Songwriting was now an obsession. I thought about my songs all day, and yearned for the evenings when I could get into my bedroom to develop my ideas. Mr Hickey (my office manager) soon snapped me out of this trance. I sat 3 insurance exams in October 1980, but walked out of each of them after staying in the exam hall for the mandatory hour (there were 2 more hours available to serious candidates). Despite the Prudential having paid for the lessons and having given me one half day a week release to college, I’d learned nothing. Once again I started with the best of intentions but found myself bamboozled by it all. I really couldn’t have crammed any of that insurance stuff into my head anyway – there was simply no room to spare.
Early one Friday morning in January, beetroot with rage, Mr Hickey called me into his office. He was very disappointed (to say the least) with my results and asked (rather bluntly, I thought) “Did you attend ANY of those college lessons?” I assured him I had. He smelled a rat and adjusted his line of inquisition. “Right… Did you attend ALL of those college lessons?” Genius! He’d got me. I said I may have missed a few. He enquired as to what I’d done instead. Had I come back to work? “Er, no – I went jogging part of the time.” After some more harsh words he screamed “I want a signed statement on my desk, 9 o’clock on Monday morning, as to precisely which lessons you missed and what you did with that time – AND IT BETTER BE HONEST.” His fury was understandable. I had effectively defrauded the Company by accepting payment for work I’d not done. “NOW GET OUT.” A succession of others was called into his office, but I was the only one to accomplish three ‘Z’ grades (unclassified failure). Ian Ashcroft was praised to the rafters for his two ‘D’ (for distinction) grades as was Gary Drain for his three ‘A’s. At about 11 o’clock, though, Gary was called back into Mr Hickey’s office where he was given a far more vitriolic dressing down than the one I’d received. He was placed on a “Disciplinary Stage 1” and watched like a hawk for months after. Poor Gary. We never did find out which sneak informed Hickey that ‘A’ stood for “Absent.”
At least my songwriting was coming on in leaps and bounds. I used the title of Shakespeare’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ as inspiration for a bouncy mid tempo rocker.
“I remember my dream on that midsummer night. I saw you.
You were praying to your God and you were giving it your body and soul.
I remember your face as you tried to justify your existence.
As ever self assured. Oh but your desperation showed in your eyes.
You were howling to the moon, you were howling to the moon.
You were howling to the moon. You were howling:
‘Show me the way back to the day, tell me what you’re gonna say.’
‘No time today. Get out of the way’ that is what He’s going to say.
That is what He’s going to say.”
Hard on the heels of ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ came ‘I Hear You Call My Name’, a cheery little number about death, and the first song whose lyric I had truly agonised over. The weeks I spent getting the words just right paid dividends. This was by far the best lyric I’d come up with yet, and one I’m still very pleased with.
“I saw you in the mirror and the end had begun so I ran away from you.
You know all my secrets and you know what I’ve done to be so deserving of you.
You can mix your martinis from the blood of the sun.* There’s no satisfying you.
But you carry on fighting though the battle is won. There’s no escaping you.
I see you every day in the papers, and the headlines scream.
I see you so far away as you laugh and smash another dream.
I’m near you all the same and I hear you call my name.
The mourning is over and the memory fades so you sweep away unmoved.
In the real world, justice at the slice of a blade or it can peel your skin so smooth.
I am never surprised but I’m always dismayed by the mysterious way you move.
The law is administered, the precedent laid – I wonder what are you trying to prove?
Tomorrow’s another day to mock or pulverise or to abuse.
No sorrow from you – no way – in your race to win the front page news.
I fear you all the same and I hear you call my name.”
* I only intended to use this line from T Rex’s ‘ Crimson Moon’ until I could conjure up words of my own but it fitted the bill so completely that I kept it. If I ever detected the slightest resemblance to anybody else’s melody in a song I was working on, I either changed it or scrapped it altogether – there were plenty more where that came from. Lyrics, though, were a struggle for me, and I regularly used the rhythm (or cadence) of other people’s work as a template (alternatively I just sang the first phrase which came into my head – usually absolute nonsense). The template gradually got discarded as my own words, carrying their own cadence, fell into place, resulting in an unrecognisably different song. That is not theft. All songwriters draw on other people’s work for inspiration as well as on their own life experience. Those who deny this are liars or else seriously deluded. Nothing comes out of the ether. Only what has gone into a writer’s brain can ever come out.
My overriding priority, when writing a song, was a strong melody. I would sit on my bed for hours with guitar, cassette, pen and paper at the ready, playing around with note and chord sequences while chain smoking. I was always sober. Nothing good ever came to me after a drink. Sometimes the melody I was hearing in my head dictated which note or chord I played next, and other times, when I’d already established a chord sequence, I had to craft a melody to go on top of it. Before I began to seriously contemplate words, I always had the structure of the song in place – how many verses and choruses I wanted, and where the middle eight would be. If you had a decent melody sitting on top of an interesting musical accompaniment, then your lyrics didn’t have to come up to Shakespearian standards. I tried very hard to write good lyrics but often had to make do with passable ones, hoping that the strength of the rest of the song would win the day. I used anything to trigger inspiration – things I’d seen or heard on TV or radio, in books, newspapers or magazines, road signs, graffiti, people’s tattoos, witticisms on toilet doors – anything. You turn those thoughts inside out, outside in, upside down, downside up, back to front, tnorf to kcab. You do anything, N. E. THING to get those creative juices flowing. The word “Inspiration” itself inspired a song which never saw the light of day:
“I long for inspiration, the gift of innovation.
The prize of adulation – the warm hand of ovation.”
Whilst my lyrics may have appeared seamless, they were actually conceived in shambolic fashion. It wasn’t a matter of starting with the opening line and then writing the ensuing lines in logical order. In reality, if a word or phrase popped into my head, I would think “Yes. That will fit in line 3 of the second verse.” Then another phrase might arrive, and be dispatched to line 2 in the first verse. Before you know it, you’re looking down at a lyric sheet resembling a giant crossword. You’ve got the first, second and fourth lines of the first verse and the second and fourth of the second verse, but there’s a word in one of those lines you’re not happy with. That’s only 3 more lines and one word to think up, but then you come up with a real nugget of a line which doesn’t fit anywhere, and it messes up the whole sense of the other lines. You can’t allow your best line to go to waste; you have to build the song around it, so you start discarding or rewording other lines to accommodate it. Your lyric sheet ends up littered with crossings out, words in different coloured pens, arrows pointing here and there, asterisks and footnotes everywhere. It really can be like squeezing a balloon full of water, but eventually, out of all this chaos you get to the stage where you think – “Yep, that’s alright. I won’t be embarrassed to share this with other people now.” If no one laughs at your words then they must be OK, at least.
In the summer of 1981 Martyn completed his degree and signed on as unemployed. It was he who suggested we form a band. I insisted, for reasons already stated, that we had to be a three piece. I also insisted we would be called No Exit – firstly in deference to the heavy rock band ‘Exit’ (who Slug and I saw at the Moonstone) and secondly because the No Exit signs positioned around buildings, roads and car parks were a great source of subliminal advertising. Nic still had a year to run on his degree course so he couldn’t possibly be our drummer. Phew! We’d already established that Martyn was not prepared to sing. At first I found this extremely frustrating because I wanted him to harmonise with me. Weller had Foxton behind him, Bono had The Edge, and Sting had Summers and Copeland, but having heard Martyn’s attempts at singing, (a sort of slurred, out of tune Lou Reed style) I knew it would be far better if I sang unaccompanied. Martyn wanted to concentrate solely on playing the guitar, and by default, the bass playing was left to me. I didn’t write another song on the guitar for 3 years; everything from now onwards was written on the bass. I bought a green two tone John Birch Rickenbacker copy, a WEM 40 watt valve amplifier and a Selmer speaker – all ancient and second hand. I was tooled up for business.
”No Exit’ was the first song I wrote on my new bass. It was born out of a desire to write in the style of The Jam’s ‘The Butterfly Collector’ – an influence I managed to disguise so well that nobody ever drew comparisons. Like most of my songs, it wasn’t really about anything specifically. Martyn told me I’d better make some explanation up, but I never did. Some people thought it was about the marriage vows, and maybe it was; I don’t know:
“We made a vow we could never, ever keep.
Still somehow the thought of it runs deep.
There is the glory of the coming of the glory of the Lord
And there’s an answer where there was no call.
But I’ve been so unkind, no heart, no mind.
If I could give it all. I would give it all. I would give it all to you.”
‘No Exit’ was the only No Exit song later to be included in The Vow’s set. I imaginatively renamed it ‘The Vow’.
We booked ourselves into ‘The Ministry’ rehearsal studios in Preston Street and, throughout the sweltering summer, auditioned drummers. The room had no ventilation. We suffered in the heat and the humidity, but we were just standing there and playing. The poor drummers, though, some of whom were quite old and out of condition, sweated and reddened worryingly. Despite their herculean efforts we found them all entirely unsuitable.
You could sometimes bump into a star at The Ministry. The Bunnymen occasionally rehearsed in the basement studio and The Teardrop Explodes upstairs. I recall one day a rather beautiful wood encased electric organ being left in our rehearsal room. I’d sat myself down on this for just a few seconds when I glanced up to see the unmistakable figure of Julian Cope in the doorway. He was very tall and very narrow – rather like a white Massai warrior. He said nothing. I said nothing. He stared me out. The message was clear – If you damage that instrument I will damage you. I joked for weeks after that I’d sat on Julian Cope’s organ, but it wasn’t his – it was Dave Balfe’s.
In early September, a handsome young fella with dimples and a cheerful demeanour came for an audition. I recognised him immediately as the brother of Jimmy Leach, an old school mate. He introduced himself as Perry. We liked the look of him straight away. We were very conscious of the importance of image, and Perry, although carrying a little “puppy fat”, exuded charisma. He was certainly not the best drummer we’d auditioned, but the overall package was more than we could have hoped for. The important things were that his drumming was powerful and energetic, he could keep good time and was willing to learn. There were no quibbles – Perry was in. It wasn’t long before he shed the extra pounds, and along with them, his girlfriend and his job. Within just a few months he transformed himself into a Rock ‘n’ Roll god.
No Exit was officially born on 21 September. By then I’d just finished writing ‘Breakdown’ which had a bass line similar to those Peter Hook (New Order) used to weave around his open D and A strings. I wanted to play melodic bass lines, and I knew that, as we were only a 3 piece, I would have to “pad out” my bass parts to help us achieve a full sound. ‘Breakdown’ was the quintessence of a pop song, with just 3 root notes – D, G and A. There were, however, more than just 3 chords for Martyn to conjur up. I’d been toying with words for months, and the original opening line was
“We are hated. We are high class.
We’re backdated. We are high class.”
For a while I replaced these with
“Got this hang up about sunshine blue eyes.
They can light up my grey clouded skies.”
Oh dear, Oh dear, Oh dear. They just would not do for No Exit. We needed lyrics with street credibility, so I reverted to depressive type and instead began to write about a nervous breakdown. “I need it. I need it alright – a needle to help me tonight.” That was more like it. It took weeks of practice until I was able to simultaneously sing the melody and play the bass part with accuracy. I first performed it for Barbara, who offered the encouragement “That’s a good song.” I was only half joking when I replied “Of course it’s a good song – I wrote it.” Her response to that was “I think you need bringing down a peg or two”. Perhaps I did, but if you don’t have confidence in your own abilities you can’t expect anybody else to.
With his recently acquired Fender Telecaster, Martyn took Breakdown to another level. He garnished it with discordant chords, some of which reminded me a little of The Jam’s ‘Start!‘ This was the first song to feature Martyn’s trademark “disco” playing, and the first to include No Exit’s trademark “skip” – a double snare beat at the end of each line of the verse (in the manner of ‘Girls on Film’ by Duran Duran). Martyn, who learned to play drums at Swansea, demonstrated some of the techniques Perry needed to adopt in order to play in a modern style. Perry gradually developed a liking for the avant-garde drumming of artists such as Budgie from Siouxsie & the Banshees. He worked hard to improve his playing, and soon found his own style. I often took advice from my workmate, Keith Leary, who was the guitarist in a Crosby based group called ‘Scope’ (later ‘Passion Polka‘). He told me it was vital for the drums and bass to be as “tight as a duck’s arse” and, to achieve such water resistance, my bass speaker needed to be positioned “as close to Perry’s anus as possible – so that he can feel the beat.” That was great advice – it worked.
For the first couple of months we rehearsed 3 times a week, and made great progress. Martyn insisted we pay close attention to the songs’ arrangements. He seemed to care for those songs almost as much as I did. Now that I was the bass player, I no longer had to find the right guitar chords to play, and relieved of that responsibility, I was free to sing melodies in any scale I happened to bumble into. It was, therefore, no easy task for Martyn, but through trial and error he found those chords. He had no idea what many of them were called – and neither did I. Was the time signature 4 beats to the bar or 3? I didn’t know, and what’s more, I didn’t want to know. I thought that if I started taking an interest in such technicalities I would lose, for ever, my ability to write freely, in my own style, and instead begin to write with my head, employing sinister songwriting formulas or cliches. I put some basic ground rules in place:
1) I was not going to write any more silly pop songs like ‘Cover Girls’.
2) I would curb my inclination for overly melodic tunes like ‘Shelly’.
3) I would not repeat any chorus more than 3 times. Dad used to shout at the TV “That’s enough.” or “How many more times?” or “We get the message – now wrap it up!!!” when pop groups repeated their choruses ad nauseam. Such repetition was a low trick as far as I was concerned. I wanted people to be able to listen to my songs time and time again without getting bored.
I have no idea which dark recess ‘Life (not sorry)’ came from. It certainly was an enigma, and murder was something I had never and would never write about again:
“Killer in the night as near as he can be.
Killer in the night, his eyes too close to see.
But you cried and you cried.
You’ve got nowhere to turn – you burned your bridges behind.
You’ve got nowhere to turn and all you have is your mind
And you’re praying he thinks that you’re two of a kind.
But does he think? Oh no. Not sorry, not sorry, no.”
Another early song ‘Dream’, an up tempo Joe Jackson type jaunt (without being too poppy), carried far less menace:
“Dreaming of peace in our time is not an illusion of mine.
There’s never true harmony, always an enemy.
So tell me where I stand today.
Tell me what the modern world requires of me.
I’ll tell you about the way things used to be.”
Dave Evans became a regular visitor to rehearsals. Like Martyn, he’d recently graduated, but had little or no chance of finding a job. He was a music lover with a deep appreciation of punk / new wave bands such as The Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, Penetration, and Magazine – to name just a few. With his “strawberry blonde” hair he bore more than a passing resemblance to The Damned’s drummer, Rat Scabies. His wild creativity usually found an outlet in jokes or in elaborate practical jokes. It seemed almost everything was just a laugh to Dave. The amazing thing was that he didn’t see anything funny about No Exit; in fact, he was positively serious in expressing how good he thought we were. He was an accomplished photographer with a particular penchant for moody black and white shots which he printed on expensive Ilford paper. Whenever he took photos he put us all totally at ease, and we were made to feel worthy of this attention; he instilled confidence. It gradually dawned on us that he would make a great manager, and Dave was up for the task.
From hereon in Dave kept a scrapbook of photos, posters, press cuttings and other memorabilia connected with the band. He (almost exhaustively) recorded the dates of significant events in the scrapbook and on cassette recordings of various gigs. I have never kept a diary, so without these documents I would not even have contemplated embarking on this saga. They have enabled me to write the story of my part in No Exit utterly confident of its historical accuracy.
In October, U2 came to the Liverpool Royal Court to promote their second album, also called ‘October‘. Punk rock showed me the sheer levels of energy it was necessary to inject into a performance to make it in any way engaging, but Bono took this to a different plain. His performance was full of punky energy but free of its juvenile rage. This guy had an intellect and he had the soul to sing every song as if it were his last. Well before the end, he’d sung himself hoarse – but that didn’t matter; the crowd adored his passion and so did I. I also liked bass player Adam Clayton’s melodies on songs like ‘Scarlet’ and the string slapping technique he employed in the middle eight of ‘Gloria‘ – a method I copied in my own ‘Deep Dark Sea’. Accompanied by Martyn’s thrashing chords, ‘Deep Dark Sea’ was quite a stop – start affair with lots of twists and turns, but NO repeated chorus. Dave considered it “the best song in the world”. I recall only fragments of its lyrics:
“In this convenient world; in this high ideal world
You’ve got to work away hard, you got to work away hard,
You go faster, faster, faster, faster.
You go faster, faster, faster – Oh Where?”
Another “chorus” ended:
“You are wasted, wasted, wasted, waste away
You are wasted, wasted, wasted, waste away. Away.”
The words “faster” and “wasted” were punched out in the manner of Stiff Little Fingers’ ‘Suspect Device’ – ie – “You gotta Suss. Suss. Suss. Suss. Suss. Suss. Suss suspect device.”
In this action packed October, I presented the band with ‘In the Dark’ . The inspiration for its title (and for ‘I Hear You Call My Name’) came from a Cherry Boys song whose chorus went “In the dark I can see you. In the dark I can feel you (?) In the dark I can hear you call my name.” The Cherry Boys were an excellent Liverpool band – a sort of cross between The Jam and The Beatles, but too retrospective to be a major musical influence on me. Regardless, I was not too proud to pinch a few of their words if it led to two new and completely different songs of my own. ‘In the Dark‘ was, like ‘Hero‘ and ‘Breakdown’, good enough to remain in No Exit’s repertoire from the beginning to the end of the band’s existence. I spent weeks at home creating the bass part and, once I’d perfected it, I had to practice for weeks more, singing along to its broken rhythm. Nothing ever came easily to me. It all had to be worked for. Slug’s brother, Chris, accused me of stealing the bass line from the Gang of Four’s ‘Damaged Goods’. I swore I’d never heard that song before and I didn’t believe it sounded the same anyway, so ‘In the Dark’ stayed in the set.
Broadly speaking ‘In the Dark’ was about infidelity. Words from the wedding vows I’d heard hundreds of times as a choirboy at St Mary’s – “forsake”, “love” and “cherish” slotted smoothly into it. I imagined how, in the event of marital breakdown, those sincerely uttered vows might come back to taunt the happy couple – “As long as they both live…if…if…she will not forgive. I can see. I can see in the dark.” As with all my other songs I handed cassettes of my solo performance of ‘In the Dark’ to Perry and Martyn so that they could have a think about their parts prior to the next rehearsal. Martyn did a lot of home work, and astounded me with the performance he put in at the next rehearsal. I loved those harmonics at the start, the choppy rhythm of the chords in the verses and the scintillating guitar solo at the finish. I already knew he was a very good guitarist, but now he was displaying real innovation. His desire to be different from the crowd matched my own. In the way that The Stranglers and The Jam stood apart from the punk scene, we wanted to be detached from any Liverpool scene. There was to be nothing parochial about No Exit. We would reach out to the world. I resolved to write songs from the bottom of my heart, songs which conformed to no stereotype, songs with a quality and an individuality deserving of Martyn and Perry’s talents. I was confident we were taking our first steps along the road towards those heady heights, and soon we would be ready to demonstrate as much in public.
October was a busy month. In all the excitement I almost forgot about my insurance exams. I certainly “forgot” to do any revision for them, but I did at least turn up to complete my name on all 3 papers. Having been to see a fortune teller in July, I was confident I wouldn’t need to pass anyway. She told me “You can do anything you put your mind to” and foresaw “…a lot of singing”, and even asked “Why don’t you get a synthesizer?” Perry said a fortune teller once told his mum, Rose, that she would have a famous son. Jimmy, his only brother, now lived in Wakefield, Yorkshire – and nothing worthwhile was ever going to come out of Wakefield………was it? So Perry was the chosen one. It all added up. “It won’t be long now”, I thought.
I remember, at a number of rehearsals, Martyn querying “What’s the point?” I think I knew what he was on about. He, like me (and everybody else for that matter) sometimes spiralled down into pits of despair. My moody songs were heavily infused with his moody playing, and we seemed to feed off each other. Martyn once queried “Why do we want to be famous, anyway? That’s the scary thing – when you examine the reasons for it.” I wondered what it would be like to be famous. I wouldn’t get a minute to myself – and I treasured my solitude. Without complete privacy I couldn’t write songs – and crafting them was my raison d’etre. Skeletons would come out of closets. My nonsensical lyrics would expose me for the idiot I was. It would all end in tears or a nervous breakdown or worse. In the unlikely event of fame making me wealthy it would not have brought me any lasting happiness, and isn’t that what we all crave? Well, no actually. It took 2 decades before I fathomed out what “the point” was. It was not happiness, money, birds, booze or any other transient thing I wanted; it was the hope that my music would secure me a kind of immortality; that it would speak for me from beyond the grave. I wanted it to say “My name was Graham Trust. I once walked this earth, and I was the singer, songwriter and bass player in No Exit. Look us up in the Guiness Book of Hit Singles. See! We existed. We were special.” So that was the point. I wanted to rank alongside the 20th century’s immortal singer/songwriters – Lennon & McCartney, Bowie, Bolan and all. And what about all those 19th century ones like…….erm……..er…….don’t tell me. And all those 18th century “immortals” like……oh……ah……actually I don’t know any. Oh dear…………So, if immortality itself doesn’t last forever, what exactly is the point?
Dave managed to get us our first gig at Brady’s (formerly Eric’s) on Thursday 26 November supporting an R&B band called MI5 who played early Rolling Stones type stuff. Their guitarist, a dead ringer for the actor Peter Lorre, could do the Chuck Berry ‘Duck Walk‘ but, apart from that they were pretty unremarkable. I was acutely aware that we needed to put on a show. With Perry stuck behind drums and Martyn fully focused on his guitar it was down to me to do something visual. I’d been secretly practicing at home, playing bass and “dancing”. I’d seen Andy McCluskey of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark at Eric’s, and I copied him to some extent – head popping and body twitching, while thrusting his bass around unpredictably. My movements were far more pronounced than his, though. I was so well rehearsed that all those spasms didn’t affect the accuracy of my bass playing one little bit.
So we were well prepared musically but what about image? What to wear? We were all clueless. In the run up to the gig I took the sleeves and collar off an old black shirt and got mum to sew thin white “dog collar” strips around its mutilated neck and shoulder holes. There was also the option of my Uncle Stan’s cast off Arran pullover which mum later mangled irreparably in an experiment with a spin dryer. Then again, I could have plumped for wearing the waistcoat from my work suit, inside out, over a white T-shirt. Choices. Choices. In the end I wore lime green drainpipe jeans and a white T-shirt, but this was no ordinary white T shirt. Oh no! I punctured two holes in the breast bone area, and another couple of holes around the belly button, and through these I threaded a long red football bootlace which I fastened, unseen under the shirt. Voila! Martyn sported a second hand prisoner’s shirt I bought from The Army & Navy Stores; and I recall that Perry modelled a green T-shirt made from material which resembled a tea bag.
Dave put his weird and wonderful imagination to work on designing posters. In fact he made a different poster for almost every gig we ever played. We couldn’t afford to pay Boxhead (a professional bill poster) for his illicit services, so our posters were mostly stuck up by Dave and me, but often by Dave alone. The routine was that we caught the bus into town laden with a carrier bag containing an empty bucket, the posters, a large paint brush and a packet of Polycell. Once there we dived into any pub, and while I ordered 2 halves of bitter, Dave sloped off to the toilet, filled the bucket with water and stirred in the wallpaper paste. Back out on the mean streets we selected our targets – pillar boxes, lampposts, electric boxes and general grot spots. The only rule was that you didn’t post over anyone else’s poster until the event date had passed – we didn’t want Boxhead after us. At the chosen site, Dave handed me a poster then whizzed out his loaded brush and covered the target in seconds. In the blink of an eye the poster was snatched from my hands, slapped in place and glued down in a frenzied blur of brush strokes. My job was to look out for the Police or any other objector – after all “Bill posters will be prosecuted” (it said on the walls). For the next few years we plastered the city centre with hundreds of posters without ever once being detected. For his sins, Dave ended up covered in wet sticky paste, and this is how he earned the monicker “Spunker Evans”. However, in the interests of decency, I shall continue to refer to him only as Dave.
Nothing I had experienced so far prepared me for the shock of playing live. The floor of our rehearsal room was carpeted, and the walls were padded and draped with sackcloth to dampen down the noise. Pubs and clubs, on the other hand, usually have no sound insulation, so sound waves bounce off the walls and around the room uncontrollably. Every venue has its own unique way of violating your music with hideous echoes and distortions. On stage at Brady’s the crash of a cymbal became an eardrum-piercing torment. My bass seemed to drip out of its speaker and slither along the floor towards the audience, like a morning mist hugging the grass. I could barely hear it. The shrill wailing of Martyn’s guitar, which he’d cranked up to an ungentlemanly maximum volume, drowned out my vocals. I couldn’t hear myself think, so as for being able to hear myself sing – I could forget it. I just had to shout louder. My dad would have been horrified to hear what I was doing to my voice. I knew exactly what he’d have said – “You’re singing from the throat. It should be coming from your diaphragm.” To this day I still can’t figure out where my diaphragm is.
There were only about twenty or thirty people in the audience that night, but among them there might just have been one important person with connections. For no other reason than that, you must always give your best – and we always did. Our Brady’s debut was a success. We played well, and I danced like a Dervish. Although chronically self conscious offstage, I performed without even a hint of embarrassment on it. This was my domain. It wasn’t me up there. I took comfort from the thought that the real me was hidden behind a bass guitar, a microphone and a microphone stand. I slept only fitfully that night. My slumber was interrupted by dreams of international mega-stardom. I woke early the next morning, and skipped off to work in the certain knowledge that I would be an insurance clerk for not much longer. An unwanted souvenir from the night before was the ringing in my ears which continued long into the afternoon. That was a sign of damaged hearing – an occupational hazard which rock musicians have to live with in pursuit of their goal.
Gigs were now coming up thick and fast so I really needed to do something about my appearance. On the following Saturday I went to a boutique off Mathew Street (run by the girlfriend of Dead or Alive’s singer, Pete Burns) and bought myself 2 pairs of black and white striped drainpipes. These fitted me better than any I’d ever worn before. They were my “No Exit trousers” – ones in which I felt as free as Bono probably did in those black jeans he wore habitually in the early days of U2. I had to make a minor modification to them, though, to make me look less of a clown. I dyed them black, but because it was poor dye, the stripes turned out black and purply-grey. Perfection! These 2 pairs would have to withstand whatever rigours awaited them until I was wealthy enough to afford a different pair for every night of the week.
Our next gig was on Monday 30 November at the Masonic pub in Berry Street (since known as Trader Jacks, The Black Horse and Rainbow, The Liverpool Brewing Company and The Metropolitan). The Masonic’s walls were black, and decorated with caricatures of legendary Jazz, Blues and Reggae artists – Bruce Springsteen inexplicably among them. This intimate little venue was a great place for young bands to learn their trade, to tighten up and discover what works and what doesn’t. The acoustics were a hell of a lot better than Brady’s too. At this gig Slug presented us with 2 fantastic ‘No Exit’ lights (metal boxes with bulbs illuminating a plastic screen featuring our logo). Martyn and I placed them on top of our amplifiers. Slug had also spray painted the same logo onto a black canvas which we hung on the wall behind Perry whenever we played there. We played the Masonic at the very least a dozen times.
In a different way from Dave’s, Slug’s contribution to the band was considerable. Dave and Slug were effectively our fourth and fifth members – ever presents as dedicated to the cause as the 3 performers. Slug’s lights and banners etched our name on audiences’ minds, but his other contribution (apart from keeping my feet firmly on the ground with his brilliantly acerbic put downs) was his physical strength. He loved lugging the heavier items, especially the gigantic “bass bin” speakers I used for my vocals. He could single-handedly haul these burdensome and absolutely useless beasts up three flights of stairs to our locker room in The Ministry, without pausing for breath. We were all roadies but Slug was our king. It was no surprise that, by the time The Vow began gigging, he was suffering from a bad back and could no longer be our carthorse.
We were invited back to the Masonic on 7th December because another band had pulled out. We made ourselves available, sometimes at only a few hours notice, for as many cancellations as we could get. The set list for that particular gig survives. I always took reponsibility for compiling the order of songs, just like my dad did for his church services:
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Deep Dark Sea
Life (not sorry)
I Saw Her Standing There
Neil Tilley wrote a remarkably insightful review of this gig in issue no.8 of his magazine ‘Breakout’. “No Exit are a young three piece who I must admit to knowing nothing about. So here I sit with no idea of what I was about to hear. After the first three tracks I decided I still didn’t know what I was listening to. The bass player / vocalist was playing apparently up to date bass and the guitarist played a blues type style reminiscent of some late sixties bands. What the drummer lacked in technique he made up for in energy, he pushed the three piece on through the mostly up tempo set. A couple of the songs showed a good imagination for arrangement but what a bummer when they played “I Saw Her Standing There” (a nifty selling song The Beatles once recorded) not a good choice of padder in my mind. However, they played well and I liked the bass player’s vocals. The Masonic crowd received them warmly.”
Against my better judgment, dad convinced me we should incorporate at least one song by another artist in our set so that people could use it to gauge how good our own music was. That was why we played a Beatles song – you’ve got to think big in this game. We later replaced this with ‘Teenage Kicks’ by the Undertones, and that, in turn, was discarded for ‘Fireball’ by Don Spencer (on which we were often accompanied by an inept saxophonist called Andy).
Despite being sat behind a drum kit, Perry was a joy to watch with his flailing arms and his tongue poking out of a contorted, red and sweaty face. OK – he was no Keith Moon, but very few drummers have the charisma to draw an audience’s eye like Perry did. As for the songs, Neil Tilley’s confusion was entirely understandable; they were a real hotch potch. There was no coherent No Exit sound, but there again, we were young and we were gradually fashioning one. Martyn did have a certain bluesy inflection to his playing, but I suspect Tilley’s judgement was swayed by the Rory Gallagher type lumberjack shirt Martyn wore that night. I came out of the whole affair rather well, I thought.
We were paid £20 for the gig, which was about average for the Masonic. Out of this we had to pay Frank, our van driver, £12. Frank was in his mid sixties with a shock of grey hair, and dressed always in a blue boiler suit. These were his “work clothes”, but he never raised a finger to help us with the gear – he just drove. We named him “The Smelly Dog Man” after his constant companion, an ancient black Labrador bitch called ‘Blue’, who was in perpetual need of a good bath. If you were fortunate enough to ride in the front seat you had to work your way around Blue as she lay there, seemingly close to death, stinking and denying your existence. Frank spoke like an English version of The Doc in the ‘Back to the Future’ films and, funnily enough, he took a particular shine to Martyn. He virtually ignored the rest of us – thankfully. At first Martyn took this unwanted attention with good grace. “Martyn”, Frank would bellow, “Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine said ‘Let your food be your medicine and your medicine your food’. How can this be so? If a butterfly in China flaps its wings, Martyn….blah, blah, blah” As the months went by Martyn became less and less tolerant of Frank and, in the end, either made his own way to gigs or sat in the back of the van pretending to make sure none of our equipment fell over when we went round corners.
Our last gig of 1981 was on 17th December at Daley’s Dandelion on Dale Street. This was the first of four gigs we played there. It was busy that night. There were probably about 60 or 70 people in to start with. As our set progressed the crowd began to drift away, so I made a point of saying “good night” to every person who passed by me to climb the stairs up to the street. The fear of embarrassment made others think twice about escape. As we raced through “Dream” I noticed the dance floor was full. “Great”, I thought. “They love us. They really love us.” I was notoriously short sighted and far too vain to wear glasses. The dance floor had, in fact, been filled only by dozens of mirror reflections of Phil Williams and Barbara jiving. One thing I did spot correctly that night was an underage drinker who suddenly leapt up and began “dancing” in front of me during ‘Deep Dark Sea’. I didn’t like the look of him. He was pretending to be entranced by the music, but I could see his sneaky eyes sizing me up as he snaked his way closer. I knew he was going to swing for me, and I was ready to duck and then crown the bastard with my bass – like Sid Vicious once did (and what a marvellous role model he was). Luckily the bar manager appeared from nowhere, bear hugged the scumbag (that’s the other guy – not me), and frogmarched him up the stairs. I didn’t even get time to say “good night” to him.