Wire in 2013; left to right: Matthew Simms, Robert Grey, Colin Newman, Graham Lewis
|Also known as||Wir|
|Years active||1976–1980, 1985–1992, 1999–present|
|Past members||Bruce Gilbert
Margaret Fiedler McGinnis
Wire are an English rock band, formed in London in October 1976 by Colin Newman (vocals, guitar), Graham Lewis (bass, vocals), Bruce Gilbert (guitar), and Robert Gotobed (drums). They were originally associated with the punk rock scene, appearing on The Roxy London WC2 album – a key early document of the scene – and were later central to the development of post-punk.
Inspired by the burgeoning UK punk scene, Wire are often cited as one of the more important rock groups of the 1970s and 1980s. Critic Stewart Mason wrote, "Over their brilliant first three albums, Wire expanded the sonic boundaries of not just punk, but rock music in general."
Wire are a definitive art punk and post-punk ensemble, mostly due to their richly detailed and atmospheric sound and often obscure lyrical themes. The group exhibited a steady development from an early raucous punk style (1977's Pink Flag) to a more complex, structured sound involving increased use of guitar effects and synthesizers (1978's Chairs Missing and 1979's 154). The band gained a reputation for experimenting with song arrangements throughout its career.
Wire's debut album, Pink Flag (1977) – "perhaps the most original debut album to come out of the first wave of British punk", according to AllMusic – contains songs which are diverse in mood and style, but most use a minimalist punk approach combined with unorthodox structures. "Field Day for the Sundays", for example, is only 28 seconds long.
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Chairs Missing followed in 1978, and found Wire stepping back from the stark minimalism of Pink Flag, with longer, more atmospheric songs and synthesizer parts added by producer Mike Thorne. "Outdoor Miner" was a minor hit, peaking at number 51 in the UK singles chart. The experimentation was even more prominent on 154 (1979). In addition, many of the songs featured bassist Graham Lewis on lead vocals instead of Colin Newman.
In 1979, creative differences pulled the band in different directions, leading to the Document and Eyewitness LP (1981), a recording of a live performance that featured, almost exclusively, new material, which was described as "disjointed", "unrecognizable as rock music" and "almost unlistenable". The LP came packaged with an EP of a different performance of more new material. Some of these songs, along with others performed but not included on the album, were included on Newman's post-Wire solo albums (5/10, We Meet Under Tables), while others were released by Gilbert and Lewis' primary post-Wire outlet Dome (And Then..., Ritual View).
Between 1981 and 1985, Wire ceased recording and performing in favour of solo and non-Wire collaborative projects such as Dome, Cupol, Duet Emmo, and several Colin Newman solo efforts. In 1985, the group re-formed as a "beat combo" (a joking reference to early 1960s beat music), with greater use of electronic musical instruments. Wire announced that they would perform none of their older material, hiring The Ex-Lion Tamers (a Wire cover band named after a song title from Pink Flag) as their opening act. The Ex-Lion Tamers played Wire's older material; Wire played their new material. They released IBTABA in 1989, a "live" album of mostly reworked versions of songs from The Ideal Copy and A Bell Is a Cup, heavily rearranged, edited, and remixed. A new song from the album, "Eardrum Buzz", was released as a single and peaked at number 68 in the UK singles chart.
Gotobed left the band in 1990, after the release of the album Manscape. After his departure, the band dropped one letter from its name, becoming "Wir" (still pronounced "wire"), and released The First Letter in 1991. There followed a further period of solo recordings, during which Newman founded the swim ~ label, and later Githead with his wife (ex-Minimal Compact bassist Malka Spigel), while Wire remained an occasional collaboration. It was not until 1999 that Wire again became a full-time entity.
With Gotobed back in the line-up (now using his birth name, Robert Grey), the group initially reworked much of their back catalogue for a performance at Royal Festival Hall on 26 February 2000. Wire's reception during a short tour in early May of the US, and a number of UK gigs, convinced the band to continue. Two EPs and an album, Send (2003), followed, as well as collaborations with stage designer Es Devlin and artists Jake and Dinos Chapman. In 2006, Wire's 1970s albums were remastered and re-released with original vinyl track listings. Rumours abounded of a renewal of activity to mark the 30th anniversary of the band's debut as a four-piece and the re-release of Pink Flag. A third Read & Burn EP was released in November 2007.
A full-length album of new material entitled Object 47 was released in July 2008. Bruce Gilbert was not involved in this recording, although, according to Newman, he did feature in a minimal capacity on the third Read and Burn EP.
On 10 January 2011 the band released their twelfth studio album, Red Barked Tree, which (according to a press release and the BBC) "rekindles a lyricism sometimes absent from Wire's previous work and reconnects with the live energy of performance, harnessed and channelled from extensive touring over the past few years". The album was written and recorded by Newman, Lewis and Grey, but speaking to Marc Riley on the day of the release, Newman introduced as "a new boy" guitarist Matt Simms (from It Hugs Back), who has been with the band since April 2010 as a touring member.
In March 2013 the band released Change Becomes Us, their 13th studio album, which was very well received. Their fourteenth album, eponymously titled Wire, was released on 13 April 2015 in the UK. On April 22, 2016, the band's 15th studio album, entitled Nocturnal Koreans, was released on their label Pinkflag. It consisted of 8 songs recorded during the sessions for their previous album, but were cut from the track listing. Stereogum named Nocturnal Koreans the Album of the Week. Reviews for the album were mostly positive.
Wire's influence has outshone their comparatively modest record sales. In the 1980s and 1990s, The Urinals, Manic Street Preachers, Big Black, The Minutemen, Sonic Youth, and R.E.M., expressed a fondness for the group. R.E.M. covered "Strange" on their album Document. Minor Threat covered "12XU". Since their 2008 reunion, The Feelies have regularly covered "Outdoor Miner" during its live sets and Lush also covered the track. Robert Smith has described how, after seeing the group live, influenced The Cure's sound after their first album. Paul Weller was in the habit of recording songs he particularly liked so they filled a side of a C90 cassette tape, and I Am The Fly was among the songs thus honoured.
Guided By Voices' Robert Pollard claimed that Wire was his favourite band, and that the fact that GBV's albums had so many songs was directly influenced by Wire's albums. One of My Bloody Valentine's last releases prior to reconvening in 2007 was a cover of "Map Ref 41°N 93°W" for a Wire tribute entitled Whore. The song was selected as a favourite cover by Flak Magazine.
More recently, Fischerspooner (who covered "The 15th" on their album #1), britpop bands like Elastica and Menswe@r and post-punk revival bands like Bloc Party, Futureheads, Blacklist, and Franz Ferdinand have cited Wire as an influence. Blur's work, along with many more minor Britpop bands, have been cited as particularly reminiscent of 1970s Wire at various points, with Graham Coxon and Damon Albarn both speaking of the band's influence on Blur. The Smiths' Johnny Marr has confirmed that he is a fan of the band and has acknowledged that seeing Wire live helped give him the confidence to release his first solo album in 2013.
Wire were influential on American hardcore punk. Fans included Ian MacKaye of the hardcore punk band Minor Threat and Henry Rollins, formerly of Black Flag. Minor Threat covered "1 2 X U" for the Dischord Records compilation Flex Your Head, as well as Boss Hog on their "I Dig You" EP. Henry Rollins, as Henrietta Collins & The Wife-Beating Childhaters, covered "Ex Lion Tamer" on the EP Drive by Shooting. Michael Azerrad reported, in the book Our Band Could Be Your Life, that at Minor Threat's second gig, each of the seven bands on the roster performed its version of a Wire song. Big Black covered Wire's "Heartbeat" twice, once as a studio version which was released as a single (also included on The Rich Man's Eight Track Tape compilation), and also as a live version, featuring Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis, that was included on the VHS version of its live album Pigpile. The slowcore band Low included an early, previously unreleased cover of "Heartbeat" on their career-spanning boxset in 2007. Ampere recorded a cover of "Mr. Suit" for its 2006 split with Das Oath. New Bomb Turks also recorded a cover of "Mr. Suit" on its 1993 album !!Destroy-Oh-Boy!!. The chorus of Ministry's "Thieves" was influenced by "Mr. Suit" as well. Helmet guitarist Page Hamilton cites Wire as one of his "top five bands" and an influence on his music.
A plagiarism case between Wire's music publisher and Elastica, over the similarity between Wire's 1977 song "Three Girl Rhumba" and Elastica's 1995 hit "Connection", resulted in an out-of-court settlement.
- Studio albums
- Pink Flag (1977)
- Chairs Missing (1978)
- 154 (1979)
- The Ideal Copy (1987)
- A Bell Is a Cup (1988)
- IBTABA (1989)
- Manscape (1990)
- The Drill (1991)
- The First Letter (1991)
- Send (2003)
- Object 47 (2008)
- Red Barked Tree (2010)
- Change Becomes Us (2013)
- Wire (2015)
- Nocturnal Koreans (2016)
- Silver/Lead (2017)
- Robert Grey – drums (1976–1980, 1985–1992, 1999–present)
- Graham Lewis – bass guitar, vocals (1976–1980, 1985–1992, 1999–present)
- Colin Newman – vocals, guitar (1976–1980, 1985–1992, 1999–present)
- Matthew Simms – guitar (2010–present)
- Former members
- Bruce Gilbert – guitar (1976–1980, 1985–1992, 1999–2006)
- Margaret Fiedler McGinnis – guitar (2008–2009 – touring member)
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