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Liam Maher Of Flowered Up Remembered
John Robb , October 22nd, 2009 03:52

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It’s always depressing writing these things. Especially for people that for one moment, for one precious moment were so full of life and ideas that they totally captured a special time in pop life.

Liam Maher was the charismatic waif barrow boy who fronted Flowered Up. The band emerged at the tail end of the rave scene in 1990 and immediately fell into a hornet's nest of A&R activity.

In one of the smartest moves they ever made, they signed to Jeff Barrett’s Heavenly records — one of the few labels that could understand them and perhaps the label that really did captured the disparate pop cool of the era.

Jeff had already spotted Maher at the ad hoc raves around London at the time — the cool end of the scene, the Boys Own maverick party end of rave when the records were eclectic and the drugs were good.

The buzzing optimism of E culture was central to the band — even their name was a reference to the potent power of the drug that was changing the UK for ever.

Jeff Barrett was hip to the band very quickly and once told me that he remembered Maher's face standing out of the crowd dancing on the PA before the band was formed and when he first clocked the band in its earliest incarnation he knew it was right.

Part of an unlikely rosta that included the fledgling Manic Street Preachers, St Etienne and East Village, Flowered Up were seen as London's answer to the Happy Mondays — they had the same sort of funky backbeat, indie gone dance madness about them and the same sort of guttural barking poetry. Oddly though they always reminded me of a junior Ian Dury and The Blockheads, with their Landahn town heart-on-sleeve poetry and the same sort of funkoid workouts from a band who were far more adept on the instruments that yer usual youth club crew. There was also an element of The Clash about them — the mish-mash of varying musical styles and the impassioned poetry of life oozing from them.

Jeff brought me down to the band’s second show in some beat up old youth club in Camden Town a couple of blocks away from where the tourists were — and the atmosphere was wild and feral with normal kids going crazy to the band. After that I clocked them several times and interviewed them in Windsor when they played the castle venue in another riotous night. Interviewing them was tricky — trying to get any sense from the band or the slightly older latex flower costume wearing Barry Mooncult (the band ‘Bez’) was not easy. By then they had chalked up a series of cleverly put together gigs by the Heavenly mob. There was a show at the ICA where the rarely seen Clash drumming genius Topper Headon came and played percussion, underlining that particular link - which was further strengthened by the band's co-manager, who'd been Clash crew back in the day (he was the confused little skinhead in the Rude Boy film) but was now a fast-talking street urchin with a fistful of great ideas that him and his business partner and co-manager, the urbane Dez, utilised in pushing the band.

There was also the Heavenly package in Paris where the whole roster played a classic gig — everyone was wasted on monster Es and the hotels rang out with wild shenanigans — and then the rather bizarre double-header tour with Loop of all bands (I think).

There was the bizarre party in the London mansion after Mooncult had borrowed the keys while working there. For two days the shag-pile carpets and huge posh rooms were home to an endless carnal bacchanalian drug frenzy — still one of the best parties I’ve been to. I clearly remember Liam jumping up and down on the huge expensive bed, alive to the possibilities of the endless moment that was the result of the E rocketship taking off in your mind.

Flowered Up scored a Sounds cover with a feature written by yours truly and later a Melody Maker front cover, and released their first singles ‘It's On’ and ‘Phobia’ in 1991. They were poised for the breakthrough but stalled at big cult level without becoming full-on unlikely pop stars like the Happy Mondays had done. Perhaps by now there were too many bands hogging the baggy limelight. It was a shame: they were marvellous and their songs were great snapshots of urban UK life during that period.

After signing to London records, their debut album Life With Brian came and went in 1991, reaching number 23 in the charts. It was considered a disappointing facsimile of their live party.

Just when it seemed that the game was over they released the magnificent ‘Weekender’ — the one Flowered Up song everyone should have on their iPod. ‘Weekender’ was 13 minutes of reckless excess that told the story of a long mad weekend that was typical of the time. This was raving, pill popping, bug-eyed party madness from Friday till Monday- that was the UK at that time and ‘Weekender’ captures it perfectly. The ups and the downs captured in the helter skelter of the music and Maher’s barrow boy vocal and lyrical free association is fantastic. The song is a brilliantly ambitious, multi-layered piece of music that goes from The Who to funk to acid house to punk rock to prog in a euphoric trawl through those bizarre record collections that typified the times — listen to it now and that goose pimple rush of E comes back. It really does perfectly capture the drug scene so well before the bad times came in and ruined everything.

The accompanying 'Quadrophenia on a council estate and on E' video, one of the first produced by W.I.Z, is a great document of the era — preceding Shane Meadows' cinematic street theatre by a decade and a half. It perfectly complements the song and Maher’s loose and wild-eyed poetry.

The single reached number 20 in 1992 before the band fell apart in a fug of drugs and unrealised ambition.

Despite keyboard player Dorney going onto big success with Republica, Maher’s career was more erratic. I remember him re-emerging in the late nineties with talk of band called Greedy Soul but sadly nothing happened. A planned reformation in 2007 came to nothing without Dorney and the sad news of Maher’s death is the first I’d heard of him for a few years.

I remember Maher’s words and his drawling vocals as well as his wide-eyed face perfectly capturing the moment of madness when the UK seemed to be high on its own supply. The E years were a special period in pop culture where the woodwork really did squeak and out came the freaks. For a brief period of time the kid was a winner, the underdog turned into cultural icon — and that’s the way to remember him.

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Oct 22, 2009 10:27am

Good stuff.

RIP Liam.

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Oct 22, 2009 10:38am

I was promoter at The Old Trout venue in Windsor when they performed there...very memorable show and one still fondly recalled many years later.

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Oct 22, 2009 10:53am

Saw them quite a few times in London, the live shows were tremendous, characterised by intense energy and excitement. Very sad news. RIP mate.

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Oct 22, 2009 7:52pm

Nice one John, couldn't have put it better myself, we'll all miss the cheeky shortarse that he was.

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paul wilson
Oct 22, 2009 10:14pm

WEEKENDER SIMPLY MOST IMPORTANT TRACK IN MUSICAL HISTORY. I can remember first time i heard the Weatherall mix!I can remember being at a party after the SUB CLUB in Glasgow and watching the video. I have still got 3 copies of it!! A TIME AND A MOMENT!!

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Steve gullick
Oct 23, 2009 1:37am

Fucking more sad news.....good bloke, exciting band. RIP Liam.

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AP Childs
Oct 24, 2009 10:23pm

yes John, a special time it was indeed! well remembered and nicely put. just a shame about the context! very sad news. yes, the intoxicating and wonderful Weekender! i know those 13 minutes don't make a life but they most certainly dispense eternal soul and fuckin good memories to boot. RIP Liam.

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Oct 25, 2009 3:23am

Where do I start?
Right. I think it was their 3rd ever gig at the ICA (Think they played the Africa Centre and maybe "Heaven" before this one but it's all a bit blurry) . A very subdued atmosphere and most of the audience were very quiet in expectation after that weeks NME front cover. Andy Weatherall was on the decks but playing some very boring stuff and the Boy's Own crowd were slinking around making everyone feel uncomfortable with their posing (and domination of toilet cubicles).Terry Farley was a lard arse even back in 1990 BTW.
The lights went up , and four young men strode confidently on the stage .Joe Maher (Liam's young bruv) was the exception as he wobbled on in a drunken stupour because he was so nervous of this gig that he'd been drinking all day to overcome his nerves. Sir Barry doesn't count as he wasn't young (although his stride was confident!)
Liam grabs a Becks bottle from a mate in the front row......."we're Flowered Up" .......takes a sip.......puts a lighter to his mouth..........and spits out the biggest flame I've ever seen (the bottle was full of petrol)........"and we're shit hot"..........
There my story of following Flowered Up all over the UK and Europe begins.More tomorrow.

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Oct 25, 2009 10:02pm

Fuck me, big shock... What's thrown me is that I sent a link out to some mates on Facebook - I'm same age as Liam, but I've got a good few mates that I play football with, that had never heard of FU, so, I pointed them to the classic Weekender video on YouTube, after a pub conversation... This was on the 18th of Oct, and Liam passed on on the 20th... RIP my friend... Go out, have a good time.

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Oct 26, 2009 2:48am

In reply to Denzil:

..........Joe picks up his guitar and starts up playing with a wah wah peddle for "Sunshine" (they didn't have the keyboard entry then, first time I ever heard that was at the Duck Call party at Venus in Notingham, but that's a whole different story). It sounds a bit like Freaky Dancing by Ryder and his mob and I'm a bit gutted. Then Dorney kicks in on his keyboard.........Jacko kicks in on the Bass, Young Tuvey lets fly on the drums...................and I realise within ten seconds that this is the best live band I've ever seen. "You can't run and hide no more, can't fight the law no more.No place place left for me to be...nothing left......dignity"
The whole of the ICA erupts,everyone in there is feeling what I'm feeling. The cheeky little fucker who was selling t-shirts and knocking out E's by the toilets 10 minutes earlier now has the world at his feet. That man was Liam Maher.
Every tune they play is better than the last one.....Hysterically Blue, Silver Pan, Mr Happy Reveller, It's On (Topper strolls on and plays the bongoes).......ending with Doris (is a little bit partial).Awesome.Liam is knackered, Joe is being held up by a mate cos he can't stand (and still trying to play his guitar), Young Tuvey looks a like rabbit in your headlights, Tim and Jackson look like "what the fuck was that?".
Me and my mate Paddy just look at each other and both at the same time say "fucking hell"..........And decided we're following this lot wherever they go.............

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Oct 27, 2009 1:33pm

From the first time I saw them after blagging into the Square in Harlow to when he crashed at mine after The Social, he was always a star. See ya mate. xx

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Oct 28, 2009 11:36pm

Sad news. RIP Liam.

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Nov 21, 2009 9:31pm

Great writing.

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paula bird
Dec 9, 2009 6:05pm

liam maher was my brother who is missed every day and will never be forgot.people talk about how wild and and full of fun and some only remember the bad,but i knew liam as a wonderful dad,son and brother.i saw the softer side of him and how he would always make a joke at the lowest times,he always made you feel like you were the most spcical person in the world.what i want people to know is apart from being the best front man in the world he was also many more things and the hole in my heart will not close until i see him again where heS happy and healthy R I P MY BROTHER LIAM

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Gary Jarvis
Dec 18, 2009 12:05am

I only just found about this a week before xmas.

I was actually researching Madness online and then some how got to hearing of Liam's death.

I do blog and I put some words about this there, and included the link of John Robb's article in that post.

I hope I don't offend anyone by sending traffic to my blog. I am sincere.

Gary Jarvis (vancouver)

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scott richardson
Jun 5, 2011 8:07pm

Been away for the last 2 years, just found out about sad death of Liam.Flowered up in my opinion will always be a band that never got recognised for their music.
RIP Liam

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Oct 30, 2012 11:35pm

Legend mate,one of the finest!

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Nov 3, 2012 9:07am

If anyone reads this just to let everyone know that Joe maher(Guitarist in Fu and Brother of liam) Died last week..Ive heard on the grapevine it was a heroin overdose.

Sad news

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Dec 24, 2012 3:27am

In reply to darren:

So sad. RIP Liam and Joe

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Mark Ellicott
Apr 15, 2014 4:34pm

Great live band..should have been massive. Never met Liam or Joe but just know they would have been great company. RIP both.

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