Neil Cossar answered the ad, his Stockport band Idiot Rouge had just lost a drummer
to Magazine (John Doyle) and Singer-Songwriter (Nick Simpson) to Nottingham University (later to form Peel favourites 23 Jewels) leaving just John Martin (bass) and Neil (gtr/vox). Mick had just moved to Manchester and had a bunch of numbers left over from his previous Punk band from darn’sarf, Trash. These, when cobbled together with some old Trash covers and some Idiot Rouge Cossar-vocalled originals, formed the basis of a set. A few beers in the Old Grey Horse (the kicker), across the road from the rehearsal place –the cellar under a church in Romiley – sealed the deal and after recruiting drummer Mike Juckes, The Cheaters were born.
The same rehearsal place was shared with Any Trouble who had a van, Neil had a PA and by this method one, the other, or both bands set about playing every provincial dive in Neil and Clive’s extensive address book. The first gig was the Duck in Mosley, home to Clive and John. God knows if it was any good but most of the songs started, had a middle and finished and that was good enough for a first outing.
Time passed and the following for both bands grew. Any Trouble graduated to Stiff Records. The Cheaters changed drummers to the powerhouse that was Stu (Scot) Burnett from Northwich and were taken on by Pete Hawkins from Octogrange management.
The first single (Triple A-side) was recorded at Cargo Studios by producer Steve Spector with the great Phil Ault engineering and put out on the Pre-Fab label. It featured a “recorded live in the studio” afterthought – Jimmy Reed’s classic Babe What You Want Me to Do. Mike Read, then doing the hip evening slot for Radio One, picked up on the track – and was at the time, a DJ that was considered to be one of the few that cared about music who gave new bands a listen.
Thanks to this, loads of gigs and Pete Hawkin’s suss, EMI picked the band up and gave sufficient advance that a proper PA, Van and Crew (Geoff Horne ex-Sham 69 rhythm guitar player) and Yvonne Ellis (a great F.O.H. engineer) could be put together. So, off went the Cheaters gigging like crazy. So much so that they ended up with the tag of “hardest working band in the UK” – 360 gigs in one year.
A second single bombed. EMI felt a “proper producer” and London studio was the way forward. Pete Wingfield was that man. Pete was a consummate musician but that was the trouble. The Cheaters were about attitude. The sessions with Wingfield put bass-player, John Martin under a lot of (unnecessary) pressure. John was, at the time, the heart of the band and he knew that a polished record was not what we were about. He was the band’s Nick Lowe. He was right. He quit. EMI didn’t like the tracks and dropped the band anyway.
Luckily, help was at hand. Neil Brockbank had encountered the Cheaters when they played with his band, Octogrange stablemates, the Hitmen. Neil was (and still is) a great bass-player and producer – he’s now best known for his recent work with Nick Lowe – and he volunteered to work up the tracks with the band as studio bass-player/producer and to go for a sound like the band had recorded with Bob Sargeant for a Radio One Kid Jensen session – raw and loud.
All the band needed now was a studio and, very kindly, Manchester recording legend Andy Mac gave the band a deal that they could pay him later for studio time at his Revolution Studios if the planned LP could be recorded in the 10 days he was on his holidays. Re-enter Phil Ault on co-production/engineering duties and the result was the “Sweat it Out” LP with an included free 12” single – an echo-drenched, harmonica-led version of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky”. The initial release was on the band/studios Revo label with a catalogue number taken from the number plate of the band’s Fiat splitter-van; the one with Permanently On Tour emblazoned on the side – as indeed they were.
With no budget apart from the cost of the pressing, the band plugged their album by camping-out outside Radio One and accosting unsuspecting DJ as they came to and left from work. (You could do that in those days). Kid Jensen was nabbed after his evening show en-route to some friends’ house for the evening where he played the free 12” and liked it. So much so he played the song regularly on his show and tipped of Mike Read and Peter Powell to do the same. Mike Read now had the breakfast show on Radio One – the holy grail of plugging opportunities.
As a result, Albion Records did a super-fast release on 45 and The Cheaters were regularly played for 8 weeks – unheard of with no chart entry.
So why no chart entry? Well, at the time independent records labels, like Albion, were distributed by train. There was a train strike. The major labels cleaned up as they did so by van. Or maybe it wasn’t destined to be. Who knows? The band tickled the bottom of the indie charts but, more importantly, the radio exposure lead to a series of support tour opportunities – with both Paul Youngs. Paul Young, later a hit-making solo artist, was in the superb Q Tips at the time; Paul Young, later of Mike and the Mechanics fronted Sad Café.
Bigger gigs followed and the band were especially liked in the Northern provinces – from Manchester to Cumbria and Scotland – rather than “pay to play” London. Norway was particularly good for the band as writer Tom Skjeklesaeter championed the band in his magazine Puls – leading to a “gig of the year” commendation from the unlikely source of a “New Wave/Goth” magazine Neu Tackter for a riotous night in Oslo, (The Cheaters became the first UK band in over 10 years to play a gig above the artic circle during one tour).
The physical demands on the band were high. Sometimes playing two or even three shows a day in Scandinavia and up and down the UK, the road went on forever. The band lugged their own gear and did their share of the driving. The on-stage activity had now got to manic levels, in addition to the traditional harmonica solo, standing-on-your-table-if-you-ignore-us, walk-abouts from Mick on a specially-extended mic lead (note: this was before radio mics, people), the whole band would play number after number from floor, in the audience if necessary, until the place took off.
The Cheaters needed to record another album and build on the radio success of “Spirit”. To the rescue came Rocket Publishing’s Jim Doyle – hooking the band up with “Japanese Boy” Eurovision hit-maker Neil Ross and his Hollyrood record label at REL studios in Edinburgh.
Neil gets the most fantastic sounds and the initial 4 backing tracks/demos were absolutely fan-fuckin’-tastic. Really! The band was exstatic! Off on tour to beloved Scandinavia again, including the only recorded live on TV performance for Swedish TV show Casablanca.
Now we need to talk about Dave Lewty. Lewty auditioned for the band around the time of “Sweat it Out”; hung out with the band and even sang backing vocals on the Revo LP. The band loved the guy. He lost the audition to Malc Smart. He auditioned again when Malc left. But Cam got the job. Lewty decided to do the lights and so joined the crew and did the Scandi tour. Cam was given his P45. Lewty formed the definite Cheaters line-up and that was that.
The Hollyrood sessions became an album “Hit Me, I’m Happy” with Lewty on bass. Months passed and Neil finished the album with great guest musicians. There were choirs, groovy sax players, the best tin-whistle player you could ever hear (multi-tracked of course) and Foster (Foss) Patterson ..s. It was an epic! Every track! Sadly, it wasnae The Cheaters.
Then (the late) Derek Brandwood offered the band what they really needed. A Live LP. His new job was to promote Yellow 2 studios – part of the Strawberry Studios complex in Stockport. Friends kicked in and a “Live in the Studio” gig was promoted. The band played for 3 hrs to a live audience with breaks for “changing the tapes” and Chris Nagle, Charlatans, Stone Roses etc producer and former side-kick of the legendary (and the late) Martin Hannet, recorded it as it happened. No overdubs. Just the band with an invited audience doing what they did best.
Music-wise the LP “Just Live” defined the band. It was to The Cheaters what “Stupidity” was to Dr Feelgood, what “Blow Your Face Out” was to the J Geils Band and “Get Yer Ya Yas” out to The Rolling Stones.
The band split straight after. To quote Coss “That’s the best we are ever going to do, let’s end it here”. And a live album with no live band is not a commercial proposition.
Coss and Mick formed the world’s only two-man, one-man-band – Cossmic , supporting acts like Dr Feelogood, John Cooper Clarke and Wilco Johnson whenever they hit Manchester. Both had stints as DJs in the pirate, later licensed, radio station, KFM, Steve Toon and Charlie Turner’s hotbed for new Manchester talent. Craig Cash, Caroline Ahearn, Terry Christian and Jon Ronson all cut their teeth on the station which was the first to play a host of great Manchester acts including the Happy Mondays and Oasis.
Scott Burnett joined a number of local bands and remained in his native Northwich. He continues to play with indie-rock act Lucigenic.
Dave Lewty joined a number of local bands, including some with Burnett, then became the live sound engineer for a number of name acts, including Green Day and The Men They Couldn’t Hang. He moved to the USA to sell mixing desks, ending up in Simi Valley, California where he continues to play with bad-ass Anglo-American punkers Blunt.
Coss stayed with radio as a presenter and station manager until he formed his own regional radio promotions company, Absolute PR, still looking after acts as diverse as Natalie Imbruglia, Gordon Haskell, Feist, Jean-Michelle Jarre and Lloyd Cole. Cossar also launched the on-line music site www.thisdayinmusic.com in 1999 and had his first book published based on the site in 2005.
Brophy ran his own “Yacht Club” demo recording studio; claim to fame - recording pre-Silvertone demos for the Stone Roses; before working for the same mixing console manufacturer that later sent Lewty to the States. His cellar studio, Hey! Bo Didsbury!, recorded “acoustic” tracks for a number of Coss’ and Pete Hawkins’ clients – including PJ Harvey and Picture House and lost a small fortune on his in-house label, Honest Records. After a period as a journalist for Livesound, he is now an export sales consultant, living in Manchester and Barcelona.