Rectangle Radio 'Totally Wired' DJ meets Here & Now, daevid allen, and the Magick Brothers…
The year was 1992. Poisoned Electrick Head had existed since 1986. We'd released one album on Liverpool's Probe-Plus label, though some cassette-only albums and a 7-inch single had preceded it. We were gigging constantly and had been introduced to the festival scene by Liverpool anarcho-squatter nutjobs, 'Radio Mongolia'. Somehow we'd also drifted into the radar of the Space Agency [Keith 'the Missile Bass' Bailey's booking agency], and had supported Here & Now a few times on their northern appearances. Gong and Here & Now were key influences in our sound, and there was also a strong Hawkwind feel, a touch of Zappa, the chaotic energy of Punk and a big slab of Devo for good measure. We even had a half-cyborg, half telephone mascot called the Telebot who lived in a Marshall cabinet, the front of which would open to reveal him. I remember one gig where we decamped to the communal dressing room after our support slot with Here & Now, killed the lights and installed Telebot in all his day-glo glory. Keith Bailey staggered in bathed in sweat and famously exclaimed in exasperation "Fuckin' psychedelic bands!"
Back in our home town we'd amassed a sizeable following. St Helens was and remains an industrial town that falls geographically between the twin stars of Liverpool and Manchester. People seeking a cultural experience beyond rugby and fighting would gravitate to one or the other. When we unleashed our brand of entertainment we unwittingly ticked a lot of boxes. We became a common denominator for potheads, acidheads, straights, casuals and those guys who you don't make eye contact with and cross the street to avoid. This last demographic group we had at least two in the band. Unusually, the various tribes co-existed under this collective umbrella at our gigs in a peaceful cloud of sweet-smelling smoke, dilated pupils and massive bar sales.
The working-men's club scene was well established but working men were becoming an endangered species, so we quickly realised that these huge, well appointed venues could be transformed for one night into a freak-out, where once or twice a year we would bring in a top-tier P.A. and lighting rig, and take the door money to finance future tours, studio time, etc.
This was the situation we found ourselves in when Jake, the manager of the arts centre 'The Citadel' (a great place, that has consistently to this day acted as a cultural oasis, despite the ups and downs of arts funding, to bring richly diverse entertainment to the town) contacted me.
He'd booked daevid allen's Magick Brothers, and then been informed that we were playing at the cavernous Thatto Heath Labour Club the same night. It would inevitably split the crowd. I remember thinking of guys I knew, three spliffs in who would be in turmoil at such a turn of events - they normally only have to wring their hands over what album to put on next.
I wouldn't call it a stand-off but we had everything in place so I told Jake that we couldn't reschedule at this stage, we'd have to just go with it. We were all gutted at missing a daevid allen gig in town on top of it.
Then I'm called by Jake to say that the Citadel is off but daevid will come over and play with us guys. It was all a bit unreal, the most exciting thing that had ever happened in this place was a big win on the bingo.
The Magick Brothers arrived mid-afternoon and we did all the soundcheck stuff, ate a little and discussed practicalities. daevid said that their music was gentle and pastoral and would benefit from being performed before the psychotic rock-shock our set amounted to. We shuffled uncomfortably in our seats, but acquiesced. If you had the pleasure of meeting him, you know there were smiles all round.
A huge percentage of the folk who regularly came to our gigs were massive Gong-heads. Some of them had heard in advance what had transpired, and some had a big grin-inducing surprise. Suffice to say, St Helens has never seen a night like it since. By rights there should be a plaque on the wall, but the underground and interesting stuff rarely gets such accolades. The best you can hope for is that you were there.
Poisoned Electrick Head reformed a few years ago with four original members from the initial eight and are still out there, collaborating with Arthur Brown, Nik Turner and others. About ten years ago I wrote the Poisoned Electrick Head biography, and include an extract here about that mythical night…
This concert came about under unusual circumstances and probably did little to enhance our tenuous standing with 'The Space Agency', but by that time their gigs for us had all but dried up and we were doing fine under our own steam. Maybe we'd made it clear that £50 support slots were counter-productive to us locally, but more than likely our asshole behaviour had precluded us from any further involvement (however, for some reason we kept emerging in their universe like an unwanted bubble under the wallpaper).
Thus, when daevid allen came to town - an astute move on the part of the Citadel's promoter - the first we heard of it was when we glanced at that month's listing in the local free paper and there it was: daevid allen's Magick Brothers Friday June 12th, 1992.
We quickly realised that we were playing that night anyway, we'd decided to move things up a notch from our usual 'Peasley Cross' shows and try our hand in the flagship labour club of the town - the cavernous Thatto Heath; which welcomed us with open arms to the horror of the regulars, despite being a fiercely traditional place. Word had spread through clubland about this particular cash cow and like the lady says, money talks and bullshit walks. The only dilemma lay in the hands of local heads who had to choose which soundtrack would accompany their Friday night skinning-up duties.
Then, in what was a bold move, Jake from the Citadel rang asking us if we could re-schedule, and when we refused, announced that he would inform The Space Agency that he was pulling the gig. A few days later the situation took another strange twist and resulted in daevid allen, after much consultation, agreeing to join us at Thatto Heath on the bill there, much to the chagrin of the support band. They were a power rock trio called Israfel, all excellent musicians playing much in the style of 'Rush', and had been badgering us for a support slot for some time.
(We were eternally criticised over the support band issue and for us it was a no-win situation. Any competent bands we chose resented the audience not acknowledging the fact, and if we used an inexperienced band - always at their behest I might add - we were accused of picking them just to make ourselves look better. We were bombarded daily with requests from Dead Fly customers who, seeing only the local exposure it offered failed to realise that a sizeable chunk of the crowd weren't even that taken with our music, so unless they played the Zappa/Floyd card they were lambs to the slaughter. After a while we sidestepped the dilemma via more practical means. We chose trios. They took up less room.)
These changes in events meant that Israfel would have to go on earlier, leaving just the thorny subject of who would follow. In terms of experience, fame, reputation - well, in most terms really - The Magick Brothers pissed all over us, but daevid allen's music had a gentle, pastoral, spiritually uplifting quality, and was mainly acoustic in delivery, so these facts coupled with the full-throttle psyche-fest we indulged in meant that they got to go on second. I truly believe it wouldn't have worked any other way, and even though they were fine and dandy about it, looking back it still seems audacious of us.
On the night itself a record crowd turned out and witnessed something very special indeed. They were warmed up by Israfel during their post-arrival pint quaffing session, before being mesmerised and hypnotised as Daevid Allen's snake-charmer qualities transported them through ambrosial vistas of moon-kissed mystical delight. At times you could almost hear a blim* drop (*a piece of cannabis resin deemed so small as to be of almost no consequence) as Graham Clarke's dreamy violin floated through the 600 strong crowd, intertwining with Mark Robson's haunting whistle, and though they may have been a trio who didn't take up much room, they sure knew how to captivate one.
Despite a long history of "quality turns" stretching back to the fifties, I'm sure Thatto Heath had never played host to such artistry, and we couldn't help but feel blessed for having inadvertently and quite accidentally made it occur.