We are told:
"I always find it odd that people call us post-punk. I know that punk and New Wave started at the same time because I was there." (Ganesh Seshadri aka Bid, singer, guitarist and main songwriter)Emerging at the end of punk era, The Monochrome Set's estrangement from society came from a more arty angle.
This box set is the full account of their frantically productive early period, the perfect document of an under-appreciated chapter of British pop history. “Though widely unknown, they are one of the most influential British bands of the last 40 years, with the early Morrissey and Marr, Blur's Graham Coxon and Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos among their admirers.
Though Bid never went to college, The Monochrome Set are often seen as an archetypal art school band. Their name alludes to Yves Klein's monochrome paintings while song titles like "Alphaville" and "Eine Symphonie des Grauens" nodded to Godard and F.W. Murnau. In 1979 they released a string of snappy, now highly collectible singles on Rough Trade, followed by early masterpieces Strange Boutique and Love Zombies.
In 1982 they moved to Cherry Red Records with their third LP Eligible Bachelors whose lead single "The Jet Set Junta" was banned for its non-existent connection to the Falklands War. Their major label effort The Lost Weekend (1985) contained their biggest airplay hit "Jacob's Ladder. “I read a bit of Restoration poetry and listen to Leadbelly, and it comes out like that" (Bid, The Monochrome Set)The casual prose of pop history is full of backhanded compliments, and The Monochrome Set have received a few, ranging from "should have been massive" to “influential", numbering the likes of Morrissey and Marr, Blur's Graham Coxon and Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos among their celebrity admirers.
All of which seems irrelevant when faced with the rich treasures assembled here from a previously scattered back catalogue. Here's the early work of a band that always eschewed world domination in favour of twisting chord sequences, turning phrases and plotting perfect collisions of guitar and vocal lines. "In literature there are recognized different fields with different cows in them.
But in pop everyone who has a guitar is put in the same field," says Ganesh Seshadri aka Bid, the band’s unashamedly bookish singer, guitarist, main songwriter. When The Monochrome Set emerged towards the end of the punk era, they didn't fit the voguish stereotypes of the day. "I'm not pretending to be working class," says Bid, "I'm half American, half Indian, but I'm also quintessentially British, apparently."
As it was, the early Monochrome Set sound betrayed a fondness of Lou Reed and American psychedelia, and though they shared their generation's sense of estrangement, they certainly weren't part of the punk revolution. "I always find it odd that people call us post-punk", says Bid, "I know that punk and New Wave started at the same time because I was there. The genre was to be not a genre. We didn't talk about it, we were just different. “Though Bid never even went to college, The Monochrome Set are often regarded as an archetypal art school band, not least thanks to the arty references peppering their work, from their name alluding to Yves Klein's monochrome paintings to song titles like "Alphaville" and "Eine Symphonie des Grauens" nodding to masterpieces by Jean-Luc Godard and F.W. Murnau.
Admittedly, the Hornsey School of Art played a part in the band's genesis. This was where lead guitarist Tom Hardy, later to be known as Lester Square, studied with a certain Stuart Goddard aka Adam Ant, which is also why The Monochrome Set's family tree shares its roots with the latter's first band the B-sides and the early Ants.
The Monochrome Set's lack of breakthrough success is usually attributed to their inability to churn out the hits, but in hindsight their now highly collectible first four seven inches for the Rough Trade label, united here on one disc with all the singles from the early eighties period, prove that they started out as bona fide masters of pop's ultimate format. Released in February 1980, their first album Strange Boutique, featuring the band's percussion-heavy theme song (predating Adam & The Ants's "Kings of the Wild Frontier" by months) and the Johnny Marr-anticipating "Love Goes Down The Drain", caught the Monochrome Set in full flight, quickly followed by the equally taut, funny and adventurously dynamic Love Zombies.
1982 saw them move to Cherry Red Records (via sub label él) on their third LP Eligible Bachelors, with the catchy lead single "The Jet Set Junta" promptly banned because of its non-existent connection to the Falklands War. "Yeah, it was banned," says Bid, "but it was funny that it was banned. The modern version of British indie started with Cherry Red, and 'Jet Set' was a proper indie pop record." After a financially disastrous American tour, the band were resigned to taking the major label shilling with The Lost Weekend (1985), scoring their biggest airplay hit with "Jacob's Ladder" but failing to dent the charts enough to sustain their new masters Warners' interest, as the eighties went off into full-on hyper pop overdrive.
Today, the Monochrome Set are very much a going concern, with a new album due for release in the coming year. But while you wait here is the full account of their frantically productive early period, and as such the perfect document of a widely under-appreciated, essential part of British pop history. Robert Rotifer, Canterbury 2017