Pride Week: A Boozy Afternoon With Beers For Queers

Ahead of their Pride Eve party God Save The Queers, Shaun Ponsonby sits next to a virtual jukebox in the sunshine with Beers For Queers’ Linster Sangster.

By Shaun Ponsonby
Thu 25 July, 2019

Linster Sangster has an illustrious history.

Playing in bands from a young age, Lin is a celebrated songwriter, with something of a cult following across a myriad of bands, from Send No Flowers, to Kit, Bad Anorak 404 and composing soundtracks. They currently perform original music under the name Campbell L. Sangster.

Born and raised in Liverpool, life has taken Lin to homes in both Manchester and London for around two decades, but they returned in April 2017, starting afresh and looking for some way into the new, burgeoning queer scene.

It was an invitation from Queen Zee to perform at the alternative Queer Rrriot party that made Sangster realise how different Liverpool’s queer scene had become, and soon after devised Beers For Queers as a laid back social event for queers of all kinds. She recruited old friend Dan Taylor to create the gorgeous posters (each one depicts a different contemporary and historical queer – the four at the top of the page show Dusty Springfield, Janelle Monae, Sylvester and Christine & The Queens).

Since then, the free monthly event has run in District, courtesy of Lin‘s old friend Jayne Casey, and has only grown in popularity, with a warmth that welcomes one and all. On any given month, you can pop down on your own, safe in the knowledge that there will be at least someone you know there, with the night planning to move to bigger Friday night events in the new year.

Last year, we spent an afternoon in a pub with Sonic Yootha for Pride Week (where we all got wankered) ahead of their post-Pride party. With Beers For Queers teaming up with Mersey Bears and Eat Me + Preach for God Save The Queers on Pride Eve, we figured we would do the same for another incredible Liverpool queer event.

Lin has picked five records that say something about what Beers For Queers is, and we used those as jumping off points to discuss topics ranging from growing up queer, the class system, Liverpool’s punk scene and why Top of the Pops was better in the 80s than the 70s during a blisteringly hot afternoon at the Liver Hotel Pub in Waterloo.

(NB: Although we have named this “A Boozy Afternoon with Beers For Queers“, neither of us actually drank any alcohol – we just figured we’d keep the title)

Click here to read more from Planet Slop’s Pride Week

Give Him a Great Big Kiss (The Shangri-La’s) [1964]

Red Bird Records

Linster Sangster: It was a hard call between them and The Ronettes, to be honest. But this is faster.

PS: Always loved that intro as well. “When I say I’m in love, you best believe I’m in love; L.U.V.” Nicked by the New York Dolls, quite famously.

LS: Is it on the live version of Redondo Beach as well? Patti Smith?

PS: Oh, possibly. A lot of people have done it.  Johnny Thunders did a solo version.

LS: I’ve played that a lot since really early on at sets in London, and people always react to it. It’s weird, you play other Shangri-Las things – Sophisticated Boom Boom, that’s a bit slower. I think it’s a tempo thing.

PS: There’s a campness to it as well.

LS: There is, and the call and response too, because even if you don’t know it you can sing along to that bit.

PS: “What colour are his eyes?”, “I don’t know, he’s always wearing shades”.

LS: I remember getting hold of the reissue of the Shangri-Las CDs with all the liner notes and just sitting for hours going through them. And I was obsessed with The Ronettes and people like that.

PS: I absolutely adore Ronnie Spector.

LS: Yeah, I do as well. Be My Baby. I always say if I could go back to one session in music it would be that one.

PS: Everything about that song was perfect. Wouldn’t Brian Wilson just listen to it on a loop?

LS: Apparently when he heard it on his car radio, he pulled over. He nearly crashed and pulled his car over so he could listen to it, because he was just like “Oh my God, what is that?

PS: There’s a lot we can say about Phil Spector as a human being. But when you consider that it was mainly just him putting a lot of those records together. You had Motown at the same time, but they had Holland-Dozier-Holland, and all these teams of great songwriters and producers. With Spector, it was just him making all of these hits.

LS: I was talking to someone about that. As a musician, if you try to recreate that in this era. It’s very difficult unless you’re a really big artist and you can choose anyone to work with. The whole set-up of making a record in those days was like a process. You had an arranger, a songwriter, they picked the artist and then it was up and coming producers. But everyone was shit hot because it was almost like a day job. It’s well documented that they went in at 10 o’ clock in the morning and…

PS: …clocked out! An allotted lunch hour.

LS: Yeah, but they might play on three records that day and because they were playing all the time, and they were playing together. You’ve seen all the Wrecking Crew stuff and all that.

PS: Yeah, the Wrecking Crew played on everything.

LS: Everything.

PS: Like, literally everything.

LS: It’s like, oh my God. I never knew that until not so long ago. I’ve always seen pictures of [Wrecking Crew bassist] Carol Kaye. There’s that one where she’s pregnant – I think it was during the sessions for Pet Sounds. And I knew all that, because I was obsessed with The Beach Boys for a long time, and my older brother loves them.

PS: I met Brian Wilson a few years ago. He was just sitting in hotel lobby on his own at 2am.

LS: That’s surreal! Did you talk to him?

PS: Yeah. I sat down next to him, had a little chat, took a picture. And he’s got his well-documented problems, so a lot of people have had quite negative experiences with him – not through any fault of his own, but he has some real difficulties. But I think because I actually spoke to him like a human being, he was OK with me. I mean, I was still gushing, like. [Laughs]

LS: It’s so upsetting how cruel his dad was. I don’t know how he survived that.

PS: Isn’t he deaf in one ear because his dad hit him so hard?

LS: Yeah, and he used to say to him “You’ll never write a song as good as me”.

PS: …and then he writes God Only Knows. [Laughs]

LS: Well, yeah, exactly. His dad was his manager for years too and he sacked him.

PS: Yeah, he sacked him, and then his dad sold the rights to The Beach Boys catalogue for a measly few thousand dollars. Maybe if that didn’t happen, he wouldn’t have to be on the road now. Because he probably shouldn’t be on stage a lot of the time.

LS: He’s obviously such a sensitive person regardless. But with the Shangri-Las, I always remember they re-released Leader of the Pack after it was in a Levis advert.

PS: I think I’ve seen that. There was a bit of a revival of the whole Teddy Boy rebel thing at the time.

LS: There was, yeah. I always loved rock & roll, and my mum was into Elvis. That kind of look. I always loved fashion. I remember looking for hours at Frank Sinatra’s Fly Me To The Moon, the album. Anyone, really. ABBA. We had a lot of pop in our house. But when it came to picture covers – I’d never heard of Jethro Tull or Deep Purple, or anything like that growing up, because we had Motown and pop stuff. So if anything had a picture cover, which was quite infrequent, and if I saw what someone was wearing it was like “wow”.

PS: Do you know how the Shangri-Las came to be?

LS: No?

PS: The producer, Shadow Morton, was hanging around the Brill Building because he fancied Ellie Greenwich and was trying to come onto her. But obviously she was married to Jeff Barry, and he was getting suspicious so told him to prove he was actually a producer. So he rush-recorded Remember (Walking In The Sand)on the hoof with a random group of girls he found who turned out to be the Shangri-Las. Just so he could get off with Ellie Greenwich! [Laughs]

LS: Well, that’s good motivation, isn’t it? [Laughs]

PS: I mean, they were so tough too. There just weren’t girls like that on TV. Them and The Ronettes were the first street tough girls in popular culture. Apparently when the Shangri-Las were touring with male musicians, the guys were terrified of them. Because they believed the image and had never seen girls like that before.

LS: I think I was always looking for that in music. With the Shangri-Las it was a little window into something.

PS: A bit of danger?

LS: A bit of danger! I just heard the pop songs. The closest I had was Suzi Quatro, and the likes of The Runaways came later with punk. And that’s why punk was such a massive thing.

PS: Well, the Shangri-Las were quite punk.

LS: They were punk, deffo. So that was a realisation. We’d gone to Butlins when I was 13, and I’d always sung. My grandad was a singer, and I was always told “Girls can’t play guitars”. And we got to Butlins, and there was a girl drummer in the house band. And I was like “OK, this is interesting”. And I didn’t know Karen Carpenter was a drummer until much later…

PS: I didn’t know she was a drummer until about five seconds ago!

LS: You didn’t know?! She played drums on all the Carpenters songs.

PS: Oh, Karen Carpenter! I thought you said Carole King! [Laughs]

LS: Oh, OK! [Laughs] I thought you’d know that! But that’s a part of the queer journey. You have to start somewhere, with the lesbian thing. But it’s like being a masculine child or whatever. I was put into a little box, and I never fitted anyway so I was always trying to find stuff. It could have been an effeminate gay boy or something. Because the Shangri-Las fits that as well, doesn’t it?

PS: Yeah, it absolutely does. As I said, there’s a campness to it. That spoken word bit halfway through Give Him a Great Big Kiss.

LS: It’s camp before there was probably a word for it. But that era was pretty camp if you scratch behind the scenes.

PS: Especially the girl groups. You had these songs written mainly by men that were loves songs to men. And you’ve got things like My Boyfriend’s Back, where it’s like “He knows I ain’t been cheatin’, now you’re gonna get a beatin’”. Tough, but tongue in cheek.

LS:  I always liked musicals when I was growing up as well. I loved West Side Story, the soundtrack, you know; “Crazy boy, keep coolly cool, boy”.

PS: It’s funny that, because the Shangri-Las were very theatrical. Like the crash in Leader of the Pack.

LS: Yeah, I mean that’s a soundtrack to me. I couldn’t believe it when heard that. And it had a story as well. I remember my older brother saying to me about Hotel California – because we didn’t have much, you know what I mean? So it sounds a bit lame. But he said “It’s about the music industry, and you check in and…”, I was like “Oh my God, songs can have meaning”. I was like 11 or something, and to me…

PS: …Oh, I thought they were just words!

LS: Yeah, like I was obsessed with Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jackson, but I also loved The Wombles as well! [Laughs]

PS: Well, you were 11! [Laughs]

LS: But that storytelling, that’s why the Shangri-Las stick out.

PS: Was it Past, Present and Future which is just this haunting spoken word piece. There’s a rumour that it’s about rape, but it’s never really been clear.

LS: Yeah, and Never Go Home Again. It’s like a runaway thing, isn’t it? When you grow up as a kid from a working class background, most of the people I know went through really tough times.

PS: I guess it’s what Bruce Springsteen took to its most over the top with Born To Run. I mean, in theme, that’s the Shangri-Las.

LS: Yeah, deffo. It’s empowering. We had a few country and western songs in ours as well. Golden Guitar by Bill Anderson. It was a spoken word song, and it turned out the golden guitar was his son’s who got hit by a train. They were always dying, weren’t they? Going down on planes and everything. [Laughs] It was relatively safe here, wasn’t it?

Bill Anderson’s Golden Guitar

PS: I mean, we had the Bucks Fizz crash, but that was about it.

LS: [Laughs] Yeah, that’s our equivalent, isn’t it? I think with Give Him a Great Big Kiss, though, it’s the tempo – it’s quite fast and only really short, about two minutes 20 seconds or something like that.

PS: Again, that’s punk.

LS: How can you get all of that in, in that amount of time?

PS: There’s a whole story, a whole attitude. And so melodramatic.

LS: And going back to the way they looked, and the camp of it.

PS: Do you think it was camp at the time, or only in retrospect?

LS: I don’t know, I think there was an underlying element there. I think what we know now about Hollywood and the music scene and that there were so many queers in there. There must have been more wildness than we’ve been led to believe.

PS: Especially around that time, like pre-1967 when everyone was sort of suited and booted.

LS: You know, I didn’t look up when it actually came out.

PS: 1964.

LS: OK, that makes sense then.

PS: Because there was a whole girl group boom in America at that time, and then The Beatles went over to America and it kinda died out. And actually The Beatles were playing those songs – Chains, Please Mr Postman.

LS: Oh, yeah! Please Mr Postman! That’s a good one to play as well. I’ve played The Carpenters version of that as well.

PS: I can’t play Motown covers! Some things are sacred! Nothing can compare to that sound.

LS: I don’t mind covers sometimes – something like Senor Coconut. They do Beat It on a vibraphone and everything. I’ve played that! Sometimes I get a bit mischievous!

PS: Well, people take a second, don’t they? It’s like “Wait, I know this – shit, what is it?” Shall we move on to the next one?

Tainted Love (Gloria Jones) [1965]

Champion Records

Planet Slop: Obviously this something people know more from Soft Cell. The original wasn’t an A side, was it?

Linster Sangster: Yeah, that’s right. Wasn’t David Ball [of Soft Cell] obsessed with Northern Soul? And when they were at Leeds University together – cos he was an electronic genius and made his own synthesisers, and that kit was expensive. I can only remember seeing the Pro One in 1985. You never saw them or got your hands on them.

PS: Do you know who William Onyeabor is?

LS: No?

PS: He was this African synth musician in the early 80s. I think he was from Nigeria. But he was somehow able to get thousands worth of really top of the range synths and nobody knew where he got the money from! There were rumours that he was linked to the Russian Mafia and all kinds. He wasn’t well known over here until a few years ago when David Byrne’s label started releasing his stuff.

LS: Oh, really? I’ll check that out.

PS: It’s a sort of African, funky, afrobeat meets 80s synthpop kinda thing. A bit of traditional African stuff in there too.

LS: There is a huge Nigerian funk scene. I like a lot of that stuff. But, going back to Tainted Love, I didn’t know the Gloria Jones one, I only knew the Soft Cell one.

PS: I think most people did, to be honest.

LS: And that whole Soft Cell thing, everyone I know from my age, everyone’s dad hated Marc Almond. [Laughs] Because it was that whole homophobic, working class thing. When he’s on Top of the Pops, they didn’t mind anyone else. My dad didn’t mind Johnny Rotten, but Marc Almond really pushed all his homophobic buttons.

PS: It’s funny that Boy George seemed to be accepted, but I suppose he was quite sexless at the time.

LS: I think so. My Nan liked Boy George, but he went for the sort of dress up, pantomime dame and the drag kind of thing.

PS: Whereas Marc Almond was quite in your face about it.

LS: Yeah, and so camp. You couldn’t really get away from it. I don’t think he really knew that he had that, because all the documentaries I’ve seen of Soft Cell he doesn’t really mention anything about the sexuality or all of that ground breaking stuff. He just talks about the music. Which is great, but you want him to…

PS: …there’s two sides of the story, isn’t there?

LS: Yeah, because what was important about Soft Cell was, whether you liked the music or not, was that he was a pioneer.

PS: They did quite a few Northern Soul covers, didn’t they? In fact the longer version of Tainted Love leads into Where Did Our Love Go? Do you think that came from the kind of towns they grew up in?

LS: Yeah, I think so. Places like Southport where there was a big Northern Soul thing. I don’t know in Liverpool if it was as massive as Manchester – in fact, Joy Division had that song based on Keep On Keepin’ On [by NF Porter] – but it did seem to be bigger there and I got into it more when I moved there. Maybe Liverpool had more guitar music.

PS: Oh yeah, but again even with that like with the girl groups, a lot of that was re-interpreting that music through guitars – which I guess is what Soft Cell were doing too.

LS: They had a kind of perfect musical marriage there.

PS: Why did you pick Gloria Jones over Soft Cell?

LS: I prefer it sonically, I love Northern Soul now and got into it through that. I realised what Northern Soul was and we already had it in the house!

PS: It always bugs me when people refer to Northern Soul as a style of music. It’s like when people refer to Motown as a style of music. Northern Soul was the scene that was specific to the North of the UK.

LS: It wasn’t until I got into music myself and got into punk and all of that I realised that every scene has got it’s underground scene, and then the stuff that breaks through, and there’s something better about it because it doesn’t have those mainstream constraints. Famously with Motown and What’s Goin’ On, I can’t believe that Marvin Gaye had to fight with Berry Gordy because he said it was shit and he wouldn’t release it! [Laughs] And it’s one of the best-selling Motown albums ever.

PS: I think it might actually be the biggest selling – maybe Stevie Wonder has one that sold more.

LS: Yeah, it could be. And Berry said “It’s shit and Motown doesn’t do politics”.

PS: And Motown was so behind the curve on what was happening at that point, especially given the specific troubles in Detroit. That album needed to come out earlier. I think it took a year for them to relent and release it. Marvin even went on strike. In fact, the same thing happened with I Heard It Through The Grapevine.

LS: And of course, you’ve got people of colour coming back from Vietnam and being abused at spat on, and all the riots that were going on in America. Of course it had to be political.

PS: Yeah, I mean with Motown sometimes just existing is the political statement. Motown were a DIY label and a black owned business set up in a basement that for a few years became the biggest record label in America. I think Berry saw that as their statement and felt that they didn’t have to do anything else – and during the civil rights movements of the 60s, that was just as important as anything else. But by the end of the decade they needed to move on and reflect their community.

LS: That’s true.

Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On

PS: But, anyway – Tainted Love!

LS: Yeah, I think it’s the size of that one – and not everybody likes Soft Cell. His voice is very distinctive but an acquired taste. Sometimes I’ve gotten into a cover version and not known and gone “Oh God, that was someone else’s song”.

PS: Well, apparently she didn’t actually want to perform it as she didn’t think she’d be able to do it justice because she was only young at the time. So if you listen to her delivery it’s quite biting when she’s singing it.

LS: Probably a good thing really.

PS: She’s really interesting beyond that. Everyone knows her for that but she wrote If I Were Your Woman for Gladys Knight, and she was Marc Bolan’s girlfriend towards the end of his life.

LS: Again, I loved Marc Bolan when I was growing up, and I did remember her name.

PS: She actually did play with T. Rex, didn’t she?

LS: She did, yeah. There’s a lot of tragedy around Marc Bolan. He was already having a lot of new wave stuff on his TV show. God knows what he would have done if he’d have survived.

PS: He was just on the cusp of a comeback.

LS: We were just going on about the Bucks Fizz crash, and we had someone like him! [Laughs]

PS: [Laughs] You know what? My favourite celebrity feud ever is when David Van Day from Dollar joined Bucks Fizz in the 90s to play Butlins 80s weekends and then tried to get the rights to the name and formed his own version of Bucks Fizz without any other members. [Laughs]

LS: Like Les McKeown’s Bay City Rollers or something? [Laughs]

PS:  [Laughs] I mean, at least Les McKeown was actually in the Bay City Rollers in the first place! And they were performing Making Your Mind Up, and you know the “see some more” skirt reveal? He said “Now we’re in the era of the boob”, so the girls ripped their tops open. It was awful!

LS: [Laughs] Velcro sales go through the roof!

PS: Is playing this version of Tainted Love a bit like what we were saying about covers before, where it takes a second for it to register with people?

LS: Yeah, I sometimes play Johnny Jones’ Purple Haze and people know the riff and they know the tune instinctively, but they don’t know what’s going on.

PS: I think this is somewhere in between, because I think at this point most people are aware of the original.

LS: Yeah. Plus as a musician and a songwriter, getting to hear something loud is a buzz because I’ve got a good set up in the house but you can’t really turn it up in a domestic situation. So sometimes it’s quite selfish as well and I just play it because I want to hear it loud and I just love it so much. And hopefully other people will love it too. And again, if people see you enjoy it. I hate seeing DJ’s with their heads down and their headphones on. At the end of the day, DJing is not hard. It’s picking some songs.

PS: Surely you want to radiate the joy of the music. I see that as the real job of the DJ. You’re the entertainment tonight.

LS: That’s what’s so good about Sonic Yootha. You see James Conlan DJing and he’s fucking hitting the roof! Actually, it is a challenge the way I set up Beers For Queers where people can actually see what you’re doing and there’s no mystery. People want to know, and I did that because I wanted to chat to people. I didn’t want to be someone on a stage.

PS: It goes back to Beers For Queers being more communal. I didn’t feel the need to keep the dancefloor full when I did it, it was more chilled out.  In fact, I played Rescue Me by Fontella Bass which everyone got up for, and then followed it up with Trash by Suede which signalled a mass exodus, but it was fine.

LS: I like to think of it as a chance to play something different, and as we go on and hit the big time on a Friday – there’s so much you can play. It’s just that people tend to get a bit scared and play the same things.

PS: And you never quite know what’s going to go off.

LS: Yeah, there’s no formula. And there’s stuff I won’t play.

PS: Such as?

LS: Kylie and Madonna and things. Just because they get played everywhere else. People get confused and think you go to a queer place and just hear techno, or Eurodance.

PS: Yeah, the Eurodance stuff is what drove me out of Gay town! I don’t mind it in small doses, but can we not dig a bit deeper?

LS: Some newer stuff too. I remember playing Azealia Banks ages ago because I’d seen her live…

PS: That went pear shaped a while ago!

Hanging on the Telephone (The Nerves) [1976]

The Nerves Record Co.

Planet Slop: This is like Gloria Jones – most people will know this from Blondie. Why did you go for The Nerves?

Linster Sangster: I think it’s like cover version versus original, and the cover being known more. Again, I didn’t know Blondie was a cover. Usually with Blondie, people don’t play that song. If I play Blondie, it tends to be Presence, Dear or Atomic, if I want something faster. Or Denis, which is that kind of doo wop sound, which Debbie loved.

PS: She did a Shangri-Las cover too; Out In The Streets. Actually, I’ve always thought that she had a similar kind of vibe to Ronnie Spector or Mary Weiss.

LS: Yeah, well she was in a girl group at one point. It’s funny if you think of the 80s and 90s, like what happened in music from ‘85 to ’95, you can think of loads of things, but then you go from ’65 to ’75…

PS: I think it’s crazy to think that there were only 15 years between Love Me Do and the Sex Pistols. It all just moved so quickly. We haven’t progressed that much in the last 15.

LS: And if you think from the Pistols to Come As You Are, maybe? There’s still a lot of good stuff, but it hasn’t got the same kind of diversity.

PS: I actually think in rock & roll, Nirvana and Grunge is a full stop, and after that people start looking back, which I guess is what Britpop was doing for the most part.

LS: You always get the spirit of the DIY. I love Queen Zee. They’ve come full circle where they’ve become shit hot musicians.

PS: You know how they started as well, right?

LS: Was it a solo thing?

PS: It kinda started as a joke. The short version is they advertised a gig as a duo, had no rehearsal or anything and just played The Prodigy’s Firestarter for 20 minutes. And somehow out of that we’ve got this incredible thing. But again, as much as I like the music, I think what resonates most about them is the message.

LS: I noticed you had Loner on your Pride Playlist. We played that at Beers For Queers. But, no, I didn’t know that. They’re really good musicians. I was watching them sound check at Queer Rrriot and I was like “Wow, these can really play”.  If you think of that rock & roll, someone like The Nerves were that kind of…

PS: Well, we’re talking about DIY stuff and I noticed the EP Hanging On The Telephone comes from was self-released.

LS: Yeah, and it’s such a raw sound. Because it’s such a well-known song, you can play something rawer because people know it. Blondie’s is very well produced.

Cover of Blondie’s single

PS: It’s a sort of pop version, isn’t it?

LS: Yeah, it’s pop. I mean, it’s still great but the original has more of an edge.

PS: I don’t know much about The Nerves beyond that, though. They seem pretty obscure.

LS: I always like those sort of new wave bands. They were all short lived and wore ties. I think Midge Ure was in the Rich Kids, wasn’t he? Even though I didn’t like them, I liked that kind of.

PS: Funny you should mention that after you were saying you used to stare at the Sinatra record. It’s like they turned that on its head a bit by being more energetic.

LS: Yeah, they’re still wearing suits but they’re a bit scruffier. Straight from work and scruff themselves up. I always wanted to go to CBGB’s. I only went to New York for the first time in 1991 and it was still quite rough. But I got to go to CBGB’s because Josephine Wiggs was playing with The Breeders, and it was just like “Oh my God”. We did the whole tour; we went to the Brill Building and all over. But imagine someone like The Nerves playing there at the time, with the dark glasses on. I’m not a very big Patti Smith fan.

PS: I’m not huge on her. I respect her more than I enjoy her.

LS: Me too. Even her poetry, I don’t think is that good and people seem to go on about it.

PS: Well, people go on about Jim Morrison’s poetry too, and he was terrible.

LS: A poem is really hard to write.

PS: Poetry writing and lyric writing are two very different things.

LS: Yeah, and it’s harder to write a poem, by far.

PS: Well, a lyric is a part of the song, so it is really part of the music. It can be gibberish, but so long as it works with the rhythm, that’s OK.

LS: The music has got to be in the words, the musicality. But being in CBGB’s reminded me of going into Eric’s for the first time and hearing that sound, but rougher. No real toilet doors or anything and graffiti everywhere. But, you know, that’s what Eric’s was like. It had toilet doors, but the graffiti and it stunk. It smelt a certain way! [Laughs] I didn’t hear any of that because we didn’t have access to it in our house. I remember seeing The Velvet Underground for the first time, and I always imagined them looking like that, The Nerves. But they looked brilliant.

PS: Have you ever utilised that look yourself?

LS: Oh, that’s what I looked like when I was young, yeah. I’d gone for the spikey hair and I’d back combed it. I went punk in 1978, cos I’m really old. [Laughs] We were still at school and people would just stare at you. We lived in Litherland, you know?

PS: There’s all those pictures of Pete Burns walking around town and people just looking at him, horrified.

LS: I used to walk behind Pete in that era and it could be a laugh because you would just see people shocked. But we’d get spat at and called all kinds. Everyone I know got battered, it was horrible. You’d always get called “queer”, interestingly. I’d get called a slag, queer, “What the fuck are you? You fucking freak.

PS: Obviously punk kinda had its beginnings in queer culture too.

LS: I was on this thing called Queer Punks when I was in Kit and we had to talk about what punk meant as queers. And I said it was liberating because I didn’t have to wear a skirt. Once I left school I was liberated. Because there wasn’t any option. You had to dress a certain way. People dressed terrible then. Really bad hair as well. Fucking awful.

PS: Well, I haven’t got much left so I can’t really talk!

LS: But, anyway, yeah, it’s the rawness I like about The Nerves is the rawness, which Blondie lost even if Debbie managed to bring a different feel to it.

PS: Did you know she once escaped Ted Bundy?

LS: No!

PS: Well, she claims that he tried to get her in a car or something, and she got away. She didn’t know who he was, obviously, but she saw his picture years later and said “Oh my God, it’s that creep from years ago”.

LS: Oh, wow! We may never have had Blondie.

The Sound of the Crowd (The Human League) [1981]


Linster Sangster: I definitely wanted to pick something from this genre as I love that post-punk synth stuff. Just on the cusp of it getting really big in the late 70s/early 80s. There was a bit of experimentation where synthesisers had gone down in price and people could get some kit. I saw the Human League supporting Siouxsie and the Banshees in about 1979.

Planet Slop: So that would have been before the girls, then, before Marsh and Wayre went off to form Heaven 17.

LS: Yeah! I’d heard Being Boiled on the radio. John Peel played it and I thought it was amazing. I went out and bought the 7” but I didn’t really know how it was made. And, you know, Siouxsie and the Banshees were great, and it was wild. I do love Siouxsie, she was female and that’s how I identified at the time.

PS: Wasn’t she with the Sex Pistols on that famous Bill Grundy interview, wasn’t she?

LS: “You dirty bastard!” Yeah, we had the Bill Grundy thing on God Save The Queers poster, actually. But, yeah, I got to the gig and I could see all the racks of synths and the patch bays. Phil Oakey’s standing there with all these racks, and there’s just this face peering through, and you hear that droning “Dooo-doooo”, and that little wobble. And it was just like – how is he doing that? It actually blew my mind more than seeing Siouxsie. I’d already seen them once.

PS: And I guess that whole new wave thing was popular at the time, whereas this was so new.

LS: It was. I had never heard this sound.

PS: It was only just coming off the back of Kraftwerk, really.

LS: And I’d only heard Kraftwerk in Eric’s. I was too young for punk, really. It was more post-punk. I did see The Clash in Eric’s because they had the matinees, which is why I love Jayne Casey so much. I was going there as a kid to see all of these bands. I didn’t realise that was so different. So I really started following the Human League, and then The Sound of the Crowd was the first time the girls had joined.

PS: And they got bottled on the first tour. Because the people who bought the tickets did so for the original line-up, and now it’s like “Who are these girls who aren’t very good singers or dancers?” But I always feel like they represent the audience.

LS: Yeah, they were like us.

PS: Because the Human League were originally really cold and distant, so they brought a warmth to the band that they didn’t have previously.

LS: He was bringing himself forward as a pop star.

PS: And I don’t think he could have done that without Susanne and Jo.

LS: And the whole Sheffield thing, because I like Cabaret Voltaire as well, and all the experimental stuff. I never really liked the Sex Pistols that much, apart from the energy. I was more into Gang of Four or XTC and The Slits. All the stuff that was dead different.

PS: Well, it’s funny that you mentioned seeing The Clash before, because they changed very quickly when they realised that this wasn’t sustainable just doing regular punk stuff.

LS: Yeah, all the reggae stuff. I didn’t know Armagideon Time was a cover until years later. But as for Sound of the Crowd, I didn’t realise what a great record it was until I was DJing in London a few years back at Dalston Superstore for about 18 months for queer, trans and their friends. I remember playing Sound of the Crowd, and one of the cool Dalston crew coming up and asking “What’s this?” and I’m like “Wha?!

PS: They didn’t know?!

LS: No, and I was like “Wow!

PS: I thought everyone who is into music basically knows Dare! note for note! It’s such a seminal record.

LS: I think if you listen to it, it doesn’t sound especially like them.

PS: I dunno, I think Phil is like Marc Almond or even Ronnie Spector, in that his voice is so distinctive that pretty much anything he sings on ends up sounding like the Human League.

LS: I think younger people coming from that pop background aren’t as aware. We do because we love music and collect it. But I remember the reaction when it came on and I thought it would be a good regular in the sets. It’s quite fast again, and it’s easy to mix in with a lot of different stuff. I also like to play a lot of different genres, so it’s also what fits sonically. And if you play Don’t You Want Me, it’s too big a production.

Cover of the Blondie single

PS: And it’s also too big a hit. It’s like Happy Birthday or something.

LS: Yeah, it’s a bit of cheese, isn’t it?

PS: Well, they didn’t even want it to come out as a single, did they? It was written as filler and shoved on the end of the album. Then the record company made them release it as a single against their will and it became this iconic hit.

LS: It’s another story song, isn’t it? We love those songs that voice a character.

PS: Yeah, and I think they play off between Phil and Susanne gives it a different dynamic too.

LS: I played Sound of the Crowd last time, and there’s this kid who comes to Beers For Queers called Alex – really tall blonde kid – he came running over and asks “What’s this?!

PS: It’s still happening!

LS: Yeah, well, you know he’s only about 19 or something.

PS: I knew it when I was 19, but then my mum has been in love with Phil Oakey since about 1981! [Laughs]

LS: I think if you can pass stuff on, that’s what it’s all about.

PS: I think as well, the 80s has been stigmatised more than most decades. I’m not quite sure why that is.

LS: Yeah, it’s weird because it was a whole decade. They don’t really do that about the 70s or the 60s.

PS: I actually think there’s a lot more baffling shit in the 70s. We’re talking the era of Disco Duck. If they’re repeating old 70s episodes of Top of the Pops on BBC Four, the worst ones are much worse than the 80s ones.

LS: And the 70s didn’t have as many revolutions in sound until the end of the decade.

PS: The big bands you think of are still mainly blues based rock bands like Led Zeppelin.

LS: You still had experimental stuff with Can or Captain Beefheart, or Kraftwerk.  

PS: And a lot of that was pre-cursors to what happened in the 80s.

LS: Especially with the likes of Giorgio Moroder and the synthesisers.

PS: I Feel Love is 40 years old and still sounds like it’s come from the future.

LS: It does, and again that’s like a precursor to what happened in the 80s. There were quite a few music explosions in the 80s, but nobody really credits that. Even hip hop.

PS: And actually, I think the 90s is when rock & roll started it’s regression to the past tense with the likes of Oasis.

LS: I struggle with 90s in terms of the things I can get excited about. And discover as well. Most things in the 90s, I already know. Even in the 60s, 70s and 80s I can still find something new.

PS: And I was a kid in the 90s, so you’d have thought I’d have had more interest in it.

LS: I guess we had Riot Grrrl and Sonic Youth and all that early dance stuff.

PS: Actually, something else about Sound of the Crowd, there’s a lot of darkness in there too.

LS: Yeah, it’s joyous, but you don’t really know where they’re going with it.

PS: I guess that’s the beauty of it. If you just go “Oh, I get it” then that’s just decoration, but something that makes you think is art. And the decoration is fine, we need nice wallpaper as well as the Mona Lisa.

LS: Yeah, that’s really important. And I think there’s a class thing there. Those girls were clearly working class, so that was someone being visible. That’s another thing about the 80s, a lot of people like Jimmy Sommerville or the indie movement, it was very working class. That’s why I was able to stay in music, because of the independent labels. I would never have gotten signed in the 70s! [Laughs]

PS: Well, originally, the Human League were really artsy and the girls really brought them back down to Earth a bit.

LS: Yeah, and put them in the right direction really, because they’d gone a bit too far one way.

PS: Although they did have a lot of trouble following up Dare! They couldn’t get the momentum going again.

LS: There’s a zeitgeist moment too. It’s like De La Soul, people still want 3 Feet High and Rising.

PS: But then I guess if you embrace that too early it’s hard to progress past that. You look at someone like George Clinton – seeing him in 2019 is so different from seeing Parliament-Funkadelic in the 70s.

LS: That’s what I like about Neil Young. He kept reinventing himself, especially sonically.

PS: He still kinda is.

LS: Yeah, he’s not just settled. If you’re trying to recreate a formula, it’s not going to work, because it’s gone, hasn’t it?

Standing In The Way of Control (Gossip) [2006]

Back Yard Recordings

Planet Slop: It’s actually only recently that I learned what this song was about!

Linster Sangster: Apparently Beth Ditto wrote it in…well she said about two minutes, but I imagine it was a few hours.

PS: Yeah, well the song is longer than two minutes, so I don’t see how that is possible!

LS: It was on the back of that amendment to the constitution that would have made same sex marriage unconstitutional. And then I think they changed drummer. Because they used to have one who played more like Moe Tucker from The Velvet Underground. But it’s really difficult to play that kind of beat.

PS: The beat is kinda half indie rock and half disco.

LS: Yeah, it’s a groove and it’s a really good bass line. And then there’s those lyrics, which are just like “I’ve had enough”. That’s what you get from the record, it’s like “Fuck you, you’re not doing this to me.” She’s a working class girl from Arkansas. Single parent, loads of sisters and brothers. Don’t know if she lived in a trailer park. It’s a shame she stopped, really.

PS: They’re back touring again at the minute.

LS: Is she making records?

PS: She had a solo record out about a year or two ago, I think? She went into something else for a while.

LS: Fashion. And that was her passion as well, because she caught a lot of flak for being big.

PS: And she wore that as a badge of honour too.

LS: She did a lot for those people. And women’s fashion is crazy. How small it is.

PS: There’s one moment from her that I think I’ll always specifically remember, and it was when Gossip played Reading Festival, and her stage clothes were missing so the crew had to run out and buy her a dress, but it was too small and it was riding up throughout her performance, so she just took it off in the end and performed in her underwear.

LS: Wow, that’s cool. And they had her on the NME cover too in that naked pose. I think she was bigger here than in America.

PS: That’s a surprisingly common thing I’ve found with a lot of female American artists. Private Dancer was the only Tina Turner solo album to be that big in America, but all of her albums were huge in Europe. Simply The Best is a standard here, but wasn’t a hit there. Diana Ross hasn’t had a hit in America since about 1981 – Chain Reaction wasn’t even a hit there. Cher. Most of them seemed to meet with more longstanding success in Europe.

LS: That’s interesting. I mean, Gossip were big in America, but she has a personality I think was bigger here. She did some catwalk designs, I think for Jean-Paul Gaultier ?

PS: Possibly, fashion is honestly something I’m clueless about! As you can see!

LS: She did a range for Evans Women’s too, who are known for plus sizes. It’s quite ground breaking really. As a working class person, you can’t afford a tailor or anything if you’re big, you can’t afford to go to the High Street. You still want to feel good about yourself when you go out. And I know about nutrition and I watch what I eat, but there’s a thing in America especially where all the really poor places, there’s no grocery store close by to buy vegetables. A lot of the inner city places just sell rubbish. And it’s fattening.

PS: And there’s a stigma attached to all of it. It always bugs me when people say there’s no class system in America.

LS: Of course there is.

PS: Two words – Tonya Harding.

LS: Bernie Sanders should be in the White House as we speak. Trump just robbed his rhetoric in terms of who he was trying to talk to and flipped it.

PS: He probably could have beat him if the Democrats didn’t fuck him over the way they did.

LS: There is a need for it. There’s a crisis. I don’t know how a lot of people survive. Technology has replaced a lot of industry and things are expensive anyway. Then capitalism has changed the look of the High Street, and you need a car to get there in the first place. So from what I see there’s a lot of people who are probably overweight on that side of the spectrum. But not because of anything they’re doing, they’ve got no option.

PS: Then someone like Beth Ditto comes along and gives you someone to look up to.

LS: And as a queer as well. It’s very brave to be out. Even in this day and age, it’s still stigmatised. I remember in Kit, people used to ask me “Are you sure you want to be out?” People were going to find out, I wasn’t going to hide it. And I know it went against us, because I know what people said about us. Even Jake, he was my best mate from the Send No Flowers days, people used to ask him “Why are you in a band with those fucking lesbians? Why don’t you join our band with real men?” So I think Beth was brave to be so open in such a homophobic music industry. There’s been a lot of people who have come out, some have been forced to come out.

PS: Then you’ve got people like Sam Smith, who is out but he’s like the safe, industry approved gay. I guess the equivalent of what Whitney Houston was in the 80s for black music. Because for a stretch, she basically had no black audience.

LS: Yeah, they thought she was too white.

PS: She was booed at the Soul Train Awards, and Al Sharpton called her “Whitey Houston”, which I’m sure really hurt her. So I guess I view Sam Smith in those terms. Then there’s things he’s said that people have taken as shaming some gay men for their lifestyles.

LS: It’s a step forward in a way, and I’m glad he’s around. But put him next to Beth. I mean, Standing In The Way of Control was about ten years ago now.

PS: More! 2006! The only research I did for this was dates! [Laughs] There were two videos actually, the animated one that everyone knows, and a live one recorded in Liverpool. I assume it was the O2 Academy.

LS: I can’t remember who her partner was, but they transitioned.

PS: Oh, really?

LS: Yeah. He’s a trans man. And that was a big deal because she was very open about that. And that’s a more recent thing, the big conversation about gender and the rights that we’re fighting for now.

PS: Do you think these things have held her back?

LS: I do, yeah.

PS: As much as the people who love her really love her for that reason.

LS: The people at the top are still very conservative.

PS: Not just in the music business, the media, everything. People attracted to the arts tend to be left leaning, but the people who run the arts are often on the right.

LS: That’s a good analogy. That’s like the big labels knew everything about music, and the little indie labels knew nothing about business and everything about music. You look at that Factory Records book about the album covers and you’re like “Oh my God! How did you do that?

PS: Apparently the only reason they kept reissuing Blue Monday was that it was the only thing that was making money. [Laughs] I mean the covers still look great…

LS: You’ve got to draw a line somewhere. It’s like getting someone to embroider our Beers For Queers posters. [Laughs] But, anyway, when you put Standing in the Way of Control on, you can’t help but stop in your tracks. It’s hard to follow it as well, as a DJ, you wonder what you’re going to play after it. Because it gets such a massive reaction. She’s such a star too. I hope she comes back big time

PS: It’s hard to make danceable rock music.

LS: What about Nile Rodgers playing Let’s Dance at LIMF?

PS: Oh, it went off! I’ve seen Nile a couple of times, and every time he plays that the crowd goes nuts.

LS: That was my first time seeing him. It was something else. I’ve got a theory that drum beat, because we tried to learn it later on. It was quite hip hop, but it’s quite indie too.

PS: Well, the hip hop beats come from funk, which is obviously Nile’s background. And he doesn’t have a credit on the song, but when Bowie brought it in, it was just an acoustic thing and Nile was like “If I’m doing a song called Let’s Dance, I better make sure it makes people dance!” So he turned it into the song we know and love, and he’d get a co-write in today’s money.

LS: If you listen to something like How Soon Is Now a few years later, you have a lot of sort of skippy indie songs like that, haven’t you?

PS: Well, interestingly, Johnny Marr cites Nile Rodgers as one of his biggest inspirations on guitar.

LS: Ah, does he? Well, there you go!

PS: Which doesn’t look right on paper, but if you listen to the way they play rather than what they play it makes sense.

LS: Yeah, it’s the smoothness in the way he plays, I can see that now. Marr definitely had access to the Bacharach and David and oldies songbooks. The chords to Please Let Me Get What I Want is similar to Why Do Fools Fall In Love?

PS: I genuinely think that Why Do Fools Fall In Love? is the beginning of pop music as we know it. The exact moment.

LS: Frankie Lymon?

PS: Yeah. That youthful exuberance had never been captured like that.

LS: I used to play that quite a bit and people used to go mad for it. Someone said there were some kids down the front at LIMF the other night who knew every word – how did they know that? Well, it’s good music, isn’t it?

PS: I’m sure they know The Wizard of Oz and Snow White too, and they’re even older. I mean, that’s one thing I’ll say for the internet. If you hear something and don’t know what it is, you can find it really easily. As opposed to not knowing, suffering with it and accidentally hearing it again 20 years later.

LS: I think we’re up for a music revolution over the next couple of years. Because when you look at the kids – when I was learning, there was nobody to teach you how to play the new stuff. But now these kids have got YouTube to learn off. They can find anything. If I’d have had that when I was learning to play guitar, maybe it wouldn’t have changed much…

PS: Well, it would have changed your path, but not necessarily for the better. Your work would have been different. And it may have changed if you were the only person who had discovered it, but if everyone was doing it…

LS: I guess now the kids are getting together and buzzing off the availability of knowledge or whatever. Even now with production, I was speaking to a young artist – my mate’s daughter, and she’s fantastic – and she was talking about learning studio stuff. And I said it was a mistake for me not to do that really early on because you were relying on someone else to interpret your vision of what you want to create. But if you want to get your hands on the controls then you’ll be creating something truly original.

PS: And nobody will be…standing in the way of the controls!

LS: [Laughs] Yeah, that’s a nice way to end it!

Beers For Queers co-host God Save The Queers with Eat Me + Preach and Mersey Bears on Friday 26th July from 8pm at District.

The next regular Beers For Queers event is Thursday 1st August from 7pm, also at District.

Linster has a new album under the name Campbell L. Sangster due for release soon. In the meantime you can listen to their already released music below.