Publications > Scream City > Scream City Issue #5 > Looking From A Hilltop... at Lytham St Annes by David Nolan
Looking From A Hilltop... at Lytham St Annes
by David Nolan
by David Nolan
Section 25's Larry Cassidy was a formidable character. The late singer and bass player didn't suffer fools gladly - if at all. Author David Nolan met and interviewed Larry Cassidy in the course of writing books on Tony Wilson and Bernard Sumner. Here he describes one such meeting in 2007 - 'Without doubt,' Nolan says, 'The worst interview I have done in 30 years as a journalist.'
I have interviewed Mark E Smith of The Fall. What's he like? A pussycat. A frail, pleasant pussycat who clearly would leave a rice pudding skin intact if he tried to knock it off. I have accused Tony Wilson of being a liar and of exploiting the death of Ian Curtis for his own ends - that didn't go down too well. I have interviewed some bad people who I have felt uncomfortable being in the same room as - I have quizzed murderers, prime ministers and Pete Waterman. But these were good interviews.
The worst interview I have ever been a part of was with Larry Cassidy of Factory Records band Section 25.
Larry and brother Vin formed the group in their native Blackpool in 1977, very much a copy of the punk bands Larry had seen in London as he was studying law in the south of England. The Cassidy brothers were part of the family that ran the Casdon toy firm - the company are known for making minature replicas of household products like hoovers and ovens. The company is still run by the Cassidy family to this day.
Section 25 made their first live appearance the following year and released their debut single Girls Don't Count on Factory in the summer of 1980. Section 25 were championed by Rob Gretton - Tony Wilson was rather indifferent to their post-punk charms and particularly didn't care for the fact they had no manager. Their peers had no such qualms and were clearly keen to help the group; Ian Curtis co-produced Girls Don't Count and Bernard Sumner produced the peerless dance floor throbber Looking From A Hilltop, released in 1984, with its ethereal vocal provided by Larry's wife Jenny. The band crumbled over a period of months between late '84 and early '85, essentially because they were unable to earn a living wage.
Larry and Jenny carried on for a time, with remixes and samples keeping the Section 25 name alive, but the band was effectively shelved until 2000, when Larry and Vin started playing together again. Cruelly, Jenny Cassidy died of cancer in 2004. Despite all their setbacks, after Joy Division/New Order and Happy Mondays, Section 25 were probably Factory's most successful and enduring act. What's more, they didn't seem to know when to lie down - whatever life threw at them, they managed to get back up again. Their dogged determination won them even more admirers.
I wanted to talk to Larry Cassidy about Bernard Sumner. I was writing a book about the New Order front man at the time - it came out later that year. It was called Confusion. I'm not telling you anything you don't already know by saying that Sumner is something of an enigma; any insight from musicians he had worked with would be an extra, vital layer in the puzzle.
After a lot of friendly but slightly confusing phone calls I arranged to meet Larry at his home in Blackpool. I turned up at the allotted time on a warm Sunday evening - the house was in darkness, there was no one home. I lurked for a while until I was rescued by a very nice woman I later found out was Larry's partner Lesley. She took me into the house - I have to say I found the inside of the home a little bit unsettling.
There was a wide selection of sketches, notes and religious pictures stuck to the walls and various packets of minced beef that someone had forgotten to put in the fridge. Religious stuff and slightly off meat.
Gets me every time.
A phone call was made - turns out Larry had forgotten and was recording with Section 25 in Preston. I'd come this far, I figured I might as well go to Preston.
Another 20 miles wasn't going to hurt too much, but I had a feeling that this might be a case of Larry yanking my chain rather than genuinely forgetting.
When I got to the address - an industrial estate just out of town - I found all the band there and Larry recording vocals.
Small, wiry, grey about the face and dressed in a cardie and tie, he managed the tricky combination of being smartly dressed yet looking scruffy.
When he was done we sat down on some flight cases and started to talk. If you have read what eventually appeared in print, Larry spoke of a how he'd recently played with New Order in Blackpool - 'It was nice to play with Joy Division again' - how the seaside town had provided a haven for Bernard after Ian Curtis took his own life - 'He was totally gutted and fucked up, as you would be' - and how he felt when Bernard had failed to show a face at Martin Hannett's funeral - 'He should have gone. Wouldn't you think he'd have that much respect for Martin that he'd go to his funeral?' Looks good - in print. The actual interview was a disaster.
It started off OK. Larry had been funny and friendly on the phone and we began on similar terms. No real problems, but I started to get a bit narked with some of Larry's riddles. A perfectly straightforward question was answered with some obtuse guff that frankly didn't make a lot of sense.
I asked Larry about Bernard and got a lengthy detour through the intricacies of why Larry didn't like compact discs. It was Larry and Alan a long way to come - plus the re-direction to Preston - to listen to this.
The more Larry rambled, the more I got the hump. The more I got the hump, the more aggressive Larry became. So I tried a different tack and mentioned Alan Hempsall of Crispy Ambulance. I knew that Section 25 were due to play with the Crispies in Brussels and thought a bit of common ground might get things back on track. I was wrong. 'What's Alan Hempsall got to do with it?' Larry exploded. 'Why do you keep going on about fucking Alan Hempsall!?' My next question didn't fair much better, a relatively straightforward query about where Section 25 thought they were seen by Factory in terms of priority. I'd mentioned to Larry on the phone that as well as being an author I lectured in journalism at Salford University. He'd clearly stored this nugget of information for later use. 'That's the stupidest fucking question I've ever heard in my life,' he said. 'You're a journalist? And you teach other people about journalism? Fuck me ...' I then asked Larry had he and the band ever considered moving away from Blackpool, given the scene they were connected with was based 40 odd miles away in Manchester. This was received quite badly.
'Move out of Blackpool?' Larry exclaimed, spluttering on his roll-up ciggie. 'Move? Move fucking where? Where else would we fucking live?' To be frank, by this stage I'd had enough.
I'd like to think I said something witty and Wildean that left its mark, that put Larry in his place and forced him to co-operate with me. Sadly, I didn't. I said the first thing that came into my head...
David Nolan: Lytham St Annes.
Larry Cassidy: You what?
DN: Lytham St Annes.
LC: You... fucking ... what?
DN: You asked me where else you could live and I'm giving you an answer. Lytham St Annes. It's nice and they've got a windmill on the seafront. Lytham St Annes. Fucking move there.
LC: (Long silence). I think we're done.
Larry skulked off and sat on an old settee, the kind every recording facility seems to have. As if by magic, Larry's brother Vin appeared and escorted me from the premises. I later found out there was nothing magical about it at all: 'At the time, me and the rest of the band were in the studio control room pissing ourselves as we recorded the interview on Larry's vocal mike,' Vin later told me.
Cheers. Actually Vin - the very definition of chalk to Larry's cheese and a proper gent - rang me a few days later to apologise and to fill in any gaps left by Larry. I think I actually apologised too. I'd lost my rag, something I've never done before or since.
Larry was giving me his time and if he wanted to be a grumpy, awkward sod then so be it. I was embarrassed that I'd lost what little cool I possessed in front of a musician I greatly admired. Even if he was being a grumpy, awkward sod.
Several days later I used the interview at university to show how a straightforward encounter can go horribly wrong. 'I did tell him about how you used the transcript in lectures at Salford on, "What to do when an interviewee is an awkward sod"', Vin Cassidy later told me. 'I think he was quite chuffed.' When Larry died in February, I was pleased there was so much positive coverage.
There were references in the obituaries to what a tricky customer could be; it got me thinking about that interview in 2007. I was unsure whether it was appropriate to write about what happened that night in Preston.
I uhmmed and aahed about for a while before sending an email to Vin Cassidy to get his approval. 'It would be refreshing to hear the story of the Preston interview / altercation,' Vin said, 'A nice change from all the other stuff about Larry.' I interviewed Larry again in 2009 for a book I did on Tony Wilson. I had a real feeling of déjà vu as I once again went to his house in Blackpool. There was the usual kerfuffle about times and arrangements but Larry was actually in this time; in fact both the brothers were there, with Vin as ever acting as peacemaker.
Larry was good as gold that day. Bit dotty, bit gnomic, but good as gold. Happy as... well, Larry. We had a laugh; I remember I gave him a hug at the end.
Larry Cassidy wasn't the easiest man in the world to hug. But I managed it... eventually.
David Nolan is a regular contributor to Scream City and has written biographies of Tony Wilson, Bernard Sumner, Damon Albarn, Simon Cowell, The 1975 and Ed Sheeran.
Issue 5 index
- A Factory Trip Around the World by Andrew James
- The Absence Of The Object Becomes A Presence You Can Feel by John Cooper
- Shadowplayers: The Rise and Fall of Factory Records by James Nice
- The Distractions by David Quantick
- Closer, Karamazov and K550 by Ian McCartney
- 33°52'38.29"E / 151°13'05.79"S by Matthew Robertson
- Our Man in Germany by John Cooper
- Factory Over America Part 1 by John Cooper
- Factory Over America Part 2 by John Cooper
- Looking From A Hilltop... at Lytham St Annes by David Nolan