There are music albums (vinyl, cassette, cd) that creep into the psyche. There are musical artists/artistes that creep into the psyche. There are a handful of albums that matter to the person who listens to music everyday for pleasure. If you’re John Peel, Whispering Bob Harris, Tony Blackburn or…..many of the other ‘music DJ/writers who do it for a living’ brigade, you probably have hundreds in your collection of albums or bands/artists you simply go back to again and again. But, as an individual who happens upon songs from the radio, you get 3,4,5,6 dozen song favourites that stay forever locked in your heart. Chosen one’s you’d take to a desert island.
My number one and two favourite artists are Bolan and Morrissey. Roxy Music/David Bowie number three and four. And yet, if you asked me if I would take their whole collection to a desert island, I’d say “No!” If you asked me if I would take Deaf School’s 3 (now 4) albums? Yes…definitely. All 4 are now entrenched. How did it happen that a student band from Liverpool got it’s hooks into my brain? Well…..I was in hospital for about 10 weeks with a complicated osteomyelitis symptom in the lower leg that could have resulted in an amputation. I was 17 years old at the time. Needless to say I was a bit panicky. Into the hospital radio headphones that came out of the wall, came a song. Deaf School’s first single ‘What a way to end it all?’ Me? Not maudlin at the time, but pretty low with the situation of worriesome thoughts. I heard this song and….I got into what? The lyrics? No actually. It was the overall feel and tune. It was parody. Exaggerated self pity. Deaf School sang about the thought process of intended act of suicide that was not actually intentional. Inherent musical influences within one song? Take a listen. Sidewalk French cafe, Tamela Motown morsecode guitar notes, old school banjo/ukulele, girl backing singer 1950s romantic ahhs and so much more.
I got out of hospital, cried a lot at my escape from the nightmares of imaginings (with leg intact), thanked the doctors and nurses for the blessed attention they provided and went to town on my crutches and bought the album. Sitting with said crutches in Mum and Dads’ house I played that album over and over. It was an album of infinite beauty and epic songwriting abilities. At first, I was a bit ‘WHAT?’ I already played in a band, wrote songs and went out gigging in pubs. Basic stuff of 6 or 7 chords, several covers and three or four originals that I wrote, and a view on life born from my limited experiences of youth, love, hardships and imagined adult possibility thinking. But here was an album that changed my whole thinking both musically and lyrically. Musicianship abilities a class apart. Just pre punk but no rock anthem inclusions. Quirky, yet very, very clever. Synergy of sound with stops, starts and rhythms that took incredible journeys.
They were formed early to mid 1970s. Forty plus years ago. Way ahead of their time. Their songs were worldly wise, surreal, quirky, an observation of human nature, oozed with eclectic influences or just achingly sad. I realise now, but not then, how great Deaf School were with the subject matter and inclusions in those lyrics. Not then. I was too shallow. I was too young in emotional intelligence and experience. How did Deaf School, the band, tap into such deep, insightfulness of happenings, lifestyle and relationships? They were young recent art school students. A bunch of ‘get together individuals in a hall and see what happens’. About a dozen and a half people by all accounts, eventually whittled down to the members of the band I know and love. Sadly, two members have died.
- Bette Bright (real name Anne Martin) – vocals
- Enrico Cadillac Jnr (real name Steve Allen) – vocals
- Eric Shark (real name Thomas John Davis) – vocals (b.1950 – d.2010)
- Ian Ritchie – woodwind instruments
- Max Ripple (real name John Wood) – keyboards
- Cliff Hanger (real name Clive Langer) – guitar
- Steve “Average” Lindsey – bass guitar
- Tim Whittaker – drums (b. Timothy John Whittaker, 8 October 1952, Clitheroe, Lancashire – d. 20 July 1996, Liverpool)
Night life, heartache and lost connections in ‘Taxi’.
After a couple of dozen listens to their first album, I picked up the guitar and wrote a song. I’m no great lyricist, but I deviated from my normal style. First verse….
’Don’t want to rule the world.
Don’t want to be a politician.
All I want’s a steady job that pays me into fashion.
Posing on the dance floor with this weeks hair.
I’m a boy? I’m a girl? I’m an in-between?
I’ll make you stop and stare’.
Discos, neon signs, back street romance.
Pouting lips drink-gin in tonics
It’s the latest way to dance.
We all love the city, it’s unnatural highs.
Surprise relies on what’s improvised.
I wanted to change and write most of my lyrics in story fashion. I recognised that Deaf School told stories. They didn’t sing the, at times, sugary mundane, pop observational 60s main stream…….or intricate word play weaving constructions akin to Dylan, Bowie, Ferry lyrics or write basic ‘Baby, Baby, I love you’ or have the drug induced edgy rock and roll histrionic lyrics. Didn’t sing like my first love, the Beatles, in their absolutely brilliant observant quality in love songs followed by cynicism, drug induced imagery and off the wall insightful kilter look on life. Didn’t sing in a fantastically imagined Tolkien/William Blake world like my second love Bolan. They grabbed their eclectic influences from many sources. OK…. No songs that tore my heart apart with their subject matter. But whacked my senses sideways with their intricacies and musicianship. And actually…..Oh WOW….they were good. Not good….genius. That lucky happening of like minded people that had that certain ‘Je ne sais quoi’.
One song off the first album in particular, ‘the Final Act’, had an air of self analysis and insight for me. Why? Because I’d already written a song in the past that went:
’Look at me, what do you see?
A burnt out figure playing gigs ‘til three.
Long way off from my flash Rolls Royce.
Haven’t even got no rock and roll voice.
Look at you, oh so dull.
Painted faces, party dolls,
Escape your four grey walls but not security,
That’s no life, just obscurity.
A faded velvet suit with no fixed abode.
Boy it’s getting rough I feel all alone.
I’m not made up, I’m just a drag,
Living off booze and fags’.
Life’s a game, one golden rule.
Act like a star, but feel a fool.
Your the money, that pays my rent,
It ain’t easily got, but it’s easily spent.
Maybe it’ll get easier as time goes by.
I’d like to tell you everything’s alright,
But that would be a lie’.
Bette also sang of both self despair/criticism/analysis of presentation to the public eye (Don’t like what I see in my mirror’) and what was borne from the imagery of what people perceive in imagined thought of the persona. The singer/actress/dancer, in front of their eyes. Bette sings of an artiste, who is sought after the performance is over, by ‘admirers and friends who’ve waited for hours’. The fragility of her wanting to be perfect. Wrapped up in her appearance to the public, whilst having the underlying realistic knowledge that in what she presented….‘Had no time to be frightened or scared, but nobody cared….but me……just me!’ By the way……that high note she reaches! Cheered at live gigs on hitting the seemingly impossible note.
Deaf School’s lyrics? Always that insightful look at situations. And yet. When I was young the songs were sing a long catchy gems. The full meaning of the lyrics lost on me. Maybe their brilliance, that was there inside the songs’ lyrical content, crept upon me as I lived my life. From a group of youngsters at their age, to write those type of lyrics, at the time of their own lives, was pretty damn remarkable.
Nowadays? They’re still gigging. They’ve also got a new album out. Listen to the four albums and……..all is well with my world.
Oh!…………..And they can also rock and roll…….
Below. Some links.