Deaf School, The Gentle Scars, Henry Priestman: The Kazimier, Liverpool

Deaf School

Deaf School

A band and a venue that galvanised a scene come together for two shows to help send The Kazimier out with a bang. Getintothis’ Tom Konstantynowicz saw a perfect marriage of band and venue.

Liverpool’s music landscape would be significantly different if it weren’t for the emergence of Deaf School in the early seventies. Many of the regular audience at their avant-garde live shows went on to become more recognisable than the band themselves – Ian McCulloch, Steve Strange and Pete Burns to name but a few.

Outlandish, creative and exciting, Enrico Cadillac Jnr, Bette Bright and co were a breath of fresh air, an antidote to the stale remnants of Merseybeat and cheesy glam rock sounds hogging the charts at the time. Their three long players, recorded between 1976 and 1978, caused barely a ripple in terms of mainstream success, but their legacy still burns bright.

They shaped the next 10-15 years of the city’s musical output and electrified a scene that had long since dried up. How fitting then, that they play the last ever proper gig at iconic Liverpool venue The Kazimier before it closes its doors for good on New Year’s Day.

Read Liverpool music’s reflection on the life-changing era of The Kazimier

The Kaz, like Deaf School, came along at a key moment in time, when the biggest new acts were sidestepping Liverpool for Manchester and it seemed the city was lacking a live space with any real character.

Deaf School didn’t try to match what was already out there in the charts and on the radio, they did something brand new, they wanted to be different. Similarly, The Kazimier didn’t try and tempt the latest NME flavour of the month down the East Lancs. Instead they hosted cult acts, weirdo bands, once in a lifetime performances and concept shows, maintaining an inventiveness and creative mind-set with bookings that remained firmly outside the box and capturing the imagination of everyone in the city at least on a couple of occasions.

Upon entering the venue for Deaf School’s two sold out (all but 20 tickets) shows – the first night to go on sale was the quickest sell out in The Kazimier’s history – it’s jam-packed, from the top balcony to the amphitheatre-like area directly in front of the stage.

Like at a Paul Weller gig, were the audience doubles as a Modfather lookalike convention, and an Oasis gig, were everyone is wearing a massive green parka, Deaf School’s charity shop, wacky fashion stylings are  mirrored in sections of the crowd of almost exclusively 40 plus year olds.

On stage, Cadillac Jnr is in trademark big open collar with slicked back hair, while Bright sports spangly festive jumpers – like something your auntie would wear on Christmas day – one is emblazoned with ‘Bette’. The rest of the line-up of Clive Langer, The Very Rev Max Ripple, Ian Ritchie, Frankie Average and Gregg Braden are kitted out in questionable and brightly coloured two-piece suits, floral shirts and shades. They look madcap, zany and a total one-off, a perfect match for The Kaz.

The warm-ups on both nights The Gentle Scars and Henry Priestman played their part, the venue was almost at capacity for both acts – Scars on the first night, Priestman on the second. The place is buzzing for Deaf School though – it feels like a special night in the making.

Take a look at our beginners introduction to Deaf School and top ten tracks

The camaraderie and chemistry on stage from the art-pop pioneers dubbed one of the two most important bands in Liverpool’s history is plain for all to see. Their roots as an art school get up are still at the forefront of all they do, there are elements of theatre, cabaret and performance art, not to mention a catalogue of songs revered and loved by these crowds.

Taxi still sounds fresh and innovative with its jaunty rhythm and contrasting, extravagant harmony on the chorus, showing Cadillac Jnr and Bright still have plenty of clout left in their vocals. Ian Ritchie’s sax solo, as it does on a couple of occasions during both nights, procures a rapturous reception. Although led by the two lead singers, everyone in Deaf School has a moment or two in the spotlight.

Their repertoire and The Kazimier’s unique, two-level stage are complementing each other perfectly. When it opened in 2008, The Kaz was earmarked as a theatre space before expanding to all manners of the arts. For Hi Jo Hi – along with Final Act probably Bette Bright’s defining moment – she clambers onto the second level to deliver her iconic vocal. In the style of true performers, the audience’s eye is drawn to all corners and levels of the stage. The place is rocking to its core now – ‘Liverpool IS Deaf School’ as Cadillac Jnr pronounces.

It may have been too obvious to close the set with What a Way to End It All, which is, in all probability, why they didn’t, although it would have been apt. Perhaps their best-known song – about a failed suicide attempt – induces jubilation and dad dancing, not least from this writer’s.

Like all cult groups, Deaf School have a song, an album track, never released as a single that holds a special place in the heart of their fans, Capaldi’s Café is that song, a seminal roof raiser back in the seventies at Eric’s and the same here at The Kaz. Deaf School played an influential role in getting the symbolic Eric’s Club off the ground back then, now they’ve helped give the iconic venue of this generation a rip-roaring send off.

After Deaf School and its members disbanded and went on to achieve further greatness – notably Cliff Hanger (Clive Langer) who went on to produce records by Madness, Morrissey, Elvis Costello, Dexy’s Midnight Runners and more – bands like Echo and the Bunnymen, and Madness themselves, all went on to cite Deaf School as a major inspiration.

Hopefully after Wolstenholme Square has been bulldozed, the memories, legacy and blueprint created by The Kazimier team in this city will live on elsewhere, it’s hard to believe that it won’t. For now though, this was two catalytic forces, uniting for one final hurrah, and it was bloody great.

Pictures by Getintothis’ Christopher Flack and John Johnson