Boyish Days and Ballroom Nights – Coming of Age in Early 80s Liverpool

1981. Bill Drummond is looking for a direction for the Teardrop Explodes, a band he has managed into a chart career but which is growing ever more easily distracted. He solicits advice from his old mate Ken Campbell, back in Liverpool as Artistic Director of the Everyman Theatre, who offers a solution in return for a hundred pounds.

“Wilder,” he says, trousering a wad of cash.

“Is that it, a hundred quid for one word?”

“Yes, and it’s a bargain. Wilder, Bill, it has to be Wilder!”

And wilder it was. Wilder became the title of the band’s next album, while also describing the band’s social lives, enthusiasms and general behaviour. “Wilder” even encapsulated what was going on, one way or another, in Britain’s inner cities at the time: it summed up the increasing brutality being wrought by Whitehall upon the working class, it epitomised the ever more frenzied attacks upon the country’s industrial base and it crystallised perfectly the spiralling mania of foam-faced greed embraced by the very few. And thankfully, it also told of the mettlesome imagination of some of Liverpool’s poetic apostles, as the punk era’s creative shoots blossomed into a harlequin snook of floribunda in a government-sponsored bombsite. Really, Ken, you could have held out for two ton at the very least…

At this time, a 17-year-old with his own ever-wilder curiosity could easily have viewed Liverpool as the centre of some psychedelic wonderland, as the city’s musical and cultural scenes offered colourful distraction from the monochrome assault of its own government. His coming of age, in 1982, may have been celebrated with works of grandeur and invention, from within a milieu that appeared to have mined a rich seam of exotic-looking arty types – although to be fair, almost anybody could look arty and exotic to a shy Dingle teenager with the arse out of his kecks. There was, as ever, wonderful music everywhere and the clubs – first Brady’s, then The Warehouse – were essential ports of call for any touring band, and great nights out to boot. But the expectations of our wide-eyed youth had been enhanced quite early on by an evening in Mr. Pickwicks…

Plato's 1

Plato’s Ballroom started its fortnightly residency at Mr. Pickwick’s, usually a bastion of more clearly-defined entertainment, on Wednesday, 14th January, 1981, hosting one of the earliest gigs by New Order. Punk-era bands had played in the club before, but under the Plato’s banner it became a bit more than a gig. Covering both Liverpool and Manchester, it attracted hitherto-unseen exotic-looking arty types, in addition to some confused regulars trying to chat up the new clientele. Before the headliners took the stage, projections of Bunuel films had shown us dissected eyeballs and ant-oozing hand wounds, a poet had been largely ignored, a chap had emerged from a box in a cloud of talcum powder, and best of all, a young local group called Send No Flowers had become the first band to play this strange new place. They were nervous but vibrant, and sounded like they’d kept what they needed from punk, its economy and its cunning use of resources, while distancing themselves from its less subtle aspects – little apparent impression had been made upon them by Slaughter and the Dogs. They were altogether more confident on their single, “Playing for Time,” which cooked something deliciously enigmatic from frugal ingredients. A simple uphill sidewinder bass looked for a fugitive root note, the top halves of some guitar chords wove themselves around Lin Sangster’s russet vocals, the drums made sure it didn’t all go scarpering off in different directions. It was utterly ingenious – there really wasn’t much there, but it had an entrancing alchemy and its three-and-a-half minutes were over far too soon!

Send No Flowers

Send No Flowers admit defeat in the search for a fugitive root note

Forthcoming attractions at Plato’s would include A Certain Ratio, Alvin the Aadvark and the Fuzzy Ants, Fad Gadget covering himself in shaving foam and a man in a cowboy suit throwing knives at a woman in a sequinned leotard. Going for a couple of pints down Park Road would never be the same after this! And nobody forgot Box Man, God love him – he’s still here, embroiled as ever in his own world of uncompromised artistry. If only we knew what the mystified habitué at the bar was saying to the lady whose pile of blue hair was held up with knitting needles. Perhaps they made a go of it, maybe they came back to see The Pale Fountains…

The youthful Palies appeared at Plato’s in August 1981, alongside Orange Juice and The

Plato's 3 Trimmed

Wild Swans, a serendipitous bill that showcased not only Liverpool’s affinity with Scottish post-punk, but also the growing romanticism of the city’s songwriters and the unstoppable move towards austere hairdressing. It may also have been the first Plato’s night that didn’t burden the audience with an overwanked, pseudo-funky Northern drugs band. Quite cherubic, their look said Five Go Rambling In 1932, and their sweetly-crafted acoustic loveliness showed us views of Bacharach and David and Arthur Lee, as seen from the splendour of Low Hill. Their debut single, “(There’s Always) Something On My Mind,” was all of this and more, plush with strings and melodic trumpet and with Michael Head’s vocal sounding occasionally like a giddy young boy, made up to be singing his songs on a proper record and everything! These fellows clearly had never even heard of Slaughter and The Dogs, and under their gentle guidance our young man’s fondness for the music of the 60s grew still further. At some point in their early days, a straight-faced conversation must surely have gone: “So if we go down the pub in walking boots and shorts, with big thick socks and that, we might get signed by Virgin or someone?” “Nah, we’d have to get a mad ol’ fella’s haircut first, off me granddad’s barber…”


The Pale Fountains fan club crosses the ‘oller to London Road on their way to Mr. Pickwick’s

Severe haircuts were indeed becoming a matter of paramount importance, and Liverpool was blessed with any number of traditional barbers, one-cut wonders who had learned their trade in the armed forces, perhaps in an effort to be discharged. Jax, Max’s, Torbo’s, Blind Wally’s, there were plenty who could perform a cheap and effective back-and-sidectomy with half a dozen passes of a Wahl Number One. Victor, in his tiny room in Liverpool’s city centre, remains the most fondly remembered. People would queue inside and out, sometimes for hours, such were the demands of the individual vision of clippering nuance. Our curly young man, trying to sort his bonce out in time for a night on the town, would go home and forlornly inspect his trim, wondering if the problem lay with his own hair or with the exigencies of a salon with no bathroom. Truth be told, there were people whose cuts suggested that they’d been seen to as the man approached Peak Bladder! A poorly-executed or slightly outgrown Victor’s shearing could leave the victim looking like he was wearing a special helmet made of loaf. Nobody would want to go out looking like that, apart from the few with the chutzpah to carry it off as unique.

And who might they have been, then? Well, The Wild Swans would certainly have gotten away with it, although, curse them, nothing about their personal appearance had to be brazened out. Whether by accident or design, no band better epitomised the fleabitten

Wild Swans

Having being turfed out of an absinthe bar for public decadence, the Wild Swans head to the Everyman Bistro where they can still cut it in the Third Room.

splendour of Weimar Liverpool’s merchant houses, the frostbitten crumble, the wisely-shopped jumble sale and the yellowing, derelict glamour of the army surplus store. Their first John Peel session, in May 1982, might have been their defining moment, building on their debut single, “Revolutionary Spirit,” while even more evocative of a sepia absinthe advert filmed in an artists’ club. “No Bleeding,” for many their best song, finds the band sounding almost afraid of their own muse, an elegiac yet unvarnished performance flecked with moments of diffidence, as if they’re trying to grasp what they hadn’t expected to come out of them. Indeed, a more polished version, stripped of the Decadence Verité of the Peel session, may have been the song’s worst possible fate, the nervous heat of incandescent creativity gone in the air. Our now-18-year-old, flush with tiny romantic calamities, was one of the many who were stopped dead by the song, their hearts broken on the spot. He rather liked having it broken so deliciously, and that wobbly mono cassette with the session on it would break it afresh every time it poured out of the speaker, each glass tasting as good as the first.

And it was part of a perfect soundtrack to a fabulous night in the Everyman Bistro, the beloved bolthole of creatives, misfits, flaneurs, food and drink lovers even, and, lest we forget, shameless poseurs. The Bistro experience began with a moment’s surveillance from the bottom of the entrance stairs, followed by a walk to the bar and attendant greetings and cautious half-nods. A drink-laden navigation of the next room took a little longer, the letting-on accompanied by various enquiries about who had done what to whom, and how often; and a right turn at the end led to the third room, where trims and trousers and whatever else would be discreetly inspected while latecomer friends were sought. The wait in Victor’s was justified if only to avoid running this gauntlet in a loaf/helmet scenario. At least our young man’s kecks were now on speaking terms with his arse, however uncertain the relationship of his hair to his ears.

But it wasn’t all beer and bonhomie, of course. Well, not every night. The depredations visited upon Britain’s cities by the Thatcher administration had been particularly brutal to Liverpool. Jobs disappeared hand over fist as the country’s industrial base was dismantled, and while the place limped with unemployment, school leavers faced the corrosive expectation that there was simply nothing out there for them. Thirty years after the Toxteth riots, it emerged that Thatcher was receiving advice to enter the city into a program of “managed decline.” Good of them to tell us. The bards of the town made much of it all, though perhaps none so eloquently or as upliftingly as Pete Wylie. His songs, forceful paeans to strength, empowerment and retaliation in the face of every kind of disaffection, had always bridged the personal and the political, tapping into the zeitgeist of the embattled city yet seldom referring directly to headline events. His mid-82 single, under the name of Shambeko Say Wah!, did all of the above and more.


From this distance, we can see that “Remember” could have been twin-towned with “Paperback Writer.” Not only was it the last of his old-school guitar-powered belters before the move to more lavish production, but like its twin it had an irresistibly relentless beat, an echo of Motown, no middle eight and it wasn’t long enough. Why wasn’t this number one for the whole summer, in an age when even Scritti Politti were aiming at the charts? To a young chap in a post-A-level limbo it now seemed like the sun was shining all the time, and while he couldn’t afford as many trips to the Everyman Bistro as he might like, he’d certainly walk up Hardman Street more briskly with this breathless exuberance in his mind’s ear! Later in the year Wah! would release “Story Of The Blues” and make their eternally-awaited debut on Top Of The Pops. An entire Liverpudlian generation seemed to have something in its eye, even their mothers were filling up, and the world felt just right for a while, like somebody had finally switched on the third bar of the electric fire.

But what to do with all that “leisure?” Well, you could certainly read. There were bookshops to cater to almost every literary leaning and political bent – feminism, socialism, Marxism, anarchism, bagism and shagism. Atticus, on Hardman Street, offered the most enthralling esoterica to Liverpool’s most inquisitive. Here was every cultish, obscure, or heroically opaque writer anybody had ever heard of, or would get round to shortly, honest, and all in gorgeous editions tailor made for rubberneck protrusion from a jacket pocket. Musicians had jackdawed literature for a long time, of course, William Burroughs being a particular favourite: in the 70s, Steely Dan, The Heavy Metal Kids and Dead Fingers Talk had borrowed from his work, as did Liverpool’s Nova Mob and 051, whose title Breakthrough In Grey Room was a direct quote. By the end of the decade 051 had morphed into The Room, frontman Dave Jackson hitting the bookshop again – hmm, did the name of the band refer to the Pinter play, or to the Hubert Selby Jr. novel, mused our hero, now fancying himself as a bit sophisticated? Er, neither. Bugger! It came from a short story in Sartre’s Intimacy, written in the mid-1930s when he was contemplating Husserlian phenomenology. Honest to God, how could anybody keep up with this? Wasn’t two years spent achieving a low grade French A-Level enough? How many Marguerite Duras novels did a chap have to trudge through before he might gain some purchase on the machinations of his town’s bookworm


The Room celebrate a fabulous new album

counterculture? Still, in 1982 the Room’s erudite post-punkery would be lightened by the fresco cantabile of “One Hundred Years,” which sounded like someone putting a book down and rubbing their eyes before running out into the sunshine – especially to somebody despondently holding the knotted tatters of sophistication’s burst balloon. Just after this a line-up change would bring an even more ambitious new album, the luxurious “Clear!” ornamented with Paul Cavanagh’s intricately decorative guitar, and in the fullness of time Jackson would become a lecturer in Creative Writing. Who’d have thought?
In case Liverpool hadn’t had enough of Burroughs, in October 1982 Atticus managed not only to present him reading his work in Liverpool’s Crest Hotel, but also to persuade him to come to the shop to do a book signing. Our man with the blown mind, present at both, struggles to this day to comprehend the magnitude of this event which appeared, in the light of the city’s cultural abundance, to have been organised, staged and attended so casually. If he’d read in a countercultural history that something similar had gone on in City Lights or Compendium, he’d have bristled with envy, but this seemed to have been arranged as insouciantly as a gig in The Warehouse.

It was a major event, in any case, and its impact became ever more apparent with the coming years, especially on one eighteen-year-old in the audience. The reading was his first exposure to The Extremely Avant Garde, and Burroughs’ dry delivery of his intractably opaque work brought some semblance of sense to it, albeit, perhaps, a sense entirely of its own. But this was the victory of the evening – in good time the outer reaches of free jazz and any amount of other artistic abstraction would present him with little problem, on account of this early help with viewing it on its own terms. A simple enough lesson, perhaps, but an eye-opener at a time of supernova curiosity!

The imago now surfaced. In two short years an awkward and reserved down-at-heel teenager from the Dingle had become an assured and enlightened down-at-heel teenager from the Dingle, with kecks that fitted where they touched, a vague semblance of a job, an even vaguer semblance of a haircut and a shelf of impenetrable books to read on the bus to the pub. Heaven was in a wild flower, the planets were in his palm, a whole world of excitement and adventure and romance was his for the taking, should he ever get round to it. In the meantime. Send No Flowers morphed into Kit, the Pale Fountains into Shack, Wah! into Wah! Everything, The Room into Benny Profane. Paul Simpson put the Wild Swans on hold for a while to form Care with Ian Broudie and made My Boyish Days a record that sounded like the sun coming up on young adulthood’s rapt awakening, and  encapsulated in three minutes the imagination and delight that grew wilder by the day! Pure joy won out, again!

…three hundred, in fact, Easily. Five hundred, a grand, anything – he was only going to chuck it on the fire!

How Many Albert Ayler Albums Does One Man Actually Need?

A quick flick through the pile tells me I need seventeen. Hang on, are we including the box set? Twenty-six it is, then! Sorry? Oh, “actually need?” That’s different from “has hoarded,” is it? Hmm, don’t like the sound of this…

You’d think either figure would offer a more than reasonable grasp of the achievements of a musician whose recording career was as brief as that of the Beatles. But who’s talking about reasonable graspers? We’re talking about the musical accumulators here, those who might struggle with the “actually need” element of the question. I’m sticking with seventeen for Albert for the time being, but that might change…



A super feller, apparently

Stranglers Pink EP

One of the real reasons for the advent of the CD


Accumulating music was a lot less complicated when I was a youngster. There was vinyl. That was it, more or less. Vinyl was finite, at least, although a friend’s purchase of three differently-sleeved copies of “I Don’t Need To Tell Her (I’m A Super Feller)” by The Lurkers may have suggested otherwise. There were cassettes too, which enabled the devout accumulator to stockpile a huge private armoury of John Peel sessions, but which lived in the constant peril of mechanical fatality. And be honest, they could never compete with  a dodgy pink vinyl EP by the Stranglers, or a French bootleg 7-inch by “Le Velours Souterrain,” which cost 20p in a junk shop. The advent of the CD meant that whatever obscure tune had necessitated a pink EP could take its rightful place among the bonus tracks, where it could be safely ignored by all but the frankly unwell. But nonetheless, anybody with a more esoteric preference might still have found it unevenly represented in provincial record shops, where the offering may or may not have prompted further enquiry. Not that further enquiry was necessarily the best seed to sow…

Purchased in a junk shop, apparently...

Who would believe this was bought in a junk shop?

It was sown in my own mind quite early on, as my affection for Punk Rock grew in proportion to public disapproval. The singles box filled up nicely (only two by the Lurkers, mind you), but LPs would have to wait until I was emancipated from the domestic chore economy. Full-time employment, then, set me on a path which often crossed that of the accumulator, and few things encountered en route illustrate the journey quite like my fondness for the chastening racket of an avant garde saxophonist from the 1960s…

Albert Ayler 1966-6

Albert Ayler

Albert Ayler In Greenwich Village

A torrential outpouring of baffling noise, earlier today.

The first Albert Ayler album I ever bought was a vinyl copy of “Live in Greenwich Village,” a torrential outpouring of baffling noise from 1966, with a matching cover. Needless to say, it was the greatest record I’d ever heard, and similar was required as a matter of urgency. Local stores carried a mere few of Ayler’s less essential albums: one made in Denmark with a band he’d never met before, another with a trumpeter who didn’t know what was going on, and a soundtrack LP to a forgotten art house film. True, all of these offered the required baffling noise in varying degrees of tumult, but his definitive recordings were still missing in action, especially “Spiritual Unity,” (June 1964), his defining work and the album that could get a space alien to understand free jazz. But once it was found and digested it all suddenly made sense, as surely as “God Save The Queen” defined punk’s chaos to an excitable teenager! The clueless trumpeters and baffled pick-up bands on early records became signposts on a road to Damascus, the cellists and harpsichord players on that came later now seemed like obvious developments of an art of which he was the true master. Every Ayler record in the racks suddenly had a place in a historical scheme, and suddenly I “actually needed” all of them. An album of tortured spirituals recorded in a loft in Manhattan? Yes please! A one-sided LP of assault-and-battery racket with his brother squawking at inhuman velocity on trumpet? What else! Mono recordings made on a portable cassette player in a Bowery hovel full of drug dealers? Accept no substitute!

Albert Ayler's defining half hour, and a definite free jazz album. For some, the road to Damascus started here. For others, it didn't.

Albert Ayler’s finest half hour, and a definitive free jazz album. For some, the road to Damascus started here. For others, it didn’t.

What chance does the zealous convert have at a time like this, how can he end up with anything but a big pile of music? In due course more reissues were snapped up as they appeared, CDs were bought to replace LPs, new versions of CDs were bought to replace the old CDs that had been bought to replace the LPs, and all of these digital formats were eventually stored on the hard drive – well, you remember what happened to the cassettes! And still more music reappears, his debut recordings with a mystified Scandinavian band, live concerts from just days before his death in 1970, his very last official album, which had bagpipes on it. But I’ll save those for later – what do you think I am, crazy? And anyway, show me the Velvet Underground fan who, surrounded by nearly every note they ever played, actually owns a copy of their very last, Lou Reed-less album…

The Original Memphis Five

The Original Memphis Five enjoy taking due precedence over Pink Floyd.

But should we scoff? After all, accumulators amass all this stuff because they’re curious, because they love it enough to take a chance on something they’ve never heard before, because they might not hear it on the radio, because until recently they couldn’t just listen online. None of this stuff is sold to them, as such – indeed it’s their constant nagging that governs the outer limits of the reissue market. Not for them the six-disc box set of Dark Side of the Moon while they’ve never heard a record by The Original Memphis Five, nor the Amazon review when they could just talk to somebody in a shop. And they want to share it with you, whether you ask them or not – you want a mixtape, the accumulator is on the case immediately!

You do not own this album. Nobody does.

You do not own this album. Nobody does.

If we follow their manias, they’ll take us down little back alleys to specialist shops full of jazz records, or reggae, or whatever, and they’ll talk at length to the chap behind the counter who will have found them a shellac 78 by the Original Memphis Five , or a white label pre-release 12-inch by Doctor Alimantado, or even a Dutch Lurkers single, because, well, that’s what they’ve always done. And somewhere in their ranks lie the future historians, the writers, the archivists, the people who will quietly keep all this stuff alive while buying music becomes as thrilling as buying a pint of milk.

So, how many Albert Ayler albums does one man need, again? Twenty-six, just for starters…

Unavailable For Download In Your Area.

“Whaddya mean, you’ve never heard of Prag VEC? What’s the matter with you?”

Everybody who works with people younger than themselves has had this very conversation, perhaps more than once. This time it prompted me to ferret about for my own ancient Prag VEC single, in breathless anticipation of its rosily-recalled excitements. But I’d lost it. Damn! An internet trawl for a download drew a blank, not just on this but on a variety of other tunes  which once seemed as natural to me as the weather. It became apparent that a lot of music which may once have been considered a little obscure now appears, in the sunshine the digital age, to be hopelessly obscure. Legally, at least. Whither late-70s DIY pioneers the Desperate Bicycles, The Dogma Cats, Doberman Pullover? Footnotes to a forgotten John Peel show at best, and obscure enough to make Prag Vec appear bigger than The Beatles. Of course, the bands themselves may be responsible for this, and in some very terrible cases it’s possible that even the internet can’t be bothered with them, but for now let’s have a look at the forgotten stuff at the very back of the cupboard…

The Brinjal Fusiliers – Bantam Pagoda (1983)

An Indian punk band, writhing with all the venom of their western forebears. The B-side is, to all intents and purposes, the same song, but even faster. They appear mainly to be shouting about gay rights, or the lack thereof, in their home country, although a lot of the lyrics are indecipherable, if only to keep them out of trouble.

Crust – The Madness of Mountains, Parts One and Two (1980)

Formed by students in Aberystwyth, Crust became the embodiment of the hard-working, hard-touring heavy rock band, playing admired but seldom trendy venues like Liverpool’s Moonstone. On this evidence, their music was something else, the single fading in to a series of slow, earths-core guitar riffs that don’t develop as much as just, well, exist. The lyrics are an occasional but indistinguishable wail, and after four minutes or so the whole lot fades out, only to resume on side two. One suspects Crust were an “albums” band, so it was a shame that nobody asked them to make any. Legend has it that the band split up on the day their van died, their most useful member.

The Spenglers – Get A Grope On Yourself (Exi-Disque, 1977)

Three art students from Toulouse shrilling over an oddly familiar churning riff. Some people thought that this miniscule French-only release was the work of a University-educated British band having a laugh at the accusations of sexism that were regularly levelled at them. Even more people thought it was somebody having a laugh at the band, which was far more likely. And very easy.

Doctor Trumble’s Brain Emporium – the Lovable Onion (Callymazoo Records, 1986)

A reissue of a “Freakbeat” record from 1968. Bill Fleet of Callymazoo Records, a lifelong collector and archivist of 60s music, had for some time enjoyed unrivalled access to the vaults of many record labels, and his dust-downs and reissues have done much to enrich our understanding of the music of the day, whether we’ve asked for them or not. Doctor Trumble himself – Derek Treble, as he was baptised – worked by day as a pharmacist in Earl’s Court, and as such was popular with many of the scenesters of the time. This, their one flop single on Deram,  featured cameos from a host of session luminaries, all of whom had forgotten about it by the time they’d repaired to the pub. The Doctor now lives quietly in West London, his musical legacy limited to this forgotten 45 and a long-deleted compilation album shared with the likes of the Crocheted Doughnut Ring and Gertie Himmler’s Infinite Potato.

Gramsci’s Hourglass – County Road Fantasia b/w Birko Meffs (1985)

An early effort to rehabilitate drug offenders by the medium of popular song, recorded pseudonymously by a Liverpool band mired in narcotics abuse. Inexplicably, it was funded by the Government, and, perhaps more explicably, it was lousy. Although it failed hopelessly, there were some lessons learned, but not as many as there were instruments nicked and budgets fiddled. The band’s members largely faded from view, but their singer/accountant/removals man, operating under a variety of names, now administers, specialising in sartorial and home interior options for the chemically unpredictable.

Dobermann Pullover – Live At The Rat Club, 1979 (Cassette Only)

In the wake of punk, a lot of ideas were bandied about as to how to change the music industry. Most of these were terrible, but none so bad as the cassette-only release. Usually issued by bands incapable of self-editing, these would normally consist of a sloppy gig recorded on a portable cassette recorder from the back of the room. In mono. This mess was chucked up when the band played fourth on the bill to Throbbing Gristle and the Good Missionaries at London’s Rat Club’s Second Annual Festival of Revulsion. It consists of half a dozen lengthy, unmusical and hectoring improvised dirges, entirely in keeping with the rest of the evening’s menu, and was apparently a “limited release.” Whether it was the supply or the demand that was limited has, like the band, long been forgotten.

Barrington Camp and His Cyclones of Syncopation – Singing In The Bathtub (1957)

Barrington Camp – Piano/Vocals

Rusty “Clarinet” Lewis – Trumpet

Mick Toss – Clarinet

Alan Leathers – Bass

Hans “Dutchy” Rudd – Drums

Musically anomalous, perhaps, but this band’s journey into the collective amnesia was as swift as that of anybody else listed here. As jazz’s followers famously split into modernists and traditionalists, a lot of bands who thought the whole thing was daft faded somewhat into the background. The Cyclones were one such band, hitched to the fast disappearing dance band movement and rather distanced from both Trad and Be-Bop. When the work dried up, Camp himself became a handsomely paid studio musician in the film industry while the rest took an ill-advised foray into the avant garde under the name of Lewis, Leathers and Toss.

The T.Rex Pistols – Truck On Tyke/No Feelings (1981)

London’s T.Rex Pistols were a two-trick pony, neither trick requiring a great leap of imagination. This immensely entertaining live flexi-disc was sneaked out as a free gift with issue one of the singer’s fanzine. They split shortly afterwards, having exhausted both themselves and their trick bag on a short tour with their friends, The Sex Beatles. In short order they reconvened as “T.Rexcellence,” performing one trick very well and becoming one of the earliest progenitors of the Tribute Band movement, often supporting themselves as their sideline band, Bing Crimson.

Charleston Champions vs. Chiswick Chartbusters (Part One).

Two compilation CDs, inadvertently played back to back, struck me as more than vaguely similar. One was of music from the 1920s, the other the 1970s, and each reflected a time when popular music was in a state of flux, courtesy of jazz and punk rock. Both of these genres, of course, were frantically energetic by the measure of their day, and both were composites of other music of similar spirit – blues, ragtime and Vaudeville were just three of the many ingredients of early jazz, while rock ‘n’ roll, pub rock, glam rock and even Music Hall had their place in punk’s gumbo. The CDs in question – “Jazz the World Forgot” and “The Story of Chiswick Records” – offer a fabulous selection of old waxings, and give a wholly unvarnished account of their times. But they also share a striking similarity in the stories behind many of the songs, the background details that delight the musical stamp collectors out there. A lot of these acts were obscure, many of them were frankly peculiar and there was hardly one of them that you’d take home to meet your family, but you’d be hard pushed to view any of them without affection. Here, then, for your delight, delectation and perhaps even sepia-tinged recollection, ten records of different stripe, all cut from the same cloth. And in the time-honoured tradition of the compilation album, there’ll be a Part Two any time now!

(Note to younger readers/anybody under 50: Chiswick Records was an independent record label set up by Roger Armstrong and Ted Carroll in London in 1975. It grew out of Rock On, a Soho market stall that specialised in vital and vibrant music, be it rock’n’roll, soul, rhythm and blues, whatever. It inevitably embraced punk in due course, although it stuck to its original template of releasing hard-edged records for music lovers – colourful, energetic, good-humoured, characterful and occasionally preposterous. What more could a young man ask for? It morphed into the fantastic reissue label, Ace Records, in 1983).

Television Screen – Radiators From Space (1977)

To-Wa-Bac-A-Wa – Louis Dumaine’s Jazzola Eight (1927)

The Radiators From Space embodying the glamour of the 1970s.

The Radiators From Space embodying the glamour of the 1970s.

Radiators from Space were one of the first punk rock bands, and Roger Armstrong from Chiswick records was encouraged by a member of Horslips, surprisingly enough, to go and check them out in Dublin. While he was there he recorded this, the band’s debut single, in a local studio clearly too funky for such fripperies as a metronome. He followed its success by recording their first album in the same manner, thus capturing an important slice of the music’s regional history. In Louis Dumaine’s day (March 7th,Jazzola 8 1927 on this occasion), it was not unknown for music companies to set out with mobile equipment to record the further-flung musicians, preserving great swathes of jazz, blues and country and a whole kaleidoscope of their regional hybrids: this obscure but quite joyful gathering of marching band veterans was captured in New Orleans by engineers from the Victor Recording Company, in the back store room of a music shop on Canal Street!

She’s My Gal – Hammersmith Gorillas (1976)

The Mess – Thomas Morris and His Seven Hot Babies (1926)

Jess Hector (right) had a very clear idea of what he wanted from his music, but a much less clear idea of what he wanted from a hairdresser.

Jesse Hector (right) had a very clear idea of what he wanted from his music, but a much less clear idea of what he wanted from a hairdresser.

Thomas Morris, sans red coat.

Thomas Morris, sans red coat.

The Hammersmith Gorillas were fronted by the self-assured Jesse Hector, a man with a very clear idea of what he wanted from rock ‘n’ roll. Jesse already had over a decade’s experience in music, and had led a number of his own high-octane bands, among them the unforgettable Crushed Butler. His music was direct and exciting enough to earn his band great affection in the vibrant musical environment of 1976/77, dated as it may have seemed as post-punk music took its various paths. Jesse remains active on the more self-contained fringes of rock and roll, and at the time of writing was working as a cleaner at the Royal Horticultural Society.  Thomas Morris, a cornet player similarly known for reliability over innovation, was extensively recorded during the mid-20s, but became less fashionable following the rise of Louis Armstrong. Morris carried on undaunted until the early 30s, after which he spent a couple of years as a Redcoat in Grand Central Station before joining a Christian fundamentalist group and changing his name to Brother Pierre. You couldn’t make it up!

Dirty Pictures – Radio Stars (1977)

Pickett-Parham Apollo Syncopators – Mojo Strut (1926)

The hilariously misnamed Tiny Parham

The hilariously misnamed Tiny Parham

Radio Stars. Well, John Peel and Kid Jensen liked them.

Radio Stars. Well, John Peel and Kid Jensen liked them.

The Apollo Syncopators were the house band in Chicago’s Apollo Theatre in 1926, and as such had a repertoire to suit all occasions, from Vaudeville accompaniments to full-on jazz stompers. The leaders, violinist Leroy Pickett and pianist Tiny Parham, had extensive experience backing blues singers on records, (Parham even cutting a few with the legendary Johnny Dodds), and this recording of the theatre band blends the energetic exuberance of jazz with such stagey details as a wood block solo and a clownish trombone break, all following a cheesily dramatic introduction. Radio Stars had a singer, Andy Ellison, who had been in John’s Children with Marc Bolan in the 60s, and a bass player/songwriter, Martin Gordon, who had been a member of Sparks (don’t say you can’t imagine Russell Mael singing this!) They formed the Stars in 1977, and while they were associated with the punk movement, they bore their wit, pedigree, tunefulness and offbeat humour with a swagger that set them well apart. “Dirty Pictures” begins and ends with corny guitar histrionics, and in between relates the misadventures of an amateur pornographer, by way of amusingly toe-curling rhymes and a breezily timeless power-pop structure. Perfect!

Darling, Let’s Have Another Baby – Johnny Moped (1977)

While You’re Sneaking Out – George McClennon’s Jazz Devils (1926)

Lock up your daughters, it's Johnny Moped!

Lock up your daughters, it’s Johnny Moped!

The jazz devil that was George McClennon.

The jazz devil that was George McClennon.

Lennon/McCartney. Bacharach/David. Ellington/Strayhorn. Berk/Berk/Moped/Toad…Sometimes you don’t need to actually play a record, you can just gaze dreamily at the evocative songwriting credits and let them take you to a magical world. Johnny Moped was an early punk band whose initial line-up featured Chrissie Hynde and the odd member of the Damned, before settling into the classic, DHSS-dodging, non-baptismal roll call of Fred Berk, Dave Berk, Slimy Toad and Johnny Moped himself. Never a band to take themselves too seriously, their shows often bordered on the Vaudevillian – guitarist Toad was given to playing from the top of the PA, dressed only in shorts and wearing a sieve on his head, front man Moped was wont to precede songs with lengthy musings on mediaeval weaponry and on one famous occasion, the group ganged up on their singer and painted him green. George McClennon didn’t just border, he was a fully-fledged Vaudevillian, who, like his adoptive father before him, was a passable comedian who played on the “black-in-blackface” schtick. He was also a clarinettist in the novelty “gas pipe” tradition of the day, (any number of animal sounds and assorted funny noises, all present and correct here) and he would often play while performing acrobatics. Nonetheless, the records still sound quite thrilling, especially the uncredited cornet work on the tune featured here.

Common Truth – Amazorblades (1977)

Florida Rhythm – Ross’ de Luxe Syncopators (1927)

The fate of the teenage Spinners fan.

The fate of the teenage Spinners fan.

Actual Syncopators not pictured.

Actual Syncopators not pictured.

Amazorblades, based in Brighton, released this one appealing pop-punk single – tuneful, but with none of the fury of the day -though their individual musical roots lay elsewhere. One of their number, the late Steve Harris, had played with prog-rock band Woody Kern in the late 60s, while another, Ben Mandelson, had been active on the Liverpool folk scene in his teens and was a fan of the Spinners. Perhaps realising that none of this was very Punk Rock, the ‘Blades split up and the members moved in more interesting directions: Ray “Chopper” Cooper joined the Oyster Band, Mandelson joined world-music pioneers 3 Mustaphas 3 before becoming a well-renowned producer, and Harris formed an improvising jazz ensemble called Zaum, enjoying great artistic success (i.e. he still wasn’t going to give up the day job). The Deluxe Syncopators also hailed from beside the seaside, Miami in their case, and cut eight sides in one afternoon as part of a field recording in August 1927. All of these plumped for old-fashioned melody over the rhythmic drive more common to their time, and twelve months after recording them, the band split up and its members took themselves to more fertile pastures: Edmund Hall became a clarinet giant in his own right, Cootie Williams became a pillar of the Ellington band and Robert Cloud, who wrote most of the tunes, went on to record with “King” Benny Nawahi, the Hawaiian steel guitar maestro.

Part two next week…

Mike Stoddart.

Post Punk Liverpool: Ten Tales of Tea Shop Delirium.

1976. An eccentrically creative theatre director, Ken Campbell, has chanced upon Robert Anton Wilson’s “Illuminatus!,” a brain-tangling trilogy of novels examining colossal conspiracy theory in minute detail. It strikes Campbell as ideal for theatrical adaptation, and it becomes the source text for an imminent production. He puts the idea to a local set designer, Bill Drummond, who asks, incredulously, which part of the massive book he intends to focus on. “All of it,” comes the reply. “What else?”

Inspired by an arcane number theory, work begins on dividing the unwieldy opus into five plays, each play consisting of five acts, each act lasting 23 minutes. It is scheduled to open on November 23rd. Five cast members were forced to pull out due to injury at the eleventh hour. Or would that be the 23rd hour? Bill Drummond has to set the stage for many hours of intricately bizarre drama. But of course, it wouldn’t be happening in a conventional theatre. It’s happening in the Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool, part of the Liverpool School of Language, Music, Dream and Pun. This was a creative nexus on Mathew Street, the brainchild of local poet Peter O’Halligan, who believed it to be at the spot Carl Gustav Jung was dreaming about when he declared Liverpool to be The Pool Of Life. Earlier that summer, the school had hosted the first of its festivals dedicated to Jung, and Mathew Street rang to the music of a theatrical local rock group, Deaf School, and a newly-formed Art College band called Albert Dock and the Codfish Warriors. The Alberts’ bass player took to the stage by abseiling down the front of the building, dressed in full skiing outfit, while audience and participants alike enjoyed jumping in and out of a skip full of custard, laid on specially for the purpose of jumping in and out of. Welcome, dear friends, to Liverpool, where even Punk Rock might have wondered what on earth was going on…

For all of its excitements, Punk Rock became even more fascinating when added to the exotic stews of home grown weirdness cooked up in the provinces and served to people who cared little, if at all, about what might have been going on in the capital: poets and potherbs, tosspots and troubadours, shamen and shitehawks, but always, always, impassioned music lovers of every stripe. Late 70s Liverpool, then, was a blessed and magical place to be a music-obsessed mid-teenager; it’s one thing to be discovering your own music at that age, but to see its movers and shakers in the middle of town felt like something else altogether. How lucky was the music fan who could buy the NME’s Single of the Week in a shop where it’s creator would be hanging around the end of the counter? Was this ever going to happen to kids from Loughborough? Similar things may have been going on in other cities, but as the man said, neither of their bands were any good! Liverpool’s musical history has been documented more thoroughly elsewhere, of course, but for now, some fondly-remembered snapshots of an age, and half an hour of unique and hopefully diverting music.

(Technical note – this piece uses Youtube clips instead of MP3 files. I hope you’ll excuse the minor inconvenience, and agree that it’s far better than bugging the artists).

Suffice to Say – Yachts

The Yachts look forward to a skiing holiday

Yachts evolved from Albert Dock and the Codfish Warriors, and it was their bass player, Martin Dempsey, who had abseiled on to the stage in skis during the Jung festival. They specialised in whacking out witty, catchy pop songs, chivvied along by a Farfisa organ, and the delightful “Suffice to Say” could have been given an equally good home by Sparks or the Kursaal Flyers. When they split in 1981, their members moved variously to It’s Immaterial, The Christians and Pink Military, Dempsey eventually becoming a music teacher while pursuing various other projects. He now plays with the raucously energetic Gentle Scars, wonderfully theatrical fun in glorious defiance of the band’s collective age of 427 years.

Iggy Pop’s Jacket – Those Naughty Lumps

Four fifths of Those Naughty Lumps heave a sigh of relief at not having to wear The Pullover.

And on the bass guitar, Martin “Armadillo” Cooper. Martin took over Aunt Twacky’s Tea Shop in the Pun School building, and re-named it The Armadillo Tea Rooms. It remained a creative nexus. Colossal pots of Good Old Rosie Lee would last for hours, fuelling the fervid imaginations of any number of local dreamers, musicians of real or imagined ability who would convene in varying number and construct bands which might never play a gig/write a song/actually meet each other. Of course, it was also a place where more realistic and successful ideas were nurtured, a petri dish for imaginative alchemy, a first step to global renown, in which case food was also available. The self-effacing Those Naughty Lumps formed in 1976, and enjoyed regular gigs around Liverpool and the Wirral, often by invitation. Iggy Pop’s Jacket, recorded in 1978 and one of the first releases on Zoo Records, offered two minutes of good clean fun, and a reassuring indication that the better Liverpool bands maintained a degree of humility and a sense of humour. Their follow-up record was even longer, and a 2012 Lumps reunion remains an ongoing threat. Martin Cooper was a far better chef than he was a bass player, and he has long enjoyed a position of great respect in Liverpool’s culinary arena. Maybe if we all eat enough he’ll be too busy for the band to get back together.

Big in Japan – Big in Japan

Ye Gods, this was inept even by the measure of its day (November 1977). What lyrics it seems to have are screechingly indecipherable and its infantile melody soon becomes almost hallucinatory. After a minute and a half it falls apart and starts all over again, finally ending with a bit of vaguely oriental piano noodling. Needless to say, it’s one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll records ever made! Singer Jayne Casey ran a clothes stall in the aforementioned Aunt Twacky’s, so when Roger Eagle opened a new club across the street she was well placed to form a group with some of its regulars, which famously included Ian Broudie, Budgie, Holly Johnson and Bill Drummond. By 1978, having learned how to write words and music, they had no option other than to disband. Jayne took her new-found skills to Pink Military Stand Alone, before becoming an integral part of many of Liverpool’s cultural milestones. From her hefty catalogue of achievements we could choose the global success of Cream and the artistic directorship of Liverpool’s Capital of Culture year in 2008. She is to be applauded for building upon the Eric’s legacy and not merely squandering it.

Sleeping Gas – the Teardrop Explodes

Ethereal it might be, but it’ll do you no good.

Perhaps the archetypal Liverpool record of the time, an NME Single of the Week and a John Peel favourite. Alongside Echo and the Bunnymen, the Teardrop Explodes played their earliest gigs in Erics, with just two or three songs, three or four chords and a million ideas. Making a virtue of their limitations, this, their debut single, revolves around Julian Cope’s repeated five-note bass pattern, a single chord played on a tinny organ by Paul Simpson, Mick Finkler’s two-chord guitar loop and some opaque, even nonsensical lyrics. Really, it should have drifted into a bad Syd Barrett out-take, but Gary Dwyer’s drums turn it into a little miracle, keeping the simple mechanics turning over like an antique music box, and making the whole band sound like a bunch of kids making something brilliant out of spare parts. This was another release on Bill Drummond and David Balfe’s Zoo label, and weighing the quality of the record against the frugality of its resources, you have to wonder just how much Drummond learned from designing “Illuminatus!” with bits and pieces.

(Context note  – Sleeping Gas was released in the same month, March 1979, as Breakfast in America by Supertramp!)

Touch – Lori and the Chameleons

Balfe and Drummond were shameless lovers of great and glamorous 60’s pop records, especially girl groups, and took it upon themselves to make one of their own. Christening themselves The Chameleons and recording a backing track, the story goes that they drafted in an exotic-looking girl called Lori Larty who they’d seen hanging around the Armadillo and Eric’s, and wrote some lyrics around her memories of a holiday in Tokyo. It was brilliant! If the Liver Birds had made an album, this would have been Polly James’ feature song. It was snapped up by Sire Records, who reissued it with a picture on the cover of Lori holding a balloon, and it reached the lower end of the charts. Another single followed, The Lonely Spy, with a big production and a James Bond soundtrack feel to it, but Lori took herself off to art college and there were no more records. It was left to another Eric’s regular to build upon the tradition that had started with The Vernons Girls…

Electricity – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

Paul Humphries wonders what Andy McCluskey is trying to tell him.

Paul Humphries wonders what Andy McCluskey is trying to tell him.

These were the days when marketing could wait until the ideas had been hatched, the music written and the teapot drained. Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphries had met in primary school on the Wirral, and during the mid-70s played in various local groups, including Equinox and Pegasus. Yes, the mid-70s. In 1977, when the lure of their beloved electronic music finally became irresistible, they formed an eight-piece band called the Id, sidelining as a weirdo synthesiser duo called VCL XI (taking their name, of course, from a picture of a valve on the cover of a Kraftwerk LP). The Id had no shortage of gigs, but split due to musical differences in 1978. McCluskey briefly assumed vocal duties with Dalek I Love You, but, fearful that their daft name may take them nowhere, he rejoined Humphries to form Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Electricity, their debut single, was released in 1979 on Manchester’s Factory label, and remains one of the few great pop records to concern itself with hydro-electric power. A major label soon recognised the band’s commercial potential, and their 1980 debut LP was fresh and immediate and rightly successful.  Their second LP, therefore, had a duty to start with a jaunty hit single about a plane dropping an atom bomb, before offering eight more pieces in declining order of melancholy, culminating in “Stanlow,” a stately paean to an oil refinery in Cheshire.

After enormous and lasting success, OMD called it a day in 1996. Andy McCluskey, by then having learned a thing or two about strings of irresistible hit records, took responsibility for the Liverpudlian girl group tradition and launched Atomic Kitten!

Have One Yourself…

A piece like this can’t begin to be exhaustive, and may be judged by its omissions. Liverpool, then as ever, had a huge number of bands, not all of them Eric’s regulars; some had cut their teeth at places like the Moonstone or Stairways, or by playing third on the bill to the Edgar Broughton Band at the Stadium, and they are a chapter in themselves. A lot of them went unrecorded, or were unjustly neglected, or wished to avoid the “hip Liverpool band” tag. Still more were just plain terrible. So now’s your chance to have one yourself, as it were, to take five minutes for your very own Youtube trawl. Maybe you didn’t like the Teardrop Explodes, perhaps you preferred the proto-metal of Marseille, or the electrifying, primal rock ‘n’ roll of Lies All Lies, or maybe you had to pretend to enjoy a lousy band because your cousin played the drums. Whatever, now’s your chance to go and wonder what happened to them all while you scour the Internet for Torchy and the Moonbeams, or 29th And Dearborn, or even Supercharge!

(Since you asked…the singer of Marseille arrived at a successful TV career as the host of Art Attacks. The late drummer from Lies All Lies became a world class musician, first joining Dogs d’Amour and then the Quireboys. The band’s singer, James John Turner, took his commanding stage presence to the Electric Morning before opening a studio/rehearsal centre in Liverpool, to nurture new talent. He now makes fine solo albums that come in to wild acclaim in Europe and the USA)

Yes To The Neutron Bomb – The Moderates

And down it comes to dumb luck… The Moderates started as something of an ad hoc outfit, (an “arts band”, according to Pete Burns), revolving around the Everyman Bistro and some of its staff. Inspired to some extent by Deaf School’s theatricality, gigs would involve poetry readings, the odd novelty song and the lengthy ramblings of one Dame Looney. Soon enough the line-up settled and the band became a tighter outfit, ditching the peripherals to focus on the songs and swiftly releasing a well-received EP. Then everything that they’d want to happen, did –but all at the wrong time. A planned John Peel session fell foul of a Musician’s Union dispute; a Melody Maker feature didn’t go to press thanks to a Fleet Street strike; an interested major label got cold feet about a song parodying sexism. Yes to the Neutron Bomb, eh… was any other band better qualified to sing about things blowing up in their face?

A suddenly-hectic recording schedule – demos, a Peel session, another single – brought tensions within the band to a head, and with cruel irony, they split up, on account of everything going right. But not before they played to a crowd of over 200 in the confines of the Armadillo Tea Rooms, on the same night as a young Dublin group, playing the UK for the first time, struggled to attract 60 people to the club across the road. Should the Moderates have been bigger than U2? Well, for one night they were, at the very least…

Seven Minutes to Midnight – Wah! Heat

Pete Wylie gets ready to nip out for a pint of milk.

It would be gratifying to think that all of the records in this piece, like good wines, are imbued with certain qualities of their birthplace, offering some or other vision of their genesis. By this token, Wah! Heat’s Liverpool would be a place where you’d do well to hurry up. It was a neglected and occasionally dangerous place by the end of the 70s, and it was already clear that the newly-elected Tory Government wasn’t about to stop the rot. Wah! Heat managed to capture much of the city’s anxious urgency and embattled pride, and their early records, sounding like they were running from one apocalyptic dread into another, came across like terrace chants for Camus fans. And they were loud! For all his cavilling about rock’s traditions, Pete Wylie led the noisiest and most rocking band of them all, plainly enthralled by the viscerality of the Big Beat. And yet he scarcely needed a band to fill a room – Wylie was an incessant barrage of ideas and opinions, and everywhere he went was his court. He was fast, he was ebullient, sometimes he was brash and he was unshakeably convinced of his own legend, but the early recordings – one album, a handful of singles and an epochal Peel session – pretty much bear him out. Maybe Liverpool didn’t need a Johnny Rotten, but it was certainly blessed with its own Jelly Roll Morton!

Subsequent records by Wylie’s various incarnations enjoyed more lavish production and chart success. The messages stuck fast, however, and many of them now sound like latter-day Liverpudlian folk songs, uplifting, defiant and deathless. He’s still performing regularly and keeping any number of fine compositions under his hat, and he’ll never be written off.  Would we want him to be?

Revolutionary Spirit – The Wild Swans

“You look like a star, but you’re still on the dole” – Ian Hunter, “All The Way From Memphis”

After a year or so of punk rock, leather and gob, Fancy Dans were more than welcome!

And who looked more like a star than Paul Simpson, the Baudelaire of Bold Street? Simpson formed the Wild Swans in 1980, with Jerry Kelly and Ged Quinn, a little while after his departure from the Teardrop Explodes. They weren’t really given to the sweaty dues-paying expected of a young band, and some of their early gigs carried a distinct sense that something unique was happening. Indeed, it was – a bunch of well turned-out young rakes playing in a venue that didn’t have drain problems, rodents or sticky carpets was not yet a regular occurrence. Revolutionary Spirit, with Pete de Freitas of Echo and the Bunnymen on drums, sounded just like they looked – distinguished, dissolute, esoteric and frankly posh, even though not a single one of them had a proper job. And here we find the essence of all the music featured here, a common thread to all of these Oxfam Rimbauds, thrift shop Keefs and quid-deal decadents. Punk may have got them out of the house, but it was the place it sent them to that mattered; somewhere altogether stranger and more wonderful, where Language, Music, Dream and Pun were all far more important than making a living, where they could do or be anything they wanted, where they could shoot at the moon while sleeping on the floor. And where they could drink plenty of tea.

Mike Stoddart.

Anybody seeking the flavour of Liverpudlian music fandom in the pre-punk 1970s is encouraged to have a rummage around Craig McIntosh’s warmly accommodating Liverpool Stadium website: