Rob Jones

There are those musical acts that carry more kudos after their demise. These are the artists who have broken barriers, pushed the envelope, created new frontiers and are always ahead of the pack. These forces are so far in front of their peers that the mainstream does not accept, the critics may not understand, and the radiowaves are unfriendly to an approach that does not pander to the masses. The post punk era has a string of these greats who did not obey rules, had scant regard to public trends and trod their own paths – even if that meant walking though walls!

As the 80s unleashed: The Fall, The Pop Group and The Birthday Party were kindred spirits on the peripheries who offered spiky alternatives to the pastel-coloured produce of Top of the Pops. Sadly, in 2024 when it comes to The Fall – the mighty Mark E. Smith has passed and with regards to The Pop Group, the maverick Mark Stewart has also spun off this mortal coil. The Birthday Party have lost two core members in the form of Tracey Pew and Rowland S, Howard but their frontman Nick Cave has moved on to major commercial success with his band, The Bad Seeds.

The Fall, The Pop Group and The Birthday Party in their purest, impurest, formats can be no more and Cave has never played a tune from his time with his former employers since their demise in 1983. However, his years with this Australian institution helped create one of the greatest talents to make the strides from the outskirts of rock into the heart of the charts – without giving up his recording values.

So, here we are 40 years on from The Birthday Party and it is a good spot to take stock of their merits, majesty and mayhem. The Ian White directed film ‘Mutiny in Heaven’ heads in to the chaos, calamity, cacophony and colossus of a truly remarkable Antipodean aural army. This is a blood, sweat, tears, sickness, gore and all with excessive and irrational behaviour to the core story. However, the horrors do lead to an end product that is a back catalogue of uncompromising, unique and unequalled sonic achievements that still stand the test of time today.
Pew, Howard, Cave, and the still extremely productive MIck Harvey and Phill Calvert bonded as a quintet who shifted from Down Under to London and then moved on to Berlin in order to follow their dreams. It was never easy, always challenging and extremely messy with the extremities of the ultimate rock n roll lifestyle – as primarily drugs ruled the roost and the next fix was more important than the next food.

However, in amongst all of this seedy revelry somehow and sensationally – the infamous five managed to create records and stage performances that defied categorisation – and, in essence they stood alone as a tsunami of sound. The music was magnificent crawling from the darkest swamp, screaming from the deepest jungle, bellowing from Satan’s hothouse – and in conclusion these urban terrorists managed to capture a style all of their own. If any comparisons are to be made – The Birthday Party were akin to Iggy, Johnny Cash and the Doors contorting their own Apocalypse Now from the vaults of hell!

White and his associates have united ancient footage, collated updated and assorted interviews while blending these segments with animated assessments to gel the tale of these titans. What started as a school act became the short-lived Boys Next Door project and then shifted on to be one of the most anarchic and terrifying experiences to have reared its ugly but necessary profile.

I am glad that I have had a chance to listen to the phenomenal fare of The Birthday Party across the decades and ‘The pleasure heads must Burn’ DVD was as good as it got for a taste of their visual majesty as I was not fortunate to see the lads live in their perverted pomp. However, it is thanks to those wonderful people at Chapter in Cardiff that this fantastic film was on their screens and ‘Mutiny in Heaven’ could be viewed by the public. An evening in Canton, was a joy to behold as The Birthday Party movie provided a New Year’s celebration from the other side.