The Farm - Biography
By Eric Brightwell
The Farm existed for several years in relative obscurity before they achieved massive, sudden popularity that vanished almost as quickly as it came. After evolving from soul-influenced, post-punk beginnings to post-rave baggy, The Farm’s musical development and sound closely mirrored that of their neighbors up river, Manchester’s Happy Mondays. With The Farm, however, the Mondays’ druggy surrealism was replaced with stridently leftist political statements.
The seeds of the Farm lie in The Excitements, a band made up of Phil “Stinker” on bass, Neil “Cad” Campbell on drums, Steve Grimes on guitar and Martin Dunbar on vocals. When Dunbar left, his position was filled by Peter Hooton, a former youth worker and editor of the legendary, irreverent, influential fanzine, “The End,” that catered to football subculture with its mix of sport, music and style “ins and outs.” After a couple of lineup changes, The Excitements rechristened themselves unofficially as The Soul of Socialism coalescing around a core of Hooton, Grimes, John Melvin on bass and Andy McVann on drums and bolstered by a brass section made up of Anthony Evans, Steve Levy and George Maher. After changing their name to The Farm, they played a series of poorly-attended gigs in small venues before being invited to perform on The Oxford Road Show alongside Madness, Marillion and The Smiths. After meeting the members of Madness, their singer Suggs agreed to produce The Farm’s debut single, 1984’s two-tonish “Hearts & Minds.”
Released in November 1985, “Steps of Emotion” was another class tune as was “Some People,” both which appeared again on 1986’s Pastures Old and New (Fire). Though their debut was full of inspired songs mixing politics, ska and post-punk, it nonetheless failed to sell well. On October 1, 1986, the band suffered a tragic blow when their 21-year-old drummer Andy McVann died from injuries sustained in a car chase with the cops. After that, Melvin departed and entered the construction business.
The new lineup of The Farm was completed when they (minus the brass) added Roy Boulter on drums, Keith Mullin on lead guitar, Ben Leach keyboards and Carl Hunter on bass. It wasn’t until July of 1989, with the release of “Body and Soul” on Foresight that The Farm reflected the influence of rave and scored a modest club hit. In April of the following year, their cover of "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" (re-titled “Stepping Stone”) paired with the house-influenced “Family of Man” did even better. September’s “Groovy Train” and “All Together Now” were huge hits on both sides of the Atlantic. The film, The Final Frame, (starring Suggs) featured the band in a cameo and further raised the band’s profile in the UK.
Eight years after forming, The Farm’s Spartacus (Sire) entered the charts at number one in April of 1991, near the height of the baggy craze. Despite a fairly varied approach and then-fashionable funky drummer beats, repeated listens fail to gel into a consistently rewarding experience, although it does feature several great songs.
By 1992, anything associated with baggy might as well have carried the plague. The first single off The Farm’s forthcoming album, “Love See No Colour” performed poorly. A fairly pointless cover of “Don’t You Want Me” did passably well, but suggested they band were running out of ideas. When the album, Love See No Colour (1992 Sire) was released, it was pretty much dead on arrival. Although the band still had its champions, 1994’s Hullaballoo (Sire) died an even quicker death and they went their separate ways. Years later, the band reconvened to cover The Searchers’ “Needles and Pins” for a compilation of Scouse artists covering number one hits by other Scousers.
Since the band’s dissolution, Hooton has been involved in activities mostly having to do with Liverpool FC. The rest of the band have all continued to work in various aspects of the entertainment industry, with Ben Leach notably joining the re-united Happy Mondays in their second incarnation. Former manager Kevin Sampson has gone on to write several books, including Awaydays and Powder. With the former now the basis for a major film, the latter (about his experiences with The Farm) may someday bring The Soul of Socialism to the big screen.