On this day 25 years ago our record label Produce Records released All Together Now. The song had been a long time in the making. I first wrote the lyrics to ‘No Mans Land’ shortly after Michael Foot had been disgracefully slurred at Remembrance Sunday in Nov 1981 for allegedly showing disrespect for wearing what the right wing press described as a donkey jacket. It was in fact an expensive coat purchased from Harrods, which even the Queen Mother, had complimented him on. I wrote the lyrics in anger at the sheer hypocrisy of the reports that had been ignited by a right wing Labour MP contacting a journalist to complain about Michael Foot’s attire (some things never change.)
My reasoning was that the soldiers from the First World War would’ve had more in common with him than the ‘top brass’ who sent the young soldiers to their death in No Man’s Land. If only the dead could speak I thought!
I knew about the unofficial truce that had occurred in December 1914 between the Germans and the British but at that time I didn’t think enough people knew about it so I was determined to publicise this remarkable outbreak of humanity amidst the horrors of trench warfare. This was before the likes of Sainsbury’s brought it to the masses attention last year with their crass attempt at selling more turkeys at Christmas. Ironically this was to counter the threat of German supermarkets taking more market share. Many historians would argue was the real reason for the First World War was that Germany was threatening traditional British markets.
No Man’s Land originally had six verses and no real recognised chorus but it became a crowd favourite in the early years of The Farm during the 80s. For many years our guitarist Steve Grimes had been suggesting that we tried to match the lyrics to what he called the ‘sheep/wool advert’, which included a classical piece of music by Pachelbel. I lost count the number of times he had suggested it but it wasn’t until 1989 that we actually tried it. He had been right it worked brilliantly but we still had no chorus. We recorded a version of it for the BBC in Sept 1990 and then went into Mayfair studios in Primrose Hill to fine-tune it.
After deciding that we had a suitable chorus that captured the spirit and feeling of the time we recorded the track in Mayfair with Suggs and Terry Farley producing in the autumn of 1990. Suggs suggested shortening the six verses to three, as it would’ve been too long for a single and also dropping most of the music out for the first half of the chorus. It worked and we were all pleased with the results but had no idea if it would capture the public’s imagination. We kept on playing the mix in the studio and never seemed to get bored of it which was a good sign but we had no idea if it would be so popular.
The first time we got an indication of its potential was when Carl ‘Chas” Smyth of Madness who was then working for Go Discs at the time heard it on one of his regular visits to see Suggs in the studio. This of course was before Madness had reformed for the legendary Finsbury Park Madstock gigs of 1992 and Carl asked us if Andy MacDonald the owner of Go Discs could come and hear it. We weren’t too keen as we were happy with our own purely indie label set up in Liverpool (Produce) but in the end we let him come in to hear it after all Go Discs was a cool label so we were interested in what he thought. As soon as Andy MacDonald heard it he said to us ‘that’s a Christmas No 1 if ever I heard one but if you stay with Produce Records it won’t be. If you sign to Go Discs I guarantee it will be.’ He offered us a huge amount of money to sign but we took a certain satisfaction in saying thanks but no thanks we are happy were we are. Andy was probably right about them having the financial clout and record shop ‘deals’ to get it to number one but to tell you the truth it would’ve been unthinkable to leave Produce at that point. We had helped set it up with the financial help of one of the Moores family (Littlewoods) and we wanted to do it ourselves. None of us had had any experience of running a record label and none of us were ready for the avalanche of success but it was a rollercoaster we weren’t going to jump off. We were taking on the majors who had rejected our image/songs in the 80s and it felt good. We were a pure ‘indie’ set up distributed by Pinnacle not one of the major labels like some so called ‘indie’ set-ups that you see in documentaries.
We decided no amount of money would tempt us. The next thing we had to do was a video that suited the song. The idea was to invite our families down to London to make a black and white video in a pub. We did consider doing it in Liverpool but feared when word got out that too many people would turn up. A pub next to the Shepherds Bush Empire was chosen on the Goldhawk Rd. It was frequented by the older generation many of whom were from Ireland. Apart from a few extras most of the people in the video were relatives of the group. It was a poignant moment when my Uncle George a veteran of Dunkirk and the D-Day landings lip-synched the first verse with the help of some whisky to relax him.
We were very proud of the video directed by Angus Cameron because it captured the moment. We avoided references to the First World War but I think it works as the song means something different to different people. We saw it as an anti war song but some people thought it was a song about ‘rave’ culture and others saw it as a ‘family’ party sing-along song. Since 1990 it was been adopted by numerous football clubs but the first known rendition of it came from Liverpool fans returning from a match in London who were filmed singing at Lime St in December 1990 ‘Brucie’s dropped it again, Brucie’s dropped it again in No Mans Land.’ This was a reference to Bruce Grobbelaar dropping another cross during a match. This footage appears on one of our video compilations.
It reached No 4 in the UK singles chart (so Andy MacDonald was right) but stayed in the chart for several months and well into 1991. It prepared the way for our No 1 album Spartacus that was the biggest selling indie album of the period. We licensed it to ‘independent’ labels around the world so there was no coordinated marketing plan but the song soon because popular all around the world especially in Germany. Most people presume it got to No 1 in the UK as it was everywhere during that period which incidentally was during the lead up to the first Gulf War. Twenty-five years on wars are still raging in the Middle East so its time to reflect on the lyrics from the song
‘same old story again, all those tears shed in vain, nothing learnt and nothing gained, only hope remains.’
Peter Hooton Nov 2015