Dave Woodhall talks to Farm singer Peter Hooton about music, justice and football.
It’s twenty years since the Farm’s brand of crossover dance/pop gave them a number one album with Spartacus to go with a string of hit singles. Since then the band have been involved in various projects, such as writing for Eastenders and battling against injustice and now touring once more. They’re at the Robin on Thursday and we spoke to the band’s frontman Peter Hooton about what he and the others have been doing.
“I’ve been looking after my family. My kids are now 15 and 17 and I’ve been a house husband really. Going to football, writing a few books, bits and bobs The band never really reformed as such, we did a few gigs with the Happy Mondays in 2005 because they asked us to play with them, but this is the first time we’ve gone out on our own. The last time we played was a tour of America in 1994 and we all realised then we’d got fed up of touring. We were in the States for two months, it sounds great really but when you’re on a tour bus it’s ‘Get me out of here.’ Since then Ben Leach our keyboard player’s been in Noel Gallagher’s band and with the Mondays and a couple of others. Roy Boulter’s done a lot of documentaries and he’s also a scriptwriter. He started on Brookside and now he’s doing Eastenders. Keith Mullin, guitarist, works at Paul McCartney’s place LIPA, the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, he’s a music mentor there. We’ve been lucky, Altogether Now and Groovy Train still get played all round the world so me and Steve, the songwriters, have been able to do what we wanted, messing round and we did the Justice tour last year.”
The tour was set up to help the Hillsborough Justice Campaign. As a Liverpool supporter who was present on that fateful day, Peter is naturally both proud of the work they did and angry that it was necessary.
“It was a traumatic occasion and I’m just relieved people know the truth now. We carried that round with us for twenty years, there’s always that suspicion that people didn’t believe you and there must have been something else. But we knew what went on. I thought I’d come back to newspaper headlines that the fans were heroes but look what happened. Most of the truth was in the Taylor Report but the government wouldn’t accept it and the papers supported them. They tried to sully the reputations of the victims, they took blood from a ten years old to test for alcohol. When I gave a statement to West Midlands Police, the first thing they asked me was how I got there. I told them I drove and they asked if I’d stopped off, what I’d drunk, what I’d eaten. It was so obvious what they were doing. The agenda had been set in 1989. I’ve no doubt they tried to set up the campaigners as well. But what stunned us was the extent of the cover-up.”
When you’re campaigning about cover-ups that extend into the highest level of government, you must wonder just who you’re taking on and how far they’ll go to discredit you.
“With the number of people who were getting their phones hacked at that time the campaigners must definitely have been hacked, with the papers trying to dig up dirt on them. The amazing thing is that there were no real stories in the press about the families. We’ve found out that the lawyers who were supposed to be representing the families in 1989 were part of the establishment and were badmouthing them. It smacks of funny handshakes but as long as you know the truth and you’ve got a good grasp on it, if you know you were right, the fact that you know you’re right gives you the power and the energy to carry on. Look at the Saville Inquiry and what happened to the Birmingham 6, the establishment is not going to admit they were wrong and they’ll hope you go away. Brian Reade made a great comment in the Mirror, that they didn’t understand the grief of mothers. You had a lot of kids who died and they died with their mums not being there for them. That feeling drove them on.
“The Justice tour came out of the Leveson inquiry, Tom Watson had done a brilliant job in putting the News of the World and the Sun back under the microscope and we thought this was the right time to do what we’ve been doing. We saw parallels with what had happened to us – police colluding with the media and we knew what had been happening with Leveson was what had happened with us after Hillsborough. We did a gig in Liverpool as a one-off with Pete Wylie, Andrew Davitt who plays in Big Audio Dynamite got Mick Jones involved then the whole thing took off from there. All round the country wherever we played musicians got involved – Cast, James Dean Bradfield from the Manics, the Stone Roses, Billy Bragg, Primal Scream.”
The Sheffield gig must have been awkward, with Wednesday fans especially seeing you as potentially badmouthing their club.
“It was great. Everyone who came to us, Wednesday, United even Forest fans who came up and they’re the forgotten people from that day. They saw what was happening and it must have affected them. But Sheffield was so special and poignant because they knew what it was about. The great thing was that the authorities might have tried to get the people of Liverpool and Sheffield to oppose each other but no-one ever did that. Sheffield people were brilliant that day, they opened their houses, they offered us phones, they were absolutely brilliant.”
Liverpool’s always been a very politically aware city. After the Justice campaign, Peter must have thought about getting into more mainstream politics.
“I was a Labour party member in the eighties but I left because they kept expelling Socialists. I keep thinking about whether to rejoin but if you get into politics you have to have a certain lifestyle then and it’s something I’d not be too interested in.”
The band are playing the Spartacus album in its entirety, but don’t intend to become nineties revivalists.
“We’ve been talking about new material, because when you start touring people want to hear new stuff. Steve Grimes has been working on it and it sounds great. Now we’ve got a ConDem government and I’m getting angry again, I can write songs again now. The time is right the way the country’s going in terms of us and them again. It’s totally corrupt, if you look at the background of the Prime Minister, the Bullingdon club and that, we’re being ruled by idiots. But you also get Ed Milliband talking about one nation, and I posted on Twitter about two nations because that’s what it is. There’s the people who go to public school and there’s the rest of us.”
The Farm were a unique band from a unique city, totally apart from anywhere else in the country. Now, though, it’s starting to look like everywhere else.
“Every city is getting that way yes, but at least our bland shopping mall is outdoors not like the Trafford Centre, say. Liverpool has always looked to the west, to Ireland and the USA, rather than the rest of England. We’re not English we’re Scouse, that sort of identity. It’s still going on, there are fanzines around with that feeling such as Boss. You could always spot a Farm audience a mile off – tweed jackets, M&S lambswool jumpers, straight jeans and suedies. I hope we still get that on this tour.”
The Farm play the Robin 2, Bilston, on Thursday. www.therobin.co.uk