Plug thyself, not thy neighbour: World of Leather says it all: this is a black, sticky, three-piece suite of an existence. But why say it again on the single, 'World of Leather'? Martin Kelner on the phenomenon of the self-referential track

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The Independent Online
Uh huh, it was the Manfreds. Of course it was. There was never any question back in 1964. If you tuned in to Ready, Steady, Go], with its anthemic signature tune '5-4-3-2-1', it was there in the song. Uh huh, it was indeed the Manfreds.

Cute, really, writing a self-reference into your lyric, but then Manfred Mann always had a touch of art school cleverness about them, unlike many of their contemporaries on the English R & B scene who were more secondary modern. 'It's like introducing yourself with a firm, warm, manly handshake,' says the record producer Tot Taylor, the man behind Mari Wilson, Fairground Attraction, and others. 'It's so crowded out there, you need to use every device you can to make an impression. If you can do it by giving yourself a name check in the lyric or even in the title of your own song, you move three squares forward in one go.'

It does not, therefore, come as a total surprise to find Taylor's latest band World of Leather, whom he describes as a high-concept rock slam, giving themselves an edge over all those other high- concept rock slams out there by titling their debut single, first out last October and to be reissued next month, 'World of Leather'.

Mark Chase, who created the band and co-wrote the song with Taylor, says it was not planned. 'It's really just a happy coincidence,' says Chase. 'The group came before the song. We were looking for something relatively cool but with a kitsch flavour to it, and World of Leather fitted the bill. We like to think of the band as like the Tubes - good, but not entirely serious - so we needed a name that signalled to the audience our sense of irony. World of Leather does that, I think. On the one hand leather symbolises quality, but there are also all sorts of cheesy sexual connotations. And then of course there's the image of a warehouse full of three-piece suites somewhere off the North Circular road.'

The song 'World of Leather', says Chase, a former presenter of Channel 4's Sex Talk, is about his other favourite subject, politics. The lines 'Don't let them tear us apart / We must stick together / In this World of Leather' are, he says, a call to arms for the downtrodden - although this may just be his famous sense of irony.

'We were already well into the song before we hit on the idea of the World of Leather as a symbol of the authoritarian state, a handy representation of the Thatcher years,' says Chase, 'so it wasn't intended in any way as a signature tune for the band.'

Nevertheless, he is well aware that the single puts his band into a self-referential hall of fame alongside such giants as Talk Talk, whose first single was 'Talk Talk'; Living in a Box with their only hit 'Living in a Box'; and those high- concept rock slams of the 1970s, the Wombles, whose uniquely egocentric back catalogue runs from 'The Wombling Song', through to 'Let's Womble to the Party Tonight'.

'It's a strange thing about names. Once a band has been around for a while and had a few hits, the name seems absolutely right and immediately conjures up an image of what the band is all about,' says Chase. 'Take Thin Lizzy. It sounds pretty dumb in isolation, but over the years the band grew into it, until eventually band and name became inseparable.

'It's awfully hard to sit down and create that. But if your record has the same title as the band, you have an immediate identity. Like Living in a Box. If they had been called something else, now they would just be known as 'that band that had a hit with 'Living in a Box' '.

But Radio 1's Mark Radcliffe believes eponymous singles can be a double- edged weapon. 'There's a danger the band will blow their whole act in just the one record,' he says. 'Let's be honest, you don't hear much of Rich Kids these days, or Living in a Box, for that matter. You may very well have a bit with a title that's the same as the band, but then you're going to have to start all over again with your next record.

'On the other hand Bo Diddley did rather well just wearing the same groove exceedingly thin. He followed his single 'Bo Diddley' with 'Bo Diddley Is a Gun Slinger', 'Bo Diddley Is Big Daddy', 'Bo Diddley Meets the Space Monster' and, for all I know, 'Bo Diddley Is a Chartered Surveyor' and 'Bo Diddley Tries on a Pair of Gloves'.'

The history of vinyl narcissism - if we disregard such glorious hits as 'We Are Manchester United' by Manchester United and Keith Harris and Orville with the eminently forgettable 'Orville's Song' - would appear to support the Radcliffe theory.

There are numerous examples of acts having to re-invent themselves to recover from their first self-referential hit, the most extreme being Jilted John who released several dismally unsuccessful follow-ups to his eponymous 1978 hit, before finally re-emerging 15 years later with a Bontempi organ as the comedy act John Shuttleworth.

Close study of the comedy scene reveals few signs of the trick being repeated by the Floaters ('Float On'), Paul and Paula ('Hey Paula'), Joboxers ('Boxerbeat'), Hi Tension ('Hi Tension'), Ed 'Cookie' Byrnes ('Cookie, Cookie, Lend Me Your Comb'), Mr Bloe ('Grooving with Mr Bloe'), or Bimbo Jet ('El Bimbo').

More promising role models for World of Leather are the Monkees ('Hey, Hey, We're the Monkees') and Queen ('Killer Queen'), the message being that there has to be more to the act than self-reference. On that count, World of Leather would appear to be better placed than Bimbo Jet or Bootsy's Rubber Band ('Bootzilla').

After all, it isn't every band that features up to eight guitarists and three drummers on stage. 'That was an accident as well,' says Chase. 'We were auditioning guitarists and about 50 turned up. They all sounded so beautiful and shambolic when they were jamming along together that we decided to expand the normal rock 'n' roll line-up. Eventually, we narrowed it down to eight after rehearsals.'

What is more - call to arms or not - World of Leather's lyrics are a heady mix of sex and politics, while the name seems absolutely right for the band, with every chance it will have a life far beyond

the single.

A possibly apocryphal story told around the BBC indicates the importance, if you are going to introduce yourself in this way, of band and name being in perfect harmony. Chico Arnez and his band used to perform Latin American rhythms on the radio, with the audience for the most part blissfully unaware that Chico was in fact Jackie Davies from the East End of London. Chico would introduce himself in a cod South American accent, as the band played behind him.

'Hello amigos. Thees ees Chico Arnez weeth the sounds of Latin Amereeca,' he said, as one of the band hit a bum note, at which Chico turned round and thundered in the unmistakable vowel sounds of the East India Dock Road: 'Oo the fuck was that?'

World of Leather's first album, 'St Mark's Place' (Soundcakes, 3MV / Sony), is released on 12 Sept

(Photograph omitted)

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