Wilson Neate’s excellent book about Wire and their Pink Flag album is rapidly nearing publication. It features extensive interviews with band members, some wonderful rare photos, a preface by Robin Rimbaud aka Scanner, and a whole lot more. Absolutely one of the best books in the series – trust me on this one.
Here’s a very brief teaser…
In contrast with punk’s multicoloured sartorial assault, Wire were predominantly black-and-white. Lewis recalls that the “conceptual angle of what [the performance] should look like” included vetting the colour and style of their clothing. In 1977, he notes, “we were down to ‘it’s black, white and pink’” (quoting “It’s So Obvious”). “Plain, dark clothing evolved because we didn’t want any distractions,” explains Gilbert. “We didn’t want people thinking we were a rock band.” They also shunned stereotypical punk gear, favouring more theatrical touches. Newman, for example, occasionally went barefoot and sported a surgical smock. Gilbert describes this as “an escaped mental patient look.” Still, Gilbert himself admits to some misguided style choices: “I had this ridiculous affectation of wearing ballet shoes onstage. With pink bed socks.” That said, Wire knew where to draw the line: they were briefly managed by Roxy Club founder Andy Czezowski, but, as Newman points out, “He got sacked because he wanted to buy us pink leather trousers.”
Unsurprisingly, early audiences expecting punk rock were sometimes confused. Wire spurned what were, notwithstanding a confrontational attitude and new habits like spitting, the tired norms of rock performance. In addition to avoiding unnecessary musical and physical gesture, Wire didn’t drink or smoke onstage and weren’t shambolic. They were mostly affectless and uncommunicative: they didn’t banter or encourage audience participation. Gilbert was well aware that Wire didn’t please everyone: “It’s their Friday night. They go out to see a punk band, jump about, scream and spit—that was the orthodoxy of the time. People coming on as if they’d come to mend the fridge wasn’t what audiences were looking for.”