Make your own heroes

Even at my exuberant peak, I was a musical also-ran. 

Even in my most generous recollection – of a time in Liverpool in the mid 90s, when I went to university as an incidental, secretly planning to “make it” in music – I see an image of someone too scared to have any real chance at it. Not to mention the music was never going to set the world on fire. 

I’m ok with that fact, to be honest. I had fun with making music (and still do), but the six album deal didn’t just get lost in the post.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that that is the end of this navel-gazing exercise, but I’m not really here to write about my band. No, I want to write about a far more influential group who I first saw in Liverpool when my band was trying to get off the ground. They are a band stamped in my mind as what is was to be a rock star, and what it is to be just fucking cool.

I give you: The Living Brain. 

“Err. Sorry. Who?”

If you haven’t heard of them, I will grudgingly forgive you. From trawling through Google, I see they still play here and there. Never signed, to my knowledge. Never played much out of Liverpool, from what I can tell. 

Look back to the early 90s though, and The Living Brain were a band that played at the centre of the same scene in Liverpool for which my band was (at best) relegated to the edges. 

Liverpool. Some rainy weeknight in 1994. Some long demolished pub.

The living brain

My bandmates and I went to loads of gigs that year, in the hopes we could connect in a basically pre-internet age. This one has always stayed with me, from hazy, but deeply set, memory.

The band came on about 2 hours late, close to midnight, by which point we were all pretty drunk. Their opening gesture? Strumming and banging through a wild crescendo to a non-existent song, and then shouting “You’ve just missed The Living Brain”. Even with my limited gigging experience, I could see this was a genius gesture to get the room’s attention. 

They had mine now too then, despite the 5 pints. 

They broke into their first full song proper. It was just called “Shit Town. What a wild simplicity and directness compared to all my own songs’ lyrical, angsty obfuscation. I felt my heart sink for just a moment, as the realisation hit me that I couldn’t match that effortless confidence, but that was then replaced with simple excitement at being able to witness this.

One of the singers kept getting electric shocks off his vocal mic, and his reaction was to make more contact with it, forcing an uncontrolled jolt backwards before he’d come back for more. They played every single song so fast and loud that even the quieter tracks felt intensely present. 

It turned into a lock-in, as we held out for as long a possible into the night. The band seemed unfazed by the event, and why not? They probably had no idea that we were that bothered about it (I have a great poker face).

Whether you were crowded in that sweaty pub with me or not – and I wish you were, my friends – I can only hope you’ve had something similar happen in your music life – a moment where you created your own heroes.

Reminiscing about my own 90s band is for the perhaps 20 people who saw us play a few times, but how could I have had the impact that The Living Brain had on me? Even now, in their frankly greying form, on a shaky camera in a pub somewhere , there is a thrill to hearing them.

Of course, with my “objective” Picky Bastard hat on, I’m sure I’d assess them at lot more harshly. There are a thousand other bands in a hundred other cities throwing themselves into raucous music that some people might think are the same. For me though, those people are very wrong. Spending time in those pubs in 90s Liverpool, watching The Living Brain, showed me that rock stars are created in a moment, and from slight impressions of cool, confident, energy, blasted incoherently off the walls of dark club nights. 

I hope The Living Brain go on to massive fame of course, but, at least, I’d like them to know that they made a difference to my whole musical life.

Words by Nick Parker

Image by Barry Woods (@foggynervosa)

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