You Say It's Your Birthday: Tom Greenhalgh of The Mekons

Blowing out 31 birthday candles today is Mekons singer/guitarist Tom

Greenhalgh. The Mekons, named after a villain from the '50s comic strip

Dan Dare, Space Pilot of the Future, are among the longest-lasting

groups from the British punk explosion of the late '70s. They have evolved

from minimalist art punk to dub-heavy electronica to cow punk to folk and

then to straight up rock and roll. The group, a darling of rock critics

since its inception, was formed by Greenhalgh and drummer Jon Langford

after seeing the Sex Pistols perform in 1976. Their first single was "Never

Been in a Riot," a D.I.Y. response to the Clash's "White Riot," garnered

the group enough attention that they soon signed with Virgin. 1979's

The Quality of Mercy is Not Strnen was an hysterically funny

collection of white noise which received some critical praise but was too

off-putting for Virgin, who then dropped the band in the middle of their

recording sessions for 1980's The Mekons. This was the first in a

long line of label switches for the Mekons, a problem that caused a few members to

drop out of the group and thereby opened up their revolving door

membership, with Greenhalgh and Langford as the constants.

The band released a series of lo-fi albums in the early '80s and took some

time off before resurfacing with 1985's Fear and Whiskey (1989's

Original Sin in the U.S.), a country album which featured lyrics

that would not sound at all strange coming from the mouths of Hank Williams

Sr. or Merle Haggard. The album was a hit with "college rock" audiences

and the group began to tour more, putting on shows that were legendary for

their energy and unpredictability. In 1989, the group released The

Mekons Rock and Roll, a collection of tongue-in-cheek yet completely

heartfelt rockers that brought the group its first rave reviews from the

mainstream press. 1990's F.U.N. EP swung the group's focus over to

electronica. Later that year, they weaseled their way out of their A&M

contract, claiming the label wasn't doing enough to support their

recordings. They signed next with Loud Records, which then went through

immense financial troubles and ended up holding a love songs collection

entitled I (heart) Mekons for a whole year. 1994's Retreat From

Memphis didn't break any ground for the group, but it still is

considered a solid recording by fans. The Mekons toured a bit earlier this

year and apparently put the finishing touches on a new recording at the end

of October.

Other birthdays: Harold Elston (Friends of Distinction), 59; Delbert

McClinton, 57 and Kool Rock (the Fat Boys), 31.