“I’ve kind of been airbrushed out of their history really. I was busking in a band on Bold Street, and someone said, ‘The La’s are checking you out.’ I replied, ‘Ah, fuck The La’s. Syd Barrett meets The Beatles. Not interested!”. But then Lee (Mavers) came up to me. him and John (Power). He always had a bit of an entourage with him. This was early 1988. He said, ‘You’re our new drummer!’. The first thing he said to me. ‘This is biblical, la! You’re our new drummer. You are The La’s drummer.’
“I pretended I didn’t know who he was. I said, ‘Ah, no, not my scene’. They asked if they could go round my flat when I’d finished, play me a few songs. It was about teatime, Saturday night, they left at two in the morning and were back at nine, then went back to Huyton, where they lived. They stayed until I said, ‘Alright, I’ll give it a shot’.
“So I joined them, but he was so myopic – everything was ‘right’, everything had to have ‘dignity’! He’d say, ‘You’ve got to stomp with your right foot!’ I’d swing between left and right, and he was like, ‘No, you’ve got to do it like this, la!’. I was with them probably five or six months. I was the guy who left them, so he airbrushed me out. I don’t really get a mention.
“But there were about 40 drummers! They had Chris Sharrock waiting in the wings. I told them they didn’t need me, they needed someone like Chris. Lee’s Dad told me, ‘You’re like Gene Krupa!’ He was lovely. When I left, Lee said, ‘I could cry, la, but I won’t!’ I suggested, ‘Get your Neil’, and he said, ‘It’s not the fucking Osmonds, la!’. Neil’s a really great drummer, but that’s what he said at the time.
“He’d seen me busk in town, stood up with a bass drum, ride-cymbal, mounted tom and snare. From then he wanted stand-up drummers. Neil would stand up. Don’t get me wrong, Chris Sharrock was a great drummer, but … he went from Robbie Williams to Oasis, that’s what you need to know. He’s established, a bit mainstream … but he played with Lou Reed, man! A nice lad. I remember seeing him in a pub in town one afternoon. He’d been with them about a month. He asked, ‘How do you handle them?’ I said, ‘Well, I left, didn’t I?’.”
I’ve experienced some long interviews down the years, and my chat with Iain Templeton, known to some as Tempo, is certainly up there with them. I wrote lots of questions, but it took an age to get through just a few of them. It didn’t matter though. Most of what I wanted to ask came up, anecdotes about his spell with The La’s a perfect example (even if official records suggest 10 drummers rather than 40). And soon we moved on to his next prestigious employer, one assuring his place in the rich history of Liverpool’s music scene.
“I’d only been in Liverpool a year and a half when I got with The La’s, where John Power was like an acolyte to the Messiah, Lee. Then I got with Shack and it was brothers – that was even thicker. It was all cocaine as well, which I didn’t like. And the reason I left Shack three times early doors, was because of The La’s experience. The songs were brilliant, but Scousers, for being so broad-minded were also so myopic. At least that’s my experience.”
I won’t bother with background detail about The La’s. If you’re reading this, you probably know enough. I’ll still say it though – their self-titled 1990 debut LP (the only one, as it turned out) was a work of genius. And while there’s not too much mention of Iain’s part in the official story (many of the parts were re-recorded, and as far as I can tell one of the few public airings of his part in the band’s short but rich history was a BBC Radio One session for Liz Kershaw in May ’88), it’s in the small print.
As for Shack, the same principles apply. If you’ve got this far down the interview, I reckon you’ll know about the cult Merseyside outfit formed by Michael and John Head, previously at the forefront of The Pale Fountains. Again, the word genius comes into it. If you’ve somehow missed out though, you’ll do far worse than start with 1999 LP, HMS Fable. And this time, Iain’s name is written large on the credits.
That wasn’t his only contribution though. He featured on Michael Head and the Strands’ LP, The Magical World of the Strands, recorded around 1993 and finally released in 1996, something of a bridge between the first and second comings of Shack. And Tempo largely stuck around since, also proving integral to 2003’s …Here’s Tom with the Weather (its title a nod to the Bill Hicks line, but partly in reference to his son of the same name, a regular around the studio as a youngster) and 2006’s On the Corner of Miles and Gil (named in tribute to a musical partnership that duly inspired Michael Head – Miles Davis and Gil Evans). And I put it to my interviewee that while the online history suggests he was on board from 1991/92, then 1998 onwards, I get the feeling it’s more complicated.
“I got with them in 1990, lasted a year and a half, falling out with them in a studio in London which ended up being smashed, part of the Waterpistol debacle. I walked out at half two in the morning, said, ‘You can fuck off!’, went back to where we were staying, grabbed my weed and my bag, and hitched home. It took me 16 hours to get to Liverpool!
“That was in a studio called Star Street, where the Ghetto (Recording Company) label was based. The irony, eh! The label was set up by music publisher Dick Lee, and Ian Broudie did the early Lightning Seeds stuff there. They had an office upstairs, and this demo studio downstairs.
“Too much brandy and coke. I wasn’t used to that horrible white shit. We had this big scrap, then I walked off, said I’m going home … forgetting it was in London! Ha! They probably thought I’d be in the room when they got back.”
I should add some background history. Waterpistol was the second Shack album, recorded in 1991 – on the back of less-celebrated 1988 debut, Zilch – but the Star Street studio where it was chiefly made burnt down shortly after, with most of the tapes destroyed. The sole remaining DAT was with producer Chris Allison, at that time in Los Angeles. Word has it that on returning, he left his copy in a hire car. It was found weeks later after a frenzied search, but by then Ghetto had folded, the LP without a distributor.
Accordingly, Shack split, bass player Pete Wilkinson joining John Power of The La’s in Cast, with Waterpistol not released until 1995, via German indie label Marina. In the meantime, the Head brothers – after a few dates backing Arthur Lee’s Love, formed the afore-mentioned Michael Head & The Strands, earning further critical acclaim when the resultant Magical World LP finally surfaced, increased interest leading to them soon working on the sessions that would lead to the highly-acclaimed HMS Fable, Tempo long since back on board.
“I’d just split up with my Chilean girl, went to the Canary Islands, and they went to Sheffield to mix The Strands album with the guy who did the first Oasis album. But they were on smack. I was putting down drums on tracks they’d already recorded.
“When I (first) came back, we had a little skirmish, about 1995, but later that year they got a deal and said, ‘Look, we can give you three ton a week. Are you doing it?’ I said yeah, and 1996 to 2006 proved a very active time. After that, John wouldn’t work with Mick, so we sort of fragmented. It’s been on and off, but a lot more on than off. Immense grey areas there. It hasn’t been easy. We did get together to do a couple of things though, and I wouldn’t rule out a reunion.”
With no Shack reunions I know about since 2010, Michael Head has worked with the Red Elastic Band in more recent years, as well as Bill Ryder-Jones, formerly with The Coral. Meanwhile, Iain remains in touch with and occasionally plays alongside John Head. As you can probably tell, throughout our conversation we drifted from subject to subject, but now and again we dipped back into Shack-related tales, like the following story.
“In 1992 I fell out with Mick Head, so I left, but when I saw them at the Everyman pub in town (later that year), he said, ‘Up for a jam sometime?’. I said, ‘Yeah, why not,’ and he said, ‘Well, how about a tour of Japan?’ So I ended up back with them, we went over to Japan, got to Osaka, got out of the bullet train (Shinkansen), and there were hundreds of people there. We were like, ‘What the f-?’. Then we turned around, and Gary Lineker was behind us. Mick shouted out, ‘Alright, Gary, yer bluenose!’. Straight out. There he is in Japan, just got into the city, and someone’s called him a Bluenose! Ha! Hilarious.”
For the uninitiated, that’s a term from the red half of Liverpool for those associated with Everton, with whom England striker Lineker featured for a season after seven years with hometown club Leicester City, leaving Goodison Park for three more under Terry Venables then Johan Cruyff at Barcelona. Three years followed for Tottenham Hostpur before an injury-ravaged two-term finale at Nagoya Grampus Eight. You probably knew all that, but at least that’s something where I can give a few certain dates. The history of Shack appears far more sketchy.
Then there was a story touching on a friendship with a certain Zak Starkey, on board with The Who since 1996, but also spending between time stints with several other outfits, including Oasis from 2004/08, both of whom took Shack out on tour as a support band.
“We became good mates, me and Zak. I took to him to where his old man was born, and once everybody clocked who he was, they all started ripping beermats, ‘Here y’are, sign this! You’re just like your auld feller!’ And when he looks at you, he does look ‘Liverpool’. He looks local. A lovely guy.”
That pub was The Empress, the Dingle hostelry that features on the cover of Ringo’s 1970 solo LP, Sentimental Journey. In fact, he’d already mentioned that boozer, not far from his Toxteth base, when we’d somehow got on to Don Powell, him telling me a mate was in there one day, having a pint, when the legendary Slade drummer – a Beatles nut – walked in, making his own pilgrimage.
“Those streets have been renovated now, and where Ringo lived was like a bombsite just 10 years ago, they go for a lot of money. Toxteth’s been regentrified.”
There’s plenty we didn’t get on to, for instance his work with David Gray, just before ‘Babylon’ took him to another level, a stint with Pete Wylie, around the time Liverpool venue The Picket was forced to close in 2004, and also the Last Poets’ Jalal Muriddin, and French singer-songwriter Silvain Vanot. But my main excuse for getting in touch was a forthcoming solo release, a project accelerated by the covid-19 shutdown, my interviewee only recently going public about his new songs, also conducting an online interview for Independent Venue Week with Greg Topolian … after a little encouragement.
“I’d never really let anyone hear those songs, other than people who might play on them … until last August. I’d say, ‘I’ll be in your band if your songs are as good as mine’. But drummers tend not to get as much chance. Weather Report’s Peter Erskine said, ‘What’s the quickest way to split up a band? The drummer goes, ‘Hey guys, I’ve got a couple of tunes.’!’ Mick (Head) wanted one of mine on the last couple of albums, but it was hard enough for John. But now I’ve decided I’ve got to do this.”
He sent me side one of his proposed album before our interview, side two soon following, Tempo intending to release them under the name Solian. The six songs on side one bleed into each other, something he attributes to a love of Manu Chao’s work. But while the lo-fi quality of the recording works so well, and I reckon they’re as good as ready, it seems he’s not averse to a few late changes, as I learned when my confusion over the name of the opening song (was it ‘Sweet Home’ or ‘Home Suite’?) led to him renaming it ‘Sweet Home Suite’ on the spot before telling me more about its origin.
“There’s a festival called Liverpool Light Nights, and I was booked to do this small gig next to the Anglican cathedral, at The Oratory. Then covid happened. But they had a theme, ‘Light Nights Present Home’, and on the poster I added the word ‘Stay’ before the last word, and felt this song would work in the circumstances. All those people complaining about not being able to have a haircut or being stuck at home during lockdowns. Having travelled around India and various places, I just feel we should think ourselves lucky we’ve got a home. There’s a lot of people in town whose home is a fucking tent!”
It’s a great start to the record – lush, laidback, ethereal, with gorgeous chord sequences and additional guitar from Jason Kristensen and John Head (having continued to occasionally work with the younger Head brother in recent years).
“There’s probably four guitars, mostly me, but I also had John on there, embellishing. You see, I’m left-handed and play upside down …”
A lengthy discussion followed with your fellow left-handed scribe, one I’ll hold back on for now other than to say he’s keen to conduct ‘a study into left-handedness in the arts’.
Back to the recordings, and we go straight into ‘B-side the Sea’ (he does love his wordplay), Tempo having made a promo video with guitarist Jason Biggs, part of his The Pool Underground venture.
“It was raining, so we were shooting it in Jason’s house. I said, ‘I really wanted to be beside the sea, but he said, ‘Iain, this song is about home. You’re just wishing you were beside the sea.’ Also a good way of minimising the expense! It’s a bit vaudeville, but it’s an instant song, and it’s got layers. It was the first track we did and the most commercial – it should get radio play. Yet it’s lo-fi, because I recorded it myself.”
In the tradition of great tracks like The Coral’s 2003 single ‘Pass It On’, it’s barely two and a quarter minutes, not outstaying its welcome. And I suggested it has a George Harrison meets Dave Davies vibe.
“Wow! I’ve been sending stuff to a friend of Jason’s, Laura Rickenbacker – a great name for a bass player! She’s in Sweden, a total Beatles and Nilsson nut, and said, ‘The way to sum you up is you’re a dark horse, like George. I was knocked out by that, and both Greg and you have now mentioned The Kinks. Nice one.”
Discussion followed about our mutual favourite Kinks LP, Arthur, and their finest single, ‘Waterloo Sunset’, Tempo bringing the Head brothers in.
“He doesn’t wear it on his sleeve, but Ray Davies is a big influence on Mick, and John loves that Ray’s little brother, Dave, is still treated like a little brother. That dynamic – Shack was that really! That’s why I didn’t give them many songs. There was no room for mine.”
I love the seaside sound effects, and I’m also reminded of ‘Seaside’, the short introductory track on 2006 debut Kooks LP, Inside in/Inside Out, one I’ve put on many a holiday compilation. As for track three, again there’s a Kinks vibe. What’s it called? Is it ‘I’ll Be There For You’, as I scribbled down?
“That’s ’I Be There’. I didn’t want it to be another ‘I’ll Be There’. There’s loads of them. Yeah, I suppose there’s a Kinks thing there too, now I look back. I grew up with them and the Small Faces.”
He was soon off again, this time in praise of Steve Marriott and Dusty Springfield, then getting on to Ronnie Lane’s songcraft, Geno Washington’s stagecraft and Toxteth’s own The Chants and the band that followed, The Real Thing … before we get back to ‘I Be There’.
“My son was only four or five – around 18 years ago – when I came up with that. It was really me saying, ‘When I’m not there, I’m there! You’re always in my heart. I’ll be there, watching over you, and I’ll be coming home.’ That universally works as a love song … and it’s another single really.”
The whistling adds to its charm, I suggested, and somehow we get on to Lionel Bart’s Oliver soundtrack, Iain again in awe, before we get back on topic.
“That goes into a song called ‘Dayze’ … which is actually about night. It’s good to be arty at night, because most people are asleep and you can pick up on all the active vibes that are out there. As I say in the song, ‘Night-time is the time to be free, everything you own is really something you don’t need.’ You can just have a pair of shoes and a pair of shorts and get by in a warm country.”
“I double-tracked them. I was singing into my sleeve then. I’m more confident now! The lovely piano is played by Rachel Diop. She also plays clarinet, flute, she’s a great singer, plays guitar, an all-round, great musician, and having worked with fellas for so long, she’s so accommodating. That was our first collaboration. Once we’d got that piano in, it was like bricks and cement.
“I initially used a drum machine, and over-dubbed tom-toms and cymbal. I love drum machines. People say, ‘Aren’t they the enemy?’ No, that’s musicians – they’re the enemy!
“That then fits into ‘Free like a Bird’ …”
Ah, I’d written down ‘She Don’t Waste No Time’, maybe to distance it from posthumous Lennon-penned Beatles single ‘Free As a Bird’.
“Oh! Well, how about ‘Free (She Don’t Waste no Time)’? Getting this feedback is amazing!
“I wanted it to be all one word, like Love’s ‘Andmoreagain’ … but ‘Freelikeabirdinthesky’ looked ridiculous! That song’s really about, ‘Aren’t women lovely … the special ones’. It’s about my girlfriend who flew back to Chile – the regime was fucked, so she could go back. I always say, ‘She left me for another country’! She loved Chile, in her heart. And like the first song, it’s almost like the Cuban mountain music that initiated what we call salsa. When you play those chords, rumba-style … I love those chords. A lot of what I do is very Cuban, and therefore has West African roots, Spanish, Indian … even if it ends up sounding like The Kinks!”
Perhaps that fits in with this lad – in Newcastle-upon-Tyne from around the age of six to 17, by which time he was playing ‘in all sorts of pub bands, blues and everything’ – identifying with Liverpool. Like the port that became his home, all manner of international influences pass through and are taken on board. But how did he end up on Merseyside?
“I first came here in 1986, to Toxteth, where I am today, for a party, over from Blackpool by car with three other lads. I met this woman, stayed the weekend, forgot my afro-comb, and she said, ‘Just leave it. It’ll go into locks’. I did, and I’m still here! And in my heart, I’m as scouse as anyone. These are my people. This is what I’m like – direct.
“I said to The La’s, ‘You can’t have me on drums. I’m not even a scouser.’ But Lee said, ‘You are now’. So after a year and a half, I was in the top band in town, being called an honorary scouser.”
Back to the record, the last track on side one – is it ‘Ocean Sea’, ‘Without You’, or ‘Only Wanna Be With You’?
“It’s actually ‘Sola Luna’. It’s about the sun and wanting to be out in the sun. And like ‘B-side the Sea’ it’s a dream, ‘the deep blue ocean calling me home’.”
There are more chord changes to savour there.
“Nice one. On the first demo it was more a love song. Then I sussed it was about the sun, adding ‘Luna’ as it’s a Ying and Yang thing, the duality of life – very important. You can’t have the sun without the moon. The moon turns the tides, and all that.”
Funnily enough, it reminds me a little of Paul Weller’s bandmate Andy Crofts’ band The Moons. And talking of Weller, his drummer Steve Pilgrim also features in Liverpool outfit The Stands (not to be confused with Michael Head’s Strands, although Steve Pilgrim has also played with Michael), a former Shack support band.
“Well, when this album comes out of ‘Dayze’ and Free (She Don’t Waste no Time)’, it’s definitely got a Love element to it. And on ‘Sola Luna’ I think it’s all the way through … but it’s not conscious. I love that album, seeing Love as George Martin’s epitaph as well as the crossover with (son) Giles. A beautiful album.”
Again, it’s not far off a glorious final two and a half minutes, and for me has the feel of Neil Finn’s son Liam’s I’ll Be Lightning LP from 2007.
“You know Yorkie? His Mum’s house was where the Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes and Pale Fountains rehearsed, in the basement. He ended up playing bass for Space, and produced our last album (Shack’s 2006 LP On the Corner of Miles and Gil). He absolutely loves Crowded House and really loves Split Enz. He’d say, ‘Fuck Liverpool bands, these are the most rewarding of The Beatles’ crown!”
Well, check out I’ll Be Lightning, you’ll love the sound …
“What, it’s lo-fi and shit like mine? Ha!”
I was actually going to say that final track on side one has a soupy quality, like it’s come out of the speaker into some kind of vat.
“It’s a broth … all thrown into a pan of scouse. Juices come out, and there you go – soup!”
And like the album itself, it’s chock-full of timeless cack-handed melodies.
“Ah, man, that’s great!”
At this point, he decides to interview me instead. But I’m not quite done and plough on, picking up my programme from Catatonia’s Home Internationals in May 1999, having seen Cerys Matthews and co.’s showcase outdoor event at Llangollen, where, as well as a cracking headline set, there were memorable appearances from feted Welsh outfits Gorky’s Zygotic Mynki, Big Leaves and Richard Parfitt, and a certain band called Shack, third on the bill.
“Ah, yeah! We arrived on Friday night, got to the hotel late, but Cerys waited up for us, along with the bass player, Paul (Jones, on board from 1993 to the end in 2001). I got chatting to Cerys, and it was all a bit abstract, like meeting someone on a train. I told her, ‘Cerys, you are the Princess of Wales!’, and she gave me a big hug.
“When they came on the next night, she said, ‘What did you think of Shack? Great, aren’t they?’ And when we went to Margam Park, Port Talbot, she said it again.
“I was hanging with the bass player quite a bit, there with his wife and kids, and I was missing my son. Paul was about 55 then, having been in loads of bands in Wales (including Y Cyrff). I also recall meeting Cerys’ Dad, a doctor. Both her parents came to Port Talbot. I said, ‘You must be so proud of her’, and he said, straight back, ‘I’m proud of all of my kids’. A lovely thing to say.”
Shack certainly impressed that day, so I’m surprised it took a while before I got round to buying HMS Fable. Then again, within nine months we had our first daughter, so priorities changed, any disposable income disappearing. In fact, I’m not even sure I’d picked up on Michael and John having been at the heart of The Pale Fountains, despite having loved 1985’s From Across the Kitchen Table LP. Now, of course, I clearly hear parallels between the title track and ‘Natalie’s Party’, for a start.
“I think what it was, the Palies used to wear stupid clothes, like Oxford graduates from the ‘20s, and were trying to live that down. I think that’s part of the reason they wanted me on drums. I’d been in The La’s and they were trying to be like The La’s then. They wanted to go indie, get away from that over-blown Virgin, spend-a-fortune image.
“Actually, when we went to Japan, we were called Shack/The Pale Fountains, doing all those songs, and I ended up playing with the Palies at a reunion, the original drummer, Jock (Thomas Whelan), struggling with his walking. But I played on a few songs with him, and it was lovely – that line-up complete but for the bass player, Chris ‘Biffa’ McCaffrey, who sadly died in 1989.
“Actually, my most beautiful memory with Shack was from the second time I was with them, when Mick turned to John and said, ‘It’s like having Biffa back’. Biffa was his best friend, and only 28 when he died. When I got the depth of what I’d heard him say, that blew my mind. It’s a deep love I’ve got with them boys, and Wilkie.”
That’s bass player Peter Wilkinson, part of the 1990/91 version of Shack before joining John Power’s Cast, in more recent years featuring with both Echo and the Bunnymen and returning to Shack. But back to Llangollen …
“Everyone was great backstage. A lot of Welsh spoken, but soon as you came along, they’d go into English. Gorky’s were great too.
“After that we ended up doing the Manics’ Millennium Stadium shows in Cardiff, New Year’s Eve ‘99. They were lovely lads. I remember James Dean Bradfield knocked and came into our room, said, ‘Alright lads’, went back out and came back with two crates of champagne. ‘This is from us to you. Thanks for doing it. It means a lot to us. We love you’. Nicky (Wire) was great too. His brother’s a poet (Patrick Jones) and opened for us. And just taking the trouble to come and see us, knock and say hello means loads.”
From what I can gather, Cerys saw you live at an NME event at the ICA earlier that year, and was so impressed she booked you, having also heard an advance copy of HMS Fable.
“Yeah, she knew our management. I’ll talk anyone’s head off, as you now know, but she was worse than me! ‘What do you wanna drink?’ ‘I’ll have a beer’. ‘I’ll get you a beer. Would you like a brandy with it?’ I then had three hours listening to her. Ha! She was great!
“And I love North Wales. We did …Here’s Tom with the Weather in Bethesda. We were there around four months. We went to this pub, and next thing we’re talking to the Super Furry Animals’ roadie. Sadly, he died a couple of years ago. You’d asked for strings and he’d offer coke as well!
“But from Cerys onwards, they embraced it, and we felt welcome there. I’ll tell you something else. I love Gruff Rhys. ‘Ice Hockey Hair’ is an absolute masterpiece. Of all those from that era – the Gallaghers, The Verve, and so on, Gruff’s my man. And I’ll tell you something else – he’s also left-handed, plays guitar upside down like me!”
Footnote: after our interview, Tempo shared side two of his solo LP with me, and I can confirm the second half is as rich and compelling as the first, the quality continuing across the record. I won’t go into detail yet, but watch this space. Hopefully a release date is imminent, those timeless cack-handed melodies deserving your attention.
For Iain Templeton’s rather elusive online presence, try this Whispering Pines label website link. You can also find Solian’s ‘B-Side the Sea’ promo video via The Pool Underground here, the track available as a digital single from March 4th, with more detail following soon.