• Phonogram Book Two: The Singles Club #7. By Keiron Gillen, Jamie Mckelvie, and Matt Wilson.


  • Getting this post done is probably the only New Year’s Resolution I will stick to. Shame then that I haven’t, crucially you might think, thought of anything good to say or interesting to add* to the established critical consensus, let alone a structured, witty overview, analysis and pithy summation of Phonogram. (Which was a great, perfectly imperfect comic that lived in the zeroes and died in 2010, and whose passing should be marked.)
  • In the absence of trifling little entities like Form and Content, we will therefore be going with the randomish bulletpoints format again, fire up a few bad jokes, misapplied anecdotes, predictable gimmicks, attic junk, and creepy sextalk, and see if anyone makes it to the end.
  • There’s not a prize or anything.
  • *Like really I haven’t, this comic’s been out for so long, it’s pathetic I haven’t thought of anything good to say about it by now. But we proceed – Singer’s Law be hanged bedad!
  • Oh but, I’ve just read it back to myself and by god this is probably the most annoying, which is to say @@nnnnyyoyyyeeeeiiiiinnnnnnnnnnnnnng, review of a sweet, innocent little comic book that you will have ever read, so if you’ve the guts to go on, be warned – it gets a little unreadable out there.

  • So why haven’t I written about this before? I was on a bit of a roll with my Phonogram reviews, they were good, why did it take me so long to get round to this?
  • Oh that’s right, the last one. Shot my bolt just a little bit there, didn’t I? What’s left to say , where can you go, what can you do after that? Oh yeah:
  • MORE
  • Back when I started reviewing Phonogram – which was meant to be ‘two years ago to the day’ when this post was supposed to go up – I was, looking back at myself, in a bit of a funk, and not the dance sort. Crabby at being old all of a sudden, and annoyed that the world (of music & music fandom) had moved on from when I was hot in a way that I was spectacularly unable to process without being a grumpy bastard about it, I took my ire on the sexy young characters (and readers, I was told) of Phonogram. (Phonogram, for those of you who are [*****] was a lovely looking and well-observed soapy comic about writing about music, read, I was assured, by hip people.)
  • Turns out that getting into music these days is a piece of piss, much less hard work than it was in yore. The obsessives have these things called ‘blogs’, and they go out and trawl the weirdest corners of the net and the inependent labels and the underground shops, snag the best bits, and then put them up online for you to listen to for nothing! Easy peasy eh?
  • And music is fuck-good these days, I mean, listen/watch:
  • So just by doing just a little bit of extra work – basically reading the club flyers on my stroll to work; haranguing a friend or two into giving me good and regular links to interesting things; deliberately exposing myself to scenes I knew nothing of and couldn’t imagine myself liking. Like this – I mean fuck, how good are Swans? I would have definitely said ‘it’s just noise’ about this a while ago, and meant it even as a bad thing, on a bad day –

  • But I can’t get enough these days of that frightful messy noisy shit.
  • I even went and bought a bit of vinyl at the weekend – check it out (this isn’t vinyl of course, it’s youtube, but the sound is roughly similar):

Flying Lotus’ auntie, apparently. There you go.

  • And also even, yeah, that’s right, even sometimes going out and seeing bands play live! Seen some amazing music in the past six months or so:

(Those bands were all a lot cooler back when I actually went and saw them, by the way. I know they’re all well 2010 by now. I’m still not hip, just a little bit less of a silly old sod is all.)

  • Although I don’t think I want to give too much credit to just a bloody comic for making me a bit less culturally ignorant and pointless, waking me up a bit and getting me back into the twin joys of good music and good trousers (that’s one of my favourite bits in The Rutles movie – ‘It was the trousers), and because I want to take a fair bit of the credit myself thanks very much, without the jolt, the anamnesiac prompt, the lifeline thrown, that Phonogram became for me at a pretty pivotal point of my life, I would be yea much sadder and rubbisher than I am. So, why not rewind, why not be kind: Thanks Phonogram.
  • While we’re on the subject of youtube, like we were a minute ago, and while we’re being generous, let’s take the hipster beard off for a moment and, for once for fucksake, gives this poor comic the benefit of the doubt and takes it on its own terms. Of all the dozen or so Phonogram comics that struggled bravely into the hostile environs of the world’s comic shops, this here farewell issue, even more than the others, wants to achieve some kind of final synthesis between the highly incompatible and distinct creative forms of Music and Comics. It picks a song, ‘Wolf Like Me’ by the mid-zeroes indie band TV On The Radio, and through cues explicit and subliminal encourages the reader to listen to the song simultaneous with reading the comic book, hopefully to enhance thereby the experience of each.
  • I’ve got a big problem with being nudged into listening to someone else’s music choices when I’m reading my comics, but I’m going to let that go for now. Yes, yes I am a saint. So fuck off.

  • 4:37. It’s about the right length of time – not on the initial read-through, I seriously think you should give PG2:7 more time and better attention than that on first encounter, but I’ve read it a few times now, ages ago mind, and feel comfortable that the awkward split of attention between book and song will now produce enough dissonant tension for a fresh perspective, maybe even a genuine novel insight, a fucking epiphany, Constantine, to emerge. So I’m going to do it, now, and tell you how I got on.
  • It’s going to be tricky taking notes the while though, isn’t it? I hope it has a long solo towards the end to jot some ideas down in…. (How does this liveblogging thing actually work in that regard? Doing things but writing about them at exactly the same time? Is this that? Mind the gap? Is that a parallax? Didn’t he nearly destroy the universe once?)
  • Page 1: There’s talking on this page, so I’m not going to hit play yet. This page is sort of like the DJ on the TV on the radio (ooh) giving a bit of an intro while they get the track cued up, and it also provides some tightly ordered and regular word-packed panels, the better to contrast with the wordless but dynamic and expansive issue that follows.
  • Alright Play! backinaminute
  • Well, that kind of worked, I guess. I caught the lyrics ‘something hideous inside me’ on the page where he buys the doner,which was funny, and the breakdown at about 2.30 occurred at just the right point for Kid to spot Penny, which felt very appropriate.The track didn’t drop back in before I’d finished the strip though, so it went a bit weird and I tried to read the backups with the same rack running. The word-stuffed pages messed up my reading rhythm though, and then the track just ended and I’d not really hard the last minute or so of it.
  • And like when  I read it before I basically skipped the politely soft focus and tastefully romantic scene of grown-up loveplay. Pass the Vaseline.
  • For the camera lens! For heaven’s sake
  • Ah well, I tried. The main strip, the Kid With Knife story, the ‘silent’ bits- they’re really great comics, and the pulse of the track suits the parkour sequences beautifully.
  • Get it? Tracksuits!
  • Still not a fan of that song though, indie-rave Rapture bollocks, proper shit. Okay maybe not shit but like… when does the good bit happen? What was everyone thinking? I was being grumpy at home and apparently everyone was out on such great drugs that their critical faculties were out in outer space somewhere. Clean your ears out with this instead OK let’s go:

  • Has everyone spotted this week’s Phonogram revival by the way? Here and here. With the revival-cycle getting ever tighter, it’s supertrendy again! The Time Ghost says NOW! What about this bit from the second one:
  • ‘I’d happily invest a not considerable amount of money on the proposition that most folks who finish “Phonogram: Rue Britannia” then suffer a barely controllable urge to blather about their favourite records, and of the youth cults that they belonged to, and of the pleasures and agonies of their own often exceptionally-protracted adolescence. … And so, for all that I find myself really wanting to prattle on about the details of my own experiences, who really needs to know?’
  • O no – dissed!
  • I was there first though damn right! You wait.
  • Oh ye lament for the Phonogram back-up strips are no more. How we shall miss them. They were never really better than the primary strip, but synergyized (true word) very well with the main feature to turn the entire book into something much bigger than the sum of its parts. This final issue bows out with four brilliant little snippets of fun, showcasing a diversity of moods and styles that point to the bright future that this comic should have had. Because of them Phonogram was the mightiest by far of Image’s pop-single books of the last decade, and certainly the only one which will be forever better in the skinny than the trade.
  • One of the backups makes it really clear – maybe I had noticed before, maybe I hadn’t (we’ll go with hadn’t) – the conflation of Phonoworld Britannia and this world’s Diana – both dead at the same time, both embodying a something something of English-Britishness, both causing significant transpersonal friction in the denizens of their universes. Dance gently herearound o reader! A pointless anecdote comenceth:
  • See that bit on page 2 of this issue, where Kid With Knife is dancing on that park bench? The week Diana died, me and a now lost but unlamented companion were stalking around that very spot. We had been to see an appalling elderly and forgotten punk band at the Louisiana, a venue just across a quaint narrow bridge from there, and were on the lookout for some smoke, of course. We headed to College green (where KWK is), because there’s always skaters there, who as you know are sometimes good for a bit. There was a gang of three or four Bristolian girls & boys hanging around, and after a bit of a loiter and some plaintive ‘We are hanging – We are not police’ looks they generously beckoned us over. Conversation quickly turned to how mad our little corner of the world had gone in the few days since Di & Dodi and their shitfaced driver had seen up-close the dark side of French roadmanship. The whole country had gone properly mad: hardened TV presenters weeping into their notes days after the event, and sensible adults began pretending that yeah, on reflection, they did believe in things like Heaven and Monarchy.
  • Someone left an inflatable ET amid a sea of flowers in St James Palace.
  • We mused about the notion of Tupac and Biggie doubling up on her on that island of faked-death celebrities that they were all no doubt chilling on. I impressed them with my secret conspiracy knowledge of the definite hard fact that Di was pregnant with a baby who might have slightly too-dusky skin to be a brother of the King of England, and hence had to be got rid of, in a somewhat excessively Ballardian act of abortion. To add credibility to this notion, I said ‘but they only went and put a D-notice on the papers, stopped them from saying anything, didn’t they?’ – I only know what a D-notice is because I read it in an issue of Miracleman – but my new friends, who were a bit younger and a lot more stoned than me – appeared to take this wild assertion as utter gospel.
  • Sorry, I really don’t know where I’m going with this anecdote.
  • Perhaps I’m just trying to point out how real and resonant are the themes and issues (and locations – a comic that does space and geography, that lives in an actual place and time and mood? How many of those do you get?) Phonogram dug up in its brief, bright life. To those who are old enough to remember, anyway. To those who were there. Is this nostalgia, or, a bit more cooler, is this hauntology? The ghosts of Phonogram are real, you can trust me on that.
  • What’s weird though is that all the other reviewers, those who don’t fit the demographic with quite the gloveliness of myself, say the same thing. They get it. If you’re a music fan, or even a fan of anything, you get it. The universality of this comic, then for fucksake, is a real thing, another true if minor victory for this comic, your teenage recollections and my teenage record collections be damned.
  • It’s a bit unfortunate then, isn’t it, patronising quite honestly, how the most earthy-realest (that is, working-classiest) member of the Phonogram cast is also the one who has this like pure, unmediated, physical-preverbal valorised connection to his favourite music, distinctly distinct from the awkward gabbling prolix (middle-classy, therefore untrustworthy) punchableness of the Phonomancers? Isn’t this a nasty undertaste to this issue, particularly in light, see above, of how it reifies a dead toff into semi-literal godhood, albeit of the wrong or evil kind, by the same narrative arrangement? The British class system been in effect, in effect?
  • Or is Penny, right, like meant to be the New Diana, her ‘sexual intercourse’ with KWK signifying a rearrangement of the previous arrangements, a new and sexyhot meeting of Upper and Lower (Middle, who everyone hates, especially Middle itself, left like a loser on the sidelines?) I am being, I think, incredibly kind to Phonogram in offering this latter interpretation – it’s a powerful comic in many ways, a fine aftershock, but the power to rearrange class structures through the magic of comics and clubbing…. Is a bit much, no?
  • Actually, it’s more than a bit much, it’s a proper worry. The idea that posh and prole can be brought together in a new social synthesis by such a latterday soft-touch neo-establishment phantasm as Pop? (post-industrial, thirty-three-and-a-third sector, Oasis at 10 Downing Street)… that’s just horrid Blairism, isn’t it? With the reality of public school kids storming the charts and working class accents all but banished from the Brit Awards?
  • Anyway. When I went to see mum and dad at New Years, they gave with the usual ‘the loft is full of your records and comics – get rid of them!’ speech. I put them off any major removals with the usual ‘Those comics will be worth a fortune one day dad’ (twenty-five notes for a knackered second-hand copy of Skin – woohoo start the party), but I went and had a dig-around anyway because it’s always nice to find some stuff you’d forgotten about, right?
  • And look at all the Kenickie shit I found up there!





  • How Phonogram is that?
  • And how Phonogram is this…
  • Because I found all this up there too:







That’s right, it’s a pretty I think you’ll find comprehensive collection of David Devant and his Spirit Wife 7-inches (and a CD single or two)! Don’t push!

  • Aside from the aforementioned Wurzels, I have probably seen David Devant and his Spirit Wife play live more than any other band. It became a bit of a thing for me, and some Mindless Ones who I won’t name, to follow them around their London gigs, for a bit.  They were always pretty good live, due to a surfeit of spectacular no-budget DIY special effects and props, and gestures towards a a kind of ritualistic music-hall skit embodied by each performance. For their song ‘Ginger’. for instance, a kind of Band Aid for oppressed ginger people everywhere, one member of the band would furiously grate carrot onto the head of another. And the gigs had this kind of seance story throughline, resulting in the spooky ectoplasmic resurrection of David’s titular Wife from the Other Side. That kind of thing. It was fun, though, as you may have been able to surmise, I was pretty wickedly addicted to a deadly cocktail of eyeliner, high-camp performance art, avant-kitsch and why-oh-irony at the time, dear god, making these gigs something of an essential fix for poor junky me.
  • Nevertheless, I consoled myself, both back then and just the other day when I was grabbing these from their web-encrusted tomb, David Devant and His Spirit Wife’s songs were Actually Really Good.  ‘Pimlico’, for example, is a lost Britpop classic, and in a happy parallel universe where the bad side had not won the anorak wars of 1996, set the template for a whole goddam youth movement of touching, glammy, wistful, yet somehow arch and clever-clever pop minstrelsy.
  • Obviously, when my wife saw me picking my way back down the ladder clutching this armful of trashy vinyl, she rolled her eyes and whispered her divorce lawyer’s number under her breath again. Whatever. I knew Pimlico was a classic, and that she, for all her ex-goth turned pop-kraut fan posing, would recognise a great song when she saw one and be forced to admit that David Devant and his Spirit Wife were a great lost band, and that I wasn’t a total bellend.
  • Because I’m cool again now, remember.
  • On it went. Pimlico. A couple of bars, then the killer opening line: ‘Sometimes London don’t seem that appealing. Maybe your lover is living in Deptford.’ I miraculously de-aged by a decade and a half, and stood before My Spirit’s Wife in all my late-teen pride, with plenty of hair, nary a wrinkle, in a painfully tight t-shirt, and looked at here, eyes moist with hope and starshine, as I waited for her to admit that I was right all along and yes I am pretty brilliant aren’t I thank you very much.
  • ‘So they’re  sort of like rubbish Anthony Newly-era Bowie, with a touch of Blur, to really beef out the mockney stew? Amazing.’ She said, as I withered.
  • It’s true though, really, god damn her. With a little more perspective and context, some things can’t be looked at the same way twice. When you go back, you discover some things have gotten a whole lot worse than you remember. But the door into yesterday swings both ways. Some things, look at them the right way, can get a whole lot better.
  • Because it turns out David Devant and his Spirit Wife were local boys – local to where I live now anyway, not local to before like The Wurzels are local. I even saw one of the stagehands (the band always had more stagehands than guitarists – a good sign methinks) in the pub once, yonks ago. While the fact of David Devant and his Spirit Wife may seem like a magically vanishing trifle right now, for their moment they were essential viewing-listening. They had lashings and lashings (and lashings) of spunk. Enough ambition to fill a thousand o2 arenas. The courage of their convictions to be as silly and derivito-inventive as they wanted to be. Pure and vital love for wispy glam rock and music-hall influenced singalonga pop songs. They were, to give them perhaps more credit than is entirely necessary, a truly brilliant rubbish band, happily hamstrung by their idiosyncracies and effortlessly reconciled (one hopes, anyway) to their inevitable early doom. To be quite fucking frank, more current bands could do well to emulate their example – the spirit if not the form at least.
  • The point is, more bands should try to be like them.
  • The point is of course, you don’t have to like them to be like them.
  • The point is obvious, so prepare yourself becasue in lieu of a grand closing statement this next bit is unfortunately is as good as it’s going to get – hang on to yourself for this:
  • The point is, THEY WERE A BIT LIKE PHONOGRAM REALLY WEREN’T THEY?????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • In fifteen years time you will cringe a bit when you reread Phonogram (you probably cringe a bit when you read it now, don’t you?)
  • And that’s why Phonogram was such a bloody good comic.
  • Thee 3nd
  • And I’ve got that bloody Wolf song stuck in my head now. The fuck.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.