Various ‘Revolutionary Spirit: The Sound Of Liverpool 1976-1988’ – album review
Various ‘Revolutionary Spirit: The Sound Of Liverpool 1976-1988’ (Cherry Red Records)
5CD Boxset | DL
Rel Date 9th February 2018
Coming hot on the heels of the ‘Manchester North of England’ compilation Cherry Red Records have travelled down the M62 to explore Liverpool’s response to the punk explosion;
‘Revolutionary Spirit’ is a sumptuous 5CD collection that comes bound within a 56pp A5 book which features many of the included artists’ own sleeve-notes, plus previously unseen photographs and essays from (arguably) key observers and participants in the city’s music scene including DJ Bernie Connor, La’s co-founder Mike Badger, Yorkie, and DJ/Producer/Remixer Joe McKechnie.
The period of 1976-1988 is mapped (nearly) chronologically across the 5CD’s; and covers what is sometimes referred to as the ‘second wave’ of music to have come from Liverpool and surrounding areas; as such you get a fascinating overview of just what was happening in the city at the time. As a lifelong resident of the area I was present at both the debut, and final gigs of some bands involved, and was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to have gathered some of these tracks together when initially released as singles, there are obvious omissions – nothing from Pete Wylie’s various Wah! incarnations, The Farm are also AWOL, as are Birkenhead punks Instant Agony, as well as Half Man Half Biscuit.
I have always considered Liverpool’s reaction to punk to have been at odds to the rest of the country, and would suggest that this collection demonstrates my point; aside from Public Disgrace, included here with their lone ‘Toxteth’ EP; Liverpool didn’t really produce a hardcore, mohawk sporting, leather and studs punk band; I’d suggest that was largely down to the legendary Deaf School, who were as influential, though far less commercially successful than the Beatles – their track ‘What A Way To End It All’ opens this collection. Formed in 1973 by students and staff at Liverpool Art College, they went on to release three albums for Warner’s, each release charting their transition from an art rock style that had its roots in cabaret to a more traditional rock sound; ‘What A Way To End It All’ was the band’s debut UK single (and was also released in Australia and South Africa) the track has a smooch vibe to it but with all sorts of Parisian sleaze clambering over the top – it really sounds like nothing else and was perhaps a pointer for a young Adam Ant as he created ‘Young Parisians’.
Big In Japan have become an almost mythical group, largely down to being a ‘reverse supergroup’ – everyone in the band went onto fame, whilst their musical legacy is often overlooked; initially an idea of Deaf School member Clive Langer, he dragged in Bill Drummond (later KLF etc) and Phil Allen (bother of Deaf School frontman Enrico Cadillac) before bringing in front woman and force of nature Jayne Casey (later Pink Industry, Cream); a seminal group often cited as the “Eric’s (legendary venue) house band” who released the self-titled track as part of the ‘Brutality Religion & A Dance Beat’ EP, the debut release for the Eric’s imprint, also featuring The Chuddy Nuddies (The Yachts in disguise for contractual reasons) – the track is a savage assault to the senses built around a chugging riff with Jayne repeatedly wailing “big in Japan” in the background a guitar is mutilated into a siren call before the entire thing collapses in under two and half minutes to be replaced with a comedy Japanese Saki soundtrack.
Echo & The Bunnymen’s 1979 debut ‘Pictures On My Wall’ debut is included, initially released on Zoo Records, a label set up by Bill Drummond; the track was a clear indicator of the rejection of the ‘year zero’ punk rule, the Bunnymen drew their influences from the Doors, and Bowie and that’s amply displayed within the darkly brooding vocals and looping guitars; similarly in the inclusion of the incredibly rare 051 ‘Breakthrough In Grey Room’, the band were formed by Dave Jackson who went onto form The Room, and Benny Profane, both of which are included within this release; its pretty basic stuff, a young band finding their feet, but with a desire to expand their sound by the inclusion of primitive sax, the original production is ropey but is worthy of inclusion.
Sometimes (unfairly) cited as a novelty record ‘Touch’ by Lori & The Chameleons is a genuine oddity, initially released by Zoo Records, before being picked up by Sire/WEA who took it all the way to #70 in the national chart; The Chameleons were Drummond and Dave Balfe (owners of Zoo) and should you believe the forums Lori was merely a hired voice for this bid for pop success; all that aside, playing it now it sounds remarkably current, built around a simple disco beat courtesy of a Syndrum, an oriental guitar as Lori delivers a deadpan yet breathy vocal expressing a desire to be transported to Tokyo.
That disco vibe continues, though Nightmare In Wax’s ‘Black Leather’ was a very different type of disco; fronted by Pete Burn’s proto disco/goth band they appropriated KC & The Sunshine Band’s ‘That’s The Way I Like It’ and morphed it into a filthy paean to muscled men in leather astride motorbikes; I remember as a teenager going into Probe Records in Button Street, Liverpool and buying a copy of the ‘Birth of a Nation’ EP this track is lifted from, I was served by Burns who at that point looked like Chief Sitting Bull on mescaline.
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark ’Bunker Soldiers’ is included; the opening track to their self-titled album debut; OMD (for convenience) were my local band, I went to the same school as Andy McCluskey – he still lives only a mile from me, I saw his previous band The Id, but sadly not their prior incarnation Hitlerz Underpantz, or VCL XI who were wrongly named after a decal on a speaker pictured on an early Kraftwerk album; based over on the Wirral and so detached from the core Liverpool scene they based their sound around synthesizers and drum machines – they even called there’s Winston. As VCL XI indicated McCluskey was inspired by his exposure to Kraftwerk which is evident here.
McCluskey was briefly a member of Dalek I who open Disc 2 with ‘Dalek I Love You’ an attempt at what would now be described as minimal synth though to be blunt it hasn’t really survived the intervening years – the inclusion of The Ellory Bop debut Hit The Moon’ again displays the vast range of sounds stemming from Liverpool around this time; this was largely due to the existence of venues like Eric’s, later Brady’s providing a platform for bands to learn their craft; Ellory Bop would be described as an indie band these days, jangly guitars and progressive beats – this sounds like Folk Devils would eventually become, they were excellent live and often supported the likes of Killing Joke, though as ‘Hit The Moon’ shows they were just not able to transfer the live aggression to record.
The Spitfire Boys were possibly Liverpool’s first readily identifiable punk band, formed in late 76′ the line-up was Peter Clarke (Budgie) (later Big In Japan, Slits & Banshees) on drums, Dave Littler (Aladdin) on guitar, Yorkie on bass, and Paul Rutherford (later Frankie Goes To Hollywood) on vocals, the band name was approved by Wayne/Jayne County who was playing a gig at Eric’s, Paul Rutherford was unsure of the band name so sought the advice of County; the name approved they released ‘British Refugee’ (RK Records) as a single, and despite plans to tour they imploded and each member went onto better things. ‘British Refugee’ is raw, basic 77′ punk, its built around Budgie’s solid drum beat with some typically sneered vocals, with guitars slashing in the background; the version here doesn’t seem to have been cleaned up in any way and is the better for it!
Afraid of Mice were another fine band, equipped well-crafted songs in a sort of poppy new wave style; ‘Intercontinental’ was their 1981 debut for Charisma though sadly they failed to win an audience, then member Rod Gillard was also a member of Mutants, who are unfortunately omitted from this release, and Attempted Moustache (always hated that name) included here with ‘Superman’, and Geisha Girls included here with ‘The Doctor’– Intercontinental is a lively synth based pop excursion that playing back now I realise has similarities certainly in the vocal delivery to that of Feargal Sharkey.
Hambi and The Dance were fronted by Hambi Harambolus and initially featured a certain Paul Rutherford (ex -Spitfire Boys) and later member of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, included here with an early version of their worldwide hit ‘Two Tribes’ – Hambi were signed to Virgin who released ‘To Late To Fly The Flag’ in 1981, the track a synth pop masterpiece later being included on the bands lone album ‘Heartache’ the following year; ‘Flag’ has urgency, is awash with shards of colour and a chorus as infectious as an STD – this really should have been massive, despite the might of Virgin’s promotion machine the track failed to reach a wider audience.
Even if you are unfamiliar with some of the artists included here, what you should gain from this compilation is the broad diversity of sounds that were being created in the studios and clubs of Liverpool at the time; the city itself was mired in economic collapse, unemployment was rife – there was rioting, resulting in the first deployment of CS gas on the British public, the city became a focal point for heroin; but its clear that for many of the musicians who called Liverpool home their frustrations resulted in some inspirational records.
Modern Eon ‘Euthenics’ is rightly included, the version here being the original recording for local label Inevitable Records which was released in 1980 and then picked up in early 81’ by DinDisc who also scooped up OMD taking them to worldwide success; mention must go to original member Robert ‘Bob’ Wakelin who sadly passed away just after Ney Year 2018. Modern Eon reached #65 in the UK album chart with their 1981 album ‘Fiction Tales’ before dissolving – apparently a second album exists in demo format, though may well have been lost over the intervening years.
Disc #3 includes the unique Pink Industry ‘Don’t Let Go’ – Pink Industry being the band Jayne Casey formed following the demise of Pink Military, which itself followed Big In Japan; weirdly the entire output of Pink Military is missing, and the starting point for Pink Industry was this their third single (Cathexis Records 1987), Jayne brought in Ambrose Reynolds on bass and Tadzio Jodlowski on guitar, by now Casey had delved into the electronic genre, becoming ever more experimental, utilising drum machines, synthesizers, tapes and processed bass and guitar, her band are regularly cited as fore-runners of what later became known as ‘dark wave’ – ‘Don’t Let Go’ was produced by ex-Big In japan member Ian Brodie, it should have been a Top 20 hit, sadly as to often happens to the best stuff, the track avoided the chart and Pink Industry called it a day.
Ex-Post Facto were another band venturing into electronics, best remembered for the track ‘Oceanic Explorers’ included here; this was the bands second release coming out via Probe Plus Records, the label set up by Liverpool’s (still) finest record shop Probe, minimal, rhythmic, with lamenting atmospheric vocals.
Ambrose Reynolds (Pink Industry) took the atmospherics further, ‘He’s Dead Alright’ being lifted from his lone solo album ‘Greatest Hit’s’ (Zulu Records) which deals with famous assassinations in the USA – the sleeve artwork was a triumph, the US flag with the stars replaced with handguns; this piece specifically addresses the death of JKK – a amalgamation of DIY home made electronics augmented lots cut up radio and TV samples, over a soundscape that creates it own rhythmic flow.
Bunnymen member Will Sergeant was also experimenting, releasing the album ‘Themes For ‘Grind’ in 1982 via his own Ninety-Two Happy Customers label; ‘Scene V’ is included here, its wildly different to the Bunnymen and sits more comfortably with Wire and less aggressive Throbbing Gristle, perhaps even hinting toward ambient period Aphex Twin a decade or so later.
It’s Immaterial frankly deserved a hit with ‘A Gigantic Raft In The Philippines’ – released by Inevitable Records in 1981, the band was formed by three former
members of Yachts – John Campbell, Martin Dempsey, and Henry Priestman (later The Christians), the bizarrely titled track was built around a rumbling looping bass and minimal drums, impassioned almost other room vocals wrapping around some to the point guitar work, the track was twice re-released in 1984 gaining WEA distribution, it still failed to chart. It’s Immaterial eventually reached the UK Top 20 in 1986 with the single ‘Driving Away From Home’
Disc #4 opens with Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Relax’, the bands debut single (I was at the release party), it struggled initially and then after a Top of The Pops appearance Radio 1 DJ Mike Reid banned the track, which promptly catapulted to #2 in the UK chart before reaching the apex #1 the week later, going on to sell 2million copies in the UK alone; the track has since gained a life of its own, the questions remain as to if any of FGTH (Holly’s vocal aside) appear on the record, the endless e-mixes – all that aside, as a local I was genuinely delighted, Frankie had worked hard, gigging across the UK – the legendary appearances at Larks In the Park, it remains a defining moment and again demonstrates the desire of the cities musicians to expand their musical horizons.
Pete Burns early project Nightmares In Wax had become Dead Or Alive; I’m guessing we jump straight in with ‘Misty Circles’ their fifth release as licences were not available for the earlier more gothic tracks; ‘Misty Circles’ was the turning point for Dead or Alive, the bands first release for major label Epic, and straddles both dance and darker tones with his distinct vocal delivery, sadly only reaching #100 in the UK chart, despite this they appeared on TV shows including The Tube, and Razzmatazz forcing Pete Burns into the nations living rooms whether they liked it or not!
Wirral band Alternative Radio are included with ‘Valley of Evergreen’, the band continues to this day as the vehicle for the Fennah brothers, who combined taut militaristic drums with swirling keyboards and acoustic guitar, it has a certain charm, but compilers would have been better including ‘First Night’ from 1986, the track a keyboard soaring pop gem that addressed the curse of heroin which by this point was ravaging the entire Liverpool area, ‘First Night’ gained Radio One Single of the Week status upon release, being awarded with regular daytime airplay – sadly the bands label were unable to print up enough copies, so despite demands from buyers the track was largely unavailable so failed to chart.
Western Promise came from Maghull, nestling on the original border with Lancashire so about as far from Liverpool as you could get to be included here, perhaps best known for having a ‘fan’ spray paint the band name on the Eleanor Rigby statue in the city centre. ‘My War’ came out in 1985 and leaned heavily towards Joy Division particularly ‘Transmission’, not really a shock as the legendary Mancunian band played very regularly at Liverpool Eric’s in their early years. Western Promise gained city supports with The Clash, and a Gary Glitter Christmas gig, (I was in the 2000 capacity audience’s for both these gigs), however they were unable to capitalise upon their increasing exposure.
The Mel-O-Tones included Martin Dempsey (ex-Yachts Disc #1), alongside Frank Martin (vocals), Bob Parker (guitar), and John Neesam (drums), who in 1985 released the landmark ‘Bomb-Sutra’ EP via Probe Plus, six tracks of startling psychedelic head-fuck noise; it hints at The Birthday Party, though nothing really prepares you for the frazzled genius of ‘I Walked With A Bugs Bunny Bendy Toy’ – the EP is well worth searching out, as is follow up ‘Melonheaded’ – the band by 1986 becoming The Walking Seeds ‘Tantric Wipeout’ from their 1987 debut ‘Skullfuck’ album being included on Disc #5, a heavily distorted and substance abused mash up of Gary Glitter ‘Rock & Roll Pt 2’ and proto grunge, rumour has it that Mark E Smith once declared this to be his favourite track ever; sadly, that fact can no longer be verified.
Jegsy Dodd & The Sons of Harry Cross open Disc #5; Dodd was a Wirral based poet who blagged himself a John Peel session in 1985, Peel suggested he need a backing band, and The Sons of Harry Cross were formed; taking their name from the character in the as then new Liverpool based CH4 TV soap ‘Brookside’, the track ‘Always The Bridesmaid’ featured on the debut ‘The Jewel In the Flat Cap’ a searing and visceral assault on those who had exploited Liverpool then left it to ruin as the Toxteth riots raged, the debut album ‘Winebars & Werewolves’ included such barbs as ‘Who Killed New Brighton?’, and ‘I Am The Trendiest Man Who Never Got Into Atmosphere’ – though if you aren’t from the Wirral much of the humour will be lost.
The La’s feature with both ‘Get Down Over’ and ‘Way Out’ – ‘Get Down Over’ not appearing on record until 1999 when it was included on the ‘Lost La’s 1984-1986: Breakloose’ album courtesy of Viper Records, its more skiffle based than ‘Way Out’ their debut single from 1987 by which point they had been signed to Go Discs! The track had clear ties to the original Merseybeat sound coupled with Lee Mavers strong vocal delivery, despite gaining praise from Morrisey the track underperformed, this all altered forever when the follow up ‘There She Goes’ was released in 1988.
For myself I really wasn’t interested in The La’s, it was all too retro, and arched back to entire Beatles/Merseybeat vibe which disproportionately overshadowed the emerging bands included here; why listen to that when Cyclic Amp were colliding post punk, and industrial squall as evidenced here with ‘Dance’ from their 1987 mini-LP ‘Ugly As Power’ which perfectly encapsulates the Cyclic Amp sound, heavy pummelling bass, motoric drums, angular repetitive guitar and barked vocals – a glorious racket that sounds remarkably fresh today.
The album closes with ‘Come Holy Spirit’ from the Revolutionary Army Of The Infant Jesus an enigma of a musical collective signed to the Probe Plus label; this track lifted from thir debut ‘The Gift of Tears’ a landmark group in the history of apocalyptic folk, reminiscent of Current 93, Dead Can Dance, and the neo-folk linked to the World Serpent label, female dominated almost religiously chanted vocals wash over stark orchestral sounds creating a modern sacred sound that is worthy of further investigation, the band reappearred in 2015 with the album ‘Beauty Will Save The World’, with rumours of their entire back catalogue being re-released.
The entire compilation is a worthy exploration of the diverse sound of Liverpool between 1976-1988, from post punk to tentative synth pop, pre-grunge and industrial squall to neo-classical explorations, yes there are obvious missing artists, and also a couple of more dubious inclusions, but no compilation will ever satisfy every buyer.
When you consider the cost of assembling even a third of these releases individually, plus the sleeve notes and images to purchase, then this provides you with a wonderful insight, a snapshot into Liverpool between 1976-1988 that is a worthy addition to any collection.
As an add on; another element that becomes obvious is the somewhat incestuous nature of the Liverpool music scene at the time, I have added to this piece one of Pete Frame’s ‘Rock Family Tree’s – this one ‘Eric’s Progeny’ illustrates the timeline of the early Liverpool bands many of which feature on the album, sadly its not included in the sleeve notes.