Ponderosa Glee Boys: John Peel sessions, disappearing vocalists and a triumphant return

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Ponderosa Glee Boys

Ponderosa Glee Boys

As lost legends Ponderosa Glee Boys make their return, GetintothisBanjo catches their reunion/farewell gigs and chats with lead singer Carl Eaton.

The Ponderosa Glee Boys sprang out of the late 70’s Eric’s crowd and have since achieved a cult status as one of Liverpool’s great lost bands.

Encouraged to start a band by none other than Jayne Casey, Ponderosa Glee Boys emerged as purveyors of fine post punk. Rooted more in the Public Image Ltd school rather than the New York/Velvet Underground influences of much of the Liverpool scene bands at the time, the Glee Boys stood out.

For a while, all was going well.  Managed by the inestimable Doreen Allen, gigs at Eric’s, Brady’s and the Royal Court gave people a chance to catch them live and they signed to Inevitable Records, home of fellow scenesters Wah! Heat.

But there the good luck stopped and the band petered out. Unfortunately, Inevitable went bust before any records could be released, their singer left and the Glee Boys soon split up.

However, some high profile gigs and a lack of recorded material proved to be a potent mix for creating a mystique that kept the band in the minds of those involved in Liverpool’s music scene at the time.

And now, after all these years, the Ponderosa Glee Boys are back. With three Liverpool gigs over Christmas, the Glee Boys were finally able to show the world what it had been missing.

Ahead of this flurry of activity, Getintothis spoke to founder and vocalist Carl Eaton.

The Liverpool music scene of the late 70s was an incredibly fertile time and a great time to be starting a band.  “It started for me at a very young age” says Carl,  “The same as many others at the time by going to Eric’s and watching bands. It was something special, it was fresh and exciting to see Generation X, The Clash, The Stranglers – you know the ones. This gave a massive opportunity for local bands to fill in on some great support spots.

Big in Japan and The Spitfire Boys. were the first wave of Liverpool bands to hit and seeing all this going on really inspired me. Jayne Casey was the one who encouraged me to start a band and I learnt a lot from being around bands and a roadie Pink for Military Stand Alone.”

Getintothis: But with so many bands forming across the UK at the time, did it make a difference coming from Liverpool?

Carl Eaton:We were a young punk band in a great place at the right moment. The Liverpool scene was very incestuous, everyone knew each other. It felt as if were all part of the same group. We signed for inevitable records with Wah! Heat and Dead or Alive though they ran out of money and folded before we could release anything.

Doreen Allen was our manager and looking back she had the patience of a saint as we were very difficult to manage. We wouldn’t turn up to record at times or turn up drunk, etc. We were a great live band and hated studios and the whole idea of sitting in a room listening over and over to the same song for hours on end.

We got sent to record our single on a couple of occasions except we just got stoned with the engineer so they sent us out of Liverpool to record in a place in Rossendale. Unfortunately, that engineer also lead us astray.”

Getintothis: So what happened to the band?

Carl Eaton:We played some great gigs with some top bands like Killing Joke and John Peel loved us. We did a Peel Session that John replayed for us because he knew were skint and needed some spending money. I thought that was kind of him. I’m told we were one of his favourites.

The band got asked to play at the Futurama Festival at Stafford Bingley Hall with some other fantastic bands on the bill. We were told by the manager that Tommo, our singer, was leaving the band after the gig.

We came back to Liverpool and couldn’t find a suitable replacement so the band sat around for ages until we played Liverpool at the Warehouse with a brand new line up and me on vocals. It went down well but felt like flogging a dead horse so that was our final gig.”

Liverpool Warehouse – History’s forgotten club

Getintothis: How did the reunion come about?

Carl Eaton:I now live in Australia and had a Facebook message asking if we would get back together and play a gig for the Liverpool homeless. At first, I thought it was a joke but after speaking to Alan Jones he convinced me it could be a fantastic night meeting up with some great old friends and it was for a great cause.

The other reason was that the venue belongs to Jayne Casey so it seemed fitting to end it there.

I got in touch with our original guitarist Dave Banks who agreed straight away. [Original singer] Tommo has just vanished and no one could find him which meant once again I got to do the vocal and hand over bass playing.

We were lucky to get our good friend Mark Robson in on drums for the gig which is great because Mark is from the same Eric’s background, also playing in Liverpool bands and a close friend to the band.  I was going to start a band with Michael Mooney after the Glee Boys, but it didn’t take off. We were delighted when Michael agreed to join this time. He is an exceptional guitarist with experience playing with the Bunnymen, Psychedelic Furs and Spiritualized to name a few. Bass guitarist is Leon Monty who also played with the Bunnymen and other bands coming out of Liverpool.

The band get on really well and all musically on the same page.”

Getintothis: Any future plans for the Ponderosa Glee Boys?

Carl Eaton:Well we decided to write a complete new set of songs in keeping with our roots from the Eric’s era. We have a single out called Wake Up and an album coming out within the next month. We had only planned to form to play one last farewell gig however we were asked to do the Jeremy Corbyn gig which we used as a warm up for District and we went down really well. The new songs are great so hopefully we nail it and they are well received. We have been offered more gigs but who knows what’s next for us.”

The gigs themselves turned out to be a celebration rather than merely a sad farewell. The main gig was at District, where they were supported by Three from Above and The Museum of Backward Hats and it turned out to be an eclectic and electric evening.

Three from Above have come on in leaps and bounds in the few months since we last saw them. In fact, they seemed to have progressed from punk to post-punk, their songs now coming over as thoughtful and skillfully executed rather than going more for attack. If they have made this progress since summer it is frightening to think where they might end up in a similar time frame going forward.

There is an edge of Television and a pinch of Alt-J angularity to their music that tells of skillful songwriting and they perform with huge charisma and likeability.

Three from Above

Three from Above

Three from Above seem like they take themselves more seriously than perhaps they did and as a result no longer come across as a ‘hobby band’ but instead come across as serious contenders. They would now seem to be one lucky break away from some kind of significant success.

It is easy to imagine them performing on, say, Later with Jools Holland and being taken to the nations hearts as a result.  Watch this space – 2018 could well be theirs for the taking.

The Museum of Backward Hats

The Museum of Backward Hats

The Museum of Backward hats also offer a take on punk, but their angle is more of looking at its influences and making music from similar starting points. In fact, they remind a little of what might have happened if The Stooges had grown up and become respectable instead of dropping or burning out.

Lou Reed and American punk is another touchpoint for the band’s music, but with catchy choruses and an unashamed knack for writing songs with hooks that lodge in the memory long after they have finished playing.

The Museum of Backward Hats make a mighty racket and their experience and pedigree shows. Again, it is interesting to see where they will go next, as tonight’s sole new song adds extra promise to their set.

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But there is no denying that tonight belongs to the Ponderosa Glee Boys. As the equipment is set up there is a palpable buzz in the air and District fills up with eager, anticipative souls. From the off the band do not disappoint.

Ponderosa Glee Boys

Ponderosa Glee Boys

Bravely electing to write a completely new set rather than spend their limited time re-learning their old one, they come across as effortlessly current. Guitarist and local legend Michael Mooney is simply astonishing. We should no doubt expect nothing less from a man with his track record, but his guitar work gives the songs an epic edge.  When Mooney and fellow guitarist Dave Banks lock together, the Glee Boys really take off and their resulting sound is huge and impressive.

All the songs heard tonight such mass appeal it is shocking to think that this may be the only chance we have to hear them live.

Carl Eaton’s grumpy front man manner belies his obvious delight at being back on stage with the Glee Boys in front of such an appreciative crowd. If Three from Above have managed to move from punk to post punk, then the Ponderosa Glee Boys have moved way beyond both and have arrived at a sound that acknowledges its roots but aims squarely for the present time.

Ponderosa Glee Boys are, after only a few short weeks together, in a place where many bands never manage to find themselves. They are tight, musically defined and have a set of songs that demand to be played repeatedly. As singer Carl now lives in Australia, the logistics of recording and rehearsing are obviously tricky, but surely walking away from this having got everything to this stage would be tricky also.

The following week, all this was repeated at 81 Renshaw Street, with the added attraction of fellow local cult heroes Those Naughty Lumps.  Again, all bands turned in sterling performances and the Ponderosa Glee Boys reunion was brought to a triumphant and victorious end.  Their mystique was not tarnished and once again they can disappear into the ether and leave behind an audience wanting more.

At least this time, they will leave behind them some physical trace of their existence, with a single available now and an album promised for some point in the near future.

All images by Martin Sheehan

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