Cult Heroes No. 1: James Maker
Beginning a new, regular weekly series. Check out all of Classic Rock‘s Cult Heroes here.
Cult Heroes is where we get some of Classic Rock magazine’s top writers to wax lyrical about their… well… cult heroes. We begin our series in controversial style with Geoff Barton on his old nemesis, RPLA frontman James Maker. If you’re not familiar with RPLA’s story, this will certainly amuse/surprise/intrigue you. Take it away, Geoff…
It was a most unlikely scenario.
Morrissey’s best china, who apparently began his career as an exotic dancer in The Smiths before fronting bequiffed Mancunian popsters Raymonde, growing his hair long and reinventing himself as the hunky lead singer in a bunch of raging ratbag rawkers called Red Patent Leather Angels (RPLA).
But that’s exactly what happened.
James Maker, come on down.
I remember visiting the offices of EMI Records one time at the beginning of the 1990s and being played a demo of RPLA’s song The Absolute Queen Of Pop.
It sounded like The Cult (Electric era) pummelling their way through a cover of David Bowie’s Rebel Rebel – and I loved it to bits. (Absolute Queen Of Pop is rumoured to be about Morrissey but this has, to the best of my knowledge, never been confirmed.)
Way back then we used to give away flexi-discs with Kerrang! magazine. Strange as it may seem today, they were a popular gift and used to boost our circulation substantially. In February 1991 we decided to include The Absolute Queen Of Pop on one of these flexis, along with tracks from Thunder and a long-forgotten combo by the name of Sweet Addiction.
Kerrang!’s flexis used to be released via imaginary record companies. In this particular case our made-up label was called Bendynoize, the catalogue number of RPLA’s flexi being BENDER 1.
In all honesty, we didn’t know what was about to happen.
A few months later, in May, ahead of a big marketing push by EMI, we put RPLA on Kerrang!’s cover; photo shoot by Ross Halfin and everything.
Publishing company Emap had just acquired Kerrang! for big bucks and the execs were hesitant about giving RPLA such major coverage. But new bands had been a staple of Kerrang! since its inception 10 years previous. So I told the managing director, Tom Moloney, not to sweat.
RPLA, I insisted breathlessly, were heading for great things.
Unbeknown to me, Moloney was something of a secret rocker and went to check out RPLA when they played London’s Marquee club. He burst into the Kerrang! office the next morning and barked: “They’re the worst band I’ve ever seen!” (I think this may have hastened my departure from Kerrang!’s hallowed halls.)
The jockstrap well and truly unravelled shortly afterwards. RPLA frontman James Maker told the world – well, anyone who would listen, at any rate – that he was homosexual. Kerrang!, somehow, became a laughing stock for unwittingly putting a ‘gay heavy metal band’ on its cover.
You’d have thought Ross Halfin, in particular, would have been apoplectic with rage. But, strangely, I remember him taking it all in his stride. In fact, Ross was more concerned about RPLA’s guitarist, Peter Kinski, looking like a chicken.
Today, when no one bats an eyelid at George Michael’s capers in the gents, when Elton John and David Furnish are treated with Chas and Di-style reverence, it seems inconceivable that RPLA caused such controversy.
But the same people who criticised the metal press for failing to out Rob Halford before the Judas Priest frontman outed himself… wow, did they ever revel in Kerrang!’s discomfort.
In their eyes, the macho world of metal had been well and truly breached. The ramparts had crumbled. Instead of pouring boiling oil on the interlopers we were welcoming them with bunches of daffodils.
What these people – notably NME journos eager to boost the value of their copies of Raymonde’s These Boots Were Made For Walking at Cheapo Cheapo’s – didn’t know was that Kerrang! gave RPLA the full-on front-cover treatment purely on the merits of their music.
There was no hidden agenda, at least on my part. It didn’t bother me whether RPLA were gay, straight or rampant sheep-shaggers. They just made great sounds.
Not that Kerrang! writer Chris Watts agreed with me. We sent Chris to review RPLA live and he was so appalled, he threw a pint of cider over James Maker’s head.
Still, the dust eventually settled (and the cider got mopped up). Much to my surprise, Maker phoned me up one day and invited me out for a… nibble. We met at an Italian restaurant just around the corner from Kerrang!’s Carnaby Street HQ. All the time the singer wore a wry grin on his face. Slouching with distressed elegance in his chair, he quaffed copious amounts of expensive red wine – Italian Barolo, if memory serves – and didn’t eat a thing. He acted like a prize ponce. It was oddly gratifying, in a way.
EMI’s big RPLA push fizzled out. It seemed that the company had been unaware of Maker’s sexual bent and had no idea of how to market a (here comes that phrase again) ‘gay heavy metal band’. After a handful of singles RPLA were dropped.
RPLA’s one and only album, Metal Queen Hijack, emerged in 1994 via a label called Collision Arts. I only became aware of this fact recently; I assumed it had never been released officially.
Fast-forward to the present day. I was boarding the loft of my house the other weekend (glamorous rock’n’roll lifestyle, eh?!) when I came across a bin-liner lying between the rafters. The bag had split down the middle and dozens of old-fashioned cassettes had spewed out.
One in particular caught my eye. Copied in Real Time by Maria Gordon at Abbey Road Studios on July 28, 1993. NR Dolby B. EQ Chrome. BASF CRSII C-60 Tape.
It was a pre-release copy of Metal Queen Hijack by RPLA. I hadn’t heard it in years.
But I had no means of playing it… or had I? Suddenly I remembered I’ve still got an old-fashioned cassette player lodged in the dashboard of my car. (Like Alec Issigonis, I never play music while driving. The late Issigonis, who created the original Mini, intentionally left no space for a radio to be installed in his Mini design.)
I clambered down from the loft, tore like a madman out of the front door and on to the driveway. I whipped open the door of my car, whacked in the crusty cassette and cranked the volume up to the max.
I prayed the cassette was still playable. And it was.
The neighbours howled in disbelief when they heard RPLA’s call to arms:
“’ERE, RUBE! YOU AND SYLV’ GET ON THE MIC AND GIVE US A BELTER!”
Then the title track began, our Cult Hero bellowing triumphantly: “Metal Queen Hijack, stole your front cover…”
But no regrets, Mr Maker. None whatsoever.
* To find out what James Maker is up to know, visit www.jamesmaker.com
* Check out these videos to RPLA’s songs:
The Absolute Queen Of Pop
City Of Angels
Metal Queen Hijack (excerpt) Goverment health warning: contains scenes of a trad-metal fan being mutilated.