Being a rural teenager seemed to involve an awful lot of driving around at night, pumping tunes and laughing. I didn’t learn to drive until later than most of my friends* and so I was prey to their musical tastes, great and not so great alike. One band I remember a few of my rock chums really being into was The Lords of the New Church, I remember them being very downbeat and not really rock enough for me at the time. BUT what I did love was their cover of ‘Like A Virgin’, my mate Andy was particularly keen on this because of all the swearing and I do have a, surprisingly, clear memory of sitting around a driftwood fire on a beach, drinking cans of cider and laughing as Andy mimed to it.
So much, so 1989, but I happened across a copy of Lords of the New Church Like A Virgin 12″ a couple of years ago and I just had to have it. Now I genuinely hadn’t thought about the band for 25 years but I have always been a sucker for a good sensitive cover version, particularly if it is packaged in a suitably sombre, serious manner. Voilà.
It’s horrible! Stiv Bators sneers his way through the song as only he could, every syllable just dripping with lechery and disgust as the band grind it flat. It’s a pop song I really like, we all did, but it does get a kicking down a back alley here. What was interesting to me, hearing it at the remove of a quarter century** was the fact that there is no swearing in it, at one point Bators sort of implies the line ‘fucked for the very first time’ but sort of, ahem, pulls out without quite sneering it – no mean skill to have. Mucky little sods that we were, we clearly supplied our own swearing. The other thing I noticed was that, despite loving the way Bators bellows ‘Can’t You See That I’m Touched?!’, it was pretty much a two play joke, twice and then back in the rack. Good job Like A Virgin was a double A side single then.
The Lords of the New Church were spawned when the Damned and the Dead Boys toured together, Stiv Bators and Brian James hitting it off and finding the rhythm section of Sham 69’s Dave Tregunna and the Barracuda’s Nick Turner. So far, so punk rock supergroup – but that’s where it got interesting. The Lords of the New Church settled on a sparse, gothic rock and roll sound, all topped off with Bator’s growl. They made a splash in our part of the world, hung around until ’89 and split^. Listening to them now it is so striking how close they were to so many of the rock sounds that I would love in a few years, that exsuffligate dusty glam blues which a lot of lesser lights would later turn to great effect. You will never listen to the Cult in quite the same way again after hearing it.
The AA side of Like A Virgin hits hard with ‘Method To My Madness’ the (almost) title track to their 1984 LP The Method To Our Madness. I love Turner’s spritely drumming and the bit where Brian James really gets to cut loose. Add in Bators’ half-assed sigh of a vocal and I just get very excited. From a Brit point of view I hear a lot of Zodiac Mindwarp, Dogs D’amour, the Almighty and even Fields of the Nephelim (circa Dawnrazor) in these double time grooves. Just please, please get past the appallingly 80’s nature of the video – only two men who have ever lived could carry off the frock coat, frilly shirt and conch belt combo that Bators wore for it, one of them was him the other is typing this. True story.
Like A Virgin gives up the goods a second time for an even better track called ‘Gun Called Justice’ which is precisely the type of weary-voiced dust-ridden spaghetti western outlaw blues I didn’t realise I needed quite so badly. The lyrics are clever and the performance just brilliant, the whole band smoke and Bators shows that he may well have had some country bones in his Ohioan frame.
Overall then I find myself touched for the very fourth time by the Lords of the New Church. Maybe I’ll leap into action and explore further in 2032.
PS: Not on this single but it is an incredibly clever song about the New York Dolls and it shows Mr Bators at his fucked up finest. Dominus vobiscum.
PPS: No idea why they are billed as ‘The Lords’ on this one release.
*and I’m still really shit at parking. True story.
**F’king hell I’m old.
^allegedly tired of Bators’ recreational habits, James had advertised secretly for a new singer. Bators had the advert printed onto a T-shirt which he wore during their final gig in London – which is about as cool as things get in my view. The band reformed several times over the years after Bator’s death in 1990, but I don’t count that I’m afraid.