|The Stairs (Ged, Edgar, Paul). Photo by Mark McNulty|
After a 20 year absence, The Stairs surprised many last November by reforming for a hometown gig at Liverpool’s Kazimier Club. The night saw a triumphant return to the stage for cryogenically frozen Edgar Summertyme, Ged Lynn and Paul Maguire who blew away the assembled masses with a set of their frazzled beat classics and a couple of new additions as if it were yesteryear. Such was the success of that night they’ve been inspired to play a few more shows, starting next Thursday 24 March when they headline the first night of Le Beat Bespoke festival in London. Also appearing that night will be the added attraction of Graham Day & the Forefathers, so it promises to be a great night.
Le Beat Bespoke organisers, The New Untouchables, asked me to attempt to interview the band for their Nutsmag. Despite being told singer/bassist Edgar was “harder to pin down than Giant Haystacks” both he and drummer Paul Maguire kindly took the time answer a few questions.
The Stairs first came to most people’s notice after you signed to Go! Discs and released ‘Weed Bus’ in 1991. Can you tell us a bit about the formation of the band and your history up to that point?
Paul: Me and Edgar met on a youth music scheme around ‘89, we had a similar music interest of ‘60s garage punk. Ed had a few tunes he had written including ‘Weed Bus’, which we jammed and me and him started there. Ed knew Ged who was on the same music scheme so we roped him in. We skinned up and we got it together. We had our own night every Friday in the Cosmos club where we played a set of covers, then we’d DJ, then we would play our numbers.
Edgar: We were just psychedelically attached friends having a laugh really in bedrooms and bedsits with acoustic guitars banging ashtrays etc. Eventually we were borrowing the only spare time in my bro’s pracky room with a friend Pete Baker (the sleeping Mexican on LP sleeve) on bass and me on guitar. Pete didn’t really take to the bass so things were slow. We gradually gained some momentum when I joined in Ian McCulloch’s group on bass (mid ‘89) and took over the bass duties in the group. It wasn’t till we played and handful of our songs at a ridiculously rammed New Year’s Eve party (1990) at Mike Mooney’s house that we realised that we were capable of pleasing anyone other than ourselves. Marc Riley was often in attendance at the Cosmos club and Alan Duffy from Imaginary records came to check us and plans were formulated to record our first EP (later sold on to Go! Discs) with them.
The first couple of EP sleeves and the shows around that time featured a fourth member, Jason. What was his role and what happened to him?
Edgar: Jason was a friend whose role was originally, in his words, as ‘personal manager’ but eventually we managed to coax him on-stage to play percussion, gob iron and keys as required. I don’t think he really took to the role as he would come and go frequently from the group. The comparisons to Bez and Eric Idle didn’t really help I suppose.
Paul: Jason was meant to be our manager in the beginning, but he wasn’t any good at that stuff. So we gave him a harmonica and maracas which he played. Haven’t seen him for years.
Go! Discs seemed to understand where the Stairs were at: recording in mono, strong 60s artwork etc. How was your relationship with them and why did it come to an end? What was their expectation of the band you signed?
Edgar: Thanks to being well-managed at the time by Pam Young we went to them with a strong vision of how we wanted things to look and I think they had fun what with it being a little different from their norm at the time. Our A&R man initially was Carl Smyth (Chas Smash from Madness). We were his first signing and he was very accommodating and enthusiastic. Unfortunately Madness reformed shortly a few months after our LP came out. With no key man clause in contract that was where our troubles began.
Paul: Carl really loved our band. He got us the deal, liked all the artwork and the mono deal. He understood our band and was good dealing with us. When Carl left there was no one there who understood the band. They thought we were a bit of a joke and didn’t know what to do with us.
Mexican R’n’B is, quite rightly, regarded is a classic LP. How did you feel about it when it came out and how do you view it now?
Edgar: Why thank you sir! How I felt at the time is a complex affair I’d need Sigmund Freud and couch and a few hours to get to the bottom of that. I’m definitely happier now as it seems to have stood the test of time. We definitely created a little slice of the 60’s in the early 90’s there.
Paul: I loved that album then and I still love it now. I’m very proud to have been involved and made Mexican. We were still all learning our instruments and grooves and singing when we recorded it. I thought at the time and I still think it now that Edgar is a genius. His songs and playing were so fucking cool. We were recording this at a time most of the world was getting into acid house. We wanted to give the general public something else to listen to. Get them on the ‘Weed Bus’ so to speak.
Talking of which, people often refer to your marijuana singles – ‘Weed Bus’, ‘Mary Joanna’ – but I’ve always noticed the preoccupation with rain on Mexican R’n’B, at least three songs mention it. Any correlation?
Paul: Well you’d have to ask Edgar that. Personally I like rain, except when it gets me spliff wet at the bus stop.
Edgar: I was probably because I was spending too much time in Manchester as their retrogressive shopping experience has always been far superior to ours despite the constant rain!
After being released from Go! Discs you were still gigging, recording and exploring different styles. How was the band developing at that time and why didn’t a second album materialise?
Edgar: Looking back I think we were too eager to move on from the Mexican R’n’B sound, we should have made another three of those really, and with having no one at Go! to recognise this - not that we’d have listened- and with the copious amounts of weed being smoked I think we just wanted our music to be more mad really both structurally and sonically. The fact that I was just starting wholeheartedly to discover soul music too just confused matters. We we’re constantly demoing but Go! weren’t prepared to let us start a new LP as such. This went on for about two years and then we left the label.
Paul: We started to sound a bit heavier, and we got better at playing. We loved touring always a good laugh. But it was hard to get any backing; we weren’t being taken seriously by any record company or music papers. We spent all our money recording the second album, so at the end no one wanted to release it.
Viper Records eventually released Who Is This Is. What are your thoughts on that? Is that how you’d envisaged the second album?
Edgar: After leaving Go! we thought it a good idea to record the LP ourselves. A long-winded complicated affair with members coming and going. By the time it was done we’d about run out of speed hence it not seeing the light of day till Viper’s release.
Paul: I’m glad we did it, for me it has some great moments. But looking back it also sounds confused, which I suppose we were also at the time.
How did you feel about the reaction from your reunion gig in Liverpool? Had you kept in touch? Is it something you’d thought about over the years?
Edgar: Absolutely smashing! We’d all kept in touch but our paths only ever brought us together sporadically but usually only two of us in same room at same time. The first rehearsal was great when we kicked into ‘Mary Jo’ it was more like we’d had two weeks off rather than 20+ years. It was great to see the two tiers in our fan base that night: those who were older and were coming back to see us again and the young uns who were there to witness the legend that got created by word of mouth in the past 20 years. The crowd reaction was fantastic; I don’t think either tier felt let down.
Paul: The reunion gig was magik, the reaction was just overwhelming for all of us I think. Incredible, old fans, new fans. They knew all the words, ha ha. I’ve always bumped into Ed round town when I’m there as I live in Reykjavik. I hadn’t seen Ged for years. We all moved in slightly different circles. I’d been hoping we could do at least one gig for a few years. And when Mike from the Wicked Whispers called me up, it felt exactly right. With the amount of toss that goes by the name of music nowadays, I think you need the Stairs in your life.
|The Stairs, Kazimier, November 2015|
What are the plans for the band now? Will you be recording new material?
Paul: We’re not sure just yet. Anything can happen in the next half hour.
There’s a new Stairs collection, The Great Lemonade Machine In The Sky, out now. Tell us about what’s on that.
Edgar: I’d recently found a suitcase full of cassettes in the loft at my mum’s that I thought had been thrown out when I’d left home way back. The previous Viper comp had come from the collections of friends and colleagues with my own thought lost at the time. So the idea was to create a second volume of Right In The Back Of Your Mind [2007 odds and sods compilation]. I spent a fair bit of time trawling through them (lots were mix tapes etc.) and mixing down the 4-tracks where available and it was a real nice touch that it all came together in time for the reforming of the group.
‘Shit Town’ is a pretty mad single taken from it and might come as a bit of surprise to people who only know Mexican R’n’B. What was the story behind it and is it about anywhere in particular?
Paul: You’d have to ask Ged. It’s obviously about Liverpool. The city was a lot different from it is now. On the other hand…
Edgar: It’s primarily about Liverpool if I’m right, Ged? It was definitely one of the finest finds of the suitcase trawling. It was recorded during second LP sessions. What you’re listening to is a remastered monitor mix. It was mixed with the others as Ged had left the group by that point.
Which are your favourite three Stairs songs and why?
Edgar: ‘Weed Bus’ will always be big in my heart as it was my first song written in the Stairs style as such. Although it’s not our song I’ve always been proud of our arrangement of [Bo Diddley's]‘You Don’t Love Me’. I guess to pick a third from the rest it’d be ‘Right In The Back Of Your Mind’ as it’s pretty kick ass and stress free to play out live, well for me anyhow.
Paul: ‘Woman Gone and Say Goodbye’. It’s just the best of us: growly, beaty, big and bouncy. ‘Mundane Monday’ I think it’s such cool little groove, and we sing about rain. ‘Skin Up’. I love playing this live, but it’s a bit tricky to skin up and play the drums at the same time. I used to do it back in the days.
Follow The Stairs on Twitter and Facebook. See the original unedited version of the above interview at Nutsmag. Full Le Beat Bespoke details, including a Saturday night gig by another Monkey Picks favourite Jim Jones & The Righteous Mind, here. For archive 1994 Monkey Picks/Something Has Hit Me interview with The Stairs see here.