A tall wiry figure stands clutching his electric guitar, a black and white frame captures a moment when I would have been too young to appreciate or even understand the magnitude he and his DoM were creating. The black and white image was one found whilst browsing content, to get some kind of background on a band once referred to as “the missing link between David Bowie and The Sex Pistols” (in The Guardian of May 2017). So if when listening to their magnificent soundscape, you find yourself thinking “I’ve heard this one before, haven’t I?“, well, Richard “Kid” Strange and his Doctors of Madness have also been described as “trailblazers” and “pioneers of rock music”, from their standpoint in the late ’70s, this band laid the foundations of much that has gone after.
According to Strange, their support acts during their heyday had included The Sex Pistols (Middlesbrough 1976), The Jam (London Marquee on several occasions 1976), Joy Division (as “Warsaw” Manchester 1976) and Simple Minds (as “Johnny and the Self Abusers” Falkirk 1976). So why has the part they played not been lauded quite so much? Excusing the fact I was too young and the late Seventies were a mess of anything from Glam Rock and the adult-oriented variety, to the then smarter and let’s be honest, sharper dressed “Rude Boys” to the menacing, “Punks” and “Skinheads” in their DMs & light wash denims, I can find no reason that Doctors of Madness shouldn’t have been.
Until now they had not featured on my radar, but looking at & listening to Richard Strange, it’s easy to see where another Richard, in this case Ashcroft, had honed his look, and the same goes for Andrew Eldritch and the dark performance of Sisters Of Mercy. So in a way perhaps I had? Leaf the pages and anything from the likes of The Damned, Spiritualised, Julian Cope, The Skids and even Vic Reeves had brushed shoulders with this majesty! So Strange’s DoM has made their mark, albeit under the radar.
This is what albums should be, an epic tome. Something you might keep on your shelves and refer to over time, perhaps almost daily, like ‘Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management‘ might have been a reference manual for every aspiring housewife in the Victorian era. I have now listened to this album 4 or 5 times, back-to-back and I still find myself not tiring of its magnificence. These 10 epic tunes scream to be played, while the listener stands, wondering at their majesty. Kicking off with ‘So Many Ways to Hurt You‘, this number reaches deep into your soul as the bass strives to keep up, Strange telling of how he sees today’s society running in decline. Is it government or press, or just one of the many commercial bodies, who do so well at running our lives until one “key strike” throws it all into a dark hole? And so he sings “This is what they mean when they talk about having it all. Then they go and lose your file“! There is something that is not so strange about this, just part of being a member of the 21st Century. But don’t lose sight of the fact they have “…so many ways to hurt you now“!
From an extremely dark number, we then move to another similarly frank one. ‘Make It Stop!‘ is one of those moments of desperation, that lyrically expresses this, while the musical backdrop paints a picture full of vivid colour, expressing the anger felt by the author, one inspired by the world that was troubling him. What is becoming pretty clear is that Dark Times is indeed that album that when in 2018 Richard Strange, following surgery & subsequent infection, wondered whether he and his Doctors of Madness would write the album they would be remembered by? Well, Richard you have, and Dark Times will sit resplendent on listeners’ shelves and be remembered as such.
Back-to-back, in 10 tracks, from ‘So Many Ways…“, to the album’s title track, this is a record that flows effortlessly, and in some ways, the band may be remembered as one who were constantly ahead of the curve, meeting an alternative audience, but never one who were mainstream. Well in my mind, this is a good thing! Perhaps never quite sitting at the head of the table, but just off to the left. This is a Leftism of dark rock, an album for the 21st Century, while still having one toe in the last. When world-renowned record producer John Leckie first responded to Richard’s request that he listen to these ideas, he had said in response “This record HAS to be made“. After which he garnered the help and support from Def Leppard‘s Joe Elliot, to Sarah Jane Morris, Terry Edwards (of PJ Harvey, Nick Cave and Tindersticks), alongside today’s leftfield Lily Bud and Andy Gallop. As a result, this an album that will sit at the head of my table, a wondrous tome that should be experienced to fully appreciate what the band have achieved. Thank you Richard for the memories and John, for your vision.
Dark Times is out now on Molecular Scream Records.