In the latest Lost Liverpool, Getintothis’ Banjo looks back to a time when the city’s music fans were prepared to go to the ends of the earth, almost, to support their bands.
How far would you go for your favourite band? Buying all their albums? Maybe a tattoo? How about following them around the country and abroad when they tour, hitching between gigs and sleeping rough for a few weeks or even months?
No? Well back in the 80s and 90s, this was what a few dedicated fans did, and nowhere was this more popular than Liverpool.
Common mostly within the early Goth scene, the dedication of fans was almost boundless. Liverpool had a very healthy Goth scene in the early to mid 80s, centring around the infamous Planet X, although other clubs such as Steve Proctor’s System also played tracks by many of the bands emerging at the time.
Before the scene was perhaps pigeonholed with the ‘Goth’ tag, it was not uncommon for the likes of The State and Macmillans to play tracks by Sisters of Mercy or The Cult before segueing into some of the latest electro or funk cuts.
As happens at the best clubs, those meeting on the dancefloor formed lifelong friendships. Groups of people came together and went to gigs and clubs all over the country, such as the Planet X coach trip to see The Cramps at the Hacienda. Fans were devoted to this particular type of music, and this gave rise to groups of people following bands and catching every single gig on a tour.
These travelling fans were even given their own gang name – The Mission’s followers were The Eskimos, New Model Army had The Militia and Play Dead were followed all over Europe by the Stay Dead Crew.
But what drove fans to up sticks and endure the hardships of life on the road? The good folk of Getintothis have asked some of the Liverpool road warriors to tells us the whats and the whys.
This is their story.
Getintothis: So firstly, why put yourself through all this?
Debbie Evans: “Aside from the love of live music, following bands meant freedom from the constraints of home at a young age and membership to an elite club, part of a gang, all with same goals – to secure a guest list place and membership to the mosh pit with guaranteed protection.
“I would only admit it now but as a teenager there was nothing better than walking to the front of the queue at the Astoria in London and saying “guest list””
Debbie also followed this up with what seems to be a common theme among those who embraced life on the fringes of society – belonging. “In secondary school I always felt like an outsider. Following New Model Army at 17, I finally fulfilled my desire to be a part of something that mattered.”
Scouse Ali: “I went to see The Mission at The State Ballroom in 1986 and was totally hooked so went to a few more gigs and I that was it I was hooked with life on the road, hooking up with mates”
David ‘Ramone’ Woolsey: “It was a social thing back when I was a teenager. Whole new genres of music were opening up to me via John Peel and through friends. Bands would come to Liverpool but then you’d see that they were also playing Manchester, Stoke, Leeds, all relatively close by.
“So we’d go by car or go by National Express, who used to run very early morning services that got you back home by 6am. To be honest, 80% of the fun of following a band was the experience of getting there and meeting up with people beforehand and not knowing where you were staying that night. “The bands almost became secondary”
Getintothis: So where did you sleep while travelling?
Debbie: “In the early, novice days the sleeping arrangements were primitive. We once slept on a platform at the top of a slide in a kid’s park! One of us didn’t even have a sleeping bag just a scabby grey army blanket, they were bloody frozen!
“On the Claytown Troupe European tour we slept anywhere and everywhere, train stations, shopping precincts, doorways of apartment blocks, the homes of kind hearted German students who took pity on us and the occasional hostel.
“Some of us even slept in a bedroom that was being used as a cannabis farm – they wouldn’t let us switch the lamps off all night!”
Martin Atherton: “Where did we sleep? Car parks, train stations, subways. After one gig, we decided that the photo booths in Victoria Station were our best chance, so my friends got in one booth and I got in another, sat on the cold floor with my knee’s up willing myself to get some rest”
Ramone: “Everywhere, from multi-story car parks in Leeds and Zurich, a train in Dublin, bus stations in Stoke, toilets in Rome, a museum in Glasgow, an empty double decker bus in Munich and, occasionally, the band’s tour bus or hotel.”
Getintothis: How could you afford it at that age?
Debbie: “Guest lists were essential, so ligging on a massive scale had to be done. And if you could get some of the rider even better!
“I would save up my wages if a big tour was coming up. For the European Claytown Troupe tour I sold the first All About Eve EP and the first Stone Roses 12″ to raise some funds. Food was never really a priority on tour – I came home from Europe weighing 6 ½ stone!”
Ali: “I worked every hour I could to get the money to follow The Mission, I even spent the driving lesson money I had on following them. I still haven’t learned to drive and don’t regret at it one bit! “Once, at The Mission’s end of tour party in Nottingham, the band gave the following £100 as a thank you. We spent it on crates of Stella and ciggies. Very rock n roll!”
Ali is still following her favourite band: “Last year was The Mission’s 30th Anniversary so I’ve been doing this for 31 years this year. I wouldn’t change a thing, life would have been pretty boring had I not decided to follow The Mission. Roll on the next tour in May!”
Ramone: “The majority of us were on the dole and I went everywhere with my Post Office savings book. I’d cash my giro and put it all in the account and then simply draw it out when needed. But food and drink wasn’t always a priority back then.
“I could live on a pack of Marlboro Reds, some Coca-Cola and whatever passed for speed in that town.”
Getintothis: Did young girls ever feel they were in any danger on the road?
Debbie: “I don’t recall ever feeling at risk, it was all just a big adventure. Although looking back we put ourselves in some dangerous situations, but we were always in a large group, travelling with people from all over the country and we all stuck together.”
Martin: “Girlfriends and female friends were all in our party, it wasn’t just a male preserve and we all looked out for each other.”
Ramone sees this happening in the present day, as manager of Evil Blizzard. “I see what it’s like from the other side of the looking glass. Being asked for guest list, times, gossip, news, money off merchandising, etc. We must have been real pain in the arse pests with tour managers and bands back in the day!”
Martin Atherton also saw this from both sides, as a fan on the road and as guitarist in Liverpool’s Scorpio Rising. Did this influence the way he saw and treated his own fans?
Martin: “We did become friends with our followers with regards to Scorpio Rising. How could you not after having done it yourself, it was a proud feeling that people cared enough to make the effort and we in turn shared what we had, van space, rider and such like.”
Getintothis: Are you still in touch with your fellow road warriors?
Ramone: “Oh yes – Evil Blizzard not only contain friends from then but are also followed by some of the same people I used to go to gigs with back then.”
Ali: “Thanks to Facebook we’ve all near enough been reunited and a few Eskimos still follow The Mission.”
Getintothis: Would you do it nowadays if you were the same age as you were then?
Ramone: “I’ve often thought about this scenario. Life is so different for this generation. Going to see the bands we followed was a lot more financially achievable. Tickets were a maximum of £5 and we hitched everywhere.
“These days’ bands seem to be catapulted from small venues to the main room of the O2 in a heartbeat and the ticket price follows. Nowadays you book hotels, tickets, time off work, trains and a single show can run you up to close to £150-£200, which was my entire budget for a whole month on the road in 1986 with The Mission.
“I don’t travel as much as I’d like to today, with work, mortgages and other financial commitments. Going to see bands is not as frequent as back then. We occasionally go and see bands out of sheer nostalgia.. The Mission, Spear of Destiny, Chameleons and even the Sisters of Mercy, who were awful!
“But it’s just not the same. – Must be an age thing.”
Martin: “I still go and see a lot of live music, but these days I prefer small venues where I can see what the musicians are playing.”
The travelling fan seems to be a phenomenon very much of its time. It is likely that this is because those brave enough to take it on were at the right time in their lives, with youth and resilience on their side and before bills, mortgages and jobs took precedence.
And, perhaps more importantly, they were lucky enough to be at this stage of their lives as a brand new music scene was emerging in front of them. If this is the case, they were lucky indeed to have wrung so much enjoyment and passion out of their youthful years.
As Martin Atherton put it “I’m so glad that we made all that effort and put up with the freezing, sleepless nights, because we made the most of those times. Which was just as well, because they were the best times to be young.”