Monday, 6 June 2016

On Liverpool (2006)

Written in 2006

So there I was, punking it round Europe on the DIY scene for a few years there, crazy tours of Spain without a translator and scary jaunts to Holland staying with major speed dealers and a cast of insane friends of varying psychotic tendency; not bad for a quartet of spluttering hicks who’d not left the blanket of Bangor before. Radio sessions, self-released singles and tiny indie deals in Germany, fun, filth, fucking about. And completely unsustainable. People have their own locus to follow, and, as bands are generally made up of people, when it all ended it was with a not-entirely-unpredictable fizzle. And slightly frazzled but back on the dole – a succession of cruddy office temping jobs merely holidays from watching Minder repeats, eating bacon butties and drinking far too much Frosty Jack white cider – I was kicking about looking for things to do. One of those things was very nearly settling down into soul-death, kids and destroyed dreams.It is astonishing to me that this did not happen. But fatalism is a disease as much as a philosophy; que sera sera, but yous has gotter make it sera, bozo, kapeesh?

 A handful of good reviews for plays I’d written as a kid, an under-the-bed full of unsold 12” singles, a clutch of barely sentient local newspaper reviews I’d written for local bands: none translate into prospects, plans, melodies to sing for a tune-filled future. Bangor. Cider. Farmfoods for £1 packs of square sausages every other Friday. Pissed up at Bangor City games on the Saturday. Sniffing poppers on the terraces. And on, and on, a spiraling midrange and a sprawling midriff.

The singer started it. It’s his fault. He was even better at being on the dole than I was. About to get a gold watch for his long service, a succession of lucky escapes from work and well-planned bad job interviews, all culminating in the best blag imaginable. Toothy Tony Blair’s New Deal For Musicians. And consequently an offer of a place on a college course to learn how to not ever get a proper job. To whit: a one-year postgraduate sound engineering degree. The singer, a fine footballer boasting also much wit, charisma and willfulness, couldn’t actually be arsed to do it. 

So I thought, fuck this, may as well have a pop, gotta be better than Real Work / Real World; promptly I dyed my hair an inadvisable shade of blonde and managed, through much manouevering and sheer luck, to get on the course and complete it reasonably successfully and usually monstrously hung over. I’d not gone to college after school, see: the band with whom I was playing bass, and cod-managing, were much more fun than all that shit. Indeed, one of our first – and favourite – tracks was the intense existential epic, ‘Shit Student Wankers’.

 despised the stereotypical nobbers with grants and southern accents that flowed through Bangor like pus-filled lava. It’s a small place: 14,000 locals, but at term time, add 8,000 knowitall little cunt-kids into the equation and it ain’t pretty. Some of the lasses were very pretty, of course, so me, the old band, various mates and drinking cohorts, would spend hours, days, licentious lifetimes, sitting on the bench outside Safeways in Upper Bangor drinking cider and rating the ladies’ relative charms. (I think one of us talked to one of them once but I can’t be sure.) Other revenges: crashing parties and necking the ale, skinheaded, speeding and vile, three or ten fuckbags called Rupert and Ameiliacacalia cowering in the corners whilst we filled our pockets with packets of cheese to take home. Not pretty, not good, not proud. But that’s how it was. How we were. Pricks, really.

Things end. The course ended. Back to doledays and takeaways and evermore bitter midnight Bennett plays. The gang was breaking up. To corners of the UK, to college. Too much to deal with. Worse off with this new pig-faced, pygmy knowledge than the days of happy idiocy that had preceded it. Uncontrollable; pained; FUCKIN BOREEEDDDDDDD.

So, my mate Huw mentions this music college type place in Liverpool that sounds like a laugh. I apply, for a laugh. Me and my other mate Dave go to the same interview in Scouseland, for a laugh. We sit in the bar afterwards drinking brandy and I say hello to the bloke who’d interviewed me 20 minutes before. He clocked the brandy, and he laughed. It was the best part of any interview I’d ever done.

Cause, six weeks later, back in Bangor, I stumble downstairs in the mid-morning (2pm in those days) and open a letter that makes me laugh cause it’s an unconditional offer to do a three year Sound Technology degree in Liverpool. I laugh because I’d signed up to some cruddy Sound Tech A Level in Colwyn Bay, for a laugh, but I could never be arsed going: fuckin miles away it was. This all meant I had approximately 9 months of bacon butties and cider ahead, and the dole could fuck off with all that job shit they’d been hassling me with recently. Top. (Dave didn’t get in, not at first, he came 2 years later.)

By which time I’d been alternately scared, stoned and finally solid with a city that seems tiny and huge at the same time. I hated the kebabs we’d get, not a fucking patch on Shahin’s in Bangor High Street. The curries were ok, and the course was ok, and I nearly pulled on my first day there cause I told this very tall lass I was writing a book or some such shit, and she fucking fell for it. I was sposed to meet her in the college bar but I’d accidentally necked half a bottle of Courvoisier in the afternoon and I couldn’t actually focus on walking properly. But I had a wank about her that night anyway.

So yeah anyway I’d ran out of cash by October, and the choice was clear: get a job in a pub, or try and restart the tangled mess of music reviews I’d done on and off for various papers over the last few years. And the dicks let me do it! This is and was key to Liverpool: local papers, Big Issue, all wanting someone on the ground to write about bands. About gigs. About excitement and magic and electricity and when I did my first ever review for Big Ish, it was a punk night called Inner City Sumo, and it was all of these things, and it reawakened the senses of the dullard napping within me. It was Flamingo 50, a genius spark of in-yer-face punk with a lead singer, Louise, throwing herself into sparkling shapes of sheer belief – no pose in sight – and I fell in love. With the band, yes, with the night, and with the people: this was a local crowd, and I was the student. I threw myself into it. Every night a new gig, a new band, new faces and new mates. Liverpool had hundreds of gigs on: Bangor had one a week if you were lucky (or unlucky, given I used to arrange most of them). 

Concurrent to the ICS crew’s shenanigans, the cosmic scouse shit was going down in the Zanzibar. I pretty much hated it, but I went to quite a lot of the gigs anyway. I liked the buzz. It stank of weed, as did I, and this kinda nonchalant fug of self-belief and repressed violence always got me off in the old punk days. Liverpool has a punk spirit: it absorbs influences, intelligences, talents, from all over the world and regurgitates them in an enormously confrontational and unique way. Halls of mirrors reflecting life in all its gory glory: musically, this is the equivalent of a bullshitter in a plate glass shop. As soon as you think you’ve sussed it out the whole perspective changes and you’re half a step off the pace. Like H from Steps. Or Gary Barlow. Or the Crucial Three. I realized then that I knew nothing about anything. And I fucking loved it. It meant the possibilities were limited only by imagination.

And my imagination was running wild. I started doing PR for a local label; I joined up with the magical PMS show on Radio Merseyside, the longest-running on local radio. Music everywhere, from Africa, from Rock Ferry, from France, from Wales. Two hours a week of absolute unthought of excellence, and me involved in broadcasting it. Roger Hill, the presenter, and old hand of Liverpool and Eric’s and the punk spirit. Circularity. Maybe. College was much less important than hooking up with bands for interviews, lager and watching them shit on cars at 4am after gigs. Scummy, funny, in this pretty, shitty city. And now, it’s major magazines, book deals and traveling to different countries to get quotes from a succession of bands for me. Possibilities all over the place. Liverpool – as much as Bangor – has allowed me to believe in a world where a new shade of emotion is only round the next corner. In the next gig. In the next lyric, the new riff, the bottom of the next glass. Keep going, says Scouseland, because you’re part of everything if you choose. It is a power and a devilry and a mélange of heady superlatives. 

That I landed here is – from one point of view – lucky. But luck is a concept as vague as time, happiness and the rules of rugby union anyway. Because, linearly, I can plot my trajectory backwards and see now that everything I have done, all the tearing around and the tears and the frustration, and the nearly-destroyed dreams, and the obscenities and the holey-clothed skintness and the punk scene, everything has brought me to this moment; sitting here, a pile of reviews for Record Collector, The Fly, Metal Hammer, Plan B, Mixmag, Music Mart, fucking whoever’s stupid enough to let me do them, Sepultura on full blast, a book coming out in three weeks - and a freezer full of duty free vodka. It makes sense, but only if I try not to make too much sense of it.

Liverpool’s changing. Physically changing. Capital of Culture, aye, but knocking aside the ground-level culture all too often. But I know it’s difficult: progress don’t have to be a dirty word and Liverpool also often needs a kick up the arts to get the rampant rage of ideas and innovation up to stellar speed. It will always be so: this is a place with the mindset, the venues, the people and the intelligence to survive, to thrive, and to blast itself a new arsehole if it needs to. The clichés are always tempting, but clichés are clichés because at one stage they were truths.

And one version of one truth is this: Liverpool fucking rocks.

Sometimes it whinges, and sometimes it fights, sure. But it undeniably fucking rocks. And the people who pass through tap into a wider mimetic consciousness that allows and demands a perpetual reinvention of the utterly timeless artistry and elegance and squalid roaring that makes music, and life, so piquant and wonderfully unpredictable.

It’s made me have a career. It’s made me feel like I can have a career. Unimaginable once, but I was a prick in those days. I guess I still am: the difference is, these days I know it.
And I don’t drink white cider any more.
Not as often, anyway.

I’m alive.

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