Peter Hooton of The Farm Natters to ZANIWritten by Matteo Sedazzari
Pete Best Original Beatle
The above are all part of popular culture, yet many have their origins in counter culture. The Beatles sweated their way to stardom playing to the peers at the Cavern Club, Alan Bleasdale took to writing to give the kids he was teaching in Liverpool something they could relate to and so on and so forth. In a nutshell the residents of Liverpool create to entertain their own, which is pretty much the fundamental of all entertainment stemming from hardship, poverty or industrial surroundings. Think of the slaves on the Deep South plantations. To overcome their harsh and brutal conditions and treatment they found, by making music, the birth of blues, which in turn created rock ‘n’ roll, and as they say the rest is history.
Peter Hooton is a born and bred Liverpudlian who was born in September 1962 in Mill Road Hospital in the Everton district of Liverpool. Hooton was certainly influenced by his city, in particular his beloved Liverpool FC, local music and that famous razor tongue humour of his hometown, to create a fanzine, entitled The End. With no journalistic training or experience in publishing, other than he felt that Liverpool, in particular the fans, needed something witty, warm and intelligent to read on match day, his drive was passion, that’s it and to be honest that’s all you need in your first step of a thousand miles, thanks Lao Tzu.
Getting a cheap deal at a local printers of £90.00 for 500 copies in 1981, and through hard slog, it was a sell out and made £10.00 profit. The End would carry on for another seven years, with its final copy sold in 1988. During its time, print run increased to 5,000 copies, being sold in HMV and became popular beyond Merseyside , like Yorkshire, where a young Yorkshire lad James Brown would often purchase a copy and in turn use a similar format to create the first lads magazine Loaded in 1994. The End didn’t only influence major publications, but also other fanzines, in particular Boys Own, 1986 to 1992, which became an important fanzine in the heyday of Acid House in 1988, and a year later, I was influenced by Boy’s Own to do my first fanzine, Positive Energy of Madness. So Hooton, without him or me knowing it, made me a writer and I certainly wouldn’t have been doing ZANI today. In turn James Brown returned the favour and via his online magazine Sabotage Times, produced The End in book format, which was a huge success especially in Liverpool.
During the rise of The End in 1983 Hooton decided to join a local band, The Excitements, changing their name a year later to The Farm. Furthermore, due to The End interviewing the likes of John Peel, The Clash and Suggs from Madness, Hooton had an address book full of useful contacts, such as Suggs who produced their first single Hearts and Minds in 1984, which failed to chart and it’s fair to say didn’t have much of an impact on the world of music. Nevertheless, The Farm persevered despite the tragic death of original member Andrew John "Andy" McVann in a car crash, and the departure of John Melvin in 1986, Hooton (vocals) along with Carl Hunter (bass), Roy Boulter (drums) Keith Mullin (guitar) and Ben Leach (keyboards). Their belief paid off and in 1990, with the influx of bands becoming part of the Acid House culture, like The Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses and the lesser known Flowered Up, The Farm were welcomed with open arms by the pundits, as they were from the same background with the same values and beliefs enjoying this sub culture. Coupled with the fact that many of the predominant DJ’s from this scene like Terry Farley and Andrew Weatherall moving from the deck to the mixing desk to produce and remix bands, the band influx proved to be hugely popular , in particular Weatherall with The Happy Mondays and Farley with The Farm, he also worked with The Happy Mondays.
For two years the Farm became a chart topping band, with a number four Christmas hit All Together Now in December 1990, a song about the truce between the British and German soldiers on Christmas Day 1914 during the First World War in No Man’s Land. The following year, they had a number one album Spartacus in March 1991. Everything looked on the up for The Farm, a bunch of loveable rogues sporting the terrace culture look, a look that many say stemmed from Liverpool in the late 70’s, but their commercial success was not to be. There was no major bust up or drug bust, they just weren’t flavour of the month and no longer were ‘front page news’ as the lyric goes in The Farm’s first chart topping single, a cover of The Monkees’ Stepping Stone.
Yet Hooton is a survivor, and The Farm are still active, like many bands they have reformed and playing to original and new fans alike. In addition Hooton has written for The Guardian, The Observer, Four Four Two, Loaded, Sabotage Times and is a regular pundit for TV and radio. He also campaigned for many years through music to highlight the Hillsborough Campaign for Justice. Peter is also a founding member and committee member of the Liverpool FC independent supporters union called the Spirit of Shankly. He has also just been announced as the Chair of the Beatles Legacy group set up by the Mayor of Liverpool to coordinate the Beatles tourist industry. Leading an interesting and influential life, it is no wonder that ZANI were keen to talk to him and delighted when he agreed to talk to us about from The End to the beginning.
ZANI - Don’t want to wind you up at the start, but you’ve got to admit Jamie Vardy’s goal against Liverpool was an absolute peach on 2nd February, I bet you wouldn’t mind him at Anfield?
Peter Hooton- A brilliant goal, any football fan has got to sit back and say unbelievable, yeah I would love him at Anfield, I think Leicester have made the right decision to keep him. I think most neutrals and even other football clubs want them to win the league because the premiership has been getting a bit boring.
ZANI – Very predictable. Do you think Jurgen Klopp can make Liverpool into a title challenging team and a force to be reckoned with in Europe again?
Peter Hooton- I think Klopp has got a lot of quality, but I think the real problem with Liverpool Football club is the ownership structure, the fact that the way it is. Our owners Fenway Sports Group just don’t seem to understand how football is run, they haven’t surrounded themselves with people who know the game or who have a feel for the traditions of the club.
The Liverpool for the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s was built upon the brilliant scouts that they had, which got us the likes of Kevin Keegan, Ian Rush, Ray Clemence, Phil Neal players like that. Yes, football has changed, but Leicester have proved you can do it. Vardy was playing non-league football a few years ago. Fenway Sports Group said a couple of years ago that the Premier League was like the ‘Wild West’ to them, meaning there are no rules, I just don’t think they have got the knowledge or the nuance to turn it around. I am involved with the Spirit of Shankly and we all said in October when Klopp came, great, but recently the honeymoon period is over and unless they have a change of structure, unless abandon the transfer committee I don’t think things will improve dramatically. I mean how can you pick players by a committee? I know other clubs have similar structures, but the transfer committee was put in place because Roberto Martínez knocked Liverpool back. They offered him the job but said they wanted him to have a Director of Football so Roberto said no. Brendan Rodgers took the job at Liverpool and he didn’t want a director of football either so they dreamt up the compromise. They went for the fudge, which was the transfer committee, you’ve really got to have a manager who’s going to be praised or blamed for the players he buys. The transfer committee was a recipe for confusion and so it proved.
ZANI – What is the Spirit of Shankly, please tell us more?
Peter Hooton – We are a campaigning group set up in January 2008, so we are eight years old now. A campaigning group to alert people of Tom Hicks and George Gilbert, the original American owners who had put debt on the club, when they said they wouldn’t. So we mounted a campaign for a couple of years, to force them out. When Fenway Sports Group came along they said, “without you guys we didn’t think we would be owning the club, “ FSG got Liverpool in a fire sale. I think Hicks called it an ‘epic swindle,’ they got it for £300 million. I think Dubai had offered Hicks and Gilbert £400 million the year before. FSG got Liverpool FC on the cheap because RBS were calling the debts in and Hicks and Gillett were struggling to borrow more money.
We had a social media campaign to stop Hicks and Gilbert borrowing any more money from Wall Street threatening to campaign against and boycott any banks/institutions that lent them any more. FSG have a better business model, they took debt out of the club, in terms of the way the club is run and in terms of finance, it is looking pretty healthy. Unfortunately they haven’t got a clue about football and some of the people who are on the transfer committee, who are the real decision makers, don’t know anything about football either, very strange. I think the honeymoon period is over, they just put up the season ticket prices to £1,000 per year for a certain section of the ground, where the new main stand is going to be and a match day ticket is going to be £77.00. The highest match day price ticket before the new main stand was built was £59.00, and we thought that was £25.00 too much. (NB since this interview Fenway Sports Group have backed down and frozen the ticket prices due to the pressure and a walkout protest by 15,000 fans on 77 mins at home against Sunderland organised by the Spion Kop 1906 group with support from Spirit of Shankly - people power)
ZANI - Let’s talk about your first venture, The End , I understand you wanted it to be the Private Eye for the working class , tells us about how it started?
Peter Hooton – One of the lads, Phil Jones, used to do a Mod fanzine called Time for Action, during the Mod revival in 1979, he was about 16/17 at the time. I was aware of the fanzine as I used to go to certain gigs where it was sold.
Anyway I got a job in Cantril Farm/Dovecot areas of Liverpool as a detached youth worker; my brief was to encourage young people to do what they wanted to do, (starts to chuckle), I didn’t have a youth club, I was sort of a street worker. I thought it would be a good idea to contact Phil, who I knew anyway, to say look do you want to start another magazine, not specifically about music, but incorporating music and football , also everyday life in Liverpool. There were a lot of fanzines in Liverpool, but felt they didn’t have the humour of the city, John Lennon said the humour in Liverpool is very very cruel – he was right. All the other fanzines around were very serious, very worthy, they were great, but they didn’t capture the cynicism of the average Liverpudlian at that time.
ZANI – I read what John Lennon said, some of The End’s targets were fellow Liverpudlians, Jimmy Tarbuck and Cilla Black.
Peter Hooton – They are easy targets now, but back in the day they were almost sacred cows in the media.
ZANI – Exactly.
Peter Hooton – People didn’t know they had an admiration for Thatcher, back then in ‘82/83. We wrote to John Peel, because he kept on playing Ukrainian Folk Music. I just wrote to him, well basically slaughtering him. I listened to his show all the time and some of it was brilliant but he also played some very strange stuff I was just pointing this out in the letter!
ZANI – But he became a fan of The End, even wore The End tee-shirt whilst presenting on Top of the Pops.
Peter Hooton – Yea he did. He said, no one had ever written like that before, always praising him or being abusive, an either or. But the letter I wrote, was piss take, “you haven’t got a clue John, believe it or not playing Ukrainian Folk Music isn’t likely to catch on”, but he liked it, so when he came up to Liverpool he agreed to do an interview with The End, we became friends after that. We used to go to some of his parties down in Suffolk.
ZANI - I understand Chris Donald and the rest of Viz, who started at the same time, came to you for advice, when The End was selling 5,000 copies.
Peter Hooton – That’s a bit of a myth according to the co-editor Phil, I think they just wrote praising the magazine and asking for a copy. Since then Phil admits that he had exaggerated it, I think it was just a friendly letter from Viz, nothing more, Phil now admits they never asked for advice on how to sell more copies.
ZANI – Were you a Mod for a while, or always been into the Terrace culture look, which at times is the same?
Peter Hooton – I used to be into some of the Mod fashions. I think in ‘77/78, a lot of youngsters in Liverpool starting dressing in a particular fashion, cagoules , duffle coats, very David Bowie Low Period. The Mod revival came out in 1979; some of the lads did get into Parkas and scooters but the majority of the lads kept on wearing casual clothes, which is a neo-Mod look any way.
ZANI - Would you say it’s true the youth cult casuals did spawn from Liverpool, the away fans visiting Paris, Rome and other cities nicking all the gear?
Peter Hooton – Well it’s hard to generalise. I was in Cornwall around ‘77/78 with a bunch of lads from South London, they all had Stan Smith trainers on, but only one of the eight lads had wedge hair styles, a mixture of short and long hair. If that had been lads /girls from Liverpool it would have been most of them. I think there was a particular Liverpool look, which was definitely the boy next door; it was an effeminate look. It just happened that all the hard cases adopted it.
We used to go to a club called Check Mate, and to me it’s never been equalled. We have had great clubs in Liverpool but this was an underground place, first club I remember where they used to let you in with jeans on, that was revolutionary at the time, everywhere else was shirt and tie. So it was jeans, trainers, duffle coats and cagoules, and the music in there was brilliant. I’ve tried to find out who the DJ was but to no avail, but I don’t think he ever played a bad record, anything from Steel Pulse, Klu Klux Klan to Ian Drury, Sweet Gene Vincent, Iggy Pop, The Normal, The Clash, Bowie stuff it was a music heaven. Everyone in there was into the music, into the fashion, significantly Liverpool’s hard-core were in there, so were Everton’s, but there were no fights over football, because it was a fashion thing, we are all dressing like this and no one had caught on yet. But there were definitely other pockets around England.
When we used to go to the football in London, the other fans would be shouting out over the fences “Soul boys”, I never understood what they meant, but a few years later a mate told me that the only people that wore wedges or flick haircuts, wore cagoules and that sort of thing, were the Soul boys.
ZANI – Yea, I remember the wedge hair cut well. The End in book format was a huge success, even to a younger generation. Ever thought of re-launching it as a website? I know you have one, but one that is updated more regularly.
Peter Hooton – Not really, we did that when we were young, that was a piss take. I just like to think of it as it was rather than try and revamp it. Remember it for what it was, it was exciting. We used to doorstep all the interviews. I don’t think anyone refused us an interview, ‘cos we used to doorstep them. Phil runs the Endzine facebook but that’s the nearest thing to a modern day magazine.
ZANI – By doorstep interview you mean just turn up unannounced and ask for an interview, that’s how you got The Clash and many more.
Peter Hooton – Just turned up, when they were doing a sound check.
ZANI – Like the philosophy of doorstep interviews, they would give the interview just to get rid of you, that’s a brilliant way of going over the heads of the press officer. Moving to a serious note you have done concerts and records to raise awareness for the Hillsborough Tragedy. Do you think the families of the 96 who died, will ever get justice?
Crushes had happened before then, 1981 FA semi-final for instance, Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers, with 38 people seriously injured, so they were aware there was a problem. How is that going?
Peter Hooton – We are awaiting the verdict, we never thought we would be in this position. Biggest judicial inquest in British legal history. Hopefully at the end of it, the families will get what they want.
ZANI - As you know, 4 days after the disaster The Sun wrote a totally fabricated story, what was your initial reaction when you read that?
Peter Hooton – I was in Liverpool at the time, still in shock, meeting every day with people that had been at the game with us, discussing what we were going to do and what the reasons were for the disaster. Many of the reasons are coming out at the inquests now, because it was so obvious the reasons for the disaster and which was emphasised by the judge last week, which completely destroys the myth of ticketless fans. The capacity of Leppings Lane, when the crush happened, was less than 300 under capacity. The reason for the crush is because the central tunnel was kept open, and the centre pens were over capacity by 50 per cent. So there were twice as many people in those two pens, and on the side pens they were half empty.
The man in charge on the day, David Duckenfield, he wasn’t a copper’s copper, he was brought in from University and fast tracked. He used to play golf with the top brass, you know. A lot of the ordinary bobby’s on the day didn’t think he should have had the job, to do the game they just thought he wasn’t fit for it. On the day I think there was a certain lack of co-operation. From eyewitness accounts it reports that Duckenfield ‘froze’ in the control room and the Taylor Report soon after the disaster emphasised this. But I was at the inquest a while back when Duckenfield was being cross examined when it was stated that he couldn’t remember where he had gone during the period when he left the ground after briefing officers in the morning. He had left the ground with his chauffeur but neither can account for their whereabouts for a crucial period. They claim this was due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
ZANI – It was sad. I take it you accept friends and families if they support Everton?
Peter Hooton – Of course I do, some of my best friends are Evertonian’s but I think it has changed a bit now, with the younger generation. Its hard to believe in the 1960s Everton was regarded as the rich club compared to Liverpool.
ZANI – What was the first Liverpool game you ever went to?
Peter Hooton – My dad and granddad took me to a reserve game in the 60s – I remember falling off a barrier and banging my head but I’ve no idea who it was against.
ZANI – I know you went to Rome in 1984 when Liverpool beat Roma, did you go to Istanbul 2005 when Liverpool beat AC Milan?
Peter Hooton - I had tickets for 2005, but my mother was seriously ill, the doctor said if you go to Istanbul she might pass away whilst you are there so I never went, as it happened she passed away in the September a few months after. I went to most of the games leading to the final though.
ZANI - Sorry to hear that. I thought that would be the start of Liverpool’s new reign in Europe, but I suppose AC Milan got revenge and ended that in 2007.
Peter Hooton – (total silence)
ZANI - Liverpool is seen as a stronghold for the Labour Party, but up until the ‘60’s I believe it was a stronghold for the Tories, why did that change?
Peter Hooton – Liverpool politics was based upon sectarianism really, that’s the reality of it. The Labour Party was regarded as the party for people from Irish Catholic descent and the Conservatives was regarded as a party for the white working class Protestants. There was slum clearance in the 60’s, changes with re-housing, also attitudes changed. Mixed marriages became more prevalent, my dad was a Protestant, married my mum a Catholic and he had to convert to Catholicism to marry her, religions started to mix.
ZANI – Interesting to know, what made you move from the pen to the mic?
Peter Hooton – When The End was getting well received, it gave me a bit of confidence. My mates were still the same, a bit cynical about things; they were saying no one from football will ever buy the magazine. But they did, it was pretty hard selling the first few, but then people were coming to us, asking to buy The End. So my confidence started to grow. I was with one of my mates in his pub, (he lived there) this band used to come and rehearse on a Sunday afternoon, when pubs closed in the afternoons; you know the old licensing laws. The band didn’t have a singer, so I said I will have a go, it’s because I did The End; I thought I’ll give it a go.
ZANI – You started to write songs then?
Peter Hooton – At previous attempts I had written poetry at school. I was in the football team and also the cross-country team at school. But I only wanted to play football. I didn’t want to do cross country, but they wanted me to cos I was a good runner and ran for Merseyside, you see. The priests said you have to do cross country rather than play football, but I hated it and I felt I was in a remake of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner all the time. I really wanted to stop at the finishing line and just stand still.
ZANI – Brilliant film.
Peter Hooton – Yes, brilliant film and that was in my mind as well, I ended up saying to the cross country coach, who was my English teacher, I refuse to run for you I’m playing football, he went mad. Anyway, we did a bit of ‘creative’ writing at the school; we had to mark each other’s writing. I had written a poem, sort of an early song you know, and my mate marked it, he said this poem is idiotic, or something along those lines. The English teacher couldn’t wait to read it out to the class to humiliate me, it was a cruel thing to do, but it was his way of getting back at me, ‘cos I wouldn’t be in his cross country team.
ZANI – Teachers can be very cruel. OK how did The Farm come together and I believe it’s an urban myth the name comes from Cantril Farm Estate, that’s what it says in Wikipedia.
Peter Hooton – It’s an urban myth, I never lived on Cantril Farm, I worked there. We used to rehearse on a farm outside Liverpool, because we could make as much noise as we wanted. Our guitarist Steve went out with one of the girls from the farm. The farm is still there, the people who live there now still have groups there, and they’ve got a rehearsal room and recording studio there.
ZANI - Suggs of Madness was instrumental in the success of The Farm
Peter Hooton – Yes he was and Terry Farley, and our manager Kevin Sampson. Kevin made all the correct decisions for a long time, he was fantastic. It was like a jigsaw and it all came together. I knew Suggs from The End, he liked The End, he invited us to his studios on Caledonian Road, we recorded our first single there, he was helping out.
ZANI - As we know your biggest hit was All Together Now, about the Christmas Day truce between German and British soldiers in WW1. Is peace something that is important to you?
Peter Hooton – I am not a pacifist as such, always as a kid I was on the side of the underdogs, I hated bullies, even though I got done in a few times. I lost my front teeth when I was about seven, walking home from school two overweight lads were getting picked on by older lads, I went over and tried to stop it. I got punched almost straight away, which knocked my front teeth out, my first memory of violence. I thought to myself this is not like it is in the movies!
ZANI – At least it’s a positive first memory of violence, if there is such a thing, because you were doing something honourable by sticking up for someone. The Farm were and still are known for their left wing politics, I understand that became a backlash against you from the music press ?
Peter Hooton – I think it was a bit of a class thing really, some journalists based in London, drinking in the Good Mixer in Camden, a lot of them were very middle class and had private education written all over them. We got on with a lot of journalists but the one’s we had never met usually from the Melody Maker didn’t like our ‘attitude.’ They saw us as the opposite of what they stood for, they attacked us for the wrong reasons really, and they attacked us for looking like brickies etc, really vicious anti-working class stuff.
ZANI - For sure. I remember you around the clubs in the late 80’s and 90’s, did you feel, let’s be honest, you were a spokesman for a generation?
Peter Hooton – Never thought that, didn’t want to be a part, or pigeon holed into a movement or anything like that. I remember Mark E Smith of The Fall saying to me when we had done some Christmas special, this was after we had been all over the music press for about 18 months, he said “Peter they are going to get you”, referring to the press, don’t know if he had been warned. As soon as we weren’t getting success in terms of chart success, the snipers came out.
But we didn’t do ourselves any favours; we went to certain festivals and acted like knob heads. We went to the Reading festival in limos, dressed all in black, with a couple of imitation guns, before gun crime. What we wanted to do was to get escorted in by The Hells Angels, the idea everything was the opposite, we were all dressed up like Public Enemy, it was a piss take on the journalists, but everyone thought we were serious. We were trying to be too clever for our own good. I remember Mick Jones from The Clash, being at the gates of the Reading festival, he came in saying, “fucking hell, what the fuck is going on”.
ZANI - But The Farm are back, playing Rewind this year,
Peter Hooton – I’m doing stuff at Rewind with the British Electric Foundation but The Farm are playing a few festivals. We are doing bits and bobs, we enjoy doing it. When you have got a very vindictive government we are getting angry again, even though we are no spring chickens. We want to write about what is happening, angry is energy.
ZANI – It sure is. Outside of Liverpool, what are your favourite cities?
Peter Hooton – Love New York, Boston, love London, sad to see what’s happening there, all these great places getting demolished due to Cross Rail. Tin Pan Alley is under threat. I love Italy, Rome and Naples, Rome because my mum and dad went on holiday there all the time because they had their honeymoon there and also because of Liverpool’s victory there.
ZANI- Fancy England’s chances in the Euros, I reckon dark horses will be Albania, Iceland and Turkey, as they have got nothing to lose.
Peter Hooton – Not sure about those countries. England have got some excellent players, but I don’t particularly think Roy Hodgson tactically is up for the job. At the end of the day, the players will do the tactics for me, I just don’t know, I just think there is something missing there in terms of management.
ZANI - Final Question, if there was a song, not one of yours, that sums up the spirit and soul of Peter Hooton, which one and why?
Peter Hooton - The Redemption Song by Bob Marley “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery”, that lyric has got everything.
A good choice. Peter Hooton certainly has no ego and striving to free, he is direct, raw and authentic, proud of his achievements, but doesn’t boast about them, aware of his mistakes, but doesn’t dwell on them, accepts them , learns from them and moves on. Hooton is intelligent, passionate, warm, honest and amazingly humble; he’s a people person, champion of the underdog. He’s fought hard for his achievements, well he is from Liverpool, and all the musicians there have the hunger.
The Farm on FaceBook
The Farm Official Site