Tuesday, 4 February 2014

GROUNDPIG memories with Peter Hooton, kevin Sampson and Phil Jones

The End fanzine tribute to Groundpig (and Graham Evans).

For people of a certain age, in Liverpool The name Groundpig will bring back floods of wonderful, exuberant memories of strange days and nights in the 80’s when Folk and Hippy fused together with the thriving scally (not fuckin “casual”!) scene on Merseyside. Red or blue, male or female, we fuckin adored Groundpig.

Back in the early 80’s The End dipped its toes into the fanzine scene and bucked the trend by not aligning itself to a particular music scene or genre. The musical tastes of the End’s staff members differed greatly, (as did its football alliances) but what we did share was an absolute love of football, music and the city centre scene at the time.
For me personally I went to Anfield AND Goodison on a regular basis (Goodison when I couldn’t afford Liverpool away’s) and for music I could find bands and venues in Liverpool spanning genres such as Punk, Ska and reggae (Eric’s Brady’s the warehouse) Mod (Brady’s The Lincolns inn) Rockabilly (the slaughterhouse). And in between was the Liverpool scene with bands like The Bunnymen, Wah, teardrop explodes, Afraid of Mice, Cook da books etc….not mention clubs where you could listen to the likes of kraftwerk and early Human League etc (the Harrington or Michelle Claires), the city was buzzing!
Musically, there were so many options and football wise both teams were successful and this helped us create The End fanzine and become a massive part in the creation of the new scally scene (I won’t go into all that entailed as you’ve read it all many times now, other than to say, for the main part scallies can be described as clued up, well dressed, innovative young lads with more than a smattering of naughty hooligans firmly at the heart of it all).

Around 81-82 the name Groundpig (or Groundhog, as they had previously been know) started to get bandied about more and more amongst our merry band of red and blue brethren (especially by those of us who had started moving away from warm lager and cheap nasty spirits and had discovered the magic of marijuana after meeting the Liverpool 8 boys on many a Monday Reggae Night in the jukebox room at Eric’s around 1979.)

So we started to seek out Groundpig gigs on Saturday nights following the match and outsiders were astonished to suddenly find 200-300 young, sharply dressed scallies turning up to see what was essentially a folk band of typically “folk looking” musicians…

On the outside it all looked very odd, but for us it was a natural progression from the eye watering, smokey nights in “genesis corner” in Gatsby’s where ex punks and skins, who were now, flare wearing, scallies, were  sharing tales and cassette tapes of Dylan, Neil Young and Pink Floyd.

And so it was that we would turn up, mob handed every week at whatever venue Groundpig played (and they are too many to mention them all, but a selection from my memory would be; The Big House, the Pen & wig, The Philharmonic, and regular Saturdays in Daley’s Dandelion, as well as midweek residencies in the likes of The Bow and Arrow and the Yewtree)

This ramshackle band of folkie hippies would roll through sets of songs that in all seriousness, half of which would, never in a million years, have appeared in my then record collection! Songs by artists such as Simon and Garfunkle, Cat Stevens, Lindisfarne, Ray Stevens…for gods sake they even covered Dire straits and Peter fuckin Gabriel! (They Drew the line at Phil Collins though, thankfully!) interspersed with Dylan and Neil Young covers and mad little gems such as the Beverley Hills theme tune and an amazing duelling Banjo’s cover.
The diversity of the songs, the unbelievable musicianship and the unbridled joy of performance (at every gig!) captivated the scally scene and this little folky / hippy band went through a spell of at least 8 years of playing to packed out pubs and clubs to rapturous 300+ football hooligans.

The End featured reviews and plugs on many occasion and we even went as far as promoting some Groundpig gigs of our own, most notably a momentous gig sailing up and down the Mersey on the Royal Iris Ferry (where a bemused John Peel DJ’d and couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the crowds reaction to this mad collection of old hippy songs.

Groundpig became one of the most accomplished and most watched of Liverpool bands in that decade and certainly remain one of the most fondly thought of to this day.
I must have seen them at least 70 times during that time and every single gig, without fail, had me up on my feet singing along.

One gig (or “concert” as we used to say back then) that stood out to me for all the wrong reasons was a Saturday night gig at Daley’s around 86/87 I think. I went with about 30 good friends, all of us Liverpool fans and regular Groundpig attendee’s. This night however seemed more packed than usual…around 500 mad bastards all going crazy as fuck.  It was a brilliant brilliant gig and when it finished our group headed to our regular Saturday night seats by the jukebox where we carried on singing some of the bands regular songs. One of the songs Groundpig covered regularly in those days was Don McLean’s “American Pie”. This may have prompted a certain group to alter the words to that song and quite often you would hear “bye bye Everton goodbye, you’re going to the 2nd division don’t cry, with good old kopites drinking whiskey and rye, singing this will be the day that you die”. And although it was sung in jest, it had clearly been noted.
What we didn’t note on this particular evening was that the massive majority of the audience was a full on, hard-core Everton hooligan firm. My mate Tony tapped me on the shoulder at one point and simply gave a nod to indicate that I turn around to see what was behind me.
What was behind scared the holy shit out of me…there were about 300 older, bigger boys than our little crew and it was clear they didn’t just fancy a little catch up about the price of winklepickers in the Jew Shop on London road.
Thankfully the bouncers, who knew us well as regulars, cottoned on really quickly and around 8 bouncers stood between us and the Everton mob and had already radioed for assistance….when this assistance arrived (about 20-30 bouncers from nearby bars and clubs) and tried to move the blue boys on, all hell broke out! Chaos ensued for about 15 maniacal minutes and thankfully, for us, the bouncers bore the brunt of the attack and none of us were seriously injured. We were back the following week, but as expected things were back to normal with the audience of even numbered reds and blues just getting off on the music and no further threat of violence occurred. A big fucking “phew” was the resounding feeling from that memorable night!!

Another night that sticks in the memory for me, like it happened yesterday, was one of the nights The End fanzine promoted at the Fur and feathers on the border of Cantril farm.

On this night Groundpig were the headliners, the DJ was the legendary John Kelly and the support act was …..The Farm! Even the door staff that night consisted of the co-founder of The End fanzine (your humble narrator) with my trusty oppo’s Moggie and Eddie Fitz (trying to stop what seemed like the entire, under 30’s, population of Canny farm from sneaking in without paying!). A wonderful night from start to finish which nobody would deny was topped with yet another show stealing performance from Groundpig, getting everyone on their feet singing along to songs like “Cecelia” and “Like a rolling stone” with gusto not normally associated with such mid-seventies hippy classics.

I’m struggling to describe just how joyous those nights were and how much Groundpig were revered by this odd fitting following they had, but it’s no coincidence that whenever I’ve mentioned Groundpig on the Ends facebook page I’ve been deluged with similar tales of joy and revelry.

I asked Peter Hooton (The Farm, and co editor of The End Fanzine) and kevin Sampson (another ex End writer and author of such books as Awaydays, Stars are Stars and Killing Pool about their favourite memories, Peter recalled ,“The most memorable Groundpig concert for me was the night they played the Royal Iris in Aug 1985 as part of a concert which included The Farm, Ted Chippington and John Peel. I had helped organise a ‘friendship’ visit after the Heysel stadium disaster earlier in the year with a group of 25 Juventus fans from their fan club. As a youth worker in Cantril Farm the original intention had been to organise a ‘youth exchange’ with youth groups from Liverpool and Turin. After the Heysel tragedy in May 1985 when 39 football supporters tragically lost their lives this visit became a 'friendship' exchange.

The Labour Council at the time were very helpful as were the John Moores Foundation who partly the funded the trip. The Juventus fans stayed at the Holiday Inn in Paradise St and I helped arrange a week of activities including visits to Anfield and Goodison and a civic reception at the Town Hall. The highlight of the week though was undoubtedly the party on the Royal Iris ferry.

We set off from the Pier Head and sailed up and down the Mersey for over 4 hours. As far as I’m aware there are no photographs of this historic event which has gone down in folklore. James Brown who worked for the NME at the time was totally gobsmacked at the proceedings as the 500 on board were entertained through the night. I’m pretty sure he wrote a review which was published by the NME were he described scenes of hedonism and wild revelry as people went crazy to the music.

Ted Chippington an ‘alternative’ entertainer and a John Peel favourite had the crowd the crowd in hysterics offering people outside (ie The Mersey) as the friendly abuse was directed his way.  I’m sure The Farm played but because I was organising the night I have no recollection of our set as I was so obsessed with the organisation as I didn’t want anything to go wrong. The highlight of the night was definitely Groundpig. They were at the height of their powers in the mid-80s and they drove tweed jacketed youngsters into a frenzy. They went through their repertoire which included Dylan, Gabriel, Lindisfarne Simon & Garfunkel  and James Taylor. John Peel who had played some brilliant tunes between the sets was open mouthed as he witnessed young scousers going mad to acoustic classics. The Juventus fans seemed to have a ball as music united the audience.

I will never forget this historic night and the smiles on the Juventus fans faces as they left the boat surrounded by Groundpig fans singing Meet Me On The Corner!”

Kevin told me, "My comrades Mick Potter and Peter Hooton got me into Groundpig (though I think the band was still called Groundhog, back then). I couldn't tell you the first time I saw them - possibly The Crooked Billet. That whole period when match lads started having a draw and dressing like history teachers was a law onto itself. Teenagers, 16, 17 year-olds started getting into Zappa, Genesis, Captain Beefheart - music that chimed with a laid-back, long-term, unemployed lifestyle. There was a healthy cabaret scene with bands like The Munchies and The Muffin Men feeding the growing demand for a folky, more hippyish type of live music - but Grounpig's following just grew and grew. Every place they played - The Scotty Club and Daley's in particular - was bursting at the seams, and the atmosphere was exuberant and celebratory; a real antidote to dole-life.
Before long, they were the biggest live act in the city. I can remember chart acts like The Jo Boxers struggling to sell out The Haig Building, while Groundpig had to be moved to The Bierkeller to accommodate the masses who wanted to join the party. For some reason, all my tough Liverpool pals used to call the Bierkeller the Offenbraus. It was the Hofbrauhaus - I think - sat in the cellar of that cultural hot-spot that once housed Studio 1-2-3 (an 'experimental' cinema); Scamps - one of the city's finest discotheques/saloon brawls; and, latterly, the 051 Club. Anyway, Groundpig had a Saturday residency there and the sweat used to drip from the ceiling.
One of the most memorable gigs of my life was when Groundpig's Saturday residency at the Bierkeller coincided with Christmas Eve. It was always a great atmosphere at Groundpig shows, but this was Bacchanalian. Everyone had been out all day, and people were licking their own eyeballs in drunken anticipation as John and Graham came out to Shea Stadium-level adulation. The whole crowd was up and bouncing before they'd even played a note. There were hundreds up on those long refectory tables, pogoing up and down to standards and favourites like Cecilia and Solsbury Hill. Solsbury Hill always blasted it but, for me, the highlight of any Groundpig show was always Duelling Banjo’s; Graham playing the fall guy while John veered off into this speed-blur of whirring fingers, picking away at his banjo while the crowd erupted into scenes of demented euphoria. People were giving each other shoulder rides up and down the tables, girls were Ceilidh-dancing, and the legendary Willie Struth was, for reasons best known to himself, attempting a hand-stand. It was, quite simply, off its head.

Groundpig had quite a few band members over the years but the main members during those days were; Kenny O’Connell, Paul Catherell ,Steve Maudsley, Tommy Ainsworth John O’Connell, Eddie Catharell and the charismatic multi-talented eccentric wonderful oddball that was Graham Evans (who sadly passed away on this day, February 5th 2006). Graham’s performances on guitar, banjo and fiddle were the personification of the joyous spirit of Groundpig.

The incomparable Graham Evans. R.I.P. 

You can read all about Groundpig, see gig reviews and photo galleries etc here

John Oconnell has carried on performing and recording and last year performed a rousing set at The End fanzines’ Book launch night at the casa (again stealing the show!). You can read about John and hear his music here on his own web page

John O'Connell with Graham

The background to me writing this tribute is that I am currently looking forward to my good friend Nick, being released from nick this coming March and came up with the idea to compile a CD mix of old songs that Groundpig used to perform, as the theme to my friends welcome home party. I contacted Groundpig member, John O’Connell about this and between us we came up with a typical assortment of songs the band covered on a regular basis back in the day…I’ve put the songs on a Spotify so you can listen to them here
(or enter the Spotify website, search for END fanzine and play the “Groundpig party” playlist)
I hope you enjoy it……… even fuckin Romeo & Juliet by Dire Fuckin straits!

As it turns out the idea for this tribute coincided with the anniversay of Grahams passing away, so i hope this acts as a fitting tribute to Graham and Groundpig.
Thank you for the memories Groundpig, The End salutes you!

Rest in Peace Graham, I hope you are duelling banjo’s and guitar with Hendrix!


  1. Loved this. Remember seeing the posters but never got to see them. Will definitely check out the spotify link. Thanks

  2. cheers Alison..its a mad mix of songs that on their own i don't necessarily like, but somehow Groundpig brought them to life

  3. Great read. Groundpig really are woven into Liverpool's tapestry.

  4. arrr Cheers Joanne...if nothing else this seems to have brought people lots of happy memories

  5. When I think of the early mornings where I'd pop over to see Graham for a quick chat...and still be there 5 hours later, talking about so many different things. I miss those days!
    Both John and Graham were always so happy to help with how to play songs..still haven't managed all of them!

  6. Great read about great memories, well except for the naughty one you mentioned! I must have watched Groundpig almost weekly for years, especially during each season COYB :)

  7. My memories of the Royal Iris gig are; The ferry having to return back to Liverpool to pick up members of The Farm who'd missed the sailing & standing with Jegsy Dodd as he fumed about the act who was on before him over running his slot. Happy Days.

  8. All the Southend erstwhile where on the iris trip what a night never to be forgotten well done lads great memories

    1. cheers Eddie, unfortunately the copious amounts of errr refreshments I had that night meant that i forgot most of by the following morning!