DiS’s Kenn Taylor continues his exploration into the current musical climate in this year’s European City of Culture, Liverpool, calling on the opinions of punk-rockers SSS and returning to some of the contributors to Part One including** The Wombats** and** goFaster>>**.
Part One can be read HERE
One man who almost epitomises the DIY nature of music in Liverpool is Foxy of growing thrash/hardcore crossover act SSS (Short Sharp Shock) who have recently returned to the city after supporting Gallows on tour.
Foxy is also the man behind Thrashgig, one of the city's finest underground promoters and constant champions of good new grassroots music. And he's been doing it for a long time:
_"You're going back about 20 years. Thrashgig is me, and whatever I want to do in terms of music, the music that I like is what gets put on at the gigs. It's not a question of putting a band on for popularity; it's a question of the quality of the music. A lot of the time it's a good mix of bands. If the passion is there, they'll get a gig. It's a personal interest in helping people out who are worth helping, not just people who just want popularity or girls or money or anything like that." _
"You've got to do it yourself to do it right," _he continues, "because otherwise someone's going to suddenly say,_ 'Right, I'm going to take this off you, what you've started and make money off it'._ You'll never fill a bigger venue with it, and if it does get to that stage, you'll just get dropped. So many things I've got into, it just got too big for its boots. You're talking two thousand people, and all kinds of drinks companies, shoe companies, all kinds of sponsors wanting to get involved, and I just couldn't be bothered anymore. I just don't need it. I think it just dilutes everything. This is for us, this is ours, this is what we're going to do, so some sponsor is not part of what we're involved in." _
Video: SSS, 'The Beast'
There isn't a big metal or punk scene in the city, but SSS have gained fans across the music scene for their quality and incendiary live shows. If there is ghettoisation, it's not along musical lines:
"Again, it comes back to everyone being friends," _says Foxy. "It's a little bit incestuous and we all know each other and have been in all kinds of bands together. Hot Club *(de Paris*) have been saying to us,_ ‘do you want to do a tour with us?’_ and we can see were they are coming from, even though we're going to stick out like a sore thumb. And we do feel part of that, and that's kind of reflected in the gigs that go on, because they're not afraid, SSS want to play on this gig, which is poles apart from their musical style, but they just look it as I look at it: you've got four different bands and each of those bands has got something good going on."_
One of the aspects of Liverpool's current changes via urban regeneration has been the transformation of whole areas of town that were considered derelict and dangerous (and thus home to venues, record and second-hand clothes shops, practise rooms and nightclubs) into areas full of trendy bars, expensive restaurants and bland flats. While many accept that without some form of economic renaissance the city will continue to slowly die, the fear of gentrification is strong in this place that is about as far from middle-England, middle-class respectability as you can get, as is the loss of available space for 'underground' activity in this compact city. This has provoked a fierce resistance movement that many elements of the music scene have been involved with. Cultural resistance, as often happens, has created some great art, but sadly, has done little to stop the onslaught of pavement cafes.
SSS's Foxy, has been at the forefront of this resistance in his promoting:_ "To do gigs in Liverpool is getting really hard. They banned flyposting, clamping down to make the city nice and tidy, new shopping centres, bang. It's just going to drive everything back underground, where people are just going to do it in little crappy pubs, people doing gigs in their practise rooms and houses. No one will touch it because it's not an accessible kind of music for anyone. The city as a whole doesn't want to deal with it; there're only a couple of places that will entertain it, and then you're paying through the nose. I think some of the tarting up is a positive thing, but the whole underground is just grinding to a halt, because people are putting up so many fences that people will just give up. Or there'll be a migration to another area and it won't even touch Liverpool city centre: people who are interested in it will find out by word of mouth." _
But this drive for authenticity can be as self-destructive as a drive for fame. Refusing to compromise is a quality in Liverpool that is to be admired in people doing creative work, but like so many of the city's qualities it is an extreme one, which can alienate and disenfranchise others.
Dave McTague, Mellowtone promoter, sees a negative side to the city's maverick attitude:
_"It’s almost a double-edged sword, that the things that are really good about the industry in Liverpool are also the things that hold them back. Opportunities that exist in London aren't available in provincial cities, so it's always harder to make a break in that sense. But in Liverpool, there's almost a bit of a maverick attitude and a dissenting attitude, and I think that unwillingness to fit the mould and do whatever for ‘The Man’ will hold people back. I do know that people in London, and maybe say the bigger Northern cities like Leeds and Manchester, often think that people in Liverpool are quite difficult to work with because they're quite outspoken and they're unwilling to do as they're told, there's a certain attitude that people in other cities pick up on when dealing with people from Liverpool, that they're a bit of a pain in the arse." _
At some point we have to poke the elephant in the room. *The Beatles *'thing' must always be mentioned. The fact that the biggest act in popular music history, a group of people who, whatever criticisms you can throw at them, changed the face of western culture, came from this little port city. That fact is both an inspiration and an albatross. Any musician working in the city knows that they will never match the significance of what went before them. In fact everyone doing anything in the city, art, science, sport, commerce knows that they will never match the ground shaking significance that those four lads had. The Beatles changed the world and they are far more significant to the world than the city itself. But what do they mean to musicians working in the city today?
The Wombats' Murph seems to sum up the general consensus: "I don't know, I think the Liverpool music heritage should only really be used as a positive thing really. No matter if you're from Liverpool or not I think everyone in a band is subconsciously influenced by The Beatles. I don't know, it seems a case the press are always, 'Ooh, you've got a lot to live up to'_. As if any band from anywhere in the world is ever going to be as big as The Beatles. I will just use the rich heritage to spur you on even more." _
And a.P.A.t.T.’s General Midi has a parting shot for any musos ready to shoot down The Beatles’ significance: _"There's always somebody trying to be confrontational somewhere, and if you want to say something profound, you say it against God or The Beatles, it's an idiot's profundity." _
So, beyond the Beatles, how much influence does the fabric and culture of the city actually have on the people who create music in it? There's often talk of a 'Liverpool sound', jangley and accessible, with lyrics that are often both humorous and surreal. You can, if you wish, see it in everyone from The Beatles to* Half Man Half Biscuit to *The La's, The Coral and The Wombats. Most of them would probably disagree, but to this writer at least, there seems to be something there. The taking of, often obscure, sounds from around the world and putting a unique local spin on them seems to be something that the city does well. American blues rock with The Beatles, The Doors with Echo and the Bunnymen, Beefheart with The Coral, Joan of Arc with Hot Club, Mates of State with* Elle S'appelle*. This Liverpool filter were things always seem to turn out catchy, surreal and slightly comic whatever you put in at the other end.
General Midi isn't sure:
"If you could possibly nail what a city sounds like. I could possibly answer that." _But he does think it has a linguistic influence: "I suppose, we've got quite a few songs, were there's maybe a play on, the language in Liverpool is great. You can mock it all day long if you want, but it's quite enjoyable as well to use. And it's used in a very different way in Liverpool and it's demonstrated time and time again by a variety of artists. And I think we do quite a similar thing that pops up now and again. We've got one track which is just, you know when you're walking down the road and you just hear the ends of people conversations and various and it's made up of just those kinds of things in Liverpool city centre and we've got loads of them, so I suppose in that sense yeah, the language impregnates into my mind, every single day that that I'm on the bus in this, place." _
Video: a.P.A.t.T., 'The Stars Spell Out Your Name'
How about the tendency towards surrealism, or at least an off-kilter view of things? The Wombats’ Matthew Murphy has as a viewpoint that seems to some up the attitude of many people in the city:
_"Maybe we're just afraid to kind of say exactly what we see in straightforward terms down a microphone; we like to spin it around a bit. I don't know… it's better to laugh in the face of disaster than just shit yourself isn't it?" _
But Murph again, disputes the influence of geography: "I don't know if physical geography plays that much of a part. Despite what a lot of people think, Ian Curtis wasn't born in the middle of an industrial estate, [his hometown] Macclesfield is quite pleasant."
The Wombats seem to the latest in a line of bands from Liverpool to whom quality shiny pop is key. Does Murph, like the_ Guinness Book of Records_ (see part one), think that pop is in the veins of the city?
_"Maybe we're all just after the buck and we just write three minute pop songs and fuck it. But I've never found that myself, there seems to be a pop sensibility all over the UK at the moment. I think the question should be rather, why are the Canadians so weird?" _
A fair point. And so to the future, will The Wombats carry on up the charts, will Eugene McGuinness become a troubadour extraordinaire, will ‘Bosspop’ conquer the world, or more likely, will a.P.A.t.T.?
Chris from goFaster >> is upbeat:
"Yeah, the last year or so, there's been loads of brilliant new bands that have come out of Liverpool, and people are starting to take notice. So I think that fact that we're going on tour underneath the Bosspop label, is that hopefully if we go to these towns, and play, people will go, 'Ooh Bosspop, we'll have a look at that'. And if people enjoy the show, hopefully they'll look further and to what's going on in Liverpool, and they can discover a few of the other bands that are just starting up at the moment. I think it's great that we've got to the point were we've got to a place were there is a kind of a scene we can go out and advertise, I think we're glad that people have just started taking an interest in it. Hopefully through this tour, a lot of other bands will be discovered from Liverpool." _
I'd advise you to take his advice and go and check them out, along with links at the bottom of this article. Whatever way you spin it, now and again, some good tunes come out of this town. Who knows what will happen to our music beyond 2008. It could all come crashing down around our ears again. But the city will likely survive and continue to make music and, just occasionally, we'll get the rest of the world to listen.
MySpace linkage (from across both articles)…
Wombats photo: Sakura