Remembering the Dog Faced Hermans – wild, discordant death to trad rock heroes
John Robb remembers the Dog Faced Hermans, the wild, discordant death to trad rock heros whose live shows were some of the best he has ever seen.
The following is from John Robb’s book ‘Death To Trad Rock’ about the British eighties discordant, noise underground about bands like Dog Faced Hermans, Big Flame, Membranes, the Ex and 40 other great noiseniks…the book is available from HERE!
One morning in the late eighties I went downstairs for breakfast in the rambling West Didsbury house in which The Membranes were based and found in the frontroom a jumble of sleeping bodies.
This was not unusual as touring bands were always staying at the house. This time round, though, we got chatting and I found out that they were a band from Scotland called Volunteer Slavery. Dave Giles- the former singer from AC Temple, who lived in the ground floor room had invited the band to stay as a stop off on their tour.
Volunteer Slavery played me their demo and an awesome blast of James Chance style no wave punk-funk came pouring out of the speakers. I was in love with the band immediately and we got on like a house on fire.
Within months the band had morphed into the perfectly named Dog Faced Hermans who set about taking the jazz/punk blueprint to its logical extreme whilst adding a ska and world/ folk element to the mix. This band was tight- mixing great driving bass, amazingly dextrous guitar playing with some top trumpet and idionsyncratic vocals from the charismatic Marion.
At the time, in the late eighties, they were all living in Edinburgh- a city with a small, tight post-punk musician’s collective vibrantly organising chaotic and eclectic gigs. The Edinburgh mini scene also included Archbishop Kebab and other bands and was fiercely independent with a true punk spirit that would in turn fire the great early nineties Scottish mini explosion of discordant bands.
The Dog Faced Hermans lived in a big spacious flat on the Leith Road above a late hours pub. The flat became the HQ for touring bands looking for a stop off in Scotland. All night jam sessions took place around their collection of exotic vinyl and battered guitars. Endless bonhomie was always on tap and a great party was always had. I remember them having a chord book for a thousand folk songs and everyone would sit around and jam out these really cool tunes all night on the acoustics. There was also lots of talk about telecasters and how to get a trebly, choppy rhythm guitar down perfectly.
Live, the Dog Faced Hermans were stunning. The frantic guitars seemed to race against the rhythm section; Colin’s bass was brutal and the songs were filled with frantic bursts of fierce energy.
Forming in Edinburgh, Scotland the Dog Faced Hermans arrived just after ”Ëthe scene’ had hit its high water mark. If they had been anything less than brilliant they would have disappeared but their frantic and inventive music made them a great party band and a party band that made you think.
Not only were they cutting music that was left field- they were also great fun. They could somehow meld the no wave- frenetic- post jazz blat of James Chance And the Contortions to Spanish rebel folk songs and then bounce primetime Jamaican ska into their fantastic hybrid. They used that fierce, cranked up bass with the shrapnel guitar- a telecaster played with finger shredding ferocity that gave them a real punk rock edge.
Their early singles like 1987’s seven inch Unbend and 1988’s Bella Cioa were ticking time bombs of frantic energy and obtuse agit pop lyrics. They were hard to find but sold well on the underground through word of mouth alone.
The Dog Faced Hermans released their debut album Humans Fly in 1987 on journalist Everett True’s Calculas label. It was a great intro to the band with it’s growling bass lines, rattling drums and trumpet blat, Marion’s strident vocals and the insane guitar of Andy Moor, whose style was already spattered by neo- Ethiopian licks, ska/dub space echo and zig- zagging no- wave chops.
This was a record stuffed full of ideas and opportunities that were offered to the listener. The album, it could be argued, formed a bridge between that first wave of sharp and angular bands and the emerging faster and wilder ideas of the ”Ësecond wave’ crews.
With better distribution the record sold more than their previous releases and the band were getting more established on the UK circuit. By now they were traveling abroad more and were bonding with The Ex with whom they toured in Holland in 1989. The opportunities presented by living in liberal Amsterdam with its squat scene appealed to the Hermans who moved en masse to the Dutch capital that year.
This resulted in a joint tour of Europe with The Ex and then in 1990 a split single Stonestamper’s Song, or Lied Der Steinklopfer released under the name Ex Faced Hermans.
Now firmly established in Holland they released their second album 1991’s Mental Blocks For All Ages on the Dutch Konkurel label. It is their best album- with their sound honed down by a couple of years hard touring they sound so musical and so energetic and it saw them getting more established on the European squat circuit.
For the next five years they would continue to release albums and tour- either with the Ex or on their own. In the mid nineties the band were signed to Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles label and started to make serious inroads into the US underground with stacks of good reviews and radio play on alternative stations.
Ignored in the fashion- conscious UK they managed to carve out a niche for themselves on the world circuit and are still well respected in America.
They disbanded in 1995, with the band members moving on to other notable projects.
Marion went back to practice her art in London , as she does to this day while the rest of the band continue with various projects in Amsterdam with guitarist Andy joining the Ex.