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