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13 Questions

13 Questions with Come in Tokio’s Phil Wylie

When I was a young, impressionable sort of chap, inexperienced in the ways of the world and just dipping my toes into the world of playing music, I thought that all a band had to do to make it big was to make good music.

Time has robbed me of this delusion however, because, all too often good bands are allowed to fall by the wayside and the fame, fortune and legend that is rightfully theirs is denied them. There are many reasons for this, such as fashion or money, but a lot of it comes down to pure dumb luck.Some bands get the breaks and some bands don’t.

One band who didn’t get the breaks was Liverpool’s Come in Tokio. The fact that fame was not to be this does not diminish the fact that the music they made was some of the best to be committed to tape. In fact, to those in the know, it adds to their legend. Come in Tokio have become a legendary lost band. A band who should have made it but who instead have a special place in the hearts of those who know them.

My own first exposure to the wonderful music they made was on John Peel’s Radio 1 show. Come in Tokio recorded three sessions of four songs each, featuring such classics in waiting as Say You’ll Never Go Away Again and Nature Call. Their sound was huge in scale and ambition, driving, epic and emotional rock anthems whose natural home should have been on stage in front of increasingly bigger audiences.

After such exposure, it should have been a done deal that Come in Tokio were snapped up by the record companies that had started to circle the band, but for whatever reason, this never happened and the expected breakthrough fell away.

But the worth of a song, and of a band for that matter, is not measured in terms of records sold but is instead measured by the worth of the art they create. And in that case, Come in Tokio are one of the most successful bands I have ever heard.

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Sun-13 spoke to singer/guitarist Phil Wylie and asked him 13 questions. Read on to find out more about life in lockdown, raiding the archives and seeing Ziggy Stardust with Ian McCulloch.

1. Where are you and what are you doing and how is that working out?

“New Brighton, in isolation with nearest and dearest (3 of us), feeling loved. It’s a strange time for all as we see humanity at its best and at its worst.”

2. How have you been coping with the lockdown situation?

“Trying to remain philosophical, though frustrated at times, always hopeful things will get better sooner rather than later.

Before lockdown in March I was gigging 1,2,3 times a week, my week usually consisted of prepping the forthcoming gigs”

3. What have you been up to recently?

“I’ve been rummaging through boxes containing photos, cassettes and DATs from my Come in Tokio days, laughing, cringing, loving, listening to a wide variety of music (mainly 60’s and 70’s). Discovering things I missed first time around and rediscovering old favourites.

I don’t tend to go out as I spend my working life in pubs and clubs. The lockdown has stopped that routine and to fill in my time and to alleviate boredom I’ve been on a journey to find old Tokio stuff, pictures, songs etc. purely on a sentimental journey.

I found stuff I never knew I had, so I put them on computer to dick around with speeds, tones and frequencies, which has been laborious but interesting for me and occasionally learning some additional songs by others to include in future gigs.

I’ve been shielding during this time for myself and for my wife who is recovering from successful cancer surgery. So in truth, apart from not being able to gig, things ain’t that much different in our household other than less money coming in.”

The Clash play Liverpool Eric’s: “That day everything changed… nothing in Liverpool was ever the same again”

4. When did you last get into an argument?

“Had a real ding dong with a hotel in Southport over a parking fine about 5 years ago.

Generally, if people think differently to me, that’s their truth, I do draw the line at racism and Tory supporters but all my family and friends are like minded so it doesn’t occur.”

5. When did you last shout at the TV?

“Today, Matt Hancock. Emphasis on the cock.”

6. When did you last consider quitting social media?

“I haven’t, because I’m not selling or promoting anything I just dip in and out to stay in touch with friends.”

7. Did you have any hobbies as a kid?

“I was football and cricket nut. Also, our mum worked at Birdseye and was in something called the record club so for a small fee my brothers and I would choose and collect 3 singles from the charts each week.”

8. What was the first gig you went to?

“David Bowie, the Ziggy tour, Liverpool Empire 1973. I was a fan after seeing Starman on TOTP, my brother asked for a ticket from our parents, it was given on the condition he would take me and included in our group of four who went was Steve Spence, the drummer in The Crucial Three and Ian McCullough.”

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9. When were you last told off?

“What day is it today….I was told off last week for being too considerate a lover.”

10. What’s your first memory?

“Two strong musical memories on hearing We can work it out by the Beatles and Reach out I’ll be there by The Four Tops, even as a kid they both blew me away and left me with emotions I didn’t understand.”

11. What’s your guilty listening pleasure?

“I understand the question but I have none. If people think differently, fuck ’em.

As a kid Herman’s Hermits, but before Bowie, Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney and in the late 80’s  Harry Connick Jnr.”

12. Vinyl, CD, MP3 or Streaming?

“CD and streaming YouTube.”

13. Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions.  Is there anything else you’d like to say?

“Thanks Banjo. Buy low, sell high.”

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The Clash play Liverpool Eric’s: “That day everything changed… nothing in Liverpool was ever the same again”

Clash were undoubtedly Liverpool’s favourite punk band. While the Sex Pistols’ debut gig at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall has been acknowledged as the starting point of that city’s punk scene, The Clash’s first gig at Eric’s performed a similar magic for Liverpool.

The gig was witnessed by Jayne CaseyJulian Cope and Ian McCulloch, who went on to form Big in JapanThe Teardrop Explodes and Echo & The Bunnymen respectively, amongst other bands.

Also in attendance was one Pete Wylie of Wah! fame who, legend has it, approached The Clash’s Mick Jones after the gig to tell him how he had been inspired him to form a band.

The story goes that Jones handed Wylie his guitar with the words “Pay me back when you’re famous.” Wylie later stated “That day everything changed… nothing in Liverpool was ever the same again

It wasn’t that Liverpool didn’t love Sex Pistols, but that, apparently, they just weren’t that good when they played Eric’s, for what would be the only gig the band ever played in the city.

Also, this was only the 3rd gig at Eric’s, so both band and venue were still unknown quantities, which meant that only around 50 people were present.

Of course, over the years the number of people who have since claimed they were there is probably over 100 times the number that actually attended, such is the impact punk has made on history.

By the time The Clash played on May 5 1977, things had changed. Punk was exploding all over the country, attracting the outcasts, the curious and those in search of something to match how they felt and to give voice to the noises in their heads.

Liverpool at the time was not in a particularly good place; financially in the trough of an economic slump following the decline of its docks and shipping industries and culturally still looking for a way out of the shadow cast by The Beatles’ unprecedented success.

Musically, Liverpool had yet to find a post-Beatles identity, although The Real Thing had kept the city’s flame burning in the charts.

When Roger Eagle and Ken Testi decided to open Eric’s, Roger, perhaps sensing that change was in the air, asked those members of his club he took under his wing not to listen to The Beatles, for fear that the past would infiltrate the new present.

Jayne Casey, One of those who were so instructed, remembered “A couple of years ago we’d been to a funeral and we were all sat round a table. There was me, Ian McCulloch and Pete Wylie. Ian looked at me and said, “Have you listened yet?” And I said, “No, have you?” And he said, “No” and we both looked at Wylie and said, “Have you?” And he said, “No” and we both in the same second said, “Yes you have! We know you have!” And he was like “I haven’t, I haven’t” but we were like “We can tell from your composition that you’ve listened to them for years!” So we’re convinced that he listened, he pretends he didn’t but he did.

But the music that was being made by the new generation paid no heed to the likes of The Beatles. The Clash themselves penned a song called 1977 that famously claimed “No Elvis, Beatles or The Rolling Stones in 1977”.

The Clash (Copyright: Chalkie Davies)
The Clash (Copyright: Chalkie Davies)

The Clash were everything a band should have been at that particular point and place in music. Young, good looking, well dressed, confused and even contradictory.

Their songs combined political thrust with killer riffs, signing about hate, war, being bored and riots. Live they were described as being like “three James Deans coming at you”, as the front line of Mick Jones, Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon charged and attacked, backed up by the mighty Topper Headon.

That gig revitalized the city’s music scene. People met there and were jointly inspired to do something.

What nobody could have predicted at the time was how much they could go on to do. There are times in life when the stars just seem to line up and things work out right, a one in a billion meeting of minds and talents, and this seems to have been one of those occasions.

People formed bands before they knew what kind of musicians they would turn out to be, taken by The Clash’s messianic call. We can thank the gods of chance, or perhaps some other agent of destiny, that this crowd included the extraordinary voices of Ian MCCulloch, Pete Burns, Pete Wylie and Holly Johnson, along with the mercurial talents of guitarist Will Sergeant, drummer extraordinaire Budgie and art prankster/cultural terrorist Bill Drummond.

It may be the case that this astonishing pool of talent would have come together regardless of this particular gig, but the point remains that The Clash lit the touch paper and the firework duly went into the higher atmosphere and exploded.

The Clash were one of the first bands this writer saw at Eric’s, a few months on from their debut appearance,  on their Tommy Gun tour.

As confession is alleged to be good for the soul, I will hold my hand up and say that I was never a massive fan after their initial run of singles, nailing my colours to the Pistols’ mast instead.

That said, this was without question one of the most thrilling gigs I have ever seen, The Clash were undoubtedly at their best live, unmarred by the poor production of their first album and the American sheen of their second.

To this day I can remember the energy of the gig, along with the heat, the packed crowd and the feeling that, somehow, this was a gig that would stay with you long after we had left the venue.

I had never seen Eric’s so crowded, perhaps the fullest I ever saw it, with the possible exception of Iggy Pop. The size of the crowd was such that people had spilled out from stage front through to the bar area, making even a glimpse of the stage tricky.

The Specials were supporting them on this tour and, although I tell people I saw them it is probably more honest to say that I glimpsed them, through a doorway and over people’s heads. The crowd looked hot and we didn’t fancy getting caught up in the heat and mess of it, just for a support band.

If I had the chance I would tell my teenage self to get in there and catch one of our era’s most important bands while they were still unknown. I was amazed at how popular they seemed to be despite few people in my social circle having heard of them.

As The Specials left the stage and people headed to the bar, we saw our chance and pushed our way in. Thankfully we got to within a few people of the front of the stage and The Clash burst forth and blew our teenage minds!

Playing their first album and early singles, they already had a run of songs to make most new bands weep with envy.

With the Sex Pistols banned from almost everywhere and soon to split up, The Clash were head of the punk pack at this point, and made a nonsense of the myth that punk bands couldn’t play their instruments.

The people inspired by their first Liverpool, gig have achieved much in the years since and have doubtless inspired other people in their turn.

Perhaps this is the ultimate compliment for a gig, or even a band – that they create these ripples in a pond to such extent that they are still being felt all these years later.

Liverpool, and indeed the whole world, would be so much worse without them.

Banjo