Lost Liverpool #29 – Loud Band Management, the chaos and confusion of a Merseyside underground institution

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Tony B in action

Getintothis’ Matthew Keenan returns to the dubious thrills, spills and carnage that defined LBM.

History is awash with stories of legendary independent labels: Factory, Creation, Rough Trade, even Deltasonic.

I was signed to a less legendary label, LBM.

Usually stories of chaotic gigs, disastrous recordings and expensive tastes in studios, drugs and alcohol are what people remember these companies for as much as the massive records they put out from now legendary artists.

But for Liverpool’s Loud Band Management, I don’t even think half the bands remember being on it, let alone the record buying public, yet for me LBM was the first proper step on my road to forging a career in music.

Or so I believed at the time.

I had been in a band called Pearl (free advertising from the bass drum skin) with my twin brother, Ben and our mates all the way through school. We were the typical school band.

We thought we would be boss because we won a couple of talent shows and write our own songs.

We weren’t actually that bad. We were gigging in town at 14 and were a fixture at Crash.

Through Ben’s work experience at Andy’s Drum Clinic in 1998, we got to know some of the local bands pretty well by playing football with them all in Sefton Park on a Tuesday and a Sunday.

Everyone was there, from Lee Mavers, Barry and Cami from The La’s, Russ Pritchard and Sean Payne, Ned Murphy, Gary Dwyer from Teardrop Explodes and I’m sure even Mel Gaynor from Simple Minds turned up too, although I don’t remember him doing much with the ball.

We had a weekly game against some Kosovan refugees.

There was an old fella there called Rocky who was absolutely incredible. He had calves that looked like beef hearts. Turns out he used to play for the Yugoslavian national team.

So that would explain why a group of musos from Liverpool couldn’t get near him.

Anyway, now the name dropping has possibly given this piece a little bit of credibility, I can carry on.

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The main players Ben, our band and me got close to were Jamie, Leon and Franny from Space. Mainly because Jamie lived up in Freshfield at the time, next to Gazza (there’s a whole separate archive of stories about that) and he would pick us up in Crosby on the way through.

Skip forward a few years and Jamie had left Space and formed a new band called Firehead.

They were made up of a band he managed called Outthere, who are another brilliant, lost Liverpool band and if anyone fancies listening to them; pester Vince Hagen for their album.

They needed a drummer, so Ben was called up and then by extension, I began hanging round as the unofficial roadie.

Vince left and seeing as I had sat in on all the prackies and even recorded some parts at the Space Station when Vince was away somewhere, I was in.

We had a sort of agreement that Mark Cowley would manage us but I don’t think we ever really signed to Hug Management.

I think it was just because he was Jamie’s manager from his time in Space.

I liked Mark, he put up with a lot of hassle and he’s clearly a good manager. But his focus was definitely on Space and I noticed there was a new label that was looking for acts.

They were quite professional looking, they were talking big about a band they were managing called L20 and how they were putting them in Parr Street to record as well as going down to Rockfield.

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This was something I really wanted to be part of, they were throwing money around like it was going out of fashion.

The L20 lads were turning up at gigs in branded splitter vans, had new instruments and boasting of hanging round with Ian McCulloch and the likes.

Ian McCulloch

We decided that LBM were going places so we set up a meeting at their office in Parr Street and went down to meet the Boss, Tony B.

What can you say about him? I wouldn’t even know how to begin describing him.

I actually really liked the fella, but how much of that was because I was actually a bit scared of him too, I don’t know.

I was never really the typical precocious lead guitarist. Naturally quite shy and quiet, not very fashionable (I don’t mean unfashionable in a cool, fashionable way, I just mean my dress sense was shit and I had no rock’n’roll personality to speak of). I didn’t really get into the whole party scene either.

So going to meet this really loud, gregarious and, some may perhaps unfairly allege, dodgy character who dominated the room both metaphorically and physically despite his small stature, was a little intimidating.

I’d have pretty much signed anything he put in front of me just to get out of there.

Luckily, Jamie is pretty much the same personality as Tony, so they just bounced off each other and I could melt into the background.

Tony had formed LBM after seeing a band called Nowhere Near the Garden play at a biker festival.

Nowhere Near the Garden

He liked them so much that he went and spoke to them.  He couldn’t believe no one had signed them to a deal or that they didn’t have a manager.

He had no management experience in the music industry but, had money and a drive to be successful.

So he jumped in feet first.

I don’t know if he knew how hard the music business was compared to his other businesses that he’d been successful in.

He had Nowhere Near The Garden in talks with several record companies and was banking on that to provide more funding for other bands he was pushing.

That idea was torpedoed when the singer got on a plane one day and left for South Africa, never to be heard of again, for reasons no one really knows.

That hit Tony quite hard.

He ploughed more money into the label in order to cover the losses from the failed Nowhere Near The Garden deal so that he didn’t let down the other acts he had taken on.

He was convinced if one of the bands on the roster would make it then the others would

When we met him for the first time, I thought that Tony was probably the single most enthusiastic manager I’ve ever met.

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His hero was Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant and he looked after us in much the same style as the man himself. He made every band he signed feel like they were the best band in the world.

If you didn’t walk in to the Parr Street office thinking you were going to be a star, you definitely walked out of it feeling like one.

I don’t know if his pitch was rehearsed, but it was majestic! He was leaping around the room, only sitting down for a second before he was up again. “I’ll put you in the Studio downstairs, money is no object! We will do websites, get you showcases with all the top labels, TV, radio, the works”.

He showed us what he had done for L20 and how they were seemingly flying. He had other great bands like The Rhondo Zephyr. The Leaf Rains were another good band he played to us.

Later he signed The Sterlings, who I would coincidentally go on to reform with their main man Matt Bower and Carl Rooney from L20 and do relatively well with.

Tony was creating a stable of bands and fostering an “us against them” siege mentality: “Fuck all these other bands out there! Who cares about them? Record labels? Don’t need them, I’ll do it all!”, and up to a point, he did.

He had this strategy were he wanted the bands to get a stack of demos, go to service stations and hand them out, so the CDs (remember them?) would find their way to all four corners of the country.

Birmingham, London, Newcastle” he would be almost chanting by now. “People will contact us asking when you are playing in their area and we will go and book a tour based on that”.

I could see the logic, but I hated that idea.

I wanted to be a serious artist, not stand next to some gimp from the RAC handing out CDs to tired families and truck drivers. I had visions they would all be Frisbeed out of the window and litter the hard shoulder of the M6. Not a good look when you are trying to get signed.

It had started out as us thinking we had to go and beg him for a contract, but it was almost like he was selling himself to us and he was the master salesman.

By now totally sold on signing for him, we were taken into 33-45 bar to sign the contracts along with the team who would be managing us: Jez and Katie. “Don’t worry about membership cards in here lads, you won’t need them nowTony proudly advised.

Almost immediately it seemed, Tony followed through on his promises, we had a week booked in the big studio that eventually became Studio 2 bar. We also had showcases booked with all the big labels.

Weird, as he had been so enthusiastic about not needing them, Sony, Atlantic, Island, Parlophone and Universal were all coming to see us in the same week.

Everything was on the tab: club sandwiches, ale, tea and coffee and literally whatever else a band would require. By anything, I mean ANYTHING. One call upstairs to the office and it was sorted.

He had a huge heart which was a strength and a weakness. He’d sink money into four kids from Bootle when no one else was going to.

But there were times when people sensed his lack of experience and something that would normally cost £100 became £200 and people took advantage of him. That happened a lot. Especially in a social setting like the bar at Parr St.

A lot of people appeared when he had money then disappeared when the funding stopped.

There were photo shoots, and interviews with local and national press too. I felt like something massive was about to happen.

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Tony had bought a fleet of vans all plastered in the LBM branding. A massive picture of Lord Kitchener on the back with the slogan “I want YOU to send me your demos”.

We would fly up and down the country in them. Sheffield, Birmingham, London… Southport. He then went bigger and bought a tour bus. Honestly!

Then the best one yet, a limo! An actual Lincoln Town car with whisky tumblers and a shagpile carpet in the back. Complete with the LBM branding down the side, “we can turn up to the showcases in this, and really show the labels what we are about”.

No thanks Tony” I thought, “we are only playing the Zanzibar to about 10 people”.

We would never have lived down the shame, especially in that era of Gigwise message boards where everyone seemed to hate everyone else. We were already being dismissed as a crap Space B-side band.

But Tony at least spoke like we were gonna be like Oasis at Knebworth. He had Brian Regan aka Terry from Brookside driving the vans for the bands at one point. Another surreal part of the journey

He loved the razzmatazz.

He’d have all of his bands record at Parr St. Again an amazing experience for us, but from a business perspective it would have been better to use a cheaper studio for increased time and to actually have the mixes sent off to be mastered.

Parr Street Studios entrance

He believed that anything being recorded at Parr St would be good enough to go on the radio as is, and that this would be more attractive to a record company as they wouldn’t have to pay for any recordings.

But as anyone will tell you, a record company wants to pay for a recording in order to own them.

He didn’t seem understand nuances of the industry like that. Stuff that you learn over time from experience. Or maybe he believed he could talk them around.

All we had to do was record a demo. Which we did. Then we did it again and then we didn’t like that either so did it again.

The management paid for it all and by the end we were taking the piss. The stuff we recorded there never even got put out.

It’s strange now after such a big PR assault, that there’s almost no trace online of LBM or the bands on it.

I heard that after a fallout at the label, all the websites and online presence of the acts got pulled and all of the demo masters went missing or were wiped. How true that is, I don’t know but I can’t find anything on the Internet of any real substance.

The showcases came and went. To be fair to Tony, he said he would get us in front of these people and he delivered.

The two that stick in the memory are the Universal guy who looked like Sammy the Eagle off The Muppets and one in the Lemon Lounge with L20 in front of Sony.

George Roberts-Bascom was dragged up from London to see us.

We had played in front of him before when Cowley had invited him up to see us at the Zanzibar.

He turned up in a limo with a girl under each arm and a VW badge around his neck. Kind of a Flava Flav vibe if Flav had grown up in Wolfsburg rather than Long Island.

Now when Cowley was involved in getting us in front of Sony, there were talks of million pound advances, 5 album deals with greatest hits and support tours with big acts.

George just needed to get it all signed off by Muff Winwood.

For one reason or another, that all went silent, but we thought given Tony’s ability to charm the birds out of the trees, that we could resurrect something.

We did our set, which I don’t really remember much about as I was nervous about, but it probably bombed. George was milling round at the bar and then we all got our drinks and turned to watch L20.

They did their bit, which was always quite technical. The two Carls, Anderson on guitar and Rooney on drums were always solid players.

Despite them being pretty good, I just got the impression from George that he wasn’t really into what he had seen that night. He wasn’t really giving much away, but I think you just know these things.

Tony, by this point was well tuned in and was getting quite boisterous. He got up on stage and took the mic. I remember our Ben just looking at him as if to say, “what the fuck is he doing?

Drink in hand, Tony bellows down the mic something about L20 being the next biggest band in the country and then the six words that really seemed to cut through the noise as if the sound guy had whacked the volume up: “Fuck Sony, we don’t need them!

With that, George just stood up and left.

Panic set in amongst us in the Firehead camp and we chased him out of the room. I saw Carl Rooney behind his kit on stage just looking absolutely baffled about what was going on.

We caught up with George outside and got chatting to him.

He told us he had already made his mind up that he wasn’t signing any of the bands on that showing at least, but he was going to stick around anyway as he liked us and was having a good time.

Turns out he fancied my cousin who is pretty big in music PR in London, so we jokingly promised him her phone number if he gave us another chance.

Firehead and L20 had also been booked to play a festival in Gosta Green, Birmingham. Jamie had been fighting the night before so had a black eye and some stitches. It wasn’t a good look.

All of our gigs back then were billed as Firehead (ex Space), which I felt attracted more negative attention than it did draw fans in. I love Space, but I don’t think putting their name on our posters made other people want to hear us and Space’s fans seemed to be angry towards Jamie and had sided with Tommy.

So it’s like we had to work twice as hard to win people over, which we didn’t really do.

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The Gosta Green crowd were no different. Someone made a disparaging remark to Jamie about Space, he kicked off and they threatened to give him another black eye.

I think I was the only person across the two bands there that hadn’t taken a fistful of tablets.

I was watching Carl Rooney kick off a drum fill at the start of an L20 song and the rest of the band start a different song all together.

When we took to the stage, I was wondering why everyone seemed to be playing at different speeds, starting songs 2 or three times before jibbing them off and basically just melting into their instruments.

Ben was doing a good impression of an empty diving suit on his drum stool and Jamie had caught sight of the lad from earlier and was offering him out over the mic.

Later on, as the van pulled into Kirkby to drop the bass player George Twigg off home, he happened to suggest to the driver, Robbie, that he might want to just slow down a little bit as it was a quiet residential area and with it being the early hours, people were asleep.

Robbie took exception to this and looked up from the line he was chopping out on the dash whilst driving, to tell George in no uncertain terms what he could do with his advice.

He proceeded to drive with his hand pressed firmly on the horn. When we stopped outside George’s house, the two squared up.

I actually piped up for once and tried to intervene to calm it down, but then Robbie turned on me, to which George took great offence and launched Robbie into the van. Robbie then got back into the driving seat and sped off, again blaring the horn.

The biggest joke of all was a gig booked in a place in Douglas called The Venue. Even now, I can honestly say that anything that went on after that gig was nothing to do with me, as I was in bed.

Tony had arranged for us to fly to the Isle of Man to do a gig. Apparently we were all over local radio there. Sony were coming, tickets were flying out and we were going to fill this huge hall.

Being the gullible young 19 year old I was back then, I believed every word of it, despite there being absolutely no reason looking back, why that would be true.

We had our head of sound sessions at the Zanzibar and the head of steam, which initially drew full houses, but interest in them was waning. The Bandwagon nights were eclipsing everything by then.

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Everything about the Isle of Man gig was a disaster from the start. We had spent three days in Parr St. again redoing the demo and were due to fly out on the Friday.

We were picked up in that bloody LBM van (not long after I had put a dent in it by hitting another van trying to reverse it outside the Masque during the Michael Shields benefit gig. I didn’t even have a licence so had no business trying to reverse a long wheel base splitter around a corner).

Jez was filming the whole thing for a documentary style short film about the band we were doing.

We got to the airport and our instruments were unloaded, we were given passes and ushered through security.

I got the same feeling got coming out of the door by the toilets in 33-45 where everyone would spin round to see if someone famous had come out of the Studio, only to glare at you disappointingly like it was your fault they had no idea who you were.

But for a split second, you felt famous and that was enough.

The plane was held together by gaffer tape. There was an actual strip of gaffer on the wing, I’m sure of it. You could see the pilot behind a curtain and the seats looked like they were from a bus.

Jamie was scared of flying after an incident on the runway in Portugal, so he and Ben were getting the ferry over. The rest of us and the support band – Speedball – were on the plane.

It was definitely the worst flight I have ever experienced. Strong winds, driving rain and Intense turbulence from start to finish.

The guitarist from Speedball was rocking at the back of the plane with his hood up repeating the phrase “we’re gonna die, we’re gonna die” over and over again.

At one point my brand new Fender Telecaster was shaken loose of the cargo area behind us and flew past my head and down the aisle towards the captain and pilot.

As we came in to land, I could see the runway. The there was a gust of wind and the runway wasn’t there anymore. There was just dark, grey water.

The landing was worse than being on the Pepsi Max. When we landed, I think everyone had to pinch themselves to make sure we were still alive.

As we wearily got off the plane, I was cheered by the thought that these limos we had been promised to take us to the hotel were en route.

Jez began filming us and we were waiting outside for them to arrive, which they duly did.

Something seemed immediately amiss however. “These are Hearses!” I said to my mate, Mark who was travelling as my guitar tech.

Sure enough, 3 black hearses arrive to ferry us to the hotel. That should have been a sign of what was to come.

As we wound on down these weird palm tree lined roads towards Douglas, Tony was effusing about all the people that were coming. He was on the phone to various people sorting out the riders and passes for the venue.

The radio was on, so as I was led to believe we were receiving wall-to-wall coverage, I was starting to get a bit concerned that there didn’t seem to be any mention of the gig.

There actually was a poster at the place when we pulled up, advertising the next night’s showcase featuring “Fireball with support from Speedhead“!!

Now I’m not saying someone was taking the piss, but come on! NOBODY makes a mistake like that if the night is supposed to be a big event!

I’m convinced that was deliberate from someone back at the label. That was the third alarm bell.

Jez carried on filming away and I sat at a big white piano in the foyer of the Alexandra Hotel thinking it would look great on camera.

We checked in and went down to the bar to watch Everton playing Man Utd. The Isle of Man is chocka with scousers, so there were plenty of blues in there. I had my first ever Cheeky Vimto and we duly started on the jugs.

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By the time Everton had been beaten 3-4 after being 3-0 down at half time, we were absolutely wrecked.

Me and Ben were celebrating our 20th birthday the next day, so there was a bit of a party atmosphere by the time we headed to the soundcheck. The place was huge. There were galleries and a big floorspace.

Cameras were being set up at the side of the stage and up in the royal boxes and Tony arrived with someone purporting to be high up at Sony.

There were also a few shady looking characters that were introduced as local “businessmen”. They had apparently funded the whole thing, so we were on their tab.

I spoke to the son of one of them who informed me they had just got their first McDonalds on the island, which I thought was weird and probably distracted me from the fact that some Sopranos looking fellas were shelling out loads of cash for an unknown and unfancied Liverpool band to play the biggest venue on the musical hotbed of the Isle of Man, the place where people go to retire!

Looking back now, it’s obvious what it was. The whole thing was allegedly a front for some business activities.

One rumour I heard, which was never substantiated, was that our Marshall cabs had been dismantled before they were loaded onto the plane and used rather like suitcases.

Given the fact I didn’t see them from the van in Liverpool, to when I walked on stage for the soundcheck, there’s no way I could ever confirm or deny it.

The soundcheck was pathetic. We struggled through a couple of tunes, me and Ben had bust up on stage over the sound in the monitors and we called it a day to go and get a lamb roast.

We had forgotten about the fight because that’s what brothers do. Par for the course to have a bit of a scrap and then forget about it.

But Tony tore a strip off us and demanded we apologise to the businessmen who were putting a lot of money into this.

By the time we came to take the stage, things just didn’t seem right. Speedball had played their set to the bar staff and we were sat up in the dressy wondering when the crowds would arrive.

We were assured that tickets had been sold and people were arriving. By the time we started the first song, the place was a ghost town and I was feeling completely bladdered.

I was staring into a camera to my right and playing the same D chord over again until a drumstick crashed off the back of my head. That’s how Ben used to get my attention. I’m just glad it wasn’t a snare drum, which he has used in the past.

I looked up to see that Jamie had dropped his guitar off stage without realising and was stood there singing and playing air guitar.

All the while Tony, the businessmen and Jez were stood in the middle of this empty room with a look of absolute horror on their faces.

The gig was cut short and we hurriedly left the stage.

Tony wouldn’t speak to us, but he was berating the doormen. Apparently people had shown up, but they were being held outside until we finished, as the tickets were for the clubnight due to start after the gig.

They hadn’t printed separate tickets for the gig, so everyone came on clubnight tickets and weren’t allowed in. Yet another cock up. We all headed to the bar with our tails between our legs.

Luckily, given the fact hardly anyone saw us, no one knew we were the band when the room filled up and we could mingle without feeling too much embarrassment. I eventually went to bed feeling completely dejected.

Mark and myself were due to go to Sheffield the next day to meet our mate Simon doing journalism at Uni, so I decided to cheer myself up by looking forward to that.

At some point just before dawn, we were woken up by a loud banging on the door. I opened it to find a policeman outside who told me to get dressed and get down to the lobby immediately. I asked what had gone on and he again told me I was required downstairs with our luggage.

Myself and Mark got our stuff together and went down to find an absolutely raging Tony, the rest of Firehead, Jez and a sheepish looking Speedball all ready to leave.

Despite the whole trip being completely on expenses, some of the bands were accused of breaking into the hotel bar and drinking the stock. The manager had found out and called the police.

Tony and his businessmen had come to some sort of agreement and we were told by the bizzie in charge in no uncertain terms to get off the island on the next plane and never come back.

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We were informed that we were all banned from ever staying at that hotel again, which didn’t bother me really. As nice as it was, it still looked like Cath Kidson and Laura Ashley had kitted the place out in the 60’s.

Tony sacked us all on the spot and sent Jamie and Ben back to the ferry with about 20p between them. We were ushered onto the plane in silence. The turbulence was a welcome distraction this time.

We were then almost kicked out of the van back in Liverpool and that was that.

Unsurprisingly, the Sony thing as well as interest in Firehead from the other majors dried up.

Tony had, for a second or third time, banked on one of his acts bagging a major deal to fund more signings and had again got his fingers burnt.

I think the biggest issue was the total lack of professionalism amongst the bands. Not all of them of course, but definitely us for one.

Oasis and the likes could get away with being absolute carnage off-stage because they rehearsed and gigged incessantly. A lot like the bands you see today such as Red Rum Club who never seem to have a day off.

Red Rum Club

You hone your talents and then are 100% on form every single time you play.

It feels like on LBM, the initial blowing smoke up the band’s arses might have been counter productive, as we all believed we had made it and didn’t put an ounce of the required effort in to match any natural talent we had.

That may have been especially the case in Firehead, as Jamie had already tasted major success with Space and to this day, he is an imperious songwriter, so we seemed to just feel like all we needed to do was turn up.

Tony always tried to encourage us to mingle with the bands on the scene and we got on well with the likes of the Bo Weevils.

But looking back, maybe we felt like we should be mixing with bands who were at the level Space were and getting bevvied with the lads from Coldplay, Elbow and Doves in Parr Street where we would bump into people as diverse as Christina Aguilera and Bev from Brookside.

Maybe that made us think we were better than we actually were.

If we spent more time in the bar at Crash rather than Parr Street and used practice sessions to iron out stupid mistakes rather than talk about footy, prison and cars, we might have been more worthy of sharing the stage with bands who actually had what it takes to translate their talent into success.

Bands such as the those over on Deltasonic. At that time, The Little Flames, The Stands, The Bandits, The Zutons and of course The Coral, were hitting big, as well as The Maybes? who were a scene all of their own.

I used to look at them, with their image, sound and brilliant showcase nights like Bandwagon, where they created their own scene and made it THE scene to be on, and just think “why isn’t that happening to us on LBM too”.

Now I’m older and wiser, I can guess that there could be many reasons for that.

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The “us against them” mentality and lack of professionalism didn’t win us many friends and above all, we probably just weren’t as good as Tony made us believe.

There was a point when Tony was trying harder than any other person in Liverpool to be successful at music. He held up his end, even if we didn’t.

No one can ever say he didn’t give it his all. Over the course of 10 years he invested over 500k.

It was never truly clear why he bothered to risk so much for an industry he’d never been in before. He could have sat on his money and retired into the sunset. Maybe it was the thrill?

People who may remember LBM back then have often painted Tony as the bad guy, but the reality is he tried his hardest to give some young people the chance of a lifetime.

He doesn’t get enough credit for that.

[paypal-donation]

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