Ah, Prolapse. Should you have bumped into me down the pub, anytime over the last twenty years, there’s a good chance I’ll have manoeuvred you into a corner, then ranted at length on how this Leicester sextet are quite possibly the greatest band that ever was. Followed up with “and why the hell aren’t you fleet-footing it down to the record emporium to pick up their back-cat this very instant?”
And whilst they perhaps aren’t the greatest musical outfit that ever was – that’ll be Sister Sledge – there was a time, in the mid-to-late ’90’s, when Prolapse were one of the few acts making sense. A heady brew of hacking guitars, Krautrock references, non sequitur lyrics and caustic narrative; messy and shambolic for sure, but a self-professed mess, shaped by the theatricality of girl verses boy vocals, and a twist of sexual tension embellished with improvised, nonsensical wordplay.
The band released four albums between ’94 and ’99 (Pointless Walks To Dismal Places; backsaturday; The Italian Flag; The Ghost of Dead Aeroplanes), and each still manages to sound not only fresh and relevant, but also urgent, and very, very necessary. It has been said, however, that no Prolapse experience can be deemed complete without having seen them live, when every gig felt as if it had been scripted by a quorum involving Samuel Beckett, Hunter S Thompson, Marjorie Proops and Mark E Smith, back when the latter wasn’t a parody of himself.
This state of affairs was rarely the band’s fault, the rhythm section strident, the guitars all nuanced cadence and grinding momentum. No; such insidiousness was always engineered by the co-vocalists, Linda Steelyard (with her aura of being slightly bored, somewhat above all this), and Mick Derrick, whose approach to taking the stage usually appeared to be coinciding with some sort of unholy breakdown. They shouted over each other. Acted out the lyrics. Interjected, mumbled, simultaneously sang different songs. I’ve seen gigs where Scottish Mick (so-called to differentiate himself from guitarist Geordie Mick) performed the entire set foetal atop an amp. Where he dismantled the false ceiling in some ropey London gin joint. Coerced a troupe of sugar-rush urchins at a “family fun-day” type festival onto stage to do the encore for him. Do bad things with paint.
Ah… heady days. So you could imagine my excitement when – quite unexpectedly – Scottish Mick took to Twitter earlier this year to confirm that yes; Prolapse are back. A decade and a half since they split, this spring sees the band reuniting for a quick jaunt through this jewelled and sceptred isle (sorry, non-UK fans). In celebration (or commiseration, at least), Lazer Guided Melody tracked Mick Derrick (@DERRYMICK) down to his secret Norwegian lair, in an attempt to understand why all of us old enough to know better have suddenly started acting like those overexcited festival kids…
Photo: Andrea Feldman
So, Prolapse, gigging again for the first time in, what – 15, 16 years? How did that come about?
It was Mogwai’s fault. They contacted me about reforming for a few shows they were doing to mark their 20th anniversary. I didn’t really think it would happen and if it did then it would be only these two. I contacted the others and hey presto! We were suddenly back together again. The other shows followed when we realised that it could be wise to do something before the Barrowlands and Roundhouse gigs (just in case we’d broken ourselves and became shite in the last 15 years).
How do the band feel about working together after such a gap, when you’ve all been doing grown-up things in different countries? Nervous? Weird?
We’ve always did grown up things mostly in Leicester (drinking and getting depressed was a speciality). It has though been a long gap. The others sent me a video of the first awkward moments of a rehearsal in Leicester. After two minutes of playing though it was like we’d never split up. I’ve still not joined them yet so there’s plenty of time for me to make everything pish, and for us all to get nervous two days before the first gig, when they realise my voice has turned all folky and less gravelly.
The reunion has garnered quite the excitement (at least among us middle-aged fanboy and fangirl types, there along for the ride the first time around). Did such a reaction surprise you?
The reaction did surprise me although I knew there were still a lot of people out there who reminisced about our live shows and shouty records. A number of Dandelion Radio bands / fans also raved about us now and again, and I received a nice letter from the Lovely Eggs when I ordered one of their LPs so I knew we were loved somewhere in the big bad world of music. I’m looking forward to seeing all the ex-fresh faced young indie kids of yore.
Alongside your forthcoming stand-alone gigs, you’re on the bill for Mogwai’s shows at the Camden Roundhouse and Glasgow’s Barrowland Ballroom, neither of which could be called compact and bijou. As I’ve mostly seen you in dingy clubs in London, Leicester and the like, that must be a little daunting, no?
Nope, not really. The bigger the venue the more room we have to arse about on the stage. The sound is usually bigger and this lets us show off a bit more (ie. louder and shoutier). The only thing I don’t really like is that it means I can usually hear my own voice, which means my mumbles are louder. If the Roundhouse can recreate a scratchy, mumbly, lo-fi / low ceiling noise à la The Victoria Inn in Derby then I’d be happy. In conclusion big venue = more showing off.
One thing that’s been playing on my mind of late is how we live in an era where every band from our mis-spent youth is reforming, some even venturing back into the studio. I’d suggest that there are occasions where this works (last year’s Slowdive shows were both jaw-dropping and relevant), yet other times when it feels like pure karaoke (Jim and William Reid, I’m thinking of you). Does falling into that nostalgia trap worry you?
Yep, that above all is one of my main reasons for never wanting to play again. I always said from when I was an 18 year old, C86, stripy jumper-wearing, skinny legged, pointy toed indie kid that if I had a band I’d never reform once we split. I still feel the same way and part of me feels I’ve betrayed the spirit of youth but I’m using Mogwai as my excuse; as I said at the top, it’s their fault.
The only refomed bands I’ve seen who I still felt had something were The Thanes (2007? Edinburgh) and Sham 69 with Jimmy Pursey (1999 in Leicester.). My heart does sink a bit when I see middle-aged men talking about their new album after a 20 year absence. I promise we will only play our old stuff at the gig and won’t bore anyone with our new, early Buffalo Tom direction.
For the upcoming gigs, and without divulging state secrets, how did you manage to distil four rather fine albums (and the odd single) into a setlist?
I left it to the Tim the drummer as usual. He is an obsessed list writer who collects Fall set-lists and gig dates. He probably bottles up everything that comes out of his body, labels it and puts it in a fridge. The only thing I know is that the songs are in chronological order so maybe I have to have 20 costume changes to reflect each album/single – that’s two t-shirts and 20 pairs of black skinny trousers.
Prolapse were rather infamous, back in the day, for switching record labels every two minutes. Who actually owns your back catalogue?
We own The Ghost of Dead Aeroplanes, ‘TCR’ [non-album single; embedded at the end of this article – Ed] and backsaturday, I think. The rest are owned by the labels.
So we can’t expect the 180 gram, gatefold double red vinyl reissues anytime soon?
I would like a Harry Smith type box-set made of mahogany containing wax cylinders of all our stuff.
Do you listen to your own records often (at least outside of re-learning lyrics for the tour)? Does it fill you with pride, or dread?
No, I’ve never listened to any of our albums all the way through. I have the albums on my ipod and now and again a song will pop up on random and I’ll hear it and think “where are my vocals?” and realise they’ve been removed from the mix prior to the album being released. I was happy to record my vocals, leave the studio and never listen to the records again. That’s why I often sung a lot of different lyrics when doing gigs. All in all I’m very proud of our albums even though I think some the songs would have been better if me and Linda sung over each other without mixing. I like vocal mess.
And for those new to Prolapse, is there a good starting point? Any tracks you’re particularly proud of?
I think I would agree with the rest of the band and say that overall The Italian Flag was our best. backsaturday however had the spirit and inventiveness that only an album written and recorded in three days can have. There wasn’t so much mixing and the album was very dark, paranoid and claustrophobic. Yet, unlike the Cure when they recorded Faith, we weren’t going through bad times in our life; instead we were having too much fun.
The band are supporting Mogwai at their sold-out Glasgow Barrowlands gig (20 June – see you there) and Camden Roundhouse (24 June – a few tickets left when I last checked, but be quick about it).
And Prolapse headline gigs this spring/summer with support from the Wolfhounds (ticket info here):
Fri-29-May @ London Dalston Victoria
Sat-30-May @ London Dalston Victoria
Fri-19-Jun @ Nottingham The Maze
Mon-22-Jun @ Colchester Arts Centre
Tues-23-Jun @ Brighton The Hope and Ruin