‘With World of Twist, people didn’t always get it.’ Gordon King talks to Northern Soul
The release of World of Twist’s debut album Quality Street on October 28, 1991 should have been a watershed moment for the Manchester-based band. Over previous months, their singles and live shows had been rapturously received and they’d built up an adoring fan base plus a huge sense of anticipation.
But something went awry. The reception of the album was muted and sales were underwhelming. The band’s momentum was promptly sapped, and shortly afterwards they were dropped by their record label. Soon, almost imperceptibly, they broke up altogether.
According to the band’s co-founder, guitarist and co-songwriter Gordon King, the jig was up before Quality Street had even been finished. “The thing is, we made a crap album,” King says. “We knew that almost as we were doing it.”
Now King has told the whole strange rollercoaster story of his World of Twist days in a new memoir, When Does the Mind-Bending Start?, published by Nine Eight Books. Whether you’re au fait with the band’s output or not, it’s an engrossing, entirely relatable tale of high hopes and dashed dreams, and King tells it vividly and openly.
He didn’t necessarily plan to write it, though. “I never would have done it, because I didn’t think there’d be any audience for it,” King says. “Pete Selby from Nine Eight Books convinced me that it’d be worth writing. Once I got it into my head that there might be a bit of a story in there, it wasn’t hard. I think there’s enough distance between what happened then and now for me to be able write it. I’ve grown up a lot. I mean, it was quite painful, the way it fell apart. There wasn’t any real closure.”
World of Twist inhabited the curious early 90s no man’s land between Madchester and Britpop, when grunge acts were garnering all of the music press headlines. They had a keen sense of style and humour, their stage shows steeped in delightful DIY glitz. They talked enthusiastically about making pop music, and often covered songs by a wildly eclectic range of of artists, from the MC5 and The Honeycombs to The Rolling Stones and Chairmen of the Board. They were, in a word, special.
A big part of what made them special, alongside King’s musical gifts, was their magnetic, now-legendary frontman, Tony Ogden. Ogden’s story is often a tragic one – he could be a troubled soul and went on to die aged just 44 – and not all of the memories King revisited were happy ones.
“I think I’m quite an honest person really, so once I decided to do the book, it was definitely going to be real ‘cards on the table’ stuff,” King says.
“I wasn’t going to hide anything. The only thing I didn’t want to touch on was Tony’s illness. By the end of it he was in a bad way, so just out of respect to his friends and family, I didn’t go there. I didn’t talk about his death. But I thought the relationship between me and him was central to the World of Twist story. Maybe not from his point of view…in fact, definitely not from his point of view. But for me, it was. So that’s the thread that runs through it.
“I didn’t find it painful though, going back to that, because it was quite cathartic. Really, the book is a tribute to Tony. He was always supremely talented. Great musician, great writer. I took my lead from him and that pushed me to be better and to work harder. At the end of the day, the book is a love letter to Tony Ogden.”
In fact, Ogden wasn’t a founder member of World of Twist. The band was started in Sheffield in 1983 by King and singer Jamie Fry (brother to ABC’s Martin Fry), with Ogden joining up as drummer, before reinventing himself as the singer as they relocated to Manchester.
King says: “By the time we got back to Manchester, it was Tony’s thing. He had such a big personality. You did kind of shrink behind him. That was inevitable, everyone did. But he changed. By the end of World of Twist, he wasn’t the same person he was at the beginning and he definitely wasn’t the same person he was in Sheffield. The whole thing had really taken its toll. When you are that noticeable, you take everything on board. I could walk round Whalley Range or whatever and nobody would know who I was, but that wasn’t the same for Tony.”
World of Twist are often classed as a Manchester band – Ogden was from Cheadle Hulme, King grew up in Urmston and Stockport, and most of the other band members were from thereabouts too – but they spent most of their formative years in Sheffield (and King now lives in Brighton).
How important was their Manchester identity, then?
“We could have come from anywhere really,” King says. “There was the Madchester thing, which was like the blanket that covered us all. We couldn’t not be part of that, because we were from Manchester. But we were quite world-weary by then. We’d travelled a bit, we’d been to different towns, and we weren’t young. That was the thing. We were all sort of pushing 30, so we weren’t wide-eyed about it all.
“I mean, when I left Manchester, I hated it, I have to say. The whole thing did get a bit gangster-y. It became cool to know someone in the Cheetham Hill mob or whatever, and of course, the Haçienda went down that route. So it was very easy to fall out of love with the place. Manchester was my home, I grew up there and it means a great deal to me, but I wouldn’t say that particular time represents Manchester for me. It definitely doesn’t.”
He says: “We spent a lot of time in Sheffield. I mean, we weren’t the same group in Sheffield. We were a bit of a joke band, as were Pulp. I guess we pretty much started out around the same time. The Sheffield music scene was quite dour and serious, so bands like Pulp and World of Twist, we kind of pushed against that.
“We were regarded as a bit of a novelty act, I guess. But we had an amazing time there. I think I would have been just as happy growing up in Sheffield as in Manchester. They’re similar places in a way, I think. They sort of generate their own excitement. They don’t rely on outside influences to make a scene, if you like.”
Another claim regularly made about World of Twist is that they were a key ‘lost’ band, whose potential greatness and popularity evaded them. For King, though, they were perhaps just too puzzlingly odd to be embraced by the masses.
“With World of Twist, people didn’t always get it. ‘What is this band? What are they, what do they represent? I’m looking at them, one of them’s got long hair, one of them looks like Bryan Ferry’. For all the people who love that kind of stuff, who get it and think ‘yeah, this is a bit weird’, there’s a whole bunch – younger people probably, the 17 or 18-year-olds, the people who are going to project you slingshot-like to that next level – well, I don’t think it really made sense to them. And maybe the songs weren’t as direct as a Stone Roses song or a Happy Mondays song. So, could it have happened for us? I’m not sure it could, because I don’t think he would have ever changed the kind of music we wrote. It always would have been a bit hard to get. People like things that are direct. They like The Clash, they don’t like art so much.”
Once they were dropped by their label, though, World of Twist did attempt to carry on and even came close to being signed by Creation (which instead became the home of all-conquering Oasis, themselves huge World of Twist fans). As King remembers, there was even talk of Lightning Seeds head honcho Ian Broudie being keen to produce them, having fulfilled the same duties for a range of noteworthy acts including The Pale Fountains, Echo and the Bunnymen, and The Fall.
King says: “I think Broudie was the kind of bloke who would have really got it. I do believe we had a great record in us. You look at bands like Pulp and they put a lot of records out before they got to where they were. We only did one.”
Truth be told, Quality Street has its limitations, but it’s still pretty great. The follow-up never came, but When Does the Mind-Bending Start? is a fine, fitting eulogy to what World of Twist did achieve.
“It was date-stamped, ” says King. “It was never going to go beyond the time it had, because of Tony’s condition. We did our best and I think we would have done better if it had carried on. It’s a very small body of work, but I look back on it very fondly.”
When Does the Mind-Bending Start? by Gordon King is available now from Nine Eight Books as a hardback and audiobook
Main image: Album cover, Quality Street
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