Benny Profane \ Biography
After our first band The Room split in the summer of 1985, Becky Stringer and I quickly began recruiting and planning for a new group. I was drinking a fair bit, listening non-stop to Hank Williams and reading Thomas Pynchon. A barrel of laughs, I know. We nearly called the new project The Whole Sick Crew or The Profanes, but settled on Benny Profane, the name of a character in the Pynchon novel V described as 'a schlemiel and a human yo-yo'.
In response to our experiences with Virgin, and a feeling that John Porter had overproduced his tracks on In Evil Hour, we decided on a back-to-basics, rough and ready approach to our new band. I wanted something that lay somewhere between the stripped down Velvets play rockabilly vibe of Fiery Jack/New Face in Hell period Fall married to Roy Orbison's melodramatic sense of melody. I was moving more in the direction of telling magical realist stories in the vein of Jackpot Jack and Jeremiah, and we wanted Joe McKechnie (The Passage, Wild Swans) on drums right from the off. He'd played with The Room when Alan Wills was injured and had been our original choice of replacement for Clive Thomas. However he'd taken exception to the mellower jazzier style that we were trying around the time of Clear!, and would pointedly read a book while drumming during rehearsals to register his indifference.
But this was a new band, and we'd come to the conclusion that there were only two types of jazz - and they were both crap. Only trouble was, Joe didn't really want to play drums anymore and even if he did, The Passage were still not quite dead and he'd temporarily rejoined them. In fact, Dick Witts was also trying to poach Becky as bassist. But Witts failed and Joe decided to stick with us. We tried out a couple of guitarists, one of whom (Ben Gunn) had been in the original Sisters of Mercy, yet had a trainspotterish obsession with The Fire Engines and Big Flame. We tried another guy called Bendy who didn't actually own a guitar, and then went and broke his arm playing Rugby. Natural selection, I suppose.
After a brief period with Joe on guitar and Paul Sangster (ex-Send No Flowers, Wild Swans) on drums, we enlisted the aid of Will Sergeant of the Bunnymen to do the guitar on our first demo. We went into Amazon studios for a day in August 1985 and put down four songs: Credulous As Hell, I Don't Know What, Vain Profane and The Speed It Likes Best. Will gave us an idea of how we could sound and the recording was fun. Shortly after, we enlisted Robin Surtees as our head jangler. He'd been with Red Flame label-mates Shiny Two Shiny, so we could bitch about Dave Kitson with him. However, what we didn't know then was that our experiences with Red Flame would be as nothing compared to the independent label hell into which we were about to descend. I always remember reading something Mark E. Smith said about independent labels being the real rip-off merchants and thinking he was just being contrary... Duh?
We started writing new songs and worked up a cover of Hank Williams's I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive. On 29 September 1985 Benny Profane played its first gig at a house party in Aigburth. Joe wrote a speech for the host to read before we started: "Born of the bastard. Tastes like a bonfire. First time out the stable - Benny Profane. Stay out of Churches, and never wear a lawman's badge." And with cries of 'Yip goddammit' (we'd been listening a lot to Jon Wayne's Texas Funeral) we launched into a song called Big Mouth Shut. Early gigs were drink-fuelled parties - a bottle of mescal during our first performance, and a bottle of Jack Daniels during the second. Big, and clever. Joe had difficulty staying on his drum stool so decided to play standing up around this time.
A series of support slots with Echo and the Bunnymen, The Woodentops and Hoodoo Gurus followed, while we also hooked up with various North West indie bands like The Walking Seeds, Barbel, Marshmellow Overcoat, The La's, The Tractors and Bogshed to do gigs around the area. Our favorite venue was a little pub in Duke Street, Liverpool, called The Monro. It was owned by a Chinese feller called Ernie Woo. The Bunnymen had played a secret gig in his backroom when they were rehearsing in the building next door. Ernie would lock the door at 11pm and we'd have stay-behinds until the next morning, drinking, playing and eating his very famous veggitary scouse. At one point in 1986 Benny Profane played at the Monro for an entire week, with bands from the list above supporting each night.
Early in 1986 we recorded our first 12" EP, titled Where is Pig? (another V reference), on a label called Subpop (not the famous Seattle-based one). The record was okay, but John Peel (who'd been very supportive of The Room) didn't immediately embrace our new music with the enthusiasm we'd hoped, and it wasn't until our second ep, Devil Laughing, and in particular the song Stitch That, that he started giving us regular play. Devil Laughing came out in April 1987 on Ediesta, a subsidiary of Red Rhino, and it was through them that we met Amanda Ward, who became our manager.
The usual back and forth motorway stuff kicked in, and for a while the momentum of releases was stalled while Amanda tried to get us signed to a major label, or at least bigger indie. In the meantime we wrote a prodigious number of songs and recorded a mammoth acoustic session for Roger Hill's Radio Merseyside show Rock Around. We got some very positive live reviews and a couple of features in the music press, plus there was the usual A&R bollocks talked, demos financed and numerous gigs with The Mighty Lemon Drops, Husker Du, Spacemen 3, Loop and My Bloody Valentine.
Eventually, we settled on doing another record with Ediesta. The plan was to do two singles and an album. Parasite, produced by Chris Alison, was released as a single in early 1988. We had started to feature guest drummers to allow Joe to come out of goal and range forward. Dave Brown became our first regular substitute drummer, and we got to perform Parasite on Tony Wilson's late night Granada TV show, The Other Side of Midnight.
On the day Liverpool were beaten in the 1988 FA cup final, the band went into the studio with Chris Alison to record Rob A Bank. Initially, we'd planned to have Davepay drums on this track, but Chris Alison had other ideas and insisted Joe do the honours. It was a rather joyless session, enlivened only by Peter Baker's storming guest performance on Hammond organ. The next day we recorded our first Peel session. We did Beam Me Up, Quick Draw McGraw Meets Dead Eye Dick, Everything and Rob a Bank. Davepayed drums on all but Beam Me Up, and it was a great session. Peel loved it - it was voted one of his sessions of the year - and as a result, he started playing Rob a Bank every night once he got the test pressing off Ediesta.
It now looked as though we might make a breakthrough. Rob a Bank was due out in September, and we were set to release a compilation album of studio tracks and the Peel Session a month later. Then Red Rhino got very cagey and stopped answering our manager's calls. It was Christmas before they finally admitted they had gone bankrupt. In the meantime, we'd been offered the Kurious Oranj tour with The Fall, and Dave Brown had been replaced as substitute drummer by Roger Sinek of Barbel. The Fall tour went well, and in the New Year we approached Dave Haslam of Playhard Records, who agreed to release our first album Trapdoor Swing and the Ian Broudie-produced single Skateboard To Oblivion.
In February 1989 we did a one-month tour of Poland and The Soviet Union, including gigs in Warsaw, Vilnius, Riga and Leningrad. We just took guitars and travelled by coach and sleeper train - snow, forests, vodka and more vodka. Totally Glasnosted. Our good friends Patrick Nicholson (Life with Patrick, ROC) and Sue Digby organised the whole thing and it was a marvellous experience. We even appeared on Soviet TV for 60 seconds on a programme called 60 Seconds. The Leningrad promoter, a former circus ringmaster, stopped us mid-gig so we could watch ourselves before continuing.
Back in the UK, we recorded a second Peel session featuring Man on the Sauce, Fear, Skateboard to Oblivion and Pink Snow, and completed a short tour with Aztec Camera. The album came out in July 1989 to good reviews, as did the single, and we toured the UK, but there was a niggling feeling that we'd somehow missed the boat again. We were neither indie dance, grunge, or part of the emerging Rutles sound-alike phenomenon. We played gigs with Happy Mondays, King of the Slums, Inspiral Carpets and The Bodines. Thanks to the 'Madchester' boom trousers were getting wider and people were calling each other 'man' without any sense of irony.
Our second and last album Dumb Luck Charm was recorded at Amazon in October 1989, with Joe doubling up on guitar and drums to save time in the studio. Shortly after the sessions we enlisted the services of Steve McNannaman look-alike Liam Rice as permanent sticks man. Liam joined in time for our third Peel session, which featuring two new songs, Jerked to Jesus and When It All Kicks In, and to play a Liverpool University John Peel Road Show.
In 1990 we signed to Imaginary Records. They released the album in March together with a one-sided £1 single titled Hey, Waste of Space! The CD version of Dumb Luck Charm also included all ten Trapdoor Swing tracks as a bonus. We did a tour of Austria, West and East Germany and Czechoslovakia, but by this time Joe was getting more interested in dance music and DJ-ing, while I've never been able to think of a DJ as anything other than a desperate cross between Jimmy Saville and a trainspotter (even, God Rest His Soul, St John - blasphemy, I know).
All things considered it was an uphill struggle, so Benny Profane split up in the summer of 1990. Becky and I carried on as Dust with Liam Rice and Ian Johnsen, then Kenny Manson, and eventually we became Dead Cowboys with Greg Milton.
Joe has released music as The Mindwinder and DJ Tempest and Robin became a teacher. In recent years, Joe and I have collaborated on a project called Country Mess with Tim O'Shea, and new Mess recordings are in the pipeline. Some of these recollections may be chronologically inaccurate. The opinions expressed are mine alone. If anyone else has anything to add - go on then...
Band biography written by Dave Jackson