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A Quietus Interview

Liam Maher Of Flowered Up Interviewed In 2005
Niall O'Keeffe , October 23rd, 2009 12:50

This week brought tragic news of the death of Flowered Up frontman Liam Maher, voice of the inspired rave-culture chronicle ‘Weekender’. In August 2005, I interviewed the warm, charming Maher for The Irish Post. With the newly reformed Flowered Up fresh from a successful gig at the Tufnell Park Dome and building up to an appearance at the Get Loaded in the Park festival, Maher was ready to look back at his early-90s rollercoaster ride and its aftermath…

Did you have a feeling within you of unfinished business, from the way the band split up first time round?

Liam Maher: Definitely...

Obviously you'd just put out your best single [‘Weekender’]...

LM: Yeah.

It was a short career that you had, but you were a very popular group within that short space of time – did you feel you threw your hat at it too early the first time round?

LM: Yeah, definitely. I mean, when the band split, we were just knocking on the door of big-time success. That's when the Blur thing happened... All of a sudden it was trendy to be from Camden! All the time we was going, it was the Manchester thing, the north thing, and at the time it felt hard – just by the press – being from London. It seemed really unfashionable at the time!

I mean, we split up, and six months later, all of a sudden it's fashionable to be from London, especially Camden, where we were all born and brought up! So yeah, we definitely split up too soon, that was down to events like drug problems, managerial problems, financial – which influenced the managerial stuff... But yeah. We were releasing 'Weekender' and the other single after that, 'Better Life', which never got released – Jeff Barrett released it on Heavenly as a Heavenly Classic, on the 7-inch, that was a few years ago. That was like a reggae... Musically it was reggae… It's a great tune…

In the past, it used to make me upset and a bit angry thinking that we'd missed out, we'd fucked ourselves up. 'Cause it could have gone all the way, if we'd kept our heads together. Unfortunately it didn't, so... Them things have been put to rest. I can still get angry about it sometimes. But if it's happened, it happened.

Is it anger with record labels? Obviously the label [London Records] made the bizarre decision to let you go when you submitted 'Weekender', which is now considered a classic single. Were there a lot of small minds at the label, a lot of unhelpful people in the industry that held you back?

LM: Yeah, it was partly that. Also, it was that we signed the wrong record deal when we signed to London Records. We got a massive advance – we were signed for £250,000 – but at the time the guy who owns Deconstruction, Keith Blackhurst, said, "You've made the wrong choice." We should have signed to a smaller label that didn't put so much pressure on sales. Now London, they led us up the path, they signed us on a six-album deal and they was going to do all this... and it was a building process... and the first album wasn't the be all and end all, but after it came out it became obvious that that's all they wanted, they was just interested in sales...

So, we signed the wrong deal. We signed the wrong deal. The day we signed to London Records, you could say, was the day the band split up. That was it, that fucked us, signing to them.

Do you think the huge influx of money, in retrospect, was maybe a problem, in that there was obviously a temptation to go a bit mad, and that led you into some problems?

LM: “Well, obviously, with the money... We was all from council estates and that, so waving the money, that was part of it... I just wish we had the knowledge then what we have now, d'you know? It was definitely the wrong deal. Anyway, things have happened, that's done and dusted... It's all ifs and could haves and but, but, buts... But we're at where we are now. I'd like just for us to get another record deal so we can put out some stuff. I don't believe it justified some of the hype that we had years ago. Because I'm absolutely convinced that we were a great band. And I'm trying to justify something that I did all them years ago - because I know we're a good band, I know how good we are live... We're a good strong band.

I personally think that, live-wise at least, we're a lot better than what's going on at the moment. I think it's good that you have bands like Kasabian, or whatever, but I do believe that we've still got something to play to and there's still an audience there for us. I do believe that... I don't want to get caught up in that end-of-80s baggiedom thing, d'you know? And that's my one concern about playing the Clapham [Get Loaded in the Park] gig, but obviously I'm really looking forward to playing it.

Are relationships within the band good at the moment?

LM: Perfect, perfect. Yeah.

Was there some stuff to work out when you first got back together? Had you left it badly?

LM: You would have thought there was, but no, it worked out fine... It really did. Besides with my brother... I didn't have a problem with anyone. There was no big massive fallouts at the end… It was nice for all of us to be back in the studio rehearsing together again. it was a good feeling. There was no animosity at all. And everyone's grown up a bit. It's a little bit more mature, the way we're approaching it, mentally. We were kids before.

You were really young, weren't you, when you got signed?

LM: Yeah, yeah. We were kids... I was just out of my teens, the drummer, he was still 19, the guitarist was 19, I was just out of my teens... We were just kids.

Do you look back very fondly on the period as a whole?

LM: Yeah… Like, there were a couple of bad bits towards the end, but within the bigger picture, the whole picture of it, there was so many good times, so many laughs, so many highs... It was excellent, excellent. Like I say, couple of regrets at the end knowing that we could have gone, and should have gone, further... But that's it... Whenever I think back about it, I laugh. There's a smile on my face. Remembering rooms in hotels, incidents in hotel rooms, or gigs or whatever. It just puts a smile on my face.

Would you be tempted to write a warts-and-all book like some of the Happy Mondays have done?

LM: Yeah, I would. I would, I would. Because there are various funny stories to be told from what happened with us… It was real off-the-wall stuff. And I've tried to tell some people some stuff and they think I might be lying, what happened. It was real sort of cartoon stuff.

What about the week of debauchery party? That's gone down in history. Do you remember much about that? [When Flowered Up received their advance they reputedly hired a mansion in Mayfair to stage a week-long party, even hiring butlers to wait on the guests.]

LM: Yeah, I remember the week before the party we had the mansion and we spent the whole week beforehand just taking a load of Es and coke and – I hate to say it – heroin. We were just out of our heads for a week. We were walking around absolutely naked and we found these top hats, and we were walking around the mansion like we were lords of the manor! That week was a blur, d’you know, because we had the big bath. There was photos taken, and they ended up in The Sun and all sorts of papers. In the tub there was me, [dancer] Barry Mooncult, Des – the manager at the time – and this other guy, Terry, all in top hats, in this big oyster-shaped bath... There was an indoor swimming pool, jacuzzi, sauna, and we just walking around stark-bollock naked, absolutely out of our heads, for a week leading up to the party. And the party happened and – I don't know – about a thousand people turned up? It was an absolute classic? Did you get to the party?

I was probably a bit young.

LM: Oh yeah… It was a great party, it really was.

Looking at the period between Flowered Up and Greedy Soul, obviously you had a battle with drugs...

LM: Drugs, yeah. Certainly did, yeah…

Was there a very grim stage where you feared for your life?

LM: Yeah, definitely. Wondered if it could get any worse. Yeah, I mean, I did hit rock bottom, then when I thought it was rock bottom and tried to sort it out, thought I couldn't go any lower, I went again. You know, I ended up shoplifting, thieving, doing all crimes to support my drug habit… From a high, one year, then a few years later out shoplifting silly little things from shops just to pay for your drug habit. Then I was selling it, walking around the street with 20, 30 bags of heroin in my hand or my mouth at the time... Meeting people... Just to finance my habit. And it got really bad. I mean, the catalyst. then... I done a rehab or two, then went in in 2000 and that's when I sorted myself out from there.

I went into rehab, done the rehab for about two months, two-and-a-half months, and then went to the second stage, and Alan McGee had got in contact with me and advised me to stay clean, etc. I ended up living out in Bristol for about six months, which was near where the rehab was, then I came back to London and got the record deal with Poptones.

So McGee was quite supportive…

LM: Oh, very supportive. Very supportive. I’m forever indebted to how much he did support me at the time. Like I said, we signed the deal and [he] gave a lot of money to and for me. I was sent on holiday… to write some new songs and all that, over to the Caribbean, with my manager, Terry, at the time, we went for two weeks. Alan was excellent. I’ll never have a bad word said about him. Even before then he was a lovely fellow, but then I had direct contact with him, in a working relationship… I don’t really want to go into all the reasons why it all ended with Poptones because it just don’t need to be said. But that ended, and after that I was a little bit up in the air, but fortunately I didn’t go right back into all the drugs, I just went back into working on the markets, the street markets, which is kind of what I’m doing now, split with the band. I’m back working the markets, which I’d always done prior to Flowered Up anyway.

Is that locally, in Camden?

LM: No, not Camden. At the moment I’m doing South London, by Elephant & Castle. But yeah, years ago it was Camden.

Do you feel sympathy for someone like Pete Doherty, who’s going through the tabloid mill at the moment, with his very high-profile problems? Do you kind of see yourself in him?

LM: Well, I see myself in him, but I’ve never spoken to him, so I don’t know where his mental state of mind is at. I got through a phase where I struggled with that… It’s been reported that he’s been into rehab, etc. I mean I can’t know his state of mind, where he’s at… I mean, he gets a lot of publicity, which has got to be good for him… He could be looking at it and thinking ‘Yeah, yeah, wicked’. I’ve never met the guy, so I don’t know what his mind’s thinking about it all. He seems very talented.

I was interested to see a comment [saying] Babyshambles only done one single: what’s all this press about? Saying that, with Flowered Up, we hadn’t even released a single and we had front covers everywhere, in national papers.

I got hold of an NME from 1990, with Flowered up on the cover. It did seem the press was ready before the band, in some ways… Most bands would kill for a fraction of it.

LM: Yeah, of course. They would. Sometimes I thought that it put too much pressure on us, the early press and the anticipation, the expectation, and at times we found it hard to live up to. But other times, we knew how good we was, and for me, and I’m pretty much certain all the rest of the band think it as well, how good we was live and that, we were very confident of the songs, but when we recorded the album, a lot of us hated the album. We detested the way it was done, recorded… and we didn’t feel it done justice to the songs, ‘cause they were so much more vibrant than that, and I don’t know if it was down to our inexperience, the producer or what, but personally I hate the album. I like the songs, but I fucking hate the album…

The production doesn’t appeal to you?

LM: Yeah, the production, the sound – everything, the sound, the engineering, I really fucking hate it, and it used to… and it still does do my head in, the album, because I thought the songs were a lot better and they could have been given more credit. Then we come along with Clive Langer, who we done ‘Weekender’ with, and it was totally different, and he knew how to get the best out of our sound in the studio, and hence ‘Weekender’ was good and then he done ‘Better Life’ with us as well, afterwards, but it was never released. And that sounds excellent as well, if you ever get to hear it on the recorded version – try and get hold of it, it’s fucking excellent. And that’s the direction we was going in, and no one else was doing that at the time, and… Anyway, if you can get a listen to it, it’s quite a good song. It’s called ‘Better Life’.