In the late Sixties, Mike Hart was a member of The Liverpool Scene, the poetry and music collective that had guitarist Andy Roberts and poet Adrian Henri as members.
Though seemingly the best-equipped for solo success, with songs marrying emotional themes to singalong hooks, Hart’s unreliability and fondness for alcohol ultimately torpedoed his chances – but not before he recorded a couple of albums, the best being this solo debut for John Peel’s Dandelion label in 1969. The gallows humour of the title is typical of the self-mocking, Lennon-esque tone of bruised sincerity underpinning most of his songs, which are ripped from the pages of his personal life: in the heartbreaking “Arty’s Wife” he reflects, perplexed, on the cooling of his ardour for his spouse (the woman whose defaced visage accompanies Hart’s on the cover).
“Yawny Morning Song” and “Disbelief Blues” ape Dylan’s electric style, and references to Harold Wilson, Ian Smith and the Aberfan disaster date some tracks, but the mood of abandonment and distraction remains powerfully affecting. With highlights such as “Arty’s Wife” and “Almost Liverpool 8” augmented by Scene highlights like the single “Son, Son” and the bittersweet odes “Palms” and “Gliders and Parks”, this is a welcome reminder of a significant pop talent…………….. The singer-songwriter Mike Hart, who has died aged 72, sang with the Liverpool band the Roadrunners, and was a member of the poetry and music collective Liverpool Scene, but he will be best remembered for his solo album Mike Hart Bleeds. Released by John Peel’s Dandelion label in 1969, it was an eccentric, defiant record by someone who was prepared to argue his corner. The song Aberfan berates celebrities for crying publicly at the tragedy in the Welsh mining village; Shelter Song criticises the church for not housing the homeless in its huge cathedrals; and Almost Liverpool 8 is a diatribe at the latest girl to leave in his extensive list of doomed relationships. Hart’s album was the antithesis of easy listening and his career was equally edgy: there can be few artists who have so consistently sabotaged their own success.
Hart was born in Bebington, on the Wirral, son of Colin Hart, who ran a sailmakers’ business, William Hart & Co, and his wife, Beryl, and educated at Birkenhead school. In 1962 he formed the Roadrunners, a rhythm and blues band, which had residencies in Liverpool at Hope Hall (now the Everyman theatre) and the Cavern. Roger McGough claimed the group could perform Twist and Shout and Money better than the Beatles, and remembered Hart – “Arty” – as “the wild man in front … [who] was very popular with the ladies. He was weird-looking but he was very charismatic, a Jaggeresque thing.” In 1963, George Harrison told some Liverpool musicians that he had seen the Rolling Stones “who are almost as good as the Roadrunners”. Their tour de force was Cry, Cry, Cry, which Hart would perform passionately, his eyes tight shut as if reliving some past ordeal.Hart turned down management from Giorgio Gomelsky and also a recording contract with Fontana. If Hart said no, that was it. There is subsequently little of the Roadrunners on tape, save for a live set from the Star-Club in Hamburg and a fundraising EP in 1965 for Liverpool University rag week. After travelling with the band to York, Hart refused to play and said it was over.
He then joined Liverpool Scene alongside the poet Adrian Henri, and the musicians Andy Roberts, Mike Evans, Percy Jones and Brian Dodson. Their first single was Hart’s witty, rasping song Son, Son (1968), in which everyone is too preoccupied to answer a child’s questions. “It was exposure to the poets that changed him and he found out how to express himself,” said Roberts, “but he wouldn’t tolerate things going wrong. He would throw his guitar against the wall if he had a bad gig.”
The key track of the band’s 1968 album The Amazing Adventures of the Liverpool Scene was Hart’s bitter-sweet Gliders and Parks, where he hopes a girl will turn up for a date in Coronation Park in Crosby. Unexpectedly, she arrives and the track is over, a rare Hart song with a positive ending, although a drunken row is not far away. The song opens with the words, “Saturday, got a Ribble bus”, an example of how Hart chronicled daily life, a theme later taken up by Morrissey and Billy Bragg.
Liverpool Scene were bohemians, but they recognised that some discipline had to prevail and Hart was too wayward to last beyond the first album. He returned to Liverpool and formed a duo for a while with the 17-year old Jude Kelly, now artistic director of the Southbank Centre.
Another girl, this time from Belgium, appears on the cover of Mike Hart Bleeds. To create the image, Hart dripped his blood on her photograph and stubbed his cigarette out on his face, writing the liner note as if he were in an asylum. She is probably the subject of the track Arty’s Wife. “It is a brilliant title with a brilliant cover,” said McGough, “and I loved his heart-wrenching voice, but he lacked confidence and he would back away from opportunities. He couldn’t believe that people admired him. He didn’t trust that and maybe that is where the pain and the soul came from.”
Although many thought of Hart as the Liverpool Dylan, the album was too raw to find a large audience. Hart moved to Edinburgh in 1971 and worked with actors around the fringe festival. This led to a second Dandelion album, Basher, Chalky, Pongo and Me (1972), which combined jokes and sketches with his strident songs, including one about a brief affair with the playwright Nell Dunn. His later songs were either unrecorded or exist in cheaply made demo recordings.
Hart’s health deteriorated with constant drinking and he lost his memory. He spent his later years in a nursing home in Edinburgh.
He is survived by a sister, Susan, two nephews and a niece.
• Michael William Hart, singer and songwriter, born 3 December 1943; died 22 June 2016….the Guardan review………
- Mike Hart - vocals - Niel Ford - lead guitar - Dave Paull - bass - John Skorsky - drums - Rick Sanders - 12-string guitar, electric guitar (tracks 5, 9) - Andy Donaldson - harmonica (track 6) - Jan Schelhaas - piano, organ
Tracklist Yawny Morning Song 2:43 Shelter Song 3:41 The Ring Song 4:45 Please Bring Back The Birch For The Milkman 2:07 Arty’s Wife 4:37 Disbelief Blues 4:53 Aberfan 2:17 Dance Mr. Morning Man 5:40 Almost Liverpool 8 4:43