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The Pale Fountains

by James L / Mike Love

The Pale Fountains - Plato's Ballroom

We came for Orange Juice, for Edwyn. He was the coolest motherfucker on the planet, he wore his fringe like Roger McGuinn and was so frightfully camp it made us laugh. But we reckoned without the Pale Fountains. Playing their first real proper gig they shuffled on to the cabaret stage at Pickwicks nervously. "Hello, we're the Pale Fountains" croaked the singer who looked little older than me - and I was only 15.
Eight songs later my world had changed. So I was 15, things changed my world every week. But this felt different and 27 years it still does. Those eight songs and what came after it have played a massive part of my life, my friends and this magazine. Three of the eight songs: 'Chaise Longue', 'The Lonely Cottage' and 'Kittyjay' were stonewall classics and would easily sit alongside anything Michael Head has written since. But Incredibly none of those songs have ever been released, the band disguarded them soon after. Never to be heard again. Fast forward. Twenty seven years to get back home.

The Pale Fountains - Carling Academy

Kensington - or 'Kenny', colloquially - is a district of Liverpool that has, over the years, been blighted by every, er, blight, you could wish for. Its record of unemployment, in the 1980's, was the highest in Britain, and the number of heroin users, per-capita of its inhabitants, was also ridiculously disproportionate to its size. Unlike the South-End of the city, we never had big massive houses, poncy shops a la Allerton Road, and a claim on the Beatles. We had terraced streets, warrens of maisonettes, and the Kwik Save. We did, though, have a band who, to many of us, were better than the Beatles. We had the Pale Fountains. Formed in 1981, the Palies story (as the forerunner of Shack) is well documented, and, following their demise in the mid-80's, requests for their stuff, at Shack gigs, finally persuaded main-man Mick Head to conclude the Fountains story once and for all, with two 'farewell' shows over 2 & 3 February. The final ever live outing, of the Pale Fountains, took place at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire on Sunday 3 February.
 
The night before, though, the Liverpool Carling Academy was rammed with the great and the good; Shack fans, Paleys aficionados from '82, a load of Kenny lads, and members of almost every Liverpool band that existed from 1981 to the present day. A validation of the decision to play the shows, and also a measure of how revered the lads are in their home town, and the touts were doing a brisk trade, as I made my way in around 8.30. Just in time, in fact, to see the splendidly named support, 'Ivan Campo' - a whimsical quirky trio (plus guest on one track) - who played a pleasant, and predictably rapid set, to an expectant, and increasingly nervy audience. How would stuff that hadn't been played for years sound now?
 
Could Thomas 'Jock' Whelan - who hadn't picked up a drum-stick in 15 years - actually still be able to play (having been tracked down only a fortnight ago, legend has it, in Home & Bargain, on Kenny, following an urgent request on Radio Merseyside); would Andy Diagram have had time to re-familiarise his trumpet pieces (and have had sufficient pracky opportunities with the reformed band) and, most importantly, could the Pale Fountains ever really be 'The' Pale Fountains without bass player Chris McCaffrey (who had passed away in 1989)? At 9.40, the band walked on stage to the sort of welcome that Everton receive before a Merseyside derby, and set to answering all of these questions and more. Mick Head, John Head, Martyn Campbell, Thomas Whelan, Andy Diagram and Ian Templeton. Pale Fountains 2008.
 
It was actually going to happen. Shacknet had speculated for weeks on what the set may comprise, as well as being able to talk of little else but the forthcoming gigs. So much so, that lads (and lasses) had travelled far and wide (USA, Scotland, Breck Road) just to say that they had been there at the Pale Fountains reunion / farewell. In best Mick Head tradition, one of our greatest songwriters, and national treasures, began this seminal event with the risible remark of "Hiya, we're the Paleys . . I'm shitting my kecks". Opening with underrated classic, 'Bruised Arcade', the tension before each song was palpable, such was the anticipation of what they may, or may not, play. Of course, they couldn't play everything but whatever we may have wished for personally was more than made up for by what they actually did play. From memory, and following the opener, we got, 'Reach', 'Bicycle Thieves', 'Something on my Mind', 'Southbound Excursion', a haunting and majestic 'Beyond Friday's Field', 'Lavinia's Dream', 'Thank You' and two Shack numbers as encores; 'Meant to Be' and 'Comedy' (dedicated, as always, to Biffer McCaffrey).
 
The highlight for most, though, seemed to be another of their lost classics, and shoulda-been-a-big-hit, 'Jean's Not Happening'. This was a stunning run-through of that particular track; so much so that they came on and did it again, to finally conclude one of the great live shows in Liverpool's history. And now they are no more. After 27 years - albeit with a 20-year gap in between - the book of popular music closes on the Pale Fountains for good. Perhaps the greatest Liverpool band of all time? I certainly think so. It's a story that needs to be told, and the good news is that local lad Geoff King is nearing the end of his Paleys retrospective 'Racing on a Wet Sunday' (WSAG has seen the draft, and it's a thing of beauty indeed). Shack will continue, of course, and Mick and John both have solo stuff in the pipeline. Whatever happens, though, in the future, memories of the Pale Fountains will never fade. We loved them in 1981; we loved them in 2008; and we will love them forever. Thank you for this almost heavenly time.
 


 

 

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