Dirtblonde Archives #3: Liverpool Calling…

Before – and after – our Korova night F*CK, there was Liverpool Calling. Whereas F*CK was almost as much about DJ-ing as about booking bands, the main thing about our Liverpool Calling nights was to organize the gigs we’d like to go to! So, we made sure to always come up with cracking lineups!

Liverpool Calling band night

Liverpool Calling sign at old Korova

Liverpool Calling poster

Poster for the original Liverpool Calling at the Zanzibar

Both as a band and as gig goers, Lula and I often felt quite frustrated with gigs in Liverpool. 

As a band, because it’s always been hard for us to get good gigs in Liverpool… lots of promoters didn’t like us (probably still don’t!) and so, the best way for us to play regularly – and alongside good bands – was to book our own events! 

As gig goers, we didn’t like having to pay money to see one good band we liked, and have to watch 2 shite ones, as is so often the case with gigs! 

So, Liverpool Calling was the answer!

The first one happened in August 2005, at the famous Zanzibar Club in Liverpool. The original lineup was Snow White, Dirtblonde, Automation and Heads of State. However, a few days before the gig Snow White’s guitarist had measles or something, and we were informed the headliners couldn’t play!

A shame, but quickly enough we got hold of Bradford’s finest creepbeat combo, Ruby Tombs, who we met at Ladyfest in Leeds. Artrocker magazine described them as ” the most imaginative, raw and sexy bunch this side of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs”, so as you could imagine, they were a worthy substitute! Here’s a cool video of Ruby Tombs: 

After that first Liverpool Calling, it’d be almost 2 years until it returned, as we busied ourselves with F*CK club at Korova. I don’t remember most about that first night, but I remember Ruby Tombs were ace and that we all had a great time!

Korova Liverpool

The old Korova in Liverpool, home to many Liverpool Calling events

In fact, one of the main things about our Liverpool Calling club night, was to make sure all the artists had fun, had a great time… and sometimes I’d go out of my way and lose a bit of money if we didn’t make a profit on the night, just to pay bands who travelled from far.

Basically, treating bands with the respect they deserve… as we know ourselves that some promoters can be dicks!

 The other thing about Liverpool Calling, was to book as many good Liverpool bands as possible – and not just friends of ours, because I always hated “scenes” and cliques. And, as promoters, we were glad to discover that there were some pretty cool bands in Liverpool! 

It’s funny – when Dirtblonde started, one of our motivations was the fact we hated the music that was going on in Liverpool at the time… at least, according to the mainstream – mostly, that whole “Cosmic Scouse” scene. We wanted to be a reaction against the retro music so popular in Liverpool at the time. So, when a couple of months after we formed Dirtblonde, the BBC Liverpool site did a feature on us, I was glad to say that Dirtblonde hated some Liverpool bands or something like that.

It was a soundbite that the BBC loved, of course, and we upset quite a few people because of it! But the thing is… One of the reasons I wanted to live in Liverpool was because many Liverpool bands were amongst my favourites: The Beatles, Echo & The Bunnymen, Boo Radleys and The La’s. And despite the fact we generally hated the “cosmic scouse” thing, the Scousadelic thing, Lula and I always liked its most famous exponent, The Coral! 

Two things happened to us after that controversial BBC quote: one, we found the #1 issue of local punk fanzine Everything You Hate, which showed us the underbelly of the Liverpool Music Scene and thanks to it we discovered lots of cool underground bands in Liverpool, such as Automation, Penelope Pissedoff and others. Also, after starting to play gigs around Liverpool we gradually met more and more local bands and musicians, a few of which went on to become great friends, and some others friendly acquaintances. 

Therefore, it was great to be able to give gigs to some fine Liverpool bands as diverse as: Automation, Heads Of State, Novice Mathematic, Emily & The Faves (with Emily who’s in Stealing Sheep now), Aeris Presley, Fraktures, The Albany, Jewell Thief, Friday’s Ghost, The Blackwood Articles, The Affection, Straight Out Of Moscow,  Sheepy, Esa Shields, Kinsheeva, amongst others.

Liverpool Calling CD cover

Liverpool Calling CD cover

We also put out a free Liverpool Calling CD-R, which we felt was a pretty good compilation with some of the best Liverpool bands at that time:

 1. The Affection: Compass
2. The Dead Class: No
3. Heads of State: After All This Time
4. Straight out of Moscow: Rhythm Bus
5. Jewel Thief: Look for the Moon
6. The Blackwood Articles: Hexagons and Centipedes
7. Aeris Presley: Beta Male
8. Fraktures: Nightmares
9. Sex Education Twisting and Shaking
10. Esa Shields Monde Capricorn
11. Asbos: Weird Dream
12. Dirtblonde: Niagra
13. Mugstar : Man with Supersight
14. Friday’s Ghost: Work of the Invisible Hand  

Poster for Calvin Johnson gig at Liverpool Calling

Poster for Calvin Johnson gig at Liverpool Calling, which took place at the old LEAF Cafe

Of course, besides showcasing the best of Liverpool at our Liverpool Calling gigs, we also tried to book cool touring artists and good unsigned bands from other towns.

We brought some really cool acts to play in Liverpool, often for the first time: Billy Ruffian, Penny Broadhurst, Little Volcanos, Yr Impossible, The Bacchae (now Black Moth), Wry, Pellethead, Kissing Kalina (now reborn as Severin), and also: Theoretical Girl, Pravda (from Paris), Capsula (from Spain) and K Records/ Beat Happening legend Calvin Johnson, who we brought to Liverpool twice.

 We also did two offshoots of Liverpool Calling. The first was a Liverpool Calling event at the Notting Hill Arts Club in London. I think we were the first (and only!) Liverpool band to ever curate an event for one of Rough Trade’s RoTa Afternoon events, which used to take place on Saturdays.

It was simply great, and we were pleased to have the talented The Affection (whose singer Chris is now in Sunstack Jones) playing with Dirtblonde in London. 

We also had two London acts then: Wry, and Mae West, a noisy band formed by none other than Olly, formerly in Snow White… the first Liverpool Calling headliners who never were! 

Capsula (from Bilbao) rocking out at Liverpool Calling, Korova

Capsula (from Bilbao) rocking out at Liverpool Calling, Korova

 The other event was also amazing: we did one Paris Calling at Korova, when we brought 3 ace French bands, all of them from the exciting Paris indie scene of the time: Nelson, Brooklyn and Sheraf. 

Nelson were superb, it was one of the best bands we ever booked to play in Liverpool… theirs was a classic set. Here’s some footage of Nelson on French TV: 

 So, that was Liverpool Calling then. We had fun with it, and we think the people who came to those gigs, and the bands, had a good time too! But we also lost quite a bit of money, and had all the headache that comes with promoting proper good gigs!  As far as I’m concerned, Liverpool Calling is just hibernating…maybe forever, maybe not! We still organize our own events from time to time, but at the moment don’t feel the need to do a dedicated band night… Pete Bentham is doing a great job (still!) with Free Rock’n’Roll, for instance, so we don’t feel there’s necessarily a need for Liverpool Calling again… maybe some day. Maybe…