BY THE RED HOT summer of 1976 I was fourteen and going into Liverpool to meet my friends. I was a young man and stepping out. It didn't take me long to find the newly opened Probe Records shop on Button Street, off Whitechapel. I can never forget seeing Jayne Casey and Holly Johnson walking past in white boiler suits with cropped peroxide hair. No one had seen anything like that; it had all been patchouli oil, ex-army greatcoats, flares and long hair until then. It was like they had just stepped off a space ship!
The sights around Probe opened your eyes. People were exclaiming their individuality in 1976 and using their imagination. Pete Burns would be sitting on the steps of Probe with his huge quiff, black eye make-up, earrings and leather and was a sight to behold. Soon inside Probe, Eric's flyers were all around advertising bands I had never heard of like The Sex Pistols, The Damned, Elvis Costello, Deaf School, The Buzzcocks and Magazine.
Eric's had opened the same month as Probe around the corner in Mathew Street, right opposite the site of the Cavern, which the Council had seen fit to turn into a plot of waste ground and to be used as a car park. These days, people forget the diversity of youth culture of the time, but there were rockabilly gangs as well as Teds who would get their records from Probe. Another important shop from the ’60s had stood opposite Probe on Whitechapel. This was NEMS, the store that had been run by the late Beatles manager, Brian Epstein. There really was a lot of history and culture down that part of town.
In 1977 I was fifteen and started to date girls, usually from Huyton College – the sister school to Liverpool College (where I attended). I was one of the first in the crowd to get a pair of tight straight-leg jeans. Hard to believe now that that could have been such a statement back then – but it was. I had also bought a pair of green baseball boots from the Probe-related Silly Billies on Whitechapel which I would wear with a blue Navy shirt from school, the CCF (Combined Cadet Force).
I FIRST SAW THE NAME ‘Tim Peacock’ at the end of a review he had written in Sounds. It was a live review in which he had given my band The Onset a very favourable and considered write-up. I photocopied that cut-out many times and sent it off to get gigs and to accompany demo tapes in the years before the internet.
Later on, Tim would review the albums released on the label I started with Paul Hemmings, the Viper Label. He always seemed to ‘get’ them that little bit more than others – maybe because of the time he lived in Liverpool during the 1980s he had a deeper understanding of our ingredients and passion.
About 2009, Tim asked if I would like to do an interview for his online magazine, Whisperin’ & Hollerin’, and that – I suppose – is where this all started. It ran into three long sections and I started to realize that we had opened something that was unfolding and expanding at an ever increasing rate.
I then asked Tim if he would like to work with me on a book that tried to make some sense of my life working as a creative in music and art in Liverpool. Thankfully he was up for it and now some five years down the line – with trips between Liverpool and County Cork, Ireland, where Tim lives – we have ink on paper.
It's a daunting prospect looking back on your own life. Not just because of all the deeply personal trials and tribulations, proud achievements, mountains climbed, dark nights of the soul and glorious moments in the sun. BUT where the hell do you start?
With Tim there to transcribe interviews and probe further, we endeavoured to explain what has been an incredible journey. I wanted an unbiased piece of work that told the truth as I see it, hopefully uncoloured by any partiality that lurks inside (I've done my best!).
Over the years I have done many interviews about my life in music and art, many associated with the band I started with Lee Mavers in 1984, The La's.
STILL, WE HADN'T DONE too badly in Germany. We'd each come back with £200 from the tour, which enabled me to trade in my Antaria Jazz Star for a black, Johnny Cash-style Fender La Brea acoustic at Hessy's music store. It was time for a change. I liked the new guitar immediately.
The most pressing issue was Simon's departure, so I asked Bernie Nolan if he'd like to join the band on bass. Bernie was an incredibly versatile musician and I always remembered him telling me about how he'd heard rock ‘n’ roll music for the first time. He was just a young kid at a fairground and ‘Jungle Rock’ by Hank Mizell was pumping out from the waltzers. It was an image I'd never been able to forget. Then before we knew it Paul decided to disappear into the woodwork.
Away from the band, I continued to make my tin cars and began branching out into trains, boats, robots and planes. My artistic endeavours had begun to get some recognition, as I did my first exhibition with the ‘Merseyside Unknowns’ at a venue at the back of the Philharmonic Hall in town and it went down great guns. I made more money in a few days than I had ever done with the band. I suppose lots of people in Liverpool were playing guitars but no one was making robots and Cadillacs out of tin cans!
Nonetheless, business continued as usual with The Onset. We played a few gigs before Christmas with Bernie debuting on bass. One was a Greenpeace benefit I had organized at the Liverpool Poly Student Union titled ‘I'm Dreaming of a Green Christmas’. Another one of these shows was with Half Man Half Biscuit at the Leadmill in Sheffield, where I saw Lee's mate Joey Davidson for the first time in ages. He'd had his problems and was on a rehab programme as a result of heroin use. It had been rife in parts of Merseyside during the ’80s, filling the gap for the disillusioned who had no prospects in a society that counted them void of purpose – indeed, you could say in certain parts:
Opiates had become the religion of the people.
LONDON HAD BEEN STIMULATING and interesting, but I think sometimes you have to step out of something and look back at it to see it in its entirety. For example, if you are in house you can walk around the rooms, take it all in and describe each one, but you can't describe the house as a whole until you look at it from outside.
I was walking up Bold Street in Liverpool on one of our visits back home with David Evans. In the bright sunlight, I realized just how much I was missing the city. I thought, ‘God, this is a beautiful place with beautiful people’, and I really wanted to come back and live here again. It was our home after all, yet there we were living in London. I went to the Everyman Theatre and saw Ian Davies (now acting under the stage name of Ian Hart) in Dream of Dreams. David's new group, The Riotous Hues (Of Modern Colour), played and they were great too.
I talked to Jeanette about my feelings and she agreed to move back ‘home’. We had both grown a lot down in London but we felt that we should now be back up in the ’Pool. I wanted to start a band in Liverpool. I would call it ‘The La's’ and I would get Lee Mavers in to work with (not that I had even mentioned it to him!) and there would be no turning back.
When I told Carl about our plans he decided to take our flat on in Camden Road and work the album from London. And he arrived in the van a week late! Typical.
If I had learnt anything from our stay in London amidst all that energy, writing and collaging I'd say it would be this:
Truth unto yourself.
Ignorance is innocence.
Knowledge is above belief.
On our return to Liverpool, after being collected from the coach station by my Dad, we drove through Huyton and standing there at the bus stop on Archway Road the first person I saw was Lee Mavers. Surely this was an important sign that all was in place and in order.
MY NEXT LIVE APPEARANCE wasn't an Onset gig, but was with Paul and John Robb.
We went over to Manchester during the afternoon and had a jam at John's and some food. We went directly to the venue, an upstairs pub, and sound checked. There was a good vibe in the place. The overall idea was that we wanted to do something like Tom Waits. It ended up being a very punky Tom Waits, but pretty great for all that.
Pete Wylie was on the same bill, and he was as passionate as ever, although he was dead nervous before he went on. It was his first-ever solo gig. I recall him playing a song called ‘Forever Disneyland’ about the Guildford Four.
Before John, Paul and I went on, this bloke called Mike (from a local band called The Man from Del Monte) came on to do a set. He had a lady singer called Sheila Seal performing with him. I was really taken with her. She was a Scot with a discernible Celtic lilt in her voice which really impressed me, and later on I called her up. She would later appear on two Onset sessions: the first was for The Pool of Life Revisited and the second was for the unreleased Stone album, which we would record at Ian Broudie's during 1994–95.
John, Paul and I were very well received. We used a minimal amount of equipment – marimba, Casio, two guitars and voices and it was fun. Mark Radcliffe and Marc Riley were compèring the evening and they had enjoyed our set. Mark Radcliffe remembered having featured The Onset on his Hit the North programme and said that he had enjoyed our album.
Our good friend Henry Epstein had introduced me to an old family friend, John Rubin, who had recently had a freak hit with a singer called Rozalla. He managed artists and Henry had introduced him to me thinking he might be able to help. Thanks to this, John Rubin committed to helping out financially with a new album that would appear on Probe Plus, an expanded CD reissue of our debut album with additional new tracks to be called The Pool of Life Revisited.
I NEEDED A WORKHORSE OF a guitar. The red Burns I'd been using since 1985 was a classic vintage guitar but not a gigging one, so I traded it in for a big Aria semi-acoustic called a Jazz Star. It had a sunburst finish and was great to play and suited me down to the ground.
I'd go in to see Geoff at the Probe Plus office above the Probe shop. It would always be covered in hundreds of records and tapes and Geoff would be holding court up there being very funny and provocative. I did an interview with James Scanlon from Roby for his Blast Off fanzine we'd had a lot of local interest with The Pool of Life, but national radio play had proved to be a stumbling block.
Geoff was upbeat, though. He showed me a review of the album that had recently appeared in Folk Roots magazine where the reviewer called us ‘rednecks on speed’ before going on to suggest the album was ‘one of the finest things that Probe Plus had released’.
Simon had started off a little PA hire company and so we did the PA for Eugene Chadbourne's ‘Shockabilly’ show at Planet X in town. It proved to be a fantastic, psychedelic-tinged evening. Another of Geoff's Probe Plus bands, The Walking Seeds were on first, playing their brand of warped, ’60s garage punk. Their Probe Plus album Skullfuck would later be cited by Nirvana's Kurt Cobain as an influence and they played a great show that night at Planet X. Another band on was Back From Nam, which featured ex-La's Tony Clarke on drums, Barry Shailes (who worked in the Probe shop) on vocals and Paul (another Probe assistant) on bass. They had a punk rock tune called ‘Robocop’ and kicked ass.
The general sense of optimism we were experiencing would be shattered by a tragedy that would resonate for decades to come. On 15 April so many Liverpool fans were crushed to death at Hillsborough, Sheffield Wednesday's football ground. What should have been an exciting Liverpool FC cup tie became one of the greatest tragedies ever suffered on Merseyside and in the UK.
EARLY IN JANUARY 1999, I received a call from Brendan Pickavance from the Sunday Mirror. He wanted to know if I had a contact number for Lee Mavers. I said I hadn't and that I wasn't aware of Lee choosing to do interviews, so he said he might just call round to his house. Well, ‘Good luck’, I said, rather sarcastically.
Next day, I received another call from Brendan saying he'd been round to Lee Mavers’ house and spent two hours with him and it had been great. Brendan went on to say that Lee had said he loved me like a brother. He also left me Lee's current phone number. I was touched.
A couple of days later, after much contemplation, I thought it might be an idea to call Lee up and see how he'd been getting on. I hadn't seen him since he called with his partner, Nevada Christian, and Ellis, their son, when Amber was a toddler. In fact, he'd called on me more than a few times since the La's days, so maybe I shouldn't be so stuck in the mud.
When I phoned, he was surprised to hear my voice but said that the timing had been impeccable. He was just on his way out the door to where he did not know. He wanted to come over straight away, so that's what he did. When he walked into the flat (now my studio space in Aigburth) he stood in the doorway, took a deep breath, his shoulders slumped and, seemingly exhausted, said one word: ‘Home!’
We were both very happy to see each other and hugged. The air was filled with a deep emotion. He was looking good too, very healthy. I think this had been another factor in me getting in touch. I knew he'd struggled with drug addiction for years but I'd heard on the grapevine that he'd been clean for some time. He seemed calm and made no secret of his admiration and affection for me, which I reciprocated.
We had a couple of joints and a cup of tea, then took a walk to the river. The sky was very blue and the water was as still as could be with the sun shining lazily across it.
I'D INTENDED TO MAKE up a booklet to showcase my tin creations for a while and in June 1995 I finally got around to it, heading into Liverpool to purchase some slide films to photograph everything I'd made that was still in the house. It proved to be great fun to photograph and compile and I was very proud of the end result. I didn't know it at the time, but the booklet would end up playing a big part in getting me my first one-man show at Warrington Museum in 1997.
My fledgling sculpting career suddenly got a welcome boost when, from nowhere, the British Craft Room at Liberty of London got in touch asking me to make them a tin clock. Well, maybe it wasn't entirely out of the blue. A while before, a friend of ours, Joanne Irvine, asked me if I'd sent any slides of my tinwork to Liberty. She'd told me that if they accepted you then it could open doors, so I sent Liberty a brochure I'd had made of my sculptures at local design company Nonconform. To my surprise, they not only got back in touch, but asked me to make the clock for a show they were doing based around the concept of ‘time’.
It was an interesting project, so I headed into Liverpool in search of the right metal for the job. After a bit of searching, I found a perfect old tin in Quiggins and went home. I completed the clock by adding a found clock face I'd had for a while onto the hinged lid of the tin, then stuck the mechanism through and attached the fingers. It looked like a mantelpiece clock, but I was happy with it, even if it did have a surreal presence of its own. It looked like it was from Alice in Wonderland to me.
In Oct 1995 we rented a house in Addingham Road, Allerton. I'd managed to keep on the room below our flat on Aigburth Road, ostensibly as a studio for my art and sculpture, but also for its qualities as a potential rehearsal space. That space in Aigburth had been our home for years and a hotbed of creativity for both The La's and The Onset.
PAUL TOLD ME THAT Uncut magazine was keen to feature a track from our forthcoming Breakloose album on a compilation CD which would be on the cover of their October 1999 edition. We'd also been granted ‘Rock Recommendation’ status in the Virgin, HMV and Our Price shops in Liverpool. This meant that, for two weeks, Viper CDs would be in the racks and everyone walking into the shops would see them immediately as they entered the premises.
To get the album ready I needed to make a trip to London to have the songs mastered for the vinyl. Late in August, I left Lime Street station early in a train up to the Big Smoke. The place in question, Porky's Studio, was situated in Shaftesbury Avenue and I discovered the proprietor, George, to be a thoroughly decent bloke. It turned out he was from Liverpool (where else?) and was a legendary figure in his own right. He had worked with just about everyone who'd ever made a record in the UK and had long been known as the top man for cutting and mastering recordings in the country.
He retired a few years after our meeting, but I remember the time we spent together very fondly. He always played the tracks loud because his hearing was shot after years of mastering and he was well known for etching little messages into the vinyl's run-out to personalize them. As with most of his work, he etched ‘A Porky Prime Cut’, while on side one he inscribed ‘Go the Whole Hog!’ and on side two I asked him to inscribe ‘Freedom now – Break loose!’
I really liked George. He intimately understood the whole magnetic vs digital sound issue that Lee and I had so often discussed. He made me realize the cut was still very much a part of the whole creative process. He was pleased I took such an interest and told me the only other guy he'd met in recent times who had wanted to be involved in a similar mastering process was one of the fellas from Cabaret Voltaire when some of his back catalogue had been making the transition from vinyl to CD. As a rule, George told me, musicians just got the master tapes and bunged ’em directly onto CD.
NOT ONE TO DWELL on what might have been, I looked forward and considered new options.
Lee and Joey called round to the flat in Aigburth to collect some of the gear which had been left in the practice room and gave me a photograph of me playing at the Monro by Glynys Jackson. It was meant to be a nice gesture but it felt like it was the retirement clock. Time to start something else.
Over the following weeks I would see Hamish, Walla and Bernie Nolan and new ideas and collaborations eventually came to pass – not least in the shape of big Danny Dean from the Scheme, who would come down to Aigburth to play music with me.
There had been talk of the music scheme re-opening, and on 23 January 1987 we were allowed back in. But all was not well. One of the family came down and became very defensive, going on to threaten us when we started asking questions. One of the other students, Mark Hughes from Park Road, had already thrown his coat to the floor and started shouting, ‘Come on then – come on!’ But this was how we felt, we'd been used to get funding that hadn't been spent on us! There would have been an almighty fight if I hadn't instructed Mark to ‘rise above it’. Bless his cotton socks, we laughed about it later but we were all unhappy about the state of affairs. The studio the family had promised to build was nowhere near completion and rumours had begun to circulate that a whole lot of money had vanished and staff had blown the whistle to the Manpower Services Commission, so that was why the whole thing had been closed down. We'd been shafted.
It was difficult to cut either the scheme or The La's out of my life. John Power had now asked fellow student Paul Hemmings to play guitar with The La's. I remember when I saw John and Paul for the first time since I'd departed The La's – neither of them could look at me, let alone say anything, but then again, what was there to say? They were in The La's, which I'd started and was now on an upward trajectory and I wasn't in the picture. It was also hard because Paul and I went back quite a long way too.
GOING TO TOWN ON Saturdays I would also spend time in the Tea Rooms on Mathew Street – later known as The Armadillo – and opposite that there was Eric's.
It's hard to believe it was all there, now that our lovely, dirty old town has turned into a haven for night-time revellers of a very different kind. In the late ’70s, this area was awash with characters and individuals who never followed the pack but formed their own. No one looked the same; it was about freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom to have a good time, in fact just freedom.
The benevolent characters who gave us the license to express ourselves in such an exciting way formed the backbone of Liverpool's first mighty wave since the Merseybeat explosion. Probe Records shop creator Geoff Davies and Roger Eagle, DJ and founder of the legendary Eric's – the two of them, along with the Tea Rooms, were inextricably linked. The bands that played in Eric's had their records for sale in Probe, the local misfits and would-be superstars would sit for hours in the Tea Rooms opposite, planning the next revolution over pots of tea and cigarettes.
I would go to the Tea Rooms in Mathew Street and eat potato salad or delicious soup and brown bread. Older guys would sit around the tables talking about music and bands. Later I would recognize these faces to be the likes of Paul Simpson (who also worked in the Tea Rooms), Ian McCulloch, Julian Cope and Pete Wylie, to name just some of the talent that would go on to create big waves musically.
Of course, everyone who was there has his or her own particular views and memories of this essential time in not just Liverpool's evolution, but eventually its effect on a global scale. It was a time when creativity heaved and pulsed and nothing was going to halt its progress. I remember the first time I took that walk down the steps into the loud and musty depths of Eric's. I never felt intimidated in any way – I just felt at home here where people were like me, people who had no place else to go, but had no reason to go elsewhere either – it was ALL here.
1990. A NEW DECADE. We had a promising itinerary as we were gearing up for our second trip to Germany. In February, the sight we'd been looking forward to became a reality when the huge white Mercedes van again pulled up outside the practice room. Sadly, our excitement about making a home in the Merc again would be short-lived as it refused to go as soon as we got in it. The curse of the Scottish trip seemed to be striking again as the steering had gone. Frantically, we sorted out a covering note with the insurance people and went in Tony's Transit-sized van with no windows in the back. Because of the hassle, we'd left late and despite driving to Dover on what seemed like two wheels, we missed the ferry by about thirty seconds. And consequently the first gig of the tour.
Instead, we made straight for Darmstadt and a repeat engagement at the Goldene Krone. Once again, we got a good reception there and some of the crowd were even singing along to the songs as they'd previously taped them off the radio when played on Bayerischer Rundfunk.
Danny and Paul were becoming a double act in terms of their wicked sense of humour and Danny was turning into a real party animal on tour. On stage, he indulged in some bizarre antics. At the Goldene Krone gig, he strolled off the foot of the stage with his super-long guitar lead behind him, then skipped back up the steps slipping on the top step in the process. He lost his balance and went towards the drum kit at full tilt. Somehow, he managed to remain upright and miss Tony's drums, but then he was gone again and I'd no idea where he'd vanished to as I couldn't see him anymore. Yet he was still playing! It turned out that he'd ended up in a sitting-down position in the dressing room next to the stage but hadn't missed a note.
We had a 400-mile drive ahead of us again after that, but we did have the prospect of a gig in the new East Berlin to anticipate. We got there in good time and had a couple of hours to spare before we had to meet the promoter at the legendary Checkpoint Charlie at midnight.
IN JANUARY 1983, JANICE Long left Radio Merseyside for a job at BBC Radio 1. She phoned me up at home and asked me if I'd be interested in reading my poems on her new show. I was buzzing. Then, seemingly from nowhere, Craig Charles (with whom I had done many gigs at Phil Battle's Left Bank Bistro events on Mathew Street and other venues around town) began to read his stuff on Janice's new evening show and that was the end of that! All the same, Janice had been the first person to broadcast me on the radio a year or so before – this was now major league not just for Janice but for Craig Charles.
I'd been sending a few tapes of songs from the Chester sessions out to various labels and the quick reply I'd received from Cherry Red really heartened me, not least because they'd said the songs sounded like The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds! It also arrived along with a copy of Cherry Red's influential label sampler Pillows and Prayers, which I enjoyed.
They said they wanted to hear more, so I went back to the Chemist studio in late January to record three new songs: ‘I Learnt My Lesson’, ‘Baby Don't Worry’ and ‘I Don't Like Hanging Around’. I got another note back from Cherry Red, this time saying the songs just didn't hit them in the heart. Fair enough. Looking back, these songs didn't have the simple, naïve charm that the first session had, but Cherry Red's initial enthusiasm was a real breakthrough. It gave me the incentive to keep on trying.
Jeanette discovered she could get a transfer to London with her job, so we decided to take the plunge and move down. Ros helped out by putting us up for a few weeks in her and Brendan's flat off Bell Street, near the Edgware Road, until we found a little room with a tiny kitchen at the back of a house in College Place in Camden Town NW1 above the old Greek landlady's own flat.
Our landlady had hutches full of rabbits in her back yard. We'd thought this was lovely, but then one day we heard the most horrific squealing from the yard, prompting Jeanette to see what was happening. She came back in tears, saying she'd seen the landlady wringing a rabbit's neck.
TOWARDS THE END OF 1985 I bought a Burns semi-acoustic guitar and The La's began to practice much more regularly. Then, David Evans asked me if I'd like to contribute some music to a new compilation album he was putting together with the help of respected Radio Merseyside DJ Roger Hill. Everyone was given three minutes of time on the compilation but because The La's songs I was to submit were only one and a half minutes each we got to put two songs on: ‘My Girl Sits Like a Reindeer’ and ‘Sweet 35’, from the first Attic session.
The La's practised in Tony Clarke's cellar in Kensington early in 1986. Tony was occupying the La's drum stool and Bernie was on electric bass. I got a lift to rehearsals off Tony on the back of his BSA motorbike and he was a sound guy. He had decided to leave the army at his own request and was 100% committed to rock ‘n’ roll in the way he dressed, his love of the drums and his way of life.
Between us, Lee, Tony, Bernie Nolan and I worked up some of the first songs I'd written with the help of my trusty new accomplice: my red Burns Vibraslim semi-acoustic. I got busy writing when I acquired the guitar. My Cold War commentary ‘Down at the Space Rocketry’, ‘The Heart Knows’ and the ecologically friendly ‘Trees and Plants’ came tumbling out quickly, the latter inspired in tempo by a song called ‘The Back Door’ by D.L. Menard. We also played ‘My Girl Sits Like a Reindeer’, ‘Red Deer Stalk’ and ‘Sweet 35’. With all these we pretty much managed to pull a set together in time for our first show as The La's in early 1986 at the Lamb in St Helens, where David Evans had arranged for us to support local band Benny Profane.
Whenever I phoned Lee to arrange stuff his Mum Alysia would answer the phone and then shout upstairs to his room, ‘Lee! … It's Mike Jagger on the phone!’
There was a real sense of excitement about playing for the first time. We picked up the gear in Kensington, collected Lee from his home in Dinas Lane and loaded the van and the few instruments we owned at the time. Tony Clarke was driving; his girlfriend Paula came with her mate Natalie.
THE SMILE THAT YOU Send Out Returns to You had returned to nothing more than a quote on an LP sleeve and I was looking at forming my own new musical venture.
Roger Eagle, a man who always did things for the correct reasons, had opened up a warehouse on Temple Street and had visions of it being a venue and arts establishment which would provide a creative nerve centre for musicians and artists in Liverpool. He named it Crackin’ Up, after the great Bo Diddley song. Steve Hardstaff, who had designed all the Eric's and Probe artwork, had come up with a great logo for Roger's new venture that looked like a barren planet wearing a pair of shades.
Deaf School's ex-drummer Tim Whittaker had a large portion sectioned off as a studio and The Teardrop Explodes were going to do a series of gigs in the club, which had formerly been known as the Pyramid. I went to one of the shows myself and they turned in a mesmerizing performance – I remember Julian Cope had a broken foot. I was still carrying my sketchbooks with me at all times, writing down ideas for poems, thoughts and sketching people.
Roger was also looking after a band called The Frantic Elevators from Manchester. I got on well with their bassist, who played a violin bass like Paul McCartney. A guy called Dave Owens was there a lot and also seemed part of Roger's vision for the future. I arranged to have a practice up there with a guy from Huyton called Paul Green who played congas and another guy who shared my birthday. He was called Mick Mooney and he played guitar.
This was New Year's Day 1982. We were to have a practice the next Sunday but it never happened. It was a formative time for me. I had words, but not really being a musician as such, I needed melodies. I started writing ‘songs’ and putting them down on a tape recorder, just singing into the mic and learning as I went along. My early efforts were called things like ‘I've Learnt My Lesson’ and ‘Staying Awake and Dreaming of You’. I also wrote a poem called ‘D'You Wanna Wear My Sheepy Mitts?’, which was taken directly from something a girl had said to me.
I CAME UP WITH THE idea of what would become my Lo-Fi Acoustic Excursions album. The process of compiling it involved grouping these disparate acoustic recordings together as a kind of audio diary of two decades, spanning the years 1983–2003.
Compiling it, I was again staggered to think that I'd survived in the music ‘industry’ in one form or other for twenty years without a manager or even a regular record label in the traditional sense of either term. But there it was. I formed my own independent Generator label to release my songs. It might have been a little indulgent of me to have gone through Viper – say the album took a while to recoup?
I described the record as ‘lo-fi, high-flying, inter-planetary, previously unreleased ballads, rockers and laments’ and the songs included everything from outtakes, alternate and stripped-down versions of Onset tunes like ‘Walking Tall’ (from an early Spencer Leigh BBC Radio Merseyside session) through to an early version of Double Zero's ‘Autumn in the Mind’ recorded at the Gossamer Dome, Ynys Mon (Anglesey) with Paul and Henry Priestman in support.
I also included the acoustic, Hank Williams-style version of the classic country ballad ‘Cool Water’ recorded by Lee and myself in 1986. Listening to it again made me smile and reminded me of when Lee and I were meeting up every day, playing guitars and writing songs – being open to all kinds of music before the nonsense kicked in.
For years, I'd dreamed of playing in America and had often felt that if The Onset had made it over there the sky would have been the limit. We'd been close to getting there for the Woodstock ’94, but it never happened.
Finally, the chance of a stateside trip presented itself and it came through music, though not the way I'd imagined it. The opportunity came my way via a trade mission that Viper were eligible for, which provided the funding for return flights and a hotel. (This was the first time I had received external funding for anything, some people make very good careers out of it … thank you very much.) The trip took place in October 2003 and (typically) provided no new trade at all for Viper. However, some very interesting incidents took place on the periphery and several chance meetings would end up opening doors for me for the future.
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