This is Friday is the annual Wear Your Old Band T Shirt To Work Day. This brilliant initiative is the brainchild of 6 Music’s Steve Lamacq. To my mind it’s a great idea because it plugs into the passion we all have for our favourite bands, which often translates into buying their latest T-Shirts.
What Steve’s simple idea should do is make any sensible music fan go scurrying to their wardrobes and drawers for that Libertines/Metallica/La’s T- Shirt that you bought 20 years ago, loved to death and then proceeded to forget all about.
T-Shirts don’t exist in a vacuum. Like records they evoke memories and every T-Shirt or record in your collection normally has an association with a particular time of your life, good or bad. If a T-Shirt you own doesn’t have a good story attached to it then you may as well bin it. Did you buy it because you’d just been blown away by the band at a gig? Or conversely did you buy it before realising the band were terrible and you would be too embarrassed to be seen walking around in it? Were you wearing it the night you met the love of your life? Were they the first band you ever really loved?
I have a funny relationship with band T-Shirts. I wouldn’t be seen dead wearing a Charlatans T-Shirt to a Charlatans gig for example, although I like the group and would happily wear one of their T-Shirts at any other time. That might just be me because by the same token I’ve supported Liverpool all my life but I would never dream of wearing a Liverpool football shirt to the match. (Although I do bring out my lucky Liverpool scarf on big European nights and it definitely helped us beat Barcelona last year). This could just be a quirk of mine or it could be because I’m a bit of a music snob.
I was in the fortunate position of getting loads of free T-Shirts when the band T-Shirt phenomenon really took off in the late 80’s. I was lucky enough to be doing loads of freelance writing for the NME (with Lamacq amongst others) and so was being inundated with free records and T-Shirts from press and PR people. Some of the T-Shirts I received were from bands I loathed or had never heard of, some were cheap and nasty, but occasionally you hit the jackpot of quality T-Shirts that looked great and were from artists you really liked. I kept the good ones and generously gave the rubbish ones to easily impressed mates because I’m good like that.
The T-Shirt boom of that time appeared to be inspired by the band James, who had a great simple logo which just happened to look brilliant on a shirt. At one point everybody, everywhere seemed to have a James T-Shirt on. Personally that meant I wouldn’t be seen dead in one, although I actually quite liked them at the time. Then suddenly T-Shirts became almost as important as the music. Other Manchester bands from the time also went big on T-Shirts and Stone Roses and Happy Mondays logos were everywhere.
In Liverpool The La’s, Top, and The Farm had particularly memorable merch. The Farm in particular benefitted from some great T-Shirts (which I was always happy to accept) because bass play Carl Hunter was a talented designer. Less well known but also benefiting from having an artist in their midst were The Hoovers. The band split up after one sadly ignored album but they continued to be a visible presence for many years later via their beautifully designed high quality T-Shirts. At one point it seemed that everybody in Cantril Farm (the area where all the band lived) had enough Hoover’s T-Shirts to get them through a whole summer. Dance shop/label £ Beat also had some great clobber that I used to enjoy wearing.
I was big friends with a great Liverpool group called The Tambourines, who sadly didn’t achieve the recognition their rowdy pop deserved. They were a formidable live band who sustained their touring by selling a range of band merch that was designed by their bass player and his girlfriend. I’m sure this was the same for many groups in that income whereby selling their merch enabled them to actually eat while on tour.
35 Summers were the kings of this particular branch of commerce. The group were led by Dave Pichilingi, who I think would admit now that he has always been a better businessman than singer/dancer. Dave came up with the genius wheeze of having an image of the great Liverpool manager Bill Shankly on the band’s T-Shirts. There is no logical connection between the band and Shankly but that didn’t matter. The T-Shirts flew out and made Dave a shed load of money. The band have long since gone and while you would be hard pushed to buy any of their recorded output the T-Shirts are still available and no doubt selling well.
Amongst my favourites from the time were ones I was given by bands I reviewed like an outfit called Bob. I can’t remember much about them now but the T-Shirt was ace. Ocean Colour Scene were lovely lads and gave me a boss top when they played The Krazy House and, as already mentioned, local lads The Farm were the purveyors of some top quality merch which I always enjoyed wearing. But if I had to plump for an overall favourite it would have to be the Liverpool In Paris long sleeved T-Shirt. It goes back to where I started because it is my favourite due to the fact that it reminds me of a great time in my life. I was having a ball writing for NME and was lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to spend the weekend ‘working’ in Paris with a bunch of bands/mates.
A local music manager had put the line up together. Three nights in the fabulous Locomotive Club with two Liverpool bands playing each night. Steve Lamacq at the NME commissioned me to review the gigs. I’m still not convinced that Steve expected me to return with a story from what was always going to be weekend of chaos.
The line-up featured some of the city’s best bands of the time in the form of Shack, The La’s, Top, Dr Phibes and The Boo Radleys. It also featured Eat My Dog who definitely wouldn’t have been in anyone’s best Liverpool bands list, even if the band themselves were to draw up the list. However, they were managed by the same person who managed Shack so they made the cut. Their main rapper Paul Fitzgerald is still a good friend of mine but his main contribution to my enjoyment of the weekend was sharing his bottle of duty free Jack Daniel’s at some ludicrously early hour of the day in his hotel room.
I made some good friends on the trip, like the late, great Alan Wills who was Top’s drummer and went on to form the hugely Deltasonic label (the Coral, Zutons etc). Top’s tour manager of the time Peasy who I first met there is still a good friend 30 years later and he now co-manages The Bunnymen and The Farm amongst other things.
But it also felt like a bit of a school trip — and my school didn’t allow us to go on trips so I had a lot of catching up to do. It was like they had let a load of scouse idiots loose in one of the world’s best cities. Fortunately we didn’t break Paris — I’ve checked and it is definitely still there — but we did have loads of stupid fun. My main memories are of hanging out with people like Alan Wills and Peasy and those I already knew like James Barton (who went on to head up the Cream empire), photographer Mark McNulty and fellow journalist John Robb.
The La’s ended up not playing for some reason but that seemed pretty irrelevant to be honest because we were having such a good time. The only real problem was that drinks in the club were hideously expensive by British standards. We solved that particular problem by plundering the generous riders that were provided to the bands by the lovely club managers.
I’m still not sure how I acquired my favourite T-Shirt that weekend. Someone in our party had produced them with the idea of selling them at the gigs but I’m not sure the idea of band T –Shirts was big in France at that time. There seemed to be an awful lot of them hanging around anyway and somehow I ended up wearing one home. Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Kev McManus, Head of UNESCO City of Music, Culture Liverpool