The outrageous, often wild and tragic story of Flowered Up, London’s answer to The Happy Mondays
Talented, riotous and celebrated. That’s how I’d describe one of the standout bands from the early 1990’s Madchester scene, Flowered Up. Not that much has been said about the band over the years, the odd accolade, maybe partly due to the tragic deaths of 2 of the band members. With approval, here’s my story with in-depth candid insights into the band from the personal diaries and recollections of 2 members of the original line up plus other friends of the band.
Flowered up were formed in 1989, born out of brothers Liam Maher and Joe Maher. John Tuvey, who would become Flowered Up’s main stay drummer between 1989-1992 gives a low down on his, Liam and Joe’s upbringing ‘I grew up in Kings Cross London. My first school I went to was Netley Primary School in Camden. Also in attendance were Liam and Joe. Liam being 2 years older than me, Joe being 1 year older than me. Even though I lived in Kings Cross my Nan lived on the Regents Park Estate were the brothers lived and where Flowered Up was made. We all knew each other and each other’s families for many years before the band was ever thought of.’
The early formation of Flowered Up was Liam and Joe who were joined by friends Andy ‘Jacko’ Jackson (bass), John O’Brain (drums) and Simon Lovekin (keys). Not much is known of their early rehearsals at this point, but we leap forward to Flowered Up’s first gig in Paddington in a club in the basement of the Hilton hotel. John Tuvey was in the crowd ‘cos they were my mates plus it was a club night. Barry (Mooncult, Flowered Up’s flower wearing on stage dancer) was not known as Mooncult at this point but turned up to the gig with a cardboard cut-out flower still wet with green and orange paint…..he’s always been off his head.’ FU then played a 2nd gig at London’s African centre. Both gigs in John’s opinion were ‘crap’.
John informs us what happened next ‘After this 2nd gig John O’Brain got the sack because he didn’t have the right image or have the same drive for the music the rest of the band were into. John O’Brain was into heavy metal, so Liam rang me on my 18th birthday, I was with my girlfriend Ann-Marie and some friends in her flat when he called. He asked me if I’d be the drummer in the band! At this point I was on the way out of my current band I was in because my drug taking and drinking was not to the bands liking. They were more cups of tea and cakes…in hindsight, they had it right. I got my first drum kit from my granddad who worked for Rose Morris back in the day. I liked Keith Moon, Kenny Jones, Paul cook, Topper Headon (who went on to play percussion with Flowered Up on tour) & Rick Buckler. I didn’t really start playing drums well into my teens, I was more into football, and only joined a band as I got in trouble with the police for drugs related offences.’
John continues ‘so I end up going to my first Flowered Up rehearsal, I didn’t feel nervous as I knew them all, this was set up in some old building Liam’s then girlfriend’s Mum works in, I remember money really was tight at the time. They only had three songs at this time, Doris, Flapping and Sunshine. I learned them pretty quick. Also at this point Simon had left to do his own thing; he formed a band call Sly & Lovechild. Tim Dorney was drafted in and he was the last piece of the jigsaw.’
Tim Dorney was ‘the posh one’ of the band. ‘I grew up in and around Windsor which was a great place to live in the 80’s, after school and college I dossed about a bit before having jobs as an assistant photographer, warehouse lad moving on to sell aircraft spares to the Iranian Air Force then an electronic components buyer for an avionics firm, I left that to tour with FU. I joined the band in 1989 through Andrew (Andy) Weatherall. I started working with Andy, another fellow Windsorian, we did a couple of tracks together on a little setup I had. I got my first synth for my 15th birthday, a little monophonic thing and then bought a drum machine and a portastudio and made tracks for myself to start off with. I still have that synth. Andy knew Des (Penney) who was the manager of FU and Liam Maher from Shoom (Danny Ramplings seminal club night) and he put me forward. I don’t think they’d tried anyone else nor had anyone else in then. I drove up to the old Sunday school rehearsal at the studios in Elephant and Castle (having got properly lost along the way) and started jamming with them; they only had about 4 songs at this point. I was shitting bricks but somehow we got along and I got the job.’
Once the classic line up was formed in 1989 further material was thrashed out in rehearsals. Tim explains ‘the songs normally came out of long jams, we’d all get stoned and play for hours. Sometimes Joe or I would come in with a riff and we’d work the songs up from there. Hysterically Blue was one of Joe’s and Take It came from me bringing in a house piano riff. Very little got junked and the songs came together pretty quickly, Liam wrote most of the lyrics and Des also helped out along the way. The arrangements usually came about from the lyrics.’
At this moment the band was clicking into gear, a full set of songs was brought together and by all accounts being in FU was like being in a gang. Tim explains ‘I’d had a vastly different upbringing from them all and was a bit quiet but it was clear they had something. Despite Liam’s lack of for want of a better phrase a singing voice he had charisma in spades, Joe was a very talented guitarist, probably the best I’ve worked with and Andy and John held the bottom end down well, John having idolised Keith Moon and Andy more into Rush’s Geddy Lee and other technical bass players. Along with them the extended family included Barry Mooncult, former Chelsea hooligan and complete lunatic dancer, Des and Terry ‘the management’ and a few others from the Regents Park Estate as sound men and road crew. We started rehearsing once a week at Sunday School and soon added a few more songs to our repertoire.’
The band was initially signed to Jeff Barrett’s Heavenly label alongside fellow pop gurus St Etienne. John takes up the journey ‘There was lots of press interest before we’d released anything, including appearing on the cover of Melody Maker and NME! Then the interest from record labels started. Jeff Barrett from Heavenly put up the money for us to record our first single It’s On. The video was to go out on early 90’s Saturday morning ITV Chart Show, it was shown but there was a problem with the audio so all you heard was this weird noise, but, brilliant, our first TV appearance, after this, more gigs and many press write ups. T-shirt’s printed and fancy dinners with top bods from CBS records (Muff Winwood) who really liked us. Also in the frame were London records, which turned up in France when we were playing a gig at the Locomotive. They stuck the platinum card behind the bar in a club. All drinks on them that night, bottles of champagne a plenty that night, to the point of me blacking out!’
Following the release of It’s On they release a 2nd single on Heavenly, the epic and haunting Phobia, John informs ‘We record that somewhere over Hornsey north London, that gets done in no time was a good session for me. Recording It’s On was a bit of a nightmare for me, click tracks etc… I’d never been in a studio before so I had to learn rather quickly. The video for Phobia was shot at backstreet rehearsal studios by our two bob manager. I was gutted Flapping was the B side to Phobia as it was a top tune, definitely should have made the album. To play Flapping live was a buzz! It’s got a real funky beat me and Jacko bounce the beat, and the lyrics are mint.’
The band then signed to London records for £1,000,000 6 year deal and were ready to tour the country, in preparation for their debut album to be recorded. Flowered Up’s tours and live dates have gone down in the folklore of rock and roll as some of THEE most crazy and mental tours on record. The Who wrecked hotels, Keith Richard’s threw TV’s out of windows and The Beatles were mobbed by fans. FU had all that and more to boot. Again, John takes up the hiatus ‘yep all the stories of us in that chain of hotels are true. Well you’re going to have some problems when you got 20 odd blokes staying in one place. Drinking taking drugs and being in your 20’s. We wasn’t nasty or aggressive we was just young and boisterous. Tim would be my roommate on all the tours and he put up with some crazy shit from me.’
Tim ‘Touring was utter carnage, especially with Barry along for the ride. The gigs were hot, packed to the rafters and immense fun with a lot of stage invasions and we were off our tits 98% of the time. There were numerous occasions of having to leave hotels in the middle of the night as someone had set off a fire alarm or Barry had walked into the bar naked or Des had skinned up in reception. Barry used to like to build camps in rooms from bed parts and mattresses and was generally causing mischief wherever he went. They all had a didn’t give a toss attitude. One time in Glasgow we’d had to leave a hotel in a hurry for one reason or another, I think it was the old game of soak someone’s bag with a fire hose (no fun when all your clothes for the rest of the tour are soaking wet) so we’d found another hotel further out of town and had the next day off. It was a beautiful warm day and we spent it drinking what we called Kosh which was brandy Kahlua and milk and found a nearby field and lit a fire and cooked up some food on it. As it started to get dark suddenly a tree about 100 yards away burst into flames, then two minutes later another then another. Barry had found a can of petrol. ‘
Tim continues ‘We had some great support bands on those tours, a fledging Manic Street Preachers, Five Thirty and Ocean Colour Scene who we got on very well with, eventually stealing and corrupting their sound man. One gig in Middlesbrough we’d stopped at a Toys R Us and stocked up with super soakers from the Metro centre then ambushed Five Thirty when they got to the venue, everyone got soaked and carnage ensued that ended up with all the venue’s flyers for the next month of gigs being thrown out the window and scattered all down the road. I think Barry also handcuffed someone who’d been annoying him to some railings opposite the gig. To this day I still bump into local crew and promoters from those gigs and they all have an FU tale to tell, even last weekend the front of house guy for Sigma had promoted us in Portsmouth and Southampton and we shared a few tales, he was a big fan.’
After the touring London records released 2 further singles. A new song Take It, with lyrics lifted from Joe Strummer’s ‘Joe’s Tune’ from the 1980 film ‘Rudeboy‘ featuring The Clash, Liam being a big fan of The Clash and a rerecorded version of It’s On backed with a upbeat belter Egg Rush, with backing vocals by Anna Haigh ‘I used to sing with a band called Bocca Juniors with Andy Weatherall and Terry Farley, we released a single called Raise. The Flowered Up guys liked it and asked if I would sing on Egg Rush with them.’
Anna ‘My mate Nina and I turned up at Eel Pie Studios which was owned by legend Pete Townshend, so it was an honour to be invited by FU to go and record there with them. When we walked in, one of their tracks was already playing, I really liked it. The guys were all really friendly, but I was pretty nervous, I think I was only about 19 or 20 at the time so pretty young and shy. I remember the manager Des, come charging up to me, all confident, and crazy eyed, telling me he loved my singing and how they all wanted to work with me. He was trying to be friendly, but he scared the hell out of me. They were all really easy going and friendly and we played pool on the Eel Pie canal boat whilst waiting for our turns to record. They were great to work with because they were such nice guys, were really passionate about the music and very talented musicians.’
John takes up the story of the bands continued stay in the studio ‘we recorded the album at Eel Pie Island Studios belonging to the one and only Mr Pete Townshend of the The Who. I have to say I was made up! The Who was my first live gig I went to, after the death of Mr Keith Moon. Pete was a truly fantastic bloke, we spent many a time chatting to him and he gave Joe the guitar he used on The Who’s last tour. What a gent! We spent a month or so there in the studio. While we were there Snub TV came down and we did Take It for them with an interview with Liam and Barry dressed as a sailor. It’s on YouTube’.
It was around this time and especially after the mammoth tour, the bands excesses started to take their toll on certain members of the band, and as explained at the start of this article, tragically the excesses eventually took the lives of Liam and Joe. Tim explains ‘The drugs changed and people with them, I was blind to it at first having never been in contact with heroin (I’ve never touched the stuff) but people became more and more unreliable. We’d be supposed to be rehearsing, I’d get in at about 11am and often the rest of them wouldn’t roll in until 2 or 3. A lot of the bands money was also being used to fuel people’s predilections as well. I’d come into town to get some money to pay my electricity bill and be told sorry, so and so had the last of it to get nine grams of charlie last night.’ John also explains ‘Look none of us were angels but once the brown (heroin) came into the band it got very silly and was in my opinion the down fall of the band. Flowered Up was meant to be a way out of the council estate.’
After the album was recorded and released the band toured Europe, including Germany, France, Belgium, Switzerland and Holland. After returning from Europe the band had started to dissemble. John ‘my mental state wasn’t good, cracks in the band were starting to become openly knowledgeable, half the band on smack/crack the other half clueless to it. At this point it’s kind of blurry as to what went on it was just a haze for me. I had a ragging heroin habit and that became more important than the band.’
Amazingly amongst all this the band were about to record their ground breaking song Weekender. Weekender was not your usual upbeat indie, happy go lucky beat tune. This was taking on new ground, the same ground trodden by The Who with A Quick One, Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven and The Stones You Can’t Always Get What You Want.
Anna ‘Des played me Weekender the first time I heard it. It was so good; their best yet; passionate, angry, soulful and punk. It summed up the dance and drug culture of the time.‘
John ‘I recorded the drums for Weekender in one take. The house were we recorded Weekender has this amazing basement with a pa mixing desk and these double doors that open up onto a fair size lawn. Upstairs in the front room it’s got a billiards table over a log fire, nice sofas, all very warm and comfortable. Me, Tim and Joe go down to the basement where the tools of the trade are all set up and we start jamming. By now we got into the habit of taping all our jam sessions, I think mainly because we never had a song writer as such. Not like the The Stone Roses where it was Ian and John who seem to write all the tracks. So Tim, Joe and I are just messing around going from one thing to another, fast slow rocky reggae, Liam is bouncing around the basement dancing, doing what he did. What did happen was the 45 minute jam was broken down to 4 parts of the jam. The plan was some new songs, not one song being 12 minute 53 second long so we went back to play these four portions from the 45 minute jam. So in two weeks we came away from the house with weekender.’
Tim ‘We then went into the studio with Clive Langer to re-record Crackerjack as a single and ended up doing a 20 minute jam of Weekender while setting up, the jam did get recorded but the tape is long gone, would love to hear it again. At that point Clive turned round and said that’s what we should be recording as a single and he and Jeff lobbied London Records to let us do it. I loved working with Clive, we did quite a bit of pre-production on it with him that led to the many different sections and it took a week to record. The list of session musicians on it reads like a who’s who of top flight players from that period. Luis Jardim on percussion, Steve Naive on hammond organ (we paid him in E’s!), Kate St. John from the Dream Academy on oboe, Dom Weller, an old jazzer on sax. Despite having bronchitis for most of it I think it’s my happiest studio experience ever.’
‘Unfortunately London Records really didn’t get it; they wanted to do a limited release fan record of 2000 copies. We walked from London and went to Sony who was happy to take us on and fund the video that accompanied it.’
The video that accompanied Weekender was the 90’s answer to Quadraphenia. The bands choice to play the main lead actor was John Alford, former child star of Grange Hill, John‘because he was a Camden boy, but that all fell through’. Former Eastender Lee Whitlock was picked for the main role and band mate Anna Haigh. Anna ‘WIZ who directed the Bocca Juniors ‘Raise’ video asked me if I would be in the Weekender video. I loved the track, had total faith in WIZ and was still good friends with the guys in the band so I agreed and I’m really glad I did. It’s a timeless video’
In amongst recording Weekender, the division’s that started after the Europe tour were getting more serious. Tim ‘The cracks were definitely there but I was determined to continue. I think I must claim responsibility for Andy and John’s sackings, particularly Andy. John had sort of hit a brick wall as a drummer, we’d taken to calling him Jonny Two Beats and he wasn’t playing as well as he had. Jacko actually went the other way and started getting too technical, watching all these bass player videos by people like John Patucci and lost his groove a bit, he wouldn’t just play one note when just one note would have done the job. John played on Weekender but went soon after being replaced by Andy Ireland and bass Jacko didn’t even get to play on weekender, he’d written the parts but it was actually played by his roadie ‘Taffy’. Micky Leader replaced him but pretty quickly he turned out to have the same drug issues. Liam and Joe were also starting to struggle at this time, Liam a bit more than Joe. ‘
John has a different story with regards Andy leaving the band ‘I wasn’t aware of the fact Jacko was at breaking point over my drug taking, unbeknown to me he said to the others ‘it’s John who goes or me.’ I turn up to rehearsal as usual and the band explains what had happened with Jacko. I was shocked that it had come to this, but I was completely unaware of how Jacko felt. Also I was very lucky that Joe, of all people, was backing me.’
John was then the next member to leave ‘After weekender came out and it hit top 20 we played a few gigs to promote it. The band at this point was on the decline, which now seems crazy having just written this mega tune. I’d booked a holiday for a week in Canary Island to have a break from all the shit and the drugs really, but the night before I was meant to go on holiday a band meeting took place to discuss FU playing Channel 4 Big Breakfast. I was told by the manager I could go (on holiday). That was my parting from Flowered Up. The manager told the others I’d left the band when in fact I hadn’t. I was replaced by Andy Ireland’
The band with their 2 new recruits went on to play 2 of their biggest gigs in 1992. Glastonbury and the Madness reunion gig Madstock. Tim recalls both events ‘Glastonbury was at the same time as the Weekender tour and we had a few extra personnel on board, a percussionist and two backing singers, it was one of those gorgeous hot Glastonbury’s and we played about 6pm and played very well. I think we were at the height of our playing powers then.’
‘Madstock was amazing, Madness’ first return and a big deal. I remember Morrissey getting pound coins lobbed at him and refusing to play the second day, serves him right for using skinhead and NF imagery to a bunch of essentially ageing skinheads. I got to meet one of my heroes Ian Dury at that as well. Unfortunately it also marked a real step up in Liam’s decline, he had confidence issues caused by the drugs and was doing more and more to try and get over them, a vicious circle really. He locked himself in a toilet and refused to come out, we eventually coaxed him out and went on 45 mins late. All a bit embarrassing really.’
After these huge gigs the band was on their last legs. The excesses within the band were at an all-time high and with key members now gone the band were left high and dry. Tim ‘Eventually people lost interest I think and habits were definitely getting in the way. Liam and Joe as brothers always had a bit of a tempestuous relationship and it got a lot worse. We’d recorded Better Life as a follow up with Clive Langer again but it was getting harder to even get everyone in a room together, I was writing stuff at home to bring in but rehearsals were even flakier than before and we’d burnt our way through most of the money.’
‘In the end I’d had enough and quit, Liam followed two days later. I went home, drunk a bottle of Jack Daniels and started thinking what to do next. I’d met Andy Todd whilst working on the aforementioned Jonny’s second album in France under the name Sensation; formerly Soul Family Sensation who’d also toured supporting us. We decided we’d pair up and start something new eventually leading to Republica.’
And that was thought to be that, until 2001, when Tim got a surprise call from Terry, Flowered Up’s ex manager ‘In 2001 after Republica went on hiatus, Terry who was looking after a much cleaner and leaner Liam got in touch. Alan McGee (Creation Records label owner) had given them some money to demo some material and would I be interested in working with him again. Despite some early reticence on my part I agreed to at least give it a try and Greedy Soul was born. ‘
McGee ‘I got the know the band from going to Spectrum nightclub in the early 90’s. I thought Flowered Up were brilliant. They were a southern version of Happy Mondays. Liam and Terry came and said they wanted to work with me. I funded a session for a great track Greedy Soul. Liam was a mega talent’
Tim ‘Liam had masses of lyrics he’d written in the intervening years, which I still have somewhere, and the old Liam was back, we worked out of my loft studio in Windsor with Liam staying on the couch and we soon had a band and an albums worth of material. I drafted in an old mate Jonny Male on guitar, Ed Ball on bass and Shovel who we’d known since Natural Life days when they used to rehearse next door at Sunday School on percussion. We did about 6 gigs I think including supporting Primal Scream at the Astoria. Unfortunately it all went tits up pretty quick, Terry punched out one of Alan’s employees at Poptones over something completely non band related and we were dropped like hotcakes and everyone quickly lost interest. I was trying to keep it together but managing it and writing the stuff got too much. It’s not a bad album although was never properly recorded, it was all done in my little studio. I’ve put it all up on Soundcloud for all to hear,I think it’s some of Liam’s best work.’
There was a further proper band reunion that occurred in 2005. Liam, Joe, John, Jacko and Tim back together. Tim ‘The reunion in 2005 was hard work, it took a lot for me to commit but eventually I caved in. Joe was in a bad way, living in hostels and the like and they took a lot of licking back into shape before we were ready to play out again. The song Greedy Soul was also adapted for FU based on Jagz Kooners remix he’d done of it. But it wasn’t easy; Joe left my Fender Strat on a bus home one night (he’d sold all his guitars and amps by this time) which really pissed me off. We did a warm up gig in Clerkenwell before our own gig at the Boston Arms in Tuffnell Park and then a festival on Clapham Common. Unfortunately Joe overcooked it at that gig, played badly and was then hospitalised at about 7.30pm where I and his girlfriend spotted him being carted off on a gurney and taken to Tooting Hospital where he had his stomach pumped. He nearly died. I missed all the other bands that day and all he could say was “what? What’s the problem?’ when they released him. I quit. Again.
John ‘So the 2005 reunion, Danny Rampling wanted us to play 3 songs as a warm at Loaded which was his club. Shaun Ryder was going to DJ along with others. It was mint! We came on, the place was packed, low stage to really capture the atmosphere, and it was electric. When we hit the first tune the club just went up like a rocket, 200 die hard FU fans. To get that welcome was fantastic. Next gig was the Boston arms, 800 capacities sold out, we then played then KOKO then Clapham. 4 gigs, lots of love, I was made up, the band were hugging and being friends again. There was talk of more gigs and Liam and Tim mentioned about us doing the Greedy soul album, rerecording it with the reformed band, this all sounds good. What did come from the reunion was closure of the past. We kissed and made up so in that respect happy days and I got to play all the gig sober by then I had cleaned my act up no drugs and no drink.’
After this reunion there was one further attempt to get the band back together. Tim ‘A couple of years later they tried to get me to do it again. I flatly refused this time, they tried and got Simon Lovekin back in but there was no chemistry left and it fell apart pretty quickly.’
What follows next is one of the saddest stories to come out of the Madchester scene. Within a couple of years of each other Brother’s Liam and Joe tragically died. John was on the phone to Liam’s girlfriend when Liam died. John ‘Liam passed away from a very strong heroin overdoses, the next few days after it went viral via the media I spoke to some very good people. Alan McGee had nothing but love for Liam. Mani rang offering support and love, Clint Boon from Xfm and many more. It was sad but warming that this kid I knew for most of my life ended up in a band which touched so many people. Honestly Liam was a true gent he never had a bad word to say about no one. If Liam didn’t like something he would say nothing. The next few days were heart breaking, floods of tears would just come from nowhere, and I’d listen to FU tracks and just break down.’
Tim recalls the time as follows ‘That whole period was very sad, I’d pretty much lost touch with them all apart from John and it was him that rang me to tell me about Liam. It was a hell of a funeral though and good to see so many old faces despite the circumstances. Joe’s death wasn’t as much of a surprise. Joe passed because of the substitute stuff he’d been taking plus anti depressants and other shit all combined to a perfect shit storm. He just fell asleep on the sofa one night and never woke up. They’d both battled with their demons for many years and they got the better of them in the end. They were two very talented and unique individuals and like chalk and cheese. All that’s left is their music now but it’s a great epitaph to have.’
Anna ‘When I heard about Liam, I hadn’t seen him for about a year. I was shocked and devastated to find out, especially because he left behind his gorgeous daughter Tao who was just a bump in Tammy’s tummy when we were on tour. Horrible for her to have her Dad taken from her. I saw Joe at Liam’s funeral. Was really really good to see him, we made loose plans about making music together but I got too busy with work, something I deeply regret, and the next thing I knew was that Joe had also gone. I can’t imagine how awful that must be for their family. I think Joe really missed Liam and found things pretty hard after he’d gone. It’s an awful tragedy and I miss them. I’m just glad to have known them and been involved in their lives and music. Absolute legends.’
Alan McGee ‘I was gutted to hear their deaths to be honest. Although i was closer to Liam, Flowered Up were a great band. What can i say. Rock and Roll is fucking dangerous. And it is.’
What about the legacy. Tim can also look back with fondness on Flowered Up’s legacy ‘I’m really pleased with our legacy, Weekender is still the best thing I’ve ever done and the video to it was a milestone in documenting the culture of the time. I wish the album would have been a bit better but that was down to choices we made at the time and to be honest we were winging it! I’m currently battling with the arseholes we signed the publishing to get the copyrights back.’ John ‘looking back now my favourite tracks are; Doris is 1st, Flapping 2nd, Weekender 3rd.’
And what now. If you’re lucky you’ll bump into the rhythm section Jacko and John in London driving the famous black taxi cabs. Tim is still in the music business ‘Yep, been back doing Republica since 2010 and putting the final touches to our third album, it’s only taken 17 years! We haven’t toured that much this year but we’ll be back with a vengeance next year. We’ve even got an enquiry to support Iggy Pop in China which I really hope comes off!
I’m also producing an album for a synthpop group called EmT which will be out next year. I’ve also recently done some gigs on the dark side as a midi tech for drum and bass popsters Sigma. We did Reading Festival last week, it amused them highly when I told them it was 25 years to the day since I’d played the main stage with FU on 30 mushrooms! The big wheel just keeps on turning.’
Article written in tribute to Liam and Joe Maher. RIP
‘…whatever you do, just make sure what you’re doing makes you happy…’