Candy Opera tell the tales of thirty year career and look ahead to second coming

Left to right: Frank Mahon, Paul Malone, Al Currie and Brian Chin Smithers. (Picture: Steven Hines)
“..and all the mountains in all of the world, if you climb each peak have you conquered the world?” sings Paul Malone, frontman of Candy Opera.

Alongside The Pale Fountains, the band were born and bred on the streets of Kenny, at a time when heroin, unemployment and riots were the backdrop in which ‘The Candies’ were formed.

Their album, 45 Revolutions Per Minute, mostly a collection of demos, has been thirty five years in the waiting.

In the early 80’s, the band were cutting their teeth, rehearsing in Crash Rehearsal and The Bridewell alongside the likes of The Stairs and Space.

The band were armed with a love of The Beach Boys and Love’s seminal masterpiece ‘Forever Changes’, and piecing together quintessential scouse songs, now available courtesy of Berlin based Firestation Records.

Released on the February 23, 2018, the eighteen track retrospective features unforgettable introduction to the band in the form of promotional track, 'What A Way To Travel'.

With a show announced in native Liverpool on the horizon and a run of vinyl now sold out, I’m sat with Paul Malone; singer, songwriter and guitarist, and drummer Al Currie, to discuss the foundations of the band, and the backdrop of the city at the time they formed.

"We started out in 1982. It was an exciting scene. It was happening.

"Like Crash and The Ministry. Bunnymen, Wylie, Teardrops; everyone was there.

"But ’82; that was happening that time, it was scary. The Bunnymen were Top Of The Pops, then The Teardrop Explodes and Wylie’s Mighty Wah, and this was even before Frankie Goes To Hollywood really came on the scene. They were still doing John Peel sessions like.

"The scene also had China Crisis, The Christians, The Icicle Works, Dead or Alive, The Farm, Cook Da Books; and that’s not including the likes of The Pale Fountains or even Craig Charles who was doing stuff. OMD - you could see them for fifty pence.

"Ian Broudie was with Big In Japan and Holly Johnson at the time, they should have been signed up.

"This was before Frankie’s, they had sessions in 1982 with John Peel and they were a totally different outfit at the time. In the early days they had all the leather gear on.

"Then there was the likes of Neuklon; which was Lee Mavers’ first band and The Cherry Boys. So the scene, the Liverpool scene at the time was the biggest I’d seen in the country."

Paul reflects, "But really, the face of Liverpool at the time was just total unemployment.

"The scene was all built up from unemployment and not having any prospects for a job.

"So the easiest thing to do was pick up a guitar and play in a band.
L-R: Al Currie, Gary 'Godo' O'Donnell, Paul 'Mal' Malone, Ken Moss, Brian Chin Smithers, Frank Mahon. (Steven Hines)
"And like now you’ve got things like LIPA - people going to college to learn how to write a song - there was nothing like that.

"There would just be a bunch of lads and you’d go to your mates ‘do you wanna get a band tomorrow?’ and it’d be ‘yeah alright’ and everyone would shout out ‘bass!’ or ‘guitar!’ and ‘drums!’.

"So you’d get a band together and do a gig - it’d be shit!

"And you wouldn’t be able to play but people would turn up and watch you play and it’d be ‘yeah you were alright you know’ and when you listen to the old Bunnymen stuff, like when they were playing their first gigs, but like then it was a magic in it because it was like raw and people coming together.

"But the scene at the moment seems so fractured.

"I saw three bands in town recently and it was just each band’s family watching them and getting off, charging people to sell 50 tickets for their own gigs and then again at the bar.

"We used to turn up at a warehouse somewhere, ask for a gig and get £30 and stuff.

"Venues at the moment are denying people access to playing music.

"The ways things are at the moment it’s £4 a pint and a tenner on the door. It’s all wrong!"

Candy Opera first began with Paul and his mates Mike and Ian before they met guitarist Ken Moss who came from group The Paleys.

Paul says it was an amalgamation of mates and swapping band members.

Drummer Al Currie arrived later on along with bassist Frank Mahon who came from band 'Come In Tokio', they were followed by guitarist Brian Chin Smithers who featured in Edelweiss and 16 Tambourines - that's how the band panned out in 1987.

For Paul and Al, the introduction to playing an instrument all stemmed from boredom.

"I suppose we were both in different bands, Al playing drums in Come In Tokio, but for me it was listening to music, and the fact that we started getting bored come 14, 15, 16; so you kind of start to pick up the guitar, and one of us got a keyboard off OMD, we won it in a competition from Smash Hits, which led to getting into guitars.

"We wanted to be Kraftwerk; well everybody did didn’t they?

"Well we wanted to just because we had a keyboard player… well there was the one keyboard between four of us."

Liverpool's music scene was a different place in Candy Opera's first-coming, "It’s like the bars as well all played a part like you’d see the footballers out having a pint and there was that kind of closeness, like you’d go and see The Bunnymen and they’d be in the bar having a pint before they went on.

"There was never a feeling of bands saying ‘you’re not gonna make it’ it was an atmosphere of being in a band and after three months you were in with a chance.

"Not like now where you’ve got to be able to read music, you just like play it - it didn’t matter if you’re crap!

"The city kinda turned into a slum from around ’78 right through to the early eighties, with Thatcher and that.

"When the Toxteth Riots set off in ‘82, that wasn’t the worst area, it could have happened anywhere - Anfield was a shithole.

"I lived in Anfield, and at the time, The Beach Boys were the main band.

"It was all escapism and we were all dead young and there was a load of nostalgia coming out at the time from like the 60s, like Lemon Popsicle and The Fonz and Happy Days; and we were 15, 16 and we only had three channels, but all that kind of music; doo-wop groups and vocal groups, like that was later.

"Then there was John Peel.

"Like after all that came like Bowie, T-Rex and all that. That’s what we grew up with.

"Then you listen to John Peel; and go ‘wow’.

"Like The Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes; like you’d see these groups in the City for fifty pence.

(Left to right) Al Currie, Frank Mahon, Brian Chin Smithers and Paul Malone. (Picture: Steven Hines)
"Like The Royal Court had the biggest bands in the Country at the time and at the time there was no Glastonbury’s or like playing The Etihad; you’d play The Royal Court.

"Then in Eric’s, you’d see like bands with U2 supporting and it being sixty pence a ticket.

"Like he was standing on tables and that, playing just to the barman who’s cleaning a glass, completely uninterested telling them to get down.

"After the riots it kind of picked up a little after that then, it sparked something,"

Paul thinks back to being in his late teens, "Liverpool was totally ahead of the game in terms of clothes, with the footy, like and the Liverpool fans going abroad and you’d all look at pictures of Bjorn Borg playing tennis in the Fila top and seeing what trainees he wore and that’s what started Wade Smith.

"There was a big shop in Germany called Adidas and that was it, coming back with Stan Smith’s.

"Trainees at the time weren’t causal wear, everyone wore shoes and donkey jackets and then all of a sudden everyone in Liverpool had a wedge haircut, a ski jacket, Jesus jeans and trainees and they looked great.

"All the other fans were like ‘what’s going on?!’ and they stood out like a sore thumb and used to get battered but they looked great!

"The surroundings were drab but it was still exciting, there was still a buzz to it, you’ve got to make the best of it.

"But it’s mad like come ’82 when your 17, 18, 19 or whatever you don’t think ‘oh it’s terrible around here’ you didn’t know any different, you’d just go down the dock and throw stones at cans like cause it was derelict."

Citing their early inspirations as The Beach Boys and Love's seminal album Forever Changes - which was presented to them from Mick Head and Ken - who was in a band with Mick.

Paul joked, "When he came across he was playing songs like Alone Again Or, and he could play it brilliantly.

"And when we’d ask “what’s that?” and he’d go like “Oh, one of mine..!”

"So Forever Changes came much later than The Beach Boys did for me."

"The first songs we wrote though were all rip offs of Joy Division, like banging on things and stuff, and putting the voice on, getting told to sing in your own voice.

"I used to write ten songs for a gig, and the next gig, scrap them all and write another ten like.

"We were in Amazon Studios and they’d charge you about £100 and it’d sound great and they’d give you a tape and when you played it at home it just sounded crap!

In 1989, the lads traveled to EMI studios in London to record three tracks including 'What A Way To Travel'.

"We went down to London and it was just the best weekend ever, the sun was shining we were in studio just behind Oxford Street, right by Soho and they were paying for it.

"We were probably just too bladdered and excited to give the songs justice to be honest.

"We were getting taken for meals and stuff.

"We looked at it as a laugh, playing music was a bonus. But speaking for myself, I think the music kind of took a back seat.

"So that was the kind of the best stuff you remember, like when we played The Royal Court, that was the pinnacle, every band wanted to play the Royal Court and we managed it.

"So that was great as an achievement, and like going down to London as well, going into EMI thinking ‘we’ve made it’ - and all we came back with was a tape!

"What A Way To Travel' was one that we had worked on the most, so the memories of all that was just having a great time but the music was on the back burner because between the four of us, a good solid band we could play it.

"I suppose that would have been the first single.

"That and The Good Book and The Green, Fever Pitch, Time; I wrote them so you know, I kinda like them.

"There’s quite a few of them that could have been singles.

"What A Way To Travel was put forward by Firestation to kind of promote the album. So it’s been a great introduction.

"We probably would have argued over what track to put out first."

Paul firmly believes how tracks sound coming out of the studio really depend on the engineer - although 'you can't polish a turd'.

"If you’re good, you can make something better with the right engineer.

"We found a dead cheap studio in New Brighton, we’d have everyone come along and play on the tracks, they were just ideas.

"Then when we got about ten songs, we decided to play live and got a band together.

"By the time we got around to it, the face of music had changed; the whole Manchester scene had come in.

"That’s why if you listen to the album, one of the later tracks ‘Love Constitution’ it’s all baggy kind of stuff, and it was all headed towards that, and it was too late before we realised it wasn’t for us, and we kind of conformed to it.

"It was a bad idea. We were in our thirties at the time, we had been at it for ten years and we were getting kind of desperate.

"Every time we got ourselves in a position, like the EMI thing and before that, Rough Trade, we just kind of took it in our stride, we didn’t have any real guidance about what to do next with regards to putting something out you know.

"I think we weren't picked by a label at the time because of a load of different reasons, even down to labels not taking a chance. 

"The whole baggy thing from Manchester coming in too, changed things up.

"Being signed back then wasn’t the be all and end all it is now, or even really releasing stuff. We did things to impress other bands you know, impress your mates.

"Our idea when we first started out was to play The Royal Court and we managed that."

(Left to right) Frank Mahon, Al Currie, Brian Chin Smithers and Paul Malone. (Picture: Ray Folkard)
Talking about live gigs, Candy Opera played them all but one sticks in Paul's mind, "We decided to do this coach down to London to do a show in Covent Garden.

"We hired this coach it was like £50 to hire a coach and charged 50p a ticket - all the students jumped on it and went home for the weekend!

"We thought we were dead popular, and they all had to come back and watch us because the coach was going back.

"The great thing was the amount of people we met.

"It’s kind of historical among people I know, like Graham Ennis, who now writes for When Skies Are Grey and he decided to become a journalist while we were there.

"Neil Cooper as well who now writes in Scotland and stuff, puts on plays for Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

"There was a lot of writers and stuff. I’m not saying it us but that started it but it was that night that sparked a lot for a lot of people like.

"So that show in my mind - I can’t remember if we were good or not, it went by in a flash, it was great to go to London, no one had ever been to London before.

"It’s like when you first go to London, I don’t know what it is, there’s nothing else like it and no better feeling than being with all your mates having a drink in Covent Garden with the sun shining before you go on, even if the gig was shit."

Fast forward thirty-odd years and Paul, along with previous members are performing the ultimate comeback show at Parr Street Studios on August 18 to mark the release of 45 Revolutions Per Minute.

So years on, did Paul think the band would ever play again?

"Not as Candy Opera, no.

"But it’s been fantastic ever since the record came out. Its all taken us by surprise. People were saying about getting the band together and do a few gigs, we never really thought much into it.

"We thought, bring it out and ten people in Japan will buy it like but to date it’s sold around 1,300 copies on vinyl and CD.

"And when you consider we haven’t got anything on Spotify or YouTube. Our idea was to keep music dead, not alive!

"The label haven’t really wanted to put anything online, so people have had to actually go out and order it to hear it.

"And for people to go and order it, is incredible and I can’t thank people enough for it.

"The reception of it and how it’s gone down has been brilliant.

"Bands put LPs out every day and get nowhere.

"But for a 30-year-old band, no one’s ever heard to do as well as it has, has been amazing.

"The intrigue surrounding it when there isn’t anything on the likes of YouTube, it’s kind of been underground, a real ‘if you know, you know’ kind of vibe.

"The reaction to the Liverpool gig as well, people going online and buying tickets.

"It looks like it’s going to sell out as well considering the size of the place!

The band are to follow up the album with a rarities EP in October, with the possibility of new material being released next year.

Candy Opera will perform at Parr Street Studios on August 18 with support from Edgar Jones (The Stairs) and Mel Bowen.

Get your copy of the album

Words Chris Parkes (@rocknrollparksy)


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