People generally pigeonhole bands that arose during Britpop as great; Pulp, Blur, early Oasis, Gene or ghastly; Cast, Northern Uproar, 60ft Dolls, Shed Seven. But there were another group of acts. These were bands who showed much promise but whose careers were swiftly ended in the Britpop cull. Lick were one such band. Formed after answering a Melody Maker advert, Gary Cosby (vocals, guitar) and Simon Moore (lead guitar) recruited Simon Walker (bass) and Andy Stone (drums) in 1994.
On the strength of their live show and polished demos, Lick attracted the attention of record label mogul Seymor Stein and signed to Warners UK. They released four amazing singles including one of the best songs recorded during the ’90s with “Stand Up!”. However their androgynous image and sexuality — Gary was openly gay — was at odds with the prevailing Noel-rock direction Britpop was headed. This, coupled with little support from radio and press led them to being dropped on the eve of releasing their appropriately named debut album Turbulence. Webcuts tracked down Gary Cosby and grilled him about the whole Lick experience.
First of all how did a guy from Rockhamptom, Australia find himself in Camden at the height of Britpop?
I know, I must have been the only Aussie who managed to sneak in to the Britpop shop. Long story short: I moved to London from Sydney about eight years prior to the whole Britpop thing taking off. I’d been playing in bands during my teenage years over there and wasn’t satisfied with anything I’d done. I’d always dreamed of living in the UK , where all the bands I’d loved growing up came from. After the band I was playing in split up I made the decision to leave everything behind — arriving in the UK with an acoustic guitar and ten quid. I made a conscious decision to start all over again. I was a complete loner, musically, for a while squatting around the Whitechapel/Bethnal Green areas of London spending my days strumming away, writing songs and thinking about where I wanted to go. I eventually hooked up with Simon Moore via an advertisement I put in Melody Maker looking for a musical “genius”. I found one. We experimented a lot — just the two of us, writing and recording in little home made studios we set up ourselves. Finally, in February 1994 we decided to get a band together. That band was Lick.
LICK – Turbulence (1996, Unreleased)
01 – Stranger
02 – Life Is Everything
03 – Fire Boy
04 – My Summer 31
05 – Filming
06 – Come
07 – Still
08 – Smart Terrorist
09 – The Sweetest Thing
10 – Are You Happy Now?
11 – Stand Up!
12 – Lunapark
Who were some of the bands and people of the era you befriended?
I think we met or came in to contact with everybody at some point. We rehearsed at the same places as Suede, Gene, Pulp etc. I can remember Noel Gallagher giving us his blessing at a gig in Camden. He said he liked us because we were a bit “ropey” like Oasis, apparently. The Longpigs were nice, so were Menswear, Powder and Sleeper — we crossed paths with all of them at some point or other. I can remember us running in to Menswear on Tottenham Court Rd Station, we’d got signed at the same time, and we were so excited. I didn’t personally become friends with anyone though as I was too shy. The other band members were a lot more sociable than me.
Any bands or people you found yourself at odds with?
Damon Albarn was horrible to me backstage after a show at Shepherd’s Bush Empire where we supported Adam Ant. I remember standing next to him earwigging a conversation he was having about us, saying how great he thought we were. When we were introduced a bit later though he just snarled at me and wouldn’t shake my hand. An acquaintance of his consoled me later by saying that that was just “Damon”. Justine was gorgeous though.
What were some of the high points during your time in Lick?
For me personally, getting signed to the same label as my teenage hero Chrissie Hynde. On reflection, our popularity in Thailand was a high point, although it made me feel uncomfortable at the time. I think the whole of those couple of years was a high point — but was of course mixed with a lot of disappointment too.
Pre-Britpop Suede and The Manic Street Preachers flirted with androgyny and mascara, taking their cues from glam-rock and during Britpop, and afterwards, bands like My Life Story and clubs like Popstarz flourished, why do you think Lick were vilified for their image and sexuality?
I don’t think we were vilified at all by the public. I never had a member of any audience or the public attack me over my sexuality. There were journalists who genuinely disliked our image. I don’t think we looked “real” enough for them — or fit in with their ideas of what was right for the Britpop scene. I think we were a little ahead of our time and the whole make-up/gay thing overshadowed what was in fact a very good band. We had a strong commercial image that did hark back to the bands you mention — we were just taking it one step further. Some journalists at the time found that hard to swallow.
Do you think it was smacked of hypocrisy that publicly Britpop era bands predominately expressed an heterosexual image while privately things weren’t so clear cut?
That’s interesting, because I doubt there was very many gay men and women involved in Britpop… or was there? Do you know something I don’t? I’m thinking about bands who were around at the time, and who were directly associated with that scene. Martin Rossiter from Gene was bi-sexual, I think he talked about that in interviews, Debbie from Echobelly, but I really don’t recall who was or wasn’t. I think us gays were pretty thin on the ground to be honest! In direct answer to your question though, no, it’s not very inspiring that someone should hide their sexuality for the sake of acceptability/fame. I do think back then it would have been very difficult though if you were on that scene, were closeted, and in a band desiring success. I just wasn’t prepared to do that. No question. I also think sexuality isn’t ‘clear cut’ as you put it. The other guys in Lick were straight — but they dabbled — that doesn’t make them hypocritical declaring themselves heterosexual.
Was the Britpop movement actually pretty conservative both musically and sexually?
It’s highly unusual for anything to be commercially successful without it being a bit conservative, isn’t it? Britpop had all the right conservative elements/players to cross successfully over to the mainstream. So yes, musically it was conservative. Sexually, well, who knows what people get up to? It coincided with the whole laddism thing that was going on at the time and sound-tracked that perfectly. You had the “thugs” (Oasis) and the “Cheeky Monkeys” (Blur) and Pulp were the “Fops” who added an edge. I don’t think Lick conformed to any of that. We were certainly at odds with those bands though. We were something else.
From John Harris’ The Last Party (p263) “If throughout 1994 many of the groups that had caught the imaginations of journalists and talent scouts had cast themselves in Blur’s image, it was Oasis who were now paradigmatic…That [Select] article’s upshot was clear enough: if a group were fond of high-street casual wear, endowed with swaggering machismo, in thrall to The Beatles, and fond of the the word ‘top’, they were in with a shout.” If that statement was accurate it would be especially devastating for bands like Lick.
Success is all about being in the right place at the right time. It sounds ridiculous now, but back then, the porthole to mainstream success for bands was an extremely small one, and it was via those journalists and talent scouts mentioned in the above quote. There was no MySpace or any social networking sites. I can remember one label making no secret of the fact that they were holding off offering us a deal until they saw next week’s NME review. As an alternative band in the UK you really did need the backing of NME and Melody Maker first before radio or television would consider playing your songs or videos. It was a natural progression for bands that made sense at the time and which meant big trouble for a band like Lick.
We were coming from an entirely different direction altogether. We took our influences from Glam Rock, New Wave and the New Romantics. I do really think we could have easily attained commercial success though had we scored a reasonable level of exposure. That monopoly doesn’t exist today, thank god.
Did you solely write the lyrics?
No. The lyrics were written by me and a non-member of the band. A close friend who I had collaborated with prior to, and including the time I was in Lick. Post Lick too.
Apart from the obvious sexual themes in your lyrics, would you agree there also seems to be an angry defiance in the darker themed songs such as “Stand Up!”, “Are You Happy Now?”, “Filming” and “Lunapark?”
Yes. I was allergic to comfortable lyrical themes at that time. Maybe that came from subconsciously worrying about what I was up against. I hope they come across as passionate too.
Where did you draw your inspirations from when writing lyrics?
They usually began life as quite esoteric poems about relationships and feelings, pop culture and poems by my writing partner.
If I felt a connection I would sometimes continue on with them. Between the two of us we’d eventually come up with something that I would write a melody and chords for. Simon Moore would do the rest.
Does the 31 in “My Summer 31” hold any significance?
Yes, it was my age at the time of the song’s concept.
It must’ve been devastating to be told that Turbulence was not going to be released. Was the reason given from Warners simply one of not selling enough singles or were there management/staff changes or other conflicts that factored into their decision?
Actually we were never told. The album was mastered, photos taken and a cover was in production. Prior to any final decision being made on it’s release the band made the decision to split. Andy and Simon Walker were unhappy with their roles in the band and there was a heavy cloud of disappointment and frustration with our lack of success. This coincided with a major reshuffle at Warners and, crucially, the A&R team that had signed the band disappeared. Our singles had sold well considering the very little airplay they had received, however it was very obvious by this time that NME & Melody Maker were not prepared to get behind the band — apart from cursory mentions. I don’t think the label knew what to do with us at that point. Nobody had any positive thoughts. Nobody except me.
Were you resentful after the positive buzz around your signing that it ended how it did?
No. I think everybody was a little relieved once the plug was pulled. To be fair Warners gave us complete artistic control over everything. I think they only released our last single as a gesture of good will though. It was obvious they’d lost focus on us. A lot of my friends were aghast at how well I was taking it… but I wasn’t sure either by that time if Lick was right for me. I don’t think we had a good support system around us which is vital for a new act, and I don’t think we were given even half a chance.
Did you look into the possibility of releasing it on another label…
I doubt that would have been possible.
Did you ever consider continuing Lick?
Yes. I seemed to be the only person out of everyone, including management, who was saying ‘Let’s try and get through this’. As a parting gesture Warners even offered to honour the financial support for a tour that had been booked and advertised. No one saw any point though — a very depressing time — but ultimately it was probably for the best. We were obviously not very happy as a band.
Do you keep in touch with the other members of Lick?
I’m occasionally in touch with Simon Moore but I haven’t seen Andy or Simon Walker in forever.
I see Simon Moore is composing music as part of Red Planet – have you done anything musically post-Lick? What about the other band mates (Simon Walker, Andy Stone)?
Simon Walker went on to have success and release two albums with a band called Vega4. I don’t know what Andy’s doing — I think he got into promoting bands. I’m no longer involved in the music business… but never say never!
So, “Are You Happy Now?”
Yes! I am still with my partner who was with me prior to Lick, and my writing partner is still my close friend. It’s amazing how Lick still pops up in my life and enters my thoughts regularly. I’m glad it happened and I don’t regret a thing.