"We shall Rock them on the beaches, we shall Rock them on the landing grounds, we shall Rock them in the fields and in the streets, we shall Rock them in the hills; we shall never surrender."
--Prime Minister JC Carroll
Rock 'n' roll thrives in these kinds of places: neighborhood bars that time forgot, passed over by the professional brigade in its never-ending quest to airbrush the hell out of whatever it touches.
No such fate has befallen the Red Line Tap, located just down the block from the Heartland Cafe. There's not a whiff of pretense about its soft red neon facade and basic-beyond-basic interior.
You've got a raised deck in the back -- for easy observation -- plus a boxlike main floor for the tribe to gather, in front of a small stage that reminds me of many that I've seen in Britain (where many bands tread the boards in postage-stamp-sized territory, it seems).
But that's where the Members are plying their trade on this particular night in Chicago (9/06/14), as part of their first USA tour in 31 years -- a lifetime ago from the band's brief rotation on MTV, when "Working Girl" gave them a new lease on life here.
BACK IN THE USSA...MEMBERS-STYLE
Of course, show biz has its share of hiccups, as singer-guitarist Jean Marie ("JC") Carroll explains by phone from California -- where we first touched base near the end of August, about a week after the "Operation Overground" tour kicked off in California (8/22). (Note: The tour officially wrapped up this week on 10/04 after returning to several cities in the West/Southwest, including Midland, TX; Phoenix, AZ, and Las Vegas, NV.)
With four days to go before the kickoff date, longtime singer-bassist Chris Payne broke two bones in his hand -- so the Members reverted to a trio, with JC getting reacquainted with the bass, flanked by Nigel Bennett and Nick Cash on lead guitar and drums, respectively.
And that's how -- on this particular night in Chicago -- JC winds up holding down the fort on six-string bass, which “was definitely a 'show must go on' moment,” he says, laughing. “It's just another chapter.”
Mishaps aside, Carroll looks forward at getting reacquainted with the band's American fanbase.
“I started working with the band seriously again in 2006, doing shows in England – we started going all over Europe. It's just a natural progression, really,” Carroll observes. “I also went to Australia and New Zealand last year, and there's still quite a strong demand for what we do.”
"THERE'S SOMETHING HAPPENING HERE"
For those who haven't kept score, the Members formed in 1976 as part of the British punk explosion that produced the Clash, the Damned, the Jam, and the Sex Pistols, and numerous other bands.
Carroll became aware of the punk revolution's impact when ordinary-looking youth – not “hip inner city guys,” as he calls them – started coming to Members gigs.
“I said, 'There's something happening here – they want this,' so I came up with 'The Sound Of The Suburbs,'” Carroll recalls. “In a funny way, punk rock is a suburban kid thing now, still – it's a way of escaping what might be your drab surroundings, and rebelling. We were very lucky with that song.”
With Carroll leading the songwriting, the Members gained attention for a fiery mix of punk and reggae – and topics that ranged from corporate greed (“Offshore Banking Business”), to social isolation (“Solitary Confinement”), and ordinary peoples' lives (“The Sound Of The Suburbs”).
All of these songs get an airing at the Red Line Tap, and they sound as vital and powerful as ever. On the flipside, that means all of the nasty and noxious evils that punk rock aimed to slay during its certified Year Zero moment (1976) -- corporatized pop music, ever-rocketing costs of living, and unresponsive bureaucracies, to name three -- seem stronger and more vigorous than ever. But we'll get to that shortly...
"IT WAS JUST TOO MUCH"
Although only thee guys are onstage, the sound is muscular and crisp tonight -- much of that factor comes down to Bennett, who plays enough for two people by himself.
Fluid, yet unfussy, he puts all the right notes in all the right places, while Cash whacks out the beat behind him -- stretching out, naturally, on the reggae sections, where a percussive comment or two isn't out of place -- and Carroll keeps the proceedings moving on his newly adopted instrument.
Just behind Don and myself, two color TVs beam "Saturday Night Live" out over the main floor, but nobody cares a whit -- all the action's down on the main floor, where plenty of cameras are popping (cellphone-related or not).
In particular, I notice a blonde woman click-click-clicking away. At first, I think she's some kind of pro shutterbug...one dressed to kill in knee-high boots and black hose, kitted out with some top of the line pro camera.
Eventually. I muster the gumption to ask er, between songs: "Excuse me, are you the band's official photographer?"
She smiles, and laughs, "No -- no, darling, I'm a friend of Nigel's."
"Oh, OK -- right, I got it now!"
The band rip-roars through "Working Girl," which gave them new life commercially, after the original punk scene had tapered off -- giving the Members a big American hit when they needed one most. Thanks to the fruits of those labors, the band expanded to a seven-piece entity with a three-piece horn section.
However, that new lease on life came with a price, as JC explains: “We were literally touring around America for four months at a time – it was just too much. We burned ourselves out, basically."
There's no smell of burnout hanging over the proceedings here, though, as the band powers through "Baby Baby" -- the signature number of the Vibrators, with whom Bennett toured many times in America -- and "The Sound Of The Suburbs," which closes the show on triumphant note.
"IT JUST SOUNDED GREAT"
Funnily enough, Nigel's friend isn't the only person slinging a camera tonight. In fact, it's been awhile since I've seen so many flash bulbs pop-pop-popping...although, as JC recounts afterwards, he's played some gigs where the front row is literally nothing but iPad and iPhone City, where he can't see the faces of the people concerned.
It's a strange phenomenon that only today's techie-driven times could produce, he notes, "though you look at what they post on Youtube, and you say, 'Christ, no, please take it down'..." He smiles, knowing that no such occurrence is likely.
A generation ago, people swapped color pics to stick into yellowing photo albums; nowadays, they're saving them on their phones. Call it a sign of the times, if you like.
After the band's breakup, Bennett, Carroll and Payne focused on raising families and various solo projects.
JC decided to re-form the Members after celebrating his fiftieth birthday, “and I tried to get all the bands I'd ever been in together – and it just sounded great,” he said.
Since then, the Members have steadily built on that momentum, by virtue of steady gigging -- "It's not unusual to get Scotland on a weekend," as JC notes -- although, unlike the old days, it's not strung together as a steady drumbeat of one-nighters.
Unlike many contemporary pundits, though, JC doesn't mourn the record industry's demise, especially when he considers the alternative. "Back then," he observes at the merchandise table, "you really couldn't make any money -- because there were so many other people ahead of you."
"IT'S TIME FOR SOME MORE RADICAL MUSIC"
The Members return to Britain in October, after which Carroll expects to start on the band's fifth album – for which he's already worked up four or five songs.
“It's got the Members' (types of lyrical) themes. We're going to make little videos for them, or big videos – and we'll be touring in Europe, doing what we do,” he says.
As Carroll notes, today's headlines seem perilously close to the world on which he and his bandmates cast such a critical eye back in 1976 – though he believes that it could stand a better soundtrack.
“We're very much in a manufactured pop music world – nobody's really speaking about how they live. It's definitely time for some more radical music, I think,” he says.
YOUTUBE VIDEO LINKS FROM THE GIG (JUST CUT 'N' PASTE INTO YER BROWSER):
"Offshore Banking Business":
"New English Blues, Part 2":
"The Sound Of The Suburbs":
MEMBERS BIO, INFO+LINKS
2013 was a Fantastic Year For The Band taking us to lots of exciting places, Ireland, Ukraine, Holland, New Zealand, Scotland and Australia, where we were re-united with Rudi Thomson, our old Sax Player. We made lots of new friends in the UK also.
Original Member Nigel Bennett has rejoined the Band, along with Drummer Nick Cash. Nigel spent many years touring and recording with Punk Legends The Vibrators and released and toured a solo Album (TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES) in 2013.
Little known Facts: Nigel played Bass with Julian Lennon and Guitar with Tom Robinson in the '80s.
Nick Cash is no stranger to the Members, having Played on 3 of JC's Solo Albums as well as performing with The Members from 2007 to 2009. Nick is Famous for opening the World's first Ever Punk Punk Clothes shop and playing with Fad Gadget, Prag Vec and The Lines as well as auditioning for an early version of the Sex Pistols.
Rat Scabies Stepped down from the Members Drum seat after three great years at the end of a Hugely successful Australian and New Zealand Tour. We wish Rat lots of luck with his exciting new recording projects.
JC's Record Label, AngloCentric Records, is up and Running Now with Releases by Members Producer David M. Allen, and Brentford Mad West London Band, The Magic Sponge...check out the Tracks here:
Also due is a Compilation album Featuring Billy ShinBone, The Brompton Mix, Cheyne Pride, The Fab Mods and The Indicators, as well as deep Cuts from the Archives.
If you want information on booking the The Members it can all be found on this Document:
Please keep in touch with the band by visiting the official Website:
...or join the Facebook Fan Pages: