The results of my insurance exams came through in January, and I was called in to Mr Hickey’s office once again. This time he didn’t seem to care much about the 3 ‘Z’ grades I’d achieved. I expected another roasting, but he greeted me instead with a benign smile and the words “You are one of life’s drifters, aren’t you?” Little did he appreciate (and neither did I tell him about) the work I was putting in “out of hours” on my song writing, rehearsals and gigging. There was no way I was drifting; I had a purpose to my life. Hickey wasn’t prepared to let me waste away any more time on a department so vibrant as Motor Underwriting, so he moved me to the Household Department where I would have to toil as the only man amongst a workforce of 15. I didn’t mind at all. This department was so well organised and the work so mind numbingly simple that a fool could do it – and I did – for the next 4 years.
On 27th January we played The Mayflower pub in Fazakerley Street in Liverpool’s business district. This lively venue had gained notoriety as both a Mod and a New Romantic hideout. Although we were neither, I just knew that these were our people, and I was really excited by the prospect of converting them to No Exit. The place was not quite full on the night. At the start of our set there were two men sat at a table to my left…but nobody else other than my sister Barbara and my brother Stephen. There had been some sort of a mix up, and the gig had been advertised for the previous night. The 2 men left during the interval, so in the second half, there were more people in the band than in the audience. At the end the publican was gracious enough to give us £10 for our troubles. Smelly dog van man had, by now, raised his fee to an exorbitant £15. He offered to reduce it to £12 after hearing our tale of woe, but we insisted upon settling his bill in full. In years to come, I thought, our Mayflower experience would be a winning anecdote in television interviews; a low point to help us hang on to some degree of humility… Anyway, we quickly made up for the financial hurt with 2 college gigs which paid us £50 each AND they were very well attended by drunken students. In an instant the Mayflower was ancient history.
We booked ourselves into the Open Eye Studio in Whitechapel on 26 February to record ‘Hero’, ‘Breakdown’and ‘In the Dark’over a 2 day period. Open Eye was an 8 track studio. What’s that? Imagine a band playing and there being 8 microphones recording their performance. The drummer is isolated in a big room, and one mic records just the snare drum, one the bass drum, another the tom-toms, and yet another two mics the cymbals. That’s 5 microphones recording 5 tracks. In a separate, sound proofed room, a further mic records just the bass guitar; in another room the guitar is recorded in isolation, and the eighth microphone records the vocalist’s performance in a sound proofed booth. All the musicians wear headphones so they can hear what everyone else is playing. The 8 microphones feed the various performances into one big recording machine – the mixing desk. Because everything has been recorded separately the sound engineer can apply individual effects (like echo or reverb) in varying degrees to each instrument. He might want no reverb on the bass drum, but lots of it on the snare. He might want to increase the volume of the guitar when the guitar solo comes in, and slide it back down again afterwards. The more “tracks” a studio had the more expensive it generally was. 8, 16 and 24 track studios were the norm in those days. There were even a few 48 track studios, but not in Liverpool. Today this is of little relevance because everything is computerised. Whereas we had to play or sing every last note, nowadays they have software which can make even the out of tune, the out of time and the tone deaf sound great.
Although No Exit had come a long way, I believe we went into Open Eye 6 months too soon. As in 1980, with ‘No Smoking’, the recording studio exposed our deficiency – we weren’t tight enough to withstand scrutiny. Having said that, we did do a good job on ‘Hero’. The lads were very impressed with the vocal harmonies I’d worked out only two nights before. Perry was a hero too for climbing into the roof space and clattering a metal reverb pipe at exactly the right moment to create the explosion at the end. The other 2 songs didn’t come out quite so well. Dad said of ‘Breakdown’ that it sounded like the 3 of us were playing 3 different songs, and he was right. We played ‘In the Dark’ far too slowly and sloppily. A local DJ, Phil Easton of Radio City, played ‘Hero’ on his show ‘The Great Easton Express’ and commented that “This is the only one of broadcastable quality”. We resolved that next time we went into a studio we wouldn’t waste our money in the same way. Dave sent out cassette copies of this session to record companies, but these were met with emphatic indifference. We were not in the least perturbed. Dave assured us “Quality will out!!” – and I believed him. We got back to rehearsing and gigging and tightening up.
‘Deep Dark Sea’ was played for the last time at the Masonic on 7 March. While we loved “The greatest song in the world” our audiences responded to it with bemused silence and then muted applause. It needed time to be appreciated; time we didn’t have. In its place came ‘Tiny Mind’, a song I felt embodied both No Exit’s raw edge and musical accomplishment. While ‘Tiny Mind’ was not a better song than ‘Deep Dark Sea’ at least people could understand its bludgeoning rhythm. I was never happy with the words, but when I hear them now they seem OK. “No lover’s lies, no sweet goodbyes. Forgive me. Forgive me. I don’t understand. I don’t understand.” later I changed the lyrics completely and the song’s title to ‘What it takes to be a man.’ “We play to win. We fight to kill……We’re not scared to die, we never cry. I understand that’s what it takes to be a man.” The new words were actually nowhere near as poignant as the originals. In fact, I used to slur them because they were never finished.
In the spring of 1982 I had my fortune told again. The tarot card reader told me to ask a question. The cards had been jumbled up so that there was a random assortment of upside down and right way up ones. My question was “Am I going to be an internationally famous rock star?” The reader said she would turn over 9 cards (it may have been more). Those which came out the right way up indicated a ‘Yes’. I turned over the cards – Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. No………What the hell did that mean? I decided to ignore the implications of the ‘No’ and comforted myself with the overwhelming sequence of Yeses, implying I was far more likely to succeed than fail. Maybe it meant ‘No’ I would not become famous with No Exit but with a future group or maybe as a solo artist or maybe even…….?
Regardless of how I believed my destiny was being shaped and how good I thought No Exit were, there was a juddering reality check on the night of 7 April when we played the Baltimore Rooms (above Kirklands wine bar – now ‘The Fly in the Loaf’) in Hardman Street. It was a joint gig with a Widnes band called ‘Wild Weekend‘ who were sensational. They reminded me a little of Haircut 100. They were very, very tight, full of energy and had obviously paid close attention to their image. We were, by now only relatively tight, certainly energetic but bereft of a coherent image. We were some way short of the mark, but clothing and image was not No Exit – and they never would be. When it boiled down to it the only thing we were capable of improving was our music. Better songs and more hard work were called for.
My latest composition ‘Now You’re Talking’, like ‘Deep Dark Sea’, had a number of twists and turns but, unlike DDS, it had a chorus; in fact it had 2 choruses – both of which I repeated twice. At more than 6 minutes it probably went on for far too long. At Easter, Slug and I went off to Amsterdam for a weekend of sightseeing and binge drinking. While nearing the height of our drunkenness, a Dutch artist entered the bar to sell his pictures, among them was one of a golden eagle etched in multicoloured tin foil on a white card. “What an incredible coincidence!”, I thought. My latest song contained the line “Like an eagle only silence is golden in my mind.”This was a sure sign of the impending success of ‘Now You’re Talking’ – destiny was calling me yet again. I gave the Dutch master an English five pound note for the picture and he swiftly headed towards the exit. A group of his countrymen, recognising what a ridiculous price this was to pay for such tat, retrieved my money and told me to pay him what they thought it was worth – just a few guilders. To me it was priceless, and I treasured that picture for the next three years – that’s how long it took before its worthlessness was proven.
Within days of us returning home No Exit played the Carnatic Hall in Mossley Hill for the astronomical fee of £100. We were beginning to accumulate a pot of dosh. Maybe we could go into the recording studio again? Everything was progressing swimmingly until the early summer when Perry announced that he’d sold his drum kit in order to pay off the rent arrears on his flat. Having done so he now intended to move to Manchester with his friend Leon Yeaden. After all these months of practicing and gigging, Dave, Martyn and I knew what a massive workload awaited us if we let Perry go. So we offered him financial assistance to purchase a new kit. For a couple of weeks there were no rehearsals while Perry scoured the earth for a replacement kit. In the end he found it close to home, and he even knew the Aigburth based owner. Fantastic! No Exit paid half the asking price, there and then, in cash. Perry promised to pay the other half in instalments directly to the owner over the next few weeks. He said he had some paid work coming his way which would enable him to settle both his debt to the owner and to No Exit. Great! What could be simpler? Everybody was happy and we were back in business.
In June I bumped into Carl Eaton, a neighbour and associate of mine since childhood. He was a natural blonde blessed with the physique of a farm labourer. His future lay in his physicality, maybe as a nightclub bouncer, I supposed. How wrong I was. Unknown to me he was the lead singer and bassist with ‘The Ponderosa Glee Boys‘ who had played not only Liverpool but other towns and cities. The Glee Boys gained a reputation, not just for the quality of their music, but also for their eagerness to exchange blows with members of the audience. Now that they’d disbanded Carl was writing and recording by himself. He played me a cassette of his latest song ‘Sorry’ (recorded at SOS Studios behind Stanley Street). I was impressed by the standard of his writing, playing and singing, and by the fact that he used a drum machine (state of the art, don’t you know). Most of all I loved his use of the word “sorry”. Carl’s song was the lyrical catalyst for my own ‘Anything You Say’, which I developed over the summer. I’m still pleased with the apology I committed to song – “Sorry for deceiving you. Sorry I don’t mean to. Untrue – every word I said, every word I said, every word I say. All my emotions are tangled inside. I could not show how I feel if I tried. That’s why I’m never alone, never alone, never alone or lonely.” Bob Faith, a gruff, middle aged Glaswegian workmate at the Prudential, inspired the opening lines. On occasions he joked “Some say good old Graham…Others say he’s a right f**king bastard.” Hence “Some say everything must end. Others say got to try again.” The musical catalyst was a record I’d heard a couple of times on John Peel’s show by The Passions called “Man on the tube“. It told the story of a woman’s discomfort at being ogled by a pervert on a London underground train. “The Man on the tube – he’s looking all around you. He’s got his eye on your thigh.” The song was dominated by a bass guitar played in a mock disco style – a technique I copied for my bass part in ‘Anything You Say’. This triggered something off in Martyn, and he was given full rein to develop his unique disco-funk rhythms in a lengthy guitar solo. In fact all 3 of us developed our own intricate parts over the weeks.
In August I saw the classic black and white movie ‘Casablanca’. It dragged me through the whole gamut of emotions and I was moved to write a love song. ‘Casablancan Night’ got the usual heavy sprinkling of magic misery dust – “See love in its death row” and “I can only sing to you, pray for you, read our last rites.” Siouxsie & The Banshees‘ ‘Happy House‘ was going through my head at the time, and you can hear that influence in my staccato bass playing in the verses. I tried to capture the wistfulness of Mike Nesmith’s ‘Rio’ in my vocals. This strange blend of influences seemed to gel. I was biased, but I honestly believed that each successive song I wrote was better than the last, and while I was working on ‘Casablanca’ I thought “wait ‘til the lads hear this one.” The lads were indeed bowled over by it. We all thought it was hit single material and put everything into our arrangement to ensure it would be. I loved Martyn’s soaring intro and his morse code message of a guitar solo. Perry’s pounding tom-toms gave ‘Casablanca’ that extra layer of menace and foreboding. Great stuff.
Every gig we’d played so far had either been in the city centre or in south Liverpool, but having responded to a newspaper advert placed by the Norris Green Centurion Social Club, which virtually begged bands to play there, we made our first foray into the north. The word “Centurion” probably alluded to the average age of the clientele, and the venue was desperate to attract new young members. Norris Green itself was one of those districts which could best be described as “challenging”. We arrived, on the evening of the 26th August, in a van borrowed from ‘Friends of the Earth.’ While we were unloading the gear a disgusted gentleman yelled from his bedroom window across the road “F**k off. You weirdo bastards.” I was expecting a lot more of this sort of abuse in the hours ahead, but it didn’t materialise. The club was sparsely populated by well dressed elderly people who shuffled around at the rear of the hall, drinking milk stout, smoking, chatting, playing one armed bandit machines and refusing to take a blind bit of notice of our performance. A middle aged lady, who should have known better than to have been there in the first place, told Dave “The singer can’t sing”. I recognised that my “style” might not be to everybody’s taste, but when she added “That guitarist – he’s very tasty but he can’t play” I knew she didn’t have a clue what she was on about. This reminded me of a pig ignorant comment someone in work had made about the Sex Pistols being sh**e, to which I responded “Do you not realise how good you’ve got to be just to be sh**e?” ‘The Brotherhood of Man’, ‘Dollar’, or maybe even ‘Bucks Fizz’ might have felt at home at the Norris Green Centurion Social Club, but with its spangly stage curtains and its coffin dodging members, this was no place for No Exit. We took our money and ran.
The NME’s (New Musical Express) gig guide for 23 September listed our next performance at the Pyramid Club in Temple Street DIRECTLY below The Jam’s concert at Leicester’s Granby Hall. This was no mere coincidence. It was a portent of our impending elevation to the big time. Unfortunately, the Pyramid Club closed down and our gig was cancelled. No matter, shortly after, we got the lucky break I thought we deserved. Purely on spec, Dave and I visited Liverpool Polytechnic in Tithebarn Street. We spoke to the Social Secretary, a genial young Irishman called Conleth McConville. Without even listening to our music he offered us the support slot to The Icicle Works on the John Peel Roadshow which was due to come to Liverpool on 12 November. We received a letter on 24 September officially confirming our booking. This was a dream come true. We would actually be able to speak face to face with Peel, and maybe persuade him to give us a session on his show. Who knows what doors might be opened? In anticipation of illuminating the bigger stages we’d be playing in the future, Slug bought an impressive multi coloured lighting system (including strobe lights), and this made its debut at IM Marsh College in Aigburth on 1st October. There were also two whirling orange lights; these and the strobes were reserved exclusively for our new opening number ‘Casablancan Night’. To create the right ambience Dave lit joss sticks and played a tape of Gregorian chants before we went on. I found the whole concoction very intoxicating.
I felt sure we were on the brink of Jam type greatness. Pete Creswell and I went to see them at the Royal Court on 25th September. They’d just released ‘The Bitterest Pill (I Ever had to Swallow)‘ and were at the top of their game. The audience consisted of a mass of mods in Parkas and archery target T shirts. Pete and I, though only 22, were considerably older and taller than virtually all the other fans; we stuck out like sore thumbs. The Jam had scored 3 number one hits – ‘Going Underground’, ‘Start!‘ and ‘A Town called Malice’ – and the adulation this brought them should not have affected my appreciation of the band, but it did. It was more personal to me before they made it big. I had followed their fortunes from the start of their professional recording career, and I personally willed success on them. Now that they were stars my work was done, and it was time for me to move on. Anyway, there wasn’t much more for them to achieve now, and 3 months later they split. R.I.P. What a great band, and what a hard act for No Exit to follow, but follow it we could and follow it we must.
Inspiration continued to strike me and, in October, I presented yet another opus ‘Don’t Walk Away’ to the band. This caused us some work – the interchanges in the instrumental solo evolved over a number of weeks. I don’t recall any particular artist as having inspired this one. I played bass in the choruses in a style similar to our own ‘Breakdown’, and in the verses with a fractured rhythm – a little like ‘In the Dark’ . No Exit’s own sound had proven the main catalyst for ‘Don’t Walk Away’ and it became my favourite song to sing and play. I was particularly pleased with the rhymes “I can’t spell it out more clearly or say it more sincerely”and “Get away from all this madness, this soul destroying sadness.” I was happy that I had written a very good song. With the Polytechnic gig coming up we rehearsed harder and paid more attention than ever to the fine detail of the songs. We crammed in more gigs at the Masonic, at I.M. Marsh college, and at the Left Bank Bistro (now Lennon’s Bar) in Mathew Street. Posters for all our gigs at the Left Bank featured Dave’s artistic representations of works by Toulouse Lautrec – naturellement. On one occasion we were supported by Craig Charles, an upcoming comic / poet, destined for greater things. As a child he had briefly been in my dad’s choir at St Bridget’s, but behaved so badly that he was invited to leave. Red Dwarf or no Red Dwarf, dad remembered him only as “a right little bugger.”
Everything in the garden was rosy. We wanted to notify record companies of our presence on the John Peel Roadshow so Dave organised a photo session, intending to send publicity shots here and there. I arranged to meet Perry in the Aigburth Arms one Sunday morning. On entering the bar Perry spotted the young man who had sold him the drum kit. It turned out that Perry hadn’t settled a single penny of the debt. Confident he’d not been seen we scurried away to the bus stop. After a short while Dave joined us, then two rather less welcome characters attached themselves to our company. There was a tall guy brandishing a pint glass with menace and the very short man to whom Perry was indebted. He snarled “Where’s the f**king money, Perry…hand over the f**king money…money Perry…money, money, money, Perry” each word being accompanied by a swinging fist which was either blocked by Perry or missed its target altogether. Perry told Dave and me to “stay out of this.” We didn’t need asking twice. What could have been a very nasty situation soon deteriorated into a farce with the tiring assailant engaging Perry in a very one sided wrestling match. During the course of this he jumped onto Perry as if taking a piggyback ride. Just as it was becoming clear this fight was going nowhere the tall guy landed a succession of carefully placed, solid punches on Perry’s defenceless face. The farce was over. Dave suggested that the violence should stop and that surely we could come to some amicable arrangement. Everybody seemed relieved at the cessation of hostilities and it was agreed that No Exit would pay off the debt in full next day.
We caught the bus to Allerton to meet Martyn, and despite, or rather because of Perry’s battered face, we went ahead with the photo session – another great anecdote for future interviews. I wore a Japanese sunset T-shirt bought from Top Girl, together with my black PVC trousers. In an effort to make us look like a group Perry, who was also dressed in a white T-shirt with red markings, lent me a studded leather wrist band and a red sweat band to wear on my left bicep. He wore another on his right bicep. Martyn referred to us disparagingly as “Twins”. I lent Martyn, who was the least fashion conscious of all of us (by far), my leopard skin T-shirt. As the session progressed, poor Perry’s face started to swell up and his eyes began to narrow. I jokingly offered him my Japanese sunset T-shirt, but he refused… The following evening, I personally delivered the cash to the pint sized aggressor. He apologised for his behaviour, explaining that he was at the end of his tether. With no prospect of Perry getting a job the drum kit became the property of No Exit.
Just a couple of weeks later, on 29 October, Dave and Martyn went out to celebrate our school friend, Ian McEvoy’s bithday. That night, outside the chip shop on Rose Lane, Martyn got pushed and jostled by a thug. Dave asked him to stop, but was met with the response “Why, what are you going to do about it?” The word “it” was accentuated by an empty pint glass being smashed in Dave’s face. He was left in a pool of blood and scarred for life. Dave attended to his usual managerial duties at St Katherines College, Crompton’s Lane just 5 days later wearing a giant white bandage on his face. His bravery and defiance and his dedication to the No Exit cause were typical of the man. Nothing was going to stop us now.
On 5th November, just one week before the John Peel Roadshow, Dave received a letter explaining that, because the Polytechnic was unable to get a late licence, the show had been shortened and No Exit were off the bill. It was a bitter blow, but never mind, there were sure to be other opportunities. It was only in the days leading up to the gig that it emerged the Poly did have a late licence and that another band called ‘The Conversation’ were going to support the Icicle Works. And who was the manager of The Conversation? Why – none other than the Poly’s Social Secretary, Mr Conleth McConville. Dave immediately despatched a letter alerting the Poly’s top brass to the presence of a rat in their midst, and Con McConville, I suspect, found his position untenable. A few months later he re-emerged as a DJ on BBC Radio Merseyside’s Sunday evening “alternative music” show. He was actually quite good. I, for one, was prepared to let byegones be byegones. Dave held his grudge for many years to come.
“Dancing”, at the same time as singing and playing the bass, occasionally caused me problems. It may not have affected my bass playing, but it sometimes did my singing. I was fine in rehearsals, but at gigs you tend to give that little bit more, when the adrenaline’s pumping and anxiety dries out your throat. With hindsight it’s easy to see that, if I was hitting notes at the top AND bottom of my vocal range in virtually every song, I would inevitably exhaust myself, but dancing as well could only accelerate a loss of tone and of tuning. The upshot was, that when it worked, my singing was highly effective, and when it didn’t, it was dreadful. The dancing had to go. Dave suggested we try a female backing singer, and Martyn said he knew someone in his workplace at Alder Hey Hospital whose sister might fit the bill. All credit to Liz Souness for learning ‘Hero’, ‘In the Dark’ and ‘Don’t Walk Away’. The problem was that she had never sung in a band before, and in the din of the rehearsal room, it was obvious her voice was too weak for rock ‘n’ roll… Well, that was my take on it anyway, but the others wanted to persevere. After this unsatisfactory rehearsal we all went for a beer downstairs at Rigby’s on Dale Street, and I’m sorry to say that I was quite rude to Liz over the course of the next couple of hours. My position at the forefront of No Exit was under threat, and I was defending my corner. Quite how that poor girl prevented herself from punching me in the gob I shall never know, but my shameful antics helped convince everyone that I would not be dislodged. Sorry, Liz
Our last gig of the year was at the Masonic on New Year’s Eve where we were supported by a bunch of U2 rip off merchants called ‘Boy Secret’. Despite my aversion to their inflated egos I found their interpretation of David Essex’s ‘Rock On’ most appealing. Because there was a late licence we were permitted to carry on playing until midnight. After we’d finished our set we invited onstage a German guy called Heinz. He was a middle aged, grey-blonde haired, denim clad wanderer whom Perry’s mum had befriended. She assured us he was a very good musician. Though Heinz spoke little English he played some mean blues on Martyn’s guitar and on a harmonica. Martyn moved on to the drums. Initially Perry squatted stage left playing percussion but gradually began to prowl around the pub paradiddling any inanimate object he could lay his sticks on. I stuck to the bass. We played a number of variants of the twelve bar blues, and although we hadn’t practised with him beforehand, it just seemed to click with Heinz. He was very professional, and I was genuinely flattered when he told me I played “good bass”. This couldn’t have been the same Heinz who had a number 5 hit in 1963 with ‘Just Like Eddie’, could it? Probably not, but either way, 1982 ended on a happy note for band and audience. I felt very optimistic about 1983; I just knew, this would be our year.
Unfortunately we were never to play the Masonic again. We already had two bookings arranged for next year, but at the end of March, the police took away the Masonic’s liquor licence on the grounds that it was the drugs capital of North West England. In all my time as a performer and as a punter I’d never seen drugs traded or cannabis smoked (admittedly, though, I was short sighted). For No Exit it was the end of an era. The Left Bank Bistro took the Masonic’s place as our ‘bread and butter’ gigging venue.