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Josef K were a Scottish post-punk band, active between 1979 and 1982, who released singles on the Postcard Records label. The band was named after the protagonist of Franz Kafka's novel The Trial. Although they only released one album while together and had moderate success, they have since proved influential on many bands that followed.


History[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The band was formed in 1979 originally as TV Art by Paul Haig (vocals, guitar) and Ronnie Torrance (drums), later joined by Malcolm Ross (guitar, keyboards), with Gary McCormack added on bass guitar, who soon left (later joining The Exploited) with David Weddell replacing him.[1][2][3] After recording a ten-track demo, their first release was the "Romance"/"Chance Meeting" single on Orange Juice drummer Steven Daly's Absolute label in December that year.[1][2] They were then signed to Postcard Records, the label founded by Daly and Alan Horne, releasing a string of critically acclaimed singles in 1980 and 1981.[1][3] The band recorded their debut album, Sorry for Laughing, in 1981 at Castle Sound Studios in Pencaitland, but it was shelved, with the band unhappy with the slick production, Haig describing it as sounding "flat and disinfected",[4] with only a few copies being released.[1][5] They returned to the studio in Belgium to record The Only Fun in Town, opting for a more 'live' sound and recording the whole album in two days, Haig describing their aim: "we decided to make an almost unlistenable record with the vocals mixed down really low".[3][4] It was their only album release while together, and while it placed well on the UK Independent Chart, it received a poor critical reception.[3] Sorry For Laughing was eventually released on a 1990 CD reissue of The Only Fun In Town.[1]

The band split prior to the release of the 1982 single, "The Farewell Single", which included the Peel session track, "The Missionary", Haig deciding to call an end to the band while they were at a creative peak.[1]Torrance joined Boots for Dancing and later (with Weddell) formed The Happy Family with Nick Currie (aka Momus).[1] Haig embarked on a long solo career, releasing a string of albums on his own Rhythm of Life label between 1984 and 2008, while Malcolm Ross joined Orange Juice and then played with Aztec Camera and Blancmange before embarking on a solo career. Ross and Weddell later reunited in Magic Clan.[1]

Musical style[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Musically, they resembled their label mates Orange Juice in fusing post-punk guitars with funk and disco rhythms.[3] They were influenced by American bands such as Pere UbuTelevisionTalking Heads, and The Voidoids, and British bands such as Subway Sect.[3] However, in terms of their lyrics and image Josef K were always far more downbeat and austere than Orange Juice, and were never to have Orange Juice's commercial success. They were also described as sounding similar to Joy Division but "less doomy".[5] Haig was a fan of Joy Division and "It's Kinda Funny" was inspired by the death of Ian Curtis.[3] Haig's lyrics were also inspired by the works of Franz Kafka, Albert CamusHerman HesseFyodor Dostoyevsky, and Knut Hamsun.[3][4]

The band had what was described as an "anti-rock stance", most members eschewing drink and (most) drugs, and the band never doing encores, which Ross considered "patronizing".[3]

Influence[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Josef K would prove to be a major influence on several later 1980s bands, including The June Brides and The Wedding Present (who also never do encores).[3] They also influenced later bands such as Franz Ferdinand,[6] The Futureheads, and The Rapture, and they were described in 2006 as "one of the most influential bands in Britain".[7]

"Sorry for Laughing" was covered by German synth pop group Propaganda on their 1985 album A Secret Wish, and in 2004 by French New Wave/bossa nova band Nouvelle Vague, on their self-titled debut.

Band members[edit source | editbeta]Edit

  • Paul Haig - guitar, vocals, songwriting
  • Malcolm Ross - guitar, violin
  • David Weddell - bass
  • Ronnie Torrance - drums

Original founding members included Neil Shah-Shah (Guitar) and Matthew Cocks[8][unreliable source?] (Bass), who left the band due to increasing press interest.[citation needed] Gary McCormack briefly played bass before joining The Exploited.

All of their songs were written by either Paul Haig or Paul Haig/Malcolm Ross.

Discography[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Singles[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Year Title UK Indie ChartPosition[9]
Dec 1979 "Romance / Chance Meeting"
Aug 1980 "Radio Drill Time / Crazy To Exist (Live)" No. 27
Dec 1980 "It's Kinda Funny / Final Request" No. 12
Feb 1981 "Sorry For Laughing / Revelation"
May 1981 "Chance Meeting / Pictures (of Cindy)" No. 12
Feb 1982 "The Missionary / One Angle / Second Angle" ¹ No. 5
Mar 1987 "Heaven Sent" ¹ No. 12

¹ post split

Studio Albums[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Year Title UK Indie ChartPosition[9]
Jun 1981 The Only Fun in Town No. 3

Compilation and live albums[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Year Title UK Indie Chart Position[9] Notes
Jun 1987 Young and Stupid (1979-1981 singles/session cuts, released with different track listing on CD in Sep 1990)
Mar 1989 Endless Soul No. 7 (best of)
Sep 1990 Only Fun In Town (contains the album "The Only Fun In Town" and the unreleased album "Sorry For Laughing" from 1980)
Oct 2002 Crazy to Exist (live recordings from 1981)
Sep 2003 Live at Valentino's (live recordings from 1981)
Nov 2006 Entomology (mainly culled from Postcard and Les Disques Du Crepuscules 1980-81)
Nov 2012 Sorry For Laughing First vinyl issue of their unreleased debut album (includes 12-track bonus CD of TV Art's original 1979 demo recordings)
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