Peter Hooton interview

Peter Hooton’s well known in the region as a member of The Farm, a prominent supporter of the Hillsborough campaign for justice and a writer of books on Liverpool FC. This interview with him was originally published in Issue 2 of The Merseysider magazine.

A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS

As Alan Gardiner discovers, Peter Hooton has fingers in lots of pies

When you interview Peter Hooton, it’s hard to know where to begin: football, fanzines or the Farm? He’s written books on Liverpool FC and is a pundit whose views on the club and all things football are regularly sought; he founded The End, the cult Eighties underground magazine which spawned innumerable imitations; and he’s still lead vocalist with Liverpool band the Farm, who topped the charts in the early Nineties.

All 20 issues of The End were published in book form towards the end of 2011, and across Merseyside the book proved a runaway Christmas hit. So we agree to start there. Peter says the scale of the book’s success has taken him by surprise. ‘We thought guys in their forties who remembered the magazine might buy it, but apparently a lot of younger people have been getting the book as well. We did an initial print run of 2,000 and that sold out very quickly. Then we did another 3,000 and there’s not many of those left now – once those have gone I think that’ll be it.’

Peter recalls how the idea for the magazine, which was published between 1981 and 1989, first came to him. ‘I’d see people at football matches and some of the same people at concerts, and there was never really anything for them to read, apart from the football programmes produced by the clubs and the music press. I wanted to combine the two, and I wanted to infuse it with caustic Liverpool humour.’

Peter approached Phil Jones, who was running a mod fanzine called Time for Action. ‘Phil was only 17 and I thought, “He’s a genius – he’s 17 and he’s got his own magazine.” I asked him if he’d be interested in starting something aimed at people who went to football matches. He said he’d give it a go but he doubted if fans on the terraces would be interested in buying a magazine. But my attitude was, “If they’re reading about their own lives, maybe they will.” With the first couple of issues it was difficult to get a response but by the third or fourth issue it was flying out.’ Peter, Phil and Mick Potter (who became one of the magazine’s main writers) sold The End outside football grounds and in pubs before the match. They also persuaded shops like Probe and HMV to stock it, and before long had a circulation of 5,000. The team behind Viz (which had started around the same time) were so impressed they wrote asking Peter and the others how they’d done it.

As John Peel famously put it, The End concerned itself with ‘music, beer and football. The very stuff of life itself.’ ‘It was about the pubs people who bought the magazine went to,’ Peter explains, ‘and the groups and records they listened to.’

It was also very, very funny. ‘I wanted it to be Private Eye for the working class of Liverpool,’ says Peter. ‘I liked their style of humour, which in some ways is like you find in Liverpool: John Lennon described it perfectly when he spoke about the cruelty of Liverpool humour. And it wasn’t about jokes – I can’t remember ever telling a joke in my life – it was more about being sarcastic and observational. For me that’s always been the best kind of humour.’

The magazine’s iconoclastic approach meant no sacred cow was safe from mockery. ‘We thought anything that was deemed remotely popular was a legitimate target. We had two columns of ‘Ins and Outs’ and anything that became fashionable on the terraces immediately went in the Out column. It was like a game – it wasn’t personal, we were just having a laugh. We were trying to reflect the way people would talk in the pubs and take the mickey out of each other.’

Victims of The End’s merciless wit ranged from Jimmy Tarbuck and Stan Boardman to the Everyman theatre and right-on films like Letter to Brezhnev. Peter’s relationship with John Peel (who became a strong supporter of the magazine) began in a similar spirit. ‘I used to send him really cynical letters. I’d listen to him on the radio and I thought some of the stuff he played was brilliant and some of it absolute rubbish. I knew that he had a sense of humour and thought he might appreciate receiving something different from the usual sycophantic fan mail. So I’d write things like, “You might think Xmal Deutschland are going to be big on the council estates of Liverpool but I can assure you they are not.”’ Peel would later say on television that The End was his favourite magazine and even wore their t-shirts when presenting Top of the Pops.

The End decided to call it a day around the time The Farm were beginning to achieve commercial success. Before committing himself to music full time Peter had been a youth worker for ten years. ‘One of the motivations behind the magazine was to interest the kind of young people I was working with, and encourage them to write. It was a great job – we didn’t have a youth club, we’d just go into estates and were meant to help young people identify what they wanted to do and encourage them to do it. We used to persuade people like Richard Branson to give us financial support for trips abroad.’

One memorable trip was to New York, where a Harlem youth club was meant to have arranged accommodation for a group led by Peter. ‘We got to the airport and there was no one there. It was the weekend and I just about had enough emergency money to get us beds for a couple of nights. Then on the Monday morning we marched on Harlem. We went to the youth club but were told the trip had never been confirmed and that it wasn’t a good time to stay in the neighbourhood anyway, because they were grappling with a crack epidemic and a lot of people were getting shot. We ended up sleeping on the floor of a basketball gym, but then the New York Daily News got hold of the story and it became so big Mayor Ed Koch stepped in and paid for us all to stay at the YMCA. I sometimes bump into people who went on that trip and they still say it was the most amazing experience they’ve ever had.’

Since the demise of The End Peter has retained his interest in journalism and has written for publications including the Guardian, the Observer and the football magazine Four Four Two. He’s also been involved in a couple of books about Liverpool FC, contributing to Here We Go Gathering Cups In May (about Liverpool’s European cup triumphs) and writing the commentary for When Football Was Football, a collection of Liverpool photographs from the Daily Mirror archive. I ask him if the title of the latter book reflects his feelings about the modern game. ‘Football’s obviously changed, but whether it’s necessarily that much worse I’m not so sure. I still like the experience of going to football matches, but some of the emotional attachment is probably going. I went down to Wembley [in 2012] for the Carling Cup Final and wasn’t too impressed by the new stadium – when you went inside it felt like you were at the Superbowl, with loud music blaring out so the fans couldn’t sing. If you ask the younger generation though, they probably think it’s all fantastic, and in a way maybe it is. In some respects you could perhaps say football’s lost its heart and soul, but there’s still a twitching corpse – as you realise when you’re in the middle of the Kop at Anfield.’

Peter remains a high profile member of the Spirit of Shankly, the supporters’ group founded in 2008 to represent the fans’ views during Tom Hicks and George Gillett’s controversial ownership of the club. ‘At the time I was regularly on LFC TV [the club’s television channel], but I thought, what’s more important: getting paid to appear on TV or the future of your football club? The people who were involved in setting up the Spirit of Shankly were magnificent: Paul Rice, who died earlier this year, Fran Stanton, who’s now the chair, and a lot of others. They were people who meant what they said and who were not doing it for ulterior motives. And we owe a lot to the players who supported us – the likes of John Aldridge, Joey Jones and Howard Gale. A lot of people didn’t want to get involved. Even at the height of the protests only around 5,000 people stayed in the ground after the game, and most of those were from the Kop. But eventually we won the argument.’

Peter says ‘the jury’s out’ on the club’s new American owners. ‘No one’s under any illusions: for them it’s an investment, and if they get the chance to cash in on it I’m sure they will. At a meeting John Henry congratulated us and said, “Without your efforts we might not be here now.” But now they’ve set up their own supporters’ committee and seem to be trying to sideline the Spirit of Shankly. I think they should liaise with us more because we do represent the fans. We’ve got 10,000 members and 40-50,000 associate members on Facebook and Twitter. So we haven’t gone away – we’re a pressure group and pressure groups have to be mindful and vigilant.’

The Spirit of Shankly are heavily involved in promoting the idea of a ‘football quarter’ in the Stanley Park area, connecting Anfield and Goodison and celebrating the history of both clubs. ‘The centre of Liverpool looks much better and I’m very proud of the city,’ Peter explains, ‘but it still has deep-rooted social and economic problems, and there are parts of Liverpool, including Anfield, in urgent need of regeneration. The area around Manchester City’s ground is being transformed, and that’s a blueprint for what we want to happen. Places like St George’s Hall and the Liver Buildings were built by visionaries, and Liverpool still needs people with visionary ideas.’

Peter is of course still active with the Farm, who have returned to live performing in recent years. In April and May [2012] they have a national tour to mark the 20th anniversary of their number one album Spartacus, which they’ll be performing in its entirety. They’ve also been a headline act on the recent Justice Tonight tour in aid of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign. Regulars on the tour apart from the Farm have been Pete Wylie and one of Peter’s heroes, Mick Jones (former lead guitarist of the Clash), who he once interviewed for The End. ‘Mick’s been passionate about it,’ says Peter. ‘He’s full of enthusiasm about playing on stage and says he feels like he’s 15 again. He’s also committed to protesting against injustice and says we should take the tour worldwide. At every show we’ve had great guests as well. At Manchester the Stone Roses’ Ian Brown and John Squires performed – their first time on stage together in 15 years. In London Paul Simonon from the Clash joined Mick Jones on stage, and in Cardiff we had James Dean Bradfield from the Manic Street Preachers. Then in Liverpool John Bishop turned up, along with Billy Bragg and Cast.’ At the time of the interview Peter was readying himself for Justice Tonight shows in Dublin and Belfast. ‘The call’s gone out to Bono – he’s saved the world, so now he may as well save us!’

The introductory pages of The End anthology include a new ‘Ins and Outs’ feature specially compiled for the book. One of the ‘Ins’ (alongside such items as ‘Using butter in yer tea when you run out of milk’) is ‘Too many fingers in too many pies’. It’s an accusation that might be levelled at Peter Hooton, but he obviously prefers it that way – and so should we.

The End anthology is published by Sabotage Times – buy before it disappears!