Memorial Device: The East Kilbride Mushroom Giro Scene EP ‘the greatest band you’ve never heard of’ – review

Memorial Device – the greatest band you’ve never heard of. They were the brightest lights of the Airdrie DIY scene of the 1980s. This scene, uncelebrated and underappreciated was bursting with punk spirit, avant-garde art experiments, heads and chancers, sex and violence, art, music, fanzines and most importantly, possibility. It may have mirrored scenes across the United Kingdom in certain respects but in another sense it was utterly unique. The main players on the scene either dispersed across the globe or lived in Airdrie for the rest of their lives, all of them influenced, moulded and somewhat scarred by their experiences of those unrivalled days of artistic frenzy and unshackled youth.

But Memorial Device were different in an elusive sort of way. They disappeared, almost as if they had never actually existed at all. They became a band of rumour, of myth and legend; a part of an esoteric folklore concerning a small corner of Scotland, though somehow much bigger than that. As the internet became popular threads began to appear full of nostalgia, memories or questions. And rumours – online whisperings that read in ghostly voices from the past of artefacts perhaps left behind, conceivably confirming the existence and influence of this fabled band. People reminisced about gigs that they attended. They spoke of a mannequin band as a support act, of porn videos being projected onto the walls of venues, of acts of thuggery and acts of love mixed and matched, flowing and totally unpredictable. There were rumours of demo tapes worth vast amounts in Japan and Taiwan, though they’ve never appeared on the usual websites where such rare cultural treasures are bought and sold. A tape recording of Mary Hanna reading a prophetic poem of foreboding Nostradamus style predictions, amongst shrieks of sexual pleasure or pain is said to have once existed, only to be destroyed in a mysterious fire of an old church building on the outskirts of Glasgow that had been converted into a semi-holy storage facility. 

And so we fast-forward to the here and now, or at least to a couple of weeks ago as I moved into a new house. A package was laid on the carpet waiting for me with my name scrawled in purple marker pen and a childlike drawing of a church also adorning the front of the envelope. Despite not having given my new address to anyone I wasn’t overly alarmed by this and opened the letter to find a CD and an accompanying sheet of A4 paper with ‘Memorial Device – The East Kilbride Mushroom Giro Scene’ typed on it, followed by the names of the band members and a signature under each name. There were no contact details and no press release info. The only other thing in the envelope was a list of songs.

  1. Harvesting in the Rain (Teddy Ohm mix)
  2. Fast Farmer with Gun (Dark Bathroom mix)
  3. Palace to the Beyond (Mary Hanna mix)

(The EP does contain a hidden bonus track but that wasn’t listed on the paper I received, more on that later)

I was potentially holding history in my hands. History had found me. The ghosts revealed. I managed to contact a man called Ross Raymond who stills lives up in Lanarkshire and is a bit of an expert on Airdrie in the 70s and 80s. After a few days he replied to my email, suggesting that this was most likely the real deal, that he had seen signatures matching the ones I had presented him with in other contexts previously and that I had indeed been mysteriously gifted an authentic Memorial Device EP. Given the rupture that is rumoured to have occurred and the drugs, the madness, the strange circumstances surrounding the band’s disappearance, he suggested it had probably been recorded around late-1984 but that the likelihood is nobody would ever know for sure.

The music itself is eclectic and fairly loose but these are not just jams. There’s something more at play here that even after twenty of thirty listens I can’t quite decipher. I don’t know that I’d say it is a statement or a manifesto of any kind but it feels like there are messages and puzzles everywhere within the lyrics. There are cryptic arcs, cross references and almost religious affirmations of faith in small-town visionaries and their cultural Gods. It is a benediction of culture, of artistic exploration, and of the delirious and sometimes dangerous pursuit of true freedom from the shackles and chains of life in a provincial town. It is also a prayer or ritual worship at the altar of culture, of art, of music and literature, and it is a welcoming of the occult and the uncanny. This music welcomes the unknown and it spreads the gospel of the unknown – embrace fear and darkness and experimentation and desire and freedom and drink deeply from whatever cultural well-spring that touches you and moves you. That is what The East Kilbride Mushroom Giro Scene says. If it is a statement (and I’m still unsure and will be unsure forever) then that would be close to its statement. That is as close to cracking the code as I think I can get, and as close as I ever want to get.

The opening track, Harvesting in the Rain is marched along by a throbbing bass, clattered by chunky, reverb-laden guitar lines and drumming that feels both utterly deranged and as if it was meant to be played on a different song. There is a hint of synth or oddball electronica but it sounds as if it is almost in the background, beyond wherever this gut-punch of a song was recorded. It sits so low in the mix that occasionally you aren’t sure if it is even there at all or whether your mind is playing some bizarre psychological trick on you. The vocals come in a short, dreamy burst and there is no chorus. The line ‘the last drop of blood, it is melancholy fallen from grace’ finishes the conventional part of the song and stays with you long after you’ve stopped listening to the EP and moved on to do something else. The music, or least the instrumental part of the music dies instantly as that line is delivered at just under the three minute mark but is then followed by a further 30 seconds of the faded yet slightly disorientating electro noise that drifted in and out of the song earlier. Interspersed with this eerie sound is a conversation, though it is almost impossible to make out what is being said. The accents are thick and at a guess I’d place them in Belfast, though that is guess work on my part. Odd words can be gleaned when listening closely and at one point I swear one of the speakers says the name Perry Como but why that would be the case I’ve got absolutely no idea. The effect is mesmerising and strangely sorrowful. It feels like a very odd, juxtaposed way to end what was a bristling, raucous affair up until the last thirty seconds.

Fast Farmer with Gun is a short, sharp stab of crackling free folk with touches of field recording and musique concrete and an ending that can only be described as a freak noise that could be anything from a building collapsing to a bloody massacre of innocents and angels. It is like no other recorded noise I have ever heard and I confess to being haunted by it, occasionally waking up in terror thinking that the noise, that sonic terror, has consumed my house and I am in the middle of a deadly cosmic storm with no escape, trapped in noise and vehement turmoil forever.

The final listed track Palace to the Beyond is an epic piece of music at almost 35 minutes in length. It contains movements, as if composed along classical lines and yet it is utterly free and loose, the structure desperately holding on so as not to be discarded completely into the fire of drone noise and spoken word. It begins with a demented drumbeat that sounds like actual hell. If hell had a drumbeat it would sound like this, which trudges on relentlessly for a few minutes until there is an awful piercing scream that explodes and rips at your mind and your flesh. Explodes, there is no other word for it. Then there is brief silence followed by an eruption of distorted tuneless guitar that dies away as quickly as it appeared. After a shorter silence there is another explosion of sound like a bomb going off which hisses into a cacophony of clanging metal and hissing feedback. Crunchy electronica and acid house blips give way to what sounds like a church organ, and the maelstrom of experimental sound eventually settles into a thick yet ambient synth drone. The lyrics run over this drone soundscape for around 20 minutes, like spoken word only more urgent and visceral. This is Coil meets early Sonic Youth meets Dylan on crack. The cultural references are numerous and diverse but they include: 1920s Paris sex shows, Pierre Melville, Burroughs, Fushistsusha, Yeats, Mexican bandits, golf, Irish show bands, Tom Leonard, freemasonry, Sufism, Aleister Crowley, Nietzsche, Confucius, Goya, Hitler, Eric Gill, Manda Candy, tarot, Wim Wenders, Andrew Weatherall,  Saint Aiden, Pope Sixtus IV, Hut 23, Leonard Cohen and some that were so obscure I couldn’t research or find out anything about them or whether they were real or fictional – such is the way with Memorial Device. Worth noting that the production here feels like a separate instrument, or rather like a voice speaking and directing the music from beyond, from aether. It is Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry transported to post-punk experimental noise enchanted backstreet Airdrie. But it isn’t, it is legendary Airdrie scene figure (arguably the leading lady of the scene, I’m told), Mary Hanna. The unique production values beg the question of what if? What if Mary Hanna had gone on to be a producer of fame. How would music look and sound different today? Because let me tell you, it would.

The hidden track (bonus track in the modern parlance) is strange and doesn’t feel like it belongs on this EP at all, or even that it is a recording by the band. It too contains periods of silence, though it is in a live setting as you can hear the occasional hushed whisper of an audience member and at one point a glass or bottle smashes in the background. The main bulk of the track is a folky, poorly recorded song with almost completely meaningless lyrics and a slightly out of tune guitar. Despite deep listening and some online research I’ve failed to uncover much more about this track but I’m convinced it isn’t a Memorial Device recording. It could be somebody else from the Airdrie scene at that time but there are Russian accents in the sporadic chatter of the audience. There are blogs online speculating about a strange record fitting this description being recorded in Russia, probably St Petersburg or Moscow but even that information is disputed. As always, there are rumours. Rumours that it was recorded by a mental patient on day release. Rumours that it was a religious meeting. Rumours that it was a séance. Rumours that it was a suicide note. Whatever the rumours, I doubt this is the same record. I can’t imagine there being a link between those rumours and Memorial Device but that doesn’t explain how it came to appear as a hidden track on what is purported to be a genuine Memorial Device EP. Strange forces could be at play and I’d be a fool to rule anything out. After all, life is ultimately one long accident that unravels at different speeds, guided by ever changing invisible forces.

Will this music ever see the light of day? I couldn’t tell you. Am I supposed to do something with it? I have received neither word nor any sign. For now all I can do is let you know of its existence. 

The East Kilbride Mushroom Giro Scene is a chaotic, powerful and more than slightly disturbing collection of songs. It points to a band and a scene on the verge of self-destruction; at risk of taking it all too far. Perhaps that’s the point, perhaps I’m looking at this from a Squaresville perspective. Whichever way you look at this, it is art and history and haunted. It is sacred and omnipotent and completely meaningless. It is beautiful, somehow poignant and yet utterly terrifying. It is of its time and forever eternally timeless. It is definitely blessed, could well be cursed and is simply the sound of young people discovering and then desperately clinging on to freedom. I didn’t crack the code but I did come to a realisation. This is a statement. This is Memorial Device.

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