The Farm are fondly remembered for the hits Groovy Train and All Together Now but next week they will be recalling the years before they were famous at two special gigs.
The shows, in their home city of Liverpool and at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, are sure to be nostalgic affairs not only for the band and longstanding fans but also for Simon Moran, who organised some of their earliest gigs in Yorkshire in the 1980s before going on to become one of the most successful concert promoters in the UK, as MD of SJM Concerts, co-owner of T in the Park and V Festival and director of the Academy Music Group.
Singer Peter Hooton says devotees had been asking them to performing Pastures Old and New, a compilation of early singles and session tracks for the late BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel, with a brass section for years – “They were the days a lot of the original fans remember” – but it took Moran’s persuasion for these gigs to actually happen.
“His very first concert promotion was at Sheffield University and he put The Farm on at Sheffield Uni then the very lively gigs that we used in Leeds at The Duchess of York, he’s got a nostalgic view of that period,” Hooton says.
“In many respects Leeds, in terms of music, I think, was fairly advanced then. There seemed to be groups like the Happy Mondays and James and most of Manchester there. I had James Brown [later editor of Loaded] ringing me up and saying he’d just been to see the Mondays at the Irish Centre in Leeds and saying, ‘It’s all your fans’.”
Hooton remembers the 80s as “a period when the type of style that The Farm had, which was later probably popularised by Oasis and groups like that, wasn’t regarded by record companies as very commercial”.
“They wanted us to get an image and we were saying, ‘This is the biggest image that you could have’ but they weren’t convinced. Simon was managing us at the time and we nearly signed several record deals but at the time they couldn’t see it because the people who run the A&R departments didn’t understand the phenomenon. It wasn’t really until groups like the Happy Mondays came through, and the Stone Roses, I think then they began to understand that it had mass appeal.”
He admits to being “a bit suspicious at first” when he spotted “football types” dressed in tweed jackets and trainers waiting for them outside concert venues. “There were rumours that we took a coachload around with us but we never did because we’d seen what happened with groups like the Cockney Rejects,” he says. “We didn’t want to encourage that type of mentality.”
It wasn’t until he spoke to them – “and they said, ‘We’re here to see you, we heard you on John Peel’” – that he began to feel at ease with The Farm’s new fans.
Hooton had first bonded with Peel over a shared love for Liverpool Football Club; in those days The Farm’s singer edited a football fanzine called The End. “When he used to come up to Liverpool we’d show him round and he used to invite us to parties where he lived in Stowmarket, so I got to know him quite well.”
However the DJ was initially reluctant to give Hooton’s band a session because “people would see it as favouritism”. “It wasn’t until people like the NME and Sounds started giving us good reviews that he was able to give us sessions. But then when we did get the sessions it was like a lifeline because we got paid Musicians’ Union rates and you’d be able to fund the group for the rest of the year for rehearsals.”
Madness singer Suggs produced The Farm’s first single, Hearts and Minds, in 1984. Hooton recalls they’d first met doing a BBC TV show called The Oxford Roadshow. “On the same night The Smiths were on and I think Madness were there as studio guests,” he explains. “We got to know them in the green room and we got on really well so that paved the way.”
A mutual playwright friend in London then asked Madness if they could produce The Farm’s first record. “They invited us down to the Liquidator studio on the Caledonian Road and we didn’t have to pay for a thing,” Hooton remembers. “They had us there for two weeks and the band really helped us out. We always had people like Suggs and Carl Smyth from Madness and also Paul Heaton and Stan Cullimore from The Housemartins helping us out.”
This month is the 25th anniversary of The Farm’s biggest hit, All Together Now. The song, about the 1914 Christmas Day truce set to the melody from Pachelbel’s Canon, reached Number Four in the charts but things might have different had Hooton not heeded Suggs’ advice to cut down its original six verses.
“Suggs said, ‘You can’t have a single with six verses in it’, it would have been five or six minutes, so we took three verses out, but when we do the gig in Leeds we’ll be doing the original [which was called] No Man’s Land.”
After playing at a few festivals this year – including Shine On at Butlins resort in Minehead with the Happy Mondays, the Inspiral Carpets and Peter Hook (“7,000 people into the music, it was like going back to Elland Road [where they played in 1991]” – it seems The Farm are finally thinking about making a new record.
“We’ve been writing new stuff and it might be the motivation we need now to get into the studio,” Hooton says. “We’ve written a lot of new stuff because we’re angry again about what’s going on in the country.”
The Farm play at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds on December 16. For details visit http://www.brudenellsocialclub.co.uk/whats-on/farm/