Callin’ all! We’re shaking it up for the latest #LiverpoolLessOrdinary as we focus on a musician, artist and author who has a tale to tell. He was there from the start with The La’s. He co-founded arguably Liverpool’s greatest ever record label, Viper. And he’s currently recording and performing high energy rock ‘n’ roll with The Shady Trio. Mike Badger is still rocking. By Alan O’Hare.
He’s always been just ahead of a trend, Mike Badger. The La’s and their guitars had broken strings before ‘Britpop’, The Onset were a little bit alternative and a little bit country before Americana was a section in HMV, he was sculpting before Dylan discovered the heavy metal and his 2015 book, ‘The Rhythm & The Tide’, was a tale of revivalist junkyard fetishism before we all started looking in the rear view mirror to move forward.
You’ll recognise our latest #LiverpoolLessOrdinary as the founder of The La’s. But you’ll have seen his artwork on Space album covers, heard one of his rockabilly bands soundtracking a festival in town and picked up his book in Waterstones once or twice. Do us a favour: go back in and take a chance on it… you won’t regret it. “I couldn’t be happier with the feedback,” he tells me. “It was a huge undertaking that took five years, on and off, to complete… and fifty years to live! It was a very cathartic thing to do and kind of draws a line under a part of your life.” Badger worked with a co-author and it seems to have suited his collaborative spirit perfectly: “Without Tim Peacock (Record Collector, amongst others), I don’t think I would have risen to the challenge – it’s a tightrope walk to not disappear up your own jacksie! But you also have to consider what is actually of interest to the reader and recognise the merit in what you’ve done.”
There’s plenty of that. Merit, that is. Badger is a restless adventurer and an artist who is constantly moving. That can be commercially counter-productive these days, but that doesn’t appear to be of much concern to the Scouser: “The world needs you to be one or the other or they get confused,” he says. “For years I didn’t tell anyone in the art world about my music in case I was a considered a musician ‘doing a bit of art’ or vice versa.” He’ll tell us about his music, though. And all the rest…
Musician, author, sculptor, artist… they all draw from the same well don’t they?
Yes, they do. It’s often a lottery as to how an artist ends up expressing themselves. I have always written, but I suppose you’re only considered an author after having been published… I do believe we set our own parameters as to what we’re capable of turning our hand to. Sometimes it’s great to have wide parameters and sometimes you need to be very focused – a lot of actors, for instance, are damn good singer/songwriters, but no one can get that because they’re an ‘actor’.
Acting isn’t in that list I’ve just mentioned. Might it be one day?
Funnily enough, I intend on making my acting debut this year with a film script I’m working on.
I had a feeling! What do you reach for first of a morning, then: pen, guitar or raw materials?
My wife.. after that, it depends!
Perfect answer. Let’s go back to The La’s. What do those two words mean to you now?
A decent band that, had its chemistry been different, might have defined a generation. Instead, we’re associated with one classic single and album.
What was it really like at the start?
It was tough to start with, but I loved Lee – he had rocker styling and was an amazing guitarist. He sorted out my ideas and we were in harmony. We laughed and had fun. When I got John Power in it really took off, because he was younger and had loads of mates. It was of its time and perfect for a while… then it all got unnecessarily over complicated and messed up.
I’ve never regretted anything or looked back on things – it was the way it was supposed to be in the end. I’m still on good terms with all past members and there’s been a few of those! As Edgar Jones so eloquently put it after a short spell himself: “It’s like a form of national service.” But, yes, starting and naming the band has followed me about like a tattoo for over thirty years… an incredibly enigmatic group, I suppose. I would have loved the album to have been called ‘Callin’ All’ (as it was going to be) and for that song to be on it, though…
What does Liverpool mean to you?
Liverpool is my spiritual home. It’s not part of England and yet it is. I did an album called ‘Rogue State’ as an homage to this singularly unique, tricky, poetic, tough and creative port that is as much Welsh, Irish and Scottish as it is anything. Put a compass in Liverpool and it circles the whole of the British Isles. I couldn’t imagine coming from anywhere else – I was forged in its fire and cooled by its waters.
Your own music benefits from the same kind of stew…
I’ve always loved rockabilly since hearing Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran as a kid. Of course, I like other music and have played all kinds of gentle acoustic stuff and garage rock, too, but my heart is rockabilly. I can’t change that and wouldn’t want to – I’m still discovering absolute gems and I’ve been collecting it for over thirty years!
Real roots music, isn’t it?
There’s no pop music without it and no Beatles either. It’s original black r&b, fused with white hillbilly and ignited with Native American DNA. Take it away from me and I’m almost hollow! I do wish people understood it more, though, as it can be weird as hell and almost psychedelic if you listen to, say, ‘Boo Hoo’ by Marvin Rainwater, ‘I Can’t Hardly Stand It’ by Charlie Feathers or ‘Primitive Love’ by Tom Reeves. It’s got style, humour and honesty.
Back to your music! Where do you feel most ‘at home’ currently, solo or with your band The Shady Trio?
I realised the other day that I’ve been with this band longer than any other… seven years now! Working with Ian Lane, Chris Marshall and Paul Cavanah is an honour and the reason I continue to write. I’ve been blessed with such fine musicians to share the experience.
You also share other people’s music, as co-founder of The Viper Label, with another ex-La…
Paul Hemmings has always been an indelible part of my music and we have very similar taste. I knew him through a mutual friend years before The La’s days – then he replaced me on guitar! After the bands folded, I was raising a family and got a bunch of plaintive acoustic songs written after the kids had been put to bed… Paul suggested I release them and said ‘let’s form a label’… that’s how it came about. Once we had done one release we knew how to do it so did another and another… and now we have well over one hundred releases. It’s fun for two music lovers to offer the world stuff that would otherwise have fallen through the cracks… like all of our Liverpool archive compilations. One of my La’s tunes (‘Get Down Over’) is soon to be released on a Cherry Red ‘Mersey’ CD – and they would never have heard them had Viper not existed. So it goes…
What does a record require for a Viper release?
If it’s come from the heart, then it’s going to be a contender.
You wear many different hats… do you think all these activities inform all of your work?
I don’t think about anything that deeply – you end up doing nothing when you do that and I’m a ‘doer’. I simply do what seems right to me at the time. I work instinctively and intuitively with all I do… and always think that the less I have to do with the finished product the better really. Artists are mediums, conduits that carry energy from one place to another.
Your book is subtitled ‘Liverpool, The La’s and Ever After’. We’ve done the first two…
We make our own futures when we realise that we’re capable of it. Things will come at you from unexpected angles and can throw you in a spin, but I love my life and will continue to do so ‘ever after’ because I will it. I try to be true to myself and my conviction… and I have peace. I live with gratitude, because I have a great deal to be grateful for.
Can you tell us something about yourself that you’ve never told an interviewer before?
I don’t live in Liverpool anymore.
Action Packed! Rockabilly Night
The Magnet, Hardman Street, Liverpool
Friday, April 14th 2017, 7pm
Pic by Liam Lebo