And they've still got it
Liverpool never fails to stretch open its arms when Deaf School arrive at its door.
The city’s favourite prodigals might well be, according to some, the most important group it ever spawned - after The Beatles that is.
And even though the tidal wave of global mainstream fame eluded them at the last minute (it’s complicated), Deaf School’s catalogue of songs to cherish, combined with charged live performances that go on to this day, leave one with the sense that if this is the world’s loss it is our gain.
“It’s a rock ’n’ roll cabaret with punk and pop art in its bloodstream,” observes their biographer, music writer Paul Du Noyer. “If you sat down and made them up you’d awake the next day and decide it was the weirdest dream you’d ever had. But also, perhaps, the nicest.”
Nobody doubts they are good live, but now wide awake excitements are afoot. Deaf School are not only coming home for Christmas but they have a new album out.
Let’s Do This Again Next Week, their first full-length collection of all-new material since 1978, has all the hallmarks of the indefinable, indefatigable act who, in the words of Du Noyer, became a genre unto themselves.
For years, pop music felt the ripples from the impact of Deaf School, a ramshackle ensemble who formed at Liverpool Art College with the aim of playing the 1973 Christmas dance in the canteen.
Their onstage membership often stretched into double figures, some local, some not. In the end it all boiled down to Clive (Cliff Hanger) Langer, Steve (Enrico Cadillac Jnr) Allen, Steve (Mr Average) Lindsey, Anne Martin (Bette Bright), John (Rev Max Ripple) Wood and Ian Ritchie. Never forgetting late drummer Tim Whittaker and vocalist Sam (Eric Shark) Davis.
The young band went down well, decided to make a go of it, got slicker, got smarter, were signed by Warner Bros and toured America. Success, in the words of The Rutles, was only a drum beat away. Then punk happened and Deaf School didn’t.
Fast forward 40 years and a recording that catapults you straight back again.
Let’s Do This Again Next Week, a DeLorean blast to 1977 with that Deaf School dash of timeless sophistication, was made possible with funding from millionaire superfan Neville Astley, co-creator of kids TV show Peppa Pig, who fell in love with them at a York University gig.
Perhaps being free from the shackles of the record company system (which Langer and co helped create) and any other expectation, gives it strength. This is no indulgent stash of overly smart, self conscious composition, which the best acts can fall prey to after the first peak. Frontman Allen, who co-wrote the bulk of the new material with bassist Lindsey, says they were anxious to swerve that.
“When we started writing it last year we agreed we wanted to get back to the vibe of the early quirky pop, not ‘rock’,” he told Liverpool Confidential. “The first song being Tap To Snooze which became a benchmark for the direction. I love the variety of it.”
And it’s all there, rising to the challenge of a precocious past; occasionally cautious but mostly unadulterated Deaf School: the Hopelessly Romantic (Loving You); The Rueful (The 4th Of September Street); The Unexpected (Dr Vodker); The Hints of Madness (Come On Archie!). Even John Betjeman-style whimsy is channelled (The Fabulous Miss Susan Jones). For your earworm needs, check Fantastic Fish and Top Man Top (video below), the first single to be plucked from the 11 tracks and which includes the hand of Langer.
Deaf School’s big fanbases are centred in Liverpool and London - though they do well in places like Tokyo. Gigs are a suitably rare occasion and include, in the ticket price, a rapid fire hail of magical compositions - What A Way To End It All, Nearly Moonlit Night Motel, Taxi, 2nd Honeymoon among them - underlined by melodic charisma and that enduring onstage romantic promise between Enrico Cadillac Jnr and Bette Bright at the core of Deaf School’s fluttering, beating heart. Now there is a big something new to add to the cauldron.
Before you rush off to buy the last remaining tickets for Deaf School’s Christmas Party at The Invisible Wind Factory on Saturday 9th December, or to download the album this weekend, it’s worth remembering that this is the band which unwittingly lay the seeds for the great second Mersey sound and gave the city it its musical mojo back. And look where it ended up.
That, if nothing else, has got to be worth a hug. Come ‘ere.
*Deaf School Christmas Party, Invisible Wind Factory, Regent Road, L3. Saturday 9th December. Tickets (£17) here.
Album: Let's Do This Again Next Week, out Friday 1st December.