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NME 21/10/78
NME 16/06/79


NME - JUNE 16th, 1979

Some time in the life of a female singer from Dublin and a thin book saleman

...and a quiet drummer and a bassist who used to want to be Jack Bruce - an insight, in fact, into the enigmatically titled prag VEC. This feature may appear to start in the middle. This is not the case. It starts here...

By: John Hamblett
Pix: Mike Kaye

Sue: We went to see 1900 the other day.

John: I told him.

Sue: We also went to see The All Round Reduced Personality.

Hamblett: Wait till you see The Warriors.

Sue and John: We've seen it.

Hamblett: It's great.

John: It's shit... it stinks.

Hamblett: It's definitely on a par with Saturday Night Fever.

Sue: Yeah.

John: It doesn't quite smell as bad as that.

Hamblett: It's just entertainment.

John: It's not quite good enough entertainment though.

Sue: The women in it were terrible.

John: The music in it was terrible.

Hamblett: It was great fun... like Tom and Jerry.

John: Very much like Tom and Jerry.

Sue: The men were all really good at fighting and the women didn't fight at all...

Hamblett: Good. Women don't fight.

Sue: I do.

Hamblett: In real life maybe, but not in the movies.

Sue: They used bits of real life.

Hamblett: No they didn't.

John: They could've used a few laser pistols and a bit more music.

Hamblett: So, can all movies change your lifestyle?

Sue: They should.

Hamblett: What about music? Abba don't change anybody's lifestyle.

John: Abba are great. Classics, I like pop songs, I'm greatly influenced by pop songs.

Hamblett: Don't send me up...

John: I'm not, I'm not... He says I'm sending him up because I say I like pop songs, that's a lie isn't it? Don't I like pop songs?

Sue: He does. Which pop songs do you like?

John: Anything... I don't like po-faced intellectuals.

Hamblett: If you want to be a revolutionary go throw bombs at police cars.

John: I agree, you're right. I don't want to be a revolutionary... It's quite a different occupation really.

Sue: He doesn't throw bombs.

Hamblett: So what does rock'n'roll influence?

John: To my mind it seems to influence the type of commercial on the TV. Lee jeans and laser beam eyes, leather clad punk arses bouncing up and down on Myer's beds...

THE NIGHT before, Sue had come second in a talent competition in her local pub. Although there were only two entrants she was fluorescently content with her peculiar renditions of 'Laughter In The Rain', and 'Close To You' and smiles accordingly every time she has cause to recount the tale. Tonight, although overtly concerned with her own liberation, nobody turns to stare as she clips through the frosty glass doors.

She is dressed in a mildly indisciminate mingling of this and that (unisex paraphernalia), and supports a moderate amount of mid-brown hair that looks as though it may become long before much longer.

She says to me: "I have a chip on my shoulder. People are always telling me how to behave, because I behave badly. They say I shouldn't fart or belch, so I fart and belch. They say I shouldn't swear, so I swear. I upset people. I'm not a girl or a lady, I'm a woman."

A woman with a nose that is half-inclined to turn up, a small mouth, a roundly unobstrusive accent and firm beliefs.

Like most people you meet in pubs Sue is a curious and typical alloy of old and young. She was born and raised a Catholic in Dublin; nature, consequence, coincidence, and curiosity have brought her as far as a council flat in Shepherd's Bush where she lives when not shopping, working, walking or singing in a group called prag VEC.

Occasionally she will say things like this: "All my songs are hate songs." But don't take that too seriously.

Sue and the other members of prag VEC are seated in a reasonably large pub - not entirely through choice. The place has a confusingly regular attitude, built, it would appear, solely for the purpose of defying description (even the wall-paper is unexceptional).

The people, however, are as blendedly individual as ever could be, all playing their given roles with a brave and determined furrow of the brow. Little do they realise... or perhaps, on the other hand, they realise perfectly well.

prag VEC certainly do; they are in the unenviable position of fully realising their importance in this scene without quite understanding why, wherefor, or whatever.

John sits hunched towards the table. At one point he will say: "Our music is just a reflection of the sado-masochism implicit in all relationships... I mean, the agency sent us, y'know?"

John works in a book shop. Before that he studied at Essex University. He used to paint, he plays guitar, and confesses to liking steaks, kebabs, movies, juke boxes, and the radio. And he drinks Guinness.

If Sue looks wavy, John looks straight up and down - angular, almost. His short dark hair could well be described as cataleptic in certain quarters, and his face looks fragile and madly scooped out.

The greatest work of art he has ever seen was created by a green grocer who owns a stall in a street market. The old green grocer's work of art is a regular Saturday night performance which involves him getting up in his local and giving a perfect impersonation of Nat King Cole to piano accompaniment.

John is impressed with the perfection and integrity of the performance, and the fear of the performer. (I only mention this in passing as John claims that such characters people his reality.)

lf you were to ask John and Sue what Would happen if prag VEC became famous Sue would reply: "We'd make money," and John would add, "and spend it."

When they are forced to say things like that they export an impression of comical honesty qualified with a sensible desperation that lounges in the short, dusty spaces that follow, silently, half-way between a frown and a laugh.

John, by the way, writes most of the music for prag VEC. The songs are imperfect, insinuating, and passionate wedges of excited ideas, interesting notions, committed ideas, and crisply encountered situations, placed with mad care into short bouncing balls.

Songs like the four quirky, seductive and witty tracks on their debut EP released last year on their own Spec label. (If you haven't got a copy the HMV shop in London's Oxford Street still has some, though it's probably not worth making a round trip of more than say, 50 miles.)

Nick has a face that brings soft adjectives quickly to mind. He believes certain things, but is prepared to believe otherwise if proof is provided. His fair hair drops in a naive fringe, and he speaks as though not wishing to make a nuisance of himself.

Nick's first drum kit consisted of a space hopper, the pedals on a piano and two knitting needles - an interesting variation on the biscuit tin and two knitting needles norm. And once he auditioned for 999.

Dave is the largest, and while his complexion may not always be of such a ruddy hue, I'm quite sure his hair is naturally curly. He plays bass.

Why did he join prag VEC:
"Because I found myself growing up for a change. Growjng up among responsible, humane people."

Sue tells me he used to want to be Jack Bruce but is okay now, while simultaneously offering me a pinch of salt. Dave tells me that he is completing his final year at college studying graphic design.

I toss the pinch of salt over my left shoulder.

For quite long periods Dave does not appear to move. At such times, the power to do so seems to have deserted him. I try not to feel concerned, or take it personally.

prag VEC react to things that concern them, and others, in a positive fashion. Their music suggests this, and their conversation confirms it. They do not wish to be seen as an isolated collective creating unrelated slices of consumable culture. I mean, given the choice they would rather be lamp-posts than picture frames, or even pictures - in a manner of speaking.


1/Sue: I had a guitar when I was about 15. I had a copy of 'Highway 61 Revisited', and I learned to play 'Tambourine Man'. I remember sitting in my bedroom playing it and I could hear my brother and his friend outside the window. They were laughing at me. They obviously thought I had some aspirations to be a star... (Laughs) Perhaps they were right.

prag VEC: Sue, Dave, John, Nick2/John: It seems to me that the new bands who have signed up with major record companies in the last couple of years have been forced into their own little worlds. Their approach to their music becomes insular because of that. If we can live by avoiding the situation of having to become big stars for the record company then we can escape into other people's worlds very easily. That's the way we retain control. We write what we want to and play it the way we want to. We don't conform to a strict concept, like say, the heavy metal bands. They only exist as part of a concept. People who go along to see a band like Rush don't simply go along to see Rush, they go because they are carrying on a tradition. We're not.

3/Sue: I'm not interested in just being a performer, or just an entertainer. I want to shock some people. I was in a band before this and some of the people who came to watch us just did not want to entertain. I wanted to scare the shit out of them.

John: I like going to watch bands - I don't like listening to records much - because it's more than just music and lyrics, image, fashion, dress. It's very simple theatre. It's a very direct theatre, mostly about communicating some kind of feeling between the performers and the audience, like: "We are having a good time" or; "We are not having a good time... We are having a bad time".

Reading what people have to say in music paper interviews is a load of cock. It doesn't have any relation to that experience. You might just as well talk about the things they used to talk about in the old days - like what colour socks they wear, and what their favourite lunch is... Actually I like four little sausages, a fried egg and some coleslaw. I don't know, you might just as well get a bunch of back covers off the Penguin Modern Classics and say this is me.

4/Sue: When I'm writing songs I sit down and pick a victim, something really straightforward. When I was working in the canteen at Shepherd's Bush Telephone Exchange, for example, there were a lot of-old ladies working there and when the tea break time came round they'd all have their fags out and they would just sit around and talk about the kind of cigarettes they smoked. That's how 'Cigarettes' came about.

John: When I'm writing music I just start off with an arrangement of chords that I think sounds nice, but by the time it gets to the point where everybody is playing their individual part a lot of ideas have gone into it.

Sue: The content should dictate the style. We are very humorous. I think we used to try a lot harder to be humorous. For instance we do a song called 'Stay'; it's a Bob Dylan song - 'Lay Lady Lay' - and we cut up all the words and pulled them out of a hat completely at random, and we got some very funny lines that way. Lines like: "Why stay, Lady? Why Stay? Him dirty eat you." It's a very ambiguous love song.

John: It works so well because although it's a cut-up it's taking the piss out of people like Burroughs.

Sue: In 'Stay' the sex angle comes out much stronger than the way Dylan did it. Dylan wrote it very romantic and sentimental.

John: Like they weren't going to do anything dirty... It's not about sex at all really, it's about the things people do to each other, and quite often the things people do to each other are dirty. The Romantic ideology is dirty. The Romantic poets were real deep stuff, escapism, and euphemisms, and they're really not talking about that, they're talking about fucking.

Sue: We got a letter from somebody in Long Kesh, who'd been there for seven years for armed robbery. He wrote a letter saying that he liked the band, so we wrote back to him. Then, he wrote again with a translation of 'Existential', asking me to correct it... There are only two words in the song that are important; "Existential, and "capitalist". Those are the only two important words.

John: 'Existential' is only comic book French.

Sue: Dave came up with a bass riff that we latched onto and somebody said that it sounded like the music from a French detective film. You get French bands singing songs in English and nobody say that's pretentious... It's fucking English imperialism; everybody should speak English.

5/Sue: You say a lot about what sort of band you are by the name you chose. It's our name and it's our music. If you say that prag VEC are a rock'n'roll band it's not the same as saying The Clash are a rock'n'roll band.

John: Most names mean something, most names say, we are this - like The Clash - conflict... it's very conceptual. Our name is just a batch of words.

Sue: If we don't do anything then the name doesn't mean anything. We are prag VEC.

John: We didn't want a name that suggested we were deep, or had a lot to say. We don't have a collective image - we don't have a manifesto.


slapped together by richard hare and kevin head