1986 was a politicised time in Liverpool. I was in my second term at Liverpool Polytechnic and the city was in a mess. The Militant Tendency factions in the City’s council were in a stand-off with Margaret Thatcher. The Deputy Leader of The Council, Derek Hatton, had led the setting of an illegal budget with the Council spending £30m more than they had available. Hatton was an ex-fireman but frankly he looked and dressed like an ex-footballer. He claimed that the £30m excess had effectively been “stolen” by Conservative central Government.
All manner of civic services were grinding to a halt. I remember not being able to attend lectures on a number of occasions because the buildings weren’t being opened. This was the least of the impact of the Liverpool actions – bins weren’t being emptied, the City was shutting down and council employees were being given their redundancy notices.
The issue had gone all the way to the top of the Labour Party which was tearing itself apart to establish its own identity and values. No doubt more of that to follow in the coming months. Matters had come to a head at the Party Conference in October of 1985. The leader, Neil Kinnock, had given one of the most impassioned and potentially divisive speeches in living memory. Senior Labour party members walked out in disgust and Kinnock was heckled by Hatton in particular.
“I’ll tell you what happens with impossible promises. You start with far-fetched resolutions. They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, out-dated, mis-placed, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council – a Labour council – hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers”.
Things descended even more deeply as the winter drew in. Whilst the majority of the council were traditional Labour, the Trotskyite “Loony Left” (as the British press had dubbed them) element had a stranglehold on the city. Sympathy also existed due to the collective governmental neglect that had existed since Liverpool’s grand days as one of the world’s foremost ports which precipitated terminal decline.
So in February 1986, one flamboyant North East socialist, Tony Wilson reached out to another in Hatton. Wilson booked the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool and under the catalogue reference of FAC 152 organised “With Love From Manchester” with corresponding T shirt.
The bands played for expenses and tickets were £6 each. The object of the exercise was to support the 58 Liverpool councillors who by that point had been sacked and faced significant legal bills. Wilson started as a reporter in Liverpool in the early seventies before ending up as the mainstay of Granada TV’s early evening news coverage. He had previously worked closely with Roger Eagle who ran the legendary Eric’s club in Liverpool. They shared bands between the Liverpool club and Wilson’s Factory night in Manchester before the eventual opening of the Hacienda. Wilson and Eagle eventually had a falling out over the roster for Factory which was initially intended as a North West music label rather than solely Mancunian. The straw which broke the camels back was Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark who Wilson wanted and Eagle and his colleague Pete Fulwell didn’t. The pair split but Wilson still felt a residual fondness and responsibility for Liverpool, hence the concert.
So I queued up for my ticket and arrived early to enjoy an evening of stellar Manchester music, featuring three bands who were all in their prime – New Order, The Fall and The Smiths.
New Order opened proceedings on the basis that they had the most gear and it would be easier to clear the stage after they had finished rather than set up.
In terms of chronology, this was between “Low-Life” and “Brotherhood”. The set was largely a mix of the two albums, opening with “Perfect Kiss”. “Temptation” and “Age Of Consent” were the sole back catalogue tracks before an encore of “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. At this time, New Order generally didn’t cover Joy Division material so this was an unexpected treat. However they were having one of their more moody evenings and whilst the set wasn’t awful, I have seen them better.
Each band were allocated a 45 minute set so the roadies went to work and The Fall entered the arena. The feeling in the Royal Court at the time was that the Fall were the lesser of the three bands but their set was possibly the highlight of the evening.
This really was the Fall at the peak of their commercial and musical powers. This was a classic line up with Mark E and Brix Smith, Karl Burns, Steve Hanley, Craig Scanlon and Simon Rogers. Opening with a 1-2-3 from “This Nation’s Saving Grace” which is my favourite Fall album, they rattled through “Rouche Rumble” and “Lay Of The Land”. After an early version of “Hey Luciani”, they let rip with a fantastic “Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul” before finishing with “Cruiser’s Creek”.
The Smiths followed. This was about was just as “The Queen Is Dead” was being finished up and the set drew mostly from the forthcoming album and “Meat Is Murder”. “Vicar In A Tutu”, “Cemetery Gates” and “Frankly Mr Shakily” were all debuted that evening.
After walking on to “Montagues and Capulets” (before we were sick of it due to the Apprentice), they opened with “Shakespeare’s Sister.” The set ignored the early material with Johnny teasing with the intro’s to “This Charming Man” and “What Difference Does It Make?”. Highlights for me was “Rusholme Ruffian’s” which had the full “Marie’s The Name Of His Latest Flame” intro and the earliest track, “William, It Was Really Nothing.” The full set is here:
After encores of “Meat Is Murder” and “Stretch Out And Wait”, members of the bands joined John Cooper Clarke, The Farm and The Redskins on stage for a ramshackle version of “Maggie’s Farm”. I seem to remember a few Newcastle Brown bottles being chucked but can’t recall what prompted it.
The evening ended and I headed back to Garston reflecting on seeing these three bands at pivotal stages in their careers.
The councillors lost their court battle and the Militant Tendency contingent were expelled from the Labour Party. Derek Hatton enjoyed a chequered career in media before heading to Cyprus as a property developer at the start of the century. I doubt any of those council workers who received their redundancy notices enjoyed such a fortunate conclusion to their careers.
New Order Setlist
The Perfect Kiss
As It Is When It Was
Bizarre Love Triangle
Age of Consent
Love Will Tear Us Apart
The Fall Setlist
Mansion Riff > My New House
Lay of the Land
Couldn’t Get Ahead
Hot Aftershave Bop
Lie Dream of a Casino Soul
The Smiths Setlist
I Want the One I Can’t Have
Vicar in a Tutu
Frankly, Mr. Shankly
(with (Marie’s The Name) His Latest Flame intro)
The Boy With the Thorn in His Side
What She Said
There Is a Light That Never Goes Out
Bigmouth Strikes Again
William, It Was Really Nothing
Meat Is Murder
Stretch Out and Wait
To end, a couple of favourite performances from the era.
Firstly here’s New Order doing “In A Lonely Place” in the BBC Studios at Maida Vale in 1984. Bernard is a real tosser berating Steve for the speed of his playing.
And finally an interview with Brix and Mark E from the Tube followed by “Bombast” and “Cruiser’s Creek” a few months before the Liverpool gig. They really were the unlikely stars of the evening. On this interview, Mark is on good form, discussing how long the Fall could keep going for. Who would have thought the answer was 40 years!
“Those who dare mix real life with politics
And go on regardless of the..of the discoveries
Will feel the wrath of bombast
clanging in my heart”
Words that Derek Hatton would have done well to heed – having said that, given his later career, the joke is possibly on us. However, in these days where there is no credible Socialist or Liberal opposition in Britain to the Conservative government, the Labour Party needs to find a way of appealing to those rank and file Liverpool council workers who handed their redundancy notices by Hatton, as well as generating sufficient wider support to be an effective alternative.
@stephenand has just sent me this photo via Twitter. I was standing just in front of JM.