City Lights
1977 - 1980

City Lights formed in mid 1976 as a five piece, with John Scott (vocals), Kymm Morgan (guitar), James Hughes (a.k.a. Jimmy Hughes, keyboards, later Cherry Boys, Exhibit B), Jimmy Sangster (bass, later with Black), and Mark Cowley (drums, later managed Space). By the Fall of the same year, due to some internal disputes, Scott and Morgan quit. Ian McNabb joined the line-up on guitar. Here’s the man’s recollection:

‘I found an advert in the Liverpool Echo for somebody looking for a guitar player/singer. A band who had been working the club circuit for a while had lost their singer and guitar player, and were looking to replace two people with one. I called them up and arranged to meet up at a house in Alexandra Drive in Litherland, North Liverpool. When I got there I met Jimmy Sangster (seventeen) bass/vocals, Jimmy Hughes (sixteen) guitar/vocals, and Mark Cowley (sixteen) drums.

The house we were in was the Sangster family residence where Jimmy lived with his mum and dad - Mary and Lenny – his brother Paul (twelve), and his sister Lyn (fourteen) [both later with Send No Flower, see relevant post]. Also living at the house - curiously - in my opinion, was the manager of the band, Norman Lane. Everyone was incredibly friendly and we hit it off right away. We played some Beatle tunes, Everly Brothers, some rock 'n'roll, the usual stuff. Everyone could sing really well, Jimmy S had a Hofner Violin bass - the first one I'd seen in real life. They said they'd be in touch and the next day I got the word that I was in.

We started rehearsing a couple of nights a week at the local church hall, and then I was told that Mark Cowley wouldn't be in the band any longer as he'd had a few personal problems. We later heard that he was backing an Elvis impersonator called Billy 'Elvis' Helm. Jimmy S quickly remedied the problem by asking a mate of his, Howie Minns (nineteen) [a.k.a. Howie Di Miunzo and Eddie Shit, later Cherry Boys, Exhibit B, see relevant posts], who lived just around the corner, to sit in on drums with us until such time we found a permanent replacement for Mark. Howie was fantastic. A Keith Moon devotee - he had the biggest drum kit I'd ever seen in my short life. He hung by a thread to sanity. He lived to play drums and was at the time in a proper rock band called Flight. Flight had supported the likes of Nutz on the university circuit and were all grown up and didn't do social clubs. Howie made sure we knew that he would do a few gigs with us on a temporary basis, but we would have to find somebody else soon - as he was headed for bigger stuff apparently. He was doing us a favour and we should be grateful.’ (Ian McNabb. Mersey Beast, 47)

This new line-up was mainly concerned with playing covers and getting gigs. McNabbs recalls:

‘I still had no great aspirations to be in a band that wrote and played its own material at this time - I didn't really know anyone who did it, and besides that, whenever any scouse band ventured outside the city boundaries trying to get someone's attention in London for instance, they usually failed - and everybody just went on about the Beatles all the time. Howie's band Flight were playing their own material but didn't seem to be getting anywhere just yet - Liverpool Express had had a couple of hits recently (fronted by Billy Kinsley, ex Merseybeats - they specialised in McCartney-esque pop tunes and ballads), and that was it. We started getting regular work and having a great time. We auditioned fro New Faces (Yay! At last!). We drove all the way to Birmingham for the audition. We played our ace first – a modern, beaty arrangement of Strangers in the Night which we were particularly enamoured with. (ibid)

The band (especially McNabb and Hughes) started writing original material but things were as expected. McNabb concedes: ‘City Lights was becoming a drag. We’d started writing songs but we weren’t getting anywhere with them. We were earning good money playing other’s people songs. We’d had a little interest and had even met with a couple of small labels in London, but nothing was happening. The most worrying development recently was that we’d begun doing a bit of comedy – and it was going over well. We’d finish our first spot with the Shadow’s Apache – doing the whole step routine with our white kipper ties tied around our heads. It was very funny. Our agent encouraged us to start bringing more of it into the show, promising better money.’ (ibid, 56)

The band played extensively (with an average of gigs per year in the period 1977-80). Recorded several demos (some produced by Roy White, former Pink Military, later White and Torch), but nothing would be released on vinyl. The last live performance of the City Lights has acquired the aura of a legend. They played at the final night at the Warehouse, performing the Door’s Light My Fire: later the same night the whole club burnt down. In 1980 McNabb quit and the City Lights disbanded in the following months. According to some sources Keith Gunsun (with the Cherry Boys) played bass with the band at some point.

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