There’s a parallel universe somewhere ruled by Scouse songwriters living in blue or red mansions with guitar-shaped swimming pools. Leader of the pack in this alternative universe, in a blue house, is Peter Deary. You know him better as ‘Digsy’, boss of The Sums and once of Smaller, Small and Cook da Books.
Everyone in the Liverpool music scene has a story about Digs’ and it’s always complimentary. It always ends with the same quote, too: “What a singer… ” He is. But he’s also a fantastic songwriter and a brilliant storyteller, not to mention a raucous raconteur. Those of us who came of age listening to Smaller – and hearing tales of Cook da Books as we started frequenting the bars and clubs of Liverpool’s music scene in the mid-to-late nineties – thought of him as a Scouse Ray Davies. He saw the things you and I never see, you see: “I overhear things all the time,” he says when asked about clocking the things people say. “It gets me into trouble sometimes, people think I’m a nosey bastard.” That’s Digsy: quick with a quip and as modest as a mouse. Mostly.
With The Sums set to appear on ‘UK’s Best Part-Time Bands’, BBC Four’s road trip documentary, it seemed like the perfect time to catch up with one of the city’s most original voices for a little gab…
How did you get involved with the BBC programme?
A producer from the show got in touch, told us that we fitted in with what they were looking for and said we could be in with a chance. So, we applied, and got the call saying they’d love us to be on-board not long after… at the time, we had no idea about what the show was, who was on it, what it was about or anything – but, in this day and age, when someone phones and tells you that your band have a chance of getting massive exposure in front of a couple million people on the telly, you’d be a fool to not give it a go.
Definitely. Nothing to lose is there?
No, especially when no one is taking notice anywhere else. It’s not usually something we would do, but why not?
What can you remember about filming it?
I jumped out of a burning jet which was being attacked by Russian fighter jets… I can’t remember to be honest! I think we were pretty well behaved, we will see on Friday. But I always do my own stunts.
You always have! People still love Cook da Books and Small/er. What do those bands mean to you?
Cook da Books was my apprenticeship, if you like, and Smaller was where I began to take songwriting seriously. The Sums is where we try to add it all up and see what it equates to.
Let’s talk about The Sums. You’re two full albums in now – what’s next?
Just to be taken serious musically and reach as many new ears as possible. You know how it is for bands these days – it’s hard to exist, especially when you have to mainly fund and run things by yourselves. But you can only keep on moving forward, once the momentum stops you get lazy and that’s an easy trap for anyone to fall into.
Keep on keeping on…
We’re guilty of being lazy at times. However, we have other things in the pipeline now the filming for the BBC has finished. Chris Mullin, our bass player, has had an injury and was restricted with his arm movement for a good few months, but he’s OK now so we are back at it with a vengeance.
Chris is your right hand man isn’t he?
Yeah, we are putting a new record together now and me and Chris are writing the new material… we’ll take it from there and try to hijack a studio!
How does it work when you’re writing together?
We don’t have any set methods or that, we just try to make the next song and album better and different to the last one.
‘Who Cares?’, from 2011’s ‘If Only’, is a big favourite of ours…
That was written in the late nineties when we were still called Smaller and it more or less wrote itself: I had the chorus for a while , then the chords to the verses just fell into place and Chris came in with the bridge bit and Bob became our proverbial uncle. The song wasn’t recorded until 2005 and was only a demo, then, but the hard drive with the master recordings of our songs went missing… and it was another six years until the track was released! We could have recorded it again and approached it differently, but we never.
I’m glad, it’s a cracker.
Cheers… it is what it is: a good song that serves its purpose.
Tell us a good song you’re into now that serves its purpose…
‘Let Me Go’, by Dave McCabe & The Ramifications. There are many songs that I wish I’d written – and it changes all the time – but at the moment it’s this one.
What other Scousers float your boat?
Eric Heffer, Ken Dodd ,Nigel Blackwell and the fella’ who plays the plazzy’ guitar on Church Street.
You must have played in some mad places over the years. Tell us about one that stands out…
I played in the shop window of a furniture shop on Prescot Road once. We were singin’ away and then the window cleaner came along and started doing the windows… and didn’t even look at us! I don’t think he noticed us to be honest – either that or he thought we were shit.
Pic by John Johnson