S*M*A*S*H: THE SYSTEM
WELWYN GARDEN CITY FAMILY CLUB
"BACK TO where my friend died, to the scene of his ugly suicide…"
Welwyn Garden City. Always sounded horrible. Not as horrible sounding
as Bletchley Goole or Grimethorpe, admittedly, but more representative
of the respectable blandist terrorism that pervades the small town which
are the Thatcherite kitchen. And sure enough we step off the train
straight into an unspeakable fake marble shopping mall, a temple in
which to worship the dullest exceses of consumerism.
Kitsch ornaments, working girls' monotone dresses, nice modest shoes and
nice modest jewllery. Screeching toddlers and punch drunk mothers
career across the floor as classical versions of Whitney Houston songs
pipe from the walls. After this, a Center Parcs holiday might seem like
getting away from it all. But others try more desperate, more
permanent measures. Ed S*M*A*S*H's friend Kevin threw himself off the
tope of this very building three years ago.
Out of the frying pan and into… Legoland. Or rather Welwyn town centre,
from which you fully expect to be plucked by a giant child's hand and
imprisoned in the red-brick bungalow. But no, we are whisked off in a
taxi, driven by John Major's shell-suited cousin, with Phil Collins
quietly trickling from the stereo, on past scores of human rabbit
hutches, Sierras and Austin Maestros to a brutally faceless council
Here, the Ludwick Family Club is evidently the centre
of inactivity. It seethes with a grey glow of resignation to its
function as an 'Oh well, we can always go down the Family Club' kind of
place. But this is one of the few venues where the unfortunate offspring
of New Town man can go for kicks (or rather, slight leg twitches) and
naturally, it's under threat of closure, thanks to our government's
sympathetic social policies.
One thing is wonderful about Welwyn Garden City, however. S*M*A*S*H live
here. And that is perfect, since S*M*A*S*H are the antidote to
everything Welwyn Garden City is: angry, passionate, beautiful,
intelligent, sexy, and knicker-wetting exciting.
Hence the swarms of 16-year-olds besieging the doors a mere three and a
half hours before our homecoming heroes take the stage. The atmosphear
is something approximating a school disco where too much booze is
allowed and teachers' and parents' places are taken by a handful of
tattooed old punks standing at the back, still waiting (waiting,
waiting, ever waiting…) for the Clash to reform.
But S*M*A*S*H are not the Clash, and they don't want to be. A Sky News
TV crew wanders around muttering about how they expected to be gobbed at
and assaulted like they were in '77. They're missing the point, as in
their job at times like these.
Sure, until the moment they dive into 'Shame', you half fear that
S*M*A*S*H are going to be screaming, unfocussed punk cabaret
embarrassment. But 'punk' in 1994 means a blast of positive anger and
attitude, not a sad grunt of retro defeatism. Hence titles like 'Lady
Love Your C---', lyrics like "I'm not sad and you're not dead",
and T-shirt slogans like 'F*E*M*M*E', 'S*O*U*L*B*O*Y', and 'SMALLTOWN
G*I*T' and 'ENRAGE'. Like the Manics, they're there to piss you off,
suck you off and fire you up, to kick your personality awake. And that
means Individualism and style, not just a wanky scene and Sunday
S*M*A*S*H sing political love songs; soul songs about their life, your
life and what matters. They may be angry, but they're never nihilist.
They sing and play as if their family and friends are being held to
ransom, as if it's all they know how to do, because they care too much
about you to even contemplate watching telly and getting stoned while
people burn. And, again like the Manics, they succeed way beyond logic
just by the blaze of passion and impossible urgency behind them. Their
tunes aren't classics yet, but their nagging riffs, their bruising
rhythm and their seething provocation will hammer away at your brain
until you form your own band and say your own thing.
And occasional pogoing is more a case of trying to catch a glimpse of
Ed's vein-popping face than the silly charade it sounds like. You have
to jump and stare, because S*M*A*S*H are about being beautiful and
ecstatic, not about looking acceptable, feeling vaguely contented and
settling for grateful third best all through your life. Just look at
them. Ed's cheekbones and murderous stare! Salv's ludicrously cocky,
glammy strut and sneer! Rob's brutal, of course, just like Iggy, Bowie,
Rotten, even Morrissey. And you love them. Or you're tedius