The K Foundation Tapes

Posted 15/04/14

The K Foundation Tapes

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My conversations about the KLF with Bill Drummond, Jimmy Cauty and their press officer and confidant Mick Houghton for ‘HSIN?’ all led to the topic of the K Foundation.

I sensed that while Jimmy and Mick were very happy to talk about the Foundation’s actvities, Bill was a little more reluctant. I was very happy to see him return to public life last month, and to describe himself as an artist as he did so.

What follows are much of the transcriptions from those conversations. (I have previously posted a short extract from the Jimmy Cauty interview).

It was sadly not possible to include these in the narrative of ‘HSIN?”

*

‘The People Versus The Art World’

Jimmy Cauty    About six months after the Brits I took my award down to Stonehenge in the middle of the night and buried it in the stones. I just had this award on my mantlepiece and it was just making me feel really sick. It's a really ugly thing anyway...and the whole thing....I've always hated the idea of having gold discs on the wall or awards stuff, so I was just sitting there looking at it and I just thought 'no, I can't stand this anymore' and just jumped in the car and then about two months later somebody found it and handed it in to the police. I don't know how....but they sent it back to Scott (Piering, KLF plugger & associate) so Scott was going, 'The police have just given me your Brit, they found it at Stonehenge and so I said to Bill, 'Let's both go down together this time and bury it'. So we both went down together, and we were just driving away, we were sitting in the back of the truck, driving away from Stonehenge, and we just decided to have an art foundation, cause we had all this money, and didn't know what to do with it.

Richard King   It sort of feels like that  there was a lot of sitting in Land Rovers in darkness in country lanes with the K Foundation

JC        There was a lot of yeah, sitting around in the dark plotting, yeah. Yeah there was a hell of a lot of, cause in those days, the internet wasn't really happening so we would, used to fax each other all the time, so we've just got reams and reams of these faxes going back and forwards trying to work out, you know all those adverts and stuff. We just had this terrible amount of cash burning a hole in our pocket...a  million quid, tax paid on it, just sitting in the bank, and we'd already bought a house each. I mean we were never really into having a lot of money to spend...although actually we did spend quite a lot of money, thinking about it now, but we never had fast cars or anything like that...swimming pools...although I did actually have a swimming pool in one of my houses....so anyway we got our houses, so this was just like work money really, the million pounds, and we tried loads of things to do with it, you know trying to give it away to artists, none of it really worked out. We tried to set up a charity but we couldn't really pin down what it was we were trying to do, so it didn't really work.

Bill Drummond           We made a record with the Red Army choir, and the advert was, ‘This will only be released once world peace breaks out’. The guy from the Israeli record company was over in London the day we were cutting the thing that and he just broke down in tears, in the cutting room, and we were actually turning it into a record and he broke down in tears. And a peace accord had been signed that week, and it looked like things were gonna get sorted.  They'd ....Yassar Arafat and... I can't remember... whoever was the boss of Israel at the time, they had done their thing on the White House lawn or whatever, it looked like things were settling down and so then it would be released, on one side it would be in Hebrew, on the other side in Arabic script you know....so it goes out there....so yeah, there was that as a release but it was done while we were the K Foundation.

MH      I actually think the K Foundation Award that's the most important thing they ever did... I think that tops any record they ever made, it certainly topped the burning of a million quid. The K Foundation Award, that was huge, everywhere, that was extraordinary, but when they burnt the money....and I remember because as with a lot of things the KLF did, they did these things and it was always me that told the world and I just got days of abuse from people, you know 'How the fuck could they do this? it's disgusting it's appalling it's shameful' but kind of nobody wrote about it because sort of people didn't believe it and then it. I think some charred wads of money were found on some remote Scottish island and it got reported in a Scottish paper, and that filtered through and suddenly people started writing about it which was like 'Oh, oh they did do it' and then they got more abuse from people 'how could they do this how could they do this' and....then it just sort of fizzled out. But there's such a groundswell....I think they saw it as the ultimate statement I think, and I'm convinced  at the time they were kind of disappointed that it was just ignored, but now the burning of the million quid has become their ultimate statement.

RK       The K Foundation sort of wonderfully predicts the sort of culture that followed...Cool Britannia...Tate Modern and this kind of governmental obssession with ‘creative industries’

MH      Seriously I got so much abuse from people and at one point I thought right I'm going to come up with six things that you can do with a million quid that you will actually stop harrassing me about this and sort of saying...it's only a million quid.....you know….footballers...they're buying so many footballers for that money. It was very much the whole change in culture. The Turner Prize was the most boring statement on earth til they did what they did... but within a couple of years they involved someone like Madonna..they soon realised the potential..I think the best line I ever came up with when asked a question by the Guardian the second year, the year after the K Foundation did that, he said 'Oh what are the KLF going to do this year?' and I said 'nothing, enlightenment doesn't strike twice in the same place', which I thought was brilliant, and they didn't make anything of it, it was the best thing I’ve ever said...profound statement.

Whatever the KLF did, the press wanted to be part of it....going back to the K Foundation Award night, which was extraordinary.....before they presented the award to Rachel Whiteread, I don’t know if you remember it, we took a fleet of limos out into a field somewhere, I’ve forgotton where it was, off the A1 somewhere...and they had a million pounds in a field, on a huge kind of plinth. They'd nailed the million quid to a wooden plinth.  And I took....sixteen...twenty…journalists along to this field, including the arts correspondent to all the broadsheets, who were all incredibly cynical about it, but they all came, and everyone else had a great time. I was stuck in a limo with one of the most pompous art critics who, anyway...when we got to a service station, everyone was given an envelope which contained these instructions of what they had to do and everyone was given, I think it was about £1,600 quid. When we got there you were supposed to nail it to this crane, which made up the £40,000 that was then presented to Rachel Whiteread for winning the K Foundation Worst Art Award. And while this was happening Jimmy and Bill were driving tanks around the perimiter and two fairly heavy security guards were standing either side of the million quid nailed to the plinth.

JC        Well it was a spectacle in the same way that the Wicker Man was a spectacle (The KLF had previoulsy staged a Wicker Man style KLF rite on the Isle of Jura, see ‘How Soon Is Now?’ Chapter 14) and there was still an appetite for spectacle in the press, but not so much...they were much more cynical by then. They  didn't know why they were going but when they got there they saw the million quid and there was the Rachel Whiteread show going on at the Tate that night. Looking back at it now, it was far too complex, there were far too many things going on for one journalist to take in, you know, it was very confusing, everybody was starting to get more cynical about what we were doing and yeah, it was…… you know it was interesting but slightly ill conceived I think.

MH     Then it was back to the Tate where poor Rachel Whiteread having just won the Turner Prize was then told she'd  won the K Foundation Award, which was twice the amount of the Turner Prize, and of course she refused to come out, at which point Gimpo was standing outside the Tate with £40,000 which he started pouring lighter fuel over with a lighter and saying ‘If she doesn't come and collect this we're gonna burn it’, and she came and collected it, and in a way...it must have ruined her night, to win the Turner Prize and then to be completely upstaged by two pop stars essentially.

But the thing I’ve always admired about her so much is that, she took this award, and counted it and it was £14,000 short, basically cause everyone had nicked, everyone stole some of that money, which was great, nobody actually put the full £1,600 down, each of those journalists thought ‘Well no one's gonna miss a couple of £50s’, but what I always admired about Rachel Whiteread was that having been put through this, when she got it back and counted it it was £14,000 short and she actually demanded that they made it up and I thought, 'Good on you'.

RK       Everything they did echoed that moment of the 80s turning into the 90s and, you know, the complete dissipation of the Tories and people rejecting that, and that switch from being downtrodden to being euphoric and of course it horribly ended with Brit Pop as its logical conclusion.

MH      Oh yeah, but i'm sure people wanted something that had that air of triumph about it, and the beauty of the campaign of the K Foundation Awards was the way they took out those full page ads in the media, announcing it and they didn't give a great deal away at first. But funnily enough even then, everyone knew because of the graphics….you suddenly get a full page ad in The Times saying 'Abandon All Art Now' ...you just couldn't do that now. I just forget sometimes ‘cause there was stuff they were doing every day every week, and there were things they did that got completely ignored. My favourite was when they built a cube of Tennent’s Super and drove it around London on Christmas Eve handing out cans to to the homeless.

RK       I’ve read about it in ‘45’

MH      I think that's what Bill writes about in ‘45’, ‘cause I remember saying, ‘No one's going to write about it it's Christmas Eve, and they did this enormous cube and then put it in the back of a van and distributed it to down and outs, I remember it just rolled off the van and just toppled all over the street.

RK       Something like that is a sort of mirror image of burning the money in a way isn't it?

JC        It was, it was on the same sort of par with that really, not as a work of art just to be seen as the cans in a cube, which is one part of it, but it's the giving away of the beer to the people and then their minders coming out and just going crazy, saying we're basically killing a lot of people that night by giving them all this beer.

RK       Was any of it illegal?

MH      Funnily enough defacing money is illegal....when they returned the million quid that they had for the K Foundation Award - because it had been literally nailed to this platform - when they returned it it all had to be destroyed, because they'd defaced it essentially, and I think they were fined sixty grand for the cost of replacing it, which possibly gave them the idea of burning that much money later. But that was crazy, and I still have this upstairs somewhere, when they went to pick up the million quid from the bank reserve or wherever it is, they had like the dodgiest sort of East End courier company that went to pick up these packages. And it was literally a transit van, just a dodgy East End courier company and a million quid in the back of a transit van, no protection. It dropped off the delivery at Jimmy’s house in Brixton, and I’ve actually got the receipt, don't know where I’ve got it, but I’ve just got all this stuff......there's a film in there somewhere....two guys.. who are probably petty villains anyway, who are driving a van with a million quid in the back and they never know.

JC        Obviously if you've been in a hugely successful band, the aftermath of that is quite extreme, so you're in a funny space anyway, so yeah we were in a funny place at that point. An interesting place, but then obviously it got more weird as we moved through the K Foundation and then after the K Foundation, I was in an even weirder place. I thought the K Foundation would really level me out, but in fact it didn't it just made me more weird, and it's only now really that, well no the last few years, that i've been able to level off properly, and just see it as part of the chain of historical events of my life. But yeah that was, after the money burning, me and my wife and kids just fled the country. We just went to live in America, we didn't even know where we just drove around in America, trying to find somewhere to live in a motorhome, for months, just trying to get away from this monster

RK       You and Bill by this time, you'd been doing it all yourselves, there'd been no one else to answer to really, you'd been in control of it all

JC        Well that's what happens, if you've got no-one else to answer to. You end up doing really mad things, cause nobody'll say 'no, don't do that'. And I remember when I went in to meet Bill in this cafe I said  'I've got this idea of something we can do with the money' I was sort of half hoping that the guy at the bar would lean over and go 'no, you can't do that', but there was nobody to say that.

RK       Was there a tiny bit of, not one upmanship, but did you egg each other on a bit?

JC        Definitely at that point, we were very on the edge at that point, of I don't know what. Not insanity, but I don't know, we were just in our own bubble our own strange bubble, our own reality and everything so yeah, it was interesting, interesting times.

RK       Did you think the K Foundation would have the same sort of impact that the records had had?

JC        I don't think we really understood the way the art world was working, I think we were slightly naive really, coming from the music business, which is a very simplistic world. The art world is far more complex. I was at this school thing the other night and I picked up this book by Matthew Collings, it was from years ago I'd never seen it though, and it was the K Foundation, and he just you know, really, 'The K Foundation, it's just this bloke who did a Lord of The Rings poster in the 70s and made loads of money from it, and his friend' and that was all he put, you know. Lucky I didn't see that at the time because I would've been really cross. But that kind of put down, was pretty typical of the art world actually, you know, and those sort of people who are the movers and shakers, the people who know a lot about art, they didn't like it at all. We were coming more from the people versus the art world. That's not a good place to be coming from, because the art world's nothing to do with the people, it's absolutely......and we didn't realise that and we were sort of championing the people's anger about the whole thing which was a total mistake, so we just became outsiders immediately, and riled up all the wrong people.

BD       Jimmy and I can pick up instruments and play them, but we're not really musicians, you know, but half the blokes of our generation can pick up a guitar and play it, it's part of being a teenager. Even though I said I didn't read any of those french guys and wouldn't have known who Guy Debord was and I didn't know who Fluxus were either, at the time, I knew too much about art, and Jimmy did in his own way as well. I always felt, even when I was managing Echo & The Bunnymen, I'm really doing this as an artist, I know I'm not really a manager.

I know I'm jumping around here but.......when we did the Timelords record we stated on it that the American Galaxie police car had made the record and just told us what to do, we were it's puppets. And we wanted to finish the record, finish that whole Timelords thing, by exhibiting the car and cutting it up into a thousand pieces to sell off at a tenner a time or something like that, and I didn't know anybody in the art world in london, but somebody I knew, knew a gallery on Frith st, that area

I went to see this guy, I think he had a spanish name, and he said 'Ah, Nah, Yeah this is great, but you don't want to be doing it here, you wanna be doing it in Shoreditch, that's where all this is' So this is 1988. And we were going 'what? yeah, but it's here, Dover St, Frith st, this is where it's happening surely?' He says 'no no no, it's all happening over there now, you're doing stuff like that...i'll sort it out'. But we just thought, he's not being serious with us, he's not interested. Trying to shove us off somewhere, so we didn't so it. Obviously I had no idea at that point, about...’ cause I'd rejected art school so much, I just thought 'art doesn't exist in art schools' so I wasn't aware, in ’88, ‘89, there was this other generation coming through... at some point I met Damien Hirst cause he was a mate of Keith Allen and I'd known Keith Allen from 1976 and we'd got on then. So suddenly, there was a scene, which we weren't part of.

RK       But someone like Damien Hirst could do a novelty record with Keith Allen.

JC        That's fine, that's fine.....can't do it the other way, doesn't work.

RK       Did you realise that at the time?

JC        Yes, we always knew that to have been pop stars ruins your chance of being accepted as an artist afterwards. There's a few people who have got away with it, Captain Beefheart, or a few people. Most people, like Elton John, whoever it is……

RK       ……..Ronnie Wood……

JC        You just go 'fuck off, I don't want to see your stupid artwork it's rubbish', so we knew that...even though we knew that, we knew that we both had to go back to doing art, so, it's like....it's not so bad these days actually, it's not so bad these days, everything is all much more mixed up, it's not like it was actually. You can sort of do it, well we probably are doing it, so yeah, it's slightly easier than it was, so yeah for both of us who've got plans, and we've got the K Foundation telling the art world to fuck off, so those two things combined, have made our lives probably slightly more complicated than they would have been if we hadn't been pop stars and hadn't done the K Foundation, we might be doing better as artists now, but that's fine. I could be having a lot worse problems than that, you know.

BD       Because we'd had pop success, what we were doing with the K Foundation, it could never ever be taken seriously ‘cause we were perceived to be pop musicians. It's one thing, Damien making a Fat Les record, cause he's already got the name...he can do that..., but he can do that as an artist.

JC        Us being conceptual artists together, got completely out of control, again, until we ended up, with the lorry with the two dead cows in the back, driving around the M25. And after driving round all night I just said to Bill 'Bill, Idon't want to do this anymore' and he just said, I think he said 'Well Idon't want to do this anymore either', and we just drove off in opposite directions, and it was just hideous, it was a horrible, smelly fucking infected mess in the back of the truck, blood everywhere and we'd got ourselves down this road, and just totally come to the end of the road at that point. We didn't, we just were egging each other on to do more and more extreme things at that point. We'd been trying to hang them up on a pylon and they weighed a ton, we couldn't even get them out the van, let alone pull them up onto a pylon. Honestly it was just ridiculous. And this was at the height of the BSE thing as well, so we'd got probably infected cows in the back. Poor old Bill had to take them off, drive them back and take them back to the farmer, who he'd just spent weeks blagging them off to let us have these cows, and say we don't want them now, and that was the end of it really.

We’d had the end of the band with the Brit Awards, we'd had the money burning and then we'd had that....those three things, that was it you know, there was no more to be done......even though there always is more to be done, and in fact we've got a meeting next week, but you know we've really tried to calm down a lot. I know Bill has been saying recently that he's having trouble with the money burning, but I don't have that problem with it. I just think we would have spent that money within six months on something really stupid and probably quite destructive anyway. It would've all been gone, so I don't have a problem with the money burning.

There was a much much darker side to it all, which maybe only me and Bill know about. there was some real darkness there, at the end of the band and at the end of the money and, yeah......I remember thinking, I always used to draw all these cartoons all the time and I used to draw me and Bill as the two people in the scream, there's these two guys standing on the bridge behind the woman screaming with top hats on. I used to think that that was us, another favourite one is of me and Bill standing on this suspension bridge which has just been cut off at both ends there's just this sea and the suspension bridge, it's not going anywhere it's just there and we're on it, so we can't get off and that was my sort of metaphor in terms of the situation we got ourselves into really. Even if we meet up now, we're always on the same wavelength pretty much, we just don't really have to discuss things that much, we just both want the same thing, but that's just one of those one in a million things that you get with people sometimes, but those carcasses were the end.

A very symbolic and fitting end to a glorious career really. You know, both driving off in opposite directions, Bill unfortunately with the lorry with the dead cows in the back, and I just.....that was it. I don't think we even contacted each other for quite a while after that. And we didn't even know why we wanted to hang these cows off the pylon....we just had to do it, you know, and even if we had it would have been a total mess. Someone would've had to come and cleaned it up and got them down and.....anyway we're better now.

Elliott Smith in Wandsworth

Posted 13/02/14

(pic Denny Clinch)

The range of new emotional experiences available to us as adults often seems both limited and overwhelming. Last year, along with the death of a parent, I experienced an emotion I was even less prepared for: the sudden and protracted inability to feel, absorb or even really hear music. Since I first received pocket money and made weekly purchases in Smiths, Boots or Woolworths, the accumulation of vinyl has been a fundamental need; for many people like myself it has occasionally been life’s principal emotional activity. But in 2013 I lost any real interest in music.

When asked in conversation about my favourite albums of the year I realised that the records included in my reply – ‘Mug Museum’ by Cate Le Bon, ‘On The Chalk’ by The Memory Band and ‘Immunity’ by Jon Hopkins - were all albums made by friends and acquaintances that I had received through the supply chains of musical good will. However grateful I was to hear and assimilate these albums I realised that I had failed to discover any new music by myself; such was my lassitude that my stereo fell into disuse. My amp and pre-amp were audibly in need of a service yet for more than nine months I lacked the wherewithal to make the necessary arrangements. Cold and deactivated, the dark hard-edged components sat lifelessly on their shelf. Their inert presence was a reminder of quite how detached from music I had become.

Any listening I did was at the computer via the listless clicking through of Mp3s, a format whose sound quality is the aural equivalent of the Internet: compressed, brittle and over responsive to unsubtle dynamic shifts.  On the screen, the flat lines of low bit rate sound files were juxtaposed with febrile exchanges on social media. Instead of listening to records I was frenetically discussing them on twitter. It was during one such online exchange with old friends that I was reminded that last year was the tenth anniversary of Elliott Smith’s death. Normally I would mark such an occasion by playing a side of an album, or at least cranking up the stereo in order to hear a favourite song at a sufficiently celebratory volume. Instead I listened to ‘Speed Trials’ on ITunes, an experience I found dispiriting for a number of reasons, so much so that I finally began making enquiries about servicing my stereo.

The first time I heard the name Elliott Smith was in America in 1996. I was on a whistle stop trip to Los Angeles with Laurence Bell and Jacqui Rice where we were attempting to convince Scott Kannberg and Stephen Malkmus that Pavement should sign to Domino. At that point neither Jacqui nor myself technically worked at the label. We were there in a more abstract capacity. Over the course of one evening talk inevitably turned to music and Malkmus asked us if we were familiar with the two albums by Elliott Smith. As he said his name Steve’s hands made the actions of finger picking. ‘Acoustic player’, he continued, ‘from Portland’. Our reply was a group effort at the universal caveat of anyone hoping to cover his or her tracks:

‘Heard the name….Yes….. think so…..What label?’

‘Kill Rock Stars’

‘Oh right, yeah…… sure…..Sure’

By then Elliott Smith had released both ‘Roman Candle’ and his eponymous second record. During 1996 he had concentrated on his band Heatmiser and the release of their major label debut ‘Mic City Songs’, a copy of which Laurence and I had each been serendipitously given at a meeting during our Los Angeles visit. A few months later I was in the offices of an indie distributor in Holland and looked over a newly arrived import copy of ‘Either/Or’. The cover photograph of Smith sitting in the back room of a club and flashing his tattoos seemed to fit with the post-Riot Grrrl definition of punk that might then have been associated with Kill Rock Stars and the Pacific Northwest. There is just a hint of confrontation in the face Smith presents to the camera, an expression that makes the music within all the more startling. 

While Domino was kept busy for much of 1997 with ‘Brighten The Corners’, Elliott’s name regularly came up in conversation, and by the end of the year it was decided that we would be releasing his catalogue in Europe. As Domino began its working relationship with Smith in the spring of ‘98 his career in the States had started to progress beyond the world of strip lights and marker scrawled clubs of ‘Either/Or’. He had recently performed ‘Miss Misery’ at the Oscars dressed in a rumpled white suit and completed the recording of a new album ‘X/O’ for release later that year on the Dreamworks label.

Along with master copies of each of Elliott’s Kill Rock Stars albums, Domino had been sent a VHS of ‘Lucky Three’, a short film by Jem Cohen.  At roughly ten minutes in length ‘Lucky Three’ features Elliott playing three acoustic songs intercut with footage of workaday Portland.  Sometimes Smith appears in these cutaway shots holding a cup of coffee in the street or looking relaxed while dawdling on a corner.  Watching it for the first time I was struck by the film’s atmosphere. The streets were rain splashed and wide, the sound of Elliott alone with a guitar had a ringing clarity and Cohen cut between the colour and black and white film stock with a deftness that meant these subtle shifts in texture added to the tenderness of the songs and performance. In particular, I noticed that in comparison to what was then the received idiom of the American singer-songwriter – Gothic Western or alt. country,  - ‘Lucky Three’ portrayed Smith as an artist of the commonplace urban environment, one of low-rise midtowns, parking lots and of traffic lights suspended across the road.

By 1998, even by the standards of the late 1990s, my computer skills were highly underdeveloped. I had however learned how to write screen savers. These consisted of a short line of text drifting endlessly across the desktop. Originally I had written ‘It’s hip to ship’ as a reminder that part of my job, a fairly significant part, involved selling our releases to Europe. Tired of this attempt at self-motivation I had substituted my original aphorism with a phrase that I thought might romanticize my working environment: ‘The Wichita Lineman is still on the line.’

Elliott arrived in London in May with his then girlfriend Joanna Bolme and his manager Margaret Mittleman, whose engaging demeanour and attention to detail was nurturing Elliott through the subtle but significant gear changes in his career. During his first visit to the Domino office in Wandsworth Elliott and Joanna sat together in silence perched in a cramped corner near the fax machine and stared into space.  We were in the habit of receiving visits from jetlagged and introverted American musicians, and having left sufficient time for them to adjust to their surroundings, I turned around to engage them in some innocuous conversation. Before I had a chance to speak Elliott pointed to my screen saver and asked ‘Did you write that?’ As I nodded in confirmation his face broke into a beatific smile.

That evening Elliott played his debut European show at The Borderline. It was a warm evening and as he walked on stage there was still a patch of lambent daylight visible through the doors of the club.

Elliott opened with ‘Angeles’. There was an unexpected forcefulness to his guitar playing and the overall intensity of the performance spoke of his experience of playing to crowds brought up on the dynamics of grunge. Other than perhaps having watched grey haired survivors of the folk circuit, I doubt many in the audience had witnessed finger picked guitar on stage before. He played a cover of Big Star’s 'Thirteen', that even then, after what felt like a lifetime of Big Star covers in venues like the Borderline, sounded as fresh and unblemished as the original version. The next morning he and Margaret flew to Europe for a handful of dates and interviews in Paris, Amsterdam and Stockholm.

On his return the following week he played Upstairs at the Garage, one of the unloveliest venues in London. We were informed on the morning of the show that Elliott could have sold out the main downstairs venue twice over, but it was decided to let the original booking stand. I played some records as a warm up and between sets and watched the show from the DJ booth. At one point a member of the audience with wide, filibrating eyes started shouting aggressively at a couple standing immediately in front of him:

‘I'm going to fucking smash your fucking face in, and your fucking girlfriend’s I’m going to fucking kill you’.

His threats were accompanied by jabs to the chest of the man in the couple who turned to me, his face cracked with adrenaline, and began imploring for help. I waved to a security guard who immediately caught their assailant in a headlock and dragged him out of the audience with noticeable relish. A few moments later the sound of the troublemaker being thrown down the stairs was just about audible above the performance. After the show I relayed the incident to Elliott and Margaret, Elliott nodded in recognition and smiled once again ‘I often have fights at shows’ he said ‘Yeah’ he nodded, almost with a hint of pride ‘I’m used to that’.

Towards the end of the summer Dreamworks released the new Elliott Smith album ‘XO’ and Elliott returned to play Reading as a trio with Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss of Quasi. Two days later they played Dingwalls on a rainy Bank Holiday Monday. Elliott stayed on in London and during another visit to the office he spent almost an hour downstairs in the small warehouse playing a battered guitar. Its provenance was unknown and it was usually stored out of sight on a row of boxes. He sat picking its brittle nylon strings for minutes on end before retuning and resuming once more, as he did so he gazed into the middle distance with a resolute blankness.

I also remember him coming out one evening to a Quickspace and Clinic show that was staged in a faintly exotic location. The exact details escape me but I seem to recall it taking place in a cloistered part of the LSE. Elliott sat alone in the bar with the diffused aura of not wanting to be approached. A circle of empty seats surrounded him and the room developed an overwrought and neurotic energy as he began to be recognised. A colleague from the office eventually kept him company and within a few minutes he was speaking in the half sentences and silent nods with which he conducted a conversation. A few weeks later Elliott let her have the use of his apartment in New York when he was away on tour. ‘It was as you’d expect’ she said ‘it was pretty messy’.

Within a week Elliott had joined Belle And Sebastian as the support act for their first major British tour. The venues were halls and theatres and were the largest the band had played outside Glasgow, and in recognition of this amelioration they were touring with their own PA system. The only other UK band Elliott had supported had been Tindersticks the previous year in San Francisco. I remember Laurence and I joking that Elliott was experiencing a fairly distorted view of how British bands approached the business of live performance, particularly sound checks.

Belle And Sebastian played two London shows at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. On the second night the promoters had oversold the venue beyond the point of discomfort. Elliott walked on stage, sat on a stool and almost succeeded in making himself heard over the drinks queue chatter. Sam Coomes from Quasi (and once Heatmiser) accompanied Elliott on guitar for a few songs; it was hard not to laugh at the realisation that Sam was playing the battered guitar from the Domino warehouse. After three or four numbers Sam left Elliott to finish the set and as he did so, he gently kissed the woolly hat that had become a permanent feature on his friend’s head. In a little over twelve weeks Smith had played London five times. When he returned for a final date towards the end of the year he was firmly in the hands of Dreamworks. His four albums had all been released in Europe within a space of six months and he would be drawing a remarkable year to a close.

At the beginning of this year I finally dispatched my stereo off to the repair shop. I started to gather a small stack of records in anticipation of its return and placed ‘Either/Or’ near the front. As the descending notes to ‘Speed Trials’ began I heard the song as if for the first time and was drawn to the finer details that create its air of intimacy - the double tracked vocals panned left and right, the drum fills that scatter across the chorus, the manner in which Smith reaches for the high notes and sings a harmony line against his own voice - but most of all I was reminded of the sweetness and simplicity of his smile.

New Book * Original Rockers

Posted 13/02/14

I'm currently working on a new book for Faber called 'Original Rockers'

It's not entirely a book about reggae though.

pablo

These are the details and an extract is below

In Autumn 2015, Faber will publish Original Rockers: A Meditation on the Disappearing Landscape of Record Shops, a new book by author Richard King. Richard King has worked at the heart of the independent music industry for nearly twenty years.   He is the co-editor of Loops, an occasional journal of long-form music writing published jointly by Faber and Domino Records and author of How Soon is Now?

Here Lee Brackstone, Faber Creative Director, introduces this new work, followed by an extract from the book.

‘The ‘what should be’ never did exist, but people keep trying to live up to it. There is no ‘what should be,’ there is only ‘what is.’  Lenny Bruce

There was a time, not so long ago, that every town from Norwich to Brighton to Bristol to York and beyond, had its own record shop. In fact, up until perhaps the mid-90s and the short-lived triumph of the cd format, the record shop could be said to perform the same function as a city’s football club.  Like Carrow Road or Bootham Crescent, the record shop was a crucible for the hopes, dreams, and more likely fantasies of a fair slice of the community. A place to meet, to express yourself, to test your commitment to a cause, whether that be the lonely plight of your hapless lower-league heroes, or the latest release from Black Flag or Disco Inferno.

Rather like football these days the record shop has lost its place in the community and with it we have lost some unique character from our increasingly homogenised High Streets. Richard King’s Original Rockers recalls the End Times of the record shop in Britain with great humour and an ear for anecdote.  It is a story about excitement and discovery and indifference to market forces. A story about living in a landscape constructed of mountains of vinyl in a chaotic shop. And all of this without even the vaguest whiff of nostalgia for ‘what should be’.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Extract from Original Rockers by Richard King

Original Rockers takes its name from an Augustus Pablo dub album compiled of singles recorded between 1972 and 1975, the year Revolver Records, a record shop in Bristol opened. Throughout the shop’s twenty-five year history Original Rockers was the kind of album that would sell within days, sometimes even hours, of being placed in the racks. Although not widely known, it was a record whose reputation spread via word of mouth and stoned late night listening sessions, an exemplar of the type of secret music that was Revolver’s justification for opening its peeling door each morning.

augustus pablo, original rockers

To stand inside and loiter in a record shop is to be in a separate habitat, one that feels cloistered, protective and disengaged from any other type of retail activity; an ecology whose ambience can be experienced by degree and by the subtle shifts in mood that are set by whatever music is coming through the shop’s speakers. If a shop is playing a familiar album there are few greater pleasures than settling in to its running order and allowing its well-worn grooves to prompt the head to nod along while flicking through the racks. There is also a thrill in discovery. A previously unheard record coming through the store’s sound system often prompts the question that, despite their studied air of indifference, anyone working behind a record shop counter longs to hear: “Excuse me, what’s this you’re playing?”

There is never a shortage of music to play in a record store. Music from every era, especially some of an era’s most unloved records, sits for years awaiting rediscovery gathering dust on a half-remembered shelf. Barely perceptible changes in taste bring forgotten albums back to life. A decade after its dominance in the recording studio, a gated digital drum machine was the totemic sound of eighties excess and records made around its production values could be found for a pound. Twenty years later some of the more esoteric or flawed albums from the period were no longer considered relics but instead appeared to new generations as talismanic recordings to be appropriated as influences. The greatest record shops are fine-tuned to these processes and are constantly aware of the shifting nuances in demand and popularity before they enter the mainstream. Such moments of precognition occur especially within the kind of music whose natural home is amid piles of unsorted records in the backrooms and improvised shelves of record shops with serious reputations.

Revolver was that kind of shop; its ability to thread a connective love of music across genres and fashions and to encourage its customers to do the same was its raison d’etre. Anyone who worked there was less interested in selling the weekly inundation of new releases than in delving through the racks of rare and obscure records that were kept from view. Behind closed doors Revolver contained a lifetime’s worth of music that could only be absorbed one side of an album at a time. The shop stocked any and every genre that a customer might desire, but its principal sales technique, if it had such a thing, was finding new ways in which music might unlock the subconscious. It was a shop that would reasonably strike any passing customer as not so much disengaged as unhinged. The type of place that was entirely divisive; for some music lovers it was the high water mark of any Saturday visit into town, for the more casual record buyer it was best avoided and with good reason.

If a record shop is anything today it is a frontier between the old and new worlds, an environment where the contrast between physical artefacts and digital gratification hangs in the balance. Perhaps then this book is also the story of every record shop.

What follows is a meditation on a disappearing landscape and an attempt to preserve its customs, language and secrets, as well as a passage through its hinterland of forgotten spaces; a daydream lost among the racks, a finger run along dusty shelves and a drift through the music of time.

- See more at: http://fabersocial.co.uk/2013/09/faber-to-publish-original-rockers-a-meditation-on-the-disappearing-landscape-of-record-shops/#sthash.bq1HH8Ip.dpuf

In Autumn 2015, Faber will publish Original Rockers: A Meditation on the Disappearing Landscape of Record Shops, a new book by author Richard King. Richard King has worked at the heart of the independent music industry for nearly twenty years.   He is the co-editor of Loops, an occasional journal of long-form music writing published jointly by Faber and Domino Records and author of How Soon is Now?

Here Lee Brackstone, Faber Creative Director, introduces this new work, followed by an extract from the book.

‘The ‘what should be’ never did exist, but people keep trying to live up to it. There is no ‘what should be,’ there is only ‘what is.’  Lenny Bruce

There was a time, not so long ago, that every town from Norwich to Brighton to Bristol to York and beyond, had its own record shop. In fact, up until perhaps the mid-90s and the short-lived triumph of the cd format, the record shop could be said to perform the same function as a city’s football club.  Like Carrow Road or Bootham Crescent, the record shop was a crucible for the hopes, dreams, and more likely fantasies of a fair slice of the community. A place to meet, to express yourself, to test your commitment to a cause, whether that be the lonely plight of your hapless lower-league heroes, or the latest release from Black Flag or Disco Inferno.

Rather like football these days the record shop has lost its place in the community and with it we have lost some unique character from our increasingly homogenised High Streets. Richard King’s Original Rockers recalls the End Times of the record shop in Britain with great humour and an ear for anecdote.  It is a story about excitement and discovery and indifference to market forces. A story about living in a landscape constructed of mountains of vinyl in a chaotic shop. And all of this without even the vaguest whiff of nostalgia for ‘what should be’.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Extract from Original Rockers by Richard King

Original Rockers takes its name from an Augustus Pablo dub album compiled of singles recorded between 1972 and 1975, the year Revolver Records, a record shop in Bristol opened. Throughout the shop’s twenty-five year history Original Rockers was the kind of album that would sell within days, sometimes even hours, of being placed in the racks. Although not widely known, it was a record whose reputation spread via word of mouth and stoned late night listening sessions, an exemplar of the type of secret music that was Revolver’s justification for opening its peeling door each morning.

augustus pablo, original rockers

To stand inside and loiter in a record shop is to be in a separate habitat, one that feels cloistered, protective and disengaged from any other type of retail activity; an ecology whose ambience can be experienced by degree and by the subtle shifts in mood that are set by whatever music is coming through the shop’s speakers. If a shop is playing a familiar album there are few greater pleasures than settling in to its running order and allowing its well-worn grooves to prompt the head to nod along while flicking through the racks. There is also a thrill in discovery. A previously unheard record coming through the store’s sound system often prompts the question that, despite their studied air of indifference, anyone working behind a record shop counter longs to hear: “Excuse me, what’s this you’re playing?”

There is never a shortage of music to play in a record store. Music from every era, especially some of an era’s most unloved records, sits for years awaiting rediscovery gathering dust on a half-remembered shelf. Barely perceptible changes in taste bring forgotten albums back to life. A decade after its dominance in the recording studio, a gated digital drum machine was the totemic sound of eighties excess and records made around its production values could be found for a pound. Twenty years later some of the more esoteric or flawed albums from the period were no longer considered relics but instead appeared to new generations as talismanic recordings to be appropriated as influences. The greatest record shops are fine-tuned to these processes and are constantly aware of the shifting nuances in demand and popularity before they enter the mainstream. Such moments of precognition occur especially within the kind of music whose natural home is amid piles of unsorted records in the backrooms and improvised shelves of record shops with serious reputations.

Revolver was that kind of shop; its ability to thread a connective love of music across genres and fashions and to encourage its customers to do the same was its raison d’etre. Anyone who worked there was less interested in selling the weekly inundation of new releases than in delving through the racks of rare and obscure records that were kept from view. Behind closed doors Revolver contained a lifetime’s worth of music that could only be absorbed one side of an album at a time. The shop stocked any and every genre that a customer might desire, but its principal sales technique, if it had such a thing, was finding new ways in which music might unlock the subconscious. It was a shop that would reasonably strike any passing customer as not so much disengaged as unhinged. The type of place that was entirely divisive; for some music lovers it was the high water mark of any Saturday visit into town, for the more casual record buyer it was best avoided and with good reason.

If a record shop is anything today it is a frontier between the old and new worlds, an environment where the contrast between physical artefacts and digital gratification hangs in the balance. Perhaps then this book is also the story of every record shop.

What follows is a meditation on a disappearing landscape and an attempt to preserve its customs, language and secrets, as well as a passage through its hinterland of forgotten spaces; a daydream lost among the racks, a finger run along dusty shelves and a drift through the music of time.

- See more at: http://fabersocial.co.uk/2013/09/faber-to-publish-original-rockers-a-meditation-on-the-disappearing-landscape-of-record-shops/#sthash.bq1HH8Ip.dpuf

In Autumn 2015, Faber will publish Original Rockers: A Meditation on the Disappearing Landscape of Record Shops, a new book by author Richard King. Richard King has worked at the heart of the independent music industry for nearly twenty years.   He is the co-editor of Loops, an occasional journal of long-form music writing published jointly by Faber and Domino Records and author of How Soon is Now?

Here Lee Brackstone, Faber Creative Director, introduces this new work, followed by an extract from the book.

‘The ‘what should be’ never did exist, but people keep trying to live up to it. There is no ‘what should be,’ there is only ‘what is.’  Lenny Bruce

There was a time, not so long ago, that every town from Norwich to Brighton to Bristol to York and beyond, had its own record shop. In fact, up until perhaps the mid-90s and the short-lived triumph of the cd format, the record shop could be said to perform the same function as a city’s football club. Like Carrow Road or Bootham Crescent, the record shop was a crucible for the hopes, dreams, and more likely fantasies of a fair slice of the community. A place to meet, to express yourself, to test your commitment to a cause, whether that be the lonely plight of your hapless lower-league heroes, or the latest release from Black Flag or Disco Inferno.

Rather like football these days the record shop has lost its place in the community and with it we have lost some unique character from our increasingly homogenised High Streets. Richard King’s Original Rockers recalls the End Times of the record shop in Britain with great humour and an ear for anecdote.  It is a story about excitement and discovery and indifference to market forces. A story about living in a landscape constructed of mountains of vinyl in a chaotic shop. And all of this without even the vaguest whiff of nostalgia for ‘what should be’.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Extract from Original Rockers by Richard King

Original Rockers takes its name from an Augustus Pablo dub compilation of singles recorded between 1972 and 1975, the year Revolver Records, a record shop in Bristol opened. Throughout the shop’s twenty-five year history Original Rockers was the kind of album that would sell within days, sometimes even hours, of being placed in the racks. Although not widely known, it was a record whose reputation spread via word of mouth and stoned late night listening sessions, an exemplar of the type of secret music that was Revolver’s justification for opening its peeling door each morning.

To stand inside and loiter in a record shop is to be in a separate habitat, one that feels cloistered, protective and disengaged from any other type of retail activity; an ecology whose ambience can be experienced by degree and by the subtle shifts in mood that are set by whatever music is coming through the shop’s speakers. If a shop is playing a familiar album there are few greater pleasures than settling in to its running order and allowing its well-worn grooves to prompt the head to nod along while flicking through the racks. There is also a thrill in discovery. A previously unheard record coming through the store’s sound system often prompts the question that, despite their studied air of indifference, anyone working behind a record shop counter longs to hear: “Excuse me, what’s this you’re playing?”

There is never a shortage of music to play in a record store. Music from every era, especially some of an era’s most unloved records, sits for years awaiting rediscovery gathering dust on a half-remembered shelf. Barely perceptible changes in taste bring forgotten albums back to life. A decade after its dominance in the recording studio, a gated digital drum machine was the totemic sound of eighties excess and records made around its production values could be found for a pound. Twenty years later some of the more esoteric or flawed albums from the period were no longer considered relics but instead appeared to new generations as talismanic recordings to be appropriated as influences. The greatest record shops are fine-tuned to these processes and are constantly aware of the shifting nuances in demand and popularity before they enter the mainstream. Such moments of precognition occur especially within the kind of music whose natural home is amid piles of unsorted records in the backrooms and improvised shelves of record shops with serious reputations.

Revolver was that kind of shop; its ability to thread a connective love of music across genres and fashions and to encourage its customers to do the same was its raison d’etre. Anyone who worked there was less interested in selling the weekly inundation of new releases than in delving through the racks of rare and obscure records that were kept from view. Behind closed doors Revolver contained a lifetime’s worth of music that could only be absorbed one side of an album at a time. The shop stocked any and every genre that a customer might desire, but its principal sales technique, if it had such a thing, was finding new ways in which music might unlock the subconscious. It was a shop that would reasonably strike any passing customer as not so much disengaged as unhinged. The type of place that was entirely divisive; for some music lovers it was the high water mark of any Saturday visit into town, for the more casual record buyer it was best avoided and with good reason.

If a record shop is anything today it is a frontier between the old and new worlds, an environment where the contrast between physical artefacts and digital gratification hangs in the balance. Perhaps then this book is also the story of every record shop.

What follows is a meditation on a disappearing landscape and an attempt to preserve its customs, language and secrets, as well as a passage through its hinterland of forgotten spaces; a daydream lost among the racks, a finger run along dusty shelves and a drift through the music of time.

 

Welsh Essays

Posted 30/10/13

This year I have a written inextensively about Wales.

welsh essay

At the start of the year, inspired by the John Cheever story 'The Swimmer' I went on a pub crawl of closed or closing pubs in my home town of Newport for Vice.

This now has a happier ending as one of the pubs - The Ridgeway - has re-opened, and Newport's Tiny Rebel Brewery is having a highly successful 2013.

In the spring I wrote about the harsh realities of this year's lambing season on my farming neighbours in my current home of Radnorshire, Mid Wales.

This was later published in the Caught By The River All Wales 'Antidote To Indifference' which I edited along with Jude Rogers & Robin Turner.

The fanzine also includes a short piece I wrote about the word 'mining' that attempted a definition that went beyond its industrial meaning.

I'll be reading from the Welsh 'Antidote To Indifference' at the next Caught By The River Social on November 11th.

(As this is a late addition to the evening's entertainment it's not included on the flyer)

Finally, last month Manic Street Peachers kindly invited me to meditate on Welsh identity and their current album 'Rewind The Film'.

-

Much of the above will inform a book about Wales Robin Turner & I are currently working on for Faber & Faber, due to published....

......well, the Welsh word for time is 'amser'.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

James Endeacott Is Writing A Book

Posted 22/05/13

In 1993 the first Domino 'office' was little more than a ground floor shop front the size of a cupboard.

At one desk sat Laurence Bell, at the other sat a figure with wild stawberry blonde curls that I instantly recognised from the sleeve of 'Heaven's End' by Loop.

heaven's end

When I first met James he was managing Tindersticks, or 'The Tindersticks' as they are sometimes affectionately known.

As well as negotiating with tailors about trouser length for his charges, James was providing non-stop joie de vivre among the rambling boxes of Sebadoh 7"s and Palace artwork. A few months later I was promoting a concert in an industrial unit in Bristol that featured a network of windowless corridors in a self-consciously underground style.

I was after a Prague '68 vibe and the evening was technically illegal. To add to the atmosphere I asked a swarthy South Bristolian postman to run the door for me; he was on strict advice to keep an eye out for possible troublemakers.

I had neglected to put James's name down on the guest list.

Undeterred he started reasoning with the doorman.

"I'm the manager of Tindersticks' said James

"Don't come to me with your problems' said the postman-cum-doorman in a thick Bristolian accent.

*

'You keep turning up like the proverbial bad penny Richard' James once had the temerity to say to me in an exemplar of the pot calling the kettle black.

James is now turning his...colourful... life story as an A&R man into a book: 'The Fat White Duke'.

The full details are here.

http://unbound.co.uk/books/the-fat-white-duke

I urge you to support this rock'n'roller, one whose lineage includes Loop, 'The' Tindersticks, The Strokes, The Libertines, Creation, Rough Trade, 1965 Records and all, if not every, conceivable point between.

As well as containing insights, anecdotes and complicated stories about how to avoid US customs, this book will make the reader really *really* laugh.

 

 

 

 

 

Pastels, The

Posted 15/05/13

 

Pastels, The – Check Your Heart

 

I first met The Pastels on Friday 2nd December 1994. I know the exact date as it’s written on two separate flyers for a concert that I promoted. The handbill featuring a still photograph was my own creation.

It places my abilities and vulnerabilities as a concert organiser in Bristol during the early to mid 1990s into sharp relief. Instead of writing the venue's actual name - The Fleece & Firkin - I wrote 'Baa Baa' as a rather knowing and, at least in terms of ticket sales, self-destructive in-joke (with myself).

The superciliousness inherent in the phrase ‘8pm prompt’ instead of say, ‘first band on-stage 8pm’ also makes me simultaneously wince and wonder at the breathless confidence of youth.

fleece rk 

Fortunately the headline act provided bespoke flyers for the evening. I had been promoting for a little over year and had never come across a band that was so willing to help spread the word about a concert as The Pastels.

Katrina telephoned a few weeks in advance of the show to talk through the arrangements, and such was their attention to detail that when the night of the concert arrived, the evening felt like a partnership.

Unless they have a persuasive reason to be at the venue, anyone who has spent a life around bands learns to avoid the dead few hours between load-in and performance. Few things seem to flatten time to such an extent as the repetitive sound of a floor tom being brought up to level, or the treble hiss of a guitar amp fading into the numb silence of an empty club. Nevertheless, the most memorable part of Friday 2nd December 1994 at The Fleece occurred during the sound check.

The Pastels’ guitarist that night was Gerry Love of Teenage Fanclub, who plays with the band today. When the time came to mic up his guitar something extraordinary happened. Instead of strumming chords or adjusting the tone control, Gerry played an unexpected and note perfect version of Big Star’s ‘Ballad of El Goodo’. A frisson spread around the room as everyone broke off from laying out effects pedals or tidying away guitar cases and stopped to listen to the gentle intensity of the performance.

In the years to come I’d spend more than a few such moments with The Pastels. As we loitered in draughty venues with the house lights up and the scent of disinfectant still lingering, there was always the sense that later there might be magic in the air.

The 8pm start proved unnecessary as Comet Gain had to cancel their appearance, and despite my shortcomings as an impresario the evening was carried off with infectious warmth. Movietone played an aggressive, atmospheric set and afterwards started an enduring and reciprocal friendship with The Pastels; although as I write this, I realise all friendships with The Pastels are likely to be reciprocal. Al Larsen performed a one-man show involving a harmonica, an acoustic guitar and tape loops. A slacker MC, he roamed the stage with an air of committed uncertainty as he went in search of objects that might be appropriated as temporary beat boxes. The performance was so unique and engrossing that it made me wonder whether Beck Hansen had been taking notes while in Olympia recording One Foot In The Grave.

The following morning we all met up for breakfast and Katrina handed me a copy of Pamfletti, a smartly printed fanzine the band had produced along with Stereolab for a recent joint Scottish tour. It featured a Michael Polnareff profile by Bob Stanley, Tim Gane’s guide to buying vinyl at a car boot sale or a charity shop and a story by Aggi (now known as Annabel Wright) about a Glasgow deli that had been forced to shut due to the capriciousness of it’s owner, Paul:

‘In his heyday he bought a large cheese for his otherwise empty Refrigerated Display, and spent the next few days cutting it into small pieces in an attempt to look busy – it made a change from washing his hands.’

Pamfletti read like a prototype for a Franco-Caledonian equivalent to Grand Royale, one that had been written by and for a generation that had come of age since C86 and was now refining its increasingly sophisticated tastes. There was another quality to Pamfletti. It had a strong sense of purpose and a muted but distinct stylishness, above all it had an openness and willingness to share and spread the word. In time I became conscious of the fact that these qualities where the hallmarks of what the band and their friends called Pastelism. Originally a name for an earlier fanzine, it had been developed into a code of practice.

pam

My first encounter with a nascent form of Pastelism had been at school in Oxford in 1986. On a weekday afternoon I walked into Our Price on Cornmarket and saw an in-store display for ‘Steaming Train’ and ‘Beatnik Boy’ the debut singles by a local band, Talulah Gosh, which had latterly been released on the same day. Although record shop managers were in charge of their own marketing and promotions in the 1980s, the sight of dozens of purple and green seven-inch records repetitively stacked in prominent rows looked incongruous; particularly as the Talulah Gosh point of sale display was neighboured by promotional posters for Cutting Crew and Jermaine Stewart. I turned one of the singles over, the name of the record label was 53rd&3rd Records and printed alongside was an Edinburgh address and phone number. I also recognised one of the band members in the picture. I had often seen him working behind the shop counter.

In a fanzine I had read somewhere that the people behind 53rd&3rd included one of the Shop Assistants, one of The Pastels, and a friend. At the time this seemed highly significant, as I gradually started to understand that to some people the world of independent music felt like a calling. Some school friends became immersed in this incipient world of fanzines, flexi discs and the culture that became characterised as anorak pop.  One of them, John Jervis of WIAIWYA, continues to spend a great deal of his spare time ensuring its on-going popularity. I made a cassette of the ‘Truck Train Tractor’ 12” and Up For A Bit With The Pastels, before my attention and late teenage metabolism became overwhelmed by American underground guitar music, and my fanzine budget was limited to overpriced imports of Forced Exposure.

At the turn of the decade I began to realise what many American bands had always known - that The Pastels existed outside the adjectival confines of ‘twee’ or ‘indiepop’. Instead the most relevant definition of The Pastels and Pastelism is the one that is currently in use as their twitter bio: ‘Pastels, The. Independent Music Group’.

speed

I finally bought ‘Speeding Motorcycle’- my first Pastels record - on the day it was released. By the time Truckload of Trouble arrived in 1994 I was working in a record shop and tried to sell as many copies of the compilation as possible. Although it proved effective, my sales technique leant heavily on a customer’s ability to cope with my newfound Pastels evangelism. This was a skill I would later adapt when dealing with international record distributors and licensees, or anyone for that matter, who wasn’t quite with the program.

The night at the Fleece and Firkin coincided with the release of  ‘Yoga’ the band’s first single for Domino.

(This is the Matador version, from an era when the provenance of a 7” could easily be determined by the thickness of the sleeve).

yoga 

I had met The Pastels at a point when they had regrouped and signed to a new label. They had worked with Laurence Bell while he had been an A&R at Fire Records and had discovered in one another a mutual sense of self-belief that was highly infectious to be around, especially in Glasgow. For a band signed to an independent label there were and are few places as exciting to play as Glasgow. There is always a sense as you turn off the M74 that the audience will be larger, more self-aware, have better taste in music and be generally more engaged than anywhere else you might play in the UK. Another highlight of playing in the city is the architecture of the West End and the high ceilings and wide windows of its tenements, the floors of which I often stayed on.

One weekend in 1995 King Tut’s hosted a Domino-centric event. Laurence, Mark Mitchell (now a very senior executive at Warners) and I stayed on in the city for an extra day or so. Stephen organised an am-am table tennis tournament for us at Kelvin Hall, and that evening we watched a collection of Jacques Tati short films and drank large amounts of whisky together. Over the years I’ve heard many bands I admire, particularly American ones, recount similar stories of Pastels-style hospitality and that an after after-show involving Stephen and Katrina’s record collection had been a highlight of their tour.

On another visit to Glasgow Katrina drew me a city guide.

directions

The legend is as follows: ‘A’ and ‘K’ are Aggi and Katrina’s houses, the pie chart-esque circle denotes the Botanic Gardens on Great Western Road and the ‘S’ is John Smiths Byres Rd where Stephen worked.

At the time it was the only record shop in Britain to hang Steve Keene paintings on its walls.

(I have no idea who later added ‘RK OK” in pink letters enclosed in a heart. One morning I arrived at my desk and noticed it had appeared on the drawing overnight.

Throughout the long hot summer of 1997, friends and colleagues would often spend the small hours in the office. Occasionally messages would be left on the answer phone confirming that a nocturnal visitor had arrived home safely after dawn. To transcribe these somewhat discursive recordings was an early highlight of the working day; their woozy, philosophical tone was a change of pace to the highly professional-sounding messages that had been phoned in during American record company office hours.)

During the daylight hours of 1997 Domino released two Pastels singles taken from the Illumination album that followed in the early autumn.

The first single was ‘Unfair Kind of Fame’, a tribute to Ed Wood. The second was ‘The Hits Hurt’ a record that has a perfect reverse sleeve.

Not only are the band looking particularly nouvelle vague, it also includes a detail from Aggi’s portrait of Mingus.

hits

It was around this time that I joined the select number of people who have held the exalted position of Pastels Tour Manager (previous incumbents had included – literally - a speedway star). The tour consisted of several support slots with Yo La Tengo in Germany interspersed with club headline shows. Yo La Tengo had previously been on City Slang, a German label, and played to fairly large audiences. I remember them closing their set at the Markthalle in Hamburg with an encore of ‘Prisoners of Love’ from The Producers. The preceding night The Pastels had played at a makeshift but bohemian venue called Heinz Karmers Tanzcafe where the jeunesse doree of the city came out to dance and get drunk.

During an interview that afternoon Katrina had made a flyer for the evening’s performance.

 

I recently found a picture from that night. Stephen is DJing and Aggi has a beer. My recollection is that the club was swelteringly hot, although Stephen looks composed in his sweater.

The band did quite a few interviews on that tour, I’m fairly sure Aggi even did an interview for the German equivalent of Bass Guitar Monthly (the tag line for the Illumination campaign was ‘The Pastels – Modern and Pro’). My tour management style was a little less pro, so my memories are mainly of late arrivals and brutally early mornings (like most tours). I do though remember the band running through the closing bars of Galaxie 500’s version of ‘Isn’t It A Pity?’ during sound check in a Munich club. Katrina sang the ‘What a pity’ refrain while hammering out rolls on the snare. That night we all stayed in a well-appointed apartment with a floor to ceiling record collection and I heard ‘If I Could Write Poetry I Would’ for the first time. Mummy Your Not Watching Me was the first record I bought once we returned home. A day or so later the band played a version of ‘Part Time Punks’ during sound check in a gleamingly new sports hall. James McNew was standing next to me and air-punched along.

Illuminati-Pastels Music Remixed followed Illumination. Its commission and compilation was an insight into, and a celebration of, the global network of Pastelism. For a few weeks the Domino office became a key locus in the International Pop Underground and its affiliates. A cassette arrived featuring the Make Up’s reworking of ‘Rough Riders’ accompanied by a hand written correspondence from Ian Svenonius. He explained that he had re-contextualised the song’s lyrics to an occupied Vietnam of the mind. He assumed, the letter continued, that this counter move against the Military Industrial Complex would meet with record company approval. On more than one occasion I negotiated Calvin Johnson’s naïf yet highly assertive phone technique. Our conversations consisted of little more than me indicating that he may have to be put on hold. That said, I still have a lingering feeling that our exchanges may have been a contributing factor in his inability to deliver a Dub Narcotic Sound System remix that he felt happy with.

Jim O’Rourke dropped off his string quartet enhanced remix of ‘Leaving This Island’ in person. As he looked around the office he couldn’t quite hide his disbelief that we didn’t have the necessary equipment with which to play a DAT.

(The office hi-fi system at that point consisted of a portable CD / cassette player).

Towards the end of last year I received an advance copy of the new Pastels album Slow Summits, their first full-length release since Illumination. I’ve listened to it a great deal in recent weeks. I first heard it before Christmas but wanted to immerse myself in its warm tones once I knew the days were getting longer. Slow Summits evokes the confidence and surfaces of Byres Road, the warm authority of Monorail and of staying up late listening to music - the second song on the album is called ‘Night Time Made Us’. Most people I know often feel as if they are in a foreign country when visiting Glasgow. Perhaps talking about records long into the night in the West End is the city’s real lingua franca. There are instrumental passages on Slow Summits that sound like the soundtrack to found footage of long walks, of outdoor exterior sequences that jump cut to the horizon. Even by Pastels standards, the album has a depth of field that can only be achieved through a love of detail and an immeasurable love of music. Slow Summits also contains some remarkable Pastels pop songs, especially the first single: ‘Check My Heart’. Its sleeve features a painting by Annabel Wright.

To hold and then place a Pastels single on a turntable today is a different experience to twenty years ago, for me it is certainly a richer one.

Every time I listen to their new record, I realise I have never known a group, or a group of people, like The Pastels.

Horace Andy - King of Dub (US Pre)

Posted 03/12/12

I'm currently writing about Bristol, record shop dust, bass bins and telling the time of day by the length of a side of vinyl.

I recently came accross this 1980 hand-typed inventory from Revolver Records, a shop that also acted as a distributor and became a member of The Cartel.

The amount of reggae they were carrying says a great deal about the space and atmosphere of the shop and the city: two Postcard 7"s, the Upsetters, Horace Andy, Jackie Mittoo on import pre-release and nearly all of the early Greensleeves catalogue.

That's a nice audio balance going into the mix.

 

 

 

yes

Posted 03/12/12

 

 

 

 

On-U Sound, 99 Records & Blue Lines

Posted 24/09/12

The one label I regret not covering in 'How Soon Is Now?' is On-U Sound (although someone at a national newspaper did query the omission of Marc Riley's In Tape).

I spoke to Adrian Sherwood on the phone briefly but meeting up for an interview never worked out. This is the insert from 'Staggering Heights' the third Singers & Players album and one of the very best from the early On-U era, although the quality control across the label's first fifty album releases is extraordinarily high.

This On-U Sound News & Facts Bulletin is bristling with the love of music, hustling and sense of irreverence that made the label so completely, definitively, independent

The writer (presumably Adrian Sherwood or Pete Holdsworth, his On-U business and bizness partner) is prepared to state that the second Congos LP is 'dodgy' and replaces the 'Scratch' in Lee Perry with the words 'one of the few sane men left'.

on u letter

The first Singers & Players album ‘War Of Words’ was originally released on Ed Bahlam's 99 Records, the label which for an all to brief moment captured the essence of early eighties New York after dark. Singers & Players and 99 were a good fit; the bass on ‘War of Words’ is particularly strong, almost brutal and the overall sound of the record inhabits a heavy, heavy, space.

99 had earlier released a 12" credited simply to ‘Congo’ seen here on the insert here from the 'War of Words' LP

99

One of the tracks on the 12" is a Lee Perry production and is rumoured to have been from the ‘Heart of The Congos’ sessions. There is a strong chance that this release came about as a result of Bahlam and Sherwood's growing friendship and their shared affinity with Jamaican music business practice, an unwritten code of behaviour that they clearly drew inspiration from.

The Singers & Players albums almost certainly had an effect on another of Sherwood's acquaintances: Grant Marshall, or as he is more usually known, Daddy G. Marshall worked in Revolver Records in Bristol a shop that specialised in reggae and which took its stock straight from the source, which was a white van usually driven by either Sherwood or Holdsworth. Sherwood would pass many hours in the shop’s back room with another friend and collaborator: Mark Stewart. There, in almost the perfect environment for such activity they would sift through the latest Jamaican dub plates in a haze of blue smoke.

In many ways Massive Attack’s Blue Lines is a start-of-the-nineties-state-of-the-art take on the Singers & Players format, wherein a series of venerated featured vocalists let their expertise shine over rolling bass lines while the mixing desk works its own alchemy. There are further On-U / Massive connections, ‘Blue Lines’ was recorded in part at former New Age Stepper Neneh Cherry’s studio.

On-U’s biggest commercial success occured around the same time as 'Blue Lines' and was a result of Sherwood's collaboration with another Bristolian: Gary Clail.

Here’s a picture of Clail and Sherwood running the sound desk at an On-U show at the Mean Fiddler c.87. Nodding along alongside them is a certain Mr James Endeacott

onuendy

This photo is by James Finch and used with his kind permission. Someone needs to do a book of his incomparable archive.

John Peel, Throwing Muses and Melanie

Posted 17/09/12

melanie2

Ivo Watts-Russell had a fruitful working relationship with John Peel. The 4AD boss would often send the DJ a test pressing or acetate of a new signing, it was usually the first time anyone outside the 4AD office would hear the labels's new releases.

'John Peel was so supportive' Watts-Russell told me 'he even read out a letter I wrote to him saying it reminded him of the enthusiasm he had had when he was doing Dandelion. I had the first two songs the Cocteau Twins recorded for us pressed onto an acetate just for him. It took him forever to listen to it but when he did he liked it and we got invited to do a  session. Later on he played the whole of Head Over Heels - side 1 one night, side 2 the next.'

A few years later Watts-Russell was convinced Peel would be equally supportive of his latest signing Throwing Muses, a band he had signed on the strength of their demo tape.

'Throwing Muses re-recorded the demo with Gil Norton, that's how I met Gil and we signed them for one album. Kristin was full on pregnant recording the LP with what became Dylan, she was seventeen and a gorgeous person and so smart, scary smart – they were all all such gorgeous people. I don’t like to leave this house, I'm always in a hurry  to get back to the house. If I was out of the office I was always in a hurry to get back to check everything was getting taken care of, and then when I had people there to take care of everything I kind of lost the plot.  The first time I met any member of the band was when David Narcizo came over with Gil with the tapes to master the LP. Then the band came over to do this little show at the …it was a bookshop with a balcony...people didn’t play there very often, wherever it was they played there and it was fantastic. England took Throwing Muses to their hearts. That first album got incredible press.

John Peel, I knew he was in the bag. I knew he was going to love them as much as he loved The Fall…..I sent him a test pressing …..nothing.....eventually I got through to him.

He said 'Oh dear.. I was listening to the record and I was getting into it perfectly well, then someone came into the office – I later found out it was John Walters - and said 'Who's that then, Melanie?'

Apparently John Peel was ill once in hospital and Melanie was sent along by her record company to visit him in hospital and play him some songs to cheer him up. That was it, end of fucking story.'

mooses

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