27 Liverpool bands and musicians that have shaped our city forever
4 years ago
We could go on forever with a list of Liverpool bands and musicians who have shaped our city, let’s start with these 27.
Liverpool is home to the biggest band in the world – we’ll leave that one to your imagination, but we’ve never been short of chart-topping, dance-floor filling talent in any decade, and the music doesn’t stop playing at the end of this list as our music scene continues to flourish into new decade too.
Here are 27 (of many) Liverpool bands and musicians that have shaped a city that has music etched in its heart.
1 – The Beatles
Travel to whichever end of the earth you choose, take it back to the beginning and meet us somewhere in the middle, but whichever way you take it, no matter what your sound, no matter which era you hit upon first – The Beatles are still the biggest band in the world.
John, Paul, George and Ringo continue to be the most loved and famous Scousers the city has ever produced, and as well as their considerable influence on every aspiring musician and vocalist back home, it’s impossible to imagine the evolution of music without their contribution as a band of four daydreaming Liverpool lads who made it happen.
While the world continues to be fascinated by The Fab Four a new version of their 1969 documentary Let It Be is set to re-edited by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson and released this year alongside the original film to mark the 50th anniversary of the sessions.
The Let It Be sessions feature 55 hours of footage, 140 hours of audio – and reveal huge tensions within the band which were previously edited out of the original. John Lennon is experimenting with heroin, George walks out after clashing with McCartney, and with Ringo aware of the fractures and subdued throughout, it’s described as The Beatles darkest era but a fascinating insight into the highs and lows of a band who continue to captivate.
2 – Gerry and the Pacemakers
At the forefront of Merseybeat in 1962 Gerry and the Pacemakers were signed by Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein and from March to October 1963 were the first band ever to score three consecutive UK Nº1s with their first three singles – How Do You Do It, I Like It and You’ll Never Walk Alone – until 20 years later in 1984 when in a spooky twist of Liverpool music fate, Frankie Goes to Hollywood did the exact same thing…
When they weren’t breaking UK Chart records, over at Anfield Gerry & the Pacemakers were about to become synonymous with one of the world’s most famous football anthems.
You’ll Never Walk Alone held Nº1 for four weeks, playing as the last song at the top of the charts as LFC headed onto the pitch as the crowds chorused.
In 1964, the band followed up with another three Top Ten hits including Ferry ‘Cross The Mersey which reached Nº8, became a movie and the ultimate soundtrack to our city which endures to this day. In 1989, the track was rereleased by Stock Aitken Waterman, holding the Nº1 spot for three weeks featuring Gerry Marsden, Paul McCartney, Holly Johnson and The Christians in support of The Hillsborough disaster.
It only took two years for the band to bring us two world-famous tracks the city will never forget. Good going, guys.
3 – Elvis Costello
Christened Declan Patrick MacManus at Holy Cross Church, Birkenhead, after living in London with frequent holidays to visit family in Liverpool, Elvis Costello moved back to his parents’ native Liverpool in 1971, studying at St Francis Xavier’s college, forming his first band and playing his first gigs around the city.
Elvis Costello and The Attractions scored their breakout hit in 1977 with Watching the Detectives and in December that year, made US headlines after a controversial appearance on Saturday Night Live when Elvis defied producers and played Radio, Radio – an anti-commercial media track which captivated just the right audience who became his loyal US fanbase.
Based in New York and inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2003, the LFC fan and critically-acclaimed musician and singer still considers Liverpool his home, scoring his biggest US single in 1989 with Top 20 hit Veronica co-written by Paul McCartney, while his biggest UK hit Oliver’s Army reached Nº2 in 1979 and featured Hoylake Road’s Clockwork Orange Café on the sleeve.
4 – The Real Thing
Liverpool Soul group The Real Thing were one of the biggest bands of the 1970s with multi-million selling hits in the UK and US including debut single 1976 Nº1 You To Me Are Everything followed by Can’t Get By Without You reaching Nº2 that year and in 1979 Disco dance stomper Can You Feel The Force? placed at Nº5.
In 1986 remixes of these hits brought their sound to a whole new audience and in total the trio scored five Top Ten international hits, two UK Nº1s and a Top Ten re-chart, featuring in Freeloader’s So Much Love To Give in 2005. Back at Liverpool Philharmonic to celebrate the 40th anniversary of You To Me Are Everything in October 2020, The Real Thing continue to prove they’re the real deal.
5 – Deaf School
These Liverpool College of Art students originally formed to play the end of term Christmas party in 1973 and went on to win a Melody Maker competition and sign to Warner Brothers, releasing three albums between 1976-78. Despite never quite lighting the torch-fires of UK music fame, Deaf School remain revered as a genre-defying creative force.
Returning to Liverpool with intermittent tours and an ardent fanbase Deaf School are synonymous with Eric’s Club on Mathew Street were they played on opening night, managed by one of the club’s driving forces and mentor to a young Freddie Mercury – Ken Testi. Their Music Hall sensibilities, theatrical presence and seamy soundtrack influenced an entire generation of homegrown talent including Teardrop Explodes, Echo And The Bunnymen, Big In Japan, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and music journalist Paul Du Noyer who wrote Deaf School: the Non-Stop Pop Art Punk Rock Party marking the band’s 40th anniversary in 2013.
6 – Big in Japan
This brief but significant interlude in local music history arrived in 1977 with some fine ingredients but unfortunately no recipe for success. Big in Japan featured Bill Drummond, a Scottish craftsman working at Everyman Theatre who became co-founder of The KLF; Baltic Creative impresario and all-round cultural icon Jayne Casey; The Lightening Seeds’ Ian Broudie; Ambrose Reynolds, director of St Luke’s Church; Holly Johnson of Frankie, and St Helens-born Siouxsie & The Banshees drummer, Budgie.
The band played their final gig at Eric’s in ’78 but their EP From Y to Z and Never Again led to the founding of Zoo Records – responsible for early releases from Wah! Heat, Echo & The Bunnymen and Julian Cope by Drummond and future Food records-founder, David Balfe who went on to sign Strawberry Switchblade, Voice of The Beehive, Zodiac Mindwarp, Kula Shaker and Blur – who wrote Country House in his honour.
7 – Orchestral Manoeuvres in The Dark
Inspired by bands like Kraftwerk coming out from the German Electronic movement, Wirral-duo Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys took to the stage in 1978 at Erik’s before Tony Wilson signed the band who released debut single Electricity with Factory Records.
After supporting Gary Numan, OMD quickly established themselves as household names in the early 80s with 18 Top 40 singles including Enola Gay (Nº8) Souvenir (Nº3) Joan of Arc (Nº5) and Maid Of Orleans (Nº4) but despite their million-selling hits, 1983 album Dazzle Ships proved far too darkly experimental for their commercial following.
After a cheeky chart comeback with Sailing On The Seven Seas (Nº3) and Pandora’s Box (Nº7) in 1991, OMD took time out during the 90’s as Andy McCluskey focused on managing Pop trio Atomic Kitten who scored a No. 1 hit single in 2001 with the McCluskey co-written song Whole Again. Back for 2020, OMD are currently celebrating their 40th anniversary with a greatest hits tour.
8 – The Teardrop Explodes
Arriving from South Wales for teacher training at City of Liverpool College, Julian Cope plunged into the post-Punk scene forming The Crucial Three with Pete Wylie and Ian McCulloch before the kind of robust creative tension destined to mar the fortunes of three future frontmen resulted in McCulloch and Wylie following their own paths and The Teardrop Explodes – a name taken from Marvel comic strip, Daredevil – went forth…
Julian Cope confesses he would ‘ride imaginary horses to the studio’ to record debut album Kilimanjaro which produced Reward – a dulcet, radio-friendly Ska infusion which became a Nº6 hit in 1981 with the quite traffic-stopping opening inspired by an early session with John Peel: ‘Bless my cotton socks, I’m in the news.’ And thanks to a Top 20 hit World Shut Your Mouth in 1986 and a new advent as a Norse historian and all-round, leather-wearing cultural repository, Julian Cope stayed there.
9 – The Mighty WAH!
After playing their first gig at Eric’s Wah! Heat were supporting The Psychedelic Furs on the night the club was raided and never reopened in March 1980. A core component of the scene, after involvement in bands like The Crucial Three and English Opium Eaters with Ian Broudie and Frankie’s Paul Rutherford, Pete Wylie’s Mighty Wah! championed by John Peel, hit up the 80s with Better Scream, Seven Minutes to Midnight and biggest hit The Story of the Blues reaching Nº3 in 1982 followed by critically-acclaimed Top 30 album A Word To The Wise Guy in 1984.
The 1986 anthem Sinful! featuring vocalist Josie Jones went to Nº3 and was reprised in 1991 with The Farm Sinful! (Scary Jiggin’ with Doctor Love). In 1990, Pete laid vocals on Club-release It’s Grim Up North with Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (the new project of old mate and KLF co-founder Bill Drummond), and in 1998 the album Songs of Strength and Heartbreak brought us Heart As Big As Liverpool used in the official Hillsborough tribute video and adopted by LFC fans as an anthem as emotive as Ferry ‘Cross The Mersey but with an added timeless poignancy for the city.
10 – The Icicle Works
Top 20 hit Love Is a Wonderful Colour introduced the world to The Icicle Works in 1983 with continued success in 1984 with Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly). The Icicle Works continued to chart in the UK and US through the 1980s until lead singer/songwriter McNabb embarked on a solo career reaching the UK Top 40 with Let The Young Girl Do What She Wants To in 2005.
A popular frontman on the live circuit with one hell of a memory and the anecdotes to make it matter Ian McNabb wrote Merseybeast: A Musical Memoir in 2008 chronicling ‘what happens when you (almost) get everything you ever wanted.’ 2016 brought Respectfully Yours a cover album including tracks by The Bee Gees, Doors and Scott Walker, and Star Smile Strong, Ian’s eleventh studio album was released in April 2017.
11 – Echo & The Bunnymen
Led by the dulcet Ian McCulloch, the band gained a huge American following thanks to a knack for nabbing appearances on movie soundtracks including John Hughes’ 1986 Pretty in Pink, a cover of The Doors‘ People are Strange for the 1987 Lost Boys soundtrack, and The Killing Moon featured in ’97’s Grosse Pointe Blank and Donnie Darko in 2001. More recently, Netflix’ Stranger Things included Ocean Rain’s Nocturnal Me.
After early collaborations with Julian Cope and Pete Wylie, Echo & The Bunnymen formed in 1978 with McCulloch, Sergeant and Pattinson initially backed by drum machine as they played their debut gig at Eric’s that November.
Drummer Pete de Freitas joined by the time they released 1980 debut album Crocodiles, and went on to score three UK Top Ten hits – The Cutter (1983) Nothing Lasts Forever (1997) and The Killing Moon (1984) along with six UK Top 20 albums including Porcupine (Nº2 in 1983) Ocean Rain (Nº4 in 1984) and Echo & The Bunnymen (Nº4 in 1987) providing a pretty good reason for Echo & The Bunnymen to continue to play sell out gigs.
12 – Flock of Seagulls
Sometimes a band’s legacy exceeds their music, and that’s certainly the case for Flock of Seagulls who recreated what it meant to flaunt serious fringe appeal during the early 80s. The bird-shaped eye-sweeper in question was famously referenced by Adam Sandler & co in The Wedding Singer and even got a mention in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction!
Away from the hairspray and back on the 1982 music front, Mike Score (of fringe fame), brother, Ali, bassist Frank Maudsley and guitarist Paul Reynolds also showed real dedication to only writing song titles with lots of brackets – scoring an Australian Nº1 and worldwide hit with I Ran (So Far Away), while their most recognisable UK hit Wishing (If I Had A Photograph of You) reached Nº10, followed by the release of The More You Live (The More You Love) in 1984.
13 – Frankie Goes to Hollywood
The most controversial single of 1984, Relax was famously banned by the BBC – and went on to top the UK charts for five consecutive weeks of fluid-soaked SFX, young kids not understanding what all the fuss about coming was about and outraged parents shuddering at the sight of oversized Frankie Says Relax t-shirts.
Frankie – made up of Holly Johnson, Mark O’Toole, Paul Rutherford, Peter Gill and Brian Nash – went on to win 1985 BRIT awards for Best Single and British Breakthrough Act, with the song receiving Grammy and MTV award nominations in the US, where they gained a loyal following becoming synonymous with The Second British Invasion of the USA along with bans like The Police, Eurythmics, Culture Club and Duran Duran.
Along with a Nº1 album Welcome to the Pleasuredome, the group became the second act in the history of the UK charts to have their first three singles – Relax, Two Tribes and The Power of Love – hit the top spot since Gerry and the Pacemakers in the 1960s.
14 – Dead or Alive
Led by voracious Port Sunlight frontman Pete Burns alongside Mike Percy on bass, Steve Coy on drums and keyboardist Tim Lever, Dead or Alive’s most famous hit arrived in 1985 with You Spin Me Round (Like A Record, Baby) from debut album, Youthquake.
The band went on to score seven UK Top 40 hits and three Top 30 albums as well as an international club following which led to worldwide sales of 28 million singles and 30 million albums. We bid farewell to former Probe record shop counter terrorist and agent provocateur Pete Burns in 2016 following unforgettable appearances on Celebrity Big Brother and Celebrity Wife Swap.
15 – The Christians
Double-platinum debut album The Christians entered the album chart at Nº1 in 1987 – the highest-selling debut album of any artist at Island Records. The Christian brothers Garry, Russell and Roger brought us a steady supply of socially-aware Soul courtesy of ten UK Top 40s including 1987’s Forgotten Town, When The Fingers Point, Ideal World and their biggest hit Harvest For The World (Nº8) in 1988.
In 1990 their second album Colour went to Nº1 with Top 20 hit Words along with I Found Out and Greenbank Drive. And in 1992, third album Happy In Hell reached Nº18 and included the singles What’s In A Word and The Bottle. The Christians are touring throughout 2020 to mark the 30th anniversary of their 1990 Nº1 album, Colour.
16 – The La’s
Formed in 1983 with songwriter Lee Mavers and John Power (Cast) on bass the group released their self-titled debut album to critical success reaching Nº30 in 1990 and hit the big time that year with the rerelease of There She Goes reaching Nº13 and continuing onto soundtracks including Mike Myers’ So I Married an Axe Murderer, Lynsey Lohan movie The Parent Trap, Nick Hornby adaptation Fever Pitch and Channel 4’s This is England.
It wasn’t an easy ride for this legendary band, with debut album setbacks due to almost continuous re-recordings and a general feeling of creative dissatisfaction which left The La’s advising fans not to buy the record. The release was met with critical acclaim and a loyal fanbase nevertheless, ranked at Nº13 in Rolling Stone’s 40 Greatest One-Album Wonders and a huge inspiration of the next generation of musicians about to turn an acoustic corner into The 90s….
17 – Cast
Former member of The La’s John Power put the city at the helm of 90’s Brit Pop with bandmates Liam Tyson, Keith O’Neill and Jay Lewis occupying supporting slots on Elvis Costello and Oasis tours – during which Noel Gallagher described watching their live shows as an ‘almost religious experience’ and led to comparisons in the music press to The Who.
The Oasis tour led to a record deal, with Cast’s first album All Change – the first of three UK Top Ten albums – becoming the fastest-selling debut for Polydor records reaching Nº7 with singles Alright (Nº13) Finetime (Nº17) Sandstorm (Nº8) and Walkaway (Nº9). But it was 96’s standalone single Flying which gave Cast the highest spot with a UK Nº4 which was followed by 1997’s Nº3 album Mother Nature Calls and another four Top Ten hits – Free Me (Nº7), Guiding Star (Nº9), Live the Dream (Nº7) and Beat Mama (Nº9).
Currently on tour catch up with the latest from The Cast here
18 – The Farm
Proper loveable Scalliwags on a mission, their 1991 album Spartacus went straight to the top of the album charts with two singles Groovy Train (Nº6) and All Together Now (Nº4) produced by Madness’ lead singer Suggs already hit the Top Ten in the UK and US in 1990, becoming rave anthems for an entire generation of cottoned-on clubbers.
In 2012 The Farm took Spartacus on the road as part of The Justice Tonight Band in support of The Hillsborough Campaign for Justice, supporting The Stone Roses at Heaton Park, and grabbing holding of a Christmas Nº1 with a cover of He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother. And in 2004 All Together Now written about the 1914 WWI Christmas Day truce was rereleased to Nº5 with a host of celebrity vocalists including Gabrielle, Julian Lennon, David Gray and S.F.X. Boys Choir to raise funds for The British Red Cross.
19 – The Lightning Seeds
Ultimately becoming synonymous with Frank Skinner’s and David Baddiel’s Nº1 England football anthem Three Lions in ’97, Ian Broudie was initially better known as a Liverpool-based producer. Broudie worked with bands including Echo & The Bunnymen and The Fall in the 80s, Brit Pop staples Dodgy, Sleeper and Republica in the 90s, and in The Noughties he produced albums for Texas, The Zutons, The Coral’s first four releases and most recently Miles Kane in 2013.
Broudie sang, played and produced all tracks on The Lightening Seeds first album Cloudcuckooland before his melodies including Pure, The Life of Riley, Sense and Lucky You became the radio-friendly soundtrack to the 90s along with albums Sense (1992) Jollification (1994) and Dizzy Heights (1996) producing five UK Top 40 hits. The band are back on the road this year to mark the 25th anniversary of Jollification with a series of sold out shows across the UK.
20 – Space
These Psychedelic Indie Scousers brought us a door-by-door of their native Stockbridge Village in Neighbourhood in 1996 which first charted at Nº56 in April before Spiders became a Nº5 album in September and a November rerelease of the single took the track to Nº11 after they went all Tony Christie with Female of the Species in June (Nº14).
1997 got off to a respectable start with Dark Clouds (Nº14) followed by a new album Tin Planet which brought top ten hit Avenging Angels (Nº6), and a 1998 collaboration with Cerys Matthews produced a Nº4 ballad dedicated to world-famous Welshman Tom Jones. Back on the road, Space return to the festival circuit this year.
21 – Melanie C
There was no escaping The 90s phenomenon known as The Spice Girls who in July 1996 spent 7 weeks at Nº1 with Wannabe but there was more to Mel C than spice or sport.
A Nº3 collaboration with Bryan Adams in 1998 had us all going ‘how did that happen?’ Before January 2000 saw Never Be The Same Again featuring TLC’s Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes who tragically passed away in 2002, went straight in at Nº1 across Europe, knocking Geri Halliwell off the top spot and going on to sell over 1 million copies. Later that year, Melanie returned to the top of the charts with I Turn To You.
In 2019 minus Vicki Beckham-Spice, Mel C joined the Spice World tour before heading off with Sink the Pink creative collective to tour PRIDE celebrations across the world, performing a selection of Spice favourites, biggest hits and new song, High Heels.
22 – Atomic Kitten
The original line-up of OMD star Andy McCluskey’s band was Liverpool’s Liz McClarnon, Warrington’s Kerry Katona and Sugababe’s Heidi Range, who was replaced by another Liverpool chick in the form of Natasha Hamilton in 1999.
Jenny Frost joined after Kerry left the band in 2002 to marry Westlife’s Brian McFadden and became a tabloid regular as well as I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!’s first Queen of the Jungle in 2004 and runner-up of Celebrity Big Brother in 2011.
Atomic Kitten went on to to celebrate three Nº1s with Whole Again and Eternal Flame in 2001 and a cover of Blondie’s Tide Is High 2002 with a total of 13 Top Ten hits which kept those kittens firmly in the spotlight with success all over the globe. Whole Again became one of the biggest pop singles in UK charts history and the Scouse superstars sold over 10 million records world wide. G’wed girls!
23 – The Coral
Former pupils of Hilbre High, Hoylake’s The Coral were still at school when they formed in 1996, and only a few years later in 2002 their 1960s, Country, Indie-hybrid gave the band their first Top Twenty hit with Dreaming Of You (Nº13) and led to three UK Top Ten hits starting with Don’t Think You’re The First (Nº10) a 2003 Nº5 with Pass It On and a Nº6 with In The Morning in 2005.
The Coral have an incredible nine Top Twenty albums including the Nº1 Magic and Medicine from 2003, with three Top Fives in the shape of their 2002 debut The Coral; Nightfreak And The Sons Of Becker from 2004 and 2005’s Invisible Invasion. The band are back where they belong, headlining festivals and playing gigs a plenty. This year they are on tour supporting Supergrass at Manchester’s O2 Victoria Warehouse in February and Alexandra Palace London in March.
24 – The Zutons
In 2001, Dave McCabe formed The Zutons, naming the band after a Captain Beefheart album and quickly drawing crowds on the local gig circuit along with the attention of the music press – particularly thanks to the inclusion of Sean Payne’s stunning sax-playing girlfriend Abi Harding.
Their 2004 debut album Who Killed…The Zutons was produced by The Lightening Seeds’ Ian Broudie and produced singles including You Will You Won’t and Confusion but it was second album Tired of Hanging Around that put The Zutons firmly on the map with Why Won’t You Give Me Your Love? and Valerie both reaching Nº9 – with a cover by Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson hitting Nº2 in 2006 and spawning a tribute from the cast of GLEE!
25 – The Wombats
These Indie music marsupials are the threesome consisting of lead vocalist and guitarist Matthew Murphy, drummer Dan Haggis and bassist Tord Øverland Knudsen who met at LIPA in 2003 and went on to sell over 1 million albums and won an NME award in 2008 for Let’s Dance to Joy Divison.
Still wombatting away to their hearts content The Wombats 2019 tour included a stop-off at Wembley Arena – but it’s in Australia where the band found their biggest fanbase with continuous headline shows and a cult following – must be the name.
26 – Rebecca Ferguson
We cheered her on every Saturday night on 2010’s X Factor and when she lost out to Matt Cardle we knew the good luck of the X factor runner-up was on her side – not that Rebecca needed it with extraordinary vocal ability and head-turning good looks.
Rebecca’s first release Nothing’s Real But Love gave her a Nº10 hit from her Nº3 debut album Heaven and with another three Top Ten albums including Lady Sings The Blues featuring a collection of Billie Holiday covers and three Top Twenty singles, Rebecca continues to evolve as an artist Liverpool loves. You can see her live this Spring at Grand Central Hall.
27 – Camelphat
They claim they came up with their name because, ‘Mike and Dave just wouldn’t cut it’ but whatever the inspiration, Liverpool DJ and production duo Dave Whelan and Mike Di Scala are currently dominating the dance floor across the planet. best We all loved their collaboration with UK dance act Elderbrook on one of the biggest hits of 2017, with the atmospheric anthem Cola which peaked at Nº 3 on the UK Dance Chart, and Nº18 in the UK Singles Chart.
Fresh from a world tour, the Grammy nominated duo got back to their underground roots at Bramley Moore Dock in Liverpool in November 2019 with a one-off appearance and our buzzin to get back on the Fezzy circuit during 2020 including a headline set at Creamfields this August!