The Things: EP 1- review & interview with ‘lost’ Manchester Psych bands drummer & former Buzzcock John Maher
The Things – EP 1 (Imperial Records)
Reformed Manchester psych band release brilliant EP . Ged Babey reviews and chats to their drummer and original Buzzcocks member John Maher.
Living at the opposite end of the UK, it is sickening to discover that even long-lost, ‘could’ve been a contender’ bands from Manchester, with only a single release to their name and therefore all-but omitted from the city’s history, turn out to have actually been bloody brilliant. Weren’t there any shit bands in Manchester in the late 70s/early 80s?
The Things pre-dated the Inspiral Carpets (with whom they share Nuggets/Pebbles type influences) and were perhaps a northern equivalent to the Medway psych/organ/garage heroes the Prisoners. Unashamedly backward-looking but with a post-punk core the Things were a classy band. Ahead of their time and great tunesmiths.
The Things were formed in 1979 inspired by the sounds of 60s psychedelia and Garage bands such as The Seeds. Playing regularly to packed crowds in Manchester at venues like The Band On The Wall , The Russell Club and The Beach Club, and later supporting Buzzcocks and New Order on UK tours. The Things recorded a session of 4 tracks for Mark Radcliffe’s Transmission show on Piccadilly Radio, broadcast on 12 July 1980. A single, “Pieces Of You” was released in October 1980. They disbanded early in 1982.
In 2012, after 30 years The Things decided to reform and made some live appearances in 2013 with Brian Benson replacing John Maher on drums. With several gigs under their belt The Things returned to the studio in 2014 to record “the album we should have made in 1980″. The studio session saw the return of John Maher on drums, recreating the line up that recorded the Imperial Records single back in 1980. (from the Things website)
This really is a magnificent four-song EP from a band who should’ve been, could’ve been huge. They really do sound as if they could’ve influenced the young Roses and Inspirals and its not beyond the realms of possibility that the teenage members of said bands saw them play. Can’t Seem To Make You Mine is, as you’ve guessed, a faithful cover of the Seeds song and the other three are originals. Nobody Wonders has a Northern Soul feel, whilst 1000 Stars has a touch of Joy Division and Blue Orchids about it, mixed in with paisley-patterned slo-mo-delia and is almost a fore-shadowing of the Roses Waterfall.
Pieces of You sounds like a Merseybeat Three Steps To Heaven with a Hank Marvin solo (and I mean that in a good way!) and could’ve topped the hit parade in 1968.
It is an EP that takes a couple listens and once you erase the memory of all the later bands it sounds a bit like it really is a great Extended Play of quality and distinction.
I spoke to (my new best friend) John Maher about the Things (as part of a wider-ranging interview- which will be uploaded in a week or three). We had chatted about his love of Sixties Girl Groups .
“My involvement with The Things came about as an indirect result of my interest in 1960s girlie groups. One of the singles I brought back with me from Bleecker Bob’s (in New York) is still one of my favourite songs: Daydreamin’ Of You by The Dreamers. I liked that song so much I wanted to record a cover version and set out in search of a female vocalist who could do it justice.
I had no idea how to make it happen but while the idea was fresh in my mind, I went to see a new Manchester band, The Things, at Salford Polytechnic . This was early 1980. The Things’ brand of ‘60s influenced psychedelia felt like a breath of fresh air. They didn’t have a girl singer but instead, they had an amazing combination of sounds – almost rockabilly tinged guitar, complete with WEM Copycat, distorted Farfisa organ and brilliant songs.
They had original songs but also did a great selection of covers, including the Shangri-Las’ Walking in the Sand, Can’t Seem To Make You Mine by The Seeds and Arnold Layne. They were a ready-made outfit making great music. I approached them after the gig. Told them I’d like to record and release a single. They agreed but on one condition: I joined the band. I was in!”
One of your old friends said he saw you play with the Things accompanied by Diggle who remarked “He plays better with them than he does with us”.
I’ll attribute that comment to the fact it was the first time Steve Diggle had an opportunity to hear me play in a band that didn’t have two guitarists playing bar chords simultaneously at full spin cycle. The Things style of music has more space for the individual elements to shine through. It’s a nice comment all the same.
What I liked especially about them was the fact they weren’t part of any particular movement or scene. I enjoyed playing with them for no other reason than I thought they were a brilliant band. With the benefit of hindsight, Buzzcocks were in decline at the time: Shelley was struggling to come up with new material; our record company was losing interest etc. I’d found a band who fired me up with the same kind of enthusiasm I’d experienced back in 1976. Playing small club gigs with The Things could be at least as satisfying as the latter day large venue Buzzcocks shows.
Have you got gigs lined up to promote the EP? Is there an album to follow?
The Things have been playing regularly since reforming in 2012 but with Brian Benson taking my place on drums. I’m 500 miles away from Manchester, so being a permanent member isn’t a practical proposition. When they decided to go into the studio in June 2014, Tim (lead vocalist) gave me a call and asked if I’d be a part of it. He wanted the original line-up to “record the album we should have done in 1980”.
Funds were tight. We recorded thirteen songs in two days! The initial plan was to release an album, which may still happen, but it was decided the first release would be this EP.
Singer Tim Lyons has been a fixture it seems on the Manchester scene with bands like Harvey Rabbit, Precogs and the Sandells (who I guess are a tribute to The Standells, but I could be wrong) bassist / rhythm guitarist Joe Brehony was described by Salford DJ Stephen Doyle as “one of the original punk fans in Manchester, regular at the Electric Circus & general music fanatic”. Keyboard player Ella Burton seems to have gravitated away from music until the band reformed and provided that all important Farfisa organ sound which later made the Inspiral Carpets so distinctive.
The following links are to some fabulous radio shows from Stephen Doyles Sonic Diary where he talks to, and plays selections chosen by The Things singer/guitarist Tim and bassist Joe including the original Things single. Listen and enjoy when you have an hour to spare.
And in the meantime get hold of a copy of the Things EP – the sound of Manchester Psychedelia Post-Punk Pop, Past, Present and hopefully, Future.
All words Ged Babey whose author profile is here.