Unsung Bands #1: The Larks

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I can’t remember where I first came across The Larks. Alive and gigging in the mid-80s, we regularly went to the Marquee, Sir George Robey, The Garage to see The Faith Brothers and their ilk. Perhaps The Larks were a support act on one such night although we didn’t tend to see too many of them so maybe not; pints beckoned and more often than not, a quick one before the main act hit the stage was the order of the day.

Word of mouth was always a great way as well. Familiar faces – I don’t even think I knew their names then let alone recalling them now thirty years on – more often than not a passing ‘Hello’ or ‘Alright’ led into a quick chat about any new bands or good gigs we’d been to recently. Quite a few bad ones, with a mental note of bands to avoid.

However we found out, it became a Wednesday morning ritual to pick up a copy of the NME at Guildford train station and safely ensconced in the carriage, I quickly turned to the Live Ads. Each page had to be scoured carefully, ads of interest read and circled in the eight minutes or so it took to reach Godalming.

No mobile phones for us in those days so it was always a quick call at lunchtime to a venue to find out about tickets – invariably on the door – and what time the act was on stage. Evenings were then spent in the pub or at football, making arrangements to meet up in London if work took me there or to meet up and head into town by road or rail.

Guildford was a decent base. The A3 gave us easy access to London or the M25; anywhere in the Home Counties was considered fair game for a gig. A couple of quid for tickets and ten or fifteen for beer; a good night out for under £20.

BadgesWe weren’t great memorabilia collectors but The Larks changed that. The white t-shirt, interrupted only by the band’s logo, was purchased and a couple of badges as well. But it was the tapes regularly on sale at gigs which kept us in touch with a band whose recorded output was considerably less prolific than it should have been.

As I type I can remember a tinge of disappointment walking out of the Marquee to find the tapes had sold out, a little spring in my step in finding out that there was a gig later that week. That was how I recall finding out about most of their gigs, certainly in the early days. A flyer or poster spotted around town or a quick chat at the table where the merchandise was on sale.

PITNThey suffered by comparison to The Housemartins when the single “Pain In The Neck” entered the lower reaches of the charts. I remember picking up a copy of the 12” version – with the twelve-inch mix adding in just seventeen seconds of a piano introduction as opposed to seven minutes of remix as was the norm – in Southampton on my way to visit a friend who was at the university at the time.

He made that comment but it always struck me as wide of the mark. Their punk funk – or funk punk, whichever you preferred – owed more to The Higsons than anyone else.

Each to their own but around that time, the jovial Housemartins star was beginning to wane despite the excellence of their debut, London 0 Hull 4. And there were a plethora of bands in that stable, often twee pop and self-indulgence.
The Larks first single, Billy Graham’s Going To Heaven, remains the best. The religious overtone of the brass introduction quickly gave to way to an energetic pop-punk blast commentary on the US evangalist’s recent UK visit.

The purchase of the single one lunchtime didn’t impress my then-boss who was a Baptist lay-preacher and had been at Loftus Road for one of Graham’s ‘gigs’. ‘God’s auditor’ I used to call him; how I ended up there is a puzzle I’ve never answered and quickly realised it had plenty of downsides. The upside was that arranging a client visit to London or the surrounds was never difficult and was frequently used to tie in with a gig. Train fare on the company; can’t complain, can you?

Not so long ago, I found some old diaries which I’d used to record my chargeable time in. The social side of it was mesmerizing. How did I afford two or three gigs a week, as well as following Arsenal home and away? Life seems so staggeringly cheap when I look back.

Records were of course, and “Maggie! Maggie! Maggie! Out! Out! Out!” was a staple of many a road trip and gig. We kept going back because we couldn’t remember a bad night out with The Larks. They would probably tell you that there were plenty of them, where the dubious sound quality left them fuming, squirming and generally fed up. I can’t see that we noticed.

You could see a band evolving musically. Teenage Reprobate gave way to the more thoughtful Phantom Of The Bingo Hall but there was always room for Larking With Larks.

Then the gigs became fewer. I can’t remember the last one I went to; Harlesden or Camden, one of the two but it didn’t matter. We went for our usual pre-gig pint close by. A thin wood-panelled bar where Tommy and another band member were having a beer. There might have been more elsewhere, I can’t recall. A quick ‘hello’ and hopes for a good gig followed a check on what time they were on stage. Take 30 minutes off and grab a couple of beers with a good spot.

There was a good-natured energy about Larks gigs. Entirely absent was any undercurrent of malice which had pock-marked punk, this was about having a good time, topped off with their take of the Shark’s Fin Concerto; Hawaii Five-0 into Dallas. End the evening with a smile.

And that’s how I remember it. A good time in my life, with a musical accompaniment which captured the mood perfectly, but one for the memory bank to recall occasionally.

Or so I thought but not so long ago, I found that there was life in these old dogs yet. There’s a great interview in Fear and Loathing fanzine whilst an active Facebook page exists and there’s a vibrant set of recordings on the band’s Spotify page. The recordings can be bought at Amazon on the band’s page here.
To get you in the mood, here’s a Spotify playlist of some of the bands finest moments.

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