SONGS ABOUT LOVE, DREAMS
AND DOMESTIC APPLIANCES
Why is he ‘legendary’? Because John Peel said so.
Len Liggins was a Sinister Cleaner, a some-time
Wedding Present, and a fully signed-up Ukrainian.
Now he continues in a solo continuum…
and it’s fascinating
There’s something typically English about sitting in deckchairs on the Southend-On-Sea promenade in front of the gift emporium and the ‘Las Vegas’ amusement arcade, a place where open skies meet closed minds. This is a picture taken during that memorable summer of 1972, Len’s Dad wears sunglasses, his Mom has her handbag safely within reach, and cousin James sits poised, all caught by the camera lens. The sky is overcast. Perhaps there’s a slight breeze. There could be candy-floss later, or maybe fish-and-chips. It could be Ray Davies ‘I go to Blackpool for my holidays, sit in the open sunlight’, except that it’s not, it’s the cover-photo for The Legendary Len Liggins CD ‘Songs About Love, Dreams And Domestic Appliances’ (AAZCD10).
‘Glad you’ve been enjoying the songs’ offers Len cheerfully. I have. Tell me about the album, Len. Tick one box. Yes or no. Anticipation hangs like spittle on my lip. ‘All the tracks were previously released decades ago either on solo vinyl EPs, or vinyl or cassette compilation albums’ he explains. ‘There was also an original limited-edition CD version of ‘Songs About Love, Dreams And Domestic Appliances’ – I just checked and I pressed up that version in 2005! I can’t believe it was THAT long ago. But when the collection first came out I had no distribution for it, so I just gave copies to friends and sent a copy to Gideon Coe at BBC-6 Music, who played “Yuri’s Hair Salon” on-air. Now, all those years on, I’ve got distribution for it and I’m releasing it properly, so as from a few weeks back it’s been available for the first time through all the ‘usual channels’, as they say.’
Last time I met Len in Leeds it was raining chaps and gals. I was wearing ma-ma-my boogie-shoes. He required a lift home from the studio. I was in my Nissan Micra. I declined him that lift. He was graceful in the face of my denial. I’ve carried that guilt ever since. Len is one of the good guys.
First things first – please don’t crowd. Among the great Rock ‘n’ Roll Lens of our time – ‘Laughing’ Leonard Cohen, ‘Nuggets’ Lenny Kaye, Len Barry (of “1,2,3” hit-fame), and… erm, Leonard Nimoy, why is Len Liggins the only one to be rated ‘legendary’? Those with longer memories than most might recall that the Leeds’ bedsit troubadour was so dubbed by the late John Peel, when the even-more-legendary DJ was playing Len’s debut vinyl EP “Remedy For Bad Nerves” (1985) around the time it was nominated ‘NME’ Single Of The Week. That was a big super-cult deal back then. John Peel, and the ‘NME’ – both. Even without realising it you’ve probably caught Len under one of his various guises across the decades since – he’s been a Sinister Cleaner, part of Wedding Present, and a driving force of the folk-rooted Ukrainians, sometimes in sequence, sometimes simultaneously, adjusting his hat accordingly. While there have been periodic solo projects, as-and-when time permits. Sonically, he provides the missing link between early Smiths and the Housemartins, in a Fred Flintstone watch.
He picks up the tale. ‘I got a letter from someone who lives in Chicago, saying that they’d been for a browse in the downtown record store that day and they had a copy of my “Headful Of Ants” (1988) twelve-inch vinyl EP and were playing “Life In Leeds City” over and over. He said there was a group of black guys really digging it and wondering who this funny nerdy little white guy from England was. I was so proud of that, and I’ve still got the letter somewhere in my attic.’ So let’s have this up-close and personal. Here’s some questions I prepared earlier: Do you believe in trolls? Is there life beyond the Rave? How did you console yourself when Zayn quit One Direction? Do you still wear odd socks? What’s wrong with this picture? I hang in for the answer, waiting to exhale.
This album documents life in a Northern Town, refracted through a distorting Lens. Part of Len’s charm is that he always goes where he shouldn’t go. He’s so excited. You can tell he’s so excited. There’s an internal architecture of Pulp-catchy scratchy guitars, where Indie jangle meets DIY synth-minimalism. Things that make you go ‘hum’. From the amphetamine Punk right-wrong ping-pong subterranean homesick roar of “Love Will Turn Us On”, to the sheet-metal guitars launching “Rocket To The Moon” into escape velocity through shifting lunar phases. Another Girl, Another Planet. Shirley Bassey’s “Kiss Me, Honey Honey, Kiss Me” becomes Len’s ‘text me, honey honey text me’ in consonant thinking. Text-speak mutates into a love without vowels, ‘IM4U’. A gobbledegook jargon: Buy one vowel, get one free. A riff to kill for, and guess who’s dying? No happy ending. Then a walking bass-line sharp enough to cut cocaine takes us into the voice-over talking tale of “Zoë’s Box”, an intimate flat-share anecdote, about ‘discarded knickers on the floor’ complete with politically-incorrect wolf-whistle guitar.
Pop can be a near-death experience, turning empty phrases like blank pages. But this guy is a poet of the everyday. Like Adrian Henri used to do in Liverpool, he picks phrases from out of the litter blowing on Briggate or the garbage in the Headrow gutters, and weaves them into poems, into songs, taking stop-offs at temporary nirvanas where they cohabit with magic. His ideas are more than a little out there. He’s the man with the Pentium-processor brain. The lyric-booklet is worth the price of admission alone, mental tattoo’s of dangerous pleasures, girls, fanzines and cassettes. His is a sound that doesn’t swish like Cadillacs with pink and turquoise fins, but it does a mean lock stock and double-barrel hover-board. “Feeding Time” carries something of that frantic Wedding Present rush, busily consise at a bite-size 1:42-mins, with Peter Solowka’s accordion. “Yuri’s Hair Salon” has a sing-along cut-above-the-rest mandolin, and the charge of a hit-and-run pedalo, ‘hair today, gone tomorrow’. All human multi-ethnic life is here. “Life In Leeds City” is attempted almost-rap, a (self-punning) ‘headful of angst’ with violin and the paranormally active rhythms of cheap drum-click tracks. A bus-ride to Betelgeuse, while driving under the influence. Len is no medicated follower of fashion, but exposure means addiction.
The tracks were recorded across a spread of years and gathered together into a thematic bundle. The industrial death-rattle of “Cleaning Up Your Factory” ‘and “Going Off The Rails” are tracks I did in my front room on a borrowed four-track Portastudio on 17 May and 3 June 1985. No policemen were present…’ Hummable to the nth degree, they are pictures from Len’s audio-scrapbook, his back pages. Taking three steps back in time some of them were recorded in Len’s Brudenell Mount front-room in 1988, others in Leeds’ ‘Lion Studios’ circa 1984, or in the Castleford ‘Radar Rooms’ in October 2003 with engineer Pat Grogan, or even in Tony Bonner’s early-eighties front-room with Tony himself synth-twiddling on Wasp. Some are from forgotten places elsewhere, provenance unknown.
‘I recall that I got involved in setting up Lion Studios in Leeds with Tony Bonner partly because it might give me a lot of time to record my own songs. As it happened, there was so much work to do engineering the endless studio sessions, doing admin and accounts, and producing the studio-based fanzine (‘Roar’), that I only managed to ever record one track there, and that was “Basil Purdy’s Fridge”, which would have been early 1984, I think. I seem to remember that I’d had such an exhausting session that day that I was too tired to go home in the evening, so I stayed, got a take-away delivered, and messed around with the drum machine, WASP synthesiser and my old Woolworth’s guitar and by 4am I had written recorded and mixed “Basil Purdy’s Fridge”. I remember walking home up Brudenell Mount in Headingley, just as the sun was coming up thinking the track was a bit daft and with no idea how popular the track would become over the following years.’ There are reverse-tapes, with closely-rhyming novelty lines. And then there’s “I Wonder” – the token acoustic ballad, about Roland Rat and Kermit getting vapourised in atomic apocalypse.
But as clever as a box of monkeys, taking a sonic screwdriver to Indie, they all fit together as tight as Tetris. ‘Great! That’s good to know! I remember getting all the recordings together and taking them on the train to Sevenoaks, where a chap called Will Reid Dick lived. He used to be Thin Lizzy’s live sound engineer way back in the day, and I’d got to know him. He recorded their ‘Live And Dangerous’ (1978) album that was produced by Tony Visconti. I gave him the track-list and sat there with him in his home studio while he compiled it, trying to make all the tracks sound like they could have come from the same session. Seems like he did a good job! He didn’t charge me much for it, which was really nice of him.’ “Children” is a treated-voice JG Ballard dystopia, “Lead” is a slow psychedelia of hypochondria paranoia… then there’s an anecdote from an orbital monitoring operative concerning ham sandwiches.
We live in strange times. This is no pre-recorded universe. The Weeknd was no.1 forever on the Singles Top 40 with “Blinding Light” which sounds like a little 1980s synthi-band… like a Flock Of Seagulls outtake? Is it only me that thinks this way…? and doesn’t the Ava Max single “Kings And Queens” sound like old Steps… or even Bucks Fizz…? Just what are they feeding our Pop children on these days…? Rave Safe Kids! What they really need is ‘Songs About Love, Dreams And Domestic Appliances’ by this self-confessed funny nerdy little white guy from Leeds. You know it makes sense.
The truth is that we are all in this odd continuum together, we link up around hemispheres through this fallible technology and share whatever bits of ourselves than we can, for fun, for love, for creativity, for the hell of it… ‘The Ukrainians are on hold due to the Covid-19 Lock-Down, with all rehearsals and gigs cancelled. The Sinister Cleaners still ‘exist’, but with a new name, ‘Follow The Moths’, and we’d been recording a new album that will hopefully eventually see the light of day. Because I’ve not been able to do any of these things I’ve taken to doing a bit of recording at home these last few weeks and I’ve turned the results into the first new Len Liggins EP for twenty-nine years – four new songs on a “Paint It Yellow” EP-package! We’re lucky to have our creative passions! It has amazed me over the Lock-Down period how many people are so bored and don’t know what to do with themselves. I can’t imagine ever being at a loss at what to do with time. There never seems to be enough of it… How about you, Andy? How’s life treating you and what are you currently up to?’
The reverse cover art for the CD shows the Southend-On-Sea pier, a nostalgic lament that’s glad to be grey, a gaunt British structure hung-over from a previous age, stranded by the receding tide. It could be a metaphor for all manner of things. But it probably isn’t. It’s just a pier.
BY ANDREW DARLINGTON
LEN LIGGINS: A STRANGE KIND OF ROMANTIC
1985 – ‘A REMEDY FOR BAD NERVES’ (Aaz Records AAZ4, seven-inch vinyl EP) with ‘Cleaning Up Your Factory’, ‘Going Off The Rails – Off To Wales!’, ‘Basil Purdey’s Fridge’, ‘Lead’
1988 – ‘A HEADFUL OF ANTS’ (Aaz Records AAZ8, twelve-inch 45rpm vinyl EP) with ‘Life In Leeds City’, ‘Bye Bye Brenda’, ‘I Wonder’, ‘The Things He Did For England’ (mixed by Carl Rosamund at the Leeds ‘Billiard Room’)
1990 – ‘YURI’S HAIR SALON’ (Aaz Records AAZ9, twelve-inch vinyl EP) with ‘Yuri’s Hair Salon’, ‘Jealous’, ‘Feeding Time’, ‘The Greek With A Sony Walkman’
2019 – ‘LEN LIGGINS: 1982-1985’ (Mauerstadtmusik MM018, German compilation LP) with ‘The Telephone Box’, ‘Lead’, ‘Basil Purdy’s Fridge’, ‘Nightmare no.1’, ‘Womb With A View’, ‘The Children’, ‘Jealous’, ‘Strange Kind Of Romantic’, ‘All The Dead Men’, ‘The War Game’, ‘Sandwiches’. Tracks remastered from C90 cassette editions ‘Real Time 5’ (Unlikely Records, 1983), ‘Giraffe In Flames’ (Aaz Records, 1984), ‘Nuclear Terra’ (Anti Nuclear Benefit, 1983), ‘No Platform For Heels’ (Tender Hooks Records, 1982)
2020 – ‘THE LEGENDARY LEN LIGGINS: SONGS ABOUT LOVE, DREAMS AND DOMESTIC APPLIANCES’ (Aaz Records AAZCD10) with ‘Love Will Turn Us On’, ‘Rocket To The Moon’, ‘Text Me!’, ‘Zoe’s Box’, ‘Jealous’, ‘Feeding Time’, ‘Yuri’s Hair Salon’, ‘The Greek With A Sony Walkman’, ‘Life In Leeds City’, ‘Bye Bye Brenda’, ‘I Wonder’, ‘Basil Purdy’s Fridge’, ‘Cleaning Up Your Factory’, ‘Going Off The Rails’, ‘The Children’ plus bonus tracks ‘Yuri’s Hair Salon (Quick-trim version)’, ‘Lead’, ‘Sandwiches’, ‘Len Liggin’s 114th Dream’, ‘Jealous (rough demo)
2020 – ‘PAINT IT YELLOW’ (Aaz Records AAZCD18, CD EP) with ‘Paint It Yellow’, ‘Psychedelic Carol’, ‘Dusk On The Osa Peninsula’, ‘I Wish I Wish (Love Is Pleasing)’ released 24 July, recorded at home while isolating during Covid-19 Lock-Down
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