Our latest Lost Liverpool column sees Getintothis’ Paul Fitzgerald reflects on the majesty of cult Merseyside band, Cecil.
“I think that was the night Paddy kept trying to set Brian May‘s hair on fire with his lighter…’
You see, this is the thing about Cecil. It’s simply not possible to discuss them without a tale or two of madness peppering the conversation.
There are many tales to tell, that’s for sure.
These stories seemed to generate around the band with alarming regularity.
And while it may be true that your friend, a Turkish chef called Leon, walking onstage at a major festival during your set, completely naked and with a rolled up, burning copy of the Echo diligently inserted between his Gluteus Maximii certainly would pass as a tale, for now, it’s a distraction.
For now, we’ll leave them to the fans and those that were there.
And besides, we’d probably need to run such delightful Bacchanalian tales through a team of Getintothis‘ crack lawyers before unleashing such things on an innocent, unsuspecting public.
We should talk about Cecil.
And that, dear reader, is the point of this particular episode of Lost Liverpool. We don’t talk enough about Cecil.
In the long list of Liverpool bands we proclaim, with all the “you weren’t there, man” conviction and indignation of a Vietnam Vet, shoulda, woulda, coulda achieved more on a bigger stage, Cecil surely must be near the top.
Although, in many ways, Cecil were more a band from Liverpool than a ‘Liverpool band’.
They stood comfortably apart from the limitation of the scene in the city, and for most of the mid 90s they weren’t around Liverpool much anyway because of their relentless touring schedule.
That said, Cecil already had one of the magic ingredients in the fact that they had the respect and admiration of their peers.
Just like The Stairs a few years earlier, and The Big Three in Merseybeat days, Cecil were a band’s band who enjoyed the respect and admiration from their peers. Always a good sign, that.
Musically too, Cecil were a different proposition to anything that could even remotely be described as the ‘Liverpool sound’ of the time which relied, and in many ways still relies on the B word or the La’s album.
Cecil were heavier, harder and at times dazzlingly unpredictable.
To say they straddled the line between punk and metal would be the quickest and almost certainly the laziest description.
It would be doing them a disservice too, because what Cecil brought to the stage wasn’t that simple to pigeonhole.
Formed around 1993/94, Cecil featured the solid rhythm section of Jay Bennett on bass and Ally Lambert on drums, with the twin screaming, snarling guitars of Paddy Harrison and Ant Hughes keeping the edge pin-sharp.
And at the front of all this, the vocal prowess and brooding stare of Ste Williams, a man who I’m quite happy to describe as one of the best frontmen to have ever set foot onstage.
One moment, you’d be floating on a tide of Williams’ sweet angelic tones and prosaic lyricism, only to find him leaping skywards to a primal, guttural scream seconds later, his eyes seemingly frozen in the sockets, maniacal and filled with the dread of some impending doom only he could see.
Their blistering performances, brimming over with urgency and intensity, were utterly compelling and explosive affairs, usually delivered with a strong sense that something could go off at any moment.
One thing is certain, nobody ever forgot seeing Cecil play, just as nobody ever wrote a bad review of their shows.
Like all the best stories, it began in a chiropodist’s chair.
The chiropodist in question was Paddy Harrison’s dad. The client with his feet up on this occasion, music manager Darren Michaelson.
A conversation takes place. The old ‘my son’s in a band’ thing.
Cecil had won a Battle of The Bands competition (remember them?) promoted by the Liverpool ECHO.
Even though they won, (according to the judges Ian McCulloch and Janice Long), the band were later disqualified for playing a song about the James Bulger murder, when they’d been told not to.
The free press, and all that.
The Chiropodist diligently trimmed the music mogul’s toenails and went on.
They’d recently scratched together the £80 needed to record a demo.
Within weeks, Darren and his partner Raymond Coffer had signed the band to a management deal.
From now on, Cecil would be represented by the same management company as Smashing Pumpkins and Echo and the Bunnymen. Good lad, Pad’s dad.
Management contract in place.
That meant money, and so a simple shopping list was drawn up: “They gave us a few grand for a Transit van and we just stuck a double mattress in the back for us to sit on, then we were off across the country.
“We’d done a few tours and before we knew it we had seven major labels after us….Chrysalis, Polydor, all of them…we couldn’t believe it…it just happened so fuckin quick”
In the end, Parlophone won the bidding war, but the fact that seven majors were so keen is indicative of the good will that the band had around them.
They had a lot of support around them, and the industry seemed to be willing them on, and it did feel, certainly as an outsider, that their destiny was a much bigger stage.
The momentum continued to grow with each raw, incendiary and downright fucking exciting performance.
“I did one tour without stepping on the stage once’, remembers Ste Williams.
“I just didn’t have the room onstage with them all jumping around behind me, so I did the entire tour on the dancefloor.”
Morrissey was a big fan of Cecil and, it has been suggested, of Ste in particular: “Morrissey came to see us. At one gig in Camden, I’d built this little stage on the dancefloor out of some beer crates and just spent the whole gig stood on that staring right into Morrissey‘s face.'”
October ’95 brought the first single No Excuses, (the song about the death of James Bulger which the Echo had objected to) and over the following 12 months they toured, and toured and then some, playing shows with bands such as Mansun (who’d signed their deal at roughly the same time as Cecil), Skunk Anansie, The Wildhearts, Feeder and Paw.
Festival appearances took in T in The Park, Phoenix and a particularly wild one in front of thousands at Donnington is still talked about today.
The first Cecil album, Bombah Diddlah, was released like an unruly beast in ’96 along with second single My Neck.
Interestingly, in the accompanying video we see that by this point, Cecil had taken to carrying their naked Turkish chef friend around in a flight case.
Bombah Diddlah was produced by Barrett Jones, who just a year earlier had co-produced the first Foo Fighters album.
The album’s release met with much well deserved critical acclaim, and the wind seemed to be behind them. NME and particularly Kerrang! got behind them.
The support of the press for your first album. Another box ticked.
Cecil spent much of 1997 on tour with Mansun, writing and recording Subtitles, the second album for Parlophone which came out at the end of that year.
Preceded by a single release of Hostage In A Frock, it’s video featuring the band strolling through London streets. In skirts.
Performing boy band style dance routines. It really was quite a thing.
Produced again by Barrett Jones and released in November of 1998, Subtitles saw some changes in the band’s sound. It had become less all out attack, more melodic and lyrical, but still heavy with that pin-sharp spiked edge, that seismic punch, and still acclaimed by all the right people in all the right office blocks and all the right mosh pits.
Earlier in 1998, Cecil released what would become their final single ‘The Most Tiring Day, and as well as some touring, the band retreated to the rehearsal room to continue writing and to begin work on the songs for the third album.
By summer 2001, the band were ready to start work, again with Barrett Jones, and they relocated to Seattle to begin album number three.
Maybe this would be the push, the big one that’d take them forward and upward to the next level.
With so much support and good will around them and with such a loyal fanbase built over an intense few years on the road, surely everything was in place.
Or maybe not. Ste Williams sensed a change in the air around his band. It felt uneasy.
Two months into the recording, and in the wake of the global shockwave following the World Trade Centre attacks, Cecil decided to return to the UK to work on some more songs for the album.
But Williams was right. Something had changed, or at least something was beginning to change.
The music industry was changing. In the eye of the storm caused by the arrival of the mp3 and peer-to-peer platforms such as Napster and Audiogalaxy, the industry was tightening it’s belt.
Swathing cuts to budgets, job losses, and of course, the trimming of artist rosters with a focus being on more commercial big hitters, A&R departments found themselves less able to take risks, and less able to support new artists on a long term basis.
Money talks, it was a cull, and Cecil were just one of many casualties to fall under the hammer.
Of course, as these things work, that wasn’t the end.
After a name change where they became Voy (a last ditch attempt by the record company to reignite the spark and not the greatest of decisions), they worked with Mansun producer Mike Hunter to produce two more singles, released on Parlophone, the Canyon and Missile EPs. The moment had passed.
Everything had changed and people had moved on, and Cecil were no more.
Until, that is, a global pandemic broke out forcing us all into isolation for the sake of our health, and giving Ste Williams the chance to revisit the demos he’d found, get them mastered and release them together as an album, Fathom Time, available on the band’s Bandcamp page.
“…what got me thinking about them is my son asking what a DAT machine in my studio was. I put the headphones on him and played the songs. He listened to the whole DAT and that got me thinking. Later on I had a listen myself, and I was surprised at how good they actually were.
“Me and Jay recorded them on an Akai. we didn’t have a clue what we were doing…it was all done live…we only had 6 channels we could use on the Akai so that meant us doing the mixes and all the effects live…and it meant that it stopped us from over egging and turning into Tears For Fears.
“Not that there’s anything wrong with Tears For Fears, like, but we were never gonna be them…but it just meant we could be a bit more imaginative with the channels.”
The songs, recorded in the rehearsal room over a year or so at the tail end of the 90s, while a little rough around the edges, retain all the charm of classic Cecil.
From the moody, taut tension of Balancing Act, its guitars swirling round Williams’ whispered verses and screamed choruses to the full on smack-in-the-face of punky rant Blatant Lie or the stark, dark emotion of Like Tiananmen, there’s plenty to love about Fathom Time for fans old and possibly new.
“Yeah, hopefully, but I don’t know if that’s what I done this for really. I just needed to get it out there.
“The tapes were deteriorating but the recordings were much better than I remembered, so at least now, there’s a copy out there…”
The Cecil diehards, of which there are still many, will be rightly thrilled with this new slice of their favourite band. A band who should’ve, could’ve and most definitely would’ve been much bigger.
A band who knew how to entertain and engage, how to reach and include the audience, how to write great songs and importantly, a band who knew how to enjoy the whole process.
It wasn’t to be for them in the long term, as happens with so many others over the years.
It’s just that Cecil deserved it so much more than so many of the others.
- Listen to exclusive never been heard before tracks by CECIL below.