Melody Maker | Feature | 18 April 1992 | Photo: Tom Sheehan
Trust Flowered Up to come up with the name "Debauchery" for the unofficial launch party for their new single, "Weekender". And trust them to take over a huge private house in a swanky London suburb rather than hire a club or squat a warehouse.
The group took possession of the house several weeks before "Debauchery", within hours of hearing that its owner, a famous racehorse breeder, had left the country owing a fortune to the Inland Revenue. The guy had preferred to spend his money on installing a jacuzzi and a sauna in the basement and a swimming pool on the ground floor.
On the night of the party, DJs Paul Oakenfold and Terry Farley turned the whole of the first floor into a dancefloor and, up above, bedrooms were converted into bars and cloakrooms. The antics in the attic cannot be repeated. Let's just say that Caligula would have been delighted.
Advertised solely by word of mouth, almost 1,000 revellers turned up at "Debauchery" during the course of the Saturday night. The guest list included various Primals and Mondays, Kirsty MacColl and one of the Guildford Four. The neighbours were not impressed, however, and by midnight a convoy of police vans was crawling up and down the private road leading to the house. But although most cars leaving the party were stopped and their occupants questioned, no attempt was made to bust the party. The one time the police actually came to the door of the house, Flowered Up's security men refused them entry. The boys in blue didn't argue.
"I think they were worried about stopping the fun and putting 1,000 angry people out on the streets, especially considering the posh area we were in," laughs Flowered Up vocalist Liam Maher, sitting in a Camden pub a few days after "Debauchery". "My only complaint was that the party didn't last longer. Okay, I was off my head, but it seemed to be all over in two or three hours. The original idea was to keep going all weekend, right through to the Sunday night, but somebody cocked up the hire of the sound system. I was just getting my second wind when they started packing everything away.
"The geezer who owned this place obviously had plenty of cash, but the chandeliers were cut-glass not crystal, and some of the furniture was pretty tacky. One room had a revolving bed in the middle and a big oyster shell-shaped bath in the corner. Mind you, the top hats and tails we, er, found in one of the wardrobes were fucking brilliant. We took loads of pictures of us wearing them in the jacuzzi. We've also got some great photos of our manager in a pair of crotchless leather trousers with his old Dennis the Menace boxer shorts poking through."
In the aftermath of "Debauchery", the house looked like it had been hit by a tornado. Apart from the obligatory beer stains and cigarette burns on the carpets, somebody had removed the staircase banisters and the ground floor was ankle-deep in water as a result of countless people being thrown into the swimming pool. Oh, and the fact that another guest had driven a car through the back garden, through the French windows, and straight into the deep end.
"You're fucking joking," says Liam, almost choking on his Sol. "That never happened, did it? It hadn't happened when I left at eight o'clock on the Sunday morning."
Well, that's the story from your press officer.
"Shit! I knew that a few things were smashed up but I hadn't heard anything like that. The Old Bill eventually came in on Sunday and arrested a few people, but none of them were anything to do with Flowered Up. We were all long gone by then. Honest."
It's several months since "Debauchery" and Flowered Up's "Weekender" is only now about to see the light of day. In a different pub in a different part of town, Liam Maher blames London Records for the delay. The label were apparently horrified that the song lasted 13 minutes and would only agree to releasing a 10,000 limited edition 12-inch. When they then refused to pay FU the full advance on the second year of their contract, Liam and the boys jumped at the chance to leave the label. They've spent the last few months negotiating a new deal with Heavenly Records, who launched the band in the summer of 1990, and buying "Weekender" back from London.
"It's good to be on Heavenly again, it feels like we've come home," says Liam. "We were always really suspicious of London Records. It was like they'd only signed us because they wanted a band with credibility. Their reaction to 'Weekender' proved they didn't understand us. They didn't get it at all."
This seems crazy. Although its length rules out any hope of daytime radio play, "Weekender" is unquestionably FU's strongest song to date. A powerful rock beat peppered with percussion breaks, increasingly vibrant guitar solos, wild psychedelic keyboards, Stax horns, a haunting oboe, and dub and techno effects all have their parts to play. "Weekender" is an epic in every sense of the word.
"We originally wanted to record an EP with three covers from different eras – 'Lazy Sunday Afternoon', 'Anarchy In The UK' and 'Ghost Town' were talked about – and finish it off with a new Flowered Up track to represent the Nineties," explains Liam. "We spent two or three weeks rehearsing new material, but nothing was coming together. Then one night, we had a few drinks, set up and – bang! – this song came out of nowhere and lasted 40 fucking minutes. It was mad, but none of us lost interest while we were playing, we were all really into it. Luckily, we'd taped it and we listened back to the tape, picked out the bits we liked and built 'Weekender' out of them.
"The single proves we're a lot more original and sincere than some people think. I mean, there are loads of different influences in there – rock, blues, jazz, soul, reggae – but the overall sound is something entirely new. It doesn't use the same old beats, it's not just another version of 'Fool's Gold'. The lesson we learnt from acid house and E was that you can dance to anything and everything, you don't have to stick to one type of music. We don't feel restricted. We believe we have a ticket to play whatever we want.
"Even though the track was recorded nine months ago, we're all still really excited about it. It's the first record we're totally happy with – it make me smile every time I hear it – and a lot of that is to do with our new producer, Clive Langer. He worked with Madness back in the Eighties. He makes us sound bright and lively, he makes us sparkle in a way our old producer couldn't. I also think that with Andy Jackson leaving the band and our new bassist Mick Leader coming in, we're a lot tighter than ever before."
Liam has every right to feel proud of "Weekender" and the reconstituted FU. It's hard to believe this is the same group responsible for the drippy "It's On" and the patchy "A Life With Brian" album.
"I must admit 'It's On' makes me cringe when I hear it now," says Liam. "A couple of weeks after we'd recorded it, I knew it could have been done a lot better. The thing was, we were under so much pressure at the start – you know, front covers on the strength of half a dozen gigs, A&R men who weren't on the guest list waving fistfuls of fivers outside venues – and we just didn't have the material to back it up. It made people very suspicious of us, rightly so I suppose. Then again, seeing as how it's only two years since our first gig, I'm also pleased with what we've achieved in such a short time."
"Weekender" has lots more talking points. The sleeve has a photo of Sid Vicious's hotel room the morning after he'd killed Nancy Spungen and the proposed video is more like a short film. One scene involves Liam scaling the outside of London's Centre Point high-rise in a window cleaner's cradle. Then there's Andrew Weatherall's two remixes of the track, both unrecognisable from the original. One is 17 minutes long. The titles of the remixes, "Audrey Is A Little Bit Partial" and "More Partial", play on the Audrey Witherspoon nickname given to Weatherall by Primal Scream and the old FU favourite "Doris... Is A Little Bit Partial".
The incisive anti nine-to-five message of "Weekender" is backed by samples of Jimmy (Phil Daniels) from The Who's "Quadrophenia" film: "You can take that mail and that franking machine and all that other rubbish I have to go about with and you can stuff 'em right up your arse..."
"I can really relate to Jimmy in 'Quadrophenia', you know, growing up in London, surrounded by music, going out to clubs and getting sweaty, getting off your face," says Liam. "The way he threw up his job was pretty cool too. I've often thought it's a real crime that so many people have to do shitty nine-to-fives for no thanks at the end of the day. Everybody should have the freedom to do what they want with their lives."
But that's not very realistic, is it? Even the shittiest job gives you a bit of money to enjoy your free time, doesn't it?
"I know, but how can people do something they hate, week in, week out? It must be soul destroying to spend half the year looking forward to a fortnight's holiday in the summer and the other half looking forward to Christmas. It's a Catch 22 and it's not the kind of life I want. I couldn't handle it."
Is Flowered Up your escape from the nine-to-five scenario? Is it like a perpetual weekend?
"In some ways. I've only ever had one proper job and that was years ago, straight after I left school. I worked as a painter and decorator. The bloke who employed me was supposed to be giving me an apprenticeship, but he just used me for cheap labour. When I complained, he gave me the sack, and I swore I'd never work for anybody again, I'd find another way to earn money. At the same time, I realise that some people are content with a boring job and 'Weekender' isn't a criticism of them, it's just saying you should do whatever makes you happy. Also, if everybody thought the same as me, the world would be fucked, wouldn't it?"
The photo session at Tom Sheehan's studio is a riot. Flowered Up have hired top hats and tails just like the ones they wore at "Debauchery" and are more interested in parading in front of the mirror than Sheehan's camera.
"Shall we have away with this gear?" asks the irrepressible Barry Mooncult. "'Ere, Tommy, what size are you? We'll phone up and see if we can get another suit sent over."
As Sheehan reels off his vital statistics, the conversation drifts onto FU's reputation as, at best rogues, at worst out-and-out thugs.
"People have completely the wrong idea about us," says Liam. "I'm not saying we're angels, but we're certainly not thugs. Okay, when I was 16 or 17, I was always getting into fights. I've been sliced with a knife, I've had mates who've been stabbed, mates who've stabbed others, but I've changed and I want to keep away from that shit. I don't need it, don't want it. I once spent four weeks on remand and that was a real eye-opener. I even saw a guy get killed one night and that really freaked me out.
"The problem is, if you live on a council estate in London, you're surrounded by violence and drugs, you're breathing it in every day, and it's hard not to get caught up in a spiral of crime. In a way, Flowered Up is more my escape from that kind of life than from a nine-to-five.
"Any trouble we get involved in is nothing compared to what other bands get up to. If we smash up a hotel, we always pay for the damage, we never argue about it. It's never malicious, it's not meant to offend or upset anybody, it's boisterous, drunken or drugged fun rather than thuggery. We're young, we want to have a bit of fun. At the end of the day, this is probably only going to happen once in our lives so we've got to make the most of it, haven't we?"
Which brings us to Barry Mooncult.
"He's not part of the band, he just comes on the road with us," explains Liam. "We have to keep him away from the studio because he causes too much chaos. Again, people have the wrong idea about Barry. He's not a cheap gimmick, he represents the spirit of the band, the idea of going out and having a good time.
"Those comparisons with Bez aren't valid either. Bez is for the chaps, but Barry is anti-macho, anti-thuggery. I mean, coming onstage in women's clothes or in bondage gear is taking the piss out of the whole 'one of the lads' thing. And then he comes off the road and goes back to his wife and kid! I daren't think what his little girl tells her friends when they ask her what her dad does for a living.
"Sometimes he pushes his luck too far, you know? It's like he's constantly searching for some new outrage to commit, but he's perfectly harmless. I remember one time we were at the airport and this bloke is standing there in a tracksuit and Barry, who'd never seen this geezer before in his life, walks up behind him and pulls his trousers down. He's left trying to cover up his skimpy briefs. It was mad. Barry never lets up. I've known him to go two or three days without sleep and he's still grinning and joking, still acting like a fucking lunatic."
Right now, though, Barry looks decidedly glum.
"The geezer up at the hire shop says he hasn't any suits your size, Tom," he mutters. "Sorry mate."
Tom Sheehan is gutted.
Liam Maher is now the proud father of a three-month-old baby girl, Tao. His new status would send most guys scouring the jobs pages for the most stable nine-to-five they could find.
Has becoming a parent changed you?
"Yeah, definitely. I'm changing nappies and getting up in the middle of the night to feed her – and I'm enjoying every minute of it. You see a lot of young parents where the girl does all the work and I don't think that's right. Yeah, I've been pretty irresponsible over the last couple of years, you know, heavy drinking and taking all sorts of drugs, and I realise I can't keep pushing my luck like that now. It's not fair on Tao. Even if things don't work out and I split up with my girlfriend, I'll still be Tao's dad and she'll still need me around.
"On the other hand, being a dad won't stop me doing what I want with my life. As well as the situation with Flowered Up getting really exciting, you know, recording our second album and getting ready to tour America later in the year, there are still loads of things I want to do while I'm still young. I'd love to go backpacking across Europe or go to college, try my hand at some other creative work, or maybe even get involved in some sort of charity work. There's so much to do."
And the weekend starts here.