DELTA 5 .Singles & Sessions 1979–1981. KRS
I’d never heard Delta 5 until a few years ago, when a friend played me two of their singles on a warped cassette. I was captivated. The legendary three-woman, two-man band from Leeds had an early new-wave sound — aesthetically and conceptually punk, but tempered by funky, danceable beats and poppy, ska-like bass lines. (Sound familiar, all you Bloc Party peoples?) The band consisted of Bethan Peters on bass and vocals, Ros Allen on bass and vocals, Julz Sale on vocals, Alan Riggs on guitar, and Kelvin Knight on drums. Double bass plus triple female vocals equals a powerful mix.
The new Singles & Sessions 1979–1981 gathers their singles, John Peel sessions and other live stuff onto one disc. Inspired by this reissue, I e-mailed the members of Delta 5 — well, the two I could track down — to ask a few questions. (They all live in Europe now and are cagey about their current doings.)
L.A. WEEKLY: Will there be a Delta 5 reunion tour?
ROS ALLEN: When hell freezes over.
ALAN RIGGS: We won’t be touring in any way, shape or form.
So that’s that.
Question No. 2: Delta 5’s combination of funk and punk was completely fresh, but logical at a time when punk, ska, funk and reggae were played simultaneously in clubs. Who were your main influences, dancewise?
ALLEN: Northern Soul, Tamla Motown, Arthur Alexander, James Brown, Marvin Gaye and disco like Saturday Night Fever.
RIGGS: Parliament, Funkadelic and Bootsy, plus the genius, James Brown. It was all a little bit jerky, it made you move, and there were some good shapes to be made.
Now, as you may know, Delta 5 were one of the first bands signed to Rough Trade Records at a time — 1979, to be exact — when the label was busy producing punk, often female punk, reacting to “fascist” male punk bands. As a result, many hallmark punk/funk, new wave and, really, proto–indie rock records were released by bands such as Pere Ubu, Cabaret Voltaire, Red Krayola, Swell Maps, Young Marble Giants, Stiff Little Fingers, The Raincoats, The Slits, Kleenex, LiLiput, Essential Logic, The Marine Girls, et al. (A few years later, Rough Trade struck oil with the Smiths and the Fall.)
Question No. 3: Was there a uniting ethos among the bands on Rough Trade at that time?
ALLEN: I don’t think any of these bands were in it to become rich and famous. It was all about making intelligent, individualistic music and having a damn good time in the process. There was a very real sense that anything was possible, and anyone could have a platform to be musically creative regardless of gender, status or money. . . . [At Rough Trade,] everything was done on a handshake, and profits after expenses were split 50-50.
As you also may know, Delta 5 were pioneers of feminist punk; bands like Sleater-Kinney, Chicks on Speed, Le Tigre and the Need are direct descendants — so much so that Chicks on Speed’s cover of the Delta 5 hit “Mind Your Own Business” has, until now, been the easiest version to find. Delta 5 embraced a communal approach to music writing, akin to their politically active, quasi-communist friends in Gang of Four and the Mekons. They also played at pro-choice and Rock Against Rape rallies.
Question No. 4: How do you feel about mixing politics and punk these days?
ALLEN: At that time, we had heartfelt responses to specific issues, and bands still have them, it’s just that the rallies have gone massive and global, and you see more commercial fluff attaching itself to worthy causes. If it’s drawing attention to problems and making people think and respond, then I’d rather have clichés than apathy. When the personal has resonance with larger social issues, that’s when the point is effectively made. Green Day’s American Idiot is a prime contemporary example.