THE CLANG GROUP

 
 

It’s just a rumour that was spread around town. It said there was a star that few had ever heard of. But that few included David Bowie, Morrissey and Elvis Costello and he’d produced them all. Also, this man had a band called Deaf School and they’d inspired many other bands from Dexys Midnight Runners to Frankie Goes To Hollywood.


It’s time Clive “Clanger” Langer was known by more than a few. He is a quietly-spoken, bespectacled pop wizard from North London who (with his studio partner Alan Winstanley) made Come On Eileen and what seems like a hundred hits for Madness. He’s a songwriter, too. When Robert Wyatt broke our collective hearts with that great immortal sigh of a song called Shipbuilding, it was Langer’s music he was singing.


A little while ago our secret star had a significant birthday. “At the age of 60,” he says, “I decided to start another band. I got The Clang Group together and I achieved what I wanted. Which was to play on my 60th birthday.”


Forty years on from their inception at Liverpool art college, Langer’s first band Deaf School still record and tour, but not often enough for his taste. Nor for their keyboardist John Wood and drummer Gregg Braden: “Deaf School is like getting the circus out. And we wanted a band that could just go and play.” So this core trio did get out and play, with guest appearances by friends such as Andy Mackay of Roxy Music, whose sax you can hear on this record. And there’s Suggs, of Langer’s regular production clients Madness: he’s the vocalist on Had A Nice Night, a song first aired on the sole LP by Clive Langer & The Boxes, released a mere 36 years ago.  


Another thing he wants us to know: “It’s not The Clang Group like The Dave Clarke Five. The title of the album is Practice. The Clang Group is like a design company. The Clang Group Practice. With a cover like a Cy Twombly painting. I think the music is quite expressionist.”


Expressionist? Like a lot of British pop, The Clang Group are a part of that art school dance that goes on forever. And yet, Practice is like nothing we have heard before. Places and things, people and feelings, spill out in a kaleidoscopic tumble. There’s the wine and sunlight of a Sicilian wedding (Concertina); the marmalade skies of an Isle of Wight seaside town (Picture Postcard Paradise); the hurt of a lost boy with a European railcard in his pocket and a girl who didn’t turn up (Amsterdam). There is even Brixton’s new frontline, where Caribbean market stalls meet artisan coffee bars (Acre Lane).


We glimpse a page or two torn from the venerable Psychedelia Britannica, scribed by Syd Barrett and others. And there is a surprising quantity of sheer, insolent NOISE. Practice makes imperfect, and beautifully so. In here are film noir backstreets and angular jazz. There are peculiar riffs that jump like springs from fly-tipped mattresses. There are the broken pianos of abandoned corner pubs. Somewhere, a ghostly juke box still plays that wonky solo by Thunderclap Newman.


Most strikingly, there is Clive Langer’s voice. He’s seldom used it on record before, but is finding he finally likes it: “Singing now is a lot easier than singing then. I’ve got a bit of age in my voice.”


There is indeed a man’s whole life within these tracks. Time is passing and parents and pop stars are knocking on heaven’s door. No reason or rhyme. You’re now the living collision between your best intentions and the brute force of blind happenstance. Knocked off your motor bike. But you can still ride it if you like.


The Clang Group made an EP last year. One reviewer said it sounds like they’re either having fun or they’re drunk. Well? “It’s a mixture of nerves and bravado,” Clive reasons. “I’m not going to try and ‘produce’. I’m so anti fucking production. Trying to make things sound right. I’ve done that all my life.”


Langer grew up loving classic pop singles and he’s crafted plenty more himself. But there is a part of him that still thrills to a memory of Captain Beefheart’s band pulverising its bewildered hippy audience. These days he needs to blast away on that electric guitar: “It’s a bit RUDE, the sound I want to make, it’s not comfortable. I don’t want to fit in. I write pop songs, but I make a lot of noise. I need to be in overdrive.”


Clang! The rumour was true. Don’t let this year slip by without hearing The Clang Group. It’s getting dark, turn your bloody lights on.