With new wave bands reforming faster than Arctic Monkey album tracks gate-crashing the Top 200 on download (Devo, OMD and the Only Ones spring to mind) one post-punk band destined be lost in the mists of time was Sheffield’s massively underrated Artery. Having originally split up to something distinctly short of euphoria back in the depths of 1985, the Steel City’s answer to Manchester acolytes such as Joy Division and Magazine left the legacy of the seminal 'Into the Garden' at No. 4 in John Peel’s 1981 Festive 50 and three studio albums scattered over various indie labels. More tellingly they left a deep impression on a young and enthusiastic Jarvis Cocker; a regular attendee at their gigs back in the early 80's.
Short-circuit to Jarvis’s impending curation of the 2007 Meltdown Festival and the chance to assemble a wish-list of bands for a week’s worth of concerts at the newly refurbished Royal Festival Hall. A list including such luminaries as the aforementioned Devo, a freshly reformed Jesus and Mary Chain, and ,after a phone call to main-man Mark Gouldthorpe, Artery. Unsurprisingly it proved sufficient to tempt him out of retirement. Now short circuit to the Boardwalk, Sheffield and a hastily arranged "warm-up" gig the night before their Meltdown appearance. It’s a vintage line-up: the original Artery rhythm section of Gary Wilson (drums) and John Clayton (bass), Murray Fenton, a later addition to the band in 1983, on guitar and ex-Artery trombonist David Hinkler replacing Stateside brother Simon on keyboards. And, of course, Artery’s unhinged bug-eyed front man Gouldthorpe.
As they take the stage to a sizeable home crowd there’s a tangible sense of nervous tension in the air: hardly surprising given their nigh on 22 year hiatus. The semi-theatrical 'One Afternoon in a Hot Air Balloon' breaks the ice nicely and eases the band back to life. The musical-hall themed 'Potential Balance' gives us hints of where a young Jarvis Cocker may have borrowed from for Pulp’s early sonic blue-print, although the mood very quickly changes with the great slabs of industrial strength guitar laid down by Murray Fenton on the brutal and relentless grind of 'The Big Machine'. The Joy Division references further abound with the lyrical obliqueness of 'Unbalanced', the brutal bass rifts of Leonard Cohen cover 'Diamonds in the Mine' and the lead singer’s increasingly erratic arm movements. As the set unwinds Gouldthorpe increasingly commands the stage with the air of a crazed circus ringmaster, losing himself in the music in a trance like state.
No prizes though for guessing the song everyone has been waiting to hear. After the seeping throb of the intro, 'Into the Garden' soon hits its stride with cathedral guitars, spiralling bass line and syncopated drums, a colossal song straight from post-punk’s Holy Grail and worth tonight’s entrance fee alone. Although difficult to follow, the tribal and rhythmic 'The Slide' reveals a more primal side of the band and 'Afterwards' with its eastern keyboard washes and muscular bass brings the show to fitting and compelling conclusion as the Artery front-man sinks to his knees and stares the crowd out. There’s still time for a brief encore in the shape of 'Heinz', a brief Wire-tinged punk-pop nugget from their debut single and its one line mantra “You always turn to the one you love”.
Overall it’s a very creditable showing, a performance of darkness and light, intensity and intrigue, and about as far from an exercise in nostalgia as you can get. Made all the more remarkable by the circumstances. Hopefully given the reaction the band garner tonight, tomorrow’s Meltdown gig won’t be their last. Which all begs the question…whatever next? Anyone for a reformed Comsat Angels?