Ludus \ Biography
Ludus is the latin word for game, or play. Applied to the provocative music of Linder Sterling and Ian Devine it's an apposite self-description, since Ludus remain one of the most enigmatic groups to emerge from Manchester during the post-punk era.
Ludus first came together in August 1978 around Liverpool-born artist Linder Sterling and guitarist Arthur Kadmon. Previously Kadmon had played with Manicured Noise, while frontwoman Linder (born Linda Mulvey) was already moving within elevated creative circles, having provided the epoch-defining cover art for Buzzcocks (Orgasm Addict, 1977) and Magazine (Real Life, 1978), as well as publishing The Secret Public collage fanzine (1977) with Jon Savage. Buzzcocks' classic song What Do I Get? was also written with Linder in mind.
Linder and Kadmon were joined by Willie Trotter on bass, and drummer Phillip 'Toby' Toman. Originally the new group were to have been called Bloodsport. At the time Linder told NME: "Everybody around me was making music, it seemed like a very obvious thing to do, and it seemed so easy for everyone else, so I got musicians together - and it's not that hard after all."
Although this first line-up would release no records, two studio demos were taped in October 1978 and February 1979, the latter with Linder's then-partner Howard Devoto producing. These reveal a punkish guitar band in search of a sound of their own, with some influences - Banshees, Penetration - were more obvious than others. Among Linder's more outré inspirations were Annette Peacock and Sylvia Plath, whose poem Daddy the band boldly set to music.
From the outset Ludus were feted by the music press, and their live debut at the Factory Club in October 1978 (opening for The Pop Group) widely reviewed. The band also played an early show at Liverpool Eric's, and travelled to London with Magazine for dates at The Venue on November 23rd and 24th. Reviewing a second show at the Factory in January 1979, Paul Morley offered effusive praise: "Ludus are anything but ordinary. A rich, bewitching quartet, led by the enigmatic Linder, whose maturing, enchanting voice adds layers of mystery, fragility and haunting strength to the esoteric music... Arthur supplies the solids, Linder the shadows; Arthur the rain, Linder the wind. It's a classic combination... The overall mixture is of a precious dance music: Gothic, but not glossily so, like Magazine; impressionistic and expressionistic; compact and exuberant. It's music that chills and warms, with images that scare and comfort... Still young, still unsure onstage, their music is already alone and knowing. And they're getting better all the time. Take good care of them."
Initially both Factory Records and New Hormones showed keen interest in the new group. However the approach of these labels differed in that Tony Wilson wanted to record Ludus immediately, whereas Richard Boon preferred to wait. The result was that Linder and Ludus would contribute to two somewhat hypothetical Factory projects in 1979. Famously, Linder designed the menstrual abacus (or egg-timer) designated Fac 8, a fabled artifact which failed to progress far beyond the drawing board, and slipped off the label's release sheets towards the end of the year. Ludus did however contribute a video clip for the song Red Dress to the 8mm short Factory Flick (Fac 9), also featuring Joy Division and A Certain Ratio, and premiered at the Scala Cinema in London in September.
Arthur Kadmon quit Ludus following a short UK tour supporting Buzzcocks in March 1979, and would subsequently play with The Distractions and The Fall. After placing a time-honoured 'musician wanted' ad in NME the group tried out two replacements, with Ian Devine lasting long enough to relocate from Cardiff to Manchester. He beat off several strong rival candidates, notably John Kirkham, late of Pink Military and Factory latin-jazz contenders Swamp Children/Kalima. Ian began to write with Linder, and made his live debut at a 'Stuff the Superstars Special' event at Manchester Funhouse on 28 July, a bill which also featured Joy Division and The Fall.
Linder, Ian and drummer Toby eventually recorded their debut EP, The Visit, at the close of 1979. The distinctive Ludus sound was by now in place, combining angular, jazz-informed music, often irregular free-form arrangements, with Linder's unflinching lyrical exploration of sexual politics and cultural anxiety. The long-anticipated record was released in March 1980 to enthusiastic reviews, reaching #32 on the UK indie chart. One avid local fan was Steven Patrick Morrissey, who reviewed a show at Manchester's Beach Club in April 1980 for Record Mirror in glowing terms. "Ludus are sound psychology for the modern clientele... Tonight's set consisted of three lengthy bursts of experimental music. Linder delivered a wild melange of ill-disciplined and extraneous vocal movements, apparently without any effort. An exquisite torture. The set was a little too vague for general consumption, and that nothing from the EP was featured was an intense disappointment. But finally, that Ludus are valuable and special is impossible to deny."
By now Ludus were playing regularly in London, where shows included the Prince of Wales Conference Centre (YMCA) with The Tiller Boys and Clock DVA (August 1979), the Electric Ballroom with Psychedelic Furs and Monochrome Set (November 1979), the Nashville with Eric Random (March 1980), an ICA Rock Week in June, and another Lyceum date with the Furs in September. Ludus also performed at Cabaret Futura, the offbeat London club run by Richard Strange, all-but clearing the room according to Ian. A second single, My Cherry Is In Sherry, described by Linder as a three minute pop song about 'hormonal victory', emerged in October 1980 to consolidate their burgeoning reputation. Towards the end of the year drummer Toby quit and was replaced by Graham 'Dids' Dowdall. Barry Adamson of Magazine provided occasional bass for live shows.
April 1981 saw the release of a stylish six-track cassette package, Pickpocket, which also included a pin badge and a booklet, SheShe, showcasing photography by Christina Birrer. At the same time Ludus undertook a short New Hormones package tour through Belgium and Holland with Eric Random. A show at the Free University in Brussels on the 21st proved serendipitous, since the audience included Benoît Hennebert of chic Belgian indie label Les Disques du Crépuscule. Hennebert, a retiring but hugely talented graphic artist, was much impressed by Ludus and expressed an interest in working with the band. Meanwhile a third single arrived via New Hormones in June, coupling the ferocious Mother's Hour with Anatomy Is Not Destiny, judged to be a single of the week by Sounds, yet 'formidably unlistenable' according to Melody Maker.
Although the first incarnation of Ludus had attracted a good deal of press without releasing any vinyl, during 1980 and 1981 the fearless new group were responsible for a string of challenging records and provocative live shows, even daring to improvise onstage at the third Futurama festival in September 1981. That said, a major NME profile by Paul du Noyer that same month came as a mixed blessing, seeming to bury rather than praise its subject. "Once a highly-promising new outfit who played early dates supporting Magazine, they've since split and splintered and come back in different shapes, and drifted steadily away from the mainstream of commercial potential and critical acceptance... I used to rate them an awful lot. Nowadays, although I can admire their uncompromising stance, their musical output seems more erratic: flashes of magic and puddles of boredom."
Financial constraints at New Hormones were also a hindrance. Throughout their career the group were obliged to record hurriedly, in basic studios, with the inevitable result that certain sessions lacked polish. Moreover, while The Visit sold a healthy 3,500 copies, My Cherry Is In Sherry sold only a third of that number. Nevertheless, even though the average indie consumer found their uncompromising art hard to swallow, Ludus eschewed contemporary trends to work in purposeful opposition. Indeed the wilful group never employed an outside producer, although Martin Hannett expressed interest, as did former Van Der Graaf Generator mainman Peter Hammill, who edited several songs at his home studio after attending a show at the Factory in 1979. Both collaborations remain fascinating hypotheticals.
After a period of silence, 1982 saw the release of not one but three Ludus albums. The Seduction appeared as a double 12" package in February and offered some of their best work to date, notably on more orthodox tracks such as Mirror Mirror, See the Keyhole and The Escape Artist. Danger Came Smiling followed in September and was an altogether more challenging work. Featuring 18 mostly short tracks, recorded on basic equipment, ORG 20 was subsequently described by Ian as a therapeutic exercise, and by Linder as an exorcism. Bored of singing conventional lyrics, she instead offered a selection of shrieks, yells, laughter and spoken interludes (including diary records of therapy), while the music kicked hard against the slick, calculated New Pop now dominating the charts.
"A lot of the stuff i did i was taking from Yoko Ono and from a Polish singer called Urzula Dudziak," Linder told writer Simon Reynolds. "All the women who used their voices as instruments: Norma Winstone, Meredith Monk, Yma Sumac, Annette Peacock."
The third album, a compilation titled Riding the Rag, was issued By Expanded Music in Italy in August and based largely on the Pickpocket cassette. All three releases attracted largely positive reviews, yet sales remained modest, and for many Ludus were simply too abstract, too radical, too hard to decode. Even their management was resolutely leftfield, for a time consisting of Cath Carroll and Liz Naylor (aka The Crones), both Manchester scenesters and co-editors of sharp-tongued fanzine City Fun. Carroll later wrote of Linder in Sublime: "The dark continent of her own experiences and anxieties lead her to Reichian therapy, mystical feminist literature such as the Wise Wound, and Rebirthing. Her collector's eye and keen aesthetic sensibility showed in her projection of her own physical image. Feminist but never Puritan, Linder was big on weird, messy sex (what else, my dears, would you expect from such a Weird, Sexy Mess?). In conjunction with longtime collaborator, photographer Christina Birrer, she was doing arty, vintage underwear and pale, shadowy flesh years before Madonna and Gaultier, only Linder kept her underarm hair. Then she did blood, she did meat, bandages, squealing, primal catharsis-stock vocabulary of performance art, but presented in a new! sexy! context. After this, all that remained were bodybuilding and baby-making. So she did those too."
Having purged some poisons on Danger Came Smiling, Ludus now decided to experiment with a more mainstream approach. After the demise of Magazine in mid-1981, and on the recommendation of Howard Devoto, keyboard player Dave Formula accepted an invitation to work with the group. Formula also opened discussions with Virgin Records, though ultimately these came to nothing. With New Hormones short of money, at the beginning of 1982 the band took up an invitation from Benoît Hennebert to make their next record with Les Disques du Crépuscule in Belgium. "Ludus was going to do the Big Album for Crépuscule," recalls Linder. "Because the lyrics weren't your average pop lyrics you could be quite saccharine-sweet sometimes. Get away with an almost Doris Day delivery, because the words were working against that."
Their debut for Crépuscule came in the form of an EP, Nue au Soleil, recorded in Manchester in late summer. In order to achieve a richer, more sophisticated sound, Linder, Ian and Dave Formula were now joined by bassist Paul Cavanagh, drummer Roy O'Shea and sax players Lee Buick and Graham Revell. As well as an arch cover of the 1970 Brigitte Bardot hit, the session also produced She She, the freeform What a Falling Off Was There and a springy pop original in Let Me Go Where My Pictures Go. The EP should have emerged on 12" as TWI 102, but it was endlessly delayed, and for reasons which remain obsure eventually appeared only in Italy through Base Records (SIDE 8407). It deserved far better.
August 1982 also saw the group record an excellent four-song BBC session for John Peel, from which Covenant (Pride Below the Navel) and Vagina Gratitude remain unrecorded and unreleased elsewhere. By now the size of the far-flung seven-piece band meant that live performances were relatively rare, the most celebrated being a show at The Haçienda in Manchester on 5 November. Much of the new music - the Crépuscule EP, Wrapped In Silence, Breaking the Rules, Too Hot to Handle - showcased the band's newfound pop sensibility, yet visually the show took a very different direction. Talking to Ian Greaves in 1997, Linder recalled: "At the same time at The Haçienda they were showing lots of soft porn, and they thought it was really cool. I took my revenge. I was a vegetarian, I got meat from a Chinese restaurant, all the discarded entrails... The Haçienda was still this male preserve. They were panicking - "It's going to mark the floors!" And they withdrew the Bloody Linder from the cocktail bar."
Helpfully, managers Liz Naylor and Cath Carroll decorated every table in the venue with a paper plate, on which sat a red-stained tampon and a stubbed-out cigarette. "Tony Wilson came in and just went fucking spare," recalls Dave Formula. "He went completely bananas. I've never seen him lose it like that before - he's normally the urbane Mr Cool, you know. He was incredibly shaken by it, meaning they put them all away. But then Linder came up with the trump card of The Dress."
Made from discarded chicken meat sewn onto layers of black net, 'the dress' was pulled aside during the closing number (Too Hot To Handle) to reveal a large black dildo. As a response to Bucks Fizz losing their Eurovision skirts the previous year, it drove home one of Linder's central themes (the cultural expectation of women) all too well, even if the gesture was unlikely to secure the group a booking on Top of the Pops. That said, two decades later Lady Gaga created headlines the world over with her own version of the same garment.
Whipping the meat dress aside certainly had a dramatic effect on the crowd at Fac 51. "I remember the audience going back about three foot," Linder confirms. "There was hardly any applause at the end. And that was a crowd who thought: nothing can shock us, we see porn all the time, we're cool. When that happened, when they stepped back, I thought, that's it. Where do you go from here?"
For a band in the skewed thrall of Brigitte Bardot and Serge Gainsbourg, the obvious answer was France. In March 1983 Ludus recorded a new single for cult French imprint Sordide Sentimental. Two tracks were taped at Spirit Studio in Manchester, Breaking the Rules (aka One and One) and Little Girls, which again evidenced a subversive, leftfield approach to pop. The single appeared as a limited edition package of 2509 numbered copies, and was followed by another BBC radio session taped in April for Janice Long, sadly now lost.
Unfortunately relations between Linder and Ian were becoming increasingly strained, and the band began to lose momentum. In 1984 the pair returned to Belgium with the object of recording the Big Album, with former Associate Alan Rankine producing. The duo briefly shared a flat above Interferences, Crépuscule's bar-cum-cultural venue, but creative chemistry was found to be lacking, and no more record emerged. Ian and Linder left Brussels separately, and would not speak for more than a decade. "It fell apart," Linder told Simon Reynolds. "We fell apart. I didn't have the energy to start a new collaboration with anybody. So it felt like the right time to walk away."
After the split, Ian returned to Wales and formed Heb Gariad, who worked with Welsh-language label Anrhefn, then joined forces with former Young Marble Giants and Weekend vocalist Alison Statton. As Devine & Statton the pair produced two well-regarded albums for Crépuscule, The Prince of Wales (1989) and Cardiffians (1990), along with several singles. He also produced an album for Belgian band Fats Garden, and co-wrote with Tuxedomoon member Blaine L. Reininger. From 1992 he played with Cardiff group Low Gods, and in 2001 resumed his musical partnership with Linder to produce the largely electronic soundtrack to the performance piece Clint Eastwood, Clare Offreduccio and Me, released as a seven track CD Requiem via Welfare State. An album of new songs, Devine & Griffiths, arrived in 2007.
Original drummer Philip 'Toby' Toman later played with Primal Scream, while Graham 'Dids' Dowdall joined Eric Random's Bedlamites, as well as The Faction. Dave Formula went on to produce a Crépuscule single for Winston Tong (1984), opened the Strongroom studio in London, and co-produced the second album by Howard Devoto's post-Magazine project Luxuria, Beast Box (1990). He then taught musicology and production analysis, took part in the Magazine reformation between 2009 and 2011, and issued a solo album in 2010
After Ludus dissolved, Linder remained in Belgium before returning to Manchester in 1986 to focus exclusively on visual art. She later published Morrissey Shot (Secker & Warburg, 1992), a volume of photographs documenting two world tours, and her images were used for the albums Your Arsenal (1992) and Beethoven Was Deaf (1993). 1997 was marred by a near-fatal car accident, but retrieved with a one-woman show at London's Cleveland Gallery titled What did you do in the punk war, mummy? The following year she filled a room in a disused Widnes school with 42 tonnes of industrial salt for Salt Shrine.
Subsequent exhibitions, installations and performances pieces have included The Return of Linderland (2000), featuring the film Light the Fuse (with a soundtrack by Ian Devine), a four hour performance piece The Working Class Goes to Paradise (2001) and the requiem Clint Eastwood, Clare Offreduccio and Me (2001). An exhibition of photomontages and early works held at the Mayor Gallery in London in 2002, and in 2006 Linder (with Ian) staged The Working Class Goes to Paradise at the Tate Triennial. A deluxe art monograph Linder Works 1976-2006 was published by Swiss imprint Jrp/Ringier in 2006. In 2013 Linder staged another prestigious show at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville in Paris.
However, Ludus plays on. Their entire back catalog was reissued across three CDs by LTM in 2002, and in June 2004 the duo of Linder and Ian reformed for two shows at the Royal Festival Hall in London, as part of the Morrissey-curated Meltdown Festival. Backed by a group of cherry-picked Cardiff musicians, the pair delivered two exemplary sets of re-arranged Ludus classics, once opening for Nancy Sinatra (20 June) and once for Morrissey himself (25 June). Indeed we may leave the last word to Morrissey, whose sleevenote for an unissued 1985 Crépuscule compilation (TWI 340) offers these closing thoughts: "Ludus lay on us the decorative impulses of their music, and nowhere more significantly than on the volume which now lies before you. people who know real genius will love this record... Her singing leaves me out of breath... Linder went to Brussels and I remained stuck in Manchester, battling with the tides of fortune. Our shrill spirits still slide through the ugly streets of Manchester, always wet through, always caught out, always spectating, our hearts damaged by too many air-raids."
"Linder's 2013 show at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville in Paris tells an earlier tale: of how, in 1976, graphic design student Linda Mulvey became Linder and, informed as much by feminism as by Dada and Surrealist manifestos, embarked on an incisive, arresting, often hilarious study of the relationship between consumertism, sex and gender." (The Wire, 04/2013)