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SOUND MADE OF SOUND
By Phil Thonton
It was in the pool room of the Cherry Tree in Runcorn that I first noticed it; one of the scousers from up the road, a lad well known as a bit of a stanley merchant in his youth was sat with a tweed jacket with what appeared to be a Genesis t-shirt underneath. Genesis! If any band at that time - this was 84ish - symbolised the bloated, pompous excesses of the past, it was this bunch of pretentious public schoolboy plums. As a former punk who'd discovered soul and funk and was listening to nothing but black American music at the time, the nearest I got to this kind of stuff was Funkadelic, who remain my favourite band ever. There was a crossover of sorts there. Post-Punk, most of my mates had got into the weed scene whereas I got into the speed scene and it was this choice of narcotic that decided which music you favoured, music to dance to or music to mong to. They got into Marley, Santana, Gong, Hawkwind, Beefheart and even, cough, Pink fucking Floyd!!! This being the very essence of everything we'd Stalinised from our musical past in 1976's Year Zero. Hippy music! Mushy music! Indeed it was their ingestion of fungal and herbal substances that resulted in what I considered to be a very backward looking and self-defeating cultural cul-de-sac but as many of them were on the dole, it was entirely reasonable to fill the day watching Apocalpyse Now, Cheech and Chong, Easy Rider and Pink Floyd Live At Pompeii or listening to Tubular Bells or Trout Mask Replica whilst scoobied up to fuck I suppose. The hippy ethos had been applied to the unemployed working class; they'd turned on, tuned in and dropped off! Once skag got mixed into the scene, I decided to swerve some of em to be honest and 20 yeears later, they're still bang at it!
But this lad in the Genesis t-shirt wasn't one of our lot, he was one of the scousers who used to dance to the likes of Gino Soccio, Rick James, Tom Browne, Chic etc at the Cherry's disco annexe, 'The Eighties' (oh yes - it later became' Chinos' I kid you not and now trades under the name of 'Revival'). What had turned him from a funkateer to a stoner scal? Fashion! Turn to the right! Liverpool at that time was almost a seperate country, a city that prided itself on its isolationist stance to the rest of 'woolsville.' Politically, sartorially, socially, culturally, Liverpool turned its back on the world and in this climate of self-preservation against the odds, what became known as 'retro-scal' first developed from the chong ashes of a disenfranchised young population. The clothes obviously first symbolised this strangely perverse scene; cord and denim pants n' shirts, tweed jackets, mountaineerring chic, Clarks or desert boots, long hair; a sloppy scally-hippy hybrid of loose change and broken biscuit conversations. It wasn't for me but I remained fascinated by it nevertheless. This manifestation of cultural contrariness seemed to symbolise all that was unique about Liverpool, about how it didn't like being dictated to by self-appointed taste makers and opinion formers. What did they know? Who voted for YOU?
Only in Liverpool could bands such as Groundpig play to packed houses, only in Liverpool could The Las act as a catalyst for the type of unashamedly retrogressive generation of so-called 'cosmic scally' bands such as The Coral, Zutons, Maybes? Only in Liverpool could The Pale Fountains/Strands/Shack be worshipped as the last true Carriers Of The Flame. There is a light that never goes out indeed. When I interviewed the likes of The Bandits, Tramp Attack, Hokum Clones and Cracatilla in the early naughties, it was clear that far from being musically purist the bands were infact the opposite and open to anything and everything. They absorbed all kinds of music regardless of whether it was deemed hip or not, they worshipped Hank Williams as much as Arthur Lee, Leadbelly as much as Neil Young. OK, they didn't listen to music that pre-dated 1970 but atleast they had taste and it was refreshing to meet young lads in their late teens and early twenties who had a genuine and sincere love of music for its own sake; not as a way of getting sucked off or getting rich. That's why the Maybes? are still looking for a deal all these years later and by rights deserve to be where the Zutons are today. They don't play by the pop industry rules because they don't know the pop industry rules and what's more, they don't appear to give a fuck one way or the other.
And now, all these years later I'm beginning at last to understand the appeal of these bands I'd dismissed so arrogantly years before. If you view music holistically, if you want to look through pop's kaleidoscope and watch the patterns flow into eachother and stare as the colours mutate and morph then there are no boundaries, no meaningless genres, no marketing pigeonholes with which to compartmentalise and package music as just another consumer item. So I now dig out ancient LPs by the likes of Roger McGuinn or Steve Hillage or Pentangle or Caravan and atleast give them a listen. And it's not just me, the self-appointed 'crate digging' aristocracy with deep pockets and lots of free time, have been excavating this seam of prog/psyche/acid folk/space rock to put on their fancy Sohocentric compilations and mixes. But they're 25 years too late. Now, like me, they've finally cottoned on to what that lad in the Genesis t-shirt and the tweed jacket knew all those years ago. What goes around comes around. Sound made of sound.
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