Afraid Of Mice

As the 1970s drew to a close and prog rock fell by the wayside due to the advent of punk and New Wave, Phil’s musical priorities reflected the changing zeitgeist.  Moving away from the lengthy running times and complex arrangements that had defined Next, his new group Afraid of Mice aimed for immediacy and accessibility.  

A notable influence was a pre-fame gig Adam Ant and the Ants, ‘Wow, there’s the new guy” Phil recalls, impressed by the band’s marriage of theatricality and punk attitude. 

Writing constantly since the demise of Next, a score of new songs were assembled for the as yet unnamed new outfit’s live set.  Retaining bassist Geoff Kelly in the line-up, the fledgling AOM hit the Liverpool gig circuit. 

The band’s first appearance on disc was two tracks included on 1980 compilation A Trip To the Dentist, that shone a spotlight on new groups in Liverpool.  The fiery punked up energy of I’m Not A Fighter contrasting with the more ruminative  Trans-Parents.   

After Next had eschewed independent label Charisma in favour of CBS, Phil approached the company again to see if there was any interest in signing the group.  Their interest piqued by the two tracks on the compilation album, following a show in front of a Charisma A&R (Artists and Repertoire) representative at the Masonic Pub on Berry St, the band swiftly inked a deal. 

Whilst still appearing under the name Next, Afraid of Mice played a quartet of gigs at Liverpool’s leading live venue of the era, Eric’s in May 1979.  In addition to finding their feet as a band, one of the dates served as a showcase for a prospective record producer.  

Proof of how important their new signings were to the label, Charisma hoped to pair legendary T-Rex / David Bowie associate Tony Visconti up with the group.  Before making a decision on whether to produce them Visconti made a trip up to Merseyside to see AOM for himself.   

Given Visconti’s glittering CV Phil and company were understandably nervous about the visit.  “It was on a weeknight and the place was half empty” Phil remembers of the gig.  The legendary producer clearly liked what he heard however and agreed to helm the group’s debut album.

Tracked at Visconti’s own studio, Good Earth on Dean St in Soho, the sessions were engineered by future Lindsey Buckingham associate Gordon Fordyce.  With the  twelve-track debut and a dozen other songs in the can the sessions concluded with a riotous studio-based wrap party that coincided with Phil’s twenty-fifth birthday where Phil Lynott put in a appearance.  

Preceded by the release of two excellent singles, I’m On Fire and Popstar, the eponymous album was released by Charisma in Autumn 1981.  Sitting comfortably alongside power pop doyens The Jam and The Cars the disc’s powerful, punchy sound is an overlooked classic, marrying Phil’s innate gift for melody with the energy of New Wave. 

Following a UK tour and a handful of European dates, the label’s press campaign was pressed into action.  BBC Radio One’s In Concert series broadcast live from London’s Maida Vale Studios featured the Mice in March 1982.  Distributed among fans on CD-Rs, the spiky energy of the set shines through despite the lo-fi bootleg recording quality.

Afraid of Mice reached an even greater audience a few months later when they appeared on David Essex’s Showcase, a programme designed to give a stage to new musicians.  Going out on Saturday teatime on BBC1, the band essayed a frantic version of new single At the Club on the first episode of the series.  Guests appearing on the following weeks’ editions included rising stars Talk Talk and Thomas Dolby.  

A tradition future Factory Records supremo Tony Wilson did much to establish,  Granada TV covered the North West’s musical activity in depth on their regional news show.  Phil’s career throughout the 1980s and 90s was documented extensively by the broadcaster, beginning with an entire episode of culture show Exchange Flags dedicated to the group in 1983 combining interviews, recording studio footage and a live performance.  

Following his split with Jeremy Lewis and a frustrating period attempting to handle the band’s affairs himself, Phil and the group were briefly managed by music industry legend Gail Coulson who went on to guide Peter Gabriel to global fame in the mid-1980s.

With the campaign for their debut LP concluded, sessions for the follow up began in 1982.  The first production job assigned to Anne Dudley, the future Frankie Goes to Hollywood / ABC cohort and Oscar and Bafta winner was behind the recording console.  The first fruits of the sessions, dramatic single This Mirror, engineered by bassist / producer for The Cure Phil Thornalley was released as a 7” and 12” in spring 1983. 

Charisma were displeased with the direction the sessions were taking however and replaced Dudley with Nick Tauber who had produced Thin Lizzy’s early albums.  Follow up What About Me? was issued ahead of the LP’s planned LP release in 1983, but behind the scenes things began to go awry.  

In a changing music industry now dominated by pop, Charisma a company famed for its association with underground rock begun to struggle financially.  With losses mounting founder Tony Stratton-Smith decided to sell the label to Virgin records in 1983.  With the new AOM album yet to be finished the label decided not to proceed with the release and the LP was scrapped.  Worse was to come as the label’s new owners decided not to keep Phil on their books and his contract was terminated. 

Bookending their official career on record with a second compilation appearance, new track Don’t Take Your Love Away appeared on 1984 collection Jobs For the Boys.

Several hundred copies of the aborted second album later surfaced in 1985 as highly sought-after bootleg The White Album.  As the sophisticated pop of Sugar Mommy and the sweeping drama of Faith Hope And Charity underlines, Charisma’s decision not to release the album was a crying shame.

Afraid of Mice’s brief, brilliant two-year run captured on record and their outstanding live work preserved on bootlegs provides a hugely intriguing glimpse into what might have lay ahead had events turned out differently. 


Swiftly regrouping following Skyfall’s dissolution, Phil became frontman and driving force behind prog rock outfit Next.  Taking their name from an album by explosive Scottish rockers The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, the nascent group were heavily inspired by the theatricality of Peter Gabriel, Genesis and David Bowie.  Chiming with an era of bands who possessed strong, dynamic musicianship and whimsical lyrics, Next’s bracing live shows became the stuff of Liverpool legend.  

Opening their shows with a blistering cover of Faith Healer by the aforementioned SAHB, the peak of Next’s live set came with the ambitious, multi-part Oliver Twist Trilogy.  Regardless of the size of venue they were playing, Phil’s dedication to live performance saw him go through the costume changes and characterizations that made up the eleven-minute epic to the delight of audiences.   

Captured on a primitive tape recorder at Jenks Bar, Blackpool a 1977 Next concert surfaced on YouTube in 2015.  Despite the understandably rough sound, the quality of the band’s musicianship and Phil’s swooping, dramatic vocals cut through strongly.  

Parallel to their gigs as Next the group developed a sideline as Happy Medium, an outfit who could play dates at Merseyside’s booming cabaret and working men’s clubs.  A vastly more extensive circuit than the rock venues of the era, alongside classic rock staples the five-piece incorporated their own material into sets, the covers serving as “stepping stones” as Phil describes them to self-penned tracks.

Recording demos at the newly established Amazon Studios in Kirby, Next were early adopters of the facility which became the North West’s leading recording hub during the 1980s.  Founder of the complex, future music business mogul Jeremy Lewis oversaw the set-up relocating to Liverpool city centre in the early 1990s.  Rechristened Parr St. Studios, the complex saw a string of world-famous artists pass through its doors over the ensuing decades.  

After being wowed by Next’s live set, seeing them play at a Wirral pub where the queue outside “wrapped around the place”, Lewis agreed to manage the band.  With a fanbase firmly in place Lewis set about securing a record contract, shopping the group around the music industry power players in London. 

A bidding war quickly ensued with one of the UKs biggest labels Phonogram, cult indie set up Charisma and American giant CBS all vying to sign the group.  Maurice Oberstein, the legendary head of CBS’s European division personallu courted Next in an attempt to secure their signatures.   

Showcasing the business acumen he’d displayed with Amazon Studios, Lewis negotiated a stunning deal with CBS.  The agreement Next inked in 1977 was for £250,000 the equivalent of £1.4 million in 2020, surely the biggest record contract ever signed by a Liverpool band.  Under contract to the vast US company, Next became labelmates with music icons Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan.

Showcasing the business acumen he’d displayed with Amazon Studios, Lewis negotiated a stunning deal with CBS.  The agreement Next inked in 1977 was for £250,000 the equivalent of £1.4 million in 2020, surely the biggest record contract ever signed by a Liverpool band.  Under contract to the vast US company, Next became labelmates with music icons Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan.

As part of the agreement the group were directly handed a £30,000 equipment budget.  Armed with a colossal PA and the most expensive instruments any of them had owned the quintet set about touring the UK. 

With their debut tour completed the band headed into the studio to record their first LP.  The location chosen for tracking was one of the UKs leading residential studios, The Manor in Oxfordshire where Queen had recently recorded their fifth album A Day At the Races.  

Producer of Soft Machine alumnus Kevin Ayers’ 1974 LP, Rupert Hine who went on to work with The Waterboys and Stevie Nicks in the 1980s was behind the recording console for the sessions. Lodged in the studio’s palatial surroundings for two weeks, the album’s seven tracks were set to tape easily. 

With the tracklisting finalized and artwork prepared, live favourite Second Chance was due to be issued as the first single from the LP in May 1978.  

The upsurge of punk and New Wave meanwhile in 1977-78 had completely changed the UKs musical landscape.  Ironically, one of the most influential bands of the new breed The Clash who released their groundbreaking debut LP in April 1977 were labelmates with Next on CBS.

Realising how fundamental the shift in the music scene was, with many prog rock acts now considered passé, Phil suggested that the LP should be shelved and the group draw a line under proceedings.

An audacious move given how much was at stake, Phil wrote to Mo Oberstein personally to set out his position.  The American mogul was in agreement with Phil’s judgement and Next and CBS went their separate ways by mutual consent.  “I wish I had a copy of that letter today!” Phil marvels of the missive he sent to Oberstein, releasing the group from their contract without incurring any debts. 

While Phil changed direction following Next’s break up with Afraid of Mice, many of group’s tracks including the remarkable Oliver Twist Trilogy remained mainstays of his live shows.  

With the exception of the fortuitously recorded live set recorded in Blackpool, largely due to technology and the passage of time, nothing else survives of Next’s stage work.  Despite this, people fondly remember their time as one of the best live acts on Merseyside, while former manager Jeremy recalls “Phil’s undeniable star power”. 

Aside from lo-fi bootleg copies that were later pressed as CDs and distributed amongst fans, Next’s sole LP their eponymous debut remained formally unreleased until 2020.  Available digitally for the first time, the album is a fascinating snapshot of an era coming to a close, a time capsule just before a sea-change enveloped the UK’s musical landscape.  

You can listen to Next’s eponymous album on your chosen platform here.


Following the encouragement of a teacher, Phil furthered his passion for art academically and enrolled at Hugh Baird College in Bootle.  Within weeks he became the singer of a band, replacing a recently departed vocalist.  A ferociously drilled rock n’ roll quintet Skyfall were piloted by the impressive axe work of lead guitarist Dave Cunningham. With setlists comprising covers and their own material the young band were in thrall to the sounds of the era: Led Zeppelin, Free and The Faces.  

Quickly amassing a local following Skyfall caught the eye of legendary promoter Roger Eagle, who booked the group for two support slots at the aforementioned Liverpool Boxing Stadium.  “It was great being on that stage, I was only a kid.  Nineteen and it’s bloody huge” Phil recalled.  The two performances saw the five-piece supporting Welsh proto-metallers Budgie in December 1974 and hard rock outfit Be Bop De Luxe the following June.  

The buzz around the group piqued the interest of Liverpool based label Stag, founded by local business entrepreneur Alan J. Richards.  Initially established to release live recordings from Liverpool’s booming cabaret circuit, Stag branched out into rock music.  A definite rarity in the pre-punk era when independent labels outside the capital were virtually non-existent, the company became the city’s first ever label.  

Issuing records by Merseyside acts who had been overlooked by London based companies, the releases were designed primarily for groups to sell at their gigs. Due to the expense of professional recording studios in the period, the discs also acted as a high-quality demo tape for artists wishing to approach bigger record labels. “It was just a thing to hawk round” Phil shrugs.  

A 7”, limited-edition four track EP with artwork designed by Phil, First Breath appeared in 1975.  While the disc was to be the band’s only release with the members going their separate ways not long after, the EP included a harbinger of things to come.  The set’s closing cut, the prog rock tinged Sailor’s Sympathy, Phil’s sole songwriting credit was a departure from Skyfall’s rock n’ roll foundations.  A hint of where he was heading, the track pointed the way forward to the first band Phil was de facto leader of, Next. 

You can listen to Skyfall First Breath on your chosen platform here.

The early years…

Born in July 1955 Phil Jones spent his earliest years in Everton, a suburb still severely scarred from the Blitz fifteen years earlier.  Growing up in a cramped two up-two down Victorian terrace, Phil discovered music at an early age through the radio and his Aunt’s record collection. 

Making his first ever onstage performance aged eleven singing Jim Reeves’ hit Distant Drums acapella at a social club Christmas party, the nascent musician discovered he had a natural aptitude.

As the streets around Everton fell into even greater disrepair as the Sixties progressed, the suburb was earmarked for demolition in a massive slum clearance programme.

The Jones’s moved to Cantril Farm, a vast new housing estate on the edge of the city built specifically to rehome families from the clearances. Among the first settlers on the estate, streets still under construction as the new residents arrived.   

Already able to play any song by ear on harmonica, Phil began to expand his musical vocabulary as a pupil at Yew Tree Comprehensive.  Picking up guitar and piano and mastering the recorder in music lessons, Phil was able to transfer what he had learnt on to the flute, the instrument he is most readily associated with. 

The teenager’s imagination was also fired by a school art teacher who allowed him to use his classroom and the materials during lunchtimes, leading to a lifelong parallel interest in painting.  

Moving from the pop playlists of radio to the burgeoning underground rock scene of the early 1970s, Phil became a fan of luminaries including King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Mott the Hoople and especially David Bowie and Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, seeing scores of artists play live at the legendary Liverpool Boxing Stadium.   

Phil’s first band, the memorably monikered WC Wardrobe’s Swinging Clit, made their live debut at a Sixth Form parents evening under the slightly less controversial name of Wind Circus.  The show proved to be a fulcrum moment as a reporter from BBC Radio Merseyside was present and recorded the group’s set.  Broadcast on the radio the following lunchtime, the entire school canteen tuned in.  Understandably elated things were developing quickly for Phil, “My first ever gig and I was on the radio, I’d made it!” he later recalled.