The Lords Of The New Church
Underworld, 19 April 2002
~review and live photos by Uncle Nemesis

For those who've just joined us, perhaps a little bit of history is necessary here. The Lords Of The New Church were a punk supergroup of sorts, formed in 1982 by Brian James (The Damned), Dave Traganna (Sham 69) and Stiv Bators (of NYC's Dead Boys). I remember buying their first-ever single, 'New Church' on 7" vinyl from the now-defunct Virgin store in the Oxford Walk shopping mall in London. It cost 79p, and featured a fetching picture sleeve depicting Stiv nailed to a cross. I confess I haven't played that single for a good few years, but it's still tucked away in my record box...and it's nice to know it's there. 
Vintage Lords of the New Church
The Lords derived their name from the concept that rock 'n' roll was the new church for 'the kids', and their music was a swaggering brand of desperado-rock that touched base with the energy of punk, and the decadent aspects of the then newly-emerging goth scene. They released three studio albums (plus various singles, compilations, etc) and gigged absolutely everywhere. They never became megastars, but during the 80s they blew up a good rockin' storm, and made that mysterious crossover territory between punk and goth their own. In short, The Lords were probably the nearest thing we ever had in the UK to a Deathrock band.

The band went through assorted line-ups along the way, until at the end of the 80s the proverbial in-band tensions caused them to split for good. Stories still circulate about that final London gig, where Stiv emerged on stage for the encores wearing a T-shirt upon which he'd printed the music press advert placed by the other members of the band, seeking a replacement vocalist. That incident signalled the end of the Lords. Stiv went on to record a solo album before meeting a rather un-rock 'n' roll death in Paris (he was run over by a car) while Brian James became once more a member ofThe Damned, and played with the band on several 'original line-up' tours.

All of which means it's a surprise to find that The Lords Of The New Church have reformed and are back on the gig circuit. There's a new line-up, a new single, a new website: all of a sudden, The Lords are a current band again. This gig is the Lords' first London appearance for...well, I'd rather not think how long. Makes me feel old! A motley collection of glam-goths and late-model punks fills the Underworld: the desperados are back in town.

But first, the support bands. Opening the show is a fairly standard riff-and-shout punk band called (if their hand-sprayed banner is any guide) the Flatpigs. They're a three-piece, and they sound like a million other latter-day punk bands: staccato, barked vocals over bash-bash-bash music. They're well-drilled and tight, and the fact that the drummer takes most of the lead vocals and the bassist is a tall, gangling rasta give them a certain novelty factor...but in all honesty, we've heard this kind of stuff so frequently over the years that it just sounds like generic punk-by-numbers now. 

The second band, Nurotica, turn out to be a far more interesting proposition. They're nothing to do with those rather tiresome nu-metallers Neurotica (and let's be thankful for that!), and the only thing they have in common with the Flatpigs is that they're a three-piece. Yep, the classic power trio line-up of guitar, bass, drums...and nothing else. This in itself is refreshing to see, especially after experiencing umpteen goth bands who tie themselves down to ticky-tocky drum machines and pad things out with pre-recorded backing tracks. Nurotica manage to make a multi-layered, complex sound from their minimal instrumentation. The guitar sometimes nudges the style of 'Killing an Arab' period Cure, while the overall package drives along with the bite and guts of vintage Pixies. It's impressive stuff. Although the band seem to have their own following (many of their songs are greeted with cheers of recognition) they're new to many people here - but they're obviously making an impact, as the area in front of the stage steadily fills up with interested punters, keen to see who's making this cool and intriguing noise. We'll definitely file Nurotica under 'further investigation required'...

And then, it's time for the stars of the show. After a flurry of roadie-activity on stage (The Lords Of The New Church seem to have roadies for everything - drums, guitars, beers, towels - you name it) they're on. The new frontman looks like a young Mick Jagger. Dave Tragenna also looks impressively youthful and lively: only Brian James seems to have been weathered by the years. He looks older than time, his face as creased as an unmade bed. He hunches over his guitar, playing with an economy of movement that suggests he's conserving his energy and letting the younger members of the band do all the leaping around. But still...they rock. Oh, most definitely. The set is essentially a 'greatest hits' workout: 'Dance With Me', 'Russian Roulette', 'Method To Our Madness', 'Pretty Baby Scream' - they're all here, plus a smattering of new songs. Curiously, the crowd don't go particularly wild. There are a few bodies jumping around down the front, and a few plastic beer glasses are lobbed at the stage (an old-skool punk sign of affection for a band) - but the full-on mosh I was expecting to kick off doesn't really happen. Most people just stand and stare, giving the band full attention, but not really getting into things. Maybe this illustrates that The Lords still have some work to do here: they can't expect automatic adulation from the fans. They're going to have to *prove* themselves!

The Jagger-esque singer aquits himself well, but he doesn't have that mad, bad, dangerous edge which was so much a part of Stiv's on-stage persona. That, in a nutshell, is probably the difference between The Lords then and The Lords now: these days, they're essentially a bunch of amiable good-time rockers, cheerfully knocking out a good old rock 'n' roll performance, but without that certain tinge of darkness, that feeling that things were being taken to the limit, which Stiv's louche presence brought to the band. Stiv also, it must be said, had a more powerful voice - certain songs tonight feature the presence of a second vocalist, who comes on and hollers loudly into his mic, and then vanishes backstage again. He's no great *singer* - I can only guess that his role is simply to inject a little more power into the vocals. Stiv never needed that kind of help!

The Lords throw in a cover of The Damned's 'New Rose' (a song written, of course, by Brian James), a toast to Stiv is proposed, and they finish up with a rendition of that first single, 'New Church', which seems to be based around a Bo Diddley riff. Strange, I don't remember the original single sounding like that - perhaps I should dig it out and play it again! Final verdict? A good rockin' show, and a welcome antidote to the EBM-dominated stuff which seems to be everywhere these days, but as I wandered out of the venue I couldn't escape the feeling that The Lords in their present incarnation are getting dangerously close to good-time bar band territory. Fun stuff, to be sure, and it's good to hear the old songs and all - but their cutting edge just isn't as sharp as it used to be...

Reviewed by Uncle Nemesis:

The Lords Of The New Church official website:

An excellent Lords Of The New Church fan-site - probably the best place to go for information on the band:  (plus they have more photos from the Camden show)

A recent Lords Of The New Church interview:

A Stiv Bators fan-site:
The Damned's site:
Sham 69 official site:

Nurotica's website: