Ultimate Records had been an instant indie hit. The label had only been going for a year and all our artists were getting regular press, evening radio plays and videos shown on 120 Minutes and the Chart Show. There was a real quality about Ultimate. From the black label, with silver logo to the promo vinyl singles in black sleeves, it had attitude and an identity.
Dark indie music, with a classic feel. All the bands had a leaning towards prog and psychedelia; with leather jackets, swirling guitars and sonic grooves to the fore. Levitation, were Terry Bickers‘s (The House of Love) heavy, new band. Jefferson Airplane-esque, The Belltower, were three Americans and an English bass player, living together in London. (Singer Britta Phillips had co-starred in the teen rock band movie ‘Satisfaction’ with Julia Roberts a few years previously.)
The Honey Smugglers played 60’s vibe Hammond Organ wig-outs and new signings, The Werefrogs, had six minute epic tracks they were about to record. History has cast some of these bands under the ‘shoegaze’ umbrella, I wasn’t conscious of that at the time (although The Belltower had toured with Chapterhouse the previous year).
Levitation‘s Terry Bickers in the studio and their first gig.
Andy and Maurice did everything properly. There were release dates and marketing campaigns, studio time and tours. Discussions with agents, press and radio organised. Photographers and photoshoots. We used designers for the artwork and had videos directed by various maverick film-makers. Another American in London, Elene and her partner Tim made eerie videos for Levitation, The Belltower and The Honey Smugglers.
There were meetings with bands, their managers and producers. Getting the right band in the right studio. Our distributers, Rough Trade / RTM were across the road in Camden. Formats and how best to get records into shops were discussed. We did limited edition, numbered, 7″s, usually in coloured vinyl, cd singles and a 12″s. Promos first, for me to get reviews and radio plays, then the finished product complete with gorgeous artwork.
Promo 12″s were also sent to the student unions and indie club djs via promotion companies, who came in for talks.
The Werefrogs were recording with Guy Fixson in Camden. Guy had produced My Bloody Valentine and Moonshake recently, the band had suggested him, so were really happy when it all came together. One day myself, Andy and Maurice called in to see how they were getting on and got played a few new tracks, including their next single, ‘Forest of Doves‘ through the studio speakers. We walked back to the office chatting and laughing, happy with what we had heard.
The Belltower were also in recording sessions, adding to songs they had started in the States. They were in Livingston Studio, North London. Some days Andy would arrive with a cassette tucked into the pocket of his black denim jacket and he and Maurice would go up stairs to have a listen.
For the last few months Andy and Maurice had been in talks with A&M Records (the A & M of their own names not being lost on them), sorting out a label deal for Ultimate. They signed it in April and once again we had a party at the office.
An assortment of A&M people were there, the lawyers, the four of us plus a few band members and managers. It was a big moment for Ultimate as it meant we had an exciting future secured. A nice pay rise for me and no more cash in hand.
Somehow Splash and I started a food fight. It was thankfully towards the end of the soiree, when most people had left. I’m not sure who went first, but we were chucking thousand island dressing, sausage rolls and sandwiches at each other, laughing and swearing – it was annoying getting hit with food and dips – as others looked on, uncertain what their reaction should be. It was a source of amusement and slight confusion. The last of the A&M folk said their goodbyes and wandered off, possibly wondering what they’d got themselves into. My tube journey home was uncomfortable, sitting there in the crash of early evening Champagne with salad cream and cheese in my hair.
With the A&M deal now in place, Andy was keen to sign some new bands and was on the look out, going to gigs and checking out tips, every night.
One morning he came in excited about a show he’d been to at The Powerhaus the night before. Submarine were a three piece from Watford and he’d invited their manager, Paul Samuels in for a meeting. The band were playing the following week at The Falcon. Maurice and I went along with Andy and agreed with him; they were perfect for the label.
Around this time, Splash (AKA Paola) started dating Dave Rowntree, Blur‘s drummer. When not on tour, he would call into the office and the two of them would head off to get lunch. Splash was living down the road in Camden, sharing a flat with fellow Canadian Clee, and her boyfriend Stephen Duffy. Clee worked at Creation Records, as Alan McGee’s assistant.
The first album released on Ultimate was ‘Coterie’ by Levitation. (ToppLP001). The album was made up from tracks released already on their e.p.s plus some live recordings. ‘Coterie’ came out in America on Capitol Records at the tale end of 1991. We released it on Ultimate in Spring 1992. Artwork was by Cally who had done all Levitation and The Belltower‘s sleeves.
“Coterie” is a highly desirable luxury.’ Melody Maker
‘ Levitation herald the renaissance of progressive rock, but with punk/ hardcore’s adrenaline thrill.’ Q
‘Levitation are the ultimate antidote to accepted indie torpor.’ Select
‘Levitation create a soundtrack for a revolution in a narcotics factory.’ N.M.E
Part of me is very tempted to just post this section of a West End Centre leaflet and leave it there as a Buzz Club that took place.
However, sadly it didn’t happen. It wasn’t a cancelation as such. The fliers for the WEC leaflets were organised quite a bit in advance of our shows and often I didn’t yet have the line up confirmed. On this occasion I was pretty close to getting Verve and obviously thought it was worth the risk of giving the venue these details. (I actually have a gap here in my Buzz Club Complete ish line up so I’m not sure who ended up playing on 11 April 1992.)
Support, Blind Mr Jones were one of Danny‘s signings to Cherry Red. Chris Hufford of Courtyard Studio in Oxford recorded them and managed them. Chris had a similar arrangement with another band from Oxford who had just changed their name from On A Friday to Radiohead and released this in May ’92:
I had confirmed a band I was incredibly excited about for the June Buzz Club. I first put Suede on at the Rock Garden when they still had a drum machine and Justine Frischmann on guitar, in 1990. I had also seen them at The White Horse in Hampstead the same year, when The Ruby Tuesdays supported. Suede had been regular winners on Gary Crowley’s Demo Clash on his Sunday afternoon Greater London Radio show, so I was very aware of them. Over the course of 1991, they got a drummer and got rid of Justine (after her relationship with Brett ended and her one with Damon started). A&Rs from the majors were only interested in American grunge and totally ignored Suede, giving them the chance to develop unnoticed. By the end of 1991 and into 1992, they started catching everyone’s imagination and it felt like after a couple of years, they suddenly exploded onto the scene. The band got their first ‘Melody Maker’ front cover before they’d even released a record and were called ‘The Best New Band In Britain‘
Along with myself, doing the press for Ultimate, Andy had employed someone to do the same for Dodgy. Sarah worked upstairs with Andy and Fiona, and the two of us would often head over to the music press together on a Tuesday afternoon. At The Powerhaus one night, Sarah introduced me to a friend of hers called Martin. It turned out we lived pretty close to each other – Martin was at the other end of Highbury Fields sharing the upstairs of a large house with his band mates and his girlfriend, Jess. We called in for a cup of tea one day and met Bo and Tony, from his band Float. Driving around in the car a couple of weeks later, Danny and I heard them get a play by Mark Goodier on Radio 1 ‘s Evening Session. I was happy for them, and it made me realise I wanted to get a band going again.
I was pretty good at blagging stuff and was getting sent a nice selection of cds, including the ‘Hollywood Town Hall‘ album by The Jayhawks. This lovely track was frequently on my stereo when people were over in the wee small hours. I always loved looking after the music for those sessions, alternating between vinyl and cd to keep the flow of music as seamless as possible.
9th May The Buzz Club – local band night. Sometimes there wasn’t anyone that I wanted to book, or the ones I wanted weren’t available, so we’d put on some local acts. There were some great bands in the area and this was a particularly good night.
Pomeroy at the Rock Garden ’91 taken by Guy Van Steene
‘The Drowners‘, the debut single by Suede went to number 49 in the national singles chart. The Buzz Club date sold out in advance.
Now the weather was getting warm, it was even more of a treat to head over to Full Circle on a Sunday lunch time. The club was held in the Greyhound Pub in Colnbrook near Heathrow. A couple of car loads of us would head down, Danny driving our VW Golf, Grant with his Fiat. The all important mix tapes providing a soundtrack to the stories and constant hilarity.
Thanks to progressivehouseclassics.com for these:
This tune got played regularly at both the dance and indie clubs we were going to.
Dodgy invited Transglobal Underground to support them at The Marquee which was pretty progressive and made for an interesting gig. Dodgy always chose their supports acts well. They played The Underworld in Camden in May and John Shuttleworth went on before them. I was delighted as I had a 12″ of John’s, but had never seen him live. Took Rob P. and was happy to see his reaction to both the comedy and music. We had a great night. I enjoyed taking clubbing friends to gigs and bands I knew out clubbing. Andy Winters and Mathew came to the Gardening Club a few times. I never made it to their favourite night, Whirl Y Gig at Shoreditch Town Hall as it clashed with Ophelia but wish I had experienced the parachute coming down at the end of the night.
Nights out mid week were usually gigs, cinema or catching up with friends. However, now and again there would be a release party or after show that you knew was going to be a late one. We’d all throw ourselves into it with the enthusiasm usually reserved for a Saturday night. The previous year I had seen Flowered Up at Shoreditch Town Hall. We’d also been at the same i.D. party in a warehouse that Christmas – there had been a power cut, just when everyone was getting in the mood and we all had to leave. It was a Friday, so I suggested to a few people that we head over to the Yellow Book Club at the Rock Garden. I got us on the guest list, but Flowered Up were all kicked out after about fifteen minutes for being caught breaking the rules. So, when the invitations arrived for a special showing of the 18 minute film of Flowered Up‘s ‘Weekender‘ at Diorama in Camden, it was obvious this would be fairly epic. Andrew Weatherall was djing.
It was an absolutely brilliant (Wednesday) night. The film and music are a ’90s masterpiece.
At least once a week, Andy would have a manager in for a meeting, discussing signing their band. An elegant Canadian came in for talks. She was managing a band from Sheffield who had been around for a while, but hadn’t ever managed to break through. Pulp were about to release their third album, ‘Seperations’ on Fire and were looking for a new deal afterwards. She gave us all guest passes to see their early afternoon slot at The Cult‘s huge gig in Finsbury Park.
Would you look at this line up! A Vince Power classic. £17.50.
Everyone from the music industry as I knew it, was at this gig. The backstage bar area was rammed. The sun shone. Each time I turned round there was someone I knew. Drinking beer. ‘Oi oi’! We went out front, watched bands, rarely staying more than a few songs before moving on then heading back stage again. Polly from Food walked past and said to Andy, ‘I hear you’re signing Pulp? That’s so great.’ We’d seen their set at lunch time and they were absolutely magnificent. Jarvis being, well, Jarvis.
Our friend Gary was with us. I’d introduced him to Dodgy and he and Mathew clicked. On this particular day, they spotted a fella in wrapround shades and leather trousers who they decided looked like and therefore would call, quite loudly, all afternoon, Bono. He eventually managed to escape, (maybe he just took the glasses off), so Mathew and Gary roamed off, in search of their next victim. We’d bump into them on their rounds, stop for a laugh and head off again.
Headlining the Man Fiddler stage was Jah Wobble. This wonderful track, featuring Sinead O’Connor had been released earlier in the year and was another tune you’d hear crossing over in various styles of clubs.
As darkness started to creep in, on this near mid summer night, The Cult took to the main stage. It being 1992, even Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy were wearing a plaid shirts.
The lid couldn’t be kept on Pulp. Their new recordings and set had included ‘Razzamatazz’ and ‘Babies’ so frustratingly Ultimate were not able to sign them. They didn’t head to Island Records yet, but first to Warp subsidiary, Gift Records who released both those songs as singles, they were getting more and more attention.
Here’s a review from their Finsbury Park performance in the N.M.E.
The day of the Suede Buzz Club was upon us. We were just getting ready to leave the flat in Kings Cross to drive down to Aldershot when I got a phone call from their tour manager. Bass player Mat Osman was sick and they weren’t able to play. A short phone call of epic proportions. ‘Damn!’ (insert a stronger word). I called the West End Centre, the venue where we ran the club, to let them know. I could already hear people in the background, fans who had turned up early. We decided not to make the journey down, instead we went out. A disappointed feeling in the pit of my tummy that nearly disappeared when the dancing started but was there a bit all night really. In the ‘N.M.E.’ a few days later, there was a small piece in the News section; Suede apologised to their fans in Aldershot and would be rearranging the date. ‘Yessss!’ And true to their word, they did. I spoke to their agent and rebooked them for September 12th.
I went to see them with my friend Guy at the Camden Palace the week after they should have been at the Buzz Club. I couldn’t quite enjoy it – looking forward to the September date but nervous it wouldn’t happen. The Camden Palace gig was very exciting though. Sold out. Guy and I stood on the balcony and looked down at everyone throwing themselves around when Suede were on stage.
This was released. I loved The Lemonheads. Evan Dando is simply glowing in this version of ‘It’s A Shame About Ray’.
Both Dodgy and The Belltower were playing Glastonbury and excitement was building in the office. As a label we were able to buy backstage weekend passes. Martin and Jess were also going, they would be arriving before us on the Thursday night. Martin very kindly offered to take our tent and pitch it in with them and their friends.We made arrangements to meet on the Friday afternoon, in front of the mixing desk for one of the smaller stages.
This was my first time back at Glastonbury since I’d played there with my band Bluetrain in 1987.
From the moment you get close, those last few miles, the volume of traffic and people expanding, to the bedraggled exhausted homeward bound version – Glastonbury is mind blowing.
The train from London had already been full of festival people. Crusties and indie kids with rucksacks and cider. A few changes and several hours later, we were at Castle Cary. We waited for a coach, bundled ourselves on and slowly completed our journey. Looking out the window at people on foot, holding their bags to give their shoulders a rest, vehicles in all states of disrepair, all of us moving inexorably forward.
Miraculously we made our meeting with Martin and Jess, even though we were at least an hour late. I saw them, obviously looking for us and starting to get a little frustrated. Huge relief all round as I waved and called and we picked up our pace. This was the first time I’d properly met Jess. We’d seen her very briefly at their place once, but this was the first time hanging out. The four of us walked towards their corner of the campsite, Pompy flags flying, and met a few of their mates. We dumped our bags, had refreshments and were off. We walked around, stopping at various stalls. It was the year those 3d posters came out, where you had to relax your eyes and suddenly a dinosaur or whatever would appear in the dots. We kept stopping and having a go when we saw them. Silver helium balloons, little fat men with dangly legs, floating above.
The sun went down. Yellow and orange fuzzy lights mixing with dust and laughter. We danced at Joe Banana’s for hours, in front of their bar in a main thoroughfare. Others either walking through or stopping to dance. ‘Please pick up any litter as you leave’ the sensible d.j. said as he finished. We dispersed with the rest of the crowd, bowling off towards whatever happens next.
We got back to our tents as the sun was rising. And that was the last we saw of Martin and Jess for the rest of the weekend! Our paths didn’t cross again. Plenty of ‘they were just here’ or ‘they’re looking for you’. No mobiles, no contact. Instead it was new groups of people, different tents to sit in, another gang to have the most hilarious hour with or walk between stages with. Buzz Club people you recognise and stay to chat with for a while. Dodgy and Andy. Losing Danny for hours. Both having excellent times on our own adventures. ‘There you are!’ Sitting round a fire back at the tents together. Sleeping for a few hours. Freshen up go out. Feeling drained, can’t possibly do it all again, but you can and you do.
Leaving the site after it was all over was horrendous. Walking, ‘Tenko’ like, exhausted, the June sunshine beating down on us as we stumble forwards, trying to find the coach. Then the awful changes on the train with an hour to wait at various stations. Up the stairs and on to the concourse at Kings Cross, over the road and finally, back at the flat. Leaning my back on the front door as it closes behind me, breathing out deeply.
This short captures some of the Glastonbury magic (and horror) plus nice use of ‘Loaded’ as the soundtrack.
This is a wonderful round up actually in Japanese. Great clips of Lush, Blur, The Senseless Things and Flowered Up.
Back at Ultimate the next week, we signed Submarine.
Cherry Red hadn’t been able to sign Drop Nineteens, they were beaten by Hut Records who released this great song and album, ‘Delaware’.