I (still) miss The World Of Twist

I miss The World Of Twist. I’ve got the t-shirt, picked up along with the expanded reissue of the group’s single LP ‘Quality Street’ a few years back. I hadn’t known that the artist Jeremy Deller was a fan though. I’d always had a lot of time for Deller and his love for The World Of Twist merely cemented that opinion. He opened the sleeve notes for that reissue with a few lines saying how he hated writing so that all he could say were that The World Of Twist were the Roxy Music of his generation. Which I suppose (since he was born a couple of weeks before me) means my generation. Or even My Generation. Whatever.

The line about Roxy Music opens up ‘When Does The Mind Bending Start?‘, the newly published biography of the band from guitarist Gordon King. Since the demise of WOT King went on to be a key element in Earl Brutus and The Pre New, both groups who, you know, if you know you know. Both made brilliant records and both were deliciously wild and weird. But still, they weren’t The World Of Twist, and King’s book, which is effortlessly engaging and remarkably evocative of the times, almost acknowledges this fact. He knows what we all lost.

The times, in case you need getting up to speed, would be the (mostly post) Madchester era of the late 1980s and early 1990s, and whilst the book is certainly peppered with references to the likes of Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and their ilk, it’s clear that for King and his gang of like-minded truth seekers, World Of Twist were always travelling a path apart. Outside of time and space, The World Of Twist were all about creating their own universe and mythologies. It’s clear, reading King’s tremendous book, that the ley line leading to the temple of Twist passed through the likes of Roxy, Eno, Hawkwind, Genesis, Yes and all points Prog before racing through key punctuation marks of the Punk and post-Punk deviants such as Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, The Fall, Magazine, Clock DVA etc. It’s a lineage that makes a lot of sense to me now, although at the time I would have sneered naively at the Prog references, locked as I was in the myopic, mediated falsity of a Punk Year Zero. No Elvis, Beatles or Rolling Stones… blah blah blah. Being some years younger than King and perhaps immeasurably more naive, I had no concept of much music prior to 1977 when my mates started buying funny coloured 7″ singles at Speed and talking in riddles. So when The World Of Twist covered The Rolling Stones’ ‘She’s A Rainbow’ on the flip side of ‘The Storm’ 7” I could see by the writing credits on the label that it was a Jagger/Richards number and that by rights I should hate it, but… man, it sounded divine. Assuming that this was some groovy take that sounded nothing like the original, it was a bit of a shock some years later to discover that it was in fact a very faithful facsimile pulled off with love and affection. Similarly, it took me years to realise that ‘This Too Shall Pass Away’ was a cover of a number by The Honeycombs, they of the magnificent ‘Have I The Right’ that for years I knew of only from the Dead End Kids, of all places. Says it all, and which I’m sure makes it obvious too that I was never hip enough to catch The World Of Twist playing one of their psychedelic extravaganza live shows. Hence, it wasn’t until that expanded reissue that I picked up on the fact that they played The MC5’s ‘Kick Out The Jams’. I mean, of course they did. It made perfect sense. How could they not?

King makes it clear in his book just how important theatrical elements such as Brother J.C. Crawford’s evangelical on stage introductions to the MC5 were to the formation of The World Of Twist (and indeed, to Earl Brutus and The Pre New). In an early chapter entitled ‘Bill Nelson’s in His Tube’ (and incidentally, there is a massive 6CD reissue of Nelson’s Red Noise ‘Art/Empire/Industry’ set coming later this month on Cherry Red) King outlines his nine-point plan for forming a band. Point eight is: “Conceptualise. This is essential. Amazingly, it’s the most neglected, overlooked part of forming a band, but you skip this step and you are doomed.” I suspect there is more than a touch of irony in there, as World Of Twist, Earl Brutus and The Pre New were conceptualised to the point of Fine (Pop) Art and were all, for the most part, doomed to the peripheries of ‘success’. Which, perhaps, is why there were all so interesting, ‘success’ being entirely defined by the criteria one chooses to apply after all. Certainly in terms of Chart Success, it was World Of Twist that came closest, with singles hovering tantalisingly close to breaking into the top 40 before falling away, deflated and sad like wrinkled balloons at a birthday party. They did the TV circuit to an extent too, with their performance of ‘The Storm’ on The Word being a particular triumph, enjoyed enormously by Holly Johnson at the time, as one would rather hope and expect. But if World Of Twist were, commercially speaking, not as successful as they (or their label, Circa) would have liked, conceptually they were worlds apart from the run of the mill humdrum of the rest of the charts. Conceptually they were way ahead. Conceptually they were the best band, the greatest gang on the planet.

The gang element was played out most perfectly on the photograph that graced the inner gatefold of ‘Quality Street’. Composed and shot by James Fry (younger brother of Martin Fry, he of New Pop Pioneers ABC) but conceptualised largely by King, it is a photograph that contrasts magically with the Georgian period-drama costume extravaganza of his main cover shot. From the Pantiles in Tunbridge Wells (I always thought it might have been Bath) Fry moves the group into some backwater back alley and captures the group looking like something from ‘Bronco Bullfrog’. ‘Iconic’ was made for images like this and King rightly proclaims it as “the greatest rock band photo ever shot”. The photo shoot appears in the background of the video for ‘Sweets’, where an impossibly young (and incredibly cool) looking Bob Stanley wanders past, Bob being the central character in the video playing the group’s biggest fan. It was hardly acting, for Bob was certainly a long-standing fan. His CAFF label would release a World Of Twist 7″ and his Icerink imprint would give Earl Brutus their first outings. Later, Bob’s group Saint Etienne would write and record ‘Train Drivers in Eyeliner’ for their 2017 album ‘Home Counties’ in tribute to Nick Sanderson. Indeed, Saint Etienne were one of the few groups contemporary with The World Of Twist that one might have mentioned in the same breath. The mighty Intastella, with whom World Of Twist were almost inextricably linked at the time, and Denim also spring to mind. Maybe Luke Haines’ Baader Meinhoff and Black Box Recorder, although they were much later of course but imbued with the same spirit for sure.

Hardly the typical Rock Biog, ‘When Does The Mind Bending Start’ is nevertheless peppered with Amusing Anecdotes, but these are often delivered with a self-deprecating air of almost apologetic bemusement which makes it very easy to warm to King and the group. My favourite is one where King misses out by a few hours on joining the rest of the group as cameos in the background of a Rolling Stones video, although his tale of meeting a drunk Kris Novoselic runs it close and is typically good natured and measured. There’s a typical lovely warmth to his conclusion to this anecdote: “I never really got Nirvana, it all sounded a bit like The Police to me, but Kurt Cobain, for the few seconds I spent in his company, seemed like a nice lad. What happened to him was really sad.”

There’s no bitterness in the book towards the record label or to managers or ‘suits’ who tend to come off badly in these kinds of stories. There is even little irritation shown to The Media who, inevitably, turned on the group that they had previously championed. Indeed, King proudly includes scathing reviews of their final single, that cover of The Stones’ ‘She’s A Rainbow’ that initially appeared on the flip of first single ‘The Storm’. King even professes to the Melody Maker piece, which concludes that this is “A song for swinging-losers” being his favourite piece of WOT press. By this point in the story of course King appreciates that it’s all but over for band, the brief window of opportunity closing before their eyes. It might be the benefit of age or the calming balm of distance, but the book is imbued with a lovely sense of peace that is often missing in such things. A recognition that It Wasn’t To Be. That life moves on and that we take what treasures and pleasures from it that we can. Making things precious, or whatever.

It’s abundantly clear too just how much love King has for the characters who accompanied him on the journey with The World Of Twist, several of whom are tragically no longer with us. David Hardy, the band’s manager and, as King points out in the initial outline of characters, “the only adult in this story”; Martin Wright of Intastella and the incomparable Laugh; Nick Sanderson, who drummed with World Of Twist, Clock DVA, Jesus and Mary Chain and The Gun Club amongst others, fronted Earl Brutus and was the inspiration for the aforementioned ‘Train Drivers in Eyeliner’. And of course, there is Tony Ogden, front man extraordinaire with his leather shirt tucked into white jeans, massive belt buckles shimmering under the mirror ball and fighting his way out of a tinfoil underworld, like Lou Reed boxing his way out of Warhol’s Factory. If there is a regret in ‘When Does The Mind Bending Start’ it is perhaps that King and Ogden grew apart towards the end of The World Of Twist and that, in some ways, robbed us of some particularly special possibilities.

So I’ve got the t-shirt and now I’ve read the book. And I still miss The World Of Twist.

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