Wednesday, 21 October 2009

RIP - Liam Maher - Flowered Up


Getting the train back today from last nights Bad Lieutenant gig in Brighton I was gutted to read the text that came through informing me that Liam Maher one time front man with Acid House Rockers Flowered up had died. GUTTED.

I first came across Flowered Up in 1990 as The NME/Melody Maker both had the band on their front covers before they had even released a note of music! Causing shock-waves in the capital and hailing them as London's answer to Manchester's Happy Mondays. No pale Mondays imitation though, it was obvious from the start that Flowered up had their own equally powerful music and their own voice to mouth off about their own experiences with.

Essentially a bunch of Camden housing estate kids who may have been a snotty working class garage/punk band in any other era but here during the hight of Acid House (the band had formed in 89) and the coming wave of rave (as their working class peers turned to making House and Techno in their bedrooms) the F Up chaps stuck with the guitars but decided to mix the DIY punk ethics with the mood, groove and swagger of the dance scene. Spured on by the explosion of working class guitar bands doing like wise in the North of England it was not long before F UP were making waves. On hearing the music for the fist time what marked them out as different to the Northern bands was F Ups total embracing of their Laaaandon Cockerneee forefathers, the direct influence of both The Clash and Ian Dury & The Blockheads could be heavily felt and heard in the grooves of F Ups records. Both of these bands had injected their London-centric Pub/Punk rock with large doses of Soul, Funk, Reggae and Disco, Flowered Up were very much part of this linage as they added House and Hip Hop to the Punky mix. It's also worth noting that F UP were doing the pre chav Landaan Boy thing years before Blur faked it and The Streets milked it.

My favourite year in my lifetime was 1990 (it's actually a toss up between 89 and 90). For many reasons. End of the 80's, end of Thatcherism, end of the cold war, Nelson Mandela released from prison, all of these things seemed to signify that the times truly were a changin' and there was a global positivity in the air that seemed to usher in the dawning of a new musical era.
In the great summer of 1990 I remember reading the press and seeing the band's video for debut single It's on, the video alone was enough to reel me in, bizare baggy antics with the bands even more insane answer to Bez - Barry Mooncult - dancing round like a lunatic with a giant flower on his head. Of course I rushed out and bought the record, and the cool alternative kids a few years older than me at school who were the bench mark and radar for new sounds and styles loved the band. I remember being gutted that I couldn't go and see the band when they played Newcastle Riverside with their Bez like mascot- lunatic in green tights Barry Mooncult. So I bought the live VHS video some months later, a gig filmed at PSV club in Moss side Manchester as suitably raw a venue as any for the band to be seen creating their ruff neck street funkadelia.

When i formed my own band a few years later, the Influence of Flowered Up loomed large, mostly I will admit on my own rather inept vocal style of lazy punk funky drawwwwwl, copped in part from Liam, god rest his soul.

It always pisses me off when Flowered Up are mentioned that most people only seem to know Weekender - from its on going shelf life as post club house party entertainment on VHS and now DVD..

Heres a brief guide to Flowered Up.



Having been sucked into the post acid indie world I had been blown away by St Etienne's cover of the Neil Young classic 'Only love Will Break Your Heart' which was the second release on the new post acid indie pop label Heavenly Records. F Up's debut single 'It's On' would be the third release on Heavenly. Soon the label could do no wrong. The song it self is a low slung baggy groove which starts off with a perfect set of Balearic pan pipes before Liam's typically loose lipped stoned ramble (about big french ones) begins to tease the track out as the drums and bass kick in and guitar swells the sound into a gorgeous and groovy psychedelic soup. Even to (my) ears that had been primed by Happy Mondays this sounded like nothing else ever heard.
It used to send shivers up my spine every time. It still does. I bloody love this record, more than i could ever explain here. I bought the 12" with a fantastic large purple Flower logo, the B-side contained another version of It's On - a more Baggified remix titled 'It's On - Sonia' with its infectious loping beat it provided the type of track that would sit well alongside the likes of Andrew Weatherall and Paul Oakenfold's Indie Dance mixes that were smashing dancefloors across the nation.



The next F Up single was Phobia, a loose limed funk (y) workout that came on like a London version of Happy Mondays classic track Performance. Released as the 7th single on Heavenly and housed in a much darker paranoid hand drawn sleeve. Phobia proved again that guitarist Joe Maher and Bassist Andy Jackson had the chops to keep up with the Northern bands, not to mention the attitude evoking funky drumming and spooky keyboards of John Tovey and Tim Dorney. With his band providing the essential twisted 'E' Funk Liam was free to ramble at will in his own charming and captivating style. Which again reeled us all in. B-Sides included Flapping - an upbeat and frantic track with a fitting title, while the 'Paranoid Mix' of Phobia provided the much sought after extra dance factor - with it's closing vocal sample stating "That last one made Iggy Pop sound like the Arch Bishop Of Canterbury didn't it?". Brilliant.



After 2 top 40 singles F Up sadly left Heavenly and signed to London records and released the stunning 3rd single which featured lyrics written by the late great Joe Strummer, the single is both a steal and a nod from and to the greatness of The Clash. Joe had sung the lyrics sat at a piano in the 1979 Clash film Rude Boy, and they had now been appropriated by these Camden sons of the Clash - Flowered up true 'ecstasy rude boys' . This was the perfect torch passing moment from a past master to the new kids on the block - and Strummer was a fan of the band. The Clash connection was further cemented by occasional appearences with F Up of Clash drummer Topper Heddon on additional percussion.

The track it self was F Up's most accomplished, crafted and impressive release to date, energetic up beat and probably the last word in uptight punk meets loose fit baggy noise. Glorious. It's not an exaggeration to say that at the time this record really blew my mind, its was the closest I could ever possibly come (during that era) to feeling what it must have felt like in the late 70's when the Clash were releasing all those life changing singles. Even after 18 years this record still takes my breath away.

B-side contains the absolute lost F Up classic 'I'll be your Dog' which was a monster on the dancefloor. All Brain popping bongos and trippy samples over a killer groove while Liam in what is my all out favourite of his vocal performances - reaches genius status as he puts a 100% 'punk rock nasty sex pistol couldn't give a fuck' vocal over what would otherwise be a pretty uplifting 'nice' indie dance track. With samples from Apocalypse Now ("I love the small of napalm in the morning") this track is always near the top of any F Up best of list.

I remember seeing this footage on SNUB TV and being more than a little excited for the release of the track.




unfortunately when it came to recording their debut album for London something was lost in translation, maybe it was rushed or they were under pressure to deliver, whatever the reason the bands debut album did not match the same standard as their stunning run of singles thus far, neither did it equal or capture their undoubtedly fantastic and shamlessly shambolic live vibe/sound.

Not as bad an album as many have it pegged as, it suffered at the hands of the merciless press at the time who were already growing tired of anything associated with 'Baggy'.

Personally I still dig the record and know many that do, despite also knowing the band could have done better. But this is the record they made and this is the record that I love.

Housed in a great sleeve that sees the band as a kind of Rave era Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. That also manages to conjure up a Pythonesque image fitting the albums title.

The album kicks of with a smokey tropical storm of overwrought guitar and percussion before lunging into the sublime groove of Sunshine. Play this into back to back with that of the Stone Roses Second Coming (released some 4 years later) and the similarity is spooky.
Other standout tracks include Hysterically blue and Doris is A Little bit Partial. The Bands nu-punk credentials were also added to via additional photos on the inside sleeve by Sex pistols/PIL photographer Dennis Morris.



A re-released version of 'It's on' was put out as a double A side with Egg Rush, I cant actually remember if this was just before or just after the album, but whatever it didn't elevate the band to the new heights it was hoped. Egg rush however aint the stinker it's been painted as, it is in fact the direct precursor to Weekender, in that its is the bands most 'Housey' non remix track to date. It shares many similarities with Weekender (a Boys Own - Weatherall / Farley type sound), and perhaps points towards the direction of the (never to be recorded) second album, being as it is the most progressive and fresh sounding track on the record.



So then 1992 and already dropped from London - the band found themselves back in the loving arms of Heavenly where the DIY ethic proved the right path all along. Weekender and it's promo video (directed by Wiz) was the Quadrophenia of the E Generation in both sound and visual form.

The Short film status promo with its nods to the E generations London roots in the 60's Mod culture of fast clothes, all night dancing and pills was referenced via a sample from the Quadrophenia movie, the appearance of a Scooter the live for the weekend (weekend starts here - Ready Steady Go) working class subject matter and a similar cinematic style to the former film. Fast becoming a firm cult favourite when released on VHS video - many a post rave house party was soundtracked by the popping of the Weekender film into the video machine.

The track itself is an epic that stands out as one of the main achievements of the Baggy/Madchester/Indie Dance era. In fact such a genius record coming at the tail end of the baggy scene - (when most other bands were poor bandwagon jumping imitations) served more as a full stop on the era. A complete sonic journey at 13 minutes long Weekender skillfully moves through different musical genres from psychedelic indie pop to house then to dub and rock with ease. Held aloft as a stirling comeback by an un-expecting and shocked music press the record was a critical success that has gained more and more respect for its balls, originality and importance with each passing year.

Yet again the bands punk attitude and roots are pointed to here via 2 Dennis Morris photographs - the front sleeve of the 12" single features a photograph of a young female Sex Pistols fan from a Pistols gig in Las Vegas, she is dressed in a plastic Tesco carrier bag, leather dog collar and razor blade bet, in her hand she holds a gig ticket over which the words Flowered up have been scrawled. The back of the sleeve features a shot of a totally trashed hotel room including the essential rock cliche - smashed TV. The photo is in fact a shot of a hotel room and carnage belonging to one - Sid Vicious.



It was inevitable that with the Heavenly/Boys Own connections the mighty Weatherall would get his magik hands on the band at some stage. So it was that the king of indie dance (although I'm sure he would hate the title) produced two of the essential remixes of the era, which were released on a second separate 12" single. Titled Weatherall's Weekender (Audrey is a little bit partial mix) at 15.30 minutes,

and Weatherall's Weekender (Audrey is a little bit more partial mix) at the longer 17.10 minutes.

Weatherall notched up yet another era defining moment to add to the collection he was already responsible for. Additional production and programming came from his Sabres of Paradise partners Jagz Kooner and Gary Burns.



This lost F Up classic appeared on some early promos of Weekender, vocally picking up where 'I'll Be Your Dog' left off, the track is a musically more traditional than Weekender, but a great slice of wonkey baggy pop non the less.



I remember reading in several music magazines of the time (Rage ?) that in celebration of Weekender the band had taken over a mansion somewhere and staged a weeklong house party of unprecedented debauchery. Guests included Kylie Minogue and Hanif Kureshi but the reports of extreme revelry left one mind racing. This would prove to be the last time F Up gained any major attention. I was devastated when rumors started circulating that the band had imploded? How could a band capable of such freaky and often interstellar music come to such a 'non' end following such an era defining climax?



Just after the release of Weekender Heavenly had released 'The Heavenly Fred EP' a 3 track covers tribute to the idiosyncratic pop band Right Said Fred, along side St Etienne and The Rockingbirds Flowered Up covered 'Don't Talk Just Kiss' turning the Fred hit into a bonafide F Up classic - that needs to be heard to be believed.

A few years after the bands implosion Heavenly released a one off Flowered Up 7" as part of it's Heavenly jukebox 7" singles club collection, the track Better Life was again a change of direction - a beautiful slice of inner-city Dub, but I was never clear wether it was old material from the Weekender era vaults or newly recorded Flowered Up music. One thing is sure, it's a corker. Nothing ever came of the band after that release, until a brief reformation a few years ago.



From time to time rumors would start about Liam getting his act together with his new band Greedy Soul, and a deal with Alan Mcgee's Pop Tones label was in the air but no released music ever came of it. Although after Flowered up reformed for some live dates, it was also rumored that the Greedy Soul music would be released under the name Flowered up - the long awaited second album?

This track 'Dark Side of The Spoon' Is one the the 'Greedy Soul' tracks, and it shows that Liam still had it in him, a touching, funny and ultimately tragic track that sounds like Flowered Up mixed with Lou reed and The Streets.




Now Liam is gone leaving a small legacy - a handful of very brilliant weird pop records and an album that could have been a serious contender had it had a little extra magic.

I never listen to the records these days, today I dug them out and played them all, still fantastic.

Right though the 90's I told people there was only one Liam in swagger gated scally rock and he wasn't called Gallagher.

At the time of writing, I don't know how he died, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was drug related - knowing the history of both himself and the band. But fuck it whatever the cause, I'll play these records again celebrate something.

Heres to Liam. Cheers for the tunes.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Kevin Cummins - Looking for the Light through the Pouring Rain

Just picked up Faber & Fabers hardback book of the Manchester photography of Kevin Cummins.

This is a stunning collection of photographs that capture the mood of Machunia from the mid 70's to the mid 90's.

From the city's greatest iconic pop star sons such as Ian Curtis, Morrisey, Mark E Smith and Ian Brown to the lesser known (yet often important) bands (The Worst, The Drones, Section 23) and from the 'kids on the street' youth tribes (Punks, Smiths fans, Baggy Ravers, Acid Casuals, B-Boys) to the gloomy doomy streets and shopping centres themselves - its all here, documented in the most vivid and beautiful way.

Flicking through this book is a contradictory experience for anyone who lived through the era, both heartbreaking and joyous in equal measure. Mixed feelings of celebrating the past, missing the past, getting old, lost times, good times, bad times, what was it all about, will things ever be as good /bad again? The poetry in Cummins shots is often overwhelming.

The book kicks off as all 1970's beginnings should, with a shot of David Bowie, (Bowie not in Manchester but down the road in Leeds) however the next shot we're treated to is an exhilarating Iggy Pop at Manchester Appolo in 1977 - a life changing moment for many, for sure. As next up is the result of the Iggy Pop/Sex Pistols revolution - a 1977 shot of Slaughter and the Dogs, the genuine Manc Punk band. From here were off on a journey that takes in touching shots of The Fall, The Buzzcocks, The Worst, The Drones, A Certain Ratio, Spherical Objects, Joy Division, John Cooper Clarke, Peter Saville, Tony Wilson, Linder, Magazine, Section 23, ludus, James, New Order, Jilted John, Rob Gretton, The Smiths, Jazz Defektors, Mick Hucknall, The Durutti Column, Martin Hannett, Vini Reilly, Mike Pickering, The Railway Children, The Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets, Happy Mondays, Charlatans, Electronic, Oasis, Billy Duffy, The Other Two, The Seahorses, Doves, whist also finding space to show us the streets of Salford, Hulme, Shudehill, and Moss Side including vital punk venue The Electric Circus, The Russell Club/Factory Club, The Hacienda, The Arndale Centre and Maine Road. As well as the usual Manc hero's there's shots of outsiders making an impact on the city - capturing Manchester gigs by The Jam, The Clash, The Slits, Wayne County, Ramones, Madonna and Michael Clark.

As well as the photographs themselves there's a treasure trove of wonderful paraphernalia for Mancophiles. Including text chapters by Richard Milward, Paul Morley, Johnny Marr, Peter Hook, Mark E Smith, Stuart Maconie and John Harris.

While also included are scans of such interesting fare as gig tickets, club membership cards, 7" single sleeves, button badges, party invites and even a postcard to Cumins from Morrisey himself.

The last four shots in the book are priceless.

The first a black and white shot of an empty stage full of destroyed flowers after a Morrisey gig. This photo alone shouts 'The Party is over' or even - 'The party is over - go home' a fitting photo for both the end of the book and the end of the Era which saw Manchester rule the British alternative music scene for a staggering 20 years.

The second is a stark black and white shot of an unknown persons arm (sleeve rolled to elbow) featuring a tattoo that simply reads 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' there's a proud devotion and a profound sadness in the photo that screams out similar feelings to that of the above empty stage 'Morrisey shot'. Curtis is dead, the party is over (for the time being) but the emotion created during Joy Divisions brief lifespan will live on forever.

The third is another black and white shot, this time of Ian Curtis' Grave stone which reads 18 - 5 - 80 Love Will Tear Us Apart. Shocking, moving and coming straight after the Tattoo shot, a confirmation if any were needed of all that loss, and the end of an era. Of course we know now that it was just the end of one era and soon the next wave of Manc music history would begin with New Order but here the Gothic overtones are as far away from the heady cocktail of flashing lights and colourful highs of the Madchester era as its possible to get, testimony of the sheer scope of images, styles, emotions, sounds and meanings thrown up by Manchester's hungry, energetic Children in the time frame that this book spans.

The last is a colour shot of a brick wall that has a roughly painted mural daubed onto its weathered brick work. The painting is of a Union Jack split in two and through the middle written in white paint reads 'There's no future in England's dreaming: John Lydon Of I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here Fame'. Saying all things at once, the graffiti is funny, sad and poigniant, funny because we know the quote came from John Lydon when he was Johnny Rotten of The Sex Pistols - one of the greatest Ant-Hero's England has ever seen. but after the joke about his current fame takes a second to die, the nasty aftertaste leaves a sadness - is this where it all lead to - sick and desperate reality TV shows for the dumbed down and vacuous? But look at the quote again from the mouth of a teenager not an old man, and it's genius is apparent once again.

For Johnny Rotten inspired the people in this book to dare to dream, and dream they did, wonderful ambitious sky reaching dreams. This book is the evidence not of England's dreaming but Manchester's dreaming, more over Manchester's dreams come true - from working class success story's and personal escapes from the urban poverty trap to City wide rejuvenation. Even the painting and it's union colours of red white and blue remind us of the inner sleeve of The stone Roses debut album a painting by John Squire called 'Waterfall' - a painting from an album now often considered the greatest debut album of all time - a record that as much as any in this book sums up and represents what power Johnny Rotten had and what could happen when the young had the balls to dream. It seems that during a certain period of British history Mancunians dreamed the most.