Peter Hooton – interview with The Farm frontman and influential music writer
Passionate Liverpudlian Peter Hooton made his mark as front man in The Farm but it was through the origins of a football/music terrace-fanzine “The End” he first began to put pen to paper and come into his own; humorously, honest and socially aware it quickly caught on and became one of the most influential fanzines from the period becoming a major influence of ”ËLoaded’.
The fanzine has been repeatedly celebrated over the years which has in no doubt played its part in inspiring publications and writers that came later on to cover that same style and content. Our friends at the great Sabotage Times are putting a collection of The End fanzines together as a book.
Peter Hooton talks to Louder Than War’s Carl Stanley about The Beginning of The End.
1) You were working as a youth worker when you put “The End” together weren’t you…
Yeah, it started as the “Detached Youth workers” – not because we were detached from society or anything like that but because we didn’t have a youth centre, the idea was to get young people involved in the things they wanted to do.
I met Phil Jones who was 17 at the time, a couple of years younger than me who ran a Mod Fanzine called “Time For Action” and asked him if he would be interested in writing some thing we could use. He asked what was I thinking, what ideas; so I started thinking of a magazine that catered for people who went to concerts and the football match.
This was quite simply because I kept seeing the same people who went to gigs at the match as well but there was no linkage, fanzines were either purely music or there didn’t seem to be any football fanzines at the time, not that I knew of anyway.
I remember going into Probe Records in Liverpool around the same time as the Charles and Diana wedding and there was an anarchist magazine which was only 4-5 pages long but victoriously defiant against the Royal wedding and the idea of this lavish pompous occasion in times of such high unemployment. It was a very political anarchistic style of magazine and on top of that it was very funny as well which got me thinking why can’t we have a magazine like this but not as overtly political but just as caustic and vitriolic.
2) What was it like at the start of the magazine -getting it off the ground
”ËWe started off with the first issue with mainly Mod music and slipped a few things in about the match and things like the pubs and clubs but at that time the first couple were generally concentrating on music but my intention all the time was to introduce more and more writing on football and its culture, as well as what was happening on the streets of Liverpool,
The first few issues were quite difficult to sell really because people at the match thought you were selling a student rag-mag or your trying to con them into something you know, so we’d have to tell people what it was about and one of our favourite lines was when someone asked “what’s it about”, and we’d say “You” which made them think, you know, and because we were well known at the match people took a chance on buying it but by issues 3-4 all we had to do was go into a pub with a plastic bag with a hundred magazines and they’d be gone in 5 minutes.
It’s funny that at the start they were so hard to sell but by issue 4 or 5 they were coming to us, you know
People just started to express themselves and write and if you think of now-a-days you’ve got the net, forums, Twitter, Facebook, everyone’s writing all the time now but in those days for people to actually put pen to paper was a big leap and in a way what’s happening now with the net is what happened with The End.
3) How was it funded, was it hard financially putting it together?
Back then there was a thing called “Youth Opportunities” and there was a place in Everton called Victoria settlements where the cartoonist / illustrator John Potter worked and studied Graphic Design on a Youth Opportunity course and he said The Vic Settlement had a printing press which got it printed up quite cheap.
The first issue cost us ÃÂ£90 and that’s actually in the new book on The End, the receipt for the ÃÂ£90 is printed in the foreword of the book, which isn’t that much really and we printed up 500 copies, 20p each I think it was so we probably made about a tenner on the first issue, (laughs)
When I worked for the youth organisation I had a managing committee and I showed them the magazine but thankfully I don’t remember any of them reading it (laughs). There was none of “Peter what’s this?” you know, they were just happy knowing young people were writing but it was people from across the city contributing, not just them confined to that area.
4) How do you feel when you hear The End and your writing has said to of influenced people like James Brown, can you see the connection…
What I wanted to do was to write honestly, how people talk in pubs that was the idea behind it.
I’ve never been one for jokes, none of my mates tell jokes….if you tell a joke everyone looks down their nose at you, I’ve always been one for funny stories more the stuff you can relate to.
I’m not too sure I influenced people like James Brown though as he was probably writing before The End anyway but I think it encouraged a lot of people to write, thinking “if those lazy bastards at The End can do it so can I” (laughs).
You know it was during a period of “you can do anything” it was coming out of the punk fanzines where early writers became stars. Later writers become semi-celebrities like Julie Birchall and Tony Parsons, but at that time they were probably still writing for the NME or people like Gary Bushell at Sounds.
So yeah, obviously I’m proud people are saying it’s an influence but I think we were just writing honestly. It was observational stuff, exactly what John Bishop does now, John Bishop doesn’t tell jokes does he, he writes observational humour of Britain and people can relate to that and a lot of stuff in The End. People can still relate to it because it’s all things that pass the test of time really.
5) Your style of writing, where did it come from? and what influenced it…
”ËWell what happened was at the time I was a best man at a wedding and it was my third go. I’d previously been best man two other times at friend’s weddings and my speeches weren’t great so with the third one I just thought “aw fuck it” I’ll do a best man speech the way I talk in the pub.
So I did a series of stories of me and the Groom you know, things that had happened and obviously a little bit of exaggeration thrown in as well and it went down a storm and my mate, the groom said ” you wanna start writing things down because that was brilliant.”Â
So that was the encouragement to write, I’m thinking if he’s saying that, and he’s a cynical bastard, maybe he’s got a point, if I can get a room of people laughing from all walks of life maybe I am on to something.
6) So how did you go from putting The End together to fronting The Farm…
I started The End before I had any intentions of being in a band but then I started seeing a lot of bands and hanging out, listening to a lot of Liverpool music and there was a lot of romanticism involved in it, love songs and romantic notions and as far as I was concerned they weren’t addressing the problems of the day- social and economic problems.
So one day I’m at my mate’s house and his brother was rehearsing with his band and the singer never turned up so I said “I’ll have a go, I know a few tunes” you know,… so I did and they had me singing “Waiting for the Man” by the Velvet Underground and a couple of Rolling Stones songs.
Two of the group, the more progressive long haired types, they were saying “Nah” but two of the group who were more like me, more of an eclectic taste in music and who liked the passion, you know, wanted to start a group.
So when they rang up and asked “you want to start a group”…I was surprised because I was just doing it to help them out really. Then they presented me with a load of lyrics that they’d written and I thought, “I’m not singing these”, it was all wishy washy love songs again you know, so I started writing songs myself.
The first song was “Violent Playground” which was taken from a famous old black and white film- an old crime story based in Gerard Gardens in Liverpool. I wrote “Violent Playground” about the economic and social problems in the City and wrote a few other songs and tried to avoid the love-song angle. Lyrically I was just obsessed with The Clash, The Specials and The Jam and thought they were the peer groups talking about ”Ë
7) Originally called The Excitements you went on to be The Farm, though I always thought The Farm were named after Cantril Farm in Liverpool but they weren’t were they…
”ËNo, that’s an urban myth, because of the correspondence address at the back of The End was Cantrell Farm people just presumed that’s where the name comes from though and we never discouraged it, but it was nothing to do with that.
The Excitements were the original band this lad had and then he asked me to join but that name didn’t last very long. We started rehearsing on a farm just outside Maghull because Steve Grimes our guitarist knew a girl whose dad owned the farm I think, so we had a barn with electric to rehearse in which was great and after a while it’d be like “we are off down to the farm for rehearsals”…so that’s where it came from.’
9) Did you replicate that same style of writing you used for The End, with the band, were you coming from the same place as The End in terms of substance…
”ËYeah, I think so. It was social realism wasn’t it? and I think some of the early stuff reflects that, like “Sign of the Cross” and ” Power Over Me”- they had a political edge to them you know, as well as “Same Old Story” which ended up on Spartacus.
”ËAll Together Now’ was originally a song called “No Mans Land” which had about 6-7 verses in it all about the 1st World War but when we went to record it in 1990 Suggs from Madness who was working on the session with us said that for a pop song we’d have to get rid of a few verses. Because some of the other versus were about Lord Kitchener being called to Parliament to be asked why no one would fight and about how they started caught-marshaling people and shooting some of them, so it detailed all that, you know.’
10) Do you think that kind of awareness is missing today in music which has become quite pro-establishment, lets say…
”ËThere’s no doubt about that. Everything has got a lot more corpotate because companies have seen the potential and value in music, though in the 90’s it was declared guitar music was dead but nothing could be further than the truth and you have people like Cream putting on concerts so its coming full circle. The idea of festivals playing host to people like Wayne Rooney and other footballers is testament to how its changed, footballers in the 80-90’s wouldn’t of even thought of going to Glastonbury, it’s a celebrity culture now that’s manifested itself into the concerts, gigs and festivals and though we all enjoy them and played a few this year it has changed.
Talking to Mick Jones after the “Don’t Buy The Sun Gig” he was saying “we’ve all been sucked in haven’t we” he said the reason he enjoyed the Don’t Buy The Sun Gig gig was because it was organic, there no real promoter as such, we just hired the place, got the groups in and sold the tickets, you know.
11) As one of the organisers of The “Don’t Buy The Sun” gig it must of been great having Mick Jones involved. The causes on the night meant a lot to him and he really enjoyed the occasion didn’t he…
”ËVery much, he actually read John Robb’s review of the night and was nearly in tears, really was, and said that’s one of the best reviews he’d ever had.
I said to him “you were in The Clashthough, you must have had 100’s of reviews like that” and he said “yeah but who ever wrote that understood everything about the night, what it meant, everything”.
He went on to say the night made him realise again why he’d got into music and why he picked up a guitar in the first place” you know, so yeah, we’ve all made a good career out of it – playing all around the world, gigs sponsored by phone companies etc. and you forge why you did it in the first place. There was a fantastic atmosphere that night and it was great seeing Mick up there.
I was a bit nervous, hoping it was all coming together, floating around, waiting for something to go wrong, you know, because I’m a bit of a pessimist so I’m thinking “everything’s going too well, there’s bound to be a power cut or some thing”, but it was a fantastic night and everyone there just said the same, there is talk of maybe doing a few more, take it round the country, 2 or 3 key places so you never know.’
12) Another big part of your life is Liverpool F.C, you were a key member of the “Spirit of Shankly” which was a committee put together to see off the Gillett and Hicks disastrous ownership of the club, I imagine these were very fraught times…
”ËIt was civil war, it really was. We were trying to warn people because we knew…we were getting information from people on the inside, from journalists and those who were opposed to what they were doing but despite this we had a lot of people not believe us and it’s only coming out now really.
The Chief Exec last week said they were on the brink of administration as well as Pepe Reina who pointed out that was a reality and the players knew it as well, the club nearly ceased to exist. It would of gone into administration and would have had to have been started up again as something else, you know.
The people involved in the Spirit of Shankly were fantastic people and it was all done on a voluntary nature because they all wanted something to exist that they loved and we were never under any allusion. We always knew we only maybe had 10% of the crowd with us but we didn’t care because we knew we were right, but that’s because we had inside information and had people leaking stuff to us saying “look, this is the seriousness of the situation”Â. I go to the match sometimes and sit next to Brian Reed from The Mirror and there was stuff coming to us all the time saying “this is serious, Rafa is complaining that the management are dysfunctional and he can’t get any answers from the Americans because they were arguing” it’s not part of a Machiavellian Plot you know, it was really happening, the club was in real crisis.
Some of the fans were actually quite hostile to us. We had a couple of marches that coincided with Man Utd at home, so we had like, 4 or 5 thousand on the march so no one would say anything to you there but in pubs, if you had the badge on they’d be like “oh no, not them lot” you know, they’d say “lets give the Americans a chance” and that because some ex-player had said it, they couldn’t believe the power of the ex-player you know, some ex-players like Aldridge, Howie Gayle and to some extent Phil Thompson only got up to support us but the rest of them didn’t want to upset the club.
But you can’t find anyone now who supported the regime (laughs) though sometimes we even started to doubt our selves “maybe we are misreading this” because you’d get Hicks doing his PR thing, he had 3-4 PR companies and they were all disastrous for him because they just didn’t understand- he should of tried to hire us- buy the Spirit of Shankly out and get us to do his PR (laughs), obviously it would never have happened but we could of said ” you can’t be doing that, sitting in front of a fire in Texas with a Liverpool mug- no-ones gonna fall for it” with his kids wearing Liverpool scarves looking at him like “Dad, why do we have to wear these things round our neck” (laughs)’
13) The recent story about the Conservatives playing, (or not playing) Primal Scream’s “Rocks” brought fury from the band, so with “All Together Now” probably the first choice for any back-slapping political convention theme tune, is this something familiar to you…
”ËIt was actually used after Ed Milliband’s speech the other week…
He didn’t ask, they just used it, but in 1992 Neil Kinnock asked if they could use “All Together Now” so we donated it to them, but 92 is when they lost didn’t they- spectacularly, but a lot of political organisations have used it and they’ve always usually asked permission and if it’s a political party we don’t tend to ask for money off them, you know, its alright by us.’
14) And finally, I caught The Farm at Fom Fest this year still sounding great, do you think the band will ever write new material again…
”ËYeah, basically we’ve sort of just done the nostalgia tour and hopefully we’ll be doing a few festivals next year. We got some great reactions and we’ve always had a good sound live you know, and yeah, we have actually been getting together playing and writing so you never know, never say never”Â¦’