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The Working Class

The Icicle Works

Article from One Two Testing, March 1986

Liverpool three in one to one with One Two

From English Social Club to American Football Stadium, the Icicle Works have played them all. They stopped long enough to discuss their collected works and their working career with Chris Maillard.

You know how in the Musicians Wanted columns people always say "... for working band"? Well, the Icicle Works could be that very working band.

As a band they've been working hard since 1980, gigging and releasing singles or albums without a pause for breath. Individually, they've been working musicians for far longer.

Drummer Chris Sharrock and bassist Chris Layhe are veterans of the Rock circuit in their native Liverpool, with umpteen years' experience between them, as you can probably tell from their confident and competent attack.

Lead singer and guitarist Ian McNabb has even more of a professional pedigree, although he isn't overly keen to have it plastered all over the band's publicity handouts. It's a history that's not only currently unfashionable, but one that's never been particularly hip among young rocksters. Yes, we're talking about that breeding ground of stars, that nursery of musical maestros... yes, the social club circuit.

Ever since he was a mere teeny-twanger, Ian's livelihood has been earned by his skills on the fretboard and lungs.

"That's partly why I was never really in any of those trendy little cliques that you get bands forming," he explained. "While everybody else was hanging around clubs and listening to each other's bands I was playing in entirely different types of clubs. The bands I was in about then were doing the Mecca circuit and workingmen's clubs.

"And we were earning a living as well. I never really wanted to starve for my music when it was possible to make quite a bit doing that sort of thing."

So why stop and form an original band?

"After a while it gets soul-destroying playing that sort of thing. Cover versions are all very well, but once you're good enough to play them without trying very hard it ends up like a factory job. You go off every night and do the same thing to roughly the same sort of people, you get paid and you go home. You might as well be a long-distance lorry driver or a security man. It's about as glamorous and creative."

But it pays well.

"Oh yeah, it pays very well. In fact at the start of this band it paid for some of the initial cost, you know, gear and recording and stuff. You always end up paying to play gigs when you're starting off with a band playing your own stuff. It's disgusting."

So it was subsidised by doing Una Paloma Blanca three times a night.

"That's right. In fact, there was some crossover between the band Icicle Works and the cover versions outfit. We were the same three people but two different bands for a little while right at the start, because we'd already started gigging and doing recordings and stuff as Icicle Works but we had these gigs booked as a club band which we needed to do for the money.

"So we were playing this gig in a dodgy old place near Liverpool, hoping like hell that there was nobody we knew in the audience to see this new, fashionable, Pop band playing horrible old songs. And halfway through the set I looked up to see Budgie from the Banshees sitting there watching us.

"I thought 'Oh fuck' and we played the rest of the gig with our heads down and desperately hoping he wouldn't recognise us. He did, of course.

"I went over and said 'Hello" and started apologising about us playing there and doing all these covers, thinking he'd never let us live it down. After all he was in a really hip band and all that.

"But he was really cool - it turned out that he'd played the same circuit himself for years!"

Is that unusual?

"No - it seems that almost everybody's got something like that in their past history. You'd be surprised at the number of really famous musicians, people you would never believe, who have done that at some time.

"It seems like that's where a lot of people learned their skill in that club circuit. Because I suppose it's an ideal way to learn, going out almost every night and playing to an indifferent audience. And some of the people who have been playing that circuit for years and years are great musicians, really good players. They won't try for the original band thing either because they're too keen on the regular money, they're quite content doing other people's stuff, or they haven't got any other ideas.

"But if you're a young musician you pick up a lot from playing alongside really experienced players like that. And you can learn quite a bit from working out other people's songs, too. You find out about how chords are put together and song structure and all that."

It sounds great. So how come everybody doesn't drop their slogging round dubious pubs playing their own songs and buy the Mecca Approved Songbook?

"Well, once you get over the initial thrill of earning good money by playing an instrument it's as boring as fuck. And it's not very good for the image to confess that you used to do Shirley Bassey songs to OAPs."

You don't seem too bothered. You've just spent twenty minutes talking about it.

"Oh yeah, but it's not someting I really want known about generally. You're not going to say anything about it in the magazine, are you?"

More with this artist

Previous Article in this issue

Fernandes Guitar

Next article in this issue

Yamaha DX100

Publisher: One Two Testing - IPC Magazines Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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One Two Testing - Mar 1986

Interview by Chris Maillard

Previous article in this issue:

> Fernandes Guitar

Next article in this issue:

> Yamaha DX100

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