Mike Badger on The La's - Part Two
Read part two of our exclusive extracts from The La's founder Mike Badger's The Rhythm and The Tide (Liverpool The La’s and Ever After) below.
One freezing winter day in 1980, Jonee Mellor called round to my house in Holly Grove. I'd known Jonee for years as he'd been a part of the Roby contingent.
Jonee had brought a guy with him who sported a huge blonde quiff and the three of us set off down Roby Road towards Huyton village. It was freezing cold and we hobbled over the frozen broken snow on the pavement. As we walked towards the village, we talked and bantered. The guy with the quiff was Lee Mavers. Little did I know from that first meeting how our lives would later become entwined…
… On March 17th, the night before my 24th birthday, I put John Peel's show on, pretty much at random as I hadn't been listening to his show for ages. A track was just finishing as I tuned in, but then – to my astonishment - Peel said he was going to feature a track from the 'Elegance, Charm & Deadly Danger' compilation, and in his unmistakeably droll tones, he said:
“This is The La's...not particularly hi-fi, but worth listening to. “My Girl Sits like a Reindeer.””
John Peel was right about the 'lo-fi' performance because the song had actually been mastered onto vinyl from a cassette master, but it didn't matter in the slightest. It was a wonderful moment. Jeanette and I danced around the room and it was the perfect birthday present: for me because it was my first-ever national broadcast and for Jeanette because the song had been written about her anyway.
During April, we played our second gig as The La's. It took place out of doors in St. Helens' town centre under an arch. The band was beginning to get more-busy. On April 13th, we recorded with Kevin on his porta-studio in Hope Street.
This time, we laid down versions of 'The Heart Knows', 'Money in Your Talk' and Lee recorded a song he'd written called 'I.O.U' which he'd played me and sounded very promising. The whole thing was again moving in the right direction and when we mixed it down at Kevin's the following day it sounded really exciting.
Can’t say I was pleased to see Lee lose his quiff though and go for the more 60’s looking mop.
The hard-rockin' 'Link Wray riff off 'Money in Your Talk' was very much my statement about the city we lived in and how money seemed to be the only thing anyone cared about. The melodic and catchy 'I.O.U', meanwhile, pinned Lee as a real song writing talent. Although I had reservations about that line about “you must eat your porridge”, there was no denying that the song really swung thanks also to Tony Clarke’s back beat and I put some maracas on it to finish it off. 'The Heart Knows' was always a favourite of Lee's and has still to be released.
We were playing live again during April, this time at The System in Liverpool as a promotional show for the 'Elegance, Charm & Deadly Danger' compilation. David Evans stood in on bass as Bernie was losing interest. Once again, it went off alright and we were delighted to be back on stage once more. 'Elegance...' had been getting some positive press and Penny Kiley wrote an enthusiastic review of the System gig for 'Melody Maker', where she said:
“Their deadpan blues and rock n roll is slightly surreal and exquisitely cool”
Momentum was slowly building around the band and obviously Lee felt it too because it was around this time that he decided to really get stuck in with me. He wasn't just backing my ideas any more, he was bringing in ideas of his own and we became a creative unit. Lee told me he'd been getting stoned with some mates one night in Huyton. They'd been listening to Led Zeppelin and having a laugh, when Lee put on his La’s tape: a compilation of the September '84 and Feb '85 sessions we'd done which I had cobbled together for him. Lee had jokingly christened the tape 'Terminal Turkey' because he'd thought a lot of the stuff was crazy, but when he listened to it again it all fell into place and he thought it kicked everything into touch. Like me, he recognised there hadn't really been anything like The La's sound.
From there on, things really clicked. During May, we recorded two of Lee's new ones, 'Freedom Song' and 'Son of A Gun', along with my 'Down at the Space Rocketry' and a new version of 'My Girl Sits Like A Reindeer' at Frank Sparks' studio on Duke Street in the Arena building. The engineer there was Tony Russell, who we already knew from the Attic Studio and again things went well, but it was 'Freedom Song' from that session that had the magic. We spent some time adding 'Gregorian monk' vocals over it and it showed Lee's mesmerising acoustic guitar work too.
Lee mentioned that we'd been offered a gig by Rogan to celebrate the first Football Supporters' Association AGM at the Triton on Paradise Street. For this show, Lee and I were again joined by David Evans on bass and Tony Russell on drums and the revolving door admitting and ejecting La's rhythm sections began to turn. It was another successful gig, though, with Rogan and Sue jiving away! From the Triton, we went on to play at a party on Mossley Hill Drive near Sefton Park. Frank Sparks had arranged this and if we performed at the party he would wipe an outstanding £10 studio debt off completely. Woh Boy!
The Mossley Hill Drive party proved to be a memorable occasion. Sharing the bill were Marshmallow Overcoat, whose singer wore a beret and NHS glasses. He was a character called Barry Sutton and he soon grabbed the audience's attention, grabbing the mic and shouting “Right, I'm gonna pass the hat around now.” With that, he chucked his beret into the small crowd of onlookers. The whole thing was like one of those crazy '60s house parties with a psychedelic band whipping up a storm and a great scene all of its' own making. We weren't as hot as we might have liked on account of playing with a day-old drummer and an equally under-rehearsed bass player, but it was still exciting. Paul Hemmings was there too and was suitably impressed, later telling me every song that we had played was immediately memorable.
We were entering a pivotal summer with The La's and there was more and more musical activity. I wrote the song 'Breakloose' during June and I had wanted it to soar, unshackled and relentless. Lee added a more structured guitar part to what was already a strident-sounding tune. It would soon become the perfect song to open our sets with.