poet/author saxophone player/editor

Q&A with HIP’s local literary correspondent John Cornelius

PART two

Continued from Part One in HIP Literature Issue 127 click here

Mike Evans played alto saxophone in the 1960s ‘Mersey Beat’ band, The Clayton Squares, later joining poet/painter/performer Adrian Henri to form the (still) unique rock-poetry-jazz ensemble, The Liverpool Scene. Later still he became a member of Deaf School, a chaotic art school band credited by none other than Suggs himself as the inspiration for his own band of crazies, Madness. In the intervening years, Mike has lived in Liverpool, London and France, pursuing a career as writer and editor of non-fiction books on subjects ranging from the history of vinyl to Leonard Cohen via Elvis Presley and many other subjects. I was glad to renew my acquaintance with Mike and his fashion designer wife Sue in Hastings recently. They are still very much together after a 50-year marriage, which must be a music biz record in itself.

JC: What about Deaf School? The name wasn’t as tasteless as it seems today, being simply the name of an annexe building which had previously been a school for the deaf, attached to Liverpool College of Art. They were a typical art school knockabout band, heavy on ideas and light on musicianship. I can remember Clive Langer – he called himself Cliff Hanger – struggling to get his fingers around two or three guitar chords, yet he became a fantastically successful record producer, which demonstrates once again that creativity and musical technique don’t necessarily go together. Loads of songwriters have limited musical ability and loads of accomplished musicians haven’t a clue when it comes to writing. Any significant memories of Deaf School?

ME: Yes… after the pressure of being on the road for nearly a decade with the Clayton Squares then Liverpool Scene, the non-professional chaos that was early Deaf School came as a refreshing change. Of course things got tighter and more disciplined, and I hope my input helped in that respect, but when we were offered a big record deal I decided to call it a day… I’d been there before.

JC: I know that there is a ‘best of’ double CD entitled, The Amazing Adventures of the Liverpool Scene (Cherry Red) and a rather sweet old black and white film available online called Liverpool A Go-Go which features Cavern DJ Bob Wooler introducing The Fourmost and The Clayton Squares, with a girl singer called Tiffany, performing on a Mersey ferryboat and an open-topped bus. Are there any other online gems you’d recommend to anyone who wanted to catch up on all this? I think I’ve seen bits of the Granada TV series the Liverpool Scene recorded in about 1968?

ME: Everyone seems to mention the first scenes on Liverpool A Go-Go, the ferryboat and the bus, but the best sequence of the Clayton Squares was later on in the film, playing at the Cavern. The other little gem, with the Liverpool Scene, was the Pathe News film of us opening on the Bob Dylan day at the 1969 Isle of Wight festival. It was in the days when they still had newsreels in cinemas before the main feature, so there we were, on the silver screen (briefly) all over the country.

JC: As you know, I’m a bit of a Luddite when it comes to technology but I have to admit it has its uses as long as you don’t spend more than an hour on any given site…I think had computers in the present form existed 50 years ago, we wouldn’t be talking now as nothing would have been read, written or performed. It was very much a pub culture and pubs are now an endangered species…

ME: Yes… when we moved to France I thought “The one thing I’ll miss is the English pub”, but going back to London I can hardly afford to step inside one these days… that pub culture has certainly disappeared, though folk tell me it’s better down here.

JC: One thing that stood out for me was the sheer humour of the Liverpool Scene. Although you were all generally on the left, politically – I remember the anti-Enoch Powell rant you used to go into as a showstopper – the sense of humour was always to the fore. Adrian was immensely quick with a witty response to any situation and you always had a fund of jokes (of varying quality!) yourself. It seems to me something painfully lacking in later ‘committed’ artists like Elvis Costello, Billy Bragg and Paul Weller – very po-faced and not a decent joke between them. All politics and no poetry. The Liverpool Scene was more like, ‘The Last Poets meet the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’. It anticipated the ‘alternative’ comedy scene. Any thoughts on this?

ME: We never took ourselves too seriously, or tried not to. As the Stones sang, ‘Its only rock’n’roll…’ But I hope we were not responsible for the ‘alternative’ comedy scene…aptly named, it was often more like an alternative to comedy. Call me old fashioned, but I prefer jokes with a punchline myself….have you heard the one about…?

JC: So perhaps we could round this up with a few comments about current projects or plans for the future?

ME: To be honest, nothing right this minute…a lot of what I do is commissioned, or I float an idea and a publisher likes it enough to foolishly risk money on it, so a few things hopefully soon in the pipeline. Brown (Pete) suggested a while back I should do an Adrian Henri biography, but feel a bit too close to it personally….maybe my own memoir one day, been working on some material recently, so who knows….

JC: OK Mike – thanks. Enjoy your stay here!

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