How can I start this piece in any other way than by offering my heartiest congratulations to FACELIFT on the occasion of issue 20. As someone who jumped on the fanzine bandwagon as a direct result of Facelift, I understand what it entails and just what a Holy Grail the next issue becomes. I can remember almost as if it were yesterday knocking on the door in Clyde Road, West Didsbury in answer to a tiny advert for Facelift #2 in Record Collector that mentioned my hero Kevin Ayers and there was Phil, a kindred spirit surrounded by the same records, pan of dubious curry, junk and magnificent chaos. For me it was all an awakening, a rebirth and a vital journey back to living the music I had loved but, without someone with which to share it, had never realised quite how much.
So tell us a funny gig, said Phil's email…. I suppose I'm lucky, immensely lucky, in having a track record of awesome gigs that I've really enjoyed for so many differing reasons. I have no trainspotter's memory for dates, song titles and set lists - what stays in my consciousness is always atmosphere and mood. Some gigs are memorable because they were expeditions, long journeys on dark nights to distant venues, riding round featureless one way systems to arrive at a dimly-lit doorway with a shredded poster and the kind of frozen welcome that will be forever Yorkshire. I recall that Facelift's own excellent Phil Miller gig was adjacent to a railway arch where a human head had just been discovered - it didn't particularly worry me at the time until the rest of the poor bloke's body turned up in the West Midlands fairly close to where we were attending a Caravan gig. You think of songs like 'Headloss' and wonder sometimes…..
Kevin Ayers gigs are not funny, usually I'm far too nervous that all goes well and standing with fingers and legs crossed that there are no powercuts/ earthquakes/ noisy punters in the quiet bits etc. makes holding a pint uncomfortable. But there have been embarrassing moments - I took a large amount of cash from the sale of Kevin T-shirts down to a gig at the Powerhaus to hand over to Jo, the manager. The gig was packed and loud, conversation was impossible so we slipped through a side door to somewhere quiet to sort it out. It was a dingy alley just outside the gents' toilet. I was in the act of handing over a large wad of used notes to an obviously
foreign gentleman (Jo is Belgian, bless him) when the two excellent lads from Ultramarine wandered by. 'Hello, you must be Martin', introductions were made and a splendid time had by all, but it haunts me to this day that they deduced who I was, clearly an eminent and respectable citizen, handing over money to a man outside a toilet. I knew exactly how George Michael felt.
Fun has to be synonymous with the Wizards of Twiddly though and maybe I've finally settled on my all time surreal gig with Canterbury connections. There is a place in my heart that is forever Wizards - they were without doubt the finest both on stage and off - and my fondness for them and the gigs they gave me have grown increasingly more cherished since their untimely cessation. They were due to play at PJ Bells in Oldham Street in Manchester - again, dates and days have deserted me - but it must have been a week night as PJ Bells was always a late 2.00am finish and I knew I'd pay the price for the late night the day after at school. But no matter, I wouldn't miss seeing the boys so off I set. Nowadays Oldham Street is quite hip with Eastern Bloc, the Dry Bar and the excellent relocated Piccadilly Records but a few years back it was the only place in Manchester with tumbleweed and even the Alsatians roamed in pairs (OK, I'm borrowing jokes here). So I was pleasantly cheered to see a sizeable gathering in the distance at the door of PJ Bells. However, on approach it turned out
to be the Wizards peering up and down the street to see if anyone was coming. Backs were slapped and hands shook etc and we trooped into the club - a treat was in store apparently as erstwhile Gong violinist Graham Clarke was inside and would join the Twids for a couple of numbers. So, as my eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, that obviously explained who the other occupant of the club was. And the barman of course. If the audience swelled eventually to more than four people I would be surprised and takings couldn't have covered the cost of a replacement toilet roll. I don't remember that it ever mattered at the time - this was foreign parts
for the Wizards who always pulled a good crowd in Liverpool and I just adopted a 'their loss, my gain' sort of philosophy towards my fellow Mancunians.
So the Wizards played, effortlessly, sublimely, magnificently - Graham Clark came up and played too and the temperature rose and the walls shook like the best of gigs. I remember being aware almost subconciously at one point of a gathering electronic thread that rose and fell through the pounding beat. It was at once sinister, brooding and extraterrestrial and with my budding editorial hat on I recall being immensely excited at this blending of Wizards and Hawkwind. I envisaged the natural sequel to 'Silver Machine' and endless chart success. Yet the drone continued, oddly into the next song. A device perhaps, that the Wizards had not yet mastered? A maverick tape loop with a life of its own? At that point, into the deserted club poured at least fifteen large firemen in full helmet and yellow wellies, disappeared behind the bar and out a door at the back. The band played on, note perfect. The firemen reappeared, walked past the stage and exited. I couldn't honestly imagine the Wizards having hired them for a walk on part - the overtime at midnight would have been horrific. But you've guessed it - all the time the Wizards had been playing, the peace of Oldham Street had been shattered by an earpiercing fire alarm. Finally discovered by Greater Manchester's finest to be in the shop next door they were busy exploring a way in to the premises through the back of PJ Bells. I remember milling about with the Twids while firemen squelched back and forth and to and fro and then we finished the gig like true professionals and came out into the night. Groucho Marx couldn't have scripted a night like that.
PJ Bells has gone, the Wizards do different things now and I'm a damn sight older. Life was different then.
Martin Wakeling October 1998
Martin has since gone on to turn his excellent fanzine Why Are We Sleeping into an equally excellent website