WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . THE MONKS: Gabba Gabba Hey Hey we're the Monks

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The Monks: I Hate You
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . THE MONKS: Gabba Gabba Hey Hey we're the Monks

Because of its lo-fi, raw and untutored quality, the Black Monk Time album by a group of five former GIs who had been stationed in Germany in the early Sixties has been widely hailed by the likes of Jack White, Iggy Pop, Jay Reatard, Fred Cole of Dead Moon and many others who favour its elemental quality.

The fact that it has been largely out of print (and the band broke up shortly after the sessions) doubtless helped its cult status, but a 2009 reissue on Light in the Attic (with a couple of subsequent singles and a live track) allowed it to be heard again.

Preferably at full volume.

Myth surrounds the Monks: one being they were primitivists who simply enjoyed the whole garageband thrill (and they do sound not dissimilar to the likes of Paul Revere and the Raiders and others of the period); and another is that they were masterminded into existence by of a couple of German art school graduates who shaped them into the anti-Beatles.

haircut1Both sides are partly true: the band had been playing clubs under the name the Torquays but a group oif German arty types took over managing, put them in monk's regalia (capes, that rope thing) and then they shaved the tops of their heads.

They had classy photos shot and before they hit the studio they were instructed to pare their sound right back.

So, far from being a bunch of misfits out of a garage and seedy clubs of Frankfurt, they were as well thought out as a marketing ploy as the besuited young Beatles or the torn-jeans Ramones.

Well, a lot of bands wore odd clothes at the time (the Raiders, Beau Brummels, the Kinks) but there's no denying the sheer simple sonic power of the five-piece Monks (who dropped a guitar for an amped-up six string banjo).

They are staggeringly confrontational, as if Gloria was married to some anti-war rhetoric: "Complication! People die, people die for you, people will, will kill for you . . ." seems a fair point for former GIs in the Cold War era to observe.

blackmonktimeThe album opens with a screaming challenge of "Why do you kill all those kids over there in Vietnam?" Which might not have been the smartest song to have in their set if they had made it to those dates in South East Asia which had been jacked up just before they split. 

The music may seem simple -- but with stabbing organ, fuzz guitar, primal drumming and garagerock vocals which sound at the edge of the singers' range it will effectively peel paint.

But it is that aggressive simplicity which allows you return to it repeatedly: it has a spaciousness that many other similar bands didn't have, and nothing outstays its welcome.

It is also stupid at times (the entire lyrics to Drunken Maria are "sleepy Maria, don't drink! Drunken Maria, don't sleep!"), Love Came Tumbin' Down is pure West Coast Sixties pop (albeit stripped to the core) and they have a surf-rock instrumental called Blast Off!

The Monks may not be quite what you expect if you've heard the myths, (the "pre-punk" argument has no weight unless you define punk in that peculiarly American way).

But if Sixties garageband rock (the Seeds, the Nuggets collection, the early Stones, Downliners Sect and so on) or its many offshoots (Dead Moon, the Datsuns) mean something in your life, then you deserve to hear the Monks -- and this handsomely repacked album with liner notes, rare photos, lyrics (lyrics?) and their mostly rubbish subsequent singles certainly deserves a place in your obviously tasteless collection.

In other words, essential. 

For other articles in the series of strange characters in music, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . go here.

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