“We couldn’t really wait any longer,” chuckles Edgar Jones as he ruminates on the reasons why his legendary Liverpudlian garage band THE STAIRS have chosen now to reform, 20 years after they first disappeared in a puff of marijuana smoke. “If we waited another five years it might look completely wrong. We’ve all got a slight bit of silver fox poking through, but at least none of us need elasticated tracksuit bottoms.”
When the news first trickled out earlier this summer that The Stairs were indeed getting back on the bus and playing a one-off gig as part of modern-day disciples The Wicked Whispers’ Grasshoper’s Ball extravaganza, shock and surprise were quickly replaced by excitement as a whole generation realised they would finally see one of the city’s most influential bands.
With just one album (1992’s Mexican RnB) and a handful of cultish singles to their name, The Stairs created a unique legacy and lineage that has wormed its way through Merseyside’s music scene like a particularly virulent strain of Spanish flu, with the likes of The Coral and The Zutons making a decent fist of finishing what Edgar and bandmates Paul Maguire (Drums) and Jed Lynn (Guitar) started when they first lit the blue Rizla paper all those years ago. Now, two decades on, The Stairs will take to the stage once more with Edgar hopeful that there will be more to come from a band that for many has only existed on bootlegged demos and hard-to-find vinyl.
“At first the big problem was that none of us had a copy of the album,” says Edgar, on the issues of getting his band back together when your drummer lives in Iceland and you’ve lost the guitarist’s contact details. “It’s always been a tough one because none of us are particularly business-headed people. Jed and my paths never crossed for years until he came to a show I did at The Zanzibar. We didn’t have each other’s phone numbers for years but we’ve kept in touch since then. There’s never been any animosity but I suppose, being a smoker for years, you let these things fester.”
It’s seemingly impossible to talk about The Stairs without mentioning their typically Scouse leisure activities: the band’s most-loved song Weed Bus was a dopy paean to the wonders of smoking on public transport and Edgar admits his own decision to put down the peace pipe has influenced this reformation just as much as the Wicked Whispers’ intervention.
“I’ve not been smoking for a year now,” he tells me. “I like to think I retired as undefeated champion. It was always hard not to commit little faux pas along the way, and it doesn’t suit me anymore – I’m of a happier disposition now. I get on with things more and another reason I gave up was because I was suffering from depression, so getting the band back together has been a major part of the healing process. It’s made me realise there is still a vitality in life to be gained at the age I’m at. I’m lucky in a way because I’m the one who’s got to continue in music with nice session jobs and having a cottage industry of a solo career. The other two are dying to play again and it’s made me realise how lucky I’ve been.”
Formed in the late-80s following bassist Edgar’s stint in Ian McCulloch’s backing band, The Stairs were an attempt to recreate the sound of Lenny Kaye’s groundbreaking 1972 compilation Nuggets, which collected myriad US garage bands like The Chocolate Watchband and 13th Floor Elevators. Few set about mimicking the look, sound and spirit of 1966 quite so slavishly as Edgar and his bandmates, but, with their contemporaries embracing the Second Summer of Love and claiming there had always been a dance element to their indie rock, The Stairs were a band out of time in more ways than one.
“It’s been funny watching those history of indie documentaries on BBC4,” says Edgar. “It’s made me reminisce and realise how much we were pressing against the fold. We had rhythms in our songs that were typical of the time but we took them off because we didn’t want to be associated with what was going on. It was commercial suicide, really.”
“We were on an express train with our own thoughts and deeds and there was no way of getting off it or seeing any other way than our way,” he continues. “It was a very blinkered journey. We dressed how we dressed, and I think there was a feeling that we felt like we’d missed out on the 60s and wanted to recreate it for ourselves and for anyone else who wanted to come along. As it was, we ended up missing the 90s as well.”
Live, the band built up a fearsome reputation (DJ Bernie Connor remembers: “They were exciting, in a way that bands had just ceased to be. They had the volume and balls to blow them away, and for a short time they did.”), but endless touring created its own problems.
“Looking back, I think the album is very frenetic, but we were even more like that live,” Edgar explains. “Having listened to the album recently for the first time in years, I was amazed at the energy. I used to wonder why people said we were amazing live because obviously you can’t see it yourself, but I caught glimpses of that listening to the album again.”
“We did a gruelling tour of the States in the back of a Dodge Rambler with all the gear, and that was a test for us at our age, but I was always bloody knackered after the gigs and I had no technique, so I’d go to bed with a sore throat every night hoping it would be better the next day despite smoking copious amounts of weed. I was never as wild as I could have been, but Jed’s antics were so humorous they were virtually Python-esque. He was so caught up in the moment and that moment was different for him compared to everyone else. Watching it, you couldn’t help but be amused.”
The reunion of the three scattered minstrels was solidified by the uncovering of an album’s-worth of material in a relative’s loft. The master recordings of what now forms The Great Lemonade Machine In The Sky were thought by the band to be lost forever, another myth in the legend of one of the UK’s great lost bands. Now fully restored and pressed onto plastic, the album’s heady mix of psych, Motown, garage, rock ‘n’ soul, and Scouse RnB is set to be unleashed on a new audience courtesy of Edgar’s long-time friends at The Viper Label.
Now aged 44, Edgar – who went on to play with the likes of Paul Weller and Saint Etienne after The Stairs split, as well as have his own solo successes – believes that this reunion could be more than just a nostalgic trip down Penny Lane, with the promise of new material and a limited 7” vinyl release of recently discovered demo Shit Town accompanying the gig.
“It’s all about getting the ball rolling and seeing if this works,” he adds. “If you’re rehearsing for a gig you might as well rehearse for a tour, and there’s talk of getting management in next year and doing a new record. I have lots of material stored up in the hope that everything goes well. We are performing one new tune called 1,000 Miles Away which Noel Gallagher really liked. He asked for a demo so he could cut a version himself, which was going on his first solo album but ended up getting binned.”
“Reforming is frightening,” admits Edgar, “but it’s a challenge because I want to give them [the fans] the proof of the pudding. It’s going to be a belter of a time and there might even be a few tears on the night if it all goes well.”
The Great Lemonade Machine In The Sky is now available via The Viper Label, and 7” single Shit Town is out now via Eighties Vinyl Records.