WIRE - BIOG
Wire were formed by Colin Newman (guitar & vocals), Graham Lewis (bass & vocals), Bruce Gilbert (guitar) and Robert Grey (drums). The band subjected themselves to a lengthy period of intense, 12 hour a day rehearsals, honing their - admittedly basic - musical skills until razor sharp. What emerged was a version of rock shorn of all ornamentation and show business. Newman and Gilbert’s chord sequences often took unexpected turns, Graham Lewis’s unique lyrics were vivid but oblique and Grey’s drumming was minimal and metronomic.
They may have arrived at the same time as punk and drawn on its initial burst of energy, however Wire’s forward looking attitude meant they always stood apart from it. In fact, Wire could easily lay claim to having been the very first post-punk band. And yet, it’s equally true to say they could be viewed as part of the British tradition of left field art-school bands which includes Roxy Music and The Pink Floyd.
Wire played their debut proper at London’s Roxy club on April 1st 1977. The band were immediately picked up by the prodigious EMI offshoot label Harvest, and their debut album ‘Pink Flag’ was released in the December of the same year. The album was a collection of 21 songs, many of them sharp, abrasive and extremely short. In fact, six of them didn’t even make the one minute mark. Yet many of the tracks, such as ‘12XU’ and ‘Ex-Lion Tamer’, are now rightly regarded as classics.
‘Pink Flag’ not only received near universal acclaim, it would go on to be cited as a major influence by a panoramic range of artists, including Big Black, My Bloody Valentine, Blur, Henry Rollins, Joy Division and R.E.M.
Whereas many bands would have considered their sound minted, by Wire’s second album ‘Chairs Missing’ they had already moved on. Here they included synths and keyboards in the mix and more importantly, they began to explore the possibilities of the studio. The album also featured the gorgeous single ‘Outdoor Miner’.
Less than two years after the release of their debut, Wire’s third album ‘154’ broke further new ground, showing a band who were as engaged with the psychedelic guitar pop of ‘Map Ref. 41ºN 93ºW’ as they were with the moody soundscapes of ‘Indirect Enquiries’. As the NME review of the time so acutely observed “‘154’ makes 99% of the opposition look feeble in comparison.”
Following the album, the band and EMI parted company. Wire planned a series of concerts to showcase the increasingly wide ranging set of compositions which would have made up the band’s fourth album. Yet these were not orthodox rock shows. Wire presented the songs with performance art interventions, some of which had a decidedly confrontational slant. The shows left audiences divided and potential labels unsure of what they might be signing. Although there was no formal decision to split up, by the end of 1980, Wire had ceased operations.
1985 - 1991
When Wire returned as a live entity, it wasn’t with the aim of exploiting former glories. In fact, their decision to play only new material and eschew their back catalogue took many by surprise. But, as ever, Wire were only interested in moving forward.
The reactivated unit found a natural home with Mute Records. The first fruit of this relationship was 1985’s ‘Snakedrill EP’. This was a Wire retooled for the digital age. The same intensity and mystery, but with a different kind of gloss. The band followed it up with ‘The Ideal Copy’. The album was recorded at the legendary Hansa Studios in Berlin, and found them extending their experiments with sequencers and new compositional approaches, with an increased emphasis on the studio itself as an instrument.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, Wire’s live performances during this era saw the band stripping their sound back to a ‘beat group’ format - guitars, bass and vocals with Grey’s spartan drum kit consisting of just kick drum, hi-hat and snare.
Further albums for Mute followed. 1988’s ‘A Bell Is A Cup…Until It Is Struck’ displayed a summery motorik and boasted the unforgettable pop single: ‘Kidney Bingos’. Wire’s next album took a curious swerve. ‘It’s Beginning To And Back Again’ collected live recordings of much of the material, then seriously reworked them in the studio. ‘Manscape’ followed, moving the band into territory where the electric and the electronic were more closely interwoven. Meanwhile ‘The Drill’ album took the unusual step of presenting eight different interpretations of one song.
When Grey departed, Newman, Gilbert and Lewis truncated their name to Wir and released ‘The First Letter’, a set of songs which developed the compositional approaches of ‘Manscape’. But after this detour, Wire ceased operations once more.
2000 - 2016
When all four members of Wire reconvened, it was initially as a purely live entity. Yet, ever the contrarians, this time they sidestepped expectations by presenting sets which cherry picked from every era of the band’s development.
However, the first Wire album of the 21st century was a far more forward looking affair. 2003’s ‘Send’ took the urgency and impact of their 1977 debut and retooled it via the production techniques of techno. These were armour plated songs, delivered with a lethal intensity. The release was supported by blistering performances, which proved the band were still an equally serious proposition in the live arena. It seemed Wire had judged the moment perfectly, as ‘Send’ received widespread critical approval and rode high on numerous end of year lists.
Yet, despite the acclaim with which ‘Send’ was received, Wire refused to cover the same ground again. Following the departure of Bruce Gilbert, the three piece band began to evolve away from the stark monochromatics of ‘Send’. The resulting ‘Object 47’ was a transitional album, which nonetheless proved Wire were developing a more nuanced soundworld. In retrospect however, it was with 2011’s ’Red Barked Tree’ that 21st century Wire really hit their stride. This was an album which showed a band in command of a rich musical vocabulary.
But, just in case things were in danger of settling into any kind of pattern, their next album was a diversion into the unexpected. For ‘Change Becomes Us’, the band returned to the material amassed for their projected fourth studio album - songs which had last been heard live in 1980, accompanied by bizarre performance art interventions.
And yet, in typical Wire fashion, the material was seriously reworked and the resulting album proved to be something of a classic. Another key factor was guitarist Matthew Simms. Simms had been playing live with Wire since 2010. But now he became fully integrated into the band, contributing to both recording and composition.
The album was followed by the crackling and vibrant sound of 2015’s ‘Wire’ (“It’s all really well turned, potent and crisp.” - The Guardian) and 2016’s luminous yet punchy mini album ‘Nocturnal Koreans’ (“It's a cracker and sounds defiantly modern.” - The Quietus). Live meanwhile, Wire gained a reputation for being one of the most psychedelic of post punk bands and certainly the loudest.
Having hit a peak of inventiveness and productivity, Wire have been playing strings of sold out shows and achieving career best album sales, as well as being cited as a strong influence by yet another generation of bands, including Parquet Courts and Savages.
Wire’s latest album is ‘Silver/Lead’, a set of songs which encompasses the optimistic dazzle of ‘Diamonds In Cups’, the menacing widescreen grandeur of ‘Playing Harp For The Fishes’ and the breakneck paced guitar pop of ‘Short Elevated Period’.
Although their 15th studio album is being released on the 40th anniversary of Wire’s debut, ‘Silver/Lead’ has nothing to do with the past and everything to do with the future.