It was easy, It was cheap, Go and do it


(Mark Sampson) #1

[Rather than the label 'with special guest star(s)...', French music concerts seem to use the term 'invites...', as in Sacha Distel invite Charles Aznavour, which I think is rather nice. The first time I saw Manu Dibango in France, for example, the Cameroonian saxophonist invited some celebrated accordionist – whose name I have forgotten – to justify his appearance at the annual Nuits de Nacre festival in Tulle, a celebration of the accordion and associated music.


Anyway... from the outset of my blog, lavieenalbums, I invited people to contribute and the first person to take me up on the offer, my first special guest star, is my dear old friend, Roger Trew. I met up with Roger on our first day at Exeter University. We were a pair of mannish boys. He had hair down almost to his bum and a matching beard and I thought, This guy looks a cool sort of bloke to hang out with. We sat through an interminable opening ceremony together and discovered a mutual love of English literature, football, music and other male-oriented-pastimes (or MOPs, as they are commonly known). Being a long-haired hippy, Roger used to get chased around his stamping ground of Gants Hill, London, by local skinheads and other bully boys. Ironically though, and being a man of impeccable taste in music, Roger was digging the kind of music that the boot-boys would have appreciated: the likes of The Upsetters, The Pioneers and Harry J & the All Stars.


Like me, Roger can't play a note of music – but he did work in the industry for a few years in the '80s and he certainly knows his musical onions. So, without further ado, All the way from York, England, will you welcome please...]


When Mark invited me to contribute to his inspirational lavievieenalbums blog, my initial reaction was to dig out the crates of vinyl, and pluck out that one album that shaped my future tastes; it proved to be an impossible task. Who’s to say whether it was This is Soul, Motown Chartbusters vol 3 or Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake? And it also seemed a distraction from Mark's personal journey. It’s never a good idea to have two people arguing over directions.


Perhaps I could provide my own observations on his journey, some of which is uncannily close to mine. That was easy enough with Nice Enough to Eat, but Mark had precocious tastes. Whilst he was grooving to Stan Getz, I was still waiting for the next Hollies single. So I ditched my ‘We need to talk about Marvin’ article, and thought again.


Then it struck; going back over his choices, what most of them had in common was an excellent label behind them (Island, Tamla, Verve, Bizarre, etc.). Labels are something I know a little bit about, having worked with Rough Trade Distribution for a short period in the eighties. Rough Trade, 4AD, Factory and Mute were my lifeblood, along with Greensleeves, On-U-Sound and Ace and its many sub-divisions. Each had its own character and idiosyncrasies, and each expanded the musical landscape.


Of course, these weren’t the first independent labels. Sun Records, Verve and others were around in the fifties, and whilst not all were completely independent, they were allowed great freedoms by their parent labels, and were certainly infused by an independent spirit. Elektra followed, and Chess, Stax and Tamla weren’t far behind. Chris Blackwell’s Island launched at the turn of the sixties, and Andrew Loog Oldham’s Immediate, both with an eye on the British music scene, followed a few years later. In response to Island’s signing of some of the key artists of the late sixties, a number of the major labels fashioned their own ‘boutique’ labels to attract the more ‘progressive’ rock acts. Labels such as Harvest, Vertigo (with its attractive 3D label), Track, Deram and Blue Horizon became the home of the British counter-culture.


Amongst Mark’s choices, even CBS could lay claim to being massively influential, giving us Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Leonard Cohen, Simon & Garfunkel and the wonderful Laura Nyro, none of them having been previously recorded elsewhere. And, with reference to Nice Enough to Eat, CBS also provided us with the first of those ‘underground’ budget compilations, The Rock Machine Turns You On, featuring many of those named artists.


If Mark agrees [Yes, I most certainly do. Ed.], I would like to provide an occasional column that looks more closely at some of these labels. It is not my aim to provide a comprehensive history of the ‘independent’ label or even a coherent overview, but similar to Mark’s approach, to choose the labels (and the people behind them), that have some significance for me, and hopefully for you.


Now, where have I put that Desperate Bicycles single?


(Brian Milne) #2

There we are debating the merits and demerits of Neil Young on the Caravanserai thread and here I am thinking laterally. I obviously have wide tastes (and distastes) but they can be proven wrong. The NY thing has reminded me how wrong one can be.

In probably 1980 I was 'on the Plaza' in NY, as one says when doing UN work. What that means is coming together with people from everywhere and even not being surprised if somebody was from another planet. Anyway, one of the people employed there who was playing shepherd to a bunch of consultants suggested we go to a folk club in the Village that evening. Four of us were from parts of the British Isles, so ears pricked up. Then our herdsman said that it was the only place in NY that had Newcastle Brown Ale, Amber as well often. The rush for the taxi was palpable among the general just above slow motion UN staff. So, a couple of pretend Irish singers with New England accents did their best, an English Rambling Sid Rumpole type droned on and played guitar badly, then the MC said there was a guest in the house. In came a diminutive woman, quite pretty and shy looking. She sat on a stool and raised a guitar on her knee, then the MC said the usual 'Big round of applause for....' but what I heard had me planning a rapid escape, 'Karen Carpenter'. Aaaargh! Let me outta here. Then she started to play and sing. The guitar was actually not bad, I recognised the song Foggy, Foggy Dew so relaxed. She did a set of all English folk songs, said between them that she had learned many and that what a pop musician does to make money is not what they necessarily like always.

Right, it did not make me a Carpenters fan, mind you she was little heard of at the time and for the couple of years until she died, but it stopped me simply dismissing what they did because of what it is. That is how I see music generally I guess. There are exceptions - when I did the bit of dj-ing and the boss made us play Middle of the Road, Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, because the people had come in to dance to rock and generally freak out, I used to phase it out and phase in Careful with that Axe Eugene by Floyd and fill the floor, put on the strobes and know my spot was mine. However, I am capable of apoplexy if listening to Nostalgie whilst driving and that channel puts CCCC on. There are limits!


(Brian Milne) #3

Morning Becomes Eclectic, hey hey! had a listen on line, bit echoey but fun stuff. Some of the archive stuff is great.

Earlier got all nostalgic and listened to my long gone friend singing Knocking on Heaven's Door several times round, then got YouTubing loadsa stuff. Did sweet fanny adams worth of work with a ms schedule on the stuff I am editing, but s**t man, you gotta live sometimes.

How close you to Sarlat? I sometimes get that far...


(Brian Milne) #4

Mind you, the Crawdaddy Club at the Richmond Athletic Club was the real McCoy. that's where the Stones really took off, the Yardbirds with Clapton, Long John Baldry and the Hoochie Coochie Men, the Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart singing, all of whom also played the island but the Crawdaddy was the birthplace of the British festival with the annual jazz and blues festivals...

DON'T get me going!


(Mark Sampson) #5

I'll forward this to Roger, Brian. I'm sure he'll be delighted to find another Eclecto (incidentally, there's an American breakfast radio show on the public broadcasting airwaves with the marvellous title, Morning Becomes Eclectic. Isn't that wonderful?) - and he might even be able to answer your query about Desperate Bicycles. I'm envious of your roamings around SW London in the era of Eel Pie Island. Would love to hear more one of these days.


(Brian Milne) #6

Ah, eclecticism at its finest. I suffer that affliction. People imagine I am the blues and a bit of other stuff like soul music fan. Then I reveal my classical tastes up to high opera but blah to baroque more or less across the board, which is supposed to be stuff people always like. Then in pops folk music or jazz, then I drift back to the 1960s to early 1970s and festivals of which some friends have no memory on account of what they had inhaled. I, by then, had had a bad experience which put me off, so clear headed I absorbed it. Then there is the freaky stuff, like Zappa, Beefheart, Class, Cage, Ligety and in its own way Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson... Bob Dylan, but not Leach the plonker, and various others of that set of protest type performers. My early roaming about SW and Central London with new unknowns like the Yardbirds and Rolling Stones, Eel Pie Island, the Bull at Barnes, Ken Colyer's, the Marquee... Then SW19 itself where film stars and later to be well known musicians lived, including one I was close to and have mourned since she died in '78 on to... Yep, eclectic.

Thank providence there are more of us.

Desperate Bicycles. Wasn't that the Medium Was Tedium lot? Nearly forgot them, North London band wasn't it. They played a gig with the then recently re-formed Downliners Sect right at the end of the 1970s which was chalk and cheese. But that is half the name of the game.