The The are an English musical and multimedia group that have been active in various forms since 1979, with singer/songwriter Matt Johnson being the only constant band member.
The early years (1977–1981)
In November 1977, Matt Johnson placed an advertisement in the NME, asking for "Bass/lead guitarist into The Velvet Underground/Syd Barrett". Johnson later placed a second advertisement in the NME, stating his new influences as "The Residents/Throbbing Gristle".
While trying to get his band going, in 1978 Johnson had recorded a demo solo album (See Without Being Seen) which he continued to sell at various underground gigs on cassettes. In 1979, working with Colin Lloyd-Tucker (a friend and colleague at De Wolfe Music, the Soho music publisher/recording studio) Johnson recorded his first album proper, Spirits. This album remains unreleased, although the album track "What Stanley Saw" was later licensed to Cherry Red Records for their Perspectives & Distortion compilation album, which also featured Virgin Prunes, Lemon Kittens, Thomas Leer, Kevin Coyne and Mark Perry.
The The made their debut at London's Africa Centre on 11 May 1979, third on the bill to Scritti Politti and PragVEC, using backing tape tracks that Johnson created at his day job at De Wolfe studios for the drums and bass. The band at this point consisted of Johnson on vocal, electric piano, guitar and tapes and Keith Laws on synthesiser and tapes. It was Keith Laws who suggested the name 'The The' to Matt Johnson.
As The The was now getting underway, Johnson was simultaneously working with experimental synth-pop combo The Gadgets, a studio group he formed with Colin Lloyd Tucker, his colleague at De Wolfe recording studios.
Peter Ashworth, then known as 'Triash' and later to become a noted photographer, became The The's drummer in 1980, and Tom Johnston (also managing The The at this point and later to become a cartoonist for the Evening Standard, Daily Mirror and The Sun newspapers) was added on bass. Although both Ashworth and Johnston were credited with appearing on The The's debut single ("Controversial Subject"/"Black and White") on 4AD Records neither actually played on the recordings, which were produced by Wire members Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis. All instruments were played by Johnson and Laws. Johnston and Ashworth soon dropped out of The The and returned to their respective day jobs. As a duo (Johnson and Laws), The The began performing concerts with Wire, Cabaret Voltaire, DAF, This Heat, The Birthday Party and Scritti Politti.
In early 1981 The The also contributed the composition ‘Untitled’ to the Some Bizzare Album. In September of that year Johnson and Laws signed a deal with Some Bizzare Records and released the 7" single "Cold Spell Ahead". By this stage Matt Johnson had begun playing all the instruments himself so Laws left to pursue his studies, leaving Johnson as a solo artist using a group moniker.
Later in 1981 Johnson was signed up by Ivo Watts-Russell for 4AD Records to record a solo album Burning Blue Soul. Although all of the instruments and vocals were performed by Johnson, the album featured various producers including Wire's Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis, Ivo and Johnson himself. Years later, due to a request from Johnson, so that all of his albums would be in the same rack together, it would be re-issued and credited to The The.
Towards the end of 1981, Colin Lloyd-Tucker and Simon Fisher-Turner joined the band for a series of stripped down The The acoustic concerts in London.
The solo years (1982–1987)
Now freed from the politics of a permanent group line-up Johnson was able to take The The up to the next level and spent the next few years collaborating with a diverse range of creative individuals, freely changing personnel from project to project.
The The's next single was a variation on "Cold Spell Ahead", an early version of "Uncertain Smile". Produced in New York by Mike Thorne; it reached No. 68 UK. This version is different from the more familiar album version, and featured sax and flute by session player Crispin Cioe rather than (as on the album version) the piano of Squeeze's Jools Holland.
In 1982, the intended debut album by The The (The Pornography of Despair) was recorded, but was never officially mixed nor released. Johnson apparently ran off some cassette copies for friends, and several tracks were subsequently re-recorded and issued as b-sides, but the original album remains unmixed and unissued. Steve James Sherlock played flute and saxophone on the re-recordings of "Three Orange Kisses From Kazan" and "Waitin' For The Upturn", two of the songs from the album which saw the light of day as b-sides.
In 1983 The The released their official album debut, the synth-noir classic Soul Mining. It featured the minor UK No. 71 hit "This Is the Day", as well as a new recording of "Uncertain Smile". Produced by Johnson and Paul Hardiman it featured guest appearances from Orange Juice's drummer Zeke Manyika, Jools Holland, Thomas Leer and J. G. Thirlwell (aka Foetus).
During The The's more prolific period of releases, from Soul Mining (1983) to Dusk (1992), most artwork used on the albums and single releases was produced by Johnson's brother Andrew Johnson, using the pseudonym Andy Dog. The artwork has a distinctive style, and sometimes courted controversy, most notably the initial release of the 1986 single "Infected" which featured a masturbating devil and was withdrawn from sale and re-issued with an edited version of the same drawing.
For the 1986 album Infected, The The still only consisted of Johnson, but augmented by session musicians and featured friends such as Orange Juice drummer/singer Zeke Manyika and Rip Rig + Panic singer Neneh Cherry. This album spawned four charting singles in the UK, notably "Heartland", which made the UK Top 30. It was also unusual for having a full-length accompanying film. Costing hundreds of thousands of pounds, Infected: The Movie was shot on locations in Bolivia, Peru and New York. Different songs were directed by different directors, mainly Tim Pope and Peter 'Sleazy' Christopherson (of Throbbing Gristle). Throughout 1986-1987 Johnson toured the world extensively with Infected: The Movie, showing the film in cinemas in place of performing live concerts. The film was also shown twice in its entirety on Channel 4 in the UK and on MTV's 120 Minutes in the US.
In 1987 Johnson also took some tentative steps back into live performance. Whilst promoting Infected: The Movie in Australia he had a chance encounter with Billy Bragg who persuaded him to return to Britain and support Red Wedge, a coalition of like-minded musicians supporting the British Labour Party in its election campaign. Johnson agreed and enrolled longtime friend and collaborator Zeke Manyika to join him in performing shows in London featuring stripped down versions of political The The songs such as "Heartland". This experience convinced Johnson to put a band together once again.
Return to a full-fledged band (1988–2002)
By 1988, The The was an actual band again, Johnson having recruited ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, ex-Nick Lowe bassist James Eller and ex-ABC drummer David Palmer as full fledged members. This line-up, plus guest singer Sinéad O'Connor, recorded the album Mind Bomb, which debuted at No. 4 in the UK Albums Chart and featured the band's highest charting single to that time, "The Beat(en) Generation", which peaked at No. 18 in the UK Singles Chart. The first single from Mind Bomb was actually scheduled to be "Armageddon Days (are here again)" but with its chorus of "Islam is rising, the Christians mobilising" and sensitivities over the Salman Rushdie affair that had recently erupted, this song was deemed unsuitable for release by Epic/CBS.
Keyboardist D.C. Collard was added to the official line-up in 1989 (keyboard player Steve Hogarth, who'd played on Infected, had initially been asked to join but opted instead to become the new lead vocalist of Marillion). The band embarked on a lengthy world tour in 1989–90 called The The Versus The World. The live film of the same name, directed by Tim Pope, was filmed during the three nights The The performed at London's Royal Albert Hall at the end of the tour. Vocalist Melanie Redmond, who had just completed a world tour with Duran Duran, joined the tour during the European leg as a session musician.
In 1990 the studio EP Shades of Blue was released. This included cover versions of Fred Neil's "Dolphins" and Duke Ellington's "Solitude" as well as a new original song "Jealous of Youth" and a live version of "Another Boy Drowning" from Burning Blue Soul. This and a later EP of remixes, 1993's Dis-infected, were compiled into a 1994 full-length album for the North American market called Solitude.
In 1993, the five-piece line-up (Johnson/Marr/Collard/Eller/Palmer) issued the album Dusk, which debuted at No. 2 in the UK and spun off three Top 40 singles in the UK, led by "Dogs of Lust". Another world tour followed, the Lonely Planet tour, at which point the band's line-up was reshuffled; Marr and Eller left, and were replaced by Atlanta-based guitarist Keith Joyner and New York bassist Jared Michael Nickerson, respectively after Johnson relocated the band to America. Also added was Boston harmonica player Jim Fitting (formerly of Treat Her Right), who auditioned in New York in early 1993. The version of their hit "This Is The Day" featuring Jim Fitting was often dubbed "That Was The Day". Palmer bowed out partway through the tour and was replaced by ex Stabbing Westward drummer Andy Kubiszewski. The band headlined the main stage at the 1993 Reading Festival.
Another full length film, directed by longtime collaborator Tim Pope, was made for this album. From Dusk Til Dawn was shot in New Orleans and New York and along with Johnson and Johnny Marr also featured various characters from the New York underground scene such as sexologist Annie Sprinkle, writer and raconteur Quentin Crisp, Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa, and porn star Rick Savage amongst many other carnival characters.
Now permanently relocated to New York, The The's next project was 1995's Hanky Panky, an album that consisted entirely of Hank Williams cover tunes. Hanky Panky was recorded by a new group consisting of Johnson, Collard, Fitting, ex Iggy Pop guitarist Eric Schermerhorn, ex David Bowie bass guitarist Gail Ann Dorsey (billed as "Hollywood" Dorsey), and drummer the "Reverend" Brian MacLeod. Their cover version of "I Saw The Light" hit No. 31 UK.
In 1997 an experimental album called Gun Sluts was recorded but left unreleased by the band after it was rejected for being too uncommercial by their label. The The severed their eighteen-year relationship with Sony and moved to Interscope, on Trent Reznor's Nothing Records imprint.
In 2000, The The, now consisting of Johnson, Schermerhorn, Nashville bassist Spencer Campbell and New Jersey drummer Earl Harvin, released NakedSelf and embarked on yet another lengthy world tour, the Naked Tour, this one lasting 14 months. Not counting soundtrack albums, NakedSelf remains The The's final released studio album to date.
This same line-up also recorded two new tracks, "Deep Down Truth", featuring Angela McCluskey on vocals and "Pillar Box Red". Both songs were produced by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley for the 2002 compilation album 45 RPM: The Singles of The The
In June 2002, The The made a sole live appearance at the Meltdown Festival at London's Royal Festival Hall as guests of David Bowie. At this point, the band consisted solely of Johnson and longtime friend and collaborator J. G. Thirlwell aka Foetus on tapes and loops, and young film director Benn Northover on film and video.
This is the last live performance by The The to date; Johnson has stated on the official The The web site in the FAQ section that "There are no plans for one-off shows or tours in the near future but there will undoubtedly be another The The tour at some point."
Recent activities (2003–present)
Since 2003 the reclusive Johnson has kept well away from the public eye and has concentrated primarily on soundtrack work, scoring numerous documentaries, films and art installations.
For Swedish filmmaker Johanna St Michaels this has included Best Wishes Bernhard (prize winning film of Dokumentär Films Premien Nordic Panorama 2003), Snapshots From Reality (Nominated for Best International Short at the Birds Eye View Film festival at London's ICA 2007) The Track (2007), Going Live (2008), The Island Amid the Worlds (2010) and Bilder av Dina (2010). The latest collaboration between Johnson and St Michaels, Penthouse North premiered at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in May 2014.
In June 2009 it was announced that The The had created an original soundtrack to the Gerard Johnson debut feature film Tony. The film was released in February 2010 to critical acclaim; Sight & Sound said “If Mike Leigh remade Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer... Remarkable", The Guardian "The perfect marriage of genre and style" and The Independent “Grim, painful and uncomfortably funny”. The soundtrack was released on The The's Cineola imprint in March 2010, as volume one of several upcoming soundtrack and instrumental albums.
For English director Nichola Bruce it has included the documentary One Man Show: Dramatic Art of Steven Berkoff (1995) and a documentary feature film about the Apollo moon landings, Moonbug, which was completed in autumn 2010 and won the Special Jury Remi Award for Theatrical Feature Documentary at the 2011 Houston International Film Festival. The soundtrack was released in 2012 as volume 2 in the series of original soundtrack albums produced through Johnson's Cineola imprint.
Je t'aime Infiniment, a film co-directed by Lebanese filmmaker Corine Shawi and Danish director Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen was completed in 2010. The latest film collaboration between Johnson and Larsen is End Of Season a Turkish film which premiered at the SALT (institution) in Istanbul in January 2014.
The The's music has featured in a diverse range of cinema over many years, from cult classics such as Jürgen Muschalek's (Muscha) Decoder ("Three Orange Kisses From Kazan") and Gregg Araki's Nowhere ("Love is Stronger Than Death") to big budget epics such as Sylvester Stallone's Judge Dredd ("Darkness Falls") so it was little surprise Johnson moved into the world of film soundtrack composition.
In May 2007, The The also released a new download-only single on their web site. Entitled "Mrs. Mac", an autobiographical song about Johnson's first day at school as a child in Stratford, East London. All instruments and vocals on the track were performed by Johnson.
A press release was issued along with this track, announcing a forthcoming The The album called The End of the Day with various songs from The The's catalogue being performed by some of Johnson's favourite artists including Elysian Fields, J.G. Thirlwell, Thomas Leer, Elbow, Rob Ellis, John Parish, Anna Domino, Meja, Angela McCluskey, Ergo Phizmiz, "Rustin Man" aka Paul Webb among others. To date, the album remains a work in progress, although a preview can be heard at the band's official site.
Since 2009 a new generation has been exposed to The The's music on American television. "This Is The Day" has been extensively used in high profile advertising campaigns for Levi's Dockers, M&Ms and Amazon.
The The's music continues to be used on British radio and television such as in Shane Meadows 2010 Channel 4 series This Is England '86 and in 2013 in the award winning British sit-com Fresh Meat. In 2011 "This Is The Day" was covered by British band Manic Street Preachers and received extensive radio play.
More recently Matt Johnson has created several new arms of The The:
Cineola; a label specifically created for soundtrack and spoken word releases and which are released as CDs within small, hardback books, complete with photographs and text.
Radio Cineola; a 15 minute 'shortwave radio' broadcast downloadable from the official web site and featuring previews of upcoming releases, works in progress, chats with collaborators and, from the vault, previously unheard material. The broadcasts are presented by Johnson and other guests. Shows have so far included contributions from, and collaborations with, musicians DJ Food, Deadly Avenger, Hayley Willis, Thomas Feiner, Angela McCluskey, Colin Lloyd Tucker plus poet John Tottenham, photographer Steve Pyke, actress Marlene Kaminsky, spiritual healer Abdi Assadi and many others. Monthly downloadable Radio Cineola broadcasts ceased at the end of December 2010 although the broadcasts now continue at randomly chosen dates.
Fifty First State Press; a book publishing company whose name is inspired by the chorus of Johnson's famous 1986 song "Heartland". The first release, in 2012, was "Tales From The Two Puddings", a memoir by Matt's dad, Eddie, which recounts the Johnson family's time owning one of East London's most notorious pubs and music houses, the Two Puddings in Stratford. It features many of the legendary customers of this famous pub, such as Jackie Charlton, the Kray Twins, Van Morrison, Bobby Moore, Clyde McPhatter, The Who, Daniel Farson, Terry Spinks and countless others. The book has been endorsed by personalities as varied as Barrie Keeffe, Iain Sinclair and Harry Redknapp. Time Out called it "An unadulterated, honest and affecting account of a time when landlords truly were the aristocrats of the working class."
During this period Johnson's political activity has been limited to conservation issues in his native East London. He was a founder member of the Save Shoreditch committee and directed and narrated a short film for its cause. Along with fellow artists such as Brad Lochore, Tracey Emin and Lucinda Rogers he has been fighting the eastwards expansion of the City of London into Shoreditch and the probable demolition of much of this East London neighbourhood. The day after the London Olympics finished in August 2012 Johnson made a rare public appearance on the BBC's Newsnight current affairs programme, in order to debate with Robin Wales, the Mayor of Newham, about the impact and legacy of the Olympic Games upon Stratford, the part of London Johnson grew up in.
In the spring of 2014 it was announced by Sony Music Entertainment that they plan to release a "Soul Mining 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition Boxset" in the summer of 2014. The reissue was remastered by Matt Johnson at Abbey Road Studios.
Harper Collins imprint The Friday Project also announced in the spring of 2014 that they will be publishing the first official biography of The The. Authored by Neil Fraser it will apparently have the full cooperation of Matt Johnson.
Matt Johnson is the only permanent member of The The. As well, from 1983–1988 (and again from 2002–present) he was the only official member of The The.
Official band members have been:
- Matt Johnson – vocals, guitars, keyboards, bass, melodica, engineering.
- Keith Laws – synthesiser (1979–1981). Now a Professor of Neuropsychology at the University of Hertfordshire.
- Tom Johnston – bass guitar (1980). Now a cartoonist for national newspapers.
- Triash (a.k.a. Peter Ashworth) – drums, percussion (1980)
- Colin Lloyd Tucker – guitars/vocals (1981)
- Simon Fisher Turner – guitars/vocals (1981)
- David Palmer – drums (1985–1994) (see also ABC)
- Johnny Marr – guitars and harmonica (1988–1994) (see also The Smiths)
- James Eller – bass (1988–1994) (see also Julian Cope)
- D.C. Collard – keyboards (1989–1997)
- Jim Fitting – harmonica (1993–1995)
- Keith Joyner – guitar (1993–1994)
- Jared Michael Nickerson – bass (1993–1994)
- Eric Schermerhorn – guitars (1995–2002) (see also Iggy Pop)
- Brian MacLeod – drums (1995–1997) (see also Wire Train)
- Gail Ann Dorsey (billed as 'Hollywood' Dorsey) – bass (1995) (see also David Bowie)
- Spencer Campbell – bass (1998–2002) (see also Kenny Rogers)
- Earl Harvin – drums (1998–2002) (see also Tindersticks)
Collaborators and contributors
The following artists were not official members of The The, but made notable contributions to various projects by the band.
- Marc Almond – vocals (1982)
- David Johansen – harmonica (1982) (see also New York Dolls)
- J. G. Thirlwell – tapes, samples, percussion (1983–present) (see also Foetus)
- Andy Dog – paintings, illustrations, sleeves, (1981–1993)
- Tim Pope – filmmaker (1986–2002)
- Peter Christopherson – filmmaker (1986–1987) (see also Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV and Coil (band))
- Jools Holland – piano (1983) (see also Squeeze)
- Thomas Leer – keyboards (1983)
- Zeke Manyika – drums (see also Orange Juice) (1983)
- Steve Hogarth – piano (1986)
- Neneh Cherry – vocals (1986) (see also Rip, Rig & Panic)
- Anna Domino – vocals (1986)
- Andrew Poppy – arrangement (1986)
- Ashley Slater – trombone (1986)
- Sinéad O'Connor – vocals (1989)
- Melanie Redmond – vocals (1989–1990)
- Vinnie Colaiuta – drums (1993) (see also Frank Zappa)
- Bruce Smith – drums (1993) (see also The Pop Group)
- Danny Thompson – upright bass (1988–1993) (see also Tim Buckley and Nick Drake)
- Lloyd Cole – vocals (1999)
- Benn Northover – filmmaker (2002)
- Steve James Sherlock – sax/flute (1979–81)
- Paul "Wix" Wickens – piano/hammond organ/accordion (1983, 1989)
- Mark Feltham – harmonica on Mind Bomb (1989): Kingdom Of Rain / Good Morning Beautiful / The Beat(en) Generation / The Violence Of Truth
Commercially released albums
- Matt Johnson: Burning Blue Soul (1981)
- Original release and 1983 reissue credited to Matt Johnson. The 1993 re-release of Burning Blue Soul credits this album to The The.
|Year||Album details||Peak chart positions||Certifications
|2010||Tony Soundtrack album from the film||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|2012||Moonbug Soundtrack album from the film||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-||-|
- Solitude (1993)
- 45 RPM (2002)
- London Town Box Set (2002)
Exclusive The The tracks appear on the following compilation albums of tracks by various artists:
- Some Bizzare Album (1981)
- If You Can't Please Yourself, You Can't Please Your Soul (1985)
Unreleased, limited edition and promo-only albums
The recording career of The The/Matt Johnson features numerous full-length albums that have never seen commercial release. Despite their unavailability on disc, Johnson includes these albums in almost every official discography issued by the band.
|1978||Matt Johnson||See Without Being Seen||A Matt Johnson solo project.||Very limited cassette release, only available at concerts.|
|1979||Matt Johnson||Spirits||A Matt Johnson solo project.||Unreleased in any form. One track ("What Stanley Saw") later licensed to Cherry Red Records for their compilation Perspectives & Distortion.|
|1982||The The||The Pornography of Despair||Scrapped debut album.||Commercially unreleased. Some cassette copies were run off for friends of Matt Johnson. Several tracks were later re-recorded and/or re-mixed, and used as B-sides and bonus tracks on other albums.|
|1997||The The||Gun Sluts||Completed album for Sony, which declined to release it.||Unreleased. Some 'rough mixes' have been streamed at the The The web site.|
|2000||The The||Karmic gravity||Completed album.||Unreleased. Some 'rough mixes' have been streamed at the The The web site.|
|2002||The The||Film Music||Compilation of soundtrack music.||Promotional-only release.|
|2007||The The||The End Of The Day||Collaborative work with many other artists.||Announced as "forthcoming" in May 2007. As yet unreleased.|
|UK Singles Chart||NZ
|AUS Singles Chart|
|1981||"Cold Spell Ahead"||-||-||-||-||-|
|1982||"Uncertain Smile"||68||-||-||-||Soul Mining|
|"Uncertain Smile (1983)"||100||-||-||43||Soul Mining|
|"This Is the Day"||71||-||-||-|
|1986||"Sweet Bird of Truth"||88||-||-||-||Infected|
|1987||"Slow Train To Dawn"||64||-||-||95|
|"Sweet Bird of Truth (1987)"||55||19||-||-|
|1989||"The Beat(en) Generation"||18||4||13||50||Mind Bomb|
|"Gravitate to Me"||63||27||15||-|
|"Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)"||70||-||-||-|
|"Kingdom of Rain"||-||-||16||-|
|1990||"Jealous of Youth"||-||-||7||-||Solitude|
|1991||"Shades of Blue (EP)"||54||-||-||87||-|
|1993||"Dogs of Lust"||25||16||2||70||Dusk|
|"Slow Emotion Replay"||35||-||-||-|
|"Love Is Stronger Than Death"||39||-||14||-|
|1995||"I Saw the Light"||31||-||24||-||Hanky Panky|
See also: "Solitude" (EP) which was released in December 1999 and contained remixes of The The songs - most notably, "That was the Day", a version of their hit single, "This is the Day".