Dave pressed ahead with his plans for the album. He tried to persuade us that the ‘Wheels within Wheels’ recording from The System was excellent and our over all performance rendered the broken string fiasco irrelevant. His sage advice was rejected, and consequently one of our best songs was omitted. ‘Anything you say‘ was also overlooked on the basis that we couldn’t possibly fit all our favourites on the 45 minute tape, and in the end only 9 songs were included. One Sunday morning in February we had a photo session at St Andrews Church in Rodney Street. Its overgrown grounds were dominated by a large pyramid shaped tomb, and Dave took a number of typically moody black and white shots of us. Only one of these would eventually appear on the inside cover of the, as yet, untitled album. He’d already selected the artwork for the front cover – a black and white, 16th century French wood etching of a devil seemingly perched on a man’s shoulders, but on closer inspection you couldn’t tell where the devil began and the man ended. That artist may well have been on Sputnik at the time.
In the evening Dave gave us cassette copies of the album, stating “This is a good representation of our sound”. Without having heard it, I replied “It’s not.” “It is“, he insisted. “NO IT’S NOT” I argued… Dave said no more. After all the trouble he had gone to, it must have been soul destroying to have been confronted with such negativity. He was right. It was absolutely representative of No Exit’s sound. I was too inarticulate to express my real point which was that, after 3 years together, we were releasing an album, the recorded quality of which was way, way below that of the professionals. After all that time, the songs hadn’t been given the treatment they deserved – weeks (or months) in a proper recording studio with a great producer, using all the recording gadgetry money could buy. The Pistols, The Jam, The Cure, The Banshees, U2 and The Bunnymen ALL had that, so why not us? Thankfully, Martyn was more realistic about what we’d achieved, given our limited financial resources, and Dave went ahead with the album regardless. Tears for Fears had recently released their great ‘Songs from the Big Chair’ album, and Martyn suggested ‘Songs from the Wilderness’ for ours – a wholly appropriate title which was agreed upon unanimously. Slug once again printed the sleeves and labels, and Dave credited my songs to Trust / No Exit… I bit my tongue.
Throughout the winter I’d been working on two new songs, but how could I possibly better ‘Wheels’? I couldn’t. I had to go in a different direction. Martyn and I both liked The Who’s ‘You Better You Bet’ and admired its key change at the end. “A key change”, Martyn said, “now that’s the mark of a great songwriter.” I had never before attempted that feat, but as the chorus of my own ‘Love is There’ developed, it became apparent that I could take it up a couple of notes, thereby achieving the key change. In fact I could take it up a further couple of notes, and then another and another, but I decided not to be a smart arse and restricted myself to just the one.
The verses were somewhat surreal:
“The shameful waste of drip drying dreams.
Tests my faith, tears at the seams.
A cigarette for you. A silhouette of you.
A sea of sweat from me.
One more regret for me.
I never said this was do or die.
I never saw the sense in an eye to eye.
I never saw your tears fall from the sky.”
Then it was into a very strong, poppy chorus:
“Anyone can see love is there,
Deeper than your thoughts,
More pure than prayer.
I’m trying to understand what it’s all about.
Wonder if I ever will find out.”
After the second chorus we slipped into the key change. Martyn was the only one inconvenienced by this as he had to remember a whole new chord sequence. I simply had to move my fingers up two frets on my bass, and it didn’t make a blind bit of difference to what Colin played. We never recorded ‘Love is There’, and that’s a shame because it was a good song.
In February I began work on a solo project – an orchestral arrangement of ‘Wheels within Wheels‘ along the lines of Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars’. I thought that a big production might generate record company interest in No Exit. I never discussed my songs with the band until they were completed, and I certainly wasn’t going to mention my plans for ‘Wheels’ to them. If there had been outside interference at this early stage I would have quickly lost confidence and abandoned the project altogether. So as usual, my work was carried out in private, where I didn’t have to justify my decisions to anyone else. Keith Leary, who had recently transformed ‘Scope’ into a synthesizer pop band called Kinetics, (later ‘Passion Polka’) was the one person I did confide in. I’d worked out all the parts for flutes, violins and glockenspiels on my guitar and I asked if his synth could reproduce those sounds. It could, but not only that, Keith was prepared to programme the drum machine, come along to the recording studio, lay the synth parts down, and leave me there to finish the guitars and vocals. I honestly don’t understand why he was so kind to me. This was not a “one off” act of kindness either; he was always generous in dispensing advice, and in later years, when he owned and managed his own recording studio, he allowed me discounted studio time. Keith never once asked for anything in return – never. For him my thanks were enough. Thanks again, Keith.
The cassettes, probably no more than 20, were put on sale in HMV, Probe and a couple of other city centre record shops. We sent copies to various local publications to court opinion. The reviewer from ‘Bluer Skies’ (Echo & the Bunnymen’s fanzine) said that it was “…excellent – and I mean excellent” but inexplicably failed to expand on this high praise. Such an inarticulate review, only two sentences long, no matter how positive, was never going to help our sales. Peter Trollope wrote “Hero is the opening track (it wasn’t) and a strong indication where their strengths lie – in strong melody and working together as a tight unit. Other highlights on side one include The Stories You Tell and the engaging Don’t Call Me Grapevine Face.” The overall reaction to our album was muted and, as usual, there was no interest shown whatsoever by anybody in the recording / music publishing industry.
Between December and March we performed only once – at a social club in Widnes – to a small crowd of polite, but zombified teenagers. The policy of not playing pubs had led to our live appearances dwindling to a disappointing trickle. On the last Sunday in March we appeared at The Everyman Bistro – just the sort place we did want to play. This was a students’ and trendies’ stronghold. Unfortunately, most of the students had already gone home for the Easter break, but there was still a fair sized crowd. Mark Roberts, a reviewer from ‘Making Time’ magazine, wrote:
“Sunday night in Liverpool is a nightmare. It is not only quiet but also pervaded by an air of hangover fallout. And so it was NO EXIT’S turn to play the Sunday night bash at the Bistro and liven the place up a bit. A gig needs two things to go off well – A good band and a responsive audience. In this case the audience was largely made up of ‘Bistro Kids’, the type who don’t think it’s “particularly clever to drink, thank you very much” and who dress like Wallies in the name of Art. That’s right folks, FACE readers. These were in the red corner.
In the blue corner we had Graham Trust, (bass and vocals) Martyn Gilbert (guitar) and Colin McCormick (drums).
It is impossible to categorise the band’s music. Pop music? Yes. Psychedelic? Only Martyn Gilbert’s shirt. Punk? Many of the old D-I-Y virtues came through here. New Romantic? Not in any way whatsoever.
They opened their set with the powerful ‘Real World‘. While many bands pretend to have all the answers, ‘Real World’ is typical of No Exit’s knack of going against the grain – the lads are asking the questions.
‘Is there an honest man anywhere?’
Well, it may not be the height of philosophical debate but when most bands couldn’t give a sh*t anyway, so long as the hair’s looking good, I find this very refreshing. Musically I defy anyone not to like ‘Real World’.
‘Martyn’s Brain’, ‘Stories you tell’ and ‘Wheels within Wheels’dominate the set. When songs are instantly likeable, like these are, writing new material must be a facing. The songs carry themselves along with great ease. They strike the ear and stick in the mind.
Every time I see NO EXIT I get the feeling that they have been drinking confidence and professionalism cocktails at the pub. They have mastered their material and learned so much about stage craft in the past few months that it is difficult to describe them without sounding sycophantic. Having said this, they are great to watch and listen to. In an age when Roland Rat can be described as one of the least manipulated pop personalities about, NO EXIT are like a breath of fresh air. The gritty independence and honesty of this band reminds me of what attracted me to Dr Feelgood and Graham Parker when the pompous warblings of Genesis, Yes and Horslips were ‘all the rave’.”
I wished everyone could have had Mark’s grasp on what No Exit was all about, but he was a rare breed. How long could we carry on banging our heads against a brick wall?
Back at The Ministry we were working hard on a song called ‘2,000 Years’ which was quite a challenge – rhythmically. It had a syncopated bass guitar part, which means that the “off” beat is accentuated. Think of The Police’s ‘Bring on the Night’ or ‘The Bed’s too Big Without You’ without the white reggae lilt and you won’t be too far off. Inevitably religion had a major part to play in ‘2,000 years’ – the clue was in the title:
“No, my child, you mustn’t brood,
You will drown yourself in solitude.
Can you help me? Can you help me?
When I say ‘Good God above,
Will we really find true love
On the other side? On the other side.’
Early morning greet the dawn,
Will I curse the day that I was born?
Any excuses, any old lies.
Can I still believe my failing eyes?
When you say you will never
Will you ever leave me to my own devices?”
Then it was into the impassioned chorus
“We would wait 2,000 years ‘til you show us the way.
All I need is one more smile to brighten up my day.”
Every March, the Prudential rewarded its staff with a productivity bonus. In the past I used this to get myself out of debt. This year I cleared around £500, the lions share of which I earmarked for a day in ‘Studio One’ (a reputable 24 track studio in Saughall, near Chester). I booked myself in for the end of April, leaving plenty of time to get my ideas for ‘Wheels‘ together. In early April Keith invited me round to his house to program the drum and synth parts. I played him the song on my guitar, and he applied a basic drum pattern to it. Then I demonstrated all the orchestral parts, and he quickly programmed these into his synth. Given that this was a very expensive piece of kit the quality of the sounds was disappointing. I liked the glockenspiel, but the violins and flutes seemed like rough approximations of the real thing. Damn. This was not going to end up sounding like ‘Life on Mars’. Still, beggars can’t be choosers. Keith gave me a cassette copy of what he’d done. I took it home and practised my electric and bass guitar parts and vocals (for which I’d worked out 3 part harmonies) over and over and over again for the next few weeks. Keith reminded me that you should never enter a recording studio unless you’re fully prepared. It’s not a rehearsal studio. Time is money – YOUR money.
I was not in the least bit concerned when the issue of adding another member to the band was raised again. (my thoughts were elsewhere) On 18th April the Merseymart – a free newspaper – announced that “…No Exit would like to experiment with the use of a singer. They are looking for someone with both a good voice and a strong visual impact.” Needless to say, we were hardly inundated with applicants. Well actually, we didn’t get a single response. That just added to the whole negative vibe, and we still had no gigs to look forward to.
‘Wheels within Wheels‘ was recorded on 28 April and I was very, very pleased with the outcome. A few days later I told Martyn what I’d done, and he agreed to break the news to Dave. I was too much of a coward to tell him myself. Dave, not unexpectedly, hit the roof. “The selfish bastard” was one of his more restrained utterances. Martyn spent some considerable time trying to calm him down, and eventually managed to placate him with “Graham is not like other people.” Although I’m not entirely sure what he meant by that, I took it as a great compliment anyway. Thanks to Martyn, Dave’s reaction, upon hearing my “masterpiece” was confined to a few sniggers and mildly derogatory comments. I’d got away with it, but I’d done an incredibly divisive thing which sent out an enormous pulsating negative signal to the others. Was I losing interest in the band? Was my ego out of control? Who the hell did I think I was?
The consequences of my actions came to a head in mid May, when Colin told us, at a rehearsal, that he was giving drumming up completely so he could do other things. He would not be joining another band, and neither would he be playing our one remaining gig at Rudi’s wine bar in Cumberland Street. Dave and Martyn wanted to find another drummer, but I flatly refused to consider going through that whole wearisome process again. I wanted out, but not until we’d fulfilled our commitment to play Rudi’s. Perry agreed to drum for us one last time, and we had half a dozen rehearsals in the basement of a flat in Ivanhoe Road. It was around this time that the news filtered out that Colin had joined a band called Cracked Actor………Cracked Actor? ………CRACKED ACTOR? ……..Yes, exactly. I never saw Colin again. The last I heard of him was a year or so later when he sent Slug a letter from India where he was on a motorcycle journey, trying to find himself. “He’d better find himself before I bloody find him”, I joked.
Saturday 22nd June was a beautiful day, and it was still sunny as I made my way to Rudi’s in the evening. I felt very sad but also very relieved that it was nearly all over. There was nothing remarkable about the gig other than how well Perry played after having not drummed for so long. So ended No Exit’s marathon slog of gigs. I believed we had played about 150, but that was a preposterous claim. The scrapbook by no means details all of them, but in the first 12 months alone, it records 33. Overall we actually played around 80, but it may have been as many as 90 – it just felt like a lot more. When you take out the 7 months in 1983 when we didn’t play at all, we averaged more than 25 gigs a year. That was an incredible number for a bunch of amateurs performing their own music in a city with severely restricted opportunities to play any live music whatsoever. Had we been a cabaret band we may well have played more often and been paid better, but I am proud to say we were a genuinely independent band with high principles. To our disappointment those principles didn’t bring us commercial acclaim, but the hit parade is only one means of measuring success. The measure which mattered most was the one in my head, which reassured me that No Exit had been an artistic success. Given the choice between the two I would pick art over commerce every single time (but, as a commercial failure I suppose I would say that).
Given the constraints of money and time, our achievements, as demonstrated by ‘Songs from the Wilderness’ were highly commendable. The fact that we weren’t signed to a record company was a blessing which gave us complete artistic control. No pressure was put on me by money men to write in a certain style, and I wasn’t contractually obliged to churn out an agreed number of songs within a given time period. As it was, I had all the time I needed to let my ideas come to full fruition. None of my songs was ill conceived; they were the best I could have possibly written.
For nearly four years Dave had been an unpaid guru, working boundlessly behind the scenes, and his unswerving faith instilled in us the confidence to keep going even in the face of despair. Alas, quality did not out. And Slug? What else could Slug have done to advertise our presence on this earth other than wrap the moon in a spider’s web and plant a giant No Exit light on it? Martyn? Well, you know my feelings about Martyn. They don’t come much better than that – a gritty, independent minded kindred spirit who fought hard against the prevailing trends in music and fashion (but particularly fashion). His guitar work marks him out as an innovator, a true original. Perry and Colin were superb drummers in their own different ways. No Exit had everything but luck, and we just had to accept that it was not meant to be. Ours was a great band which didn’t deserve to fail so abjectly – but I suppose I would say that too, wouldn’t I?
On my 25th birthday ‘Frankie’ by Sister Sledge hit the number one spot. It made me wonder why I’d bothered investing all my spare time and money in the band when crap like that satisfied public demand… Anyway, I had business to attend to, and went into town to buy myself the cheapest drum machine I could find – Korg Superdrums. The afternoon and evening were spent experimenting with it. I was meant to be meeting the lads at The System that night, and Phil Williams rang me half a dozen times between 11 and 1 o’clock, in an effort to get me there. Dave had made a giant birthday card out of a blown up photo of me standing on my front doorstep striking a particularly gormless pose. But I wasn’t in the mood for frivolity. I always hated my birthdays and so remained, quite contentedly, in my bedroom tapping out drum beats all night.
The words of The Jam’s ‘In the City’ had been taunting me for months – “In the city there’s a thousand faces all shining bright, and those golden faces are under 25. They wanna say, they’re gonna tell you about the young idea.” It was clear that I was now too old to be a rock star (or a credible one, at least). So had I wasted my youth? If I’d taken my insurance career seriously and passed my exams I might, one day, have ended up as an office manager like Mr Hickey, or maybe as a Senior Underwriter, and on good money. But had I wasted my youth? I could have had cars and girlfriends and spent my money on nice clothes and going to fancy restaurants and snazzy nightclubs. I could have bought a house, got married and had kids and led a decent, sober existence. So I had wasted my youth, then? ……………………….Hell, no!!! Credit me with some sense, PLEASE. What mattered more to me was that I had written two or three very good songs, a few good ones and a few not so good. That was infinitely more important to my self esteem than anything else life had to offer. There was at least a possibility that, if I died now, people would remember me as a songwriter and not as an insurance clerk. The mantra which ran through my head while I was out jogging came to mind now – “Just keep going, Graybo. Just keep going.” So I kept on with my songwriting. I had to. I was too far gone now. It was in my blood. From now on, I was going to have total control over my songs, and would record them as a one man band.
In July I met a guy called Phil, who was an associate of my sister Barbara. “I hear your group is no more”, he said. “No”, I replied, “it’s No Exit.”
Graham Trust, December 2007
No Exit played a minimum 33 gigs in their first year as a jobbing band.
Those recorded for posterity are:
26 November – Brady’s (formerly Eric’s), Mathew Street.
30 November – The Masonic, Berry Street.
8 December – The Masonic., Berry Street.
17 December – Daley’s Dandelion, Dale Street.
7 January – Daley’s Dandelion, Dale Street
21 January – Daley’s Dandelion, Dale Street.
27 January – The Mayflower, Fazakerley Street.
30 January – Christ’s & Notre Dame College, Taggart Avenue.
12 February – St Katherine’s College, Taggart Avenue.
15 February – The Masonic, Berry Street.
25 February – Daley’s Dandelion, Dale Street.
7 March – The Masonic, Berry Street.
22 March – Star & Garter, St John’s Precinct.
7 April – Baltimore Rooms, Kirklands Wine Bar, Hardman Street.
8 April – The Masonic, Berry Street.
23 April – University Carnatic Hall, Rose Lane.
date unknown – The Masonic, Berry Street.
” ” ” ” ” “
” ” ” ” ” “
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” ” – Party at 6 Sefton Park Drive, Toxteth.
29 July – Baltimore Rooms, Kirklands Wine Bar, Hardman Street.
13 August – The Masonic, Berry Street.
24 August – The Masonic, Berry Street.
26 August – Norris Green Centurion Club,
2 September – The Masonic, Berry Street.
1 October – IM Marsh College, Barkhill Road.
7 October – The Left Bank Bistro, Mathew Street.
10 October – The Masonic, Berry Street
3 November – St Katherine’s College, Taggart Avenue.
13 November – The Masonic, Berry Street.
24 November – IM Marsh College, Barkhill Road.
26 November – The Left Bank Bistro, Mathew Street.