My Music Industry Journey
“Now let’s get one thing clear”. I was not at the Sex Pistols gig at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester (or the balcony of the Iranian Embassy incidentally during the SAS job), ok? I was actually at Hazel O’Connor’s brother’s houseboat in Shoreham for the latter. And all I remember of the Jubilee celebrations was Moira Stewart I think reporting on the band (The Sex Pistols not John Peel’s beloved The Flys, Hazel’s brother’s band) vomiting at Heathrow Airport or somewhere. Bill Grundy interview? I was watching, I don’t know, The Good Life? Having a wank? Snogging Sian Williams? (No not that Sian Williams!). I did hear Pretty Vacant but had not yet got the bug. So how did I catch it? Well to be honest I was pretty sick around that time. You know ill? In need of medical and in fact psychiatric care. I lay the blame on the appalling output in the 70s from BBC Radio 1. Something sick about it of its own accord. Then something dramatic happened around Christmas 78. I’d been wrestling with body dysmorphic syndrome and an eating disorder. My elder brother would have Radio 2 on in his bedroom and for some reason there was an unused adjoining door through which I could hear it. Not even Bonnie Prince Charlie has been through it. Now from 2200hrs John Peel went out on the long wave radio 2 channel (conspiracy theory: only way I could happen to hear the Festive 50 his Christmas tide listeners’ vote of their favourite all time tracks). I heard this track coming through the door and really I could not believe what the **** I was listening to! So next morning I went into HMV Silver St Bedford and tried to give the artist name to the guy at the counter: “Sticky Fingers or something”. He got it in one: Stiff Little Fingers the Ulster punk band, the track Suspect Device. When I played the album became rather convinced the band were all aliens, with a vocalist like that seemed the only explanation. I felt SO MUCH BETTER! So SLF introduced me to The Sex Pistols and was I happy at my first gig: their Cambridge Corn Exchange one. This was no WW2 London dance hall scene couples gently circling: bloke in front of me’s jacket said The Cure on the back. Only just spotted it in the mayhem. So completely changed my record buying habits and got gigging: paid an inflated £5 to see them support Siouxsie and the Banshees at Aylesbury Friars (RIP). I’d first heard them on John Peel again, Jigsaw Feeling, was blown away then he said if you don’t know what that is where have you been? Could not listen to it loud enough. Followed the Ruts around. Made Segs a one off t shirt. At a Ruts DC gig many years later in Bedford they told anyone in the fight at the Nashville 1979 to put their hand up. It was my hand my hand only. And I should know as the skinheads attacked me first! The band had stopped playing and Malcolm Owen RIP told them they got the wrong man. What was it a gang hit gone wrong?! So started my Peel tapes collection and reading the music press. Read a review of the Banshees 2nd album Join Hands which said “Now we’ve got Joy Division who needs the Banshees?”. Whoah! I thought got to check these guys out! And a few months after leaving school I did at the Lyceum. Had a spare ticket I sold at face value in the queue! Might have been that gig Siouxsie was swearing her head off at the bar which I noted after the fact of her fine lyrics. Looked down to the auditorium and a 3 piece was playing which I guessed was Joy Division so hurried down. It was indeed. They were playing Incubation. From stage right a guy in a shiney shirt marched out, turned to face the audience, marched up to the mic then started this weird unique dance. Ian Curtis RIP. After 3 or 4 numbers (have to check my bootleg) the audience around me, plenty of room even space, started swaying around and one knew something special was afoot: it was the first time I ever heard Love Will Tear Us Apart. Special moments I won’t forget. Went up to Uni. Chose UCL over Cambridge as wanted to study Physics, be near arts students and plenty of females (I was disabled due to attending a boys public school). 2nd term I made a rare day time trip to the union. Bumped into a Bedford guy who told me New Order were playing Bedford that Saturday. Now I never thought I was religious until that gig! First time I’d seen the guys since they were Joy Division.
After graduation man I felt good but it got even better when I heard Script of the Bridge by The Chameleons, has a real novel (ie a fictitious prose narrative of book length, typically representing character and action with some degree of realism) feel to it and then left to travel: Bedford to Nairobi overland. Took 6 months to get there one of the Africa chapters destined to become 2nd Skin’s chapter in my book Looking for Prince Charles’s Dog after the pygmies ****ed my head for 6 months with their weed at My Hoyo Eastern Zaire. This trip was where I got my taste for African music. On one occasion somewhere in darkest Africa went into a record shop, sang the song and the shop assistant copied me a tape of Super Biton de Segou from Mali from the 1 vinyl copy they had! They happened to have only 1 master of each record! Another chapter song! Ambled through my PHD the first gig highlights being a Close Lobsters Special never to be forgotten and The Bhundu Boys at the Mean Fiddler then as I wrote up my thesis one of the guys in the lab invited me to the union to see the band he was in that night. Went and was blown away by a song Westbound Train, the band then called Railroad Earth. Was so impressed I went to see them in London missing an England World Cup game in doing so. As I stood there listening I thought it would be great to record their album Lloyd Cole and the Commotions Rattlesnakes style. I could even rope in the same strings as knew one of them. So that is where Seagull Records started. No experience no business plan but a must do. Around this time my younger brother Tom told me he’d seen this band 2nd Skin in Bedford and had groupyed along to their practice room describing walking up the garden path it seeming the Chameleons were playing live just for him. Well soon I saw them too and sensed something great! Cobbled together an EP with Railroad Earth, 2nd Skin and 2 other local acts. Tim of Railroad Earth then Ringo and the Departure Lounge could probably still listen to World Turned Blue but 2nd Skin’s effort came far shorter, tragically almost criminally so than what I knew they were capable of. So I whacked them in a decent studio with the EMI in house producer and lit the blue touch paper. Turned out it took 27 years to burn during which time I confused pub telephones for a sort of high stakes gambling 0898 telephone monitoring machine network; I got blown out by an REM manager lackey and spent 10 years in and out of psychiatric units. But that, ho ho, that’s another story all told in Looking for Prince Charles’s Dog! But somewhere in this fall from grace somebody handed me the tape of Crystal Trip’s Somewhere on a psychiatric ward. Perhaps they, and the 2nd Skin matrix tapes, saved my life. For with a bit of help from London Records and a lot of bottle from me (mostly alcoholic) here we soon have Crystal Trip’s album The Crystal Trip as well as 2nd Skin’s Blow EP. Let battle commence! Somewhere v Blow **** Oasis and Blur! Well once each for a laugh!
So we all know who the Britpop bands were. Arguable it started in Bedford though (where Oasis did their first coming out gig and the 2nd Skin manager Neil Primett kitted them out with 80s Casuals Classics footwear on his way to being the owner of a McClaren F1!). So where might 2nd Skin and Crystal Trip have been if their label boss Clive Hathaway Travis had not cracked up and spent a decade in and out of the Reality Asylum? Why indeed does one band get a major deal and one not? Talk to any major label A&R man or woman and I bet they could list all sorts of bands (a) they’d have loved to work with and (b) they still think could have done quite well. Sometimes it might come down to their being already committed to an earlier signing? Ever been out on a date and saw someone you preferred? Around the time of the Seagull Records debacle my brother (yes Tom again) told me I had to come and see this band The Lazyhouse so I did and they blew me away. The guys had dropped everything and moved to London to get a deal. Loved their demos. Virgin Records guy drove to the West Country to be first to hear their new demo. I had David Quantick on the blower from the NME to tell me if I signed them they’d be on the front page. I was knackered from my day at work and in love with my Bedford idea still and had already been blown out by one non Bedford band. They must have all thought there was something seriously wrong with me! Well if there wasn’t then there soon was! Then I had their manager in his Rolls Royce (Dexys Midnight Runners manager) wining and dining me to get them a deal. Don’t get me wrong I loved them and would have loved to. I even met their chosen producer the Oysterband producer and got a major caffeine overdose into the deal as they tried to nail me down one night. I still feel sorry for the guys but I cracked up and they split too. Always remember David Quantick saying they did the one cover in their set, Getting Better, better than the Beatles. And what might 2nd Skin have achieved if I’d not let them down too? A sort of new genre hard shoegaze My Bloody Valentine/Chameleons thing! At least we now have, at last, the full Crystal Trip album with 4 of the numbers paid for by the good folk at London Records (who incidentally I think paid for the first SLF album but could not see it selling in the States so gave the band the tape I think the story went and it came out on Rough Trade). Who knows? “On another day” either of these bands might have been seen as bigger parts of Britpop then they were in 2nd Skin’s case as the NME merely put it “trolling around the country with Ride” but on the other hand as the Northampton Telegraph said back then rather more congruently with their EP out March 22nd 2020 to do battle with Crystal Trip’s Somewhere EP “Nothing could have prepared the innocent bystander for the depth and class of these young scallywags from Bedford.”