A French band that never servedUsually kids discovers the wonders of music together with the wonders of the opposite sex during their teenage years- I was fascinated by both of these things when I was about twelve, growing up in Israel. I used to play guitar and listen to some heavy metal but I didn't take it too seriously. By the time I was sixteen, I barely listened to music at all because it wasn't important to me anymore.
by Ore Koren
Unluckily for me, I was drafted to the Army (Israeli Defense Force) at the age of eighteen and had to do three years of service, from 2002 to 2005. Since you usually suffer through that time, I was prety worn out after two and a half of them and spent most of my time feeling depressed. It was during those bad times that I rediscovered music and I discovered a lot of rock bands. One of the most important groups I heard was a French band that called themselves the Vietnam Veterans.
I discovered the "Vets" through my uncle. I was on a week vacation from the army when he came to visit us.He was a teenager in the late '80's and worked as an officer in the civilian fleet on a cargo ship at the beginning of the '90's. During his time on the fleet, he made friends with a record store owner who bought a lot of rare albums from him as he collected a wide variety of new wave, punk and post punk records. The owner copied Vietnam Veterans' first two albums onto one CD and gave it to my uncle and it eventually made its way to me.
The minute I heard the first song, "Don't Try To Walk On Me," I was shocked. It felt like getting hit in the face by a 90 MPH basketball. Needless to say, I drove straight to the record store and bought all of their records that I could find, which was a total of one. I could (and still can) listen to their studio and live albums again and again and again. Wherever I went from that day on, I always carry those two first albums along in my portable CD case. It can take you out of a gloomy mood if you're on the road somewere and it always make you re-experience a bit in Europe in the '80's.
So here's the story of the band you won't see on the cover of the Rolling Stone. The group was founded in 1982 with its first lineup including Mark Enbatta (vocals, guitar), Lucas Trouble (keyboard), Greg Jones (guitar), Angelo Jupp (bass), Steve Palermo (drums) and D.D Richardson (harmonica). The name that was they chose for the band referred to men who given a lot and got nothing in return. Though the band itself had not done any military service themselves, I didn't care about that (I hated my time in the army and became a pacifist after that).
Enbatta grew up in France's Basque region and started playing guitar in the late '60's, mostly doing R&B (Otis Redding, James Brown) and the usual British invasion stuff. In one of his bands, he met Jones, who played in a band with his own brother. In the late '70's, Enbatta started writing his own material (some of which appeared on the first Veterans LP) and played mostly on the street and at political demonstrations but also with some other groups. Over the years, he picked up a variety of influences from different types of music including blues, country, rockabilly, surf, rock and roll and early NYC punk (Ramones, Patti Smith, Television). He was also influenced by a lot of less commonly-heard traditional music from Russian and Spain. "Music must have a soul behind it to be good," he explained to me.
Lucas Trouble was also playing in several bands throughout the '70's, the last of which was Tango Lüger. All of his bands played dark stuff, in the style of Joy Division. In 1982, Mark organized a show for Tango Lüger and met Lucas. Jupp played with a band called the Snipers, who by then had some records out and was crossing paths with other future Vet members at clubs.
With the principles in place, the Vets were ready to begin their career. The first-ever Vet recording was a cassette with a few songs, but it didn't make much of any impact. Their first real album, On The Right Track Now (1983), was recorded in a small expiremental studio called "a l'ouest de la Grosne" where the progressive rock band Gong was also recording. Three different drummers each played on the album and were also at the live shows that followed it but when they found Martin Joyce, he became their permanent skins man. Around this time, Richardson was sacked because he didn't fit in.
The record itself was recorded and mixed in only three days.That gave the album a pretty low sound quality (like hearing a radio show made by the neighbor's ten year old twins on a double-cassette recorder from 1972) but that doesn't changes the fact that this is one of the best albums ever recorded from the post-psychedelic garage scene of the 80's, especially in Europe (and that it's probably the best French album ever, according to my non-regular taste). It includes many great songs but probably the best known pearls are "Don't Try To Walk On Me" and "Dreams Of Today."
The songwriting and recording process always depends on the chemistry between band members and the Vets were no different. Usually, Mark wrote a song on his acoustic guitar, then brought it to the band, and by each one adding his instrumental interpretation, it became a band song. This is also the way that various they recorded music in their post-Vets bands.
Track was a very unique album for the time- remember that the early '80's was dominated by Micheal Jackson, Van Halen, bad pop disguised as punk, corporate pop and the begining of glam metal. The Vets had a very '60's sound and feeling and though they didn't have instrumental virtuosity, they were one of the main triggers of a new wave of psychedelic music in Europe even though they never considerd themself to be a part of any scene.
Their second album, Crawfish For The Notary (1984), was recorded in the same studio as On The Right Track now, but it was done in three weeks so it had a much better sound quality to it. It also contains some of the bands' best songs: "Children Eyes," "What Are You Hiding," "I Give You My Life" and more.
In 1985, the band released Green Peas, a record featuring the band's first two live gigs in Germany. This album features the best songs from the first two albums and had other songs that were completely improvised on the stage during the show- more proof of the band's unique chemistry. In my opinion, it's the best album to start with for someone who wants to learn about the Vets. It's also their best selling album so it's probably the easiest one to find (of course, because their albums are relatively rare, you should start with any album you can find).
Peas (and the next two albums) was released by a Dutch friend of Mark named Hans Kesteloo. He also purchased the rights for their first two albums after their first label (Lolita) stole some of their royalties in order to compensate for the label losing money on another band which Mark brought to them (the Inmates).
During this time, the band got quite a reputation on the European scene and because of their growing fame, they almost never played in small places- at a Frankfurt show, they had audience of about 2000 people.
In 1986, the band released Ancient Times, a well-produced album which contained one of the band's more stirring masterpieces- "Curanderos," among other brilliant songs such as "Tower Of Babel","Wrinkle Drawer" and "Crooked Dealers" (the first three also appeared on the Green Peas).
Catfish Eyes And Tales was released in 1987 and provide to be the last Vets album. It's a special album which contains a piece that, in the absence of better name, I'll have to describe as "progressive rock" though it's not what you think of as prog rock. The piece, "Medley," was built out of three connected songs: "Distant Drums," "Sea Horse" and a cover of the late David McWilliams's song "The Days Of Pearly Spencer."
After the album was released though, things were not going so well for the group. They decided to disbanded but the real reason was because it was something the members agreed to early on- initially, they had decided to only record a few albums. Since they are still good friends today, it probably was a good decision. The band's last gig was in Bochum, Germany- people came from everywhere (England, Holland, France), knowing it was their last show.
But before the band broke up, another album was released. The Days Of Pearly Spencer (1988) is a collection of unreleased songs and better versions of songs from the first two LP's. It also contains a live version of "The Trip" with strange people joining them on stage.
But the breakup was not the end of the Vets' musical career. Mark and Lucas formed a band with Olmer Rose and Charly Markarian called the Late Veterans but it was disbanded quickly because of ego problems. After that came Thyrd Twin with Mark, Martin and Fred from the band Silly Things. Unfortunately, Martin had huge financial problems and the group disbanded before the first tour though they managed to record an album.
Mark also released a solo album which is something of a Vets reunion, including Lucas and Martin but with less keyboards. Trouble played on more then a hundred records since then including albums by his group Temple Gates (from about 1987), The Vietnam Chain (a 1988 collaboration between Vet members and the band Daisy Chain) and various solo albums. Martin and his girlfriend are still playing at festivals and in bars while Angelo and Greg aren't playing out anymore.
Thirteen years after the Vets break-up, Mark and Lucas are working on a new project called the Gitanes. They have already released one album (Cloudy Draw) and will soon be doing shows, which I believe will be really worth seeing.
The shows are also a circle closing for the Vets. Although they were a great musical attraction in the mid-'80's, today, the Vets are very much lost in time. I hope that what I wrote here will give you some worthwhile information about the band and whet some musical appetites to listen to the strong music the "VV" wrote and played. Perhaps you'll discover a new musical reservoir. It can only do you good.
Special thanks to Thorsten from the "VV" homepage for the pictures and for connecting me with Mark And of course, special thanks to Mark Enbatta who patiently answered all my questions through e-mail. I took the liberty of quoting from them quite often in this article.
For more information about the band visit: www.vietnam-veterans.de
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