The The to start the week. Admittedly, the band’s name was a little off-putting. And from the looks of it, I am not in the minority on that one. But . . . .they have become a very successful venture since their Punk beginnings in 1979. Color me shallow.
In November 1977, singer/songwriter Matt Johnson placed an advertisement in NME, asking for “Bass/lead guitarist into The Velvet Underground/Syd Barrett”. Johnson later placed a second advertisement in the NME, stating his new influences as “The Residents/Throbbing Gristle”.
While trying to get his band going, in 1978 Johnson had recorded a demo solo album (See Without Being Seen) which he continued to sell at various underground gigs on cassettes. In 1979, working with Colin Lloyd-Tucker (a friend and colleague at De Wolfe Music, the Soho music publisher/recording studio) Johnson recorded his first album proper, Spirits. This album remains unreleased, although the album track “What Stanley Saw” was later licensed to Cherry Red Records for their Perspectives & Distortion compilation album, which also featured Virgin Prunes, Lemon Kittens, Thomas Leer, Kevin Coyne and Mark Perry.
The The made their debut at London’s Africa Centre on 11 May 1979, third on the bill to Scritti Politti and PragVEC, using backing tape tracks that Johnson created at his day job at De Wolfe studios for the drums and bass. The band at this point consisted of Johnson on vocal, electric piano, guitar and tapes and Keith Laws on synthesizer and tapes. It was Keith Laws who suggested the name ‘the The’ to Matt Johnson.
As the The was now getting underway, Johnson was simultaneously working with experimental synth-pop combo The Gadgets, a studio group he formed with Colin Lloyd Tucker, his colleague at De Wolfe recording studios.
Peter Ashworth, then known as ‘Triash’ and later to become a noted photographer, became the The’s drummer in 1980, and Tom Johnston (also managing The The at this point and later to become a cartoonist for the Evening Standard, Daily Mirror and The Sun newspapers) was added on bass. Although both Ashworth and Johnston were credited with appearing on The The’s debut single (“Controversial Subject”/”Black and White”) on 4AD Records neither actually played on the recordings, which were produced by Wire members Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis. All instruments were played by Johnson and Laws. Johnston and Ashworth soon dropped out of the The and returned to their respective day jobs. As a duo (Johnson and Laws), The The began performing concerts with Wire, Cabaret Voltaire, DAF, This Heat, The Birthday Party and Scritti Politti.
In early 1981 The The also contributed the composition ‘Untitled’ to the Some Bizzare Album. In September of that year Johnson and Laws signed a deal with Some Bizzare Records and released the 7″ single “Cold Spell Ahead”. By this stage Matt Johnson had begun playing all the instruments himself so Laws left to pursue his studies, leaving Johnson as a solo artist using a group moniker.
Johnson was signed up later in 1981 to 4AD Records by Ivo Watts-Russell to record a solo album, Burning Blue Soul. Although all of the instruments and vocals were performed by Johnson, the album featured various producers including Wire’s Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis, Ivo and Johnson himself. Years later, owing to a request from Johnson, so that all of his albums would be in the same rack together, it would be re-issued and credited to The the.
The The released their official album debut, the synth-noir classic Soul Mining, in 1983. It featured the minor UK No. 71 hit “This Is the Day”, as well as a new recording of The the performing “Uncertain Smile”. Produced by Johnson and Paul Hardiman, it featured guest appearances from Orange Juice’s drummer Zeke Manyika, Jools Holland, Thomas Leer and J. G. Thirlwell (aka Foetus).
During the The’s more prolific period of releases, from Soul Mining (1983) to Dusk (1992), most artwork used on the albums and single releases was produced by Johnson’s brother Andrew Johnson, using the pseudonym Andy Dog. The artwork has a distinctive style, and sometimes courted controversy, most notably the initial release of the 1986 single “Infected” which featured a masturbating devil and was withdrawn from sale and re-issued with an edited version of the same drawing.
For the 1986 album Infected, the The still consisted only of Johnson, but was augmented by session musicians and featured friends such as Manyika and Rip Rig + Panic singer Neneh Cherry. This album spawned four charting singles in the UK, notably “Heartland”, which made the UK Top 30. It was also unusual for having a full-length accompanying film. Costing hundreds of thousands of pounds, Infected: The Movie was shot on locations in Bolivia, Peru and New York. Different songs were directed by different directors, mainly Tim Pope and Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson (of Throbbing Gristle).
Throughout 1986-1987 Johnson toured the world extensively with Infected: The Movie, showing the film in cinemas in place of performing live concerts. The film was also shown twice in its entirety on Channel 4 in the UK and on MTV’s 120 Minutes in the US.
After a few false starts, The The have reunited and are currently releasing new material.
To refresh your memory, here is a gig they did at The Brixton Academy in 1993. And who was playing on it:
Matt Johnson – vocals/Guitar
Jim Fitting – Vocals/Harmonica
Keith Joyner – Vocals/Guitar
DC Collard – Vocals/Keyboards
Andy Kubiszewski – Drums **
Jared Michael Nickerson – Vocals/Bass
** replacing Dave Palmer, who left to join up with Rod Stewart.
As for the week – so far, so good.