57. The June Brides – Josef’s gone

November 9, 2010

/ No place called home, In Tape, 1985

No place called home back

‘Every sound, from each transmission, is stored away to be rewritten’ – ‘Josef’s gone’

‘The Manic Street Preachers also do a version of ‘Josef’s Gone’ – not on the tribute album. Their versions is actually called ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’!  They totally stole the chords… I would sue, but I kind of borrowed ‘Josef’s Gone’ from Roxy Music (‘Pyjamarama’) and Josef K in the first place.’ – Phil Wilson on Anorak

If Orange Juice were the sound of happiness, then the mood and mode of the June Brides was fast established as exuberance.  But therein lay their problem.  Because if you listened closely, you could hear that the joy was sharp-edged with melancholia.  As a songwriter, Phil Wilson grew almost too quickly for his audience, and that and the absence of any guiding strategist within or without the group meant that their star faded as quickly as it rose.

The mini-LP There are eight million stories showcases the exuberance, and the recorded as live (or as if live) excitement of their sound.  It was the sound of the Buzzcocks and Josef K combined, the musical leanings melodic as well as scratchy and wiry, the words lyrically defiant and defiantly lyrical.  On the LP there is no better example of the excitability than the cover version of The Radiators From Space’s ‘Enemies’.  It starts and ends chaotically, but in between somehow manages to strike exactly the right balance of loose performance and tight belief in what is being performed.  This was how they put across Phil Wilson’s own songs too, the songs that set them apart from and alongside the influences they wore.

No place called home

The mini-LP made them lots of fans; for a variety of reasons – ones you can find recounted in the sleeve notes for Every conversation: the story of the June Brides and Phil Wilson – while these remained for the subsequent EP, No place called home, many fewer stayed on for the last post of This town.  For me this is where the best of the June Brides resides, on these two EPs – more than half of what would have been a great LP – where lyrically life gets more complicated still, and where musically the viola’s mournful edge takes the vibrancy of the brass down a notch or two.  Underneath, the guitars still cut and energise, but it’s shades of blue rather than red that predominate.

‘Josef’s gone’ still makes the heart swell all these years later.  The lyric recounts the heart-in-mouth, what-will-happen-next feeling of taking to a stage to perform a clutch of songs, and is I presume simultaneously a homage to seeing Josef K do precisely the same.  That feeling of nervousness that a musician has is not so dissimilar to a fan’s for his favourites as they take to the stage – will this be a good night?  Will they do themselves justice, be loved by all these other ears, who may not be as on their side as I am?  It’s simultaneously about that feeling of anticipation, and an elegy for lost times.

Caught between principles and the music industry, misstepping, the June Brides disbanded, and contrary as ever, Phil Wilson gave into his country roots, performing solo in cowboy shirt and tie.  But in the face of harsh disinterest, a solo LP never appeared, and neither therefore did who knows how many great country or pop songs, following Phil’s decision to turn his back on music.  But it’s heartening to note that old wounds heal, that midway through the nineties the June Brides could reform and take a well-deserved bow; and that 2010 finally sees the release of a Phil Wilson solo LP.

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