“Oh, don’t I look beautiful?”
“We’re a mixture of hard and soft, masculine and feminine, which is a healthier outlook than being one or the other.”
(Gary Cosby, N.M.E, 3/6/1995)
You don’t even know that your favourite band of all time are Lick.
How could you?
You blinked and missed them.
As the press flung one gang of pretenders after another in your face between 1993 and 1997 you missed the one gang who really understood The Pretenders and all the other glories of post-punk and New Wave and who really got the fact that nothing, absolutely nothing, matters more than looking good.
As I lay in a lost and lonely part of town, in a world of tears I slowly drowned and I really couldn’t make it on my own…I should have been holding onto Lick.
Now they’re gone and I don’t know if I should go on.
‘Last night we had a very rare experience in the shape of a gigantic shooting star. It crossed the sky about a quarter-past 10 o’clock and lit up the country for miles around with a bright green flare, and then faded away to a pink colour. It lasted for several seconds. Several people rushed out of their homes thinking they were in the midst of huge flames. Then about two minutes after the illumination died away there came a rumbling in the heavens which gradually became louder until it was like heavy thunder. The sound travelled the same course as the star.’
(Mr E.T. Easton, Rockhampton, 4/8/1903)
Rockhampton is a city in Queensland, Australia.
It is an industrial and agricultural centre.
Other than the siting of meteor in 1903 there was little of note about the place.
Then the Cosby family had a little baby boy and they called him Gary.
He knew that he wasn’t like the other people in Rockhampton.
He had a funny feeling that he wasn’t like other people full stop. No matter where they were from. He couldn’t be sure about that because he hadn’t ever been anywhere else. It was just a feeling.
“I seriously doubt I would have survived into adulthood there. No, I think I would have been run out of town as soon as I discovered the make-up counter at Coles. Fortunately, I didn’t have to hitch a ride, my parents moved us to the Western suburbs of Sydney when I was 13.” says Gary today as he remembers that at the end of his block there was a pub with a rodeo in it and how even today there is still a train that goes down the middle of the street.
In Sydney a whole new world was presented to Gary and it was one he instantly understood was the one he was meant to be in…not the one where trains rumble down the centre of the street or where people boast about a meteor siting from the turn of the century. No, Gary wanted to be the meteorite. He wanted to be the sound that travelled the same course as the star and be the star all at the same time.
“I would jump on the train and hang out at import record stores in the city, fingering albums by my favourite British artists, imagining myself on the covers. We used to get NME, Melody Maker and Sounds. They were my bibles. London was definitely on my radar from an early age.” We’ve all been there of course, thumbing our way through the racks of records, staring at our favouritest pop stars and daydreaming of life as a star…but Gary knew that he could actually do it, that it didn’t have to be just a daydream.
“At 9 years old I wanted to be Suzi Quatro. I was obsessed. I wasn’t the only one; Debbie from Echobelly cites her musical epiphany seeing ‘Can The Can’ on Top of the Pops. Ha! I wish I’d known that when I was forming a band. Debbie would have looked great in Lick. It was pretty much ‘Can The Can’ for me until Deborah Harry and Chrissie Hynde came along. It was The Pretenders first album that made me want to be in a band. Sydney had an incredible music scene in the eighties. My musical background is quite schizoid though, one minute I was a teeny rocker and the next it was all makeup and Duran Duran. I loved punk too – that didn’t arrive in Australia until about 1980! I loved ‘New Wave’ bands as well. I guess I was really trying to find…me.“
I don’t trust people who don’t like punk and new wave and pop and everything else that pop music has spewed out since Elvis donned his blue suede shoes. That awful, ludicrous, snobbishness of only “enjoying” music if it fits within some ridiculously narrow weltanschauung makes me feel…suspicious.
Do you remember that time when you shared a flat with Chrissie Amphlett from The Divinyls?
You must do.
How you would listen to “I Touch Myself” over and over?
Hmmm. Maybe it was just little Gary. Except he wasn’t so little by that point. He was all grown up and one day Chrissie spotted a poster on his wall and said, “Why don’t you stop worshipping and do it yourself?” That’s a good question right?
“Within a year, aged 22, I’d saved enough to jump on a plane and follow my dream of making it in the music biz in the UK. That’s pretty fierce, right?“
It’s properly fierce.
Sometimes I find myself wondering why I haven’t done something, well, more with my life. Do you know what I mean? That feeling that you coulda been a contender? Coulda been…somebody? The reason I haven’t, I didn’t and I probably won’t is very simple…it’s because I wouldn’t have ever had the guts, the commitment or the drive to leave the only country I had ever lived in and fly around the world in order to become…me.
“I arrived in London and I swear I thought I was going to die, it was so cold. I wasn’t alone though. I was with my first boyfriend, a writer. We left immediately, caught the first train to Italy, then lived out the winter on Crete, which is where I knuckled down and started writing songs, dreaming of a sunny London. By the Spring though we were back and squatting in the East End. I got a job at Camden Markets and that’s where in the early 90s I first noticed a scene – of sorts – emerging. That scene became Britpop. I wanted in. At the time though I was mainly hanging out on London’s gay scene and I just couldn’t find anyone like me. I remember I even chatted up Jimmy Somerville – that’s how desperate I was – he was having none of it. So I placed an ad in Melody Maker and the first person to respond was Simon Moore (guitarist in Lick). He was such a lovely quiet guy, totally happy just playing his guitar and recording stuff on his 4-track in his bedroom. He looked great. I thought: “You’re coming with me!”. It took ages though before we got an actual band together. For a long time we continued to record and write songs. By the time Britpop came along we were ready to take that step. Enter Andy Stone (drummer) and Simon Walker (bass) – the sweetest guys. I was like their mother though. In fact I was a complete bitch. We rehearsed until our fingers bled. We had to be great – there were so many bands – venues around London were spoilt for choice. Getting a decent gig was like winning the lottery. But we stood out. From day one we stood out. I had no doubt in my mind that we were special.”
Ads in the Melody Maker.
It is from these things that great bands are spawned.
Lick arrived in 1994 and within a few months GLR Radio were playing the demo of “Stand Up”. That song would eventually become their second single (following the limited edition release of “Come”/”Shirtlifter” and “Filming”) and it captures so many of the things that make Lick great. A fabulous chorus, riffs that shake you out of your boots, melody that makes you feel alive, a vocal that seems to have been produced in a Britpop “Weird Science” lab…a touch of Brett Anderson, a hint of John Lydon, a teeny weeny drop of Simon Le Bon!
Make your own mind up.
Good though innit?
“Suddenly we found ourselves playing a gig with Menswe@r that attracted every label in London. I remember that gig very clearly. Menswe@r were terrified. And they weren’t happy about going on after us. But, hey, they got that Melody Maker cover. Warner flew in Seymour Stein to see us the following week. We signed to WEA in December. That’s crazy, but, you know, I’d been waiting since I was 9 years old. I wasn’t going to pass that up. No matter how uncool it was to sign direct to a major [Note: Britpop rule No.1 NEVER sign to a major, NME and Melody Maker will hate you for it]“
Here is a quick reminder of why that is a big deal.
Stein is a legend.
He’s like Simon Cowell but with taste and a genuine understanding of and passion for pop music. So, not like Cowell in any way but I wanted to take a cheap shot at him…and I’m not sorry.
In December of 1994 this is what Stein had to say about Lick;
“Really glad I mustered up the strength to overcome jet-lag and see Lick on Saturday night. Once they were on stage I forgot that I was tired…couldn’t get the music out of my head and was up until well past 3 a.m….please DO NOT LOSE THIS DEAL.“
Gary is right of course, the music press don’t like people to be successful…unless it has been on their terms. Those terms are; we choose who we like, we tell everyone else who to like, we claim all the credit for your success and ride on your coat tails as a consequence. Signing direct to a major without the press playing any part in it does not meet those criteria.
That indier than thou attitude so beloved of London hipsters and Glasgow scenesters is bullshit. If you are in a band you should want to be the best band in the world and have your music heard by as many people as possible. The idea that you would want to skulk around in the shadows of some dive bar in Camden or on the Byers Road is just the worst sort of muso snobbery. I want my pop stars to be stars. I want them to sign autographs and be big in Japan or some other far flung exotic place…basically I want my bands to be able to tell me these two stories;
“I can remember the exact moment I was first asked to sign autographs. It was in York. Three girls were waiting outside the venue with our first single – a limited vinyl edition of ‘Come’. They were so excited. It was surreal: It was me, back in Sydney, waiting outside The Sebel Townhouse for The Pretenders, Joan Jett, Suzi Quatro… But what was even more amazing was that I’d got my band signed to the same label as that very first Pretenders album. Not by design. They just happened to be the ones who wanted us. I still have those singles, of course, they are precious to me. It was actually early in 1996 that we were invited to play in Bangkok of all places. We hopped off the plane and it was like we were already famous. Screaming fans at the airport, waiting for us in the hotel. We had fans in the UK too, but this was at another level. Britpop was huge there, with Suede, The Manic Street Preachers, Shed Seven (who were megastars) all playing to larger audiences than they did here in the UK. Our singles were played on the radio. Our headline show to 5,000 people went out live on TV. We arrived back in the UK in the middle of winter, back on the tube and back to work on our album.“
If you don’t love that then we can’t be friends any longer.
I still love you.
I’m just not in love with you.
It’s not me.
Britpop is often criticised for being too white, too straight, too laddish and too backwards looking. In some ways those criticisms are fair…but only in some ways. There were people of colour on the scene, there were softer sides to it and there were people looking forward and not just trying to regurgitate the Beatles back catalogue. There were gay faces and voices too of course; Debbie from Echobelly, Martin Rossiter from Gene would be the most obvious. Controversially Brett Anderson once claimed to be a “…bi-sexual man who has never had a homosexual experience.” Gary though was, and I do hate this phrase, openly gay…I hate it because I don’t have to be described as openly straight.
“That “I’m a bisexual man who has never had a homosexual experience” quote narked me at the time. I can tell you now, none of my gay friends fancied Brett Anderson! I certainly didn’t, I had my eye on the drummer in Elastica – my favourite band from that era. I did go to see Suede once though, in Brixton. I had to. There were comparisons. I went to see what all the ridiculous fuss was about. Half a song in I thought: “Shit. How am I going to compete with that?” There was absolutely no competition being flamingly gay though. There were probably others in bands at the time, but, perhaps wisely, they kept it quiet. It was a different time, you see. It wasn’t a great time to be gay and trying to make it in a band. It wasn’t a great time to be gay full stop. The community was still recovering from all that eighties AIDS hysteria in the media. And there was still no effective treatment for HIV, that didn’t come until around 1996 when Britpop was over. But something actually amazing happened within the gay scene at the same time as Britpop. It fractured. Prior to then, it was pretty much tops-off, muscle Mary dance clubs and leather bars. Suddenly you had clubs like Popstarz, Vaseline and Marvellous popping up and skinny gay guys like me started appearing out of nowhere. I remember thinking ‘Hang on a minute, I thought I was the only indie gay!’. That’s what, in effect, our single ‘Stand Up’ was about. It was a call to arms. I originally wanted the video to be full of misfits storming the streets of London. The band and label opted for a performance vid instead. I was outvoted. Ah, well, you know, you can’t control everything!“
I can remember visiting Popstarz during that same period and it makes me feel warm and fuzzy to think that I might have been strutting what little stuff I’ve got on the floor alongside Gary.
There isn’t a lot of Lick to…lick.
There was the debut single “Come” and its double-A side “Shirtlifter“. Then came “Filming” which was all sorts of wonderful…bouncy, anthemic, heartfelt, punky, spiky and generally ace. Then there was a final, glam stomper of a single “My Summer 31” and…it was all over. It hadn’t really started.
“After our singles failed to get even C-listed, and the A&R team who signed us left the label, Warner, as a last-ditch attempt, dumped us on a fledgling talent coordinator, Jonathan Dickins (who now manages Adele). Poor guy, he really didn’t know what to do with us. He didn’t sign us, why would he care? The writing was on the wall. The band wasn’t getting on. It was awful, so less than two years after we’d formed the other members decided they’d had enough. I felt really bad about the tour we advertised and cancelled. We were gaining fans all the time through coverage in Fanzines and word of mouth. But everyone else felt it just wasn’t going to work out for Lick.” remembers Gary today. As he describes it you get the feeling that even though it was all a long time ago and he has very definitely moved on that he feels that there is unfinished business.
He is right.
There is unfinished business.
There is a Lick album.
Twelve songs that showcase just how brilliant a band they were and how wonderful Gary was as a writer, singer and pop star.
“I have the album, of course. I think because it came at the very end of Britpop I really thought that its time had come and gone. But with the resurgence in interest in Britpop, Warner might release it eventually. Who knows? It’s a good album.“
He is wrong.
It isn’t a good album.
It’s a great album. It is one of those albums that reminds you why you care about pop music the way that you do. It sounds like a Britpop record and at the same time it sounds utterly and absolutely fresh. It wears its heart and its influences on its sleeve and in its grooves but manages to sound only like…Lick.
When Mr Easton of Rockhampton described that meteorite back in 1903 he said that it…”lit up the country for miles around with a bright green flare, and then faded away to a pink colour.” Lick were just like that meteorite, they burned bright, they burned fierce, people saw it, people remember it and, yes, they have faded away but I have a feeling that there might be one last burst to come.
Not licked yet.