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I am not dead: the mysterious life of musician Peter Boam

My documentary will shed new light on the enigmatic underground musician, songwriter and actor who was briefly a member of Pulp. But who was Peter Boam?

Boam

Peter Boam backstage at Chesterfield Pomegranate Theatre in July 1983, reading The Beano.

Denise Bates.

Peter Boam was unique. An enigma, a multi-instrumentalist and a songwriting genius – he was a bloody good playwright and actor too.

I was aware of Peter from the mid-eighties, when I was a lad about town in Sheffield and heard he was a bit ‘strange’. That word is often bandied about, a label slapped on people who don’t conform to the norm, preferring to make up their own world instead. But that was Peter all over.

Going against the mainstream can bring scorn and ridicule from contemporaries who either don’t know better or are just following the latest trend. This is what Peter had to face continually – not that he particularly gave a shit.

Peter began his association with the Sheffield music scene in 1980. The year after, Pax Records owner Marcus Featherby put Peter’s band, Mortuary In Wax, on his latest compilation album 5 Miles To Midnight. Peter was also a promoter and hosted a weekly night at the George IV on Infirmary Road, which hosted a crop of early-eighties Sheffield bands including Artery, Clock DVA and In The Nursery. His status as promoter put Peter firmly in the spotlight of anyone in the city looking for a gig.

It was at this point that Peter met Jarvis Cocker. He initially joined Pulp as drummer, but soon moved onto keyboards and guitars. He appeared on the first Pulp album, 1983’s It, with input on the arrangements and songwriting before leaving the band shortly afterwards.

Peter boam004
John Connolly.

In unison with his musical prowess, Peter was already acting and had written and directed a number of plays. He continued performing as a solo musician, supported Billy Bragg, and formed a band which would showcase his songs. Giving others the limelight, he would strum away on bass and direct proceedings from the back. By the nineties he had moved to Brighton and recorded his final album there. Peter passed away in Hove in 2006 at the age of just 42.

Six months ago I noticed a post on Facebook which contained a picture of a Peter Boam cassette called Love Lies Red – five songs recorded at Input Studios on Devonshire Lane, Sheffield in February 1985.

I had to hear the tape. The post was from a friend of mine and within a few days he’d sent it to me. I put it in my old cassette player and was totally blown away by what I heard. Startling originality and great songs from a master craftsman with a fine set of musicians. I looked a little closer, squinting through faded print, and a familiar name jumped out: Ben Miles on bass guitar. A budding musician in 1985, but these days an actor in The Crown, The Forsyte Saga and The Trial of Christine Keeler.

“Peter Boam was a one-off – he was like Billy Liar with a bag of songs,” Miles told me for this piece. “He came from the band of the great misunderstood, desperate to escape his small town ties with a smart lyric and a clever hook. He had a huge talent and was unstoppable in his tussles with it. His pain, love and dark humour were everywhere in his work.”

Through six months of research, I discovered that no-one really knew what happened to Peter. There were rumours that he’d died, but other rumours ran counter to this. More digging was done and more material came to light. Newspaper cuttings and photographs were thrust into my eager hands. Musicians and old friends came forward and the camera started to roll on long-lost memories from the halcyon days of smoky venues and rehearsal rooms in the company of this extraordinary talent. A documentary was born.

“He could be difficult, uncompromising and downright dangerous to be with, but his passion for music was all-consuming and a joy to be a part of,” said Miles. “He had the gift – of the gab and the riff. He's probably in a three-piece with Lou Reed and Bowie by now.”

Peter Boam’s musical output was extraordinary – far too good to be lost among forgotten cassettes in lofts and cupboards. His story needs to be told. If you have any material which I can use for this project – photos, audio or video recordings, personal memories or anything else related to Peter Boam – please get in touch.

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David Palfreyman is a trained actor, musician and songwriter. His project Decades with author Nicholas Pegg is a concept album following the life of one person through songs and memories.

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