Sunday, March 19, 2006

The County Fathers

Ugly Man and now little bird has been home to a multitude of bands and artists over the near twenty years and perhaps our least popular act is our most famous celebrity. Step forward The County Fathers.

The County Fathers were a three piece, so often a magic number - Motorhead, Supergrass, The Jam, I am Kloot, and you’ll have your favourites to add to this list. A three piece is often much easier to manage. Fewer opportunities, mathematically for people to fall out. Less mouths to feed. So Solid and Blazing Squad may have been masterly marketing ploys but when the first PRS cheque arrived it must have been like getting 5 numbers up on the National Lottery.

County Father number one was John Clayton - a lovable blonde bear of a man who worked in production at Manchester's legendary Piccadilly Radio. Solid, down to earth, Lancastrian he had all the ugly man "good bloke qualities" that seal deals in my music business model. County Father number two was top architect Phil "whammo" Walmsley - no mean musician but with a day job back up, if the Ugly Man project didn't reach the global levels we all anticipated. Phil was a prickly character in relation to me. He didn't really warm to me at the beginning, seemingly suspicious of my approach. We have since become closer and the last time I saw him he was buying the beer after a chance meeting in Manchester City Centre. All's well in the end.

No celebs yet you cry. Well County Father three was no other than Mark Radcliffe; BBC Radio broadcast legend (the man who almost killed the breakfast show on Radio 1). No celebs yet you cry.... only joking Mark.
When you have got to the back of the blog you will be able to enter small poll to see if I am right in the assessment that Mark is the most universally recognised name to have crossed swords with me.

Mark was the driving force behind The County Fathers, predominantly writing the tunes and leading the A&R drive to get himself the played rather than the player of records. His story and the context of The County Fathers is written up for posterity to judge in his hugely entertaining Diary of a Showbusiness Nobody and would be worth a read in its own right but also as an alternative view to my County Fathers shtick.

It is often difficult to read bands/artists histories when you have been involved and you don’t appear the way you thought would appear in that history. Biographical detail changes for dramatic effect, sometimes you don’t even make the cut. To some extent the purpose of this body of work is to write it my way and set the record straight. In Mark’s book he paints me quite accurately as the enthusiastic music lover with total faith in the band and the music. If you were to read it and be asked “What kind of French hero does Lovelady represent?” I guess the answers would veer more to Clouseau than Cousteau.

Heck Radcliffe was trying to get a laugh – I have a funny name and I was a complete music fan, his spin was affectionate and I was just glad to get my name into a book.

The County Father EP was released in 1988 during the fag end of phase one of the label. Money was at a premium so it wasn’t promoted to the extent it deserved, but it had all the hallmarks of a top quality Ugly Man recording. Beautifully recorded. - Radcliffe producing, naturally, three tracks that were painstakingly selected and committed to 12” vinyl – it was the eighties. The lead track was a choice between the intensely poppy Lightheaded – a housemartins style jingle jangle of a cracker that didn’t make it to 3 minutes or Deep South – an atmospheric Cocteauseque concoction taking all of 7 minutes to snare and share.

The decision making was long and protracted. In the end we settled on the more esoteric latter track and a legendary but sadly ignored masterpiece was released. In all decisions about track selection performance evaluation I have always deferred to managers, artists and other people.

I first met Mark during the release of the first Ugly Man single by Black; He was the “head of music” – a grand title – at Piccadilly Radio. I don’t know how I managed to meet him but some how I did and got sat in on a couple of his shows. I those days he was a rookie DJ doing what they now call drive time. He played good music, the sort of stuff he does nowadays. It was fairly mind blowing to see somebody doing all the things you take for granted.

He gave a Piccadilly session to The Man from Delmonte, booked Black for a pan European broadcast from The Liverpool Playhouse and also produced all the output for The Desert Wolves in his spare time. So his place in the Ugly Man hall of fame is fairly large really. In Phase two of the label at the turn of the Millennium he reared his “beautiful” head too – more of that later.

His other significant role in my life was to introduce me to Frank Sidebottom. This was a relationship that he started and one that had a long reaching effect on my life and I will elaborate during my Frank Chapter.

The County Fathers project did not really blossom into anything as Mark pursued his showbusiness aspirations working very closely with the aforementioned Mr Sidebottom. After the point that Mark and Frank and I parted our ways I didn’t have any dealings with Mark except to bump into him occasionally in the most un-rock types of places – national trust cafes in Cheshire that type of thing.

I have a copy of a CD that contains the anthology of County Fathers recordings plus other quality outtakes from a subsequent pop combo St Cloud that Mark captained. It is something that the world would much rather embrace than a “Mike Reid – the music collection” LP. Hopefully I will make that so one day.

I suppose my personal highlight of the musical journey I made with Mark was the Ugly Man Christmas Party in 1988. The joint celebration was held with some local Manchester based fine artists, which sounds quite refined and exclusive but it wasn’t. The evening was opened by Inspiral Carpets, a then up and coming Oldham band, The County Fathers did a set and finally The Man from Delmonte wowed a packed green room. I remember the delight on Mark’s face that night getting to play a full set to a packed and excited audience. It was the stuff of legends.

You can buy Mark's autobiography on Amazon. A right rivetting read

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would really love to hear The County Fathers compilation that you made. Unfortunately I never had the pleasure of hearing any of their songs. Any chance you are selling a CDR or tape copy?
Thanks and have a great and safe day ahead!