3. London and Ultimate Records

I’m slowly putting this chapter together. Moving to London from Surrey, when Danny and I returned from California in December 1988.

I worked at Ultimate Records, doing press, marketing and plugging. It’s a pretty big section. London / Camden in the early to mid ’90s. Trips to the N.M.E., Radio 1 and MTV. Gigs pretty much every night, often a few in one night. Press trips to Japan and Europe. Glastonbury, Reading, Phoenix.

Ultimate was run by Andrew Winters and Maurice Bacon, two brilliant men.

I ended up working on a Top 5 album, and organising many tv appearances, including this one from 1994, Senser on The Word. I’m in the crowd somewhere!

 

WORK IN PROGRESS

Chapter 1 The start.

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Danny and I moved to London in January 1989. To New North Road in Islington. We had rented a first  floor flat and had got jobs. Mine was in Covent Garden as the band booker for the Rock Garden and Danny was working at a vinyl, cd and tape manufacturer in Battersea, called Mayking Records. Danny handled the accounts for Factory and Creation Records plus loads of other great small labels. He would bring home white labels and test pressings for us to listen to. We heard ‘Wrote For Luck‘ the new Happy Mondays 12″ before anyone else, Danny asked me ‘do you think the Happy Mondays could have a hit?’ I was, ‘no way! Could they??’

We were still doing the Buzz Club for a while after we moved to London. We would drive home a few weeks before the next one was due and put posters up. We drove around in Danny’s Mini, I held a bucket of wall paper paste, Mum’s kitchen floor brush and the posters. Danny would pull up at various poster sites and I would leap out of the car and get a few up before we moved on. We got the posters all printed at Publicity and Display in Godlaming. We saw that they did posters in London for ‘proper’ gigs and we wanted to use them right from the off.

In the first few months that we lived in London, we put both The Stone Roses and Primal Scream on in Aldershot along with loads of other great bands –  Paul Heaton asked if we could put his new band on as one of a handful of first gigs . We’d supported The Housemartins in London a few years before and sort of kept in touch. It ended up that The Beautiful South were on Top of the Pops on the Thursday and playing our gig that Saturday – the show sold out while they were on tv. That was very exciting too – the only Buzz Club to sell out in advance I think!

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I haven’t written about those years yet in my Buzz Club section, so I’ll fill in the details a little further down the line.

We had a party at my parents’ house after the Primal Scream gig. Word got round and my Mum and Dad were actually away for the night. My parents’ house in Frimley Green was pretty well known. My Dad was the village GP and my Mum ran the nursery school from our house. I am the youngest of 6 children, Elm Cottage was always mad crazy. My parents often had parties. Dad played the bagpipes and Mum sang and played the mouth organ. Guests took turns to sing or tell stories and the whiskey and Martinis ran through them all.

By the time the whole Primal Scream entourage arrived for the Buzz Club aftershow, I realised to my horror that all my records were now in London, no one was home and all there was to play was my Dad’s pibroch bagpipe music collection.

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One of the most relieved I’ve ever felt in my life was when Throb, Primal Scream’s guitarist, pulled out a cassette of Sly and the Family Stone, popped it in the cassette deck, whacked the volume up and we had ourselves a party!

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I started a Wednesday indie night at the Rock Garden where I booked  bands such as The Divine Comedy, Kitchens of Distinction, Treebound Story (featuring Richard Hawley), The Waltons (featuring Mark Collins who later joined The Charlatans), and my old Dreamworld Records label mates, 1,000 Violins and The T.V. Personalities to play. I organised a release party for Saint Etienne through Heavenly Records plus had The Orb and Andy Weatherall d.j.ing on different nights.

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Club promoter, Frank Perkins, came in for a meeting one day with myself and Sean McDonnell, my boss. He talked of starting a Boys Own type club night at The Rock Garden. Three months later, The Yellow Book Club started up on Friday nights. It was incredible. D.j.s like Terry Farley, Paul Oakenfold and Andy Weatherall were regulars. Danny and myself went every Friday night, took friends with us and met a whole new crowd there. The music was wonderful. It really was that moment when indie guitars and club beats started to meet.

One night Primal Scream all came along to the Yellow Book Club with Andy Wetherall. I got talking to Andrew Innes, one of the guitarists and we started laughing about the party earlier that year. He said they’d just been in the studio with Andy Weatherall producing and that it was sounding incredible. He told me that Andy had a 12″ of the first single ‘Loaded‘ and he was going to play it that night…..

It sounded fantastic.

I was at the Rock Garden for a year or so before bumping into Andrew Winters one day in Islington. Andy had been a regular at the Room At The Top gigs organised by Dan Treacy. He told me he had started a record label and could do with a hand. I was delighted. As a kid I used to send off to various indie labels and shops like Small Wonder, Beggar’s Banquet and Adrian’s Records, buying 7″ singles.  Then at Our Price I’d always started an indie section when they moved me to a new shop. I loved opening the deliveries from Rough Trade and Pinnacle. The thought of actually working at a record label thrilled me.

I got a taxi to Royal  College Street in Camden, February 1991 and met Andy and his business partner, Maurice Bacon. I was offered the job and given promo 12″s by The Honey Smugglers, The Bellower and P.U.M.P.. I was over the moon!

 

We worked out of Maurice‘s old house, now office, in Camden, where he also managed other artists, such as French singer, Guesch Patti and maverick, John Otway.

Maurice had rented out the top floor to Snub TV. My desk was pretty much  in the shared kitchen so I would chat to them whenever they came downstairs to get the kettle on. I really enjoyed chatting to those guys, Lesley, Brenda and Pinko. I was a fan of Snub TV so this was all very exciting for me!

 

 

Chapter 2

1991

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I went up to the weekly music press every Tuesday. 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.

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All the journalists would be there on a Tuesday 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 Wednesday 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 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.

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The Bellower were a fabulous American band featuring Britta Phillips who now records with Dean Wareham 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 MaconieSimon 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 Papheades, 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. 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.

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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 BlurAndy 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.1991 buzz

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 also 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.

More soon…..