"It was not a band, it was a way of life."

Endless Soul

The flyers for the first Manic Street Preachers’ show in London promised ‘a sense of occasion’ and as always with events organised by the great Esurient organisation, the promise was not an empty one. In addition to this statement, the flyer displayed lyrics to certain important songs, among them Subway Sect’s ‘Nobody’s Scared’ Buzzcocks’ ‘Boredom’ and Josef K’s ‘the Angle’.

There were several factors that made the Manic Street Preachers so seductive in their heyday. One was the fact that they made people hate them (and they had the broken jaws to prove it, right?), another was that they seemed so ludicrously out of step with hip underground indie style: you couldn’t help but applaud the wayward hysteria of their outsider yelps, the easy swipes at a cultural identity they both opposed and yet yearned to be accepted by. The biggest appeal, however, was the intent to make one classic album and then split up, a marvellously non-rock stance to take and one which fitted the facade of purist determination they presented. Facades, however, can deceive.

Another group, ten years earlier, had made the same promise but this time carried through on their intentions. Josef K may never have had the front and the appetite for media gluttony of the Manic Street Preachers, but they were all the better for it. Fellow Edinburgh pop terrorists Scars were probably closer to the Manic Street Preachers with their outrageous costumes and catchy soundbite interviews (and they too ended up diluted, although they saw sense and split before becoming rock doggerel) but it was Josef K who delivered on that promise which The Preachers’ appropriated.

Josef K grew out of the group TV Art and into a part of the Postcard posse as Britain began it’s painful transformation from the 1970s to the 80s. Part of the post-punk new wave of romantic industrialists form the North, Josef K were indicative of the New Pop passion, a desire that fuelled a core of excited and excitable groups and their just as obsessive fans. Josef K were at the core of a flame which set alight numerous infernos, the embers of which smoulder still, as evidenced by the recent release of the excellent Endless Soul collection on Marina.

It’s often strange listening again to music from the past. Often it doesn’t hold attention, it lacks a bite beyond the natural containment of memory, and seeps away into something akin to regret. Not so with Josef K. The songs on this collection still sound as ravishing as they did eighteen years ago, they still sound infused with both the spirit of a modernist ethic and a magic that cannot be tied down. Really too, ‘Endless Soul’ is the key title, since Josef K were magicians of edgy punkfunk, a soul music for a generation repulsed by the glossing up and dumbing down of that term, a new dance sound for an underground yet to discover the 303.

Endless Soul is not, however, the classic album that Josef K released in their lifetime, being instead a collection of magnificent tracks taken from singles and sessions, with the inclusion of a live track ‘Adoration’ of interest to those obsessives who have all the tracks in many guises already. The story of that classic album, of it’s perhaps superior unreleased prototype and of their entire blinding career is recorded in the addictive sleeve notes, penned with fitting sharpness by Allan Campbell, and with amazing quotes from the perpetrators:

"It was not a band, it was a way of life."

What more can there be to add?

endless soul

©Alistair Fitchett. 1998