BY KEVIN KNAPP
"It's the little decisions that people make in their daily lives that
make this monstrous machine keep rolling along, In that sense, yeah, we're a political
band, but 1 like to think we're much more than that,"
With a name like the Layabouts, this band will never catch any knack for false
advertising. Not that they're lazy; necessarily, but their infrequent live
performances-might lead one to think that. The thing is, for the Layabouts it's not a job;
it's an adventure. No, make that a celebration. And the Layabouts prefer to keep it that
"It may sound like bragging, but that tends to be the way our performances go,"
said Alan Franklin, Layabouts' lead guitarist. "Part of the celebration is in the
fact that we don't play every weekend. We don't Ro to a club and turn up there week after
week. We're able to choose how frequently we play and where we play, and that certainly
keeps you from being burned out. So when we play, it's a celebration for us, too, and in
general our performances tend to be like that. I think it has a lot to do with the kind of
music we play too.
Indeed, the music of the Layabouts(Franklin, guitar/ vocals; his brother Ralph,
bass/vocals; Stephen Goodfellow, lead vocals/percussion; Luis G. Encarnacion,
congas/percussion;. Sunni Rashid, timbales/percussion; Mary Richards,
violin/guitar/vocals; and Mel Rosas, drums/percussion) often does evoke--or provoke-'an
atmosphere .based, as it is, on reggae, ska and Latin music, underpinned by rock and roll.
The effect is one of pan-culturalism, which is not surprising Riven the makeup of the
band. "One of our percussionists is from the Dominican Republic," Franklin
noted, "the other is a black Detroiter, a woman plays violin and rhythm guitar, our
drummer's family is from Panama, and my brother Ralph and I, and Stephen, are origionally
from England." All in all, a rather left-field entry for winner of the rock
category's Talent Deserving Wider Recognition a¥ard in the Metro, Times' music poll. Make
no mistake about it though, the Layabouts are no mere ethnicky, good-time boogie band. The
message here definitely rivals the medium in its import. No Masters, the band's
debut LP, was issued at the end of 1985 and represents themes of both love and anarchy.
Songs such as "Police Reaction." "Governments Lie" and ''Millennia
Man'' spell out in no uncertain terms the band's political leanings. And although such
pointed pronouncements are central to the philosophy of the Layabouts, Franklin blanches
at the thought of being tagged a "political band."
"It can be very limiting to be called a 'political band,' " he said. "All
of us prefer to stay away from those categories, since the function of those kinds of
categories, for the most part, is to put you in a pigeonhole and then set you aside. I can
recall another area musician who, having heard us one night, said in a way I thought was a
little bit spiteful-'it's sort of socialist realism, isn' it?' At first I was annoyed, but
I'm pleased that one of the reasons people like the band is that we have something to say.
"I think that one of the great myths of the modern world is the distinction between
everyday life and politics. To me, it's all politics, in the broadest sense. It's the
little decisions that people make in their daily lives that make this monstrous machine
keep rolling along. In that sense, yeah, we're a political band. But I like to think we're
much more than that. I like to think there's enough on our album to connect with people on
all different levels."
In fact, the album-docs seem to be connecting with people, both here and abroad. Franklin
reported that a cassette of the LP found its way to a Toronto radio station, where it's
currently the third most-requested album on the air. In England, the renowned DJ John Peel
spun the disc over the BBC-One channel. Yet, even as the record registers its impact in
far-flung places, the net benefit of its progress will be felt here at home-amone the
needy of the Cass Corridor, to whom the Layabouts have donated the proceeds of the album.
The group formed in 1980, with the Franklin brothers, Goodfellow and Rosas. Initially
playing cover songs, the band's gigging was limited, for the most part, to private parties
for friends in the local art community. Eventually, they began to write their own material
which reflected their perspective on the world. And people listened.
"The success of this band, limited as it may be, has a lot to do with
perseverence," Franklin stated. "I think we're all surprised that the band ended
up going on this long. From the outset, it was always 'just for the fun of it.'"
But the band is due to undergo a major change in its ranks this month, as half of the
founding members bid farewell. Goodfellow, a highly regarded painter, will exit to pursue
his art career in New York City. It's likely also that Rosas, a respected painter in his
own right and a drawing instructor at Wayne State University, will bow out due to the
demands of his dual careers.
However, these six-year veterans of Layaboutdom will perform a final show with the band on
May 15 at Alvins in Detroit as a benefit for a group opposed to the building of Detroit's
What then for the Layabouts-in-limbo?
"Well, it is kind of a limbo stage right now," admitted Franklin, "and it's
a little deterring to look at the work entailed from this point on. Stephen was a real
focal point of the band; he's got presence. We've decided that we're not going to try to
replace him, in the sense that we'd find someone else who will do what Stephen does. It
may mean that there'll be some significant changes in the instrumental lineup and how
things are done.
"It's all up in the air, but the enthusiasm is still there. We're going to keep
Strong words from an admitted Layabout.
No Masters, 10-song LP, Non-Servium Productions
The Layabouts will appear Thursday, May 15th with the Blanks, at Alvin's in
Detroit. For more information, call 832-2355.
This is the third in a series spotlighting bands voted "Talent deserving wider
recognition" in the year 1985 Metro Times Music Awards.