Here they come, straight from the brains of Bulgakov, a French clown in tartan trousers leading a slippery cast of sinners in a danse macabre, drunkards and looters, brothel-goers and revellers, waltzing into the rain, two by two. Hurrah! Hurrah! The heavens crackle, a wired cacophony of clarinets, violins and psychotic guitars pouring down over Salford. A black cat adjusts his monocle under the full moon’s glare. Reason falls and scatters like a deck of cards.
Those who have stayed indoors can hardly believe what they’re seeing. They stare at their widescreens, transfixed, as shopping centres burn in the cities of the night and fundamentalists invade the airports, trying hard not to see through the lines of static to the truth that lies beneath: the violence of a father’s anger, the violence of a mother’s love …
All it takes are shaky jazz drums, the anxieties of a nation, and the earth starts to tremble, cathedrals go crashing to the ground. What kind of lunacy is this? Grave misgivings consolidate into a dreadful realisation: the polka dot shirts, braces, green leather jackets, dyed ginger hair … You always knew this had to add up to something despicable.
They call themselves Naked (on Drugs) and expose themselves with non-cha-lance (n. the trait of remaining calm and seeming not to care; a casual lack of concern), strutting round the city like it’s a big top, stuffed full of contradiction, fit to burst. Children of paradise, impoverished yet aristocratic, so radiant under the gas lamps. Watch them as they straddle the high wire!
Sad clowns! Pantomime villains!
A slip of the foot. The coke-guzzling crowd gasps. Your heart misses a beat.
The authorities will have something to say about this! You can be sure of that! They’ve taken out a full page advert in the Manchester Evening News to put the working man’s mind at ease. There’s a crack team of investigators on the case. They eat machete gangs for breakfast, these boys. All fucking over it mate.
Time to make ourselves scarce. As evening slips her ring over our finger, we retire to bohemia …
Q. Who are Naked on Drugs?
A. The identity of their ring leader remains a mystery. He’s French, after all. Have you seen the way he dances, the way he raises his eyebrows, as though suddenly alarmed? Then he looks at you askance, quizzically, as if to say, have you worked it out yet?
Those spiky eyes will have your hair out.
Q: How do they walk?
A: Tall and proud as the poplars of Auschwitz. Devilishly handsome, with plastic shopping bags clinking at his side, Byronic Luke does impressions of Prestwich gamblers on their daily scuttle between the bookie and the local. It’s all so funny but you know this will not end well. Your mind misgives some consequence yet hanging in the stars and all that.
Q: What does their attire signify?
A: They want to make darkness visible.
We settle into a game of chess, putting out feelers for the myriad possibilities that might unfold from this moment. The future can spin off in any conceivable direction, just like the past: it gets lost in geometrical madness, drums and cymbals drifting over on the wind from the family camp, terrifying Europe with the true voice of the Lager.
Luke takes straight whiskies with his cans of Guinness. Scrabbling for a lighter down the side of the sofa, he tells me they’ve been spending time with dissolute types from the wrong side of the river, the sort of people who hang out in baths.
On the wall, there’s a painting of a gorilla with a cocked rifle in its mouth. Whose flat is this, so dingy and allegorical? Somebody call a translator. They need help.
We all do.
The front door flies open and we’re joined by a filmmaker wearing black-rimmed glasses and a multi-coloured tank top. He has a troubled look on his face. He explains how he nearly got into the wrong car, even though he’s familiar with all the cars. To make things right, he’s been cooking up this gift.
Then there’s news of an amorous black girl called Wanda: model and muse, barmaid and revolutionary. I like the sound of her.
My companion calls us to the kitchen table, emptying the contents of a brown paper envelope. Memory unwinds as we sift through a pile of old photographs. The dark ocean of time spits forth its endless debris. They scare me, these pictures, foreshadowing that fateful moment when our limp bodies are washed ashore and the music stops.
Q: How did they meet?
A: A French gangster on the run took a wrong turn at a roundabout near Milton Keynes. Their eyes met across the bypass. Sébastien lit Luke’s cigarette, told him not to cry, to come with him … And just like that bypass, they’ve been running ever since.
Q: Who is Lee Ann?
A: Only child, blue-eyed girl, she became known to them when they first settled in this city.
Foreigners! Immigrants! Hospital tourists!
It’s enough to make your blood boil.
Her father was a preacher, a man of the cloth, a fearer of God, he couldn’t smell the sulphur until it was too late, opening his doors to cinephiles and porn-fingerers, dandies who would deflower his fair-skinned daughter as he prayed to the Lord up above, begging for a release from his earthly desires while ejaculating all over his pretty choirboys.
[Ed. — A cheap shot.]
Poor Lee Ann! She’s taken to her bed where she speaks in tongues and scratches the walls. She’ll be married on a dunghill and they will play the wedding march.
Photography (c) Natalie Curtis at 16apr79.com.
‘Lee Ann’s Skin’, the limited edition debut 7” single (with free digital download & bonus track) by Naked (on Drugs), is now available to pre-order from the SWAYS Records store.