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The Peace & Freedom Magazine Icicle Works Interview


Ian McNabb of The Icicle Works interviewed by Christine Layfield for Peace & Freedom, Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring 1989

The Icicle Works were one of the great talents of British music in the mid to late 80s. Here, Christine Layfield interviews band leader and founder, Ian McNabb. Additional text is by Christine.

The Icicle Works formed in Liverpool in 1981, during the second Merseyside explosion. While angry young men threw bricks and petrol bombs in Toxteth, others vented their energies in more constructive ways; strumming on their guitars.

After their third single put them on 'Top of the Pops', and their first album received a right bashing from many media persons, The Icicle Works slipped below the surface of commercial pop. But they continued to develop and improve. Between 1984 and 1988 three albums were released: The small price of a Bicycle (a title aimed at Norman Tebbit), Seven singles deep, and If you want to Defeat your enemy, sing this song. 1988 brought 'Blind' and comments like, “It's hard to imagine a more diverse record.”

It's difficult to sum up the whole history of a band in one article – especially if it's The Icicle Works; from poetry and melody to thinly disguised social comment, tales of love, blues, rock and even heavy metal – it's all there.

Back to Liverpool, November 1962, The Beatles had just entered the charts for the first time – and Robert Ian McNabb was born.

CL. Did you grow up in Liverpool, and what sort of childhood did you have?

IM. I did grow up in Liverpool and have spent most of my life here. My dad was a taxi driver, and my mother worked at the Co-op. I'm an only child, so I always get spoiled a bit, missing out on the brother/sister scenario (whether this is good or bad I shall never know).

CL. Do you still live in Liverpool?

IM. I lived in London for about twelve months, but now I'm back in the 'pool.

CL. When and why did you decide that music was to be your chosen career?

IM. When I left school I knew music had to be my career; the only other thing I was interested in were 'Star Trek' and girls (neither being suitable career opportunities).

CL. What did you do before The Icicle Works formed?

IM. I went to music college (Mabel Fletcher College, Liverpool)...I've never ‘worked’.

A patriotic Merseysider, Ian once auditioned for a part in Brookside.

IM. I auditioned for the part of Barry Grant in Brookside, mainly because I had an equity card and I was skint! I didn't get the part (thank God!) because I was ‘unsuitable’ (p-p-p-pitty - Sizzler).

CL. 'Up Here in the North of England' painted a pretty bleak picture. Do you think things are now getting better on Merseyside?

IM. 'Up Here in the North of England' was written because I realised nobody had written a critical piece on Merseyside in a song before, I was fed-up hearing about Berlin or New Jersey. Think of it as a distant relative of 'Ferry 'cross the Mersey'. If a city's health/wealth is judged by its docklands development programme, you could say Liverpool was getting better.

CL. Do you worry about Icicle Works singles not getting into the charts, or do the cons of being a chart band outweigh the pros?

IM. I don't worry about Icicle Works singles getting into the charts – because I know they won't! We had a top twenty single in '84* in both England and America, and discovered that being on children's TV and American crap chat shows weren't ‘where it's at’.

CL. Who are your heroes/inspirations?

IM. Elvis Presley, Walt Disney, Arthur C. Clarke, Neil Young, Brian Wilson, John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Van Morrison, etc.

CL. One song on 'Blind' stands out more than the rest. 'Stood Before St. Peter' is one of the best Icicle Works songs ever. No, one of the best songs ever, full stop.

IM. 'Stood Before St. Peter' was written as a narrative type song, or a ‘story’ type song; a kinda cross between Dylan's 'Tangled Up in Blue' and Randy Newman's 'God Song'. I'm not a religious type, although the subject fascinates me. It basically says that saying your prayers every night does not guarantee you an aisle seat.

CL. In your opinion which are the best songs you've ever written?

IM. I like a lot of different songs I've written for one reason or another. Usually I like new songs best. Never saw my hometown 'til I went round the world is probably the best autobiographical song; hell, what can I say?!

Late in 1988 The Icicle Works underwent a major change as Chris Sharrock (drums) and Chris Lahye (bass) left the band. Chris, who is now a member of The LAs, was replaced by Zak Starkey (son of Richard/he used to bang the skins for a little combo called The Beatles, under the name of Ringo – Ed.). The new bass player is Roy Corkhill, and Dave Green remains on keyboards. The Icicle Works, as long as Ian is there, will continue.

IM. At the moment I'm working on new material; I've just completed a track for a Byrds tribute album. The reason why we're still around is: A) What else are we gonna do? B) The music gets better, not worse. The Icicle Works will continue for as long as I live...honest!

* Remember 'Love is a Wonderful Colour'? – Ed.

© Christine Layfield/Peace & Freedom.

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