Kept Alive by my Irritability

I recently awoke on a warm summer morning with an idea buzzing in my head. Call it the curse, or gift, of a writer. I reached for my phone and began tapping an email to self on re-connecting with the music of Manchester band, Magazine. I’d recently bought the re-mastered CD of a long-lost album from my youth, The Correct Use of Soap. Once I’d got my initial thoughts down, I performed my morning ablutions and a bit later roughed it up into this expanded article on early musical memories. We were once the young men Ian Curtis’s sang about, and I was a youth in Liverpool in the late 70s and early 80s.


How did the Greater Manchester area (yes, I know Salford is a city, Macclesfield and Stockport towns, each with their own identities) spawn so many soulful lyricists, backed up by searing post-industrial-wasteland self-taught rock musicians? We’d all grown up with 60s and 70s rock, pop and soul music ringing in our ears, but somehow the raw energy of Rock, the ragged anarchy of Punk Rock, seemed more appropriate to the task of observing, describing and reflecting life in a grim urban landscape. I’m talking about the front men of Magazine, Joy Division and the Smiths – Devoto, Curtis and Morrissey. I saw them all in concerts where I connected with their music, reflected on the power of youth to challenge, the sour lot of the working class, how to build hope out of urban decay, and how to be alone in a crowd. Add to this the notion that emerging young adults see the world around them with a clarity and purity of thought as yet unpolluted by the capitalist dogma that has created the consumer bubble in which we are trapped. I think my nostalgia for the punk and new wave bands of my youth is a recognition that the ideas conveyed through music helped with my orientation and gave me a sense of identity and location. I’m talking about roots. We all come from somewhere and home for me was Liverpool, where I had the freedom to meet up with my mates, jump on a bus and go into town to see bands at Erics Club, and others that followed, like the State, where I saw Howard Devoto and his band just after he left Magazine. He still performed some of the old classics – Shot by both sides, Philadelphia and Song from under the floorboards. A man made old and wise before his time by his sharp wit and trademark receding hairline. It’s his introspective, almost paranoid lyrics that I’ve recently rediscovered:
I am angry I am ill and I’m as ugly as sin, my irritability keeps me alive and kicking. The opening lines to A Song from Under the Floorboards – a track on Magazine’s third album, The Correct Use of Soap. I’m putting it on my funeral playlist, along with Decades by Joy Division (see below). Don’t be alarmed – I’m not ready to check out just yet.


This was in the early 80s and I was already a veteran of over 50 gigs. In my early 20s, perhaps a year or two younger than my onstage heroes, I also had a swagger and surety that I knew something, that the World and all its riches were waiting to be discovered. Armed with notebook and biro, I scribbled impressions to later be forged into pithy gig reviews for my music column in a local community news magazine. I interviewed the Stranglers at Brady’s in 1980 and chatted with Andy McClusky at a Psychedelic Furs gig.
By pure chance (or fate?) I had been the wide-eyed junior reporter in BBC Radio Merseyside’s studio on the morning of Tuesday 9th December 1980 when the breaking story that cleared the decks was the news that John Lennon had been shot in New York. I heard the news that day, oh boy. Janice Long, later Radio 1 and TOTP presenter, then Studio Assistant, was detailed to look after me. Yeah, I’ve had a mug of tea made for me by Cheggers’ sister. A truly surreal morning. Alan Jackson and Roger Phillips were true pros, conductors at the heart of a city waking up to shocking news, pulling together a reverential and sentimental wave of music and sound bites, a collage that portrayed an outpouring of grief over the fate of Liverpool’s best loved son (sorry Paul). I wince every time I hear Imagine – it was played to death that week. I’ve got a good face for memories.
The Beatles’ rock n roll legacy were the northern new wave bands I now spent my meagre wages going to see and buying their records. Echo and the Bunnymen were new on the block, my new favourite band in the fickle world of pop music, and I adopted their look with dark crombie overcoat, drainpipe black jeans and baseball boots. In those days my wild frizzy red mop of hair grew out in an unkempt afro. No gel required.


But back to my gig memories. In 1978 I made a good choice to go and see the north’s answer to the Pistols – the Buzzcocks. I’d bought their Spiral Scratch EP (with ‘Boredom’ on it – scan pictured) co-written by Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto, in his pre-Magazine days. Devoto had left the band by the time of the Buzzcock’s ’78 UK tour. The speed of delivery and energy were there, but the Buzzcocks had better-formed songs than the Pistols. I’d heard their support band, Joy Division, on the late night John Peel radio show, and was intrigued. But I was simply blown away. Joy Division’s set was mesmerising, and once I’d seen Ian Curtis’s manic butterfly dance to She’s lost Control, I was hooked. It was a performance that can only be compared to footage of Jim Morrison fronting the Doors, although this was no imitation. Like Morrison, he was a driven poet with a vision to share. Curtis was locked in his own world of pain, but his thoughtful, introspective lyrics painted graphic visual images of suffering, set against a bleak landscape, but tinted with hope, defiance and resilience. In reality, he was suffering with a debilitating condition – epilepsy, treated with mood-altering medication. Add to this a self-destructive ménage à trois that he couldn’t resolve, he reached overload and took his own life on the eve of what was to be the band’s first US tour in 1980. A poet and philosopher, his legacy survives in a huge global following for Joy Division’s slim body of work forty years on. I saw them three times, the third one of their last gigs in April 1980 at the Russell Club/Factory in Manchester. Dead souls, Atrocity Exhibition, Decades and LWTUA stood out. I don’t mind admitting my eyes welled up with tears when I read Paul Morley’s obituary of Ian Curtis in the NME.
But let’s get back to the lyrics of these three great Northern poets/lyricists that are still inspiring new generations of young people. To hear today’s students singing along to Morrisey’s lyrics at a Smiths tribute band gig in 2020 was a pleasant surprise. So, now to some favourite lyrics and links to YouTube:

Philadelphia by Magazine (extract):
Buddha’s in the fireplace
The truth’s in drugs from outer space
Maybe it’s right to be nervous now
Everything’d be just fine
If I had the right pastime
I’d’ve been Raskolnikov
But Mother Nature ripped me off
In Philadelphia
I’m sure that I felt healthier
Maybe it’s right to be nervous now…

Where have I seen you before?
‘Same place you saw me, I expect
I’ve got a good face for memories’
In Philadelphia
I’m sure that I felt healthier
Maybe it’s right to be nervous now…
Lyrics: Howard Devoto – great guitar riffs from John McGeogh
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dBLEA2o3Gc

Decades by Joy Division (extract)
Here are the young men, the weight on their shoulders
Here are the young men, well where have they been?
We knocked on the doors of Hell’s darker chamber
Pushed to the limit, we dragged ourselves in
Watched from the wings as the scenes were replaying
We saw ourselves now as we never had seen
Portrayal of the trauma and degeneration
The sorrows we suffered and never were free
Where have they been?

Weary inside, now our heart’s lost forever
Can’t replace the fear, or the thrill of the chase
Each ritual showed up the door for our wanderings
Open then shut, then slammed in our face
Where have they been?
Lyrics by Ian Curtis – an eerie foretelling of his fate? The track has a funereal feel and a timeless, compelling beauty…
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n272UVfsciM

What difference does it make? By The Smiths.
All men have secrets and here is mine
So let it be known
For we have been through hell and high tide
I can surely rely on you
And yet you start to recoil
Heavy words are so lightly thrown
But still I’d leap in front of a flying bullet for you

So, what difference does it make?
So, what difference does it make?
It makes none
But now you have gone
And you must be looking very old tonight

The devil will find work for idle hands to do
I stole and I lied, and why?
Because you asked me to!
But now you make me feel so ashamed
Because I’ve only got two hands
But I’m still fond of you, oh-ho-oh

But no more apologies
No more, no more apologies
Oh, I’m too tired
I’m so sick and tired
And I’m feeling very sick and ill today
But I’m still fond of you,
Oh, my sacred one…
Lyrics by Morrissey
Impossible to pick a definitive example of Morrissey’s lyrics, given his wide body of work, but I’ve gone for an early hit and personal favourite, What difference does it make? I stood three feet from Johnny Marr as he played the jingly-jangly riff to this immortal classic when they supported the Sisters of Mercy at an impromptu University of London SU gig in 1983. My mate was from Manchester and had already ‘discovered’ the Smiths in early ’83, and we were familiar with their early singles Hand in Glove, its brilliant b-side Still Ill, and This Charming Man. I remember them slowing the tempo with Reel Around the Fountain – still a favourite from the first album. It’s time that the tale was told.

One of many great nights seeing raw emerging talent on tiny stages, belting out future hits. Snapshots in time, but music destined to be not only for their contemporary generation but future ones as well. Thank you Devoto, Curtis and Morrissey for sharing your thoughts and feelings with us through such inspiring and memorable songs.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XbOx8TyvUmI

These songs, these lyrics, these memories have formed the soundtrack to my life. I followed my own muse and became the editor of the student magazine at the Polytechnic of Wales (now University of Glamorgan) in South Wales in the early 80s, reporting on such gigs as New Order, the band re-born from the ashes of Joy Division, in January 1983, when they first played Blue Monday to an audience at Cardiff Uni JSU. Musical taste evolves and I carried my love of now, happening live music forward with me on my journey through life, but occasionally pausing to listen to early loves and influences from the great days of my youth.
Viva music, viva la vida.

Checkout my books here: https://timwalkerwrites.co.uk

Here Are the Not-So-Young Men

I recently met a fellow Joy Division fan – Kully – and our enthusiastic banter led to him reading my post – Shadowplay – An Imagined Day in the Life of Ian Curtis – and then sending me an in-depth article he had written on the band, and his permission to post it on my blog (see below). We are now in our 50’s, but our shared enthusiasm for this Manchester band whose short career ended 38 years ago in 1980, remains undiminished. The legacy of their music still leaves a huge footprint on the British rock scene and continues to speak to us across the years. We are yesterday’s young men, reliving the energy and hope of youth through their fascinating and compelling music.

Joy Division
Ian Curtis and Joy Division

It is impossible to write about Joy Division without an element of gloom, as their short career came to an abrupt end in 1980 with the suicide of lead singer, Ian Curtis. From the ashes of Joy Division, a new band emerged, with the remaining members forming electro-rock band, New Order. I was privileged to have seen Joy Division three time in concert – twice in Liverpool in 1979 (first, supporting the Buzzcocks at the Mountford Hall, and second at Erics, supported by fellow Factory band, Section 25), and then at the Hacienda (then the Russel Club) in 1980 where they played tracks from their second album, Closer, in addition to the ultimate love-gone-wrong song, Love Will Tear Us Apart. This last gig is still one of my most memorable concerts – I will never forget searing versions of Twenty Four Hours, Atrocity Exhibition and Decades – this last song giving us the immortal line that came to epitomise the band, “Here are the young men, a weight on their shoulders.” From the moment I first saw Ian Curtis’s tortured butterfly dance – elsewhere described as the dance of a headless chicken with 100 volts shot through it – I was hooked. Not just that but the feel of the music that seemed to encapsulate the hardship of life in a post-industrial northern wasteland, tinged with defiance in a strangely uplifting vibe. Once seen, once heard, never forgotten…

EXCESSIVE FLASHPOINTSAn Inside Portrait of Ian Curtis and Joy Division by Kully.

Ian Curtis picIf you stand on the threshold of 77 Barton Street and look inside the slight Victorian terraced house, you will see a small triangular room to the left of the stairs. This was called ‘the blue room’ and was Ian Curtis’s private space – his writing place. This is where he wrote the lyrics, the lyrical poetry that became the voice of Joy Division. To the right of the stairs is the rest of the house – this was his wife Debbie’s place and later, her and her infant daughter’s place.
The house exists on a bend in the road. This means that 77 Barton Street is actually bent in two and the window of the blue room – Ian Curtis’s view, actually faces a different direction to that of his wife and daughter. An isolated view – maybe this is symbolic; maybe this is real.
Ian Curtis was not your average young man. The working class lad that dropped out of grammar school – he essentially taught himself. His reading matter was well beyond anything that his friends, colleagues, band-mates were reading; witness: Nietzsche, Herman Hesse, Jean-Paul Sartre, Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Rimbaud, Poe to Aldous Huxley (Brave New World), Anthony Burgess (A Clockwork Orange), William Burroughs, J.G. Ballard (Crash, High-Rise, The Atrocity Exhibition). So, amidst the dystopian fiction, deeply philosophical works; combined with an interest in art (Andy Warhol, Dada and Surrealism). It was a proper education.
Like most teenagers, he couldn’t imagine himself at thirty. I know when I was that young, I felt the same way. It seemed an impossible age away. Now I’m over fifty and I can’t imagine being that young again. If Ian Curtis was alive today, he would be a musician – I think he would be a fine, fine writer.
But when you’re in your teens – it’s music that grabs you first. It’s much more real – much more visceral, more immediate and ‘in yer face’ – as they say in modern parlance. And so it was when the Sex Pistols turned up to gig in Manchester – not just once, but twice in the summer of 1977. I know there was the glam and pop of Bowie and Bolan before this, but it was actually the Sex Pistols that showed the inhabitants of Manchester that anyone could get up on stage and perform … anyone. All you needed was three chords and determination.
So it was that Stiff Kittens was born … which then transformed into Warsaw and then finally Joy Division – a band that was already walking away from the dying embers of Punk to carve out their own identity. Joy Division have been described as ‘an original of the species that was to become Goth’ by no other than Bono of U2 (themselves a fledgling punk band around this time); but there was no dark eye-liner and dressing all-in-black that the genre seemed to define with Joy Division – they walked their own path.
It’s hard to define their sound. The music is certainly serious, you could call it heavy rock but it’s not metal. There’s more to it than that – but then certain songs like Twenty Four Hours do rock out in the traditional rock sense. It is the vocal and subject matter that is different; there is also a pace, a build-up and a coming down that is not present in other rock songs. It’s their sensibility which sets them apart from other bands. Charles Shaar Murray described their sound as ‘awful things carved out of black marble’ – but like marble, there are patterns of pale beauty and melody laced throughout.
The name Joy Division was taken from a book – a lurid piece of holocaust fiction entitled House of Dolls by Ka – Tznetik ( a pseudonym for Yehiel Feiner). It was written in the form of a diary and told about the section of a Nazi concentration camp where young women were forced into sexual slavery – not the Labour Division – but the Joy Division. By the time the group selected the name in 1978, this sensationalist memoir had sold millions. Joy Division’s guitarist Bernard Sumner had been given a paperback copy.
Since they were essentially a ‘rock band’, Sumner’s guitar sound was very important. It tended to give a discordant edge to a lot of Joy Division’s music. At other times, it’s tone was chiming or performing a perfect counter-point melody, as in Decades. Everyone in Joy Division was a multi-instrumentalist which helped the band enormously.
Stephen Morris – the last member to join the band, is a talented drummer. He has a precise – even militaristic style, that suits the music and was evident even then. It goes well with his greatest ambition: that is to drum as well and as accurately as any drum-machine.
Peter Hook’s bass-lines are the emotional pulse of Joy Division. It was an inspired move to bring them to the front and centre-stage of the music. It’s what sets their music apart from everyone else’s. Hook wrestles the sounds out of his bass like a rock-star; stiff-legged and bent over his instrument – not quietly strumming along in the background as most bassists do.
Something needs to be said at this stage about Ian Curtis’s voice. It’s deep, sonorous – almost a baritone; and it carries a depth, a weight missing from all his peers. It absolutely suits his lyrics – the two compliment each other perfectly. The weight of the voice gives the lyrics – about alienation, guilt, isolation and despair – a solidity, a maturity – a grandeur that a lesser voice would never be able to reach. Voice and words inter-lock bian-curtiseautifully – giving both an authenticity – something borne of experience rather than just imagined.
The two people most responsible for the ‘look’ of Joy Division is designer Peter Saville and the photographer Anton Corbijn. Peter Saville’s cool, austere graphical style made each Joy Division record sleeve a collector’s item. Whereas Anton Corbijn’s stark black and white photography of the band lead him to not only direct the music video of Atmosphere when it was re-released, but also to direct the movie of Ian Curtis’s life with Joy Division in the film Control.
Curtis was a closed-in person. What he projected on the outside was different from his internal climate. Curtis found it hard to reconcile his role as a husband and as a father with his role as the lead in a rock band. It certainly caused friction between him and his wife and there were people around the band that wanted this distance to be maintained. They didn’t want the lead of a rock band to be seen with a heavily pregnant wife – what sort of image would that send out? A family man is certainly not ‘rock and roll’. I think this disconnect is the growing chasm that his wife was talking about in the title of her first book on Curtis Touching from a Distance – a title taken from the song lyric for Transmission.
Like a lot of people, Ian was a rage of inconsistencies. He went into things that he later wanted to back out of. In the song Passover, he sings – ‘back out of my duties when all’s said and done, I know that I’ll lose every-time.’ He wanted something – when he got it, he didn’t want it anymore. This kind of fruitless behavior can leave many a person feeling unfulfilled. As ready consumers in an empty, increasingly materialistic society – we are all destined to remain unsatisfied.
As writers, we sometimes write about what we’re drawn to – maybe this is where the alienation and guilt and despair come in. Maybe, as his wife suggests – Ian Curtis was, what we nowadays call bi-polar. Maybe it’s what all around us in our personal sphere – or maybe, even in the wider environment.
Someone once said of Ian Curtis: ‘he could see the madness in our area’. Maybe they were right. After all, this was late 70’s Manchester – with it’s dark satanic mills standing empty and alone. Sometimes this city has a dour, grey pessimism which forms the very weather plus a history that produced a society dispossessed and broken … and of course, left behind. The ‘winter of discontent’ in 1979 also hit this post-industrial town and produced a general feeling of malcontent and despair – that things were going wrong and this feeling leached into the very music and lyrics that the band were producing. Joy Division could not have come from anywhere other than Manchester.
Like Curtis, Manchester is a closed-in taciturn city. It’s inhabitants are not prone to talk about their feelings. So a certain isolation is there already. Combine that with the air of desperation that is already present … just below the surface – a historical malcontent. Joy Division were the only band that were able to express that feeling, make it coherent and whole for the rest of the world.
By 1980 everything was coming to a head. The diagnosis of his epilepsy had occurred while his wife Debbie was pregnant with his child. Then there was his intrinsically, introspective nature. His imploding marriage – partially caused by his growing relationship with Annik Honoré – the girl he met while on tour in Europe, was becoming white hot. I believe, the disintegrating relationship with his wife, and the song Love Will Tear Us Apart about a relationship fracturing, are more than just coincidence.
All writers essentially write about themselves; and the stuff that’s going on around us often bleeds into our work. It’s what makes our work individual and of the time and place. Curtis was no different.
And sometimes we’re actively drawn to what destroys us. A love triangle where no one wants to ‘break the chain’ as Stevie Nicks eloquently puts it in Fleetwood Mac’s awesome The Chain – (itself a testament to relationships crumbling) from the Rumours album – describes the situation perfectly.
With his epilepsy getting worse – very probably exacerbated with the late nights, flashing lights and alcohol and drugs of a life ‘on the road’. Everything was getting worse, coming to a head – and the warning signs were being ignored.
As he sings in Twenty-Four Hours (a song written in his final year 1980) – ‘excessive flashpoints, beyond all reach’ says it all. I think this was a description of his mental state at this time with his epilepsy firing off in his head, the medication – maybe even making him feel worse, and his relationships crumbling and the prospect of a tour to the USA coming up adding further pressure – those ‘excessive flashpoints’ were firing faster and faster. And they were putting him beyond our reach … beyond anyone’s reach, if true be told.
Like most people, on the outside it was a smile and ‘sure, I’m coping’ when it was clear inside that he was not. There was only one way this was going to go. Something desperate had to give. It’s always the weakest link in the chain that goes … and so it was with Ian Curtis.
On the evening of 17th May 1980 Ian Curtis wanted to be on his own. He had already moved out of the family home on Barton Street. However, he wanted to watch the noted German film director Werner Herzog’s movie Strosek that was playing on TV that night. Rather than subject his parents to a foreign language film, he decided to go back to Barton Street – knowing that the house would be empty. The film is about a newly released prisoner in Germany with mental health problems, who becomes a European émigré to the USA. Once there, he becomes so alienated by a foreign American culture that he succumbs to suicide.
The next morning Deborah Curtis found her husband’s hanged body in the kitchen. There was a glass of whisky and a cigarette on the coffee table and Iggy Pop’s The Idiot on the turntable.
Tony Wilson, the TV presenter and director of Factory Records – Joy Divison’s record company, described the final scene of the movie and the demise of his friend and artist:
“There’s a dead man in the cable car and the chicken’s still dancing.”
And in the run-off grooves of Joy Division’s final album ‘Still’ is scratched the legend:
“The chicken’s still dancing.”

*********** THE END ***********

© Kanthé 2017

Kully’s contact: kulwant.randhawa@outlook.com

The Skids – Gig Review

On the evening of 7th June 2018, I joined a couple of mates at Reading Sub89 Club to see the reformed Skids take to the stage. For me, this was a trip down memory lane as I had seen the Scottish punk rockers perform at Eric’s Club in Liverpool in March 1979. That’s a gap of 39 years…

I had relatively low expectations of the evening but was warmed up by the buzz of a large (possibly sell-out) crowd who enthusiastically sang along to support act TV Smith’s rendition of his classic single (with The Adverts), ‘Looking Through Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’.

DSC_0066
The Skids, Reading Sub89, 07/06/18

The Skids took to the stage with hoots and applause, Richard Jobson beaming his pleasure and showing off remarkably youthful looks and a muscular torso that clearly spends much time in a gym. With him was fellow founder members Bruce Watson and Bill Simpson, now supplemented by the youthful addition of Mike Baillie and Jamie Watson. A tribute was given during the set to deceased founder member and co-writer of many of the songs, Stuart Adamson, who tragically died in 2001.

The performance was simply astounding – the band were tight and energetic from start to finish and, apart from a couple of minor slip-ups, were bang on the money – or the Yankee Dollar, if you prefer. Richard Jobson’s banter between songs oozed with the charm and polish of the seasoned TV presenter he became after splitting from the Skids in the 80s. I was transported back in time when they finished their set with fan’s favourite ‘Into the Valley’, teased in by that memorable bass line that sent the crowd wild. After a short breather they re-emerged to give us three more songs.

During the set they covered the full sweep of their musical career, from singles and tracks dating from 1977 to 1982 when they first split, to tracks from a new album, Burning Cities, recorded 35 years after their last album, that stood up well with the old material. Old favourites played with gusto and that distinctive Adamson-esque Scottish guitar style included: The Saints are Coming; Masquerade; Circus Games; Charade; Working for the Yankee Dollar; Animation; Goodbye Civilian and Woman in Winter.

the-skids-into-the-valley-virgin-3-sI’m pleased I made the effort, as it is all too easy to let these opportunities to see your old favourites pass by. Their performance was tight, energetic and a lot of fun – I thoroughly recommend seeing them to all you post-punk music fans.

The Day John Lennon Died

On Monday, 8 December 1980, John Lennon was shot by disturbed ‘fan’ Mark Chapman in the archway of the Dakota Building, his residence in New York City. He was pronounced dead soon after his arrival at hospital. The ex-Beatle had just turned 40 and had recently recorded a new album, Double Fantasy, that celebrated his new zest for life – his single Starting Over was still in the charts. Now, on the 37th anniversary of his shocking murder, I’ve decided to share my personal memory of that day…

john-lennon-quotes-happy-quotes

I woke up, got out of bed and dragged a comb through my tangled mop of red hair. It was still dark outside. My alarm had gone off at the ridiculously early time of 4.45am on the morning of Tuesday 9th December 1980. I was a 19-year-old trainee reporter for a Liverpool news magazine, The Woolton Mercury, and had an appointment at BBC Radio Merseyside studios in central Liverpool to write a piece on the workings of local radio. I was a tall, skinny youth, still living at home, who dressed almost exclusively in black. My musical tastes had moved on from the Beatles and Glam Rock to punk and new wave, reflected in my music column that featured new releases and gig reviews. I was a member of Erics club in Liverpool where I saw punk and new wave bands most weekends including: Joy Division, Magazine, Buzzcocks, OMD, Teardrop Explodes, Stiff Little Fingers, The Stranglers, The Damned (featuring Lemmy!)… you get the picture.

The streetlights were still on and a milk float rumbled into our road as I buttoned my black Crombie overcoat and headed for the bus stop. The bus was warm as I joined a handful of silent shift workers on a speedy forty minute journey to Castle Street. From there a short walk took me through a deserted city centre to Commerce House – a grey 50s concrete building that had housed Radio Merseyside since its start in 1967 [note: this was before their move to their new purpose-built office on Paradise Street].

Roger Phillips BBC Radio Merseyside2
Radio Merseyside Presenter – Roger Phillips

They were expecting me, as arranged, at 6.00am. I was greeted by Studio Manager, Phil Pinnington, a suave, dapper gent, who placed me in the capable hands of Studio Assistant, Janice Long (yes, Keith Chegwin’s sister who went on to be an acclaimed national radio DJ and host of Top of the Pops). I was shown around the newsroom and the newsgathering process was explained to me by Newsreader, Tony Nutter. In the pre-digital age, reel-to-reel tape recorders and spools of tapes were everywhere and two teleprinters spewed out news items on ticker tape from the national BBC newsroom in London. I was shown how soundbites (interview clips) were spliced together for use in news bulletins.

My published article in The Woolton Mercury records that at that time (about 6.30am) there were no major news stories coming through:

“One such news item that came through on the teleprinter concerned a US Army deserter who had been arrested at Risley Remand Centre with two canisters of nerve gas strapped to his legs.” Tony explained that this would be classified as a ‘human interest’ story and held in reserve to be used only if there was a lull in the news. As it turned out, it would not be needed.
popart-rock-n-roll lennonJanice made me a mug of tea and I was ushered into the studio where veteran presenter, Alan Jackson, was cranking-up the breakfast drive-time show. A local lad from Prescott in Merseyside, he was warm, friendly and soon put me at ease. He asked me a few questions about my series on local media, and casually said after the next record he would do a little interview with me.

“Erm, live, on air?” I squeaked.

“You’ll be fine,” he laughed. “Just say what you’ve already told me and speak in your normal voice.”

And so my first radio interview took place, just before 7.00am on Tuesday 9th December 1980. I was scribbling a few notes in my reporter’s notebook when Phil popped his head in the studio door and announced in a hushed but earnest tone: “John Lennon has been shot.”

Alan’s eyes were wide in shock and a quick conversation between the media veterans instantly ensued along the lines of, “Call all our contacts who knew John and the Beatles – let’s start lining up responses as the news story unfolds…” This was personal. John was a much-loved son of the city and the magnitude of the event meant it instantly took center stage.

And so I sat there for the next three hours as the staff of Radio Merseyside pulled together and presented the news of John’s shooting in New York City, playing Imagine (several times) and Give Peace a Chance along with early Beatles classics such as Twist and Shout. To this day, I still get goosebumps and the hairs stand up on the back of my neck whenever I hear John’s raunchy rock vocals on Twist and Shout. For me, it will forever be associated with that day.

“…reports are still coming in that John Lennon has been shot outside his apartment building in New York…”

Alan Jackson vacated his seat for Morning Merseyside presenter, Roger Phillips, who took on the uncomfortable task of building a show devoted to outpourings of concern for John as we waited with trepidation for further news. The confirmation that John was dead came barely an hour later, and a state of shock descended on the city as the news was rolled out.

Shocked interview subjects shared their reminiscences of John over the airwaves as the city awoke to the devastating news on that cold December Tuesday. I left the studio at about 11.00 and made my way home in numb silence. It wasn’t meant to end this way for John, who had seemed to have found happiness in his new life with wife Yoko and son Sean in New York. By lunchtime, it was the headline item on the BBC television news.

Interviewing Bert Kwok at Granada TV0002
That’s me on the left interviewing Pink Panther actor Bert Kwok in 1981 at Liverpool’s Granada TV studio for the second article in my series on Liverpool news media

The following Saturday I joined a crowd estimated at over 30,000 on the plaza outside St George’s Hall for music, readings and prayers as the city grieved over the death of a favourite son. It was the final end to hopes of a Beatles reunion, and consigned John’s body of work to the past tense. The man who asked us to give peace a chance had been the victim of an ugly act of murder by a psychotic ‘fan’ who earlier in the day had waited patiently to get John’s autograph. It was unpredictable, pointless and the cause of such grief and pain for those who loved the man and his work and who had been entertained and inspired by his music, wit and free spirit. It was our JFK moment – we remember what we were doing or where we were when we heard the news. John was dead and we had to accept it; and I know it’s a cliché but I’m going to give it an airing – his memory lives on through his music and his pro-peace sentiments.

As for me, I moved on to reporting and film reviewing for another Liverpool newspaper later that year, and in 1982 won a place to study for a degree course in Communication Studies. I became editor of the student magazine, utilising the experience I had garnered at The Woolton Mercury. After graduating, my path led me to London where I started a career working in the newspaper publishing industry – not as a journalist, but in product development and market research. I re-directed my creative mind to dull but commercially vital report writing and conducting training sessions for sales reps. I had unintentionally joined the group of frustrated creatives who are thwarted from making a living doing what we really want to do. At least John had that.

the-beatles-artThe anniversary of Lennon’s death still prompts outpourings of grief from fans around the World, although this is perhaps something John himself would not have wanted.

In one of his last major print interviews published in Playboy magazine, he said: “I don’t have any romanticism about any part of my past. I don’t believe in yesterday. I’m only interested in what I’m doing now.”

 *****

As a footnote to my earlier comment that my musical tastes in 1980 had moved on from The Beatles – their music continued to provide an enduring ingredient to the cultural wallpaper of Liverpool, a city that never fell out of love with the Fab Four. Every jukebox in every pub in Liverpool had Beatles singles that were frequently played along with other rock, punk and pop classics. There was no Beatles tourism activity in the 80s – that came later from the 90s onwards when musical nostalgia grew into an industry. We knew where the Beatles lived and the places they performed – Liverpudlians will always be intensely proud of their successful sons and daughters without any shows of fuss or drama.

When writing this piece, I checked what records and gigs I had reviewed in my music column in the weeks before Lennon’s death and found, next to a gig review of The Stranglers, this:-

“This Week’s New Single Releases –

UB40 – The Earth Dies Screaming [reviewed]

John Lennon – (Just Like) Starting Over – And who knows, maybe John is turning over a new leaf. This boppy, jog-a-long song has already been hailed as a ‘shhhh, it’s almost Christmas’ single, and will have the ex-Beatle laughing all the way to the bank. His first UK single release for some time, it’s already looking like a safe bet for Christmas No.1…”

It was actually No.2 in the UK Christmas charts behind, erm, There’s No One Quite Like Grandma by St Winifred’s School Choir. The first chart of 1981 saw re-issues of Imagine at No. 1 and Merry Xmas (War is Over) by John and Yoko at No.2. The worldwide outpouring of grief for the witty Scouser led to a celebration of his life and the birth of his legend.

The Smiths Revisited

On Friday 6th May, 1983, my Goth-mate Jimmy dragged me along to see the Sisters of Mercy at the University of London Student’s Union.  We were students at the time, so only needed to show our SU cards to get in.  I know the date because I have the ticket glued in my scrap book.  What we didn’t know, as we huddled in the small studio-sized room, was that a relatively new band from Manchester was being showcased – The Smiths.  They had replaced Babaluna on the bill – why and how, I don’t know (Rough Trade getting them some capital exposure, perhaps?).

thesmithscoasters1984Most of the leather-wearing Goths sloped off to the bar as the weedy Mancunians set up their gear and were given a lukewarm, almost apologetic, introduction to the indifferent crowd.  Jim and I were pleasantly surprised, as we both had copies of their early singles – Hand in Glove and its brilliant B-side, Still Ill, This Charming Man, What Difference does it Make?  We stood at the front of the low stage, knee high, right in front of Morrissey’s swivelling hips and the jingly-jangly Johnny Marr.  Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce looked fresh-faced and keen, in a time before stardom and their descent into drugs hell.

1983_05_06_london_ulu_poster_the-smithsThe Smiths ripped out their early set with joyful verve, delivered in a loose and slightly un-together cacophony of the first album material to barely fifty people.  Reel Around the Fountain lingered, hauntingly in my young mind, Mozza’s compelling imagery striking home.  We loved it, and it cemented our status as Smiths fans.  The meat was not yet murdered and Strangeways had not been visited, but we had seen enough emerging talent by then that we knew.  These boys were special.

Oh, and the pre-Mission Sisters were rocking and sleek, with Eldridge gripping the mic with hand in leather glove. The room filled and we grooved and gyrated to their compulsive rock set, including early hits, Alice, the Body Electric and covers of Gimme Shelter, and yes, the Dolly classic, Jolene.  Great gig, all things considered, and not bad for two quid.

 

the-smythsFast-forward 33 years, to Thursday 8th December 2016, and I found myself at the Half Moon pub in Putney, South London, where tribute band The Smyths performed to an enthusiastic room full of Smiths fans, ranging in age from teenagers to us fifty-somethings who were around when Morissey was first warbling.

As I sipped my pint of flat lager I reflected that it was a happy meeting of creative talent when gawky teenage poet Stephen Morrisey met shy tunesmith Johnny Marr at Salford’s Boy’s Club in the early 80s.  The unremitting bleakness of Manchester’s gray post-industrial decay, high youth unemployment and the pressure to find a job, the heart-rending crimes of the Moors Murderers, all formed a backdrop against which Morrissey’s urban poetry found a new outlet as song lyrics.  Some themes keep recurring to give an oddly current feel to some of the songs.

That night I finally understood the difference between imitation and veneration.  That ‘tribute’ is indeed a sign of respect for something that deserves to live on. Here was a band performing the works of the Smiths in a reverential manner, technically accurate right down to mannerisms and nuances, fronted by a singer so alarmingly similar in both voice and looks to a young Morrissey that you had to blink and rub your eyes.

But he isn’t Morrissey, he’s Graham Sampson, a talented singer in his own right, sporting quiff, flowery shirt and charity shop necklace, giving the fans his interpretation and paying homage in this brilliant set of songs.  I reeled around the fountain once more and sang along with the other 300 revellers at this pulsating sell-out gig, re-living and celebrating the eternal charm of these songs, now passing to a new generation of fans.

We sang along to lyrics that refuse to be forgotten:

It’s time the tale was told, of how you took a man and you made him old…

Punctured bicycle on a hillside desolate, will nature make a man of me yet?

Park the car by the side of the road; don’t you know, time’s tide will smother you.

I decree today that life is simply taking and not giving, England is mine, and it owes me a living.

Shoplifters of the World unite and take over!  Panic on the streets of London!

Because the music that they constantly play means nothing to me about my life – hang the DJ!

So what difference does it make? I’m so sick and tired and I’m feeling very sick and ill today.

…and don’t go home tonight, go out and find the one that you love and who loves you…

 The Smyth’s take a bow.

 

If you enjoyed this piece, then try my new novel, Devil Gate Dawn:

http://myBook.to/DevilGateDawn

Live Aid Remembered

Review: The Vinyl Frontier Show; Live Aid Organiser, Pete Smith, interviewed by Jeff Lloyd.

Venue: Nordern Farm Arts Centre, Maidenhead, on Saturday 25th June 2016.

 

Where were you on 13th July 1985?  Those of us old enough to have witnessed the world’s most incredible concert will never forget the superb, unselfish performances and tear-jerking emotional pleas of Bob Geldof to ‘give us yer f**king money’.  It was a momentous cultural event, a huge technological achievement and the World’s greatest ever charity fundraiser.

Vinyl Frontier Live Aid banner

 

But who organised it all? Vinyl Frontier’s Jeff Lloyd, had met the man who organised Live Aid, Pete Smith, at BBC Radio Berkshire.  As he lives close by, in Henley, he agreed to come along and be interviewed in front of a small audience, with Jeff playing memorable songs from Live Aid on vinyl records, whilst showing video footage on a screen.  This format worked well, with Pete Smith telling his anecdotes between songs, bringing the whole event to life, and, by the way, plugging his soon-to-be-published book on his memories of organising Live Aid, Just the Ticket.

 

So who is Pete Smith and why have we never heard of him? It was Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, right?  Well, it all started with Bob and Midge…  The success of the previous Christmas’s Band Aid single, Do They Know it’s Christmas? had led to speculation about a possible live event.  Once Bob had the idea in his head, he sought out the world’s leading music promoter, Harvey Goldsmith, in his office in central London.  Harvey cautiously endorsed the idea, saying he would oversee it but would need to find someone to personally manage an event involving so many acts in a short space of time.

 

Pete Smith’s name was floated in a brain-storming meeting, as he was a promoter well-known throughout the music industry, someone who would have the stature and authority to call on the world’s leading music acts, and be able to co-ordinate a tight schedule with some of the world’s biggest egos and most difficult managers. Oh, and his wife worked for Goldsmith and floated his name in the meeting!  In the days before mobile phones and computers, and with many acts touring around the world or simply inactive, this was a logistical nightmare.  He was formally employed by the Band Aid Trust, and was the only salaried employee, on a six week deal.

 

Pete described some of the calls he made to hotels around the world, and the diplomacy needed when negotiating the conditions. He was operating from a desk in Goldsmith’s offices, with a landline telephone, using telex.  He also needed to co-ordinate with USA concert organizer, Bill Graham, which involved a number of cross Atlantic flights, and acting as peace-maker in deadlock between Bill and some artists.  Many refused to perform for various reasons, and some top artists were not invited at all, possibly for reasons of commercial interest.

 

His task was to persuade acts to perform for free, in a 20 minute slot with up to 4 songs. This was the opening offer, but once interest had been expressed by acts and artists, a judgment call had to be made in meetings on how ‘big’ acts were, with some artists being downgraded to one or two song slots, or encouraged to collaborate with each other to be included.  Pete recounted how he was often compromised by the music promotion and business interests of Goldsmith and some others, who kept meddling in the line-up, one example being Elvis Costello (not in Goldsmith’s promotion stable) having his slot whittled away to just a solo acoustic song between stage sets, whilst Adam Ant was pushed in to plug a new song, despite his career having bombed.  Why were The Style Council in the second slot in the UK, and The Hooters on second in the USA?  Some artists, including David Bowie, had been inactive for some time, and Pete found himself helping to organise musicians to form backing bands and rooms for rehearsal sessions – going on all over Britain and the USA in the weeks before the concerts.

 

Other controversies included Yusuf Islam, formerly Cat Stevens, being blocked from performing a new song when they wanted him to play his classic hit, Morning Has Broken.  Pete was left fuming at this stand-off, and other instances of interference when it had previously been agreed that artists could play what they want, although the ‘guidance’ offered was that ‘greatest hits’ should be played.  This was generally the case, as most artists played their best-known hits, with some songs chosen for their peace, love and unity themes.

An additional viewpoint was added to the Wembley story by audience member Paul Maynard, who worked on the day (for free) as a steward, showing some of his ‘unofficial’ photos projected onto the screen, including backstage celebrity pics and an intriguing overhead shot from a gantry showing the rotating three set stage structure.

 

Jeff played a number of memorable Live Aid classics, starting with the concert opener, Status Quo’s Rocking All Over the World.  Bob Geldof had ruffled some feathers by moving the Boomtown Rats up in the order to number 3, so that he could sit with Prince Charles and Lady Diana in the Royal Box for the first two acts, and then perform in front of them, before they left.  Jeff played I Don’t Like Mondays and Queen’s Radio Ga Ga, Elvis Costello’s moving version of All You Need is Love, David Bowie’s Heroes, Cat Steven’s Morning has Broken, something by Crosby, Stills and Nash and the Beatles’ Let It Be (Paul McCartney agreed to perform at the last minute, on the orders of his children! But George Harrison refused to be part of an attempt to make a surviving Beatles reunion).

 

All in all, it was a riveting evening, with Pete Smith casually informing a spellbound (and largely over 50s) audience of the politics and pressures behind putting on the Worlds’ Greatest Show. I look forward to reading more details of the back-stage politics of Live Aid and the uncomfortable relationship between charity idealism and commercial interest, when his book, Just the Ticket, comes out.

 

 

Live Aid posterLive Aid Stats…

  • Over £40 million was raised for famine relief in Ethiopia
  • 1.5 billion viewers in 110 countries watched the live broadcast, organised by the BBC (UK) and ABC (USA) beamed by 13 satellites around the World
  • Over 170,000 people attended the two live concerts in London and Philadelphia.
  • A dozen other countries staged their own fundraising concerts
  • The British concert ended with Do They Know It’s Christmas? and six hours later, the US concert concluded with We Are the World
  • The 10 hour concert at Wembley Stadium had 22 slots, each of 20 minutes, many shared by artists collaborating
  • The 14 hour Philadelphia concert had 34 x 20 minute slots, again with many artists collaborating
  • Phil Collins performed at both concerts, flying to the USA on Concorde
  • Queen’s performance at Wembley was subsequently hailed as ‘the greatest ever live rock performance’.

 

Where was I on Live Aid Day? I had finished my final exams for my degree course at the Poly of Wales in Pontypridd, and had returned to my shared house in Treforest for a rest after a muddy Glastonbury festival…my sister and her husband were visiting for the weekend and we had agreed to go out for a meal that evening. Well, once we started watching Live Aid on the telly, with Bob’s heart-rending appeal, we quickly changed our minds, pooling our cash and phoning through a donation.

The issue of starvation in Ethiopia was too big, the message too powerful, too compelling to resist. I think we managed a sombre trip to the pub in the evening, missing some of the USA show…well there was inevitable burn-out after 8 hours….but what a show!

For more details of the event and full line-ups follow this links:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/thelive8event/liveaid/history/

SHADOWPLAY

ian-curtisI jump out of bed and get dressed as quickly as I can in a practiced routine, clothes laid out neatly on a chair before going to bed, knowing how cold it’ll be in the morning. I ignore the gloominess of the tiny terraced house, the cracked bathroom mirror, narrow corridors, treacherous stairs carpet. I quickly eat my toast and drink my tea with just a grunt of acknowledgement to my nan, pull on my great coat and head for the bus stop. I am a young man and this is my World.

Stamping my feet on the frosty pavement, I take a deep drag on my ciggy. It looks even bleaker in winter ‘round here. Macclesfield is a dump. Meeting her, though. Something to look forward to. I turn up the collar on my coat to deflect the biting wind from my ears – a bargain from the army surplus shop – and shuffle forward into the warm of the bus’s interior, finding a seat upstairs. To the centre of the city where all roads meet, waiting for you.

I’m glad I put that advert in the shop window to be a singer in a band. Wasn’t sure at first, but now I’ve met those mad lads from Salford, maybe something’ll come of it. It’s stimulated my creative juices and given me a reason to turn my poems into song lyrics. What can you write about living ‘round here? There’s little colour in this grey landscape. The factory owners have fled, leaving dilapidated buildings and forgotten people, wandering about searching for meaning in this post-industrial wasteland. The Germans didn’t bomb here – they didn’t need to.

But I’m meeting her. She makes me laugh, with her cheeky Scouse humour. Our tribal cousins and football rivals – Liverpool – a port city with people coming and going, plus the Irish influence that crept westward along the canals, rail and roads to Manchester. Hell, they built it all. But they brought laughter and music and a positive outlook, to mix in with us bleak mill workers. So now we can be both dour and happy. Light and shade, we live in the shadows, we play at being thinking, rational humans, and kid ourselves that we have a say in our destiny. A kind of shadow play. She makes me laugh, though.

I’m waiting for her in the caf in a department store. Busy, clean, bright. I’m scared though. Scared that my eyes will roll back, my body will tense, I’ll black out and end up on the floor, twitching, sending the kids running to their mums. I can’t control it. Confusion in my eyes that says it all, I’ve lost control. The drugs just make me feel shit, grumpy, moody. Here she comes. I break into a smile and stand awkwardly to half-embrace her, hands on her arms, a peck on the cheek. I need her positivity like a shot of caffeine. She’s a nurse, and sees the good in people; a reason to save them; a reason to save me. I feel like I’m in the sea, swimming up to the light, and she’s there, in a boat, pulling me out. To the depths of the ocean where all hope sank, waiting for you.

She chats madly, and I think I’m falling in love. The way she flashes her blue eyes at me makes me feel more than I am, more complete. I hand her the letter.  Concern is etched into her furrowed brow as she reads.  A treatment plan for  your epilepsy, Mister Curtis, a course of medication. She squeezes my hand across the table.  She understands.  She’s on my side.  She cares.  Still, my spirits sag, my mind reels. I feel my immortal soul is dying.  In my twilight moments I see them, from across the expanse of time, and hear them calling me.

She has to go – she’s on shift. Good luck with the job interview she says. I say it’s not an interview, just a check-in at the Labour Exchange. It does what it says on the tin – exchanges your labour for cash. I wander through the city centre and end up in the record shops, flicking through albums and singles. I was moving through the silence without motion, waiting for you. Will my songs be here one day? Sometimes I feel so alone, even in a crowded place, I want to curl up in the corner, arms around my knees, head down, thinking. In a room with a window in the corner, I found truth.

What do you want to do? he says, smoking and not minding where he blows it. Not bothered, I say, and then – but I like writing. Oh, a writer are you? Then maybe an office clerk. He smiles like a movie villain. Think I’ve got something here… As the assassins all grouped in four lines dancing on the floor. Maybe I can use that. I did everything, everything I wanted to, I let them use you for their own ends.

That evening it’s rehearsals. I bring my notebook with my scribbled thoughts. Hooky’s fooling around and Bernie’s sullen and moody. We need a new drummer, he says.   We need a new name, I say. Warsaw’s too bleak. Yeah? Says Bernie. What else is there ‘round here but bleakness? Them grey pictures of post-War Europe describe the urban shithole we live in, and our music mirrors that. It’s only a backdrop, I say, although we’re its products and we can’t escape ourselves, I concede. Our music is our way of rising above the gloom, Hooky chips in, and bursts into a manic bass riff. We can lie in the gutter and look at the stars.  One day…

In the shadowplay acting out your own death knowing no more… I sit at a table and refine my jumbled ideas into song lyrics. I’ve got a new song, I say, and laugh, which gets their attention, as it’s not something I usually do – laugh out loud, I mean. What’s it about?  The usual – you’re born, live in a shithole and then you die.

In between, try and live a little! someone says.

Yeah, after all, it’s been a good day.

If you like this, then try my new novel, Devil Gate Dawn…

http://myBook.to/DevilGateDawn

Where Were You in 1983?

The British people had a lot on their minds in 1982, as the country divided on a war overseas and a class war at home.  Britain flexed its imperial muscle and won the Falklands War. Margaret Thatcher won a general election off the back of it; Labour were in turmoil and ditched Michael Foot for another lame duck – Neil Kinnock. Oh, and on a cold January evening in 1983 I went to see New Order in concert at the Students Union Hall in Cardiff.

fac51_new_order_1I was a student at the Poly of Wales, up the Taff Valley in Pontypridd. It was a 30 minute train ride to Cardiff, to see passing bands on UK tours…and always with one eye on the time so as not to miss the last train back. The Miners Strike was in full swing, and I spent some time (when not in lectures) driving minibuses of supplies collected from well-wishers up the valley to the picket lines. It was real in-yer-face full-on social conflict in those places affected, like the Welsh Vallies.

New Order TicketIt must have been a cold evening – Saturday 29th January – wrapped in my Bunnymen crombie coat with scarf, black drainpipes and mop of red bushy hair, I went with my mates to the gig. I had a notebook and pen, as I would report it for the student’s magazine, ‘Leek’.

I was a bit of a pseudy NME reader, hence my flowery language. This is what I wrote back then:

“ ‘The most superior, cleansing, active and informative music recorded recently’. Yes, NME writer Paul Morley does like New Order, but a great many more people have recently been opening their ears to their particular brand of techno-rock music.

New Order83“New Order rose phoenix-like from the ashes of Joy Division, following the suicide of Ian Curtis, and continue their work of re-defining the shape of contemporary rock music…opening with a compelling version of ‘In a Lonely Place’, they then played four new numbers [‘Blue Monday’ was showcased for the first time] before moving to more familiar ground. ‘Everything’s Gone Green’, ‘Dreams Never End’, and ‘Procession’ led up to an agonising climax…will they or won’t they? Yes they did! Returning on stage to the expectant roar of the audience they delivered an inch-perfect version of ‘Temptation’. The progressive population of Cardiff went home happy. A night to remember – a memory to savour.”

A moment in time, all the more memorable for that fact that ‘Blue Monday’ was a relatively unknown new number, and ‘Temptation’ was the big hit of their early set that fans wanted to hear. There’s been a lot written about how crap they were live in those early days, drunk and incompetent, but it sounded alright to me, and there’s still nothing like seeing your heroes on stage belting out the songs you buy and sing along to. Ian Curtis paid homage to with ‘In a Lonely Place’, before moving onto more upbeat newer stuff like ‘Blue Monday’ that was to cement their new image in the minds of their followers, the shift from rock to electro-pop, the affirmation of the New Order.

On John Cooper Clarke and The Fall

Ever been dragged to a gig by a mate and had your eyes opened a new and unexpectedly amazing experience?

JCCAs a young impressionable schoolboy in Liverpool during the punk rock explosion of ’77-’78, I was asked by a classmate, John, if I would go with him to see John Cooper-Clarke, as he also wanted to be a punk poet.  I said, “Who’s he?”  …Come on, cut me some slack here…it was March 1978 and there was no internet, only the music press for info…JCC was just starting out.

And so I went to my first ever night club gig at Eric’s in Liverpool, on Mathew Street, opposite the once famous but derelict Cavern Club (it had been closed for some years, before it was revived as a tourist attraction).  It was 7th April 1978 and was billed as ‘The Fall plus Special Guest’ (see attached flyer with JCC autograph!).  The special guest was a lanky Salford punk poet with dark glasses and a mop of black hair – pretty much identical to how he looked a few months ago in 2015 on TV in ‘Have I got News For You’.  The Salford Bard, now being touted as the next Poet Lauriat and with poems on the school curriculum, was unexpectedly brilliant.  I still remember ‘I Married a Monster from Outer Space’, and ‘Kung Fu International’, apparently recorded ‘live’ at that gig and used as a B side.  He was followed by Mark E. Smith and The Fall, at that time a rough punk-imitator band, as most new bands felt they had to be. ‘Last Orders’ was the stand-out track from this early punk thrash.

Erics_John Cooper ClarkeNow, the reason I’ve put finger to keyboard with this blog post is that it just occurred to me that both these unwell-looking acts ARE STILL GOING! Both are gigging in 2015, John Cooper-Clarke down the road in Guildford this week supporting Squeeze.  I loved the last scene of the last episode of ‘The Sopranos’ played out with JCC’s ‘Evidently Chicken Town’.  Now cropping up in TV commercials, the former coke and brown addict is an inspiration to us all in….well….survival.

The Fall, who released their first album the year after I saw them in 1979, have gone on to be one of the most prolific recording acts in British music history.  With 31 studio albums to date, and many more live albums, Mark has tried his level best to bore us all to death.  Although not such a big fan, I was persuaded to see the Fall in the late 80’s twice, and enjoyed both, very different, performances.

One was in a dingy club in Croydon, where, with Brix on bass, they belted out classic and memorable versions of ‘Eat Yourself Fitter’ and ‘Cruiser’s Creek’.  The other was at Sadler’s Wells Theatre (I kid you not) where sometime in September 1988 I was dragged by mate Jimmy to see ‘I Am Curious Orange’ with The Fall on stage with the Michael Clark contemporary dance group cavorting around them to quite brilliant versions of ‘Curious Orange’ and ‘Big New Prinz’ (scan of programme cover shown – anyone else go to this?).  Inspired and innovative…

Curious Orange_The FallWhat impresses me most about JCC and Mark E. Smith is their unshakable belief in what they’re doing – in their art.  They have spanned the late 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s and are still batting on in 2015 and, no doubt, beyond.  They must have met virtually everyone in UK showbiz….a kind of anti-advertisement for Manchester.  Keep Away!  It’s all like Beezley Street!  But bizarrely, Manchester and Salford acts like The Fall, The Smith, JCC, Joy Division/New Order (Happy Mondays, Oasis in the 90s)  have all tickled my imagination, tuning me in to a grim Northern outlook that is remarkably tough, resilient and strangely uplifting.  Hell, they’re even thinking of taking tourists there!

I say, Rock on JCC and Mark E. Smith.  You have inspired a generation and now reach a younger audience who see the Punk Era that spewed you out as a kind of Golden Age.  We grew up then, and understood the value of questioning the Establishment and of rebellion…without questioning, without perspective, the country will end up being run by someone like….errr….David Cameron!