A long-time fan of the music that came out of Liverpool, seems I joined the party a little too late. This because I had no idea that in 1977 Peter Jozzeppi Burns, otherwise to be known as Pete Burns, having joined with contemporaries Pete Wylie, Phil Hurst and once Tamworth resident Julian Cope to form the short-lived band The Mystery Girls. They played one gig, opening for Sham 69, at venue Eric’s Club, in Liverpool. What I have been able to find brings to mind James Auton’s Professional Cynic #11, posted earlier this month (7th July 2023) in GIITTV. Here he asks the question “What if there were no internet”, probably standing in the queue at the bank for one, but without easy access to these facts our lives might be a lot less rich and access to this information would not have been so readily available. Shortly after this show this band disintegrated, leaving me thinking that had they not, we may not have heard the likes of Julian Cope’s The Teardrop Explodes, or his Peggy Suicide, Pete Wylie’s WAH! and their ‘Story Of The Blues’, a fact that might’ve been lost to time. More importantly for this tale, Pete Burns may not have reunited with Phil Hurst, creating the band Nightmares in Wax.
A familiar theme emerged as this band would play their first gig at Eric’s in support of post-punk icons Wire. This time rather than split, they would record for the Eric’s Records label. So it’s Nightmares in Wax where we start, as the recordings on Let Them Drag My Soul Away are brought to my ears. NiW’s debut recordings would emerge as the E.P. Birth of a Nation. This E.P. would comprise three tracks, starting with the suggestive ‘Black Leather’. Comprising the even more suggestive lyrics, among which Pete sings “I like ’em big, tall, strong and twelve inches long in black leather/I like ’em hefty or lean as a written cuisine in Black Leather,” later on taking in part lyrics from KC and the Sunshine Band‘s ‘That’s The Way (I Like It)”. If this is not enough, it gets even filthier the further into the song you proceed. DJ Mike Read would’ve been having kittens. Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Relax’ was a walk in the park, Mike. Thankfully, this E.P. was for club consumption more than it was for air-play, but a banging tune it is. Continuing with the fun-fair inspired ‘Girl Song’, during which Pete tells us “I’ve got one thing that money can’t buy, not a car, not a house, it’s a guy,” firmly nailing his colours to the mast. The final part of this early E.P. concludes with ‘Shangri-La’, a wonderful example, displaying this earthly paradise, wearing early ’80s alternative dance loud and proud. Two 1985 mixes of ‘Girl Song’ and ‘Shangri-La’ are offered on this first disc, but on the second, 4-track demo versions recorded in 1979, are provided. These to ‘Black Leather’, ‘Girl Song’, ‘Shangri-La’ and a song we’ve not heard before, ‘I’ll Turn Away’ in which Burns shows a sense of confusion and vulnerability, displayed within the lyrics. The general feel to NIW’s songs, perhaps rather than out-and-out dance music, are in fact early signs of where goth or indie music was heading. The strong bass line and wailing vocalist, a definite suggestion.
The rest of the set comprises early Dead Or Alive numbers, again which suggest early post-punk and even proto-goth, although I would say with an ear on funk. This is not surprising as Pete Burns was ‘discovered’ working in Liverpool’s Probe Records during the punk-rock explosion of the later ’70s and this set is a sign of the growing evolution of the music that brought us Dead Or Alive. Through ‘Number Eleven’ which continues to display those influences, almost unrecognisable from their SAW phase of ‘You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)’. And from the 9-minute demo and the Peel Sessions of the single ‘Misty Circles’, which featured guitars provided by Wayne Hussey, in a guise that would bring a different kind of fan to their watering hole. To ‘Namegame’, with definite early Mission in tow, through the Bow Wow Wow tenancies of ‘It’s Been Hours Now’. To the wailing of ‘Whirlpool’ and its Echo and the Bunnymen traces, another demonstration that would see the rise of this scene. The track ‘Nowhere To Nowhere’ has a great sound, with cues responsible for the alternative dance scene of the early ’80s. This is a heady soup comprising a leadership that I’m unsure they knew they were providing at the time, but it’s there. There are 39 tracks, admittedly many of them reworkings of the same song, which over nearly three hours of music offer up a soundscape that is refreshing to hear. This is accompanied by sleeve notes from band members Wayne Hussey and drummer Joe Musker, as well as manager Francesco Mellina. The press release describes this as “A long overdue showcase for the formative years of one of the post-punk and 80s pop scene’s most memorable figures” and this is one statement I can’t disagree with.
Pete Burns sadly died on the 23rd of October 2016 at the age of 57, from a sudden cardiac arrest. This set also includes tributes being paid to him as far afield as MP George Galloway, who said of Burns that he was “a cross between Oscar Wilde and Dorothy Parker” and Boy George, who described him as “one of our true eccentrics”. This set is a fine tribute to the artist who should be remembered fondly, as an innovator who sang his way to stardom, from his beginnings behind a record counter in Liverpool, dressed in Vivienne Westwood.