Deaf School. Despite a lot of promotion and great press, a band which, on the face of it didn’t achieve a margin of success. However, the solo careers that got started with the band went on to grab that elusive success and the band itself became the stuff of inspiration for a lot of bands which followed over the years.
Maybe it was down to timing – maybe starting off as Art Rockers and then gradually morphing into New Wave and post-Punk may have been a perplexing move to fans. Hard to say. I remember when Warners sent a copy of 2nd Honeymoon and listening to it several times, trying to figure out if this wasn’t the reissue of a band from three years earlier and America was just getting around to discovering them. Certainly not the first time – we’ve always been a little slow in places, especially picking up on new things. But no. 1976, aside from being the Summer of Punk was also the Summer of Deaf School – and therein lay the rub.
Deaf School was originally made up of students and staff at Liverpool Art College. They were named after their rehearsal venue, a former school for the deaf that became a college annex. Their initial aim was to play the college’s 1973 Christmas dance. Their lead male vocalist, Enrico Cadillac Jr. recalled that “Anyone who wanted to be in it could be. There were about 13 on stage at that time. No one could play – it was based on people we thought were interesting . . we entered (and) . . won the Melody Maker rock and folk contest and were suddenly a big deal. We signed to Warners because their A&R guy, Derek Taylor, had been The Beatles publicist and when he saw us rehearsing in Mathew Street, he cried his eyes out”.
The informal early line-up was gradually whittled down, though live shows were still chaotic and colourful, marked by their diversity of costumes and instrumentation, with strong elements of performance art. Deaf School’s debut album, 2nd Honeymoon, was released in the UK in the summer of 1976. But its reception at the time was muted by the sudden popularity of punk rock, a style whose anger and urgency seemed at odds with Deaf School’s more whimsical and eclectic approach. The band itself appeared to address this problem on subsequent albums Don’t Stop The World (1977) and English Boys/Working Girls (1978), which were more aggressive and focused. Despite some lavish promotion by Warner Brothers and their continued popularity as a live act, however, Deaf School did not achieve significant chart success. In 1977 their first two albums were re-packaged together for the US market and several American dates were played in support, but no commercial breakthrough was made. By mutual consent the band left Warner Brothers in 1978 and pursued separate careers.
This session, for John Peel came right at the time of the release of 2nd Honeymoon and includes my favorite, What A Way To End It All which became their first single.
You may have missed them the first time around, especially in the States. But they probably sound very familiar. I ran a concert of theirs, also from 1976, a few years ago. But for the next 16 or so minutes, go back to 1976 and pretend.