Friday, March 12, 2010
The funeral of the late Larry Cassidy of Section 25 takes place today in Poulton-le-Fylde, near Blackpool. The news of his death last week hit me pretty hard, not just because the band produced some terrific albums (and their most recent two, Part-Primitiv and Nature+Degree, were among their best), but because for much of my childhood in the seaside town, they more-or-less single-handedly defined what was laughingly called "the Blackpool scene", and helped to put my hometown on the musical map, even if only in a minor way.
Sure, Blackpool has always had musicians (Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, Dave Ball of Soft Cell, and Chris Lowe of the Pet Shop Boys to name but three), but they've all left the town to gain success. Section 25 stayed resolutely put, stubborn, bloody-minded, never decamping to London (or even Manchester, the home of their erstwhile label, Factory), possibly to the detriment of their success.
In truth, Blackpool never had much of a scene, but what little scene it did have in the late seventies and early eighties was largely created by Section 25 (and, later, a few others, like the people around the Jettisoundz video label, and Chris who used to run the bi-annual Blackpool Ball). The town had (and has) plenty of potential live performance venues, but at the time they were largely underused except as discos, and, in the wake of punk, largely hostile to the idea of live music. Section 25, and a few other like-minded souls, had to eschew the likes of the Mecca Ballroom and the Winter Gardens, and seek out unusual and underused venues such as libraries and hotels. Thus, they put on a show by Joy Division at the Imperial Hotel (this in 1979, when the NME and others were only just waking up to Joy Division's potential), and organised and promoted the third ever New Order gig at Scamps, one of the town's myriad bog-standard discotheques. Throughout the early eighties, though I was too young to be able to participate, they seemed to be a constant on the nascent Blackpool post-punk live circuit, and, while I've never read or heard this, I'd wager that without their inspiration, other Blackpool fellow travellers like Tunnelvision, Vee VV, and the slightly rockier IN2XS would never have got it together to form bands and tour. In other words, Section 25 blazed a lonely trail and brought others along in their wake.
It's certainly the case that as the band's activities wound down somewhat (after the fantastic From The Hip) and they retreated to their Singleton Street studios, the Blackpool live scene degenerated. I remember visits by The Police and The Smiths circa '82/'83, but after that virtually no bands of note visited the town, unless you count the regular visits by the likes of The Macc Lads (and I don't). The only venue regularly putting on any live acts seemed to be the dingy and dive-like Your Father's Moustache, which regularly played host to psychobilly bands like the Guana Batz and King Kurt. If you wanted to see someone like PiL or Prefab Sprout, or a hip-hop or go-go act, you had to travel to Preston or Manchester. Not that far, I'll grant you, but when you're 15 or 16, those 20 or 30 miles to the gig are a major disincentive. Lifts have to be organised, train timetables checked, parents cajoled. In short, at the age when I wanted to see the bands I was reading about in the NME , I was effectively denied the opportunity to see them.
"So what?" you may be asking. "Plenty of kids live in small towns, and bands never come to, say, Nuneaton or Perth either." Well, this is true, and I wouldn't go on about it, except that having lived through this live music wasteland in my hometown in my prime gig-going years, the moment I left Blackpool to go to college, things started to pick up. The Stone Roses opened the floodgates when they played at the Empress Ballroom in 1989, then used mostly for tea dances and organ recitals. Since then artists like Bjork, Oasis, Them Crooked Vultures and the White Stripes have discovered the appeal of Blackpool's many large, ornate venues, and the town now has a seemingly thriving live scene. In one month, for example, in 2010 the Empress Ballroom will host Biffy Clyro, Scouting For Girls, Florence and The Machine (twice!), The Charlatans and Pendulum. This is more major bands in one month than played in the town the entire time I was growing up there. The closest I ever got to this sort of glamour as a teenager in the town was when Peter and the Test Tube Babiesplayed at the Princess Cinema, which doesn't really compare.
I'd like to make a case for the early, febrile activities of Section 25 in securing gigs for other bands in Blackpool as paving the way for this flurry of activity, though that might be a bit of a stretch. Instead, I'll just mention the irony of New Order returning the favour of Larry and Vin of Section 25 putting them third on the bill at Scamps in 1980. 26 years later, New Order played at, yes, the Empress Ballroom, and Section 25 supported them, though reportedly few of the capacity crowd knew who they were, and the band, true to form, didn't deign to tell them. Larry leaves two grown-up children, Beth and Nat, who are both continuing their father's (and late mother's) legacy by singing and promoting gigs, respectively. RIP Larry, thank you for the music and thanks to you and Vin for your part in keeping music live in your (and my) hometown in the dark days between 1978 and 1989.