How did you and Steve Edwards meet?
Steve and I went to the same school. We first met when we were about twelve years old. We knew each other from then in a vague way I suppose. When we were about 15 we tried to make a group with a few school friends calling ourselves Exhibit B. We really were very poor and couldn’t play and it wasn’t much fun as we all wanted to play different songs *L*. The musical tastes varied very widely in what was a particularly dire musical era (about 1972-3). Steve and I then met up again at an Insurance Company where we worked in adjacent offices and lived near each other and started to share musical interests. Then at 18 we both went into Nursing in different locations meeting up later at Prestwich again. We have remained firm friends since then.
Were you fans of the same music? What kind of stuff were you listening to?
No we had hugely different musical tastes at that point. Steve liked Bowie and Roxy Music (Stevie Wonder too if I recollect properly) and I liked heavy rock – Led Zep, Hendrix, Cream etc. The point at which our musical paths crossed was my playing Patti Smith’s first album to him and we were both hooked on a similar style. Then I bought a Velvets album and we listened to it at Steve’s parents’ house and we didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. We didn’t quite know whether they were THAT good or THAT bad! But we decided we liked it and it gave us the confidence to follow a sort of path I guess. We found the Stooges which appealed to my Rock likings and that was it I guess. My hero was and will always be Jimi Hendrix.
What was Manchester like on those days? Has it always been a real tough, industrial city? Even still?
I love Manchester and it is home but it is, and has always been, a tough place. Industrial, dark and gloomy. Joy Division portrayed it well as bleak and grey. We are actually from the City of Salford which borders Manchester. It seems such a childish point but Salfordians are a different breed *L*. Salford is a lot tougher as a city. There is a famous clip of Anthony H Wilson introducing Joy Division on ‘So it goes’ and referring to them as “a Manchester band but a couple of them are from Salford which is not important to you the viewer but is to them!” As is known Barney and Hooky were from Salford as indeed Wilson was. Manchester now is a lovely City and much money has been spent on the centre, particularly since the IRA bombed it a few years ago. It has its own culture and humour and is a very tribal City.
Those late 70’s in Manchester must have been great. Did you catch early gigs by The Fall? Buzzcocks? Joy Division? and later, The Smiths?
We saw loads of the early Fall. Steve loved them. There is a big link with Prestwich Hospital there too. We watched them play in the Hospital Social Club to a load of drunken nurses who, by and large, didn’t ‘get it’. They expected a cabaret band and got the Fall *LOL*. I used to like the Buzzcocks too, they seemed to be on everywhere I went. Vastly underrated as a group and Pete Shelley wrote great songs. Joy Division were an okay group and then almost overnight they became special. I wasn’t too impressed initially even though we knew them because they went to our school. Steve saw them one night and insisted I went to see them again at the Band on the Wall in Manchester and they were devastating! I felt like giving up.
There were other watchable groups who had less success than they may have had if they were from London. The Drones were good. Thinking about it, I liked the Fall more than I ever admitted really. Their early stuff was great and I like the original band the best of all their millions of assorted mixtures. I never went to see the Smiths because I was irritated that they got so many breaks that we didn’t – I know how childish that sounds now too but it was a problem. Morrissey is a genius having said all that and I don’t think that Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke got enough credit because it all went to Morrissey and Marr. Suffice to say I have all the Smiths albums *L*.
How did God’s Gift come together? Who thought up the name?
Steve and I decided to make a group (didn’t everyone? *L*). We enlisted our friend Paul Leadbeater on Drums – we coerced him into it. Paul would tell you now that he didn’t know one end of a drum stick from the other but very quickly he held down a cracking rhythm. Because he couldn’t play, it was always dead simple like Mo Tucker. He used the snare and floor toms. He never used the bass drum or hi hat. We then got another friend, Laura Plant, to play Bass. I had an old Framus Bass and she played that. I was showing her how to play when I was still learning how to play guitar *L*. We kept it simple and the early songs worked because they were so sparce.
I came up with the name – it has NO religious connotations at all. Not sure if it’s the same in the States but being called Gods Gift is an insult to someone who isn’t up to it or fancies themselves to be something special. It was a piss take on us. Interestingly, the only other name we ever considered was Steve’s suggestion of John Smith and the Insignificants. I think the joke being on us was a central theme *L*.
Were the gigs tense? Violent?
We had a lot of violent outbreaks at gigs especially early on but in honesty we often provoked it. We were considered “Confrontalionists”. Because of where we worked and as the group evolved we used our lack of fear to our benefit and we often used to get idiots trying to cause trouble but they never won. I guess tense would be a fair description. We often played in the dark and the noise was horrendous on occasions. Sort of like sensory deprivation. I know everyone seems to do stuff like that now and there have been bands who have become rich and famous but we were doing that 25 years ago *L*. I would have loved to have seen us if that makes any sense. The thing is we were doing what we wanted to see!
Tell us about that Dead Kennedy’s show (tour?)?
By all accounts the DK’s wanted us to play support on their tour. Because of work commitments we were only able to agree to 3 or four dates. The first was in Manchester. It had been booked for the Apollo but they had heard about the likely DK’s following and cancelled the venue so it was moved at the last minute to a dump called the Mayflower in Manchester. They had sold 1600 tickets for a place that would struggle to hold a 1000 IMHO. The first band played and they were one of an increasing number of identikit punk bands, every song started with an innocuous introduction explaining what the song was about and then a moronic 1-2-3-4 and a thrash with inaudible, inane rantings screamed. They came out with some of the most ridiculous racist crap I have ever heard and because they were ‘punk rockers’ playing to ‘punk rockers’ it was felt acceptable? What was deeply disturbing was they went down a storm *PMSL*. I knew we were in trouble because we didn’t fit in at all with the whole thing. I didn’t want to play and neither did Paul but Steve and Iain Grey (our eventual and longest standing Bass player) wanted to. We tossed a coin and ended up playing. There was no way we would ever play half heartedly and that is really why I didn’t want to play – it could only ever lead to trouble. We started and someone introduced us to this baying mob of green and pink haired spitting morons and said “give these lads a chance” *LMAO* That was the kiss of death wasn’t it? Jello Biafra appealed for calm *L*. We played 20 minutes of feedback and the crowd reacted like a cabaret audience to a punk band – the irony being completely lost on them. Steve told the audience about the money we were getting and how much the DKs were getting and they were staying in the Midland (Manchester swankiest hotel) and were in the back room with a million women and a million gallons of free booze. It made a mockery of it all – this supposed camaraderie. Steve started crawling around the stage and disconnecting mikes and leads so the Bouncers threw him off the stage where he was beaten up by about 1300 people *LMAO*. It was shit – it really was. We cleared off sharpish and Jello was white with fear!
Tony Wilson said that those “fucking lunatics Gods Gift have started a riot”. When Steve and I went to get paid the next day a nameless man who I hate to this day (*L*) refused. So true to the GG doctrine I threw him across the room until he paid us. Not something I’m proud of but in a dog eat dog world etc etc. We declined the opportunity to play in Liverpool and Birmingham.
Did you guys really work in a mental institution? Did that add to the mystique surrounding the band?
Yes is the short answer. I was a Senior Charge Nurse, Steve Edwards was a Staff Nurse before he went back to University. Iain Grey worked on the Secure Unit, Andy Glentworth also and now works at a Special Hospital. Paul Adams worked there. Roy Bebbington also worked at Prestwich. Martine Hilton eventually worked in the Personnel block. In fact, throughout the life of the group; only Paul Leadbeater, Rob Hall and Laura Plant didn’t work there.
Did it add to the mystique? Absolutely. People were quite wary of us as a unit. The final grouping of Steve, Iain, Andy and I was positively intimidating and we knew it. We played on it a fair bit but it was how we were. When most people were writing their deep and meaningful songs about the trite adventures of a bored art student we were fighting with murderers and child killers for a living. It poisons the mind a fair bit and it used to give us a great laugh when we heard the amount of songs about mental illness being sung by those thinking each set must contain one ‘loony’ song. We used the volume and the dark to add to the effect. Dress and photos and any of the gloss that people join groups for were completely ignored. We liked GG and hoped others would too. We had no interest in those who didn’t like us. It was an outlet for the levels of tension a 12 hour shift in a Psychiatric ward could create.
How did it all end?
I think there was a little acrimony between Iain and I that was the only ill feeling we had ever had in the group. Because of that we stopped. Steve and I agreed that was never what is was meant to be about so we decided at that moment to pack it in. Arguments between friends was a no-no and that had happened. It was a fantastic principle to have and an even greater one to uphold.
What have you guys been doing since? Anything musically?
When GG finished. Steve and Iain did a Jazz improv thing a few times but stopped. Andy and I made another group with friends called Brutal Grey Killers. Did a fair few gigs and a couple of decent demos but it was never GG so that just fizzled out. Now? Steve doesn’t play nor Andy. Iain plays in a band still and I record a lot at home for my own pleasure.
Tell us about some Manchester bands we might have never heard of but should have.
The two that spring to my mind are The Enigma and If Only. The Enigma were young kids about 10 years younger than us and we shared gigs with them a lot. They were 16 or so when we were mid 20s. They had some terrific songs and a brilliantly talented frontman called Martin Tivnan. God only knows how he didn’t become really famous.
If Only were another band we shared gigs with. Much more subtle, with some really strong songs. Good guitars and a singer with a very strange voice. Sadly, the vocalist (Jeff Bridges) committed suicide many years ago but they were a very good band.
Glass Animals were very interesting; Liz Naylor and Cath Carroll based. Odd and interesting to see,
What was your most memorable gig?
My favourite two were;
The Band on the Wall on the day the Pope visited Manchester. His first words to the masses was ‘Gods Gift is Love’. We played with the Fall and I had broken my hand at work but because of the importance of the gig I still played. I took too many analgesics and drank Cider to a very odd effect. We were simply breath taking on the night. That was one of my favourites. I remember watching Mark Smith dancing and singing along – cool!
The other I particularly remember was a gig in Tilburg in Holland. The minute we started the crowd were with us and it was brilliant. We had never had such a reaction. They knew the songs and sang and danced along. As a group we never did encores feeling that it was largely a false thing to do but the crowd started smashing the club up when we had finished so we did an encore. We had nothing planned so asked what they wanted *L*. I played the opening chords to Discipline and the place went absolutely mad. Never felt anything that good in my life. Because I played with my back to the audience I had no idea what had happened and Iain told me to turn around and look it was like Bedlam or Dante’s Inferno – absolutely mad!
How did the cd with Hyped 2 Death come about?
Justin Toland did an excellent history of New Hormones website and I read it and was astonished to find the positive comments about the group. Even more stunned to find there were record labels trying to find us. I contacted three but Chuck Warner was the best and most interested and interesting. He seemed an absolute gent so we did it with H2D. It took a long time because we only had cassettes and original vinyls of all our stuff so Chuck worked like a Trojan to make the CD what it became.
Any future God’s Gift plans?
A possible release of the Discipline 7” vinyl in a presentation box with a live DVD of us playing in Rotterdam is mooted for late Summer on the German Playloud label. There is enough stuff for another CD but it would be far less accessible than Pathology so I am unsure what may happen there.
These Days/925/People on Newmarket 101 7” vinyl
Soldiers/Hunger of Millions/Antony Perkins/Good and Evil 12” vinyl on New Hormones
Discipline/Then Calm Again 7” vinyl on New Hormones
Creeps in track on Manchester Musicians Collective 12” vinyl Unzipping the Abstract
These Days/Discipline on Messthetic Manchester Bands H2D
Folie a Quatre cassette on Pleasantly Surprised
The Greatest Story Ever Told cassette on Newmarket 103
Pathology Manchester 1979-84 CD on H2D
Bonus questions: Got any good Mark E. Smith stories? Is he really just a chipper, friendly guy?
He is a normal quiet bloke who likes his own company not unlike most Northern people. He will chat to people but dismiss bullshitters very quickly. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He is just a normal bloke with an abnormal level of talent.
(And he liked Gods Gift so I can forgive him anything *LOL*)
Hope that helps and isn’t too boring?