I suspect that’s a post title that will have most regular visitors to the Ramblings scratching their heads a little, and I *am* going slightly off piste here. Mostly I post about books and bookish things, with the occasion bit of travel thrown in (!) but I have been known to lapse into music, and that’s where we’re going here.

Back in the deep mists of time (well, the 1980s…) I went through a huge obsession with the Manchester band The Passage. I guess they would loosely be categorised as post-Punk, although I don’t really like labels, and they covered quite a lot of musical territory in their short life (1978-1983). The brainchild of polymath Richard ‘Dick’ Witts, they grew out of his involvement with the Manchester Musicians Collective, and the band released four albums as well as a number of eps and singles (all of which, I am proud to say, I own in vinyl and cd versions….)

The core of The Passage – Witts, Wilson and McKechnie

Witts has a classical background, having spent time as a percussionist in the Halle Orchestra, and he brought his classical sensibilities to the band; their songs had a complexity that perhaps stopped them becoming more mainstream, despite later efforts moving towards commercial territory. The first two albums, “Pindrop” and “For All or None”, were often dense, with the vocals down in the mix; apparently none of the male members of the band (Joe McKechnie and Andrew Wilson being the other two long-serving participants) considered themselves particularly great vocalists (I’d dispute that) and at times a female vocalist would be drafted in. The two later albums, “Degenerates” and “Enflame”, moved into more percussive, dance-based territory, though still spiked with those sharp and wonderful lyrics; and I for one was pretty hacked off when they stopped making music…

What was common across all their recordings was the lyrical content; Witts had a kind of triple helix of subjects which informed his writing, “Fear”, “Power” and “Love”, and the songs tackled politics both in the civic sense and also the complexities of sexual politics. The subject matter could be controversial (the British presence in Northern Ireland; English right-wing politics; love versus sex) but always treated with Witts’ trademark – well, wit! Personally, I feel that “The Passage” were just too individual and offbeat and damn intelligent to cross over into the charts, despite the commerciality of the sound of the later songs; but in some ways I’m not too sad as they ploughed their own furrow and left behind some music that I loved and still love today.

The Book…

All of this ruminating has, inevitably been caused by a book… Last year, Eyewear Publishing issued a collection of Witt’s lyrics for the band. As I said, Witts is a polymath; he’s already published volumes on Nico, the history of the Arts Council, plus the Velvet Underground, and can nowadays be found in academia at Edge Hill University. Back in the day, he used to do wonderful little arts presentations on the “Oxford Road Show” programme (a music and culture show on the BBC) – in fact, it’s one of his pieces which is responsible for my dreadful and enduring obsession with Mayakovsky (but that’s another story…) His lyrics, unlike so many rock and pop compositions, stand up brilliantly as poetry in my view (though I have the problem of hearing the songs in my head as I read them). The book itself is a lovely little hardback limited edition, nicely illustrated with Passage memorabilia and images, as well as boasting an afterword by Witts himself.

Alas, I’m not aware of there being any live footage of The Passage out there – though I am extremely happy that I did see them live back in the day. If my dreadful memory serves me correctly, it was at The Venue in London, November, 1982 and they were just epic – one of my best gigs ever! (I also saw The Raincoats that same year and they were equally amazing). But here is a link to one of my favourite Passage songs, “Love Is As” – just wonderful…

Literally everything by The Passage was released on a series of CDs by LTM Records and you can still get hold of these, including a disc of BBC sessions. Interestingly, I’ve seen reference to a broadcast of part of a concert on the BBC John Peel show in 1982 which isn’t on the CDs which *supposedly* no longer existed; so I’m rather happy that I still have my off-air cassette recording of that somewhere in the house (and in any case, it can be sourced online…)

If any of this interests you at all, you can check out several of their songs on YouTube, and there is an excellent Passage site here:


Witts has his own site, too, which is here and covers The Passage plus the rest of his career:


I find it eternally fascinating how some of the stuff (music, art, literature) you love at a younger age can stay with you, and some falls by the wayside. Certainly, I could list any number of books, authors or music that I couldn’t read or listen to again. But I always loved the music of The Passage and I’m pretty sure I always will – even when I’m a crabby old lady berating the younger generation for their dullness and conventionality…. 🙂