Mike Badger: The Rhythm & The Tide (Book review)


Mike Badger and Tim Peacock – The Rhythm & The Tide: Liverpool, The La’s And Ever After (Liverpool University Press)

If you want to know what this great book is about you need do no more than check out its brilliantly evocative title, which offers a perfect summary. It’s a book about music and about Liverpool, about the early years of one of the city’s most iconic bands and the life story of the man who founded that band. The rhythm and the tide…music pulses through this book, as does the port city where Mike Badger has always lived – though as we learn, the unpredictable tides of life have carried him to many different places, spiritually as well as geographically.

The aforementioned band was of course The La’s, whose Eighties hit There She Goes is one of those records that will never be forgotten. Badger set up the band and thought of its name, which is not as many assume taken from Scouse slang. He explains that it came to him in a dream, and that when he contemplated it the next morning ‘I thought it sounded musical, like a musical note on the scale: la.’ But the story of The La’s is just one thread in this richly varied tale. There have been other bands as well, and all along Badger has had another career, as a talented and successful artist (specializing in sculpture). Early on he was also a performance poet, and then there’s Viper, the record company he runs which has released around a hundred albums. He and his co-author, the music journalist Tim Peacock, certainly don’t have a shortage of material and you read the book wondering what the next page will bring.

Badger and Peacock adopt a chronological approach, and we begin by hearing about Badger’s early formative musical experiences: visiting the newly opened Probe Records on Button Street in 1976, aged 14, and then in 1977 going to a Dr Feelgood show at the Liverpool Empire that ‘literally changed my life forever’. Within a few years he was reciting his poetry at gigs, hanging out at Eric’s and meeting key players on the Liverpool music scene, including Roger Eagle, Paul Rutherford, Ian McCulloch, Julian Cope and Pete Wylie. Someone else he met was Lee Mavers, the complex, unpredictable musician who joined Mike Badger in the early La’s, remained with the band when Badger fell out with him and left after two and a half years, and was leading the group when they had their chart success. Badger clearly had (and still has) a lot of affection and respect for Mavers, but there’s exasperation and annoyance too, with plenty of memorable anecdotes to suggest why this is. He describes in detail attempts to re-form The La’s in the Nineties: how he and Mavers re-kindled their friendship, only for their fragile working relationship to break down again. The book’s front cover has a nice photograph of Badger and Mavers in the backyard of a house on Falkner Street (where Badger had a flat), practising with their guitars. Looking back, Badger sums up the band’s achievement well: ‘We brought back driving acoustic guitars to Liverpool and reminded people what a good tune and riff can do for you.’

When he left The La’s Badger formed The Onset, a band which lasted for nearly ten years and which came to have three ex-La’s as members. Since then there have been other bands, including most recently Mike Badger’s Shady Trio, who have performed many barnstorming gigs in and around Liverpool. His other musical projects have included, somewhat bizarrely, co-composing the theme tune for the television series Doctors.

One of the most appealing aspects of the book is that as well as a practitioner Badger clearly loves listening to records himself. He has a commendably catholic taste, and we hear about his enthusiasm for Fifties rockabilly singer Charlie Feathers, punk rock, Hank Williams and Captain Beefheart. There’s a comical story about a chance meeting with the last of these in Manchester’s City Art Gallery, where a strange guy wearing a big hat and a light suit, sitting drawing in a corner and swearing under his breath, turns out to be the great man himself.

Badger’s passion for music is reflected in Viper, the record label he runs with former La’s guitarist Paul Hemmings. The company’s catalogue includes everything from obscure Merseybeat to compilations of protest music and live albums by Captain Beefheart and the Love’s Arthur Lee.

As an artist, Badger has had several one-man shows and designed numerous album sleeves and posters. One of his specialisms is sculpting robots and cadillacs from tin, and he tells us he once sold a tin car to Adrian Henri. At the back of the book there’s a useful guide to places where you can see examples of Badger’s work, including Huyton railway station (where there’s a wall-mounted mosaic in a subway) and the National Wildlife Centre in Roby (where there’s a giant tin-can fish in the middle of a pond).

It all makes for a gloriously entertaining read, not least because the authors have an engagingly laidback, anecdotal style. I’ve not mentioned the regular reflections on the spirit and character of Liverpool, or the insights into the city’s cultural scene, or the memories of performing in the States and touring Germany. As you’ll have gathered, Mike Badger’s had an enviably full and fascinating life.