Come Away With ESG by Cheri Percy
ESG are one of those NYC no-wave post-punk bands who I heard on John Peel sometime in the early 1980s and never forgot, and until Universal Sound released an ESG compilation, A South Bronx Story, an obscure band not represented in my record collection. Obscure to say the very least, as even the liner notes to A South Bronx Story admit, “There is little documented on ESG”. Cheri Percy’s book tries to put this right by critiquing and celebrating the album, Come Away with ESG, but also figuring out whether this obscurity was wilful or something a bit more sinister. Back then ESG was the kind of musical conundrum/problem that stumped the music business. Wrong race, class, gender and sound (too fluid) meant music biz head-scratching - e.g. if the music biz promo men couldn’t nail something to a neat and tidy genre, then how the hell did they market it to the public and get it in the shops? And with the added problems of a manager with no business sense and other musicians sampling ESG without acknowledgment or permission, the band was left being a kind of musical secret all the hip kids knew about, without a headline in the press or a nickel in the bank. Throughout, Percy skilfully guides the reader through the ESG story which is, unsurprisingly, often exasperating. Especially when interviews with stars like Karen O reveal just how influential the band was (and still is). However, this is also a story of survival, a belief in a sound and ultimately a celebration of an album that “will sound out for years to come - omnipresent, unstoppable, and finally making sense to those that hear it.” Meanwhile, the current members of ESG continue to tour and try and claw back what’s rightfully theirs in terms of recognition and financial remuneration. A cautionary, compulsive tale, brilliantly told.
Come Away With ESG – Cheri Percy - publ. 33 1/3 Bloomsbury - £9.99