The band was formed in 1977 by a group of University of Leeds art students : Jon Langford, Kevin Lycett, Mark White, Andy Corrigan andTom Greenhalgh - the Gang of Four and Delta 5 formed from the same group of students. They took the band's name from the Mekon, anevil, super-intelligent Venusian featured in the British 1950s-1960s comic Dan Dare (printed in the Eagle). The band's first single was "Never Been in a Riot", a satirical take on the Clash's White Riot. For several years the loose-knit band played noisy, bare-bones post-punk, releasing singles on a variety of labels. The Mekons' first album, The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strnen, was recorded using the Gang of Four's instruments, and due to an error by the Virgin Records art department, featured pictures of the Gang of Four on the back cover. After 1982's The Mekons Story, a compilation of old recordings, the band ceased activity for a while, with Langford forming The Three Johns.
By the mid-1980s (revitalised by the 1984 miners' strike) the Mekons had returned as an active group. The band was now augmented by vocalist Sally Timms, violinist Susie Honeyman, ex-Damned member Lu Edmonds, accordionist/vocalist Rico Bell (a.k.a. Eric Bellis), and former The Rumour drummer Steve Goulding and Kelvin Weech on food, They began to experiment with musical styles derived from traditional English folk (tentatively explored on the English Dancing Master EP prior to the hiatus), and American country music. Fear and Whiskey (1985), The Edge of the World(1986) and Honky Tonkin (1987) exemplified the band's new sound, which built on the innovations of Gram Parsons and blended punk ethos and left wing politics with the minimalistcountry of Hank Williams. Subsequent albums, such as The Mekons Rock'n'Roll, continued to experiment with diverse instrumentation (notably the fiddle and slide guitar).
The Mekons Rock and Roll was the band's first major label release. Issued by A&M Records in 1989, Rock and Roll was not a commercial success, but it was met with critical acclaim.
Just as the Mekons began to grow in critical stature, their relationship with A&M Records became tense, and the Mekons were soon dropped by the label, unable to fulfill their commercial expectations. However, they continued to record at a prolific rate, releasing such notable albums as 1991's The Curse of the Mekons, 2000's Journey to the End of the Night, and 2002's OOOH!. Natural moved the band to a more folk-flavoured sound. In April 2009 the Mekons returned to the studio to complete a new collection of songs, released in 2011 as Ancient and Modern on Bloodshot Records.
Jon Langford has been busy as an artist and as founder of several solo and band projects, including the Waco Brothers (a punk-meets-Johnny Cash-like ensemble) and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts (exploring the music of Bob Wills, Johnny Cash and others). Besides his solo albums he has released CDs with Richard Buckner, Kevin Coyne, The Sadies, Kat Ex (Katherina Bornefeld) of The Ex (band).
The band has toured and recorded with a mostly unaltered lineup (Langford, Greenhalgh, Timms, Goulding, Bell, Edmonds, Honeyman, and bassist Sarah Corina) throughout the 1990s and early 21st century, and has a highly devoted following.