At the Liverpool International Music Festival this week I saw an astonishing performance from one of the best bands I’ve ever seen in my life, Deaf School. And was surprised to realise I’ve been going to see Deaf School, with many a long gap, for the best part of 40 years.
The first time we saw them there were loads of them, a dozen or more. Including one who sat there all the way through the performance reading a newspaper and elegantly smoking. They were art students doing a ‘concept’ and they looked like it. We were intrigued.
Because looking like art students was more than OK with us lot at the time. It was what we looked like, though we weren’t studying art as such. Satin, velvet, Biba, charity shop finds and bippity-boppity hats, verging into Oxford bags and Jonathan Silver suits.
This was, from memory, 1974 sometime, and we knew the future of music was somewhere along the path being laid out by some mixture of all that was flowing from the works of the Velvet Underground, David Bowie and Roxy Music. We loved them all and would go and see Bowie, Lou Reed and Roxy devotedly whenever they came to Liverpool. But we were sad Liverpool itself didn’t seem to be contributing towards this future. Until the night we first saw Deaf School.
A bit cabaret, a bit rock’n’roll and a lot like no one else. It was at the Mountford Hall, the Students’ Union building where I was half way through my degree at the University of Liverpool. The Bright Sisters, Enrico Cadillac Jnr, Eric Shark, Rev Max Ripple… a cast of fabulous characters that made the tendency of most bands then still to turn up, denim-clad, plug in, mumble and jam for hours look simply dull. A tendency that would soon be swept away by the same punk that would, almost accidentally, sweep away our Deaf School too.
But before that they’d entered a national Melody Maker rock and folk contest, which I’d entered myself. Me and my songs didn’t get through the qualifying rounds. They won, got signed up and were, briefly, the next big thing.
So, fast forward nearly forty years and why are me and a field of people so excited to see them? So excited that I’m about to show you a load of pictures that are just pictures of a band performing? Because it’s no ordinary band. It’s Deaf School, this week, in Liverpool. Playing their welcoming-hometown gig, at the Liverpool International Music Festival, after nearly forty years bestriding the globe alongside all who followed and were inspired by them? Well no, but that’s how it felt.
Brilliant drumming from Gregg Braden, the young whippersnapper.
Playing the best I’ve ever seen them play. Tight, driven, stopping, starting and rhythm changing like most bands would have no idea how to. The back line of Clive, Greg, Ian and Steve as powerful as you like. (And joined by legendary Liverpool musician Paul Pilnick on extra guitar for the second half of the set, from ‘2nd Honeymoon’ days.)
In these early days, mind, most of them unashamedly couldn’t much play at all. As Enrico has said:
“Anyone who wanted to be in it could be. There were about 13 on stage at that time. No one could play – it was based on people we thought were interesting.”
If you know Deaf School, they play everything you hoped they’d play. Even songs few people have probably heard of having a huge backing chorus of this whole Liverpool field:
“Everybody looks like me down at Capaldi’s Caff.”
It’s not like I haven’t seen them since those mid-seventies days. Through all their other individual bands and projects and the interesting lives you’d expect interesting people to have, after Deaf School and Warner Brothers parted in 1978 there have been coming togethers. In recent years I saw them re-opening our beloved Picket when it moved down to its second home in the Baltic Triangle a few years ago. Even found a tiny bit of archive film of them to include in our own film of the story of the Picket.
1m:20secs to 1m:42secs into the film.
Then in 2010 when their Eric Shark died I went to the tribute concert at The Magnet in Hardman Street, when Suggs and Kevin Rowland guested.
And I enjoyed seeing them again every time. But enjoyed in a nostalgic kind of way. Unlike this week. This has been hardly anything to do with nostalgia. This week they seem a band at the height of themselves. Which is very high indeed. Bowie, Roxy, Velvet Underground, Deaf School? We weren’t wrong about the importance of them back at the Students’ Union in 1974.
Throughout these years one of the group of ‘us’ who were there at Mountford Hall has been much more of a Deaf School acolyte than me. And now he’s written his long promised book, telling the full story of them and all they inspired. ‘Deaf School, The Non-Stop Pop Art Punk Rock Party’ by my life-long friend Paul Du Noyer comes out in September.
There will be Deaf School publicity and activity. And there will be gigs. Which you would be a fool to yourself not to go to.
In Sefton Park at the weekend most bands were playing 30 to 40 minute sets. An hour and fifteen minutes in Deaf School are still going strong when they’re asked to finish off with ‘Just one more.’ They stop and we let them go very reluctantly. This has been very special.
And back in the day? It’s 1977 and here they are with ‘Taxi’ and, naturally, ‘What a way to end it all.’
Other Liverpool International Music festival posts:
- Sunday in the Park
- In the Park, something is happening
- Classics in the Park?
- In the Park, Saturday
- In the Park, Sunday & Monday
And there are still festival events to come. Download the full programme here.