainly on stage, where the brand of intensity they both favoured manifested itself as manic and hyperactive, in contrast to the static, or at most occasionally strolling, and certainly back-turning indifference of the singer and rhythm guitarist. This visual schism, amplified by a neurotic mix of fashions and hairstyles (Oxfam chic as well as standard issue leathers and mascara, pre-bald as well as standard issue punk style) appeared to have a mesmerising effect on most reviewers, whose thesauri continued to seek out synonyms for “hypnotic” and “brutal”, while at the same time drawing attention to our propensity to smile unnervingly.

So in terms of the skakedown, the presence of Chris and Andy, it might feasibly be said, represented the last piece of the jigsaw, the group’s final transition from artful but work shy bastards into potential contenders for a slice of whatever action might be going. Finally galvanised us, in other words, into some real-world action. More gigs, including a collection of London dates, followed. Inevitably, these ranged from the 3-men-and-a-dog scenario (the George Robey in Finsbury Park/Greenwich Tunnel Club stand out in the memory) to established club nights at Dingwalls and Jon Fat Beast’s Bull & Gate (Hype) set-up, plus the likes of The Cricketers at the Oval. And we finally got around to recording for release.
Click on link to open pdf: Mc6 Venue feature

Under the auspices of the gvt Enterprise Allowance Scheme/Scam, a label (Jolly Good Records) was hastily founded, a distribution deal was done with Revolver/The Cartel and we went for it. “Mother Confessor” and “Grey Suit” were joined by “Sooner or Later There’ll Be Fallout” (disarmament talks re-imagined as failing love affair), “Lamentable” (noir nightmare on city rd), “Spy-Poet’s Corn Holer” (in vogue spy-boy memoir fantasy), “T & J Will Eat Each Other” (their final words) and released (minus Sooner or Later – eventual lack of vinyl space) as “Too Much Money Propaganda”, a 12″ EP whose title was appropriated from stream of consciousness local busker Aston L Henry. The record was reviewed dismissively by Jane Suck-Solanas in the NME, but more positively, and importantly, by (among others) the Bristol Evening Post, and very positively indeed in the esteemed local listings mag, Venue. Our most oft-quoted claim to some sort of fame, though, was that several tracks from said EP were played by John Peel (representing, therefore, an almost literal 15 Warholian minutes). Attempts to secure a Peel session, however, were bafflingly unsuccessful.
Click on link to open pdf: Mc6 Venue feature

Whatever, even without the patronage of the Margrave, we immediately attempted to capitalise on this relative (by the standards we’d set ourselves) success, and lost no time in recording another EP, comprising 4 songs – “Oh Yeah” (cock rock shaker, with frenetic electric violin and harmonica a nod to the rock-ist mythology just below the surface), “Down and Out on Chickenly Blues” (thumbs down jaunty rundown of charity rock meme), “You Are What You Will” (high-speed Crowleyan buffoonery) & “Rag The Holy Man” (sort of Doors-without-the-leather-trousers-PiL’s-Religion-for-late-blooming-poetry-stoners) – which we believed expanded on and furthered the TMMP envelope. Sadly, however, we’d run out of money, so these songs were never released. Honing our art with the welfare state picking up the tab, like virtually all other bands of the era, but with various enterprise allowance enabled schemes going tits up, meant we lacked the funds to self-release again, and in the absence of actual record company hard cash, there the matter unfortunately rested…..we were running out of money, time and patience.
The Levitation Day Letters

Only one of us (Frank) still occasionally lives in Bristol, returning enriched from Tirana having cleaned up in property speculation after the fall of communism, and is now a watcher of the skies as well as a producer of esoteric radio programmes for the BBC. Mark translates technical manuals (and erotica) from Polish into English and back again in Kraków. I still dabble in music, using computer technology to make up tunes, and when not balling the ute down the wide open roads, write postcards from the edge in Perth WA. Andy has been rumoured (for the last 25 years) to be living in one of the old anarchist communes in Andalucia, though no-one will say anything definite about it, while Chris was, at last sighting, rumoured to have gained his PhD in the doctoring of noize (sic)……

3 Responses to “The McAllisters”

  1. andy wallace Says:

    Great to see all the Mcallisters tunes seeing the light of day
    Further to Dave’s blog…. Andy Wallace is alive and well and living in Cigarrones, (Orgiva). S. Spain.
    One of the originators of the fabled dragonfest held in Cigarrones (1997-2009). He is currently in a band called
    Absolut pantz (see youtube, facebook etc!)still rockin it in Spain and Portugal. Hoping to play in the UK next year (2017) , A gig in Bristol would be great!!!

  2. andy wallace Says:

    Andy Wallace here ………..I’m lookin forward to playing again in Bristol
    We, ABSOLUT PANTZ , will be playing with the FLUX CAPACITORS somewhere in Bristol on Thursday 22nd of June
    See you all there.

  3. Chris Martin Says:

    Chris here – alive and well and slogging away on my PhD! And playing in ‘The Swamp Gods’

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