Liverpool’s sprawling nine-strong (later eight) Deaf School seemed like an ideal candidate for success in the quiet pre-punk doldrums of 1976. Visually, the group had more than enough going for it to guarantee a high profile in the British press. The cast included pasty-faced guitarist Clive Langer, who sported wire-rims and wrote most of the melodies; the Rev. Max Ripple, a keyboardist done up like a parson; and no less than three lead vocalists: mustachioed Enrico Cadillac, a Bryan Ferry disciple; Bette Bright, who suggested a somewhat frumpy torch singer; and the suave, acid-voiced Eric Shark, who sang as Humphrey Bogart might have.
Despite its slick, full sound, 2nd Honeymoon has the clear markings of a first effort. The band cleverly mixes the melodrama of Roxy Music with the music hall vivacity of middle-period Kinks, but many of the songs are bloated and their intent unclear. As on later LPs, crooner Cadillac takes the lion’s share of the vocals, making tales of modern desperation (“What a Way to End It All”) and lost love (“Room Service”) into intriguing, if incomplete, exercises in style.
Deaf School came into its own on Don’t Stop the World, trimming the excesses of 2nd Honeymoon and adding impressive new elements. While Cadillac continues to warble romantically, Shark belts out a vicious rocker (“Capaldi’s Cafe”) and Bright shines in a rare solo spot, the after-hours ballad, “Operator.” (The two LPs were issued in the US as a double-pack in 1977.)
Although English Boys/Working Girls offers more of the same, it’s the product of a band running out of steam. In a return to the clutter of their debut, Deaf School favors theatrics over substance; accounts of modern violence like “Ronny Zamora (My Friend Ron)” and “English Boys (With Guns)” are more exploitation than insight.
The Deaf School alumni remained busy after the band folded, making it — in retrospect — a startling fount of promise. Bassist Steve “Average” Lindsey founded the Planets and recorded a couple of albums. Bette Bright cut a delightful solo record, produced by Clive Langer who, with his partner Alan Winstanley, earned additional production credits (not to mention scads of money, no doubt) with Madness, Elvis Costello and Dexys Midnight Runners.
With ex-Big in Japan guitarist Ian Broudie (who would go on to be a successful producer and leader of the Lightning Seeds) and three others, Enrico Cadillac formed the Original Mirrors under his civilian name, Steve Allen. It didn’t work out well at all. The Original Mirrors seemed entranced by the kind of pop-opera bombast that characterized Deaf School at its worst; self-discipline was never a high priority. For every rockin’ moment that crystallizes passion into something comprehensible, there are ten others of sprawling excess.
Late in the ’80s, most of Deaf School’s original cast — including Langer and all three singers — reunited for 2nd Coming, a surprisingly solid live set of the band’s “hits” (“Taxi!,” “What a Way to End It All,” etc.), as well as a robust cover of the Flamin Groovies’ “Shake Some Action” and an elegantly corny “Blue Velvet.” A great souvenir for fans who felt Deaf School never got enough attention in its prime, this might even gain ’em some new admirers, though probably not too many: the curious blend of Roxy Music-style drama and vaudeville hokum seems as reassuringly offbeat as ever.