I went up to the weekly music press every Wednesday. Both the N.M.E. and Melody Maker were in King’s Reach Towers, Stamford Street, SE1. I’d get the tube from Camden to Waterloo and walk up from there. They were on the 25th and 26th floors. It was important to remember which was which, sometimes it was a bit disorientating when the lift doors opened.
All the journalists would be there on a Wednesday for their editorial meeting and to decide who would review the singles. I had to start phoning both papers late morning from the office and find out who the reviewer was. It usually took a few ‘try later’ s before getting the name, addressing the package correctly and heading over to the tube to get to Waterloo.
You had to know a journalist who would let you up when you arrived at the large shiny ground floor reception desk at I.P.C. Magazines. I had to say who I’d like to see. The receptionist would then call them and if they said ‘yes’; up you’d go. Iestyn George on the N.M.E. news desk was always very kind letting me up. Once in, I had to be sure to see as many journalists as possible on both floors. Handing out whatever I was promoting at the time, cd albums, white label 12″, pre release cd singles, 7″ coloured vinyl singles, tickets for gigs.
If I did have a single I wanted to get reviewed, I’d try and find the named journalist to put the record directly in their hands and chat to them about the band – hoping they’d put it in their ‘review pile’. If the reviewer wasn’t there, I’d leave it on the pile in the review room. I’d then hope the paper would A. review it and B., even better, give it a great review – a Single Of The Week for example.
The music press came out a day earlier than the rest of the country in Camden. I would walk down to news stand at the tube station for about midday on a Tuesday and see if the papers were in yet. If I was lucky, they had just arrived and I could grab both the N.M.E. and Melody Maker and head back to the office. Sometimes though, I had to wait a while for the delivery. Hanging around the tube station for 20 minutes or so. I’d see other Camden P.R.s – Polly from Food Records, people from John Best‘s office. If I was expecting a review or feature of any kind I’d open the paper up right there by the news stand, and leaf through the pages to see if it’s in and if it’s good. Then run back to the office, where the ritual of everyone having a proper read would take place. Drinking tea and commenting on various articles or reviews. Seeing other label’s adverts. Looking at the Indie Charts. Seeing who is Single Of The Week – that was pretty much the first thing you’d check for actually. The size of the reviews mattered too. Half a page with a photo? Half a page with no photo?
I learnt how to do the job as I went along. Andy taught me all about going up to King’s Reach Towers and how to see who was reviewing the singles. He was a writer himself for ‘Sounds‘, magazine so knew the drill from both sides. As well as running Ultimate Records with Maurice Bacon, Andy managed a few great bands and had a brilliant ear for A&R. I was delighted to be taught. I had read the N.M.E. religiously since a teenager and was chuffed to bits to actually be meeting these journalists and going up to their offices.
Sometimes I would have a record the journalists were actually pleased or even excited to be receiving and that was great. They would come and find me and chat to me. Sometimes I’d seek out a certain journalist who had been enthusiastic on the phone – if they became a fan of the band we might get a live or album review, or even a feature.
At about 2pm people would start to make their way down to The Stamford Arms on the corner opposite the I.P.C. building. Journalists, photographers and press officers all gathered here to talk, tell stories, moan a bit and buy drinks. It was very blokey but I coped, it was exciting to be a part of.
When I started at Ultimate, the first few records were due out very soon. There was no time for me to waste, I had to get stuck right in. On my first trip to King’s Reach Towers, I had promo 12″s of The Belltower, The Honey Smugglers and P.U.M.P.. Andy had told me what to do, we’d even cleared the phone call to let me up in advance with Iestyn.
The Belltower were a fabulous American band featuring Britta Phillips who now records with Dean Warhead (Galaxie 500) as Dean and Britta and Jody Porter who is now in The Fountains of Wayne.
Iestyn was on the N.M.E. news desk with Mary Anne Hobbs. Their little part of the world always felt fairly calm. Elsewhere, freelance journalists were in and out, full time writers and editors at their desks. Desks which were absolutely piled high with records, cds and press releases. Usually under the desks too. Often they would be standing up talking on the phone while trying to work at something on their desk. It felt like mild chaos in there; very exciting. I was always a bit nervous, I was somewhat in awe of these journalists. Along with Iestyn and Mary Anne there was, Steve Lamacq, Stuart Maconie, Simon Williams, Stuart Bailie, Terry Staunton, Johnny Cigarettes, John Harris, Dele Fadele, John Robinson and that was just the N.M.E. . The live editor, features editor and album reviews editor were three people it was important to befriend, these roles seemed to change quite frequently. I’d have to stand by their desks feeling pretty awkward waiting for them to finish their phone call while everyone rushed around.
Pete Paphides, Andrew Collins, Ian Gittins, Simon Price, Steve Sutherland, Jim Arundel, Paul Mather, Paul Lester, all at the Melody Maker. It was a it more subdued in there, a bit less frantic. Same ritual though, hope to catch a journalist and give them some cds and 12″s.
I started to go to hundreds of gigs. Bands I wanted to see, bands who were signed to the label, bands who the label wanted to sign, bands I knew, bands on labels I knew. I’d start bumping into the same crowd, Dave from Creation, Paul from Miracle, Fran from Food, often Lawrence from Felt. I’d usually be with Andy and often Maurice too. Our office was on the other side of the road to The Falcon pub. Roger from The Falcon put on the absolute best in underground indie and loud guitar bands many of whom went on to be huge. Here’s a flier including Ultimate band, The Bellower.
Obviously we were in there all the time, either for an afternoon meeting or a gig in the evening. There were a few rehearsal studios near The Falcon and a squat round the corner. Musicians were always in there. Damon with Justine and the rest of Blur, Andy Ross and Polly from Food Records. Blur had played The Buzz Club in October of the previous year and their star was rising.
We went to the Underworld opposite Camden tube fairly often. The Marquee, The Borderline, The Astoria, U.L.U., in the West End. The White Horse in Hampstead, The Junction in Tufnell Park. The Powerhaus and Hope and Anchor in Islington, The Venue in New Cross, The Bull and Gate and Town and Country Club in Kentish Town. All over London, most nights.
I was also starting to going clubbing at this stage. I heard the P.U.M.P. 12″ get played at Ophelia in the Gardening Club, Covent Garden and that felt pretty cool.
We continued to run The Buzz Club. In 2008 I made notes when trying to document all the artists that we put on. For 1991 there were some great ones – Spirtiualised, Frank and Walters. Plus a few Ultimate Records related nights, not just Levitation who were on the label but both The Prudes and Dodgy were managed by Andy Winters.
This is a live recording of that night.
A few months after I arrived at Ultimate, the mysterious Canadian, ‘Splash’ joined us. Splash was brilliant. She had fantastic dyed red, long straight hair and wore Dr Martin boots with rah rah skirts and black tights. She swore like a trooper. We got on very well. She lived in a flat, down the road in Camden which she shared with Clee (who worked at Creation Records) and Stephen Duffy.
Danny had started to work at Cherry Red Records now so he was busy going out too. Sometimes our paths would cross sometimes we’d just meet at home.