Gods Gift: too good to be forgotten
An interview with former Gods Gift guitarist, Stephen (Steve) Murphy, Sunday May 25, 2008.
SM: I think we were a bit of a fringe group in many respects, and at times we could be very good, but when we were bad we were very bad. It’s really nice that [your website’s] allowed people to have some sort of memories of the group. As for members of the group, I’m still in pretty regular contact with Steve Edwards but Steve’s an internationally noted academic now.
JT: Is he? In what field?
SM: Nursing ethics.
JT: That’s pretty impressive.
SM: I’ve told him everything that I’ve read and has happened because there seems to have been a flurry of activity. And obviously Steve’s dead interested but he’s got to safeguard his position in a way.
The basis of the group was from a psychiatric hospital in the first place – Prestwich Hospital in – well it’s Salford – but Manchester. I worked there, Steve came to work there, Iain Grey worked there, also Andy Glentworth, so, at one point there weren’t much hope for us.
JT: How did the group actually start and when?
SM: I think it was 1978 after a few dummy runs with Steve and myself and groups of friends. We came from different ends of the spectrum musically – Steve at the time very much liked Roxy Music and Bowie type stuff and I liked rock, weird I know, but… And pretty much early on the punk thing had happened and we both liked that, and we had a mutual coming together – we’d been friends since we were 13 – but we had a mutual coming together group-wise, boring, but The Velvets. And it grew from there because we both thought ‘well, they can’t play, but they’re brilliant’. That really was the cornerstone I suppose.
JT: Well, up until punk everyone had to be really musicianly, didn’t they?
SM: That’s right – we saw loads of groups that weren’t particularly good throughout the punk thing and we were proud to become one(!) I think we improved and we had our own little niche I suppose.
JT: What was the original line-up of the group?
SM: The original line-up was Steve Edwards vocals and saxophone, myself guitar, Laura Plant who played bass and sang occasionally, and then Paul Leadbetter drums. Paul was a mate of mine who worked at a giant cash’n’carry, and Laura was Steve Edwards’s girlfriend’s best mate. So it was always a group of friends. When Laura left we two or three stand-in bass players, then we had Rob Hall, a couple of years he did, Rob. He was about 10 years younger than us and I think he was a bit caught up with it.
JT: How old were you at this time?
SM: Probably mid-20s. Well, ’78, I’d be 21. But we’d be 25-26 when Rob started and he was 17. You know he was a few years younger than us. Eventually Iain Grey joined who was a friend of the group. He was just like a mate who used to come and watch the gigs. We said, can you play bass and he said yeah.
JT: Course ‘e can!
SM: That’s it. And Iain Grey’s got this thing, he’s mentioned all the time: he was friends with Ian Curtis. It’s quite incestuous the whole thing, i’n’t it? Like we went to school with Joy Division, like Barney Dickens and Peter Hook were in our school, a year older than us.
Drummer-wise after Paul got a bit fed up of it we had two or three stand-ins and eventually settled on Andy Glentworth, who again was a friend from work. That was the final version of the group: Steve, myself, Iain Grey bass and Andy Glentworth drums. I think that was the best line-up; probably the original was the oddest line-up.
There was plenty of progression but it stayed using a similar sort of formula, if I’m honest. It used to be fun because if things were going wrong we’d make them go even more wrong. We figured you’re just as well making a show of it rather than having people drifting out saying, ahh, they were crap.
JT: Yeah, you might as well be really crap!
SM: Well that was the attitude. We supported Adam and the Ants at the Factory once and our drummer at the time was Paul Leadbetter – he was a nervous wreck because all our mates were there, it was a big gig. I think he took substances he shouldn’t have took and it made him play very fast if you know what I mean, so the set lasted about three minutes. Well, we beat him up [laughs]. Some funny things happened along the way.
JT: Where was the first Gods Gift gig?
SM: The first ever Gods Gift gig was at a Christmas party, the nurses’ home at Prestwich Hospital. If you could find a greater baptism of fire I’d be surprised, because we knew them, they knew us. We played White Light/White Heat for 40 minutes – I think they thought we were going to be like Joe Tex and the Sex-o-Lettes. It didn’t quite work! A girl I used to work with invited me to a party years later and said please promise not to bring that dreadful group, Stephen. So that was the first gig we played.
JT: Always good to start with a hostile audience.
SM: Oh we crossed over as well. The first proper gig we played, we supported a group in Yorkshire called The Bombers in a big hotel in Leeds. For some reason I’m sure it’s called the Ford Green Hotel – I wouldn’t stake my life on that, it just rings a bell. We got there and it was like a Hell’s Angels convention. It really was, everybody was in leather. We were really worried because they were real rockers these lads. I mean they were decent lads. But we got them, we absolutely won this audience over immediately because they had a lad on mixing desks and a lad on lights and they asked ‘what lights do you want?’ and Laura Plant in a lovely sweet voice said, ‘just a black one please’. And you could see everyone go ‘what?’ So we sort of had ‘em: it was quite good. Really I suppose we were pretty amateurish, but absolutely like nothing anybody there had ever seen, so we went down okay.
JT: One of the other people I spoke to said you looked like a bunch of civil servants. How would you have dressed for a show in those days?
SM: Like a civil servant to be honest with you! We always figured – as I’ve read on your site, I was a big fat bloke: I was and I am. I can’t hide that in a gold lamé suit: I’d have a blue jumper on and a shirt. I’d perhaps been working 12 hours in the loony bin prior to that – I was a charge nurse. I’d quite often finish work and we’d go and play. Ian Curtis might have been able to act it, but I was it, you know!
Steve Edwards used to wear some dreadful, ill-fitting suit. So I can’t fault it that, we did probably look like civil servants, we made absolutely no effort to be liked. No effort to gain any acceptance by dress.
JT: What about the band name? Who came up with that and was it the first choice or did you go through other names?
SM: It was actually me. Gods Gift: we thought it was a brilliant piss-take because we’re definitely not. We weren’t, we aren’t: we never will be. It was Gods Gift. And we thought it had a strong image: A big G and ‘ods ift’. The alternative name when we started – and it shows we were very similar in our thoughts, Steve and I. Steve came up with John Smith & The Insignificant. It was just looking at the same problem from different ends so to speak.
JT: That’s interesting: probably The Smiths would never have come up with their name if you’d taken that one.
SM: That’s absolutely right.
JT: Morrissey would have had to call himself God’s Gift!
SM: I think they made a mistake there, didn’t they?
JT: So you started playing around the end of 1978. Your first record [‘These Days’, 1979] was on Newmarket records, how did that come about?
SM: Well, we used to practice at Steve’s dad’s pub. He had a pub in Pendlebury , Salford and the pub – get ready for this – it’s the Newmarket. All the practising used to go on there: we used to practice new songs and the group practiced – there was enough noise in the place. I think Steve was the driving force with that: we wanted to do it and everyone was making singles off their own bat. We just put money in together and did it ourselves basically. We went to Hemel Hempstead to have them pressed, came back with them, bought a rubber stamp to stamp one side of ‘em and on the other side we wrote different comments on every one. So every one’s different. There’s some junk written on them, but incongruous junk, so it’ll probably look intelligent really.
JT: How many copies did you get pressed?
SM: We did 2,000. And I think we probably got rid of three-quarters of those. Steve actually told me he thinks he’s got a couple of boxes in his loft. Hold on to them!
A funny little nothing anecdote: where we used to practice, The Newmarket, it was a real boozer’s pub, and they were all like engineers who went there. When we used to come down from practicing, they all used to applaud us. They were all old fellers and I’m one now. And they used to call us ‘the turbines’ because of their engineering background, because they used to say all we can hear is [makes whirring noise]. For one brief moment we thought we should call ourselves The Turbines.
JT: Then you thought better.
SM: Yeah, definitely.
JT: So you put out the single and you sold most of the copies. And then you were involved with the Manchester Musicians’ Collective.
SM: It was a means of getting regular gigs, and it was also good because everybody was pretty affable. There wasn’t really any aggressive competition and people tended to pal out with other bands. It was really good. And there were actually some really good groups. There was a bunch of kids, when I say kids it sounds a bit patronising, I don’t mean it that way. But at that time we were perhaps mid-20s and these kids were 15, 16 – we used to share gigs with this band called The Enigma – they were fantastic. I’m astonished that nothing ever became of them. The lad that played the guitar, sang, did all the songs, he was only 15 and he was brilliant. Martin Tivnan he was called. They were a good band.
The collective, I quite liked it. Playing at the Band on the Wall regularly with good groups and then the Cyprus Tavern when it went there; at a squat in Manchester, the Mayflower when it was there.
We had a track on the album, Unzipping the Abstract. I think everybody put their best song on and we figured that’s what everyone would do. So we knew we had three minutes so we actually made one up. That’s completely made up off the cuff that. I think it’s pretty good, it’s strong, it stands out: it’s not like anything else. That was recorded in – Frank Ewart – cracking fella, a real hippy – well that was recorded in his loft – it was just like 3 minutes, go. We got some decent reviews.
JT: Some people seemed to think the musicians’ collective was a bit earnest, all the meetings and stuff. Did you go along to the meetings?
SM: We went to most of the meetings, yeah. If I’m honest I don’t know that we were overly enthusiastic with the hippyness of it, the sharedness. We went to try and get more gigs. It was an exchange of information, with regards that it was great. I still remember having meetings in the Sawyer’s Arms and what were Joy Division being bladdered in a pub in Manchester laughing their heads off with everyone.
JT: So, after Unzipping the Abstract you then got involved with New Hormones, with Richard Boon and his crowd. How did that all start?
SM: I think Richard approached Steve. Steve was really the mouthpiece. I think in fairness, I was married with a child at the time and Steve did a lot of the chasing about. Steve got on quite well with Richard and he asked us if we wanted to release something on New Hormones. Of course we snapped his hand off because we knew obviously of the Buzzcocks and Ludus were involved with them and we said, oh, definitely. And I think the first one was the EP, the 12-inch EP [Gods Gift EP, 1981].
JT: That’s really good, I like that a lot.
SM: Thank you. He helped us greatly with it but actually told us to do what we wanted and bring it to him when we were done. I thought he was a good bloke. I’ve not got anything negative to say about anyone really – it seems such a long time ago, I’ve got only positive thoughts of it. I think Richard Boon was quite visionary and he had strong ethics and strong morals. That didn’t come across a lot with a lot of people.
He had some funny little things. He got this night where we played at the Venue in London with Eric Random. That was quite funny because we were told to take our gear to a place in Salford to meet up – we were going to be driven there. And when we got there, there weren’t enough room. I’d worked the night before and I had to drive to London and I’m still half-convinced that Richard had something to do with that. Coz he knew that we were pretty spiky, fired up like. We had to drive to London, play and drive home. I remember seeing Richard standing at the mixing desk, sort-of-smiling, sort-of-gloating. We started playing and this is where the quote I’ve seen on your site comes from, Steve Edwards screaming his head off saying “what you dancing for, it’s tuneless, you pillock!” You know, why are you dancing? We decided we’ll change this, we run off the stage and we played the same song for 40 minutes. We got off and people were just like absolutely stunned and we made it funnier because we had to drive home then – we jumped off the front of the stage and went home.
JT: Just walked out?
SM: Yeah. It was quite funny, it was like the parting of the Red Sea – everyone dived out of the way of these psychopaths from Manchester.
JT: That’s cool. So, the Gods Gift EP, some of it’s live and some of it’s in the studio, yeah?
SM: One of the tracks again was done with Frank Ewart. I know one of the tracks was definitely done at the Derby Hall (Bury).
JT: Actually, I’ve got it in front of me. Track one recorded 102 Studios Withington.
SM: That’s Frank Ewart.
JT: So Soldiers and No God were recorded at Frank’s. Anthony Perkins was done at the Derby Hall and then track four, The Hunger of Millions, recorded at Newmarket Recording Suite. So, is that in the pub?
SM: In the pub, yeah [laughs]: Newmarket Recording Suite, that’s full of crap that!
I think that was sticking with the ethics of what we’d grown up around. It certainly weren’t Strawberry Studios!
JT: Was it a four-track mixing desk or something?
SM: Absolutely. No more. I think Frank Ewart had an 8-track in his loft. The one that was done in Steve’s pub would have been a four-track – that was owned by a guy called Chris Brierley, a lecturer for Manpower Services, believe it or not. He used to give us a lift and he had, well, a glorified tape recorder, four-track.
JT: Do you know how many copies that EP sold?
SM: I have a feeling that was again 1,500-2,000.
JT: After that you did one more record for New Hormones, which was Discipline, which a lot of people really like, they think it’s your best track.
SM: It’s terrible to say you like your own songs, but I think it was good. It was poppy but powerful. I think the words were brilliant – it’s almost visionary [of] the way we live our lives today.
JT: Was it the other Steve who wrote the lyrics, or did you do them together?
SM: Steve wrote the words to Discipline and it was my riff. I think it was probably half and half with the writing. Iain wrote a couple of songs here and there, but virtually everything was either Steve or myself. Discipline was Steve – cracking words. That did well in the Independent Charts if I remember correctly.
JT: Richard Boon said he had one more Gods Gift track lined up but he ran out of money before he could release it – something called Clamour Club.
SM: The funny thing about that: last week I actually found a cassette copy of that that was a recorded in a studio: a belting copy. When you read things like Richard Boon saying he was disappointed that he couldn’t put it out it’s really gratifying. I think it’s a very catchy pop song. I did the words for that and the words are ultimately I suppose about Taxi Driver the film. But the chorus Steve put in – Clamour Club. The Pope came to Manchester in 1982. Steve had watched it from a distance drunkenly with Iain and he referred to the people who were waving and shouting as the Clamour Club. So, it’s about Taxi Driver and the Pope. If you’re interested I’ll pop you a copy in the post.
JT: Yeah definitely. Actually I’ve had a bunch of people from different independent record companies in contact with me who are interested in reissuing your stuff.
SM: My God. It’s really strange you know when your last memory of playing was people saying ‘oh, not them!’ [laughs]. “Manchester’s hippest band, but sadly they’re bastards”, I remember that one as well.
JT: Who said that?
SM: That was in a Manchester magazine: “Manchester’s hippest band, but sadly they’re bastards”. I thought it was quite funny – I never thought we were, like.
JT: You talked about a show in London earlier: did you tour much outside Manchester apart from that?
SM: Yeah, we played in Leeds a few times. We once played in Leeds to two people. That was bad, but eventually we asked one of the lads at the bar to play guitar with us(!) We played locally quite a lot; we played in Scotland. We did a little tour in Holland and Belgium, which was fantastic. I suppose that was the peak of it all – we found it weird that people knew the words of the songs we were playing: in Manchester people would turn their backs and carry on drinking. I think sadly Manchester went very cool: too cool to listen to anybody.
JT: After New Hormones finished did you do any recordings with anyone else, or was that it?
SM: We did a cassette release with a lad called Robert King who lived in Glasgow. It was called Pleasantly Surprised, his label. We did a 10 or 12 track cassette through him called Folie à Quatre [actually 11 tracks]. There’s a mental illness problem called Folie à Deux, where two people share one person’s madness, so we figured we’d be four people sharing one person’s madness.
JT: So when did that come out?
SM: That was probably ’84, early ’84, something like that. And the last thing we recorded was in – you know Mike Harding, the folk singer from Rochdale?
JT: The Rochdale Cowboy.
SM: That’s the feller. He had a studio in Levenshulme in Manchester [Spirit Studios]. We were friends with the lad who was an engineer there [Joe] and he’d let us in at night. So we went three nights on a run: we’d never been able to afford studio time like that. We did five tracks and sadly for me they were the five best things we ever recorded and nothing ever came of them. It’s typical. I think there was some sort of poetic justice – we got good and packed it in. After years of being shite we actually recorded something that we thought, God, that’s not us.
JT: You sounded too good you mean?
SM: It sounds really stupid this, but we sounded like a group, we sounded professional. I think that was the death knell, particularly for Steve, who wanted everything to sound like Mark Smith. Steve liked The Fall, loved The Fall – still does.
JT: His voice is quite similar to Mark Smith, but lyrically certainly very different – he’s much more direct than Mark Smith.
SM: Yeah. The Fall also had great connections with the hospital we worked at. Una Baines from the original band worked at Prestwich and Kay Carroll, the manager, Smith’s girlfriend, was a staff nurse.
JT: So did you know The Fall?
SM: Reasonably, yeah: the original members – Karl Burns and Martin Bramah and Tony Friel. In actual fact Tony Friel’s girlfriend played bass with us for a while. As you say, it’s very incestuous.
But we recorded something worth listening to and thought that’s it, we’ve done it now… You’ve won!
JT: After Gods Gift split did you get involved with any more bands or was that it for you?
SM: Steve and Iain did a sort of improvised, jazzy thing a couple of times but Steve’s heart wasn’t in it. It was a bit acrimonious when we packed it in – not between Steve and I, I might add, we’re still good friends. I carried on with our drummer Andy Glentworth and started playing bass with another group, which was called Brutal Grey Killers, the emphasis on the Grey, so you can work out where the acrimony came. That was more for enjoyment – a group of mates.
JT: Who designed the Gods Gift logo?
SM: A lad we went to school with called Mike Turner. He did all of them – Sorry, I just remembered, the very first thing we ever did, before the Newmarket one, we did a cassette called The Greatest Story Ever Told. That was Mike Turner’s first thing for us, and he did all the covers after that. He was a mate: I think we bought him a couple of pints and that was it.
The Discipline single: out of interest, the centre of the record is a picture of the secure unit at Prestwich Hospital. The drawing is Steve Edwards on his haunches – that actually came from a picture of him locked in a seclusion room at Prestwich. I got a written warning for it.
JT: Are you still working in that field?
SM: No, unfortunately, I had my back broken a few years ago – an attack from a patient – and I’ve not worked since. I was a senior charge nurse at the hospital for 20 years. I’m still walking, so that’s what matters.
Of the other lads, Andy Glentworth works in a secure hospital on Merseyside, the one where Ian Brady is [Ashworth].
Now I’ve still got guitars, still got a bass, still got a little recording studio at home, mess about. Steve sold his sax when he was skint. Steve and I had a chat for an hour last Wednesday or Thursday and we were having a laugh about [the band] and I asked him do you ever fancy doing it again and he said no, I’ve done it and I’ve enjoyed it and I think if I’m honest I feel the same. We always said when we started everyone’s gonna hate us because we’re just going our own way, said it’d be great if in 25 years someone picked a record up and said ‘oh, they were all right them’. It’s really bizarre to think that that’s happening. If we’d have been Simply Red I couldn’t have been any happier.