At the end of 2015 Steve Lindsey, founding member of Liverpool art rock trailblazers Deaf School, stumbled upon two 1/2″ open reel video tape recordings of the band, tucked away in a previously unknown nook of his Dublin home.
2016 is the 40th anniversary of Deaf School’s first album 2nd Honeymoon.
With the landmark approaching, Steve felt it was an ideal time to get the tapes digitised. The video transfers done in the Great Bear studio will contribute to the growing amount of documentation online celebrating the band’s antics.
Betwen 1976-1978 Deaf School were signed to Warner Brothers, releasing three albums.
Deaf School are described by music journalist Dave Simpson as ‘a catalyst band‘ ‘whose influence was great – who might even have changed pop history in their own way – but who never made the leap into the music history books.’
Deaf School nonetheless remain legendary figures to the people who loved, and were profoundly transformed by, their music.
Holly Johnson, who went on the achieve great success with Frankie Goes to Hollywood, described Deaf School as ‘the benchmark that had to be transcended. Someone had to make a bigger splash. After the “big bang” of the 1960s, they were the touchstone that inspired a wave of creative rebellion and musical ambition that revived Liverpool’s music scene for a generation.’
Camp and Chaotic
Deaf School’s performances were a celebratory spectacle of the camp and chaotic.
The band took their lead from art music projects such as the Portsmouth Sinfonia, an orchestra comprised of non musicians which anyone could join, regardless of ability, knowledge or experience.
‘Everyone who wanted to be part of Deaf School was welcomed and no one turned away. The music was diverse and varied, drawing on rock and roll, Brecht and cabaret,’ Steve told us.
The ½” porta-pak video tapes feature rare footage of Deaf School performing on 1st December 1975 at the Everyman Theatre, one of Liverpool’s many iconic venues.*
The show was organised for Warner Brothers employees who had taken the train from London to Liverpool to see Deaf School perform.
Porta-pak open reel video was revolutionary for its time: It was the first format to enable people outside the professional broadcast industry to make (often documentary) moving images.
For this reason material captured on ½” videotape is often fairly eclectic and its edgy, glitchy aesthetic celebrated by contemporary documentary makers.
The Great Bear studio has certainly received several interesting ½” video tapes from artists and performers active in the 1970s. We also did an interview with researcher Peter Sachs Collopy who discusses how porta-pak video technology was perceived by artists of that era as a ‘technology of consciousness’.
Non-professional video tape recordings made in the 1970s are, nevertheless, fairly rare. At that time it was still expensive to acquire equipment. Even if videos were made, once they had served their purpose there is a strong possibility the tape would be re-used, wiping whatever was recorded on there.
With this in mind, we are in a lucky position to be able to watch the Deaf School videos, which have managed to survive the rough cuts of history.
Preserving 1/2 ” open reel video tape
The video of the Everyman Theatre performance was cleaned prior to transfer because it was emitting a small amount of loose binder. It was recorded onto Scotch-branded ½” video tape which, in our experience, pose very few problems in the transfer process.
The other tape Steve sent us was recorded onto a SONY-branded ½” video tape. In comparison, these tapes always need to be ‘baked’ in a customised-incubator in order to temporarily restore them to playable condition.
The preservation message to take away here is this: if you have ½” video tape on SONY branded stock, make them your digitisation priority!
Deaf School Now
Steve told me that members of Deaf School ‘always kept in touch and remained friends’.
Over the past 10 years they have reformed and performed a number of gigs in the UK and Tokyo.
In 2016 they are planning to go to the U.S., reaching out to ‘the pockets of people all over the world who know about Deaf School.’
Ultimately though Liverpool will always be the band’s ‘spiritual home.’
When they return to Liverpool the gigs are always sold out and they have great fun, which is surely what being in a band is all about.
* The Everyman archive is stored in Special Collections at Liverpool John Moores University. This archive listing describes how the Everyman ‘is widely recognised as a pivotal influence and innovative key player in regional theatre. A model of innovative practice and a centre of experimental theatre and new writing, it has thrived as a nurturing ground for a new breed of directors, actors, writers and designers, and a leading force in young people’s theatre.’
Many thanks to Steve Lindsey for talking to us about his tapes!