The Monks

Inspirational ‘60s garage rockers The Monks are back for a one-off London gig. Time Out can‘t wait

  • The Monks

    This part of the pre-stage ritual probably doesn't take quite so long now...

  • You couldn’t make The Monks up. Initially, they were simply five pissed-off American GIs, reluctantly stationed in Germany in the mid-’60s who performed beat group standards as The Torquays. What they eventually became, however, was five lunatic musical pioneers, who dressed in monks’ habits, sported shaved crowns to match, and created ‘Black Monk Time’, a masterpiece of rhythmically relentless and savagely elemental garage rock, infused with squalling organs, banjo feedback and frenzied call-and-response vocals which seem to both mimic and mock the parade ground which spawned them. The album pre-dated all of the accepted precursors to punk, either electrified or deeply upset whoever heard it and became justly revered by anyone who has ever believed in the cathartic, disruptive and redemptive possibilities of rock ’n’ roll.

    Contributors to a new Monks tribute album ‘Silver Monk Time’ include The Fall, Mouse On Mars, The Gossip and Faust and the band’s peculiar story is told in a forthcoming documentary ‘The Transatlantic Feedback’. Better still, the band have reformed and will be playing at The Dirty Water Club at The Boston Arms on Thursday. It will be their first and, quite possibly, last British gig.

    The Monks’ unique style was a direct result of their singular origins. Bassist Eddie Shaw, for example, began his musical life as a jazz trumpeter but joining the army took him out of his musical comfort zone as he found himself playing in a band whose other members were influenced by anything from surf instrumentals to country. Then there was the problem of being five English speakers cutting their teeth in Hamburg. ‘Partly because of the language barrier, we tried to take it down to as minimalist a level as possible,’ he remembers. This resulted in some of the most gloriously Zen-simplistic rock lyrics ever created. ‘I hate you. But call me,’ Shaw laughs, quoting from ‘I Hate You’, one of the band’s best-known songs. ‘You can’t get much more simple than that. And then play it for seven hours until people go nuts’.

    As was the case with The Beatles – Hamburg’s marginally more famous circumstantial contribution to rock history – The Monks’ sound was refined by brutally hard work. The band became accustomed to playing marathon shows on a daily basis, usually in front of crowds who were both intimidated and antagonised by their hyper-aggressive sound and demeanour. After all, in 1965, hatred, nihilism and confusion were not yet part of the accepted lingua franca of rock ’n’ roll. ‘People talked about the Hamburg sound,’ remembers Shaw, ‘and they reckon we just about killed it off. That’s gotta be a compliment, right? There was quite a lot of hostility. A few times we had to play with the house lights on because things were so tense. One time, some guy came on stage and attacked Gary [Burger, The Monks singer]. So I hit him over the head with my bass.’

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