Nobody ever gave him a good turn. What do you expect?
He was always let down.
They never wanted to let his action down.
But also they wanted it ssublime Sheffieldism and equality equally. (2)
He was always in the middle for him.
On the fields. Brooklands. They said tone it down. (3)
We all understood him. But he is hostile.
For years they have believed we were inspired by the Holy Spirit
and the work of God.
They still recognize that many prominent NC members are wonderful people.
They're warm, intelligent, but terribly misguided.
Slowly, painfully, he become disillusioned. (6)
They call us "shadowy." Anti-hostile. (7)
They demand to know, with a touching, naive faith of the individual.
Many times, brothers, have they tried to discredit our gangsterism.
And now we're old, the elite of the damned. (8)
1. A foreboding and perhaps underrated weave of weary yet insistent words and sounds, this song is quite unique. As Dan has discovered, in perhaps the single greatest feat of sourcing in the history of the Annotated Fall, the lyrics refer to the Roman Catholic Neocatechumenal Way (NCW), otherwise known as the Neocatechumenate or the "NC." In the early Church, the catechumenate was the practice of preparing a student--called a catechumen--for baptism into the faith (the teacher was called a catechist; catechism means 'teaching,' and a catechism is a summary of doctrine). The catechumen was mainly concerned with the instruction and preparation for baptism of pagans who were converting to Christianity. The NC, on the other hand, is a group formed in Madrid in 1964, the main function of which is to instruct adults who are already baptized. The song's proximate inspiration--and the direct source of some of its lyrics--is an article from the March 2, 1996 Guardian by Madeleine Bunting called "An Elite of the Damned," a line which itself appears in the song. The article details the controversy that surrounds the group, both inside and outside of the Church. According to Bunting, the movement has been accused of "secrecy, elitism, destruction of the individual, and the development of a group dependency." It is remarkable to see how MES has taken this prosaic source material and molded it into a powerful work that is far more than the sum of its parts.
2. Sheffield is in South Yorkshire. It is a large industrial town, but is nevertheless sometimes called "the largest village in England" due to its isolation, lack of tall buildings or grand architecture, and largely working class poplulace, among which socialist and left agitation has a rich history. "The Elite of the Damned" draws an analogy between the NC and Sheffield's "9 O'Clock Service," a Church service aimed at youth that was started by Christian artists and musicians at St. Thomas' Church (an ecumenical church that combines Anglican and Baptist traditions, thus not a Roman Catholic institution). The Service, which was accused of insular cult-like tendencies and doctrinal deviations, was shut down in 1995 after its leader, an ordained Anglican priest named Chris Brain, was accused by several young women in the group of sexual abuse and admitted to having sexual relations with several of them.
I had a look at The Rise and Fall of the Nine O'Clock Service by Roland Howard, which says, about a band formed by the NOS leader Chris Brain:
Roland HowardPresent Tense (later named Tense) soon had a following of hundreds, mainly Christians, but they were fast developing credibility on the secular circuit. The vision at this stage was far more sophisticated. They eschewed the idea of overt evangelism as far too obvious and embarked on an avant-garde mission to infiltrate and subvert Western culture and thus to bring about more significant change by presenting radical Christian values which could make a long term, more substantial, difference. ... Their first secular concert was at The Limit club in 1981. But their professionalism and credibility was most notably demonstrated in a benefit concert for the Lead Mill arts centre in which they supported The Fall and Cabaret Voltaire.
Dan, however, reports that there is a property on Old Bury road called Brooklands, next to the Woodthorpe, a drinking establishment frequented by MES.
I just wanted to note that while "An elite of the damned" here is plainly taken from Bunting's article, it seems to have literary antecedents. For example, see R.D. Laing's review of Jean Genet's Miracle of the Rose in New Society, vol 7, 13 January 1966, p.25, which is entitled "An Elite of the Damned". A quotation from the review: "It is made very clear that it takes years of training, plus discipline before one can have any pretensions towards joining the Genetian elite of the damned."
5. The NC reportedly emphasizes obedience and submission among its members. From Bunting's article: "Gradually, they introduced the idea that quiescence was a mark of holiness." The catechumens allegedly were taught to consider their primary duty to be to the NC itself: "the teaching on obedience and submission (a constant theme) subtly changed over time. First it was cast in the context of obedience to God. Then, because the Church is the body of Christ, members were told to obey the Church - standard Catholic doctrine. But then, they extended the idea to claim that the NC was the Church, so members had to obey the NC." In the article it is claimed that this resulted in a situation where each catechumen was told to rely on their catechist to make personal decisions for them.
6. These lines are almost a word for word quote of the following passage from "An Elite of the Damned": "For years they believed the NC was inspired by the Holy Spirit and was the work of God. They still recognise that many prominent NC members are wonderful people - warm, intelligent, devout - if terribly misguided. But slowly, painfully they became disillusioned." In the article the passage is a concession that many members of the NC are well-intentioned. By putting these words in the mouth of the song's narrator, however, MES has made them into a cynical and manipulative admission of a kind of resigned nihilism elevated to a principle and, thus, rendered active.
7. Again from Bunting: "The NC is a shadowy movement. Its headquarters in Rome are unmarked and, it seems, the phone is rarely answered. There is no literature available: all [founder Kiki] Arguello's teachings are transmitted orally. In England, my inquiries were passed around a bizarre circle of English, Spanish and Italian priests and eventually ran into the sand when it became clear my article might detail criticisms of the movement.
8. These lines (the last of which is of course the title of Bunting's article) derive from the following quote from an anti-NC campaigner named Ron Haynes: "They promulgate a view that the individual is a source of evil and sin and that salvation lies in the group. It is the elitism of the damned."