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Crispy Ambulance

The return to active status of Manchester post-punk band Crispy Ambulance can be attributed in some part to the resurgence in interest in the early Factory Records scene (as chronicled in the first half of the recent film 24 Hour Party People) and the sudden general fascination with virtually all musical artifacts of the late '70s and early '80s (new wave, no wave, electro, etc.). The band began in 1977 as the two-man outfit of vocalist Alan Hempsall and guitarist Robert Davenport, both of whom were inspired by such diverse and seminal English bands as Hawkwind, Magazine, and the Sex Pistols. Later on the founding pair were joined by bassist Keith Darbyshire and drummer Gary Madeley.

Never a heavy hitter during their own time, Crispy Ambulance was nonetheless an essential part of the fabric of British post-punk, occupying a niche between the proto-industrial rage of English bands like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, the progressive experiments of the Krautrock clan, and the rhythmic gloom of their Manchester compatriots Joy Division. Comparisons to the latter dogged Crispy Ambulance throughout their career, who were initially rejected by Factory for sounding too derivative of Joy Divison before later being courted by the label at the urging of Joy Division. It was through Factory that the group released the only proper studio album of their first incarnation (numerous singles preceded it), 1982's The Plateau Phase, generally hailed by those aware of it as a dark and ragged masterpiece of its era. Two men who most certainly were aware of it are Tim Goldsworthy and James Murphy of The DFA, who named themselves and their record label after the Plateau Phase song "Death from Above."

Unfortunately the band called it quits after that album, and aside from a few posthumous releases featuring studio outtakes and live material, little was heard from the band for nearly two decades. But in 1999 the wonderful U.K. post-punk label LTM Publishing reissued both The Plateau Phase (adding as an additional bonus two later Factory singles, "Sexus" and "Live on a Hot August Night," the latter of which contained the featured epic track "The Presence") and the live album Fin, inspiring Crispy Ambulance to play a one-off show. As with a few contemporaries (most notably Wire), this one-time reunion led to more performances and -- lo and behold -- new material, in the form of an excellent 2002 album titled Scissorgun, recorded with the great Graham Massey (808 State). The record is no nostalgia piece, it's a dynamic, energizing piece of rhythmic post-punk with the feel of a live performance, standing up well beside the group's earlier output.

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