Post-punk/funk pioneers Medium Medium have reformed.
Best known for "Hungry, So Angry," the 1981 dance club hit that paved the way for the current new wave of
early 1980s-influenced bands, Medium Medium is working to put together a series of special reunion shows before the end of 2004
Formed in Nottingham, England just one year after the Sex Pistols' last show,
Medium Medium's self-styled "extreme dance music" and "searing Zen funk" merged dance rhythms and staccato guitar
with squawking sax and found sounds to create a "free-blown dubbed-up white funk" (NME)
that positioned the band "at the forefront of the post punk funk movement" (Cashbox).
In February 1981, Medium Medium signed to Cherry Red and released "Hungry, So Angry," the band's second single.
Dave Henderson (Sound International) wrote prophetically, "It could be one of the most important records of the type
to emerge this year and will doubtlessly be revered as a classic after the group have long since departed."
At the end of the year, influential music critic Robert Christgau (Village Voice) included "Hungry, So Angry"
in his "Dean's List" of top singles for 1981.
Not only did the groundbreaking single impress critics but it also reached #48 on the Billboard Disco chart,
"introduced scads of young bassists to the popping bass line" (Salon.com),
and has been included on numerous compilation albums.
With the emergence of new punk/funk-influenced bands such as The Rapture, Moving Units, Radio 4, and !!!,
there has been a global resurgence of interest in Medium Medium. "Hungry, So Angry," a 15-track retrospective enhanced CD,
was released by Cherry Red in 2001, the single was reissued in January 2004 on a U.K. independent label,
and in March 2004 Coldcut included the single on a compilation album of the U.K. DJ duo's influences.
Although Medium Medium's music has been featured on radio playlists for over two decades, these new releases,
together with the recent interest in 1980s punk/funk, have garnered the band renewed club and radio play
in the U.S., Europe, and the rest of the world over the last 12 months
When the too brief two-year career of the Sex Pistols ended at Winterland in
San Francisco at the end of 1977 it effectively signaled the end of the British
punk era. But in turning the music business on its head the band had made
anything possible; record company doors were suddenly open to myriad types of
music. Punk was dead-long live post punk.
By the end of 1978, The Press, a two-year-old Nottingham-based punk/rhythm and
blues band, had undergone personnel changes and a change of name to re-launch
itself as Medium Medium. Comprising John Lewis (vocals/sax), Andy Ryder
(guitar/vocals), Alan Turton (bass), Nigel Stone (drums), and Graham Spink
("special noises"), Medium Medium's self-described "extreme dance
music" had reviewers scrambling to draw comparisons with the band's
contemporaries and find a label for its post-punk sound.
The group's solid dance rhythms and staccato, ringing guitar tones were
superficially reminiscent of the Gang of Four, but John's tangential sax playing
and Graham's tape and keyboard interjections from the front-of-house mixing desk
took Medium Medium in another direction.
"Free-blown dubbed-up white funk" was how Max Bell described the sound
in England's New Musical Express (NME). "At the forefront of the post punk
funk movement," stated the U.S. publication, Cashbox. Billboard magazine
opined that this was "post punk and post disco dance music." Medium
Medium didn't play funk, but they were certainly drawn that way. Funk influences
were readily absorbed by group members and woven into the band's sonic fabric.
The middle section of "Hidden Fears," for example, echoes Ashford and
Simpson's "Don't Stop the Music." More overtly, Chairmen of the
Board's "(You've Got Me) Dangling on a String," once fed into the
Medium Medium music machine, re-emerged as a prime example of the band's
self-styled "searing Zen funk."
Funk influences are most noticeable in the propulsive bass lines that form the
foundation of many Medium Medium songs, and introduced thousands to a musical
style to which they might not otherwise have been exposed. In a review of Rhino
Records' 1999 "Postpunk Chronicles" retrospective series, on which the
band's second single is included, Gavin McNett of Salon asks, "Who's ever
traced a line between white neofunk and Medium Medium, whose widely popular
'Hungry, So Angry' introduced scads of young bassists to the popping bass
But Medium Medium's subject matter differed wildly from the politics and polemic
favored by some of their English contemporaries in the early Eighties. Medium
Medium songs explored morally reprehensible behavior, emotional conflict,
rejection, conformity and the quest for self-knowledge. They were modern-day
'penny dreadfuls,' cautionary stories, morality tales told by a dispassionate
observer yet sung over passionate and eminently danceable music.
The band got its first opportunity to present its music to a wider audience late
in 1979 with the release of "Them or Me." Marking the debut of Apt
Records, a small London-based independent imprint, the single was well received
by the music press, garnered some airplay for the band, and was picked up for
inclusion on a regional compilation album, "Hicks From the Sticks."
The increased exposure was welcome, but the band had to work hard to escape the
music industry-imposed stigma of being based outside London, playing frequent
showcase gigs in the metropolis at venues such as the Nashville, the Hope and
Anchor, and the Rock Garden, while continuing to refine their music with regular
dates at Nottingham's Sandpiper Club and the Hearty Goodfellow. This was the era
of the Rock Against Racism movement in Britain and the group's dance music and
dub stylings made Medium Medium the natural choice for support slots with bands
such as Aswad, Creation Rebel, Prince Far I, A Certain Ratio and Basement 5.
In July 1980 Medium Medium opened for a young Irish band playing one of their
first gigs in England, a band with whom they had first played in December 1979
at London's Moonlight Club. The show with U2 at the Clarendon in London drew a
favorable review from the Sounds music paper's writer, Phil Sutcliffe.
"I've never heard so many harmonics played in one night," wrote
Sutcliffe in reference to the guitar playing by both Andy and The Edge. "It
made a point, a focus, a question mark, urged you to observe that these bands
were not ordinary," he stated, noting Medium Medium's live power.
Even more gigs with U2 followed in late 1980 when the Irish band returned for a
tour of universities in support of its Boy album. By now Medium Medium had
acquired a manager, Chris Garland, a Cheltenham 'old boy' living in Europe. A
U.K. tour with Athens, Georgia-based bands Pylon and the Method Actors came at
the end of 1980. Europe was calling, and the band traveled to Holland for the
first of many tours abroad.
The constant touring and enthusiastic reviews began to pay off, creating a buzz
amongst the record companies, and in February 1981 Medium Medium signed with
Cherry Red and released its second single, "Hungry, So Angry." In
Sound International magazine Dave Henderson wrote prophetically, "It could
be one of the most important records of the type to emerge this year and will
doubtlessly be revered as a classic after the group have long since
Cherry Red dispatched copies of the single to the United States as an
import-only release. Club and radio plays, plus modest sales, propelled Hungry,
So Angry into the lower reaches of Billboard's Disco Top 100, and in June 1981
it peaked in the Top 50.
Medium Medium's debut album, "The Glitterhouse," was released on
Cherry Red in October 1981, but not before Nigel announced that he was leaving
the group. The band recruited local drummer Steve Harvey, made a video to
promote Hungry, So Angry, and headed off to tour Europe and the U.S.A. in
support of the new release.
Dave Hill, reviewing "The Glitterhouse" for the NME, was struck by the
lyrical content of the album. "Great slabs of tormented lust," he
wrote, "some dirty deeds, some sour morality tales from grubby emotional
backstreets." The album, he commented, revealed "a startling new surge
of frowning soul."
In Sounds, Phil Sutcliffe described the songs as "savage,"
"scalding" and with the "power to hurt," characterizing the
sound as "shivering funk and a frantic complaining voice; bass and drums
carry the momentum while guitar is cut back to scratches and whines entwined
with groaning sax."
The band faced another hurdle upon returning from its first U.S. tour when, in
December 1981, John quit to explore a different musical direction. A longtime
World Music fan, John teamed up once more with Nigel to form C Cat Trance,
drawing on the rhythms and melodies of Africa and the Middle East to produce a
string of world beat releases over the next eight years.
The remaining members decided not to replace John and introduced the band's new
stripped-down and starker sound at London's Lyceum in February 1982. Two more
lengthy tours of the United States followed during 1982, plus visits to Germany
and France, and an extensive tour of Holland, Belgium and Italy during the
By now the band had decided to flesh-out the sound by adding Les Barrett, a
Nottingham-based guitarist and keyboard player. During a break in the Dutch tour
in mid-May 1982 the band took the opportunity to record a new single with the
expanded line-up for the Sound Products label. Recorded just outside Amsterdam,
the sessions featured "Splendid Isolation," "If You Touched Her
She'd Smear," and the old live favorite, "7th Floor."
The final show of that tour, an outdoor concert in Bergen-op-Zoom in the south
of Holland, was broadcast live by VARA Radio. Years later a tape cassette of the
show came to the attention of LINE Records in Hamburg, Germany and in 1988, long
after the demise of the band, the label released "Live in Holland."
The album featured the 1982 VARA show plus a handful of songs first broadcast in
May 1981 from the Vera club in Gronigen, Holland by the band's original line-up.
Julie Wood replaced Les on keyboards prior to the late-1982 tour of North
America. Following shows in Europe in February 1983 the band returned to the
U.S. for a three-month sojourn. With the support of investor and new business
manager, Gary Rogers, Medium Medium played a handful of shows, concentrating
instead on recording new songs in the hope of securing a new record deal. But by
the end of the summer internal tensions and lack of record company interest had
split the group and its management team, and everybody returned to Europe.
In 1984, Chris, future wife Ilona, and Les formed U-Bahn X, an Anglo-German
project that combined dance and industrial music. The band signed with EMI, with
Dick O'Dell (ex-manager of the Slits and the Pop Group) replacing Les, and Alan,
Steve and Graham were hired as studio and live performers.
Describing their music-at least partly tongue-in-cheek-as "Wagnerian
sexbeat," U-Bahn X scandalized the public with its "Frankie Goes to
Berchtesgarten" fashion sense and mischievous rumors that the notorious
German film director, Leni Riefenstahl, would produce its video. The
Euro-anthem, "Young Hearts of Europe," achieved modest chart success
but the band split when EMI failed to take up the second single option.
Andy secured numerous sessions as a guitar player and sound engineer after
Medium Medium, mostly at The Bakery/Square Dance Studios in Nottingham. He also
played with The Scarehunters, who released "Limbo Line" on Far North
Records, and subsequently became the guitarist and musical director for MCA
recording artist Whycliffe, playing on various releases including the album,
"Roughside." In 1991 Andy moved to New York City, working as an
engineer at the famous Baby Monster Studio while also writing music for
commercials, television, film and dance companies.
After U-Bahn X, Steve played percussion on C Cat Trance's "Play Masenko
Combo" album, helped produce the "Jinnyya" 12-inch, and in early
1988 toured Europe with the band as tour manager and percussionist. That summer
he relocated to Los Angeles. For a couple of years, until August 2004, he played
with The Mirrors, an L.A.-based Brit-rock band that released an EP, "Mirror
Whore," on Manchester's Electric Records label.
John went back to school and obtained a Ph.D in Social Psychology (of magic) in
2000. He has since gone from playing saz in a cupboard to playing sax in a shack
on the edge of the Ashdown Forest in England.
After several years with C Cat Trance Nigel left to concentrate on a family. He
continues to play drums with various artists, including Cathy Lesurf ("Day
Trip to Bangor") and a local country band that plays covers of Hank
Williams and Johnny Cash songs. Elvis also makes an occasional appearance with
In mid-2004, spurred on by the renewed interest in the band's back catalogue and
a music scene that had come full circle to once again embrace post-punk/funk,
John, Andy, Alan and Steve began to discuss a reunion. By the end of the year, a
reformed Medium Medium had played a series of shows on the east and west coasts
of the U.S., starting with a showcase at the 2004 CMJ Music Marathon in New York
City in October.
(This history of Medium Medium originally appeared in the booklet for the
2001 Cherry Red retrospective enhanced CD release, "Hungry, So