Down to the...

British new wave pioneers Wire make their debut in Tel Aviv next month.

The Wire (photo credit: Marylene Mey-Web)
The Wire
(photo credit: Marylene Mey-Web)
Colin Neuman has spent countless hours in Tel Aviv over the last few decades. He’s just not sure he’s been to Israel.
“Tel Aviv isn’t really Israel in the same way that New York isn’t really the US. It’s not for nothing that Tel Aviv is called the bubble, because it really is its own little world,” said Neuman, the founder of seminal British new wave/punk band Wire.
“It’s actually one of my favorite cities,” he added, speaking recently to The Jerusalem Post from another favorite city he calls home – London.
The 60-year-old guitarist, vocalist, songwriter and producer’s allegiance to Tel Aviv derives from his longtime marriage to Malka Spigel, the one-time bassist for legendary Israeli band Minimal Compact, featuring Rami Fortis and Barry Sakharov.
“It was love at first sight, and trouble at first sight at well,” he joked about meeting Spigel in 1985 while producing Minimal Compact’s landmark Raging Souls, considered their most accomplished album.
Despite his many visits to the country, he still considers himself more of an observer than a participant. But he feels comfortable enough to keep those observations honest and blunt, perhaps a trait he picked up from being married to an Israeli.
“I’m not unsympathetic toward Israel, but at the same time, I’m very happy to be critical of its faults. But those criticisms come from a place of understanding,” he said. “But I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m an honorary Israeli.”
Rather, he’s a lifetime musician, primarily with Wire, the influential quartet he formed in 1976 with Graham Lewis (bass, vocals), Bruce Gilbert (guitar), and Robert “Gotobed” Grey (drums). Eschewing the safety pins and spit of the Sex Pistols and the UK punk scene, Wire chose angular art rock and an atmospheric, but relentless sound that both fit in with their punk contemporaries but opened new stylistic doors.
“By the time we were ready to play, punk was already getting old,” said Neuman.
“Anyone with an understanding of where music would be going, or how pop culture works, would understand that doing the same thing that groups already out there were doing successfully would not be the smart thing to do. We realized that punk certainly had an energy to it, but we thought we could somehow take that energy and expand it into different areas.”
Their 1977 debut album Pink Flag is considered to be the most original album to emerge from the first wave of British punk, and while it was not a big commercial success, it made its mark felt on the burgeoning post-punk scene, especially in the US. Bands ranging from Talking Heads and REM to the Pixies and Sonic Youth have credited Wire as an influence on their music.
“It’s funny, but we only went to perform in the US once in the 1970s – our tour consisted of four shows in 1978 at CBGBs,” said Neuman. “A lot of British punk from that period was released on small indie labels that didn’t come out in the US or didn’t have extensive distribution. The Sex Pistols were on a major label, and so were we, which made many fans suspicious, being as major labels were perceived negatively.
“But it just so happened that Pink Flag didn’t get very good reviews in the US and wasn’t really appreciated – it was called too simplistic and people didn’t think it was proper music. But you had these musicians coming up and listening to it and saying, ‘You can do a song with one chord and shouting – that sounds like fun!’ Our music was kind of angular and stripped down, and only appealed to certain people.”
It found an audience with enough listeners and musicians to cement Wire’s status as one of the most important post-punk bands of the 1970s, and subsequent albums like 1978’s Chairs Missing and 1979’s 154 propelled them even further. However, by the early 1980s the band had run out of steam and the members went on to various solo projects.
“We’re sort of in phase three or four now,” said Neuman. “We broke up once under stupid circumstances, we worked together in various configurations together and separate in the ‘80s, and that fizzled out.”
It was during that time that Neuman connected with Minimal Compact, which had relocated from Israel to London in the early 1980s. For him, it came at an opportune time.
“I had been in India after Wire broke up, and when I came back to England I had absolutely nothing. My wife had left me, I had no money and nowhere to live,” he recalled. “I got in contact with the label Rough Trade because I had produced an album by the [punk band] Virgin Prunes, and was wondering if any royalties had come in.
“It turned out that there had, and suddenly I had some money, which was a good thing. There was also a package waiting for me from this band that was looking for a producer, and it turned out to be Minimal Compact. I listened to their first album and thought it was really good.”
In addition to meeting his future wife, Neuman said he enjoyed working with the band and is proud of the album that resulted – Raging Souls. “In the end, it could have been better – if I mixed it now, it would sound a thousand times better. But the material was great.”
Neuman spent the next 15 years producing, collaborating with Spigel and performing solo. In 2000, Wire reformed with its original lineup, and following a two-year hiatus returned in 2006 with young guitarist Matthew Simms in place of the departing Gilbert.
That Wire lineup, with Neuman, Simms, Gilbert and Grey, will make their Israeli debut on November 2 at the Barbie Club in Tel Aviv, a long time coming considering Neuman has performed here many times in the past, with Spigel, and on Minimal Compact’s reunion tour last year.
“I’ve never had the chance to play in Israel with Wire and I’m very excited about it.
It’s about time,” said Neuman. “It’s actually a Middle Eastern two-date tour. We’ll be coming to Tel Aviv from Istanbul.”
He rejected the notion that like other bands from the era who have appeared in Israel in recent years, such as The Buzzcocks, Wire is a nostalgia act for aging punk rock fans.
“In terms of who we are, we’re a contemporary band. When we play live, we’re happy to feature our history. But it’s not about that, it’s about the band now and the new music we’ve made since 2006,” he said.
“You can check online – people are saying that this is the strongest we’ve ever been.
We played at the Pitchfork Festival in July, and convinced a lot of Chicagoans who knew nothing about us besides our name that we had something to offer." Israeli audiences are about to discover the same thing.