Theatre of Hate - Omens: Studio Work -1980-2020 (Cherry Red)

Theatre of Hate – Omens: Studio Work -1980-2020 (Cherry Red)

Formed by singer-songwriter Kirk Brandon in 1980, Theatre Of Hate would prove the testing ground onto which much of Brandon’s future career would be built. Although having been a member of punk rock band The Pack, formed during the height of the punk-rock genre in 1978, it was Theatre Of Hate and later Spear Of Destiny that would prove to be a fertile home for this creative force and here label Cherry Red are issuing the artist’s studio work with ‘Theatre’ during the period 1980 to 2020.
The band were a burning torch at the start of the 80s and one who left not only the seminal debut album Westworld, but also a handful of Sessions recorded for John Peel and a then-unreleased second album Aria Of The Devil (which featured on guitar Billy Duffy, later of The Cult), this would finally see its release in 1998. Here we find in Omens: Studio Work (1980-2020) a suite of recordings which not only bring together those aforementioned studio performances, but also run alongside Brandon’s solo album Stone in the Rain, first released for independent label Anagram in 1995.
On this box set we find a glorious mixture of tones, during which punk rubs shoulders with ska and rock verging on rockabilly. Up first is a 19 track singles disc, which starts with ’80s debut ‘Original Sin’. Introduced by Steve Guthrie’s guitar tiptoeing through the opening bars, before Stan Stammers can be heard laying the foundations with his beats. Brandon than howls like an animal, his questioning lyric struggling with the realisation of self, “Since you came in my life, I’ve had to rearrange my whole reality. Not sexuality, something cleaned. A pure mentality.” There are 19 tracks here, that in no way suggest anything of the hatred implied by the band’s moniker, more over young minds endeavouring to find their place in a world that was changing fast.
The following disc is the band’s debut album, although in this expanded form, Westworld and Beyond becomes an 18 track affair. First reissued in ’97, adding 3 tracks now found on the first disc. Westworld and Beyond adds a further 8 remixes to the original menu. From Dub versions which add echo in abundance, to a re-recording and Alt Mix’ of Original Sin. For the completists among us, these additions might make that final piece in the jigsaw.
To continue the story, no ToH compendium would be complete without the band’s posthumously released album, Aria Of The Devil. Produced by Mick Jones of The Clash and released in 1983,  this album felt very different from their earlier releases. Another take on their sound, it seemed almost cinematic. From the saxophone led ‘Overture’ which opened the album, through the wistful tone of its title track, onto the almost Ben Hur opening of ‘Dreams Of The Poppy’ and finally to the 1984 bleakness of ‘Omen Of The Times’. At this stage in his recording career, Brandon is sounding very much like Ian Astbury in his singing tone, but operating around the same time, this was probably sheer coincidence. Rather than being a disappointment, this album showed an evolution of the band on an album that was truly absorbing and certainly represented the production techniques of Jones extremely well. The album’s content follows with a number of previously unreleased instrumentals, which without vocal colouring I usually find disappointing, but these are both engaging and with Stammers foundation, easily followed. The disc is completed with 4 tracks, which do this time feature vocal, creating an album that exceeds all expectations.
Still with another 3 discs worth of music remaining, it’s hard to believe we’re only halfway through this collection, as we move onto the band’s time at the BBC, or more importantly, recordings made for the John Peel and David “Kid” Jensen shows in the early eighties. These include “Do You Believe In The Westworld” taken from TOTP in 1982, a show hosted by John Peel. It has to be said, these are some fantastic examples of the band’s recordings. Both lively and with the time of their performance expressed in the production techniques. Jensen’s shows do appear slightly woolly in their output, but this could be the source recording from which it was taken.
Interestingly the following album, Kirk Brandon’s Stone in the Rain, was initially released in the US. The story goes that in 1995 Stammers had invited Brandon to the studio he was running in Philadelphia, the well appointed Babylon Sound and assembled a band from local musicians to work with them. Art Smith on drums and guitarist John McNutt, the two described by Brandon as “great musicians”. “Smith was just a natural and John could play anyone under the table”. This was to be the foundation of an album that could certainly hold its head high after Aria. Possessing a pace and vigour, it starts with the title track, another work which sees Brandon’s questioning tone “…I don’t know who I am supposed to be, don’t ask me ‘cos I don’t care…”. This is an out-and-out rock tome, a sound Brandon had picked up on when living in the States. I can once again hear the influence of The Cult in the general tone of the album. A real rock music family tree, or perhaps one its frontman had picked up from listening to college radio in the states. This is a real belter and among the tracks features ‘Psycho-Woman’, a tale of a fan who after becoming obsessed with Brandon, became the subject of the song, “…she hears voices from the dark, telling her what to do…”. A series of demos has been added to the original 12 tracks, all of which are previously unreleased. Among these is the song ‘At Her Majesty’s Request’ a tale of one of the British court’s most high profile cases of injustice. About the Guilford 4, the song goes “…now I spend my life in a prison, at Her Majesty’s request. Where they spit on you and they beat you and they piss in your food. Fitted and blamed, for a thing I never did and if they could they’d have hung us, so I say thank god…” and is certainly a tale of our times.
Rounding off this collection is Yonjuuichi, which brings the story of the band up to date. A collection of remixes and rarities collected for the first time on this album. Leaving rockabilly behind, as punk is re-imagined. Starting with ‘Incinerator’, a number originally released in 1981, this has been turned into a patriotic nod to the USA, with sound bites of ex-president Donald Trump’s misinformation. This takes the Covid pandemic and rocks it, possibility for the first time. Brandon sings “…and there will be an end of us…”, for a number written 40 years ago, somewhat apt, although hopefully not quite yet. The first number’s street tone, is pared down on the following track, ‘Black Irony. Soundbites and edgy guitar stripped out, making way for a nervous tone, as the vocalist screams “…I believe in black irony, black rain will come again…”, almost Nostradamus chilling, when you think how close we might just have come. As a collection of 18 songs, remixed for today, this album stands on its own. For the well trodden, or first timer, this set of albums will nourish all and suggesting the ways of ToH are still relevant today.

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