I wrote this piece about Flowered Up in Autumn 2019.
Extracts from this were included in the book “Flowered Up: A Weekender’s Tale” by Matt Mead and Dave Hewitson. That book was funded by a Kickstarter campaign and is now sold out.
We used to go down to Brighton a lot back then. Most weekends we would be in Sister Rays on West Street pogoing around and knocking each other into the mirrored walls around the dancefloor. When we first started going there around 1987 it was full of teenagers like us dressed in black. The music was Cure / Sisters of Mercy / Joy Division mixed in with the big punk tunes and C86 indie stuff.
Part of the club’s appeal was that it was never very busy so you’d see the same faces coming each week and there was never a wait to get served at the bar.
That gradually changed over the next few years as the whole Madchester thing took off. The decade ended with The Stone Roses at their peak, by which time no night at Sister Rays was complete without the DJ playing both Fools Gold and its equally brilliant b-side What The World Is Waiting For. The lolloping monkey dancers in beanie hats were outnumbering the any-colour-so-long-as-it’s-black brigade by this point.
As much as me and my mates liked those Roses and Mondays records, we liked Inspiral Carpets even more. They were more obviously influenced by some of our favourite punk bands (Buzzcocks, Stranglers) and songs like “Joe” and “Find Out Why” were just that bit more fast and frantic. The late Craig Gill’s unrelenting Funky Drummer at 78rpm drumbeat was irresistible to our teenage feet. (See also Simon Smith’s similar drumbeat on another Sister Rays dancefloor filler The Wedding Present’s “Kennedy.”)
A few weeks before the Flowered Up gig that I’m eventually going to get to below, we’d seen the Inspirals (or should that be the Carpets?) at the Top Rank, just opposite Sister Rays on West Street. That had gone down as the most hectic and sweaty gig we’d been to at that point. A month later we saw them play probably their biggest ever gig so far headlining the Saturday night of Reading Festival, fireworks and all.
In between those gigs, 2 carfuls of us drove down to see Flowered Up play on Tuesday 31st July 1990. I’m pretty sure it was the first time that we’d ever gone to see a band based on just one song so “It’s On” must’ve made a big impression on us. I was working in the HMV shop in Guildford then and I remember that most of the staff there though it was rubbish. But me and one of my colleagues loved it and we used to play it in the shop a lot. It must have been largely about the music because we were a bit too naive and smalltown to have much idea what the lyrics were actually about!
The gig was at the Zap Club and for those that never had the pleasure of a gig there, it was a small club under the promenade facing directly onto the beach.
Inside it was wider than it was deep with a stage that was about shin height.
On this particular night it was absolutely rammed and boiling hot. Bobby Gillespie was wandering around looking higher than the sun and somehow was the only person in there not sweating despite having a leather jacket on.
The band were jammed together on the tiny stage and we were right next to the keyboard player getting a good look at his Italo House piano chords. It’s mostly the fast songs that I remember. Of course we’d never heard any of them before but there was that frenetic Inspirals Funky Drummer drumbeat again and we were bouncing around. We ended up on the stage, we couldn’t really help it! It seemed like half the crowd were up there. Not quite sure how but we ended up going home with quite a few large pieces of Barry Mooncult’s petal stage outfit.
I’m Barry Mooncult and so does your mother!
Lots of the crowd came straight out of the gig and went swimming in the sea to cool down. I remember that when we came out of the we were really pissed off because some bastard had stolen all our clothes. Actually it was just that the currents had taken us several hundred yards east and once we’d figured that out we found that our clothes were in fact exactly where we’d left them.
I think the gig was reported in NME or Melody Maker as a riot which it definitely wasn’t. It was just a band and an audience dancing like loons and having a fucking great time.
The next single “Phobia” was a bit of a letdown after all that. It seemed to take ages for the album to actually come out and when it did there were some absolutely brilliant songs on there. Maybe something catchier like “Silver Pan” or “Crackerjack” should’ve been the follow-up to “It’s On.”
Those 2 songs and the amazing “Egg Rush” are as good as anything from that era and I still listen to them today. Joe’s guitar playing is fantastic, both the Chic style rhythm guitar and the full on lead stuff that sounds like it’s from some 70s prog rock nonsense that I definitely wouldn’t have admitted to liking back then.
Apart from going to gigs and football, we spent most of the rest of our time watching and re-watching our favourite films on VHS. Quadrophenia was one of our most frequently viewed so as soon as I heard the intro to “Weekender” I was hooked. The band’s masterpiece and just one of the most amazing singles of all time. Jimmy’s “you can take that mail and that franking machine” speech is surely the greatest ever piece of dialogue to end a song with!
Not long after “Weekender” came out I saw the band again. The scale of the gig was very different to the small sweaty Zap Club because this was “Madstock” a huge outdoor gig in Finsbury Park. I’d been in Camden that Sunday morning where someone had told me that there’d been some sort of controversy involving Morrissey on day one. He’d waved a Union Jack onstage, caused a bit of a palaver and had consequently cancelled his appearance on the second day. It all seemed like a bit of a storm in a teacup back then and I certainly did not foresee that this was one of the first signs of what a total bellend Morrissey would reveal himself to be politically over the subsequent decades!
I can’t remember if it was Flowered Up or Gallon Drunk who’d played at the bottom of the bill but I remember getting right down to the front for both of them. Neither of those bands play music that suits a Sunday afternoon outdoors in the sun but there was quite a contrast to the way they approached the gig. Gallon Drunk gave it the proverbial 110% and performed to the small gathering down at the front with a lot of passion as if they were playing in the small pub backroom they probably wished they were. Flowered Up seemed to be going through the motions. Their half-hearted performance was such a contrast to the Brighton gig where it was obvious that the band were enjoying themselves at least as much as the crowd!
It’s perfectly understandable if Flowered Up didn’t particularly want to be spending a hungover Sunday lunchtime playing to a big field of people who were mostly ignoring them and concentrating instead on getting suitably pissed up for when the headliners appeared. Gallon Drunk probably didn’t want to either but they hid it better. Even so I had no idea that the band were coming to an end and I was looking forward to more Flowered Up Records because if “Weekender” was anything to go by, the second album was going to be fucking fantastic.
The first record I ever bought was “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” in Romford Woolworths so I was really pleased that Morrissey’s no-show meant an extended set from the brilliant Ian Dury and the Blockheads. I wonder if he caught any of Flowered Up’s set earlier that day and heard some of Liam’s smart lyrics. Just like Dury, he was a one-off. Such a shame that Liam, Joe and the rest of the band didn’t leave us with more music. They had more ideas in that one album and single than many bands have over their whole dreary careers!!