If you will, allow me to take you back to Runcorn in 1990. Not somewhere many people would want to go back to voluntarily, I’ll grant you. Not only that, I would specifically like to take you to Foxy’s night club, a small nondescript club, where disco pop never stopped (until maybe 1am). What possible reason could there be for this madness? The reason is simply this, it is where I saw the first in a long line of astonishing live performances from one of the greatest live acts I have ever seen. And like you I’m sure, I’ve seen a lot.
The act on that night were called ‘Poisoned Electrick Head’. It was a no brainer to attend with the usual crew. Just having a live act on in Runcorn was reason enough and their name suggested they weren’t Gary Barlow and his Casio at the British Legion (hey, it happened folks, like or lump, Gary or Robbie). It also meant we wouldn’t have to navigate getting to and from Planet X in Liverpool, which could pose problems in our mid teen years.
The opening stages of the gig itself weren’t particularly promising. Seven men, two in boiler suits and the rest in some kind of rubber, monster head masks took to the stage. This initial keyboard tinkling, bass caressing intro was met with stifled giggles and some outright guffaws from the bemused but interested audience. It looked for all the world as though the Banana Splits had had their morning OJ spiked and were enduring a particularly bad trip.
Then suddenly the main meat of the song cut through the pastry (‘The Unborn’ I would later learn) and that was it. This was a neurophysiological hit the likes of which I have rarely experienced. It was like being waterboarded into a liquid hall of mirrors. The bass, the vocals, the electronica, the guitars; all combined into a fantastic Ragnarok-esque storm, as though the warriors of Valhalla had just discovered ‘Are You Experienced’. The gig got better and better.
Eventually of course it ended. They may as well have dropped a bomb on ICI, such was the stunned but exhilarated reaction. Nobody was completely sure what had happened. In fact, the only thing I was certain of was that we had been lucky to come across this, in Foxy’s of all places. I had felt a similar, but lesser, disturbance in the musical force when I’d seen The Stone Roses, pre-first album release, play at Widnes Queens Hall a year or so prior. ‘Leccy Head’ as they were nicknamed, weren’t destined to be at Foxy’s and the like for too long, surely. University circuit gigs and headlining major festivals surely beckoned, if not more.
As you are probably aware however, this didn’t happen. The excellent but far more predictable and lesser live act The Stone Roses would go on to achieve legendary status with the ability to sell out the continent of Asia in seconds. As for Poisoned Electrick Head…
I followed Leccy Head round from gig to gig, St Helens, Warrington and the like. Playing Foxy’s level venues, with the same stunning performance levels and freaked audience reactions. This was halted by my departure to University and coming back three years later, reeking of Morrissey and stale communal air, they were no longer on the scene. Or at least any scene I was by then familiar with.
I was left with the ‘Trickeroo’ vinyl single, a cassette of their album ‘Poisoned Electrick Head’ and a lot of mind tattooed memories. I was also left with a mystery worthy of the Fortean Times, namely, what the heck happened, why didn’t they break?
Last year I revisited them, checking a proliferation of you tube vids and the mystery remained. They were fantastic. £85 or so lighter for the privilege, I obtained ‘Poisoned Electrick Head’ and ‘The Big Eye Am’ on CD, through import from the USA (for a band from down the road in St Helens mind). The mystery deepened. Both albums are classics and weave together a bizarre musical tapestry of psychedelia, metal, electronica and layers upon layers of coral diving sound. Buy them. You can probably do some research and avoid getting rinsed for the best part of £100 dobs. Still, cheap at the price, for me.
This Christmas though, an answer to the mystery fell in my lap via a gift. ‘Take Your Protein Pills’ by Brian Carney (their keyboard player) is a fantastic read and documents the band’s history. Traipsing round the alternative toilet and festival circuit, it reveals a group of lads from St Helens, who understandably didn’t quite know what to do with their talent. They knew they were ‘the best band on the scene’ but couldn’t quite aim their sight lines correctly. The management as such they had, was haphazard and woefully pragmatic at best, unable to latch onto the occasional wave of demand. They fell through different musical stools, not quite Madchester (although they knew Shaun Ryder’s arl fella), strangely yoked to the crusty punk scene and weirdly never fully adopted by the Gong, Hawkwind crowd as the clear stand out act.
Mismanaged, and eventually weary of the endless cycle of intoxicants, music and effort, the band broke apart. They just about withstood the departure of one of the two frontmen, A.F, as a great vid of ‘Out Of Order’ live will attest but the subsequent departure of bass player, Bun, was too much.
The management hadn’t known how to handle them. It was like a bunch of boffins who had come across some crashed hyper-extra-terrestrial, technology but couldn’t retro-engineer or unleash it so confined it to a hanger in Area 51, pending further investigation. The band had died like a Great White Shark that had stopped moving, confined to a water park rather than being set free in the ocean. There they were, belly up. Gone.
Not quite…The band have recently started gigging again. They can’t be quite what they were, after all, no band can, but they should still be top of the pull list for any live act calendar. Check them out.
‘Take Your Protein Pills…The Poisoned Electric Head Story’ by Brian Carney is available through Amazon.