Monday, July 5, 2010

Video Affects - Shriekback Nemesis (1985)

A rare example of "I know where I was when I first saw this" applied to music videos, my first encounter with Shriekback's Nemesis took place at the house of my friend Derek, during the holidays near the end of 1985. We had been watching his music videos, particularly those of Sting, whom we both were into at the time, and Derek remembered that he'd videoed (ahh, nostalgia) the previous night's Radio With Pictures. So it was obviously a Monday. Probably the first Monday of the summer holidays, a gloriously languid and sun-drenched day as they all were at the time, the air buzzing with wildlife and the footpath outside his parents' architecturally-designed home almost ticking in the heat. I digress. We fast-forwarded idly through the videos - was ZZ Tops' Legs in among them? Unlikely. How about Neil Young's This Bud's For You? Possibly. But the last clip of the night, the last episode of RWP for the year, was reserved for presenter Karen Hay's favourite video of the year, and it was Nemesis. After a few blasts of Synchronicity II we definitely favoured Shriekback's offering in the end, and must have played it until we could remember the whole thing (although it would take years before I could decipher its bizarre lyrics.)

Nemesis represented a curious and infectious collision of worlds in our heads; though I speak for both me and my friend we were very much alike in interests and obsessions. With shaven-headed singer Barry Andrews purring his way through a melange of odd images, looking for all the world like Robin of Sherwood's latter-day villain Gulnar, the clip promised more - a Bacchanalean feast, weird masks of wood and feathers, black glassy eels and most thrilling of all, the Arch-Deviant himself, Pat Mills' comic creation Nemesis the Warlock as a slow-mo phantom swathed in red mist. Shriekback's lyrics are, it turned out, nonsensical, but contained wonderfully arch vocal triggers that caught our young ears - "In the jungle of the senses/Tinkerbell and Jack the Ripper"..."We drink elixirs that we refine/from the juices of the dying"…"Call in the airstrike/with the poison kiss". The music itself is harsher than the band's earlier, dreamlike and more avant garde efforts, with guitars and real drums to the forefront, and Sarah and Wendy Partridge's shrill screamed vocals matching the synthetic strings during the choruses. That it makes no sense either visually or lyrically has opened the song up to various interpretations - is it about the comic strip? Probably not. Is it about mankind's destructive urge? Maybe. Is it about the postulated 'death star'? Some (not me) think so. It doesn't matter though, Nemesis is three minutes and forty-three seconds of sensoral wonder set adrift in the mid-Eighties and in one moment changed my musical tastes from pop to something more askew (ironically, its parent album Oil and Gold is regarded as Shriekback's most commercially succesful). I returned briefly to Sting and the Police, but never let go of Shriekback and still have three of their albums in my permanent collection. And every time I hear Nemesis I return to that day when my mind met something quite recognisable and alien at the same time.


  1. This is a weird coincidence. I revisited this video yesterday completely independent of anything, and I also came to the same conclusions - the lyrics are indecipherable nonsense, the video is pure 80s surrealistic quantel tricks, and Nemesis's appearance in the video overrides all of that to make it cool.

    I was disappointed that the Nemesis photo-essay stories in 2000AD didn't have as authentic a mask as the one they used here.

  2. Good point about that mask! It looks like it's either hard plastic (fiberglass?) or leather. The one on the old Tooth photo strips had the hallmarks of a year six class papier mache project!

    Well observed on the Quantel usage - that's not something I'd have picked up on, although the video is Eighties through and through, from co-writer Carl Marsh's stunning mullet to the rather splendid gated snare opening hit :)