Me and Our Kid, Mick and Tim Coleman, tell Lorraine Worsely-Carter the story behind Mick’s Number One hit single, Match-stalk Cats and Dogs, with Brian and Michael, that had everyone singing about Salford artist, L.S. Lowry.
There are songs that transcend time and space, ones that were out there in the ether long before some of us were born, and yet, they are there, somewhere in the back of our minds and all it needs are a few chords and there we are humming or singing along. For many ‘Matchstalk Men & Matchstalk Cats and Dogs’ must be one of those songs. For me, it takes me back to my youth and while I had forgotten I knew the words I was instantly reminded of them when I heard the all too familiar lyrics being sung earlier this year.
I was attending the Ceremonial Mayor of Salford’s Valentine Ball and after the meal, two vocalists were welcomed to the stage, their names, Mick and Tim Coleman, their band ‘Me and our Kid.’ Mick greeted the guests and said he would open their set with the song he wrote and, there it was, we were back in 1978.
‘And he painted matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs
He painted kids on the corner of the street that were sparking clogs
Now he takes his brush and he waits outside them factory gates
To paint his matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs.’
A variety of 60s music followed, and the dance floor was soon filled with guests of all ages, singing and dancing along. After a most enjoyable evening Mick and Tim promised to tell me their story and so during the Covid-19 lockdown the pair have spent a good deal of time on their phones to me and I have been spellbound by their story. A story of two brothers and a famous song, taking one of the brothers all the way from the workhouse to Top of the Pops and the London Palladium, and many places across the world.
First I spoke to Mick, the writer of Matchstalkmen and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs, and then to his brother, Tim and it soon became evident to me that Mick and Tim’s story is not about Mick having written a Number One song but of a pair of brothers who have lived a full life and stayed close all their lives.
Mick (short for Michael) and Tim cannot guarantee that timelines and facts are 100% accurate, reminding me that their joint age is 148 years! But, I only had to ask how it all began and Mick immediately began his story…
“I was born in 1945, the oldest of five,” he said. “We lived in Ardwick, near the Apollo, the area was called Ardwick Green, not so sure why. My brother Tim came along 18-months after me. Times were hard and whilst our mother was a diamond, with the best will in the world, as more kids came along, it was hard for her to cope.
“Tim and me were sent to a convent in Tottington in Bury and us kids and our Mam weren’t back together until I was about five-years-old. We lived in an old war hospital in Ancoats, it had a posher name, but it was in effect a workhouse and we lived in the top floor dormitory for the next seven years. There was a tea chest for a cupboard and a window from which I could see, the smokey tops of the chimneys on the houses and shops around Philips Park and Bradford Pit.
“I used to play football near the Roundhouse on Every Street and I remember seeing a man, collecting rent and I presumed making notes – in those days a rent collector was known as a ‘Rent Man’, obviously the title has other connotations today. I have since come to realise that Rent Man would have been L. S. Lowry, who used to log sketches as he went about his debt collecting. I wish I would have met him; he has been such an important part of my life.
“I went to St Anne’s RC school from the workhouse every school day and was a bit of a dreamer, I liked poetry and writing. When I left school at 15 my last report said, ‘Not much promise, always looking out of the window.’
“On leaving school I went to a slaughter house in Trafford Park and I learnt my trade as a butcher and spent some time working at Salford Docks. It was 1961 and the film Taste of Honey was out and I would look at the Ship Canal and think of that children’s rhyme that was played in it, ‘The Big Ship Sails’, there’s no definitive proof of a link but we used to call the Ship Canal ‘The Alley.’ The opening scenes of the film included Bradford Pit and the chimneys that I remembered so clearly from my childhood and what featured in my songs.
“I had never stopped writing and singing in my bedroom, we’d all moved to a house by then, and when I had saved up enough from my wages – from what I didn’t ‘tip up’ to my mum – I went into Manchester to buy my first guitar. I went to a shop on Oxford Road and I was so eager, the shop hadn’t even opened. So, I walked and looked at the ‘posh’ shop next door, I don’t know if it was a shop or an art gallery but, in the window, on an easel was a painting. It looked like the scenes of my childhood and I felt an instant affinity, it was by a man called L S Lowry and it was on sale at £48.
“I practised on my guitar all the time, in my bedroom, in the parlour even in our scullery while making a brew. My friends got tired of asking me to go out with them at the weekend. They wore Italian shirts and went to Birch Park skating rink ‘Pulling birds’ but I just wanted to be the best musician I could be and that meant practicing, I am self-taught.
“My brother Tim and me formed our first band and then I joined The Hornets and I played all over Manchester; we got some big gigs in Wales as well and eventually I was head hunted by ‘The Big Sound.’
“The ‘Big Sound’ played abroad too and so I had to get a passport and we toured all over Germany, we were in Germany the same time as the Beatles were in the country and we played many of the GI Camps.
“We were spotted whilst playing in Scandinavia and we lived in Copenhagen for three or four years. It was the mid-60s and I used to write home to mum, and she used to send me a shoebox of all the things we couldn’t buy in Copenhagen; it was an expensive country. In the shoe box she would put Arrow Bars and Milk Chews and Beecham Powders and half-pennies. The half-pennies I asked her to send because my mates tipped me off that a half-penny was the same size as a Danish Krona and these fitted in the Bowling Alley Machine, so we could play two games of 10 pin bowling for a penny.
“We might have got away with that little ruse but sadly my Beecham Powders got my mates into trouble. Our hotel was near the station and as in all cities, there is a lot of vice to be found. The customs had seized my Beechams Powders from my mum’s shoe box and thinking they were drugs; they raided the hotel. My Beechams passed the test but sadly some of the other inhabitants weren’t so lucky with their white powder!
“Touring continued around Scandinavia and then we went on to Israel. One of my loveliest memories is sailing through Genoa, Napoli and on to Haifa. I was reaching burn out; I was the only singer in the band, and we were playing eight hours a night every night with just a 15-minute break. I had to get away and I returned to the UK.
“Adapting to ‘Civvy Street’ was difficult and if it weren’t for my brother Tim, I don’t think I would have gone back to my old self. I became fit again and I couldn’t have recovered as I did without Tim.
“One of my other brothers was getting married and off we all went to the wedding, little did I know that I would meet my own bride to be there. Dheverance was one of the bridesmaids and I knew instantly that we were meant to be. Luckily, she agreed, and we have been married 45 years now. I am a lucky guy.
“As a married man with two young children, Denver and Tamlah, I didn’t want to be on the road doing gigs, so I found myself a comfortable niche in the Folk Clubs around Manchester. I was still writing my songs and they fitted the folk club vibe and it meant I was home at a decent time back to my family and I could listen to Hyde Football Club games on my radio on a Saturday afternoon.
“Many of my songs were about my roots and one of the songs was my Matchstalk song and it went down well around the Folk clubs, there were so many in the region, I remember a great club in Stevenson Square in Manchester, I played there a lot and everyone knew the chorus of the song! I did some working men’s clubs too and cabaret. I was signed to a manager, Jim O’Farrell and Kevin Parrot was producer and the song got taken around the record labels.
“I remember going to EMI and in those days you all stood in booths, just a partition between you and the next hopefuls and you played your tapes , so me and Brian Burke were there, he was with the Oaklands around then, but sadly EMI didn’t want it. They did sign us all up as songwriters though and by a stroke of luck another man heard us singing in the booth and asked EMI if they definitely wanted it because he liked it and so, eventually, we got in at Pye Records.
“By 1977-78, the record was soon being played on Piccadilly Radio and on radio stations across the North and in North Wales. The record was known in the business as a ‘sleeper.’ It was thought that the South of England would think it was too Northern. I was still doing my gigs, earning around £30 a night but the record was still around and then it started to slowly rise the charts. It would go to Number three then back to five then two and then, in April 1978, there it was, at Number One in the Charts.
“Suddenly life was very different, I remember being at Hattersley British Legion on the Saturday and on the Sunday was being picked up in a Limousine at the station on my way to play at the London Palladium and there were telegrams in the dressing room. There we were standing on a spot on the stage where the likes of Bob Hope, Judy Garland and Sinatra had stood!
“One of my best moments was being in the limousine and stopping at the lights at Charing Cross. The song came on the radio and as we wound the windows down, we heard people in their cars singing the song!
“I kept up all my £30 gigs because I wouldn’t let anyone down, even when we were on Top of The Pops. By then Brian had moved on and Kevin joined me, he has spent years having to explain his name isn’t Brian as we were introduced as ‘Brian and Michael’ as that was on the first pressing of the record. I can remember Peter Powell presenting us with the Gold Disc as if it were yesterday. Receiving the Ivor Novello Award for best song lyric 1978 is something I am really humbled and proud of.
“My brother Tim and me were still really close and soon we went back to us singing together and in 1982 we worked in Lanzarote and we were out there for four years.
“Eventually we came back because my darling wife was becoming increasingly ill with liver failure and I will always applaud the NHS for the care she was given, by the year 2000 a transplant match had not been found and she was slipping away, she had just 48 hours to live. By a miracle for us and devastation for another family, a match was found. I will be thankful for ever to the MRI and Jimmy’s Hospital Leeds. Every year on the anniversary we hold the family of the donator in our hearts.
“And now Tim and me still sing and we love it. We play the ‘big dos’ but we love our gigs in the care homes. We have become very supportive of people living with dementia and their carers and have been fascinated to hear about the different types of dementia. We play at loads of venues and we meet such amazing people.
“We love to sing; we love each other’s company and we feel that this is THE best phase of our lives right now!”
Another telephone call, this time to Mick’s brother Tim, gave me an even closer insight into the bond between these two brothers.
“I was about five-years-old and I remember our Mike making a guitar out of cardboard, he was always singing and writing,” said Tim. “When I left school, I went to work as a Barrow Boy on Manchester Smithfield Market, I worked there for about 30 years at Broadbelt’s Vegetable stalls. I had to be up very early because the lorries came into the market by about 3.30 am and they had to be unloaded and off site as it was very busy. I played football for Smithfield Market team and I would sing at some of the gigs with Mick.
“I remember Matchstalk song being a slow burner and then it started moving up and down the Top 10, but not getting to the top spot and then in April 1978 it made it to Number One. I remember exactly where I was, when I heard, I was working in Hyde Sewage Works by that time.
“We were all so proud of our Mick, but in life there are highs and lows and it was certainly a kick in the teeth when Mick’s wife, Dheverance, was so ill with liver failure. I remember the day I got the call from Mick to say that she had been saved as there was a donor match, we will always be grateful to that family who lost their loved one; we will never forget them.
“Mick is my best mate; we might have had a rough start in life but what times we have both shared. Who would have thought that two brother’s who spent their childhood in a workhouse would swim with dolphins as we did when we were living and working in Lanzarote?
“You ask me when was the best time of my life? Well it is now! Mick and me have sung together since we were five-years-old. We are always together, and we count our blessings. It’s hard now because of Covid-19 that we can’t see each other but we are always there together in our hearts.
“In these later few years, singing to the Dementia Groups has really opened our eyes to this cruel disease and we witness it for ourselves that people who live with dementia, they might not remember their own name or even who their carers are but we start to sing and they know all the words and sing along, its wonderful!
“So, what’s the best time of my life…it’s now!”