September 29th 2023

LCR Music Board’s tribute to Geoff Davies

The Liverpool music community has been paying tribute to Geoff Davies, who sadly passed away recently, and whose funeral took place earlier this week. In this blog post, Head of UNESCO City of Music for Liverpool, Kevin McManus, takes a trip down memory lane in his personal tribute on behalf of the Music Board:

It is hard to overstate the importance of Geoff’s influence on generations of musicians and music lovers from the city. Everyone who knew Geoff in any capacity will have their own stories about a man who, in today’s terms, might be referred to as ‘authentic’. In fact, Geoff was resolutely his own man all day, every day.

Everyone who knew Geoff will have their own stories about him, but beneath most of them will be a sense of how important a character he was in shaping people’s musical lives.

His history in Liverpool goes way back, but I first became aware of him when I was a young lad. The punk movement was just starting, and I was consumed by this music I was hearing on the John Peel show. That’s where Probe Records entered my life. Probe was owned and run by Geoff and his first wife Annie (who sadly also passed away recently). It was the place where you could buy these amazing sounding records from bands with eccentric names on tiny independent record labels. But it was much more than a great record shop: it was the gateway into a completely different world. The ‘staff’ at Probe and the peculiar-looking individuals who frequented the shop could be quite intimidating to a shy 15-year-old from Bootle, but I loved the place. My pals and I used to go there every Saturday to buy records with our meagre pocket money, listen to the records that the scary people behind the counter were playing, and soak up the strange, enchanting atmosphere of this unique place.

The wonderful Probe shop I visited was on Button Street but had previously been based up by the University on Clarence. Apparently, the move came about because Geoff had been advised to relocate to the Mathew Street area by Roger Eagle, who told him it was an area where interesting things were beginning to happen, and Roger himself was about to add to the excitement by opening a venue.

That venue was Eric’s club just down the road on Mathew Street, and I started going there regularly when they had the brilliant idea of hosting matinee gigs on a Saturday. At that point, my life felt complete! My world revolved around the records I bought at Probe, the bands I saw at Eric’s, and the incredible people who were part of that scene. I feel privileged to have seen amazing artists perform and even more privileged that I can still count many of these people from that time as friends.

In what probably seemed like a natural next step, Geoff then set up Probe Plus Records so he could release records by bands he liked. I actually interviewed Geoff at this point for a piece I did for NME, which was a big deal for me because it was only a few years since I had been going to the shop as a naive school kid. The interview took place a couple of years before he had signed Half Man Half Biscuit, and the label hadn’t really had any success. Typically, that didn’t seem to bother Geoff in the slightest. He continued to release singles by numerous Liverpool bands, including The Farm, who eventually, many years later, achieved international success and a number one album.

But Probe Plus will be forever remembered for one band in particular, and that is Half Man Half Biscuit. I loved the band from the first time I heard them, and the world owes a debt of gratitude to Geoff for bringing them to our attention. I honestly don’t think any other label, anywhere else, at any other time would have signed this contrary but brilliant bunch led by the head Biscuit and maverick genius that is Nigel Blackwell. It was a match made in heaven, and Geoff even took on a production role on their records with the late Sam Davis (aka Eric Shark from Deaf School) under the Bald Brothers moniker.

The success of the Biscuits enabled Geoff to continue releasing records by bands that he thought deserved an audience. Time spent with Geoff was always interesting and informative. I spoke to Geoff many times, and our conversations often veered into discussions about films and film-making. Geoff was knowledgeable about film, so we chatted about various directors and the best films ever, as well as music. His house was full of Probe Records that he hadn’t managed to sell, but he always seemed unconcerned by this and, in fact, would laugh and joke about it to anyone who visited. These ‘failures’ never dampened his enthusiasm in the slightest, and he would talk excitedly about his latest signings while handing me copies of various releases. If I bumped into him on the street, he would do the same – opening his bag to give me another CD, which I always accepted even if sometimes I knew I was unlikely to play it. He never lost that passion, and that’s part of what made Geoff so special.

Since it was announced that Geoff had passed away, so many people have come forward to pay their own tributes. Some remember the importance of the shop while others thank him for giving them the opportunity to have their band’s record released. Geoff made a real difference in the lives of so many people, and that is why he will be remembered with genuine affection by us all.

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