Jayne Casey – Big in Japan … and Liverpool

When Jayne Casey joined punk-influenced Liverpool band Big in Japan with Bill Drummond, Holly Johnson, Budgie and then Ian Broudie, it was an eccentric meeting of minds that later split and went on to impact music, culture and the whole future of Liverpool. The guys made it big with KLF, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Lightning Seeds; Jayne went on to get involved in the planning and directing of city arts events, including 2008 Capital of Culture and subsequently heading up the establishment of a Liverpool creative area – the ‘Baltic Triangle’. This year, Jayne Casey was awarded a prestigious international award – the Keychange Inspiration Award for making ‘an extraordinary and pioneering contribution to music’.

Jayne Casey Liverpool
Jayne Casey photo by Christopher Flack

Interviewed in 1993, Jayne Casey explains how self-expression as a woman was always her key aim:

“I’ve always felt that as a woman I wanted to break some new ground, and I wanted to express female things, and that was quite an isolating thing, because you know, it was never really accepted. The women who did break through, like Patti Smith, were taking the male formula and doing it very well, because they were women, they were making it very successfully. I wanted to find something that expressed my thing as a woman. I always found that very difficult to do from an artistic point of view, because the culture of rock & roll has been male, and I’ve found it difficult to slot myself in. Because you’re either a pretty girl, or you can go down a rock line, which was never what I wanted to do. I wanted to find a different expression that was very female without being typically sexually female, do you know what I mean? I’ve always had difficulty with that, I think women still do.”

Back to the seventies

Members of Big in Japan came together from difficult/different backgrounds. At a young age, Jayne’s mother died leaving her with an alcoholic abusive father and Jayne later went into care:

“ I travelled the children’s homes with my records under my arm. When I arrived at a new children’s home the first thing I’d look for was a record player.”

By 1976, Jayne was showing her strong visual style. She shaved her head for shock value:

“I was really sweet and lovely, so it was a bad attitude in terms of I wasn’t interested in the mainstream. I felt like I’d been abused by the mainstream and I wanted to create a new world. So, I shaved my head and I guess I was the first punk in the city … Shaving my hair off was about getting rid of a lot of my femininity; it gave me more of an equal playing field.”

Jayne Casey Liverpool 1976
Photo by Keith Bleasdale

Jayne set up a clothes stall – Aunt Twacky’s at O’Halligan’s Warehouse – which was a good way to meet other alternative and arty people in Liverpool at that time:

“In the 70’s a lot of the shops still had 60’s swag, so I used to buy Beatles jeans and go to London and sell it on the King’s Road, and I met Don Letts and I’d buy my clothes from SEX before coming back to Liverpool.”

There’s an argument that elements of punk rock originated in 1973 with the art rock performance crowd at Liverpool School of Art. The college Christmas event took the principle that ‘anyone can get up and do it’ instead of booking the usual rock band. Some of the 13 people who formed that legendary theatrical performance refined themselves into the band Deaf School. Melody Maker adored them; Warners Records signed them up as a possible Next Big Thing.

Ronnie Hughes, a student at the time, describes the first Deaf School as

“a cast of fabulous characters that made the tendency of most bands then still to turn up, denim-clad, plug in, mumble and jam for hours look simply dull. A tendency that would soon be swept away by the same punk that would, almost accidentally, sweep away our Deaf School too. ” Ronnie Hughes

The reason why this is important to Jayne Casey, Big in Japan and the re-creation of Liverpool as music capital is that Deaf School trickled down their money, equipment and know-how to the new generation. Deaf School manager Ken Testi opened Eric’s in Liverpool in October 1976, just as punk rock was taking hold. Rather than being simply a venue, Eric’s acted as a nurturing and gathering point for the sort of kids who also wanted to get up and do it.

Eric's Club Liverpool first flyer from 1976
First gigs at Eric’s in 1976

Eric’s was a proper club with an annual membership, and ran early shows open to younger kids. Would-be musicians could also use the equipment during the day in a jumbled procession of bands influenced by Roxy Music/Velvet Underground and then later by The Clash and Sex Pistols. Deaf School guitarist Clive Langer pushed for Big in Japan to become a band with Jayne as the front person:

“Nobody wanted us, we were all a bit too eccentric at a time when punk was quite macho and clear cut; to have a guitarist in a kilt, Bill Drummond, and a gay boy with a shaved head, Holly Johnson, and a mental girl with a shaved head, guess who, it was a bit too much for people to handle. We always wanted to be like The Monkees or something.”

Ian Broudie and Jayne Casey - photo Steve Cantlay
Ian Broudie and Jayne Casey – photo Steve Cantlay

Big in Japan played gigs described as ‘unique and flamboyant’ before recording a single which was released in 1977 on the Eric’s Record label. A petition to stop Big in Japan and get them to split up, started by Julian Cope of Teardrop Explodes seems to be part of a real competitive rivalry between the Eric’s bands, but also has the air of one of Bill Drummond’s publicity stunts.

 “All through the 80’s, Ian [McCulloch] and Julian would slag me in the music papers at every opportunity, because that’s what they felt they had to do. It was the most competitive I’ve ever seen in the Liverpool music scene at that time, and it was quite odd because I was the only girl really there at that time, there weren’t that many girls around doing things at that point.”

In the first part of this TV programme, Jayne Casey looks back on the Eric’s Club days, and there is some fantastic early-days film of Big in Japan playing live.

We particularly like some of Jayne’s later work with Pink Military – a band that changed the last part of the name (Pink Military Stand Alone, Pink Industry), these were collaborations Jayne had with different musicians when not involved with Big in Japan. There was an interim period when Big in Japan split up in 1978 but then reformed in the next year to do a Peel session and record an album, and Pink Military/Industry recorded three singles, an album and a total of six Peel sessions. There was also a one-off Casey appearance in 2016 on ‘Keep the Love’ by G-Love.

In 1981, Eric’s closed; many of the bands that it had launched were now mainstream nationally and internationally-known acts and Liverpool was once again cool. Thirty three years later ‘Eric’s – The Musical’ hit the stage, including portrayals of Jayne Casey, Holly Johnson et al. And in 2013, Deaf School performed at Liverpool International Festival. Jayne Casey’s involvement in these 21st century high profile events has been on the planning and strategic side., and in deciding to leave singing in favour of managing and directing music in Liverpool, she has had a much bigger long-term impact. It’s like a modern-day official version of the ‘enabling’ that the Deaf School team did, but with big budgets, PR and Health and Safety.

As a consistent advocate of Liverpool’s culture, Jayne has preserved musical heritage but also set up events, spaces and conversations that have enabled newer Liverpool music to thrive, attracting global tourists of all generations. And Jayne Casey has now been recognised as a great female role model working in a largely-male industry. Becky Ayres, Chief Operating Officer of Liverpool Sound City, presenting the Keychange Inspiration Award to Jayne said:

  “Jayne Casey is a true unsung hero, a rebel and auteur who has pioneered musical and cultural change in the North for decades and has been behind some of the biggest phenomena in recent times, such as Eric’s and Cream.  She was one of the only, if not the only woman in Liverpool creating and curating amazing art in a landscape dominated by men for so many years and she is inspiring to me not only for what she has achieved, but for her incredible passion and the fact that she always looks forward and embraces every generation and the zeitgeist that comes forward.  We’re really lucky to have her in Liverpool to look up to.”

There are some interesting interviews and information online; the quotes above come from the listed interviews. The main photo is by Hilary Steele; it’s the front cover shot of Eric’s photozine published by Hanging Around Books; other photos in this blog come from the Liverpool Echo:

Interview with Liverpool Echo 2013

Overview of Eric’s

Profile 2019

Peel Sessions

Interview with Lin Sangster published by Mike Appelstein

Big In Japan - Big In Japan (1977) - YouTube
Big in Japan

We salute you, Jayne Casey for being a full-throttle early punk singer to admire but also for the direction you subsequently took, which has helped to shape Liverpool and keep music on the agenda.

3 thoughts on “Jayne Casey – Big in Japan … and Liverpool

  1. Hi Vim, great article but would have been even better if you’d credited Hilary Steele for taking the Big In Japan photo at the top of your piece. It’s taken from – and is the front cover shot of – Hilary’s Eric’s photozine published by Hanging Around Books here: https://hangingaroundbooks.com/collections/photobooks/products/the-crucial-years-erics-liverpool-1977-1980 .

    1. Yes we will do; we do try to find and credit the sources of all our quotes and photos – so thanks!

  2. Jayne is a FORCE. Love her and I’m glad you’ve done a blog on her.

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