THE RHYTHM & THE TIDE by Mike Badger & Tim Peacock (Liverpool University Press, 2015)
As founder member of The La’s, Mike Badger is no stranger to interview requests. However, more often than not it’s not his version of events journalists actually want to hear. All too frequently, his insights are edited out from the story of a band who could have been to Liverpool what Oasis are to Manchester but instead ended up being regarded as little more than one-hit wonders.
Subtitled ‘Liverpool, The La’s and Ever After’, The Rhythm & The Tide finally gives Badger the opportunity to explain how he overcame early disillusionment to forge a modest yet varied and fulfilled career as a musician. artist and record label founder. Above all, this is the tale of a man with no axes to grind but a compelling story to tell.
Badger was not part of The La’s by the time they released their eponymous debut album in 1990 nor responsible for them slipping into a permanent hiatus. This record contained the instant classic There She Goes, two minutes of 42 seconds of pop brilliance which remains the primary reason why songwriter Lee Mavers has been erroneously hailed as a reclusive pop genius to rank beside Syd Barrett or Brian Wilson. Although Badger is clearly in awe of Mavers’ talent, this doesn’t blind him to his faults and self destructive traits; “he was like a kite caught up a tree”, he notes sadly.
It becomes evident that if Mavers could have somehow modified his obsessive striving for perfectionism and been more of a team player, the early promise of the band might have reached fruition. As it is, a proposed sophomore album based on a collaboration with Badger came to nothing when Mavers’ effectively scuppered the project.
Badger wisely decided to cut his losses to form another band,The Onset. With this combo he created a unique “brand of Hank Williams, roots-influenced rock” which clocked up more mileage on European tours than record sales. Of their eventual demise he recalls “The Onset had one of the gentlest deaths in rock and roll. In fact, as I recall, we never really officially split up”.
It was through this band that Mike Badgers and Tim Peacock first crossed paths. Tim enthusisatically reviewed a gig of theirs for Sounds magazine and thereafter continued to sing Badger’s praises in Whisperin’ & Hollerin’, the website ‘zine he manages. This included publicizing his work as co-founder of Viper Records, a Liverpool-based label that has released over 100 albums of eclectic and eccentric compliations and unearthed numerous unknown or neglected songs over a wide range of genres.
Badger accurately identified Tim as man on the same wavelength who could help put his thoughts into book-shaped form. In doing so he has generously (and correctly) elevated him to the role of co-author rather than mere ghost writer.
This book does not set out to be a defintive history of The La’s, instead it’s a portrait of a man with a key insight into the city of Liverpool at a significant point of its rich cultural history. It is also a valuable case study on how to retain a level of humanity, sanity and artistic integrity within a charged and divisive political climate. This was, after all, a period in which Margaret Thatcher’s right-wing ideology maintained there is no such thing as society.
With Tim’s help and guidance, the book entertainingly covers the key moments in Badger’s adult life in chronological sequence. Although published by Liverpool University Press, there are no pretentions to academic rigour. Instead, it reads more like an edited and expanded version of a personal diary. The conversational, anecdotal style means that his family and friends are placed on an equal, if not higher, standing to the musical mavericks he has encountered: people like Captain Beefheart, Frank Sidebottom, Ian Broudie and Jonathan Richman.
It is perhaps a little ironic that Badger has gained more acclaim as a sculptor of recycled and found objects than as a musician. What started as a casual passtime building model robots, cars and spaceships out of discarded tin cans gradually led to more ambitious projects and commisions from galleries, highly successful exhibitions and an appearance on the long running UK kids TV show Blue Peter.
Badger is a prime example of the often underestimated benefits of simply going with the flow. He exemplifies the advantages of following your heart and creative insticts rather than slavishly pursuing financial gain.