Friday, December 15, 2006

It's been a while

The last 6 months have been very exciting seat of the pants stuff. revisiting all kinds of experiences from the past and reminding me of some things that had lain dormant in my failing memory.

Today I launched - sort of the new thing - little bird - It is inspired by the spirit of the Brazilian football icon Garrincha. He was an awesome player who overcame physical disability to become a world great and then disappeared too soon seemingly a victim of his weaknesses. Oversimplified analysis? yes, but I would commend you to pick up a copy of Alex Bellos's Futebol: A Brazilian Way of Life and read his chapter on the diminutive genius. Inspirational!

little bird released Peacock the debut single by Band(ism) into an unsuspecting world today. Another trip to Piccadilly Records who took it with open arms and a heart as big as Liverpool (that is a big heart, ask Wylie). It's a lovely piece of art and should be well received. My thanks go out Mike Chavez-Dawson whose unstoppable tenacity reminds me of Micky Thomas, his grace reminds me of Audrey Hepburn and his patience..... well that would satisfy even Gary Barlow's needs.

I promise to come back a lot sooner and share some laughs and tears from the past very soon.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Guess whose been on Match of the Day?

Another piece of my preposterous life that has fortunately won me £100 of money to spend on records and DVD's. It hasn't all been a waste

Read and weep

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Black Wonderful Life on Ugly Man Records is released.

In August 1986 the record came out and in those days you brought out a record and things started to happen. Nowadays there is a media/business collaboration that prepares the consumer for the opportunity to consume. In 6 weeks time this tunes will be available for you to enjoy at a time and place that you control. It seems a little strange that it should work that way but in the old days you brought it out and things started to happen.

With Wonderful Life the first inkling of activity was Janice Long playing the tune on her Radio 1 evening programme. I remember the occasion vividly because I was travelling down to London for a cricket match the night before and was just getting back onto the M1 motorway at Scratchwood Services when in the last 5 minutes of the show Janice excitedly previewed the fact the last track on the show would be a sneak preview of a brilliant new song that was going to be out next week. She was adamant that it was going to be something very special and she was right it was Wonderful Life.

Janice was a time served specialist music DJ who had come up through BBC Radio Merseyside and been a huge supporter of all things scouse and had taken her local passion with her when she had gone on to become a national broadcaster. Her connection with the bands and artists that came out of Liverpool was entirely genuine and her rise to national prominence had coincided with this fresh rush of Liverpudlian talent. She had become a much admired specialist DJ in the predominantly male dominated area with the added impediment of being Keith Chegwin’s big sister. Cheggers (as he was affectionately known) did not enjoy the same gravitas due to development as a children’s TV presenter who cared little for plaudits and reverence, became a national figure of fun. His sister was fast assuming a Peel like quality with her insight into new and aspiring bands.

Alongside this first incursion into nation’s aural consciousness, we managed to get our first piece of press. Record Mirror, a now defunct weekly music paper made Wonderful Life its record of the week. Lesley O’Toole one of their writers was charged with the task of trawling through the weekly new releases and as a long time fan of the band took great delight in telling the readers about the classic new single from Black.

With this early double whammy there was a real sense that we were going to sell those initial 1,000 vinyl 12” and have a small success on our hands. The rumblings we were getting were entirely bigger than we had anticipated. Terry Hollingsworth, our man pushing the buttons down at Radio 1 had some exciting news. Janice was going to make Wonderful Life her record of the week. This meant that in one goiven week she would be playing the song every night and mentioning it in glowing terms to her attentive listeners. These were people who were eager to hear new music, so it wasn’t just exposure it was music to the ears of the taste makers and opinion formers who make and break new music.

The initial excitement on the press was followed with press silence – that’s like radio slience only on the written page. The NME, Sounds and Melody Maker were all published on a weekly basis like Record Mirror. In the eighties people used to buy a regular weekly fix of the written word about music and each of these august tomes would select the music they felt was worthy of sharing with their readers. It’s a complicated business and the feeling at the time was whilst Terry was puling up trees on the Radio side of things Mel Bell, our press fixer, was not having the rub of the green. Nobody was eager to review or write florid prose about Black. To some extent they had seen it before when they were on Warner Brothers and rejected it and now they weren’t about to change their opinion.

The Janice Long record of the week was a significant factor in suggesting to the shops that they really ought to stock more of this record and as a result Red Rhino instructed us that we really should think about pressing up more 12” records as the demand from shops was growing. We pressed more.

Good bless the Great British Holiday for it’s incursion into this bizarre saga, for at this juncture the regular day time producer of Garry Davies’s Radio 1 morning show was off for a week of well earned rest and relaxation. Thank goodness also for the good sense of the person in charge of giving out the jobs, that they should give Jonathan Ruffle the job of covering for that unknown producer.

Ruffle had been producing Janice’s show as she had been getting behind the new Ugly Man release and now he was going to be championing the release in his new daytime role, turning the nobs and buttons for Garry Davies.

Suddenly a massive decision had to be made. We have a few white label 7” singles and the following day down in London the playlist committee were meeting to decide which records were going to put on the playlist for the following week.

Playlist is a very small and neat compound noun. The significance of this play list is far from neat and small. This is the selection of records that are guaranteed to be played in a given week on the nationally owned stae sponsored monopoly radio station which enjoys almost monopoly status in terms of its ability to ake or break a new record or artist. Record companies with vast marketing budget had in the past paid to get on this list (and reaped the consequences of this illegal act – PAYOLA). This was the pinnacle of achievement for any given single release and we were charged with providing Terry (our radio man in London) with a suitably convincing set of 7” singles to make it look like this was a real record that people could buy in the shops, when all we had was 20 7” singles with blank white labels.

As I said earlier, at this point, I was gainfully employed in the realms of Ladies Fashion mail order and Andrew was working as an IT contractor at North West Regional Health which was just round the corner from me. We would meet lunchtimes to share what had been happening during the morning. On this morning, when the “need 12 copies of the 7” single in London for a playlist meeting at Radio 1” request had come in, we set about photocopying and printing on to sticky paper the various images of the record artwork and labels to try and create something that looked like a professionally manufactured 7” single, that was going to be available in the shops the following week

In a blurred lunch hour we created something that wasn’t even close. In the marketing conference room of the UK’s leading outsize ladies fashion mail order retailer we managed we swiftly cobbled together with Pritt stick and very little skill a group of records that would be fit for the controller of Radio 1 to offer a considered opinion as to whether this song was good enough to be heard by the massed listeners of Radio 1.

There was a huge irony to the location for this activity as JD Williams, my erstwhile employers, had previously been the employers of two famous ex employees. One Mike Yarwood – fired for taking the micky out of his bosses in the warehouse and Gary Davies, who since leaving mail order fashion, had carved out a career for himself in local radio station Piccadilly Radio, eventually finding his way to Radio 1.

The discs were duly delivered and, sadly not fit for purpose, taken form their poorly constructed new picture sleeves and presented in plain white sleeves with holes in them, to the gods who decide “is this good enough”. Fortunately for us it was and for the next three weeks Black’s Wonderful life was resident on the BBC Radio 1

This had a dramatic effect on the plan. We started to manufacture a 7” alternative to the original 12” only release. The quantities were going up. We were having regular meeting with Steve Baker, our man at Red Rhino, Peter Thompson and ourselves in exotic locations like Victoria Station Buffet (okay it was central for all parties) deciding what we were going to do next to keep the momentum going.

The momentum was getting serious, The weekly plays of the single were exceeding Madonna’s new single at the same time, we were crashing into the independent charts and there was talk of a possible proper grown up Gallup chart entry. All this was happening against a background total acceptance and support from the nation’s favourite radio station and complete rejection from the equally influential music press.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A more ordered approach

For those of you who crave a more chronological story you can follow the story by clicking on the links in this order.

So Steve Baker - the Black strand continues

A meeting with Steve Baker was set up. Steve was Black/Colin's manager. This was a surprise since the impression we had was that Colin was managed by the same people as Pete Wylie - he of the mighty Wah!.

In leaving the Warner Bros major label deal Black had declared complete independence and new management was the order of the day. Steve Baker, I recall, had previous experience of the music business and highlighted on several occasions the folly of excursion Andrew (my brother) was making going into the business. He himself had been in the situation of investing his valuables into musical things that hadn't returned. That said, he was happy to take advantage of the offer of help. He had a very definite plan and listed things he felt would maximise the success of the project and with a list from him and the guidance from Red Rhino (our new distributors) a fairly robust master pan was created.

Originally in pure independent style, a 1,000 12" vinyl records were going to be pressed and sent to the shops and people were going to buy them. Andrew had probably bought a 1,000 records in his time, now he was going to sell a thousand.

But this is were things started to change.

Red Rhino said "If you spend the money you were going to spend on pressing the records, on marketing, we will cover the expense of the manufacturing and take it from the sales you make."

That sounded like a good idea, and they recommended a press and radio specialist promotor down in London who would be able to help us get the exposure and publicity to make more people go out and buy the record. If nobody knows it's out there nobody will buy it. Ten Times Better were a embryonic operation set up to help small independent record companies get publicity for their music. Mel Bell was in charge of getting music and national press coverage and Terry Hollingworth was the guy who got you on radio one and TV. When written down quickly it seemed like a very easy task. Heck is that a bad job – what a thankless task it is.

Terry Hollingworth Said: “if you want a record played on Radio One you have to give them 7” singles they won’t accept anything else”

A seven inch white label run was ordered, more expense but all justified in enabling us to shift our 12” stock of 1,000 and getting the message out to the masses.

Steve Baker said “we need publicity pictures of Colin”.

Bit by bit this was developing into much bigger budget affair and as yet no guarantees of any returns. Red Rhino had high hopes and were keen to help in support of what could be a significant departure for them. Up to that point Red Rhino’s reputation as a distributor had been built upon the likes of Sisters of Mercy. The Sisters had come out of the Leeds Goth scene and with the astute support of Red Rhino they had become a mainstream success. However finely crafted 80’s synth pop from Liverpool did not easily fit into this newly emerging independent music genre, here was an opportunity for them to show their ability with more mainstream music.

At this time I was working in the UK’s sixth biggest mail order company. I did marketing and was charged with selling more stuff to people who were our loyal and happy (dare I say it privileged customers). It was an unglamorous career which has since been glamorised by the advent of the internet. The glamour of the job was further diminished by the fact that our customer base was the more mature woman (in both size and age) We specialised foundationwear that had long since became outmoded and dresses in sizes that could double for tenting. It was no surprise to find out that some of our male customers in the largher sizes, were not buying them for their loved ones. Personally I loved the job but it wasn’t the sort of job that others coveted.

However a happy bi-product of this marketing role was a relationship with lots of sparky creative people who worked in advertising agencies who warmed to the idea of the young skinny guy at the corset mail order company helping his brother launch a record label. Martin Kemp was one such bloke. I later found out that he had co-written “I’ve got your number written on the back of my hand” by the Jags – he wasn’t the one in Spandau Ballet and Eastenders. But in those days he was an Account Executive at ADS – one of Manchester’s thrusting communications companies. I shared my ambitions and aspirations with Martin and he sharply stepped in and offered his, and his colleagues, services as the designers of the packaging for new Black single and the logo for the emerging Label Ugly Man records.

Martin, a man possessing enormous personal charm, had convinced one of the creative juniors, a wee strip of girl called Tracey Savage to knock up some logo designs and a visual idea of how the single should look. We favoured the naïve innocence of her ugly man logo (on the right) and the classical style of the Wonderful Life cover that eventually became the signature of the release and was also made into t-shirts at a later date. As with seemingly most things connected with this history the artwork was not the sum of Tracy Savage’s creativity. She subsequently progressed up the ranks at ADS and then moved to London joining BBH ( a very hot agency – they did all the Classic Boddington’s stuff) and ending up the head creative character changing her name to the equally creative title – Tiger Savage.

All manufacturered up and boxed and ready to go to the shops we were just about to release Wonderful Life by Black – a Liverpool Band. It was very exciting and to a, just slightly more ambitious and professional, plan than the one we had originally set out with. Now the question was what happens next………….

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Ludicrous! simply Ludicrous

The first phase of Ugly Man petered out in 1989 as my ability to fund my hobby met the demise of Red Rhino. I guess to a certain extent I realised what my brother had realised during the second single. Okay I'm a slow learner. You are not going to get any thanks for helping or screwing up peoples god given right to fame and fortune.

So it was that I moved into the world of publishing. In the 80's I had admired and respected the legacy created by Dave Haslam's Debris and loved the sense of community that surrounded it, writers artists and sellers all together in a fascinating collective. Parallel to this ran the burgeoning Football Fanzine phenomena of the late 80's. Here was an opportunity to do something creative and fun. Rodney, Rodney! was born.

In the 80's, being a football fan was much akin to a kind of social leprosy. You would go into work on a Monday and tell people you have been main lining cocaine, sleeping with a mixture of men women and animals, indulging in the most bestial types of anti-social behaviour, but would rarely whisper you were at the Bury -Tranmere match at Gigg Lane.

Against this background of secret activity, a group of smart guys (sorry it was a guy thing) started writing about their passion for football. Three fanzines shone out at the start of this phenomena The Absolute Game, a Scottish based magazine, When Saturday Comes (London) and Off the Ball (Birmingham). These superb reads were born out of the frustration that for so long the fans had been the butt of the media’s negative spin on football. Football fans were scum bankrolling the entire industry but scum all the same. Suddenly there was a voice articulating an entirely unheard view from terraces and it was a revolution – and I wanted some of it.

During this time I was working at a huge (the World’s biggest) advertising agency, we had just introduced personal computers into the business, yes it was that long ago. The guy in charge of the system had got a trial copy of a new programme that was the first desktop publishing software. He allowed me, in the time before and after work to give the programme a run out an see if was any good. I created the first edition of the 20 page Rodney Rodney! using this major breakthrough in computing.

The writers in that First edition were a motley crew of footie lovers with whom I had strong and tenuous links.

  • Craig Ferguson – Main writer and guitarist in The Danny Boys, man who introduced me to the Man from Delmonte and radio co-collaborator.

  • Sally Bond – a sort of Sunderland fan widow mate of mine at the time.

  • Roger Titford – the partner of my then boss Christine King. Roger was a “died in the wool” Reading Fan [member 11001] of many years experience and he was riding a wave of euphoria at the time as his team were going to Wembley and enjoying the highlife after years of under achievement. I can only imagine how he feels now that his club are in premiership.

  • Stephen Jones – an early member of the Desert Wolves who gave up popular music to become one of the UK’s foremost medical negligence litigators.

  • Peter Morris – a soccer journalist from the 70’s who had written, at the time, in praise of my hero Rodney Marsh – the idolatry figure behind my publication.

  • Ed Glinert – a Manchester based Gooner journalist whose partner worked in mail order with me.

  • Peter Seal – my favourite designer and good friend designed the front cover it looked superb

  • Me – well you know all about me.

It was a neat A5 24 page booklet, bit light on the proof checking, but beautiful and after a weeks printing at Raven in Manchester it was ready to go out to the masses. 2,000 copies at 40p a time. This time next year we’re going to be millionaires Rodney….. Rodney!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

In the beginning

There is no real starting point to the story but if there were one, this might be it, 9 posts into the blog. The birth of Ugly Man records. I rather hope that my version which follows will be supplemented by a version by my brother Andrew who was the original Ugly Man - although to see him you would question the name.

Searching for the Ugly Man was a hidden gem from the punk era by The Transmitters and was a personal favourite of my brother Andrew. He had left Liverpool in 1975 to go to York University. All my life, and his is almost 4 years longer than me, he had been the most voracious consumer of popular music. He really knew what was good and he was really into all sorts of stuff across the whole range from pop to progressive. His main luxury item that he took to York was a Sanyo briefcase style record player. It was an amazing piece of kit (as Jeremy Clarkson might say) Half of the suitcase becoming stereo speakers and the other half a diminutive deck onto which you placed your vinyl. Whilst you couldn't carry it around with you listening to music ipod style, you were able take it places and set it up and play. It even ran off batteries so you could take it anywhere. This piece of ingenious Japanese technology became the centre of a record collection that would have Japanese vinyl collectors drooling and frothing at the mouth.

The “portable music centre” had been bought out of the compensation he received for an horrific accident that he had endured at school. A metal locker had fallen on him and sliced his ears in half. Fortunately Tomorrow’s World style state of the art plastic surgery had rendered him whole again and the local authority had coughed up a small sum to atone for their negligence in not screwing the locker to the wall.

In these days of “had an accident? – not your fault?” I feel certain he would have been a rich young man but this was the last sixties, early seventies and it was very different.

Central to his student life was this musical passion which in 1976 was exploded and enriched by Punk. He went from luxurious harmony hairspray, Miss World style page boy to a skin head in weeks and his collection of vinyl boasted Clash, Pistols, Banshees, Undertones, Spizz Energy, Scritti Polliti, a veritable who's who of the new wave of load, joyous, raucous arty music that was set to wipe the complacent smile off the music industry's face.

Having never really been that close to him and generally irritated him all my life to this point, I was suddenly drawn closer to him at this time by virtue of a mutual love of QPR who at this same time where riding high and in danger of winning the league. An amazing feat they didn't quite achieve, but the first 4 months of 1976, we spent an enormous amount of time on trains going to see Rangers and the bond started and grew a lot stronger.

Over the rest of his University career we saw more football and enjoyed some gigs, I became aware of the music scene that existed in York at that time. Andrew was in the centre of it, promoting gigs and further adding to his 7” vinyl mountain. He put on the Human League prior to their huge fame in a legendary gig at the De Grey rooms in York.

His vinyl addiction was serviced by Red Rhino, an independent specialist record shop on Gillygate and he appeared to enjoy the kind of service afforded to Sheiks in Harrods, whenever I accompanied him there, on my occasional trips to see my big brother in York.

As time progressed he moved to London and we became closer with regular trips to Loftus Road and amazing gigs at cool hang outs: Dexy’s at Shaftsbury Avenue, Aztec Camera and Blue Orchids at the LSE.

Work dictated a return to our home city and back in Liverpool it meant that he immersed himself in the vibrant music scene that always flourishes there and sporadically captures the imagination of national media taste setters. By this time Andrew’s vinyl dealers of choice had become Probe and the Virgin store by Central Station. Behind the Virgin counter at the time, amongst many other helpful and attentive staff was one Justine Vearncombe.

Justine was married to Colin Vearncombe, a former school acquaintance of mine. Colin was a true one-off at school, wilfully arty, an ace basketball player – who represented our county - and very eccentric. Having played the lead in a French existential play at school it was a seemingly small step to lead singer in the school’s punk rock band “The Epileptic Tits”. The Tits metamorphosed into Tilt and then Black. It was as Black that Colin found his true, incredible voice.

Andrew and I saw Colin’s first gig as a solo artist as Black at the Warehouse on Seel Street. It was the 80’s and backing tapes were an exciting technological breakthrough and having created his own backing in the week before, Colin took the stage and bravely sung his heart out. It was absolutely spell binding and the entire focus of the performance was on him and the voice.

From that point on Black became a two man operation with Colin at the front and Dave Dix his man at the buttons in the studio. They built a big reputation within a scene that boasted The Teardrop Explodes, OMD, Echo and the Bunnymen, Wah!, It’s Immaterial and A Flock of Seagulls, It was a time when Liverpool was garnering the plaudits and the lazy journalists heralded the rebirth of a genuine music scene to echo the Mersey beat scene of the 60’s.

If there was going to be a Mersey scene then all the major labels needed to have a group and so the avant garde art terrorists duly signed up one by one and Black signed to Warner Brothers. It appeared to be a deal that headed nowhere: 2 beautiful singles completely missed by everybody but the fans, who included Peel and Janice Long.

Black were tied into a label deal with Wah! And in a battle of personality and media friendliness, nobody could live with Pete Wylie, so as the junior partner in the label Black appeared to disappear. Fairly soon after the second release, they did disappear and returned to the ranks of the great unsigned.

This, coincidently, was the point when Andrew started to harbour thoughts of setting up a record label. Independent companies had started in the years post punk to become very successful at identifying fresh talent and developing it outside of the major record label structure. These records had been distributed into the shops by similarly new independent companies. The media had been supportive of these new industries and as a result a new level within music had been created - a non-league to use a football analogy.

One of the companies driving forward this new distribution phenomenon was Red Rhino in York - the people who had fuelled Andrew’s punk fixes were now ensuring that the likes of The Sisters of Mercy and The Wedding Present were freely available the length and breadth of the country. They happily decided to distribute Andrew’s fledgling label and were keen to find out who would be the first release.

After a variety of circuitous routes Andrew established with Colin that he would be interested in entrusting his future music career to the new label, if Andrew was able to reach an agreement with Colin’s Manager, Steve Baker.

To be continued…..

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Too Much Texas

Too Much Texas were an 80's phenomenon. There was never any indication that they would exist beyond their brief and brilliant career that started in 1988 and finished 1991. Ugly Man artists? Why else would they be here? They were Raymond, Gordon and Tom.... oh and Lawrence too.

The Ugly Man part of their career was initiated by Raymond dropping a tape through my letter box. Unsolicited, but welcome, it carried the demos of what came to be the "Hurry on Down" EP. What struck me at the time was the quality of the tape, not the songs, the tape. It a really supe duper "professional studio quality imported from Switzerland precision style" tape. What I found on it was equally high quality and after a good chat at Ray's we agreed we really should do something together.

Raymond lived in Patey Street with Lisa and I was lodging at Mike West's McKenzie Street HQ in Longsight the war torn region of Manchester. Not as bad as Moss Side but putting up a pretty fist in coming second. Raymond had a plan and colleagues who I was later to meet.

Pot Collectors at the Hacienda (sorry legendary Hacienda™) Too Much Texas had relocated from Abingdon in leafy Oxfordshire to learn more and be a Manchester band. Their master plan involved a lavish sleeve design from a mate of theirs, Trevor Johnson. He was at the time a fast emerging designer from hacienda school. Trevor set the eighties agenda of Manchester design and, shit! he was doing an Ugly Man release. We loved our covers but never with the eye for detail that a designer like Mr Johnson would bring. Having recorded the single the next master stroke was to hire and open top bus and invite the creme de la creme of Manchester's pre baggy elite to come on a rush hour tour of the city.

This was the late eighties and an open top bus on the streets of Manchesterr was rare, United and City were both perennial under achievers during this period, so there was never the likelihood of hordes of bescarfed fans mistaking this trip for the home coming of their all conquering heroes.

As the bus trundled around the city centre it boomed out the various tracks on the 12" release as the upper deck party gorged on posh food prepared by the masterchefs from the Hacienda kitchen. As a label officially dim in the shadows of Factory's global reputation and back catalogue it was so exciting to be rubbing shoulders with genuine indie royalty and all this because Raymond had put his tape through my letter box.

the afternoon's perambulation concluded with a visit to the Old Steam Brewery a newily opened pub on the site of what is now a world class international competition swimming facility used for the 2002 commonwealth games. The bus load of revellers crammed into the cellar bar where The band treated us to a raw and robust set. It was an amazing performance on the back of such a rich spread of food. Tom's vocal performance was spell binding and the music was incredibly powerful. I remember some years later recounting the experience to the writer Sarah Champion, who was aiming to encapsulate the whole Manchester scene that spanned the infamous baggy period in here book "and God created Manchester".

I'm afraid with hindsight my quote looked vaguely homoerotic, which is strange as I have never been homo and sadly rarely erotic. I will fish out the book and append the quote. Let you judge for yourself

But I knew watching the performance that Tom would be on Top of the Pops one day such was the charisma of his performance and the resonance of his incredible voice. I was right, as he went on to front the Inspiral Carpets and made several Top of the Pops performances with them. Sadly his sense of leadership in TMT was subjugated in the more democratic and equal, Inspiral Carpets and I suspect he didn't "show off" as much as the Inspiral front man, which is a shame. You missed a treat.

Hurry on Down took us back onto the Peel Show. Peel was an avid supporter of Black in the early days but we had failed to light his touch paper with the more fay offerings of The Man from Delmonte and The Desert Wolves. Too Much Texas had the running endorsement of Dave Haslam's Debris Magazine. Debris was a highly influential art music fanzine. Curated more than edited by Dave Haslam it was the barometer of cool in late eighties Manchester and had prior to the release featured a flexi disc of an early TMT tune. They received Peel plays, patronage and went down to that London and did a session for the great man which helped raise their profile.

It wasn't too long after the release that Tom took the career defining step of auditioning for the Inspiral Carpets. Up against a variety of waifs and vagabonds including a mal nurished boy from Burnage called Noel Gallagher. Tom got the job, which was pretty hard to believe. At the time I knew Clint and Graham, the Morecambe and Wise of the group. More northern and more bluff and they would have each had whippets, it was a surprise to see this quite unashamedly posh bloke from Oxford fronting the best thing to come out of Oldham since the 82 bus. But it seemed to work and the Inspiral's impressive career bears testimony to the endurance of the tight unit they became.

It is a lovely footnote to the Too Much Texas story that they reformed to do a reunion tour and release a collection of their work for public consumption. Few would bother to draw the strings back together but Tom did and in doing so created a beautifully curated artifact which he realeased on his own rceord label. I spoke with Ray, Gordon and Tom on the day they played an acoustic gig in a local specialist record shop almost 18 years after the day on the bus. Looking much older but still belting out the tunes, they were a credit their youthful roots and made me feel so proud and happy that they had been on the Ugly Man label.

You can purchase the jam packed Too Much Texas collection entitled Juvenilia from Townsend Records

You can actually hear what they sound like at their

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

First Time I saw I am Kloot play live

Until I saw Ian Ford's fan site for I am Kloot I was unaware that 8th December 1999 was a date written large in my life. The memories of that day are still very fresh but the date itself had been lost. It was the first time that I had ever seen I am Kloot play. Not remarkable in itself but by this time they and I had already released their debut single To You/Titanic.

I had met Johnny early in the summer and in the course of a discussion about a gig booking at the Night & Day for a talented singer songwriter I was working with [Steve Finn], John had convinced me that I really ought to have a listen his latest musical offering. In the following months, I met his new combo, Pete and Andy, met his producer Guy [good name nice man] and fallen in love his new project. There are more stories surrounding all that which hopefully i can take you through another time.

But on 8th December 1999, I went to that London to see the fast emerging I am Kloot play at the Kasmir Club. "it's not easy to find" said Pete Jobson and he was dead right. The west end in rush hour is the place of Satan but all those evil one way streets around Harley street and baker street were causing me an absolute nightmare. Ordinarily I would have parked somewhere easy and got the tube in but I had Andy's drum kit in the back of my car and time was getting close to sound check time. Blood pressure rising I made the gig, unloaded and went for a walk around and picked up a copy of Time Out.Time Out made for exciting reading.

There were 5 recommended gigs for the evening. Elton John - Wembley or somewhere like that, Ian Brown somewhere big and brash and third on the list I am Kloot at the Kashmir Club. This was a moment of pure ecstasy.

Later at the venue I met the man responsible for the piece Andy Fraser, was the London based press agent whom Kloot's then manager had recruited to help spread the word in the papers and magazines, that decide on our behalf what is good and what is worth listening to. Andy was a diamond geezer and every inch the cockney waif/music biz mover and shaker I had envisaged from my previous phone conversations prior to us meeting. He was gentleness and sincerity personified [rare commodities indeed in this part of the business] he took me through his meticulous plan for the night and ongoing with the band with a passion born out of his total belief in the band and the music.

The plan for the night involved his new band, who were called The Libertines. They had a very teenage/underage looking pretty boy lead singer, who had I known he was a rabid QPR fan who wrote for a club fanzine, I dare say I would have had a chat with him. But I didn't so, I can't say I ever met Pete Doherty, but I saw the Libertines play one of their early gigs.

Another dramatic coincidence that evening was the guy doing the sound. Dave Dickie is another of those rich characters that populate the London music business. I had worked Dix on the very first record my brother and I released as Ugly Man records. He was half of Black and produced the smash hit Wonderful Life. Now after a lifetime in and out of the studio and on the road he had settled in SW London and was helping with running the Kashmir Club. The loveliest of coincidences prior to seeing Bramwell Jobson and Hargreaves justify my blind faith in their musical abilities.

For blind faith replace that with astute musical intuition, I am Kloot were/are/ will be one of the greatest live acts I have ever seen. In the intimate cellar room I could scarcely conceal the most cheesy of grins. I was working with a most incredible musical act. All the spacey atmospheric vibes that Bramwell had described to me on a bar stool in Night & Day and had then put on to vinyl rang totally true in this jazz den in London's west end. It was total bliss.

Later I would realise that wherever and whenever they played, they would always be totally on the money, great tunes, played well, great banter, whether you were stood in field, in a cellar, in a dance hall, I am yet to see anything less that complete and total consistency, without losing any of the bite, beauty and humanity.So that, I will take to my grave with a sense of intense clarity and immense pride. That night I was Kloot, too. Magic

This article was originally published by Ian Ford on his excellent I am Kloot Fansite

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The County Fathers

Ugly Man and now little bird has been home to a multitude of bands and artists over the near twenty years and perhaps our least popular act is our most famous celebrity. Step forward The County Fathers.

The County Fathers were a three piece, so often a magic number - Motorhead, Supergrass, The Jam, I am Kloot, and you’ll have your favourites to add to this list. A three piece is often much easier to manage. Fewer opportunities, mathematically for people to fall out. Less mouths to feed. So Solid and Blazing Squad may have been masterly marketing ploys but when the first PRS cheque arrived it must have been like getting 5 numbers up on the National Lottery.

County Father number one was John Clayton - a lovable blonde bear of a man who worked in production at Manchester's legendary Piccadilly Radio. Solid, down to earth, Lancastrian he had all the ugly man "good bloke qualities" that seal deals in my music business model. County Father number two was top architect Phil "whammo" Walmsley - no mean musician but with a day job back up, if the Ugly Man project didn't reach the global levels we all anticipated. Phil was a prickly character in relation to me. He didn't really warm to me at the beginning, seemingly suspicious of my approach. We have since become closer and the last time I saw him he was buying the beer after a chance meeting in Manchester City Centre. All's well in the end.

No celebs yet you cry. Well County Father three was no other than Mark Radcliffe; BBC Radio broadcast legend (the man who almost killed the breakfast show on Radio 1). No celebs yet you cry.... only joking Mark.
When you have got to the back of the blog you will be able to enter small poll to see if I am right in the assessment that Mark is the most universally recognised name to have crossed swords with me.

Mark was the driving force behind The County Fathers, predominantly writing the tunes and leading the A&R drive to get himself the played rather than the player of records. His story and the context of The County Fathers is written up for posterity to judge in his hugely entertaining Diary of a Showbusiness Nobody and would be worth a read in its own right but also as an alternative view to my County Fathers shtick.

It is often difficult to read bands/artists histories when you have been involved and you don’t appear the way you thought would appear in that history. Biographical detail changes for dramatic effect, sometimes you don’t even make the cut. To some extent the purpose of this body of work is to write it my way and set the record straight. In Mark’s book he paints me quite accurately as the enthusiastic music lover with total faith in the band and the music. If you were to read it and be asked “What kind of French hero does Lovelady represent?” I guess the answers would veer more to Clouseau than Cousteau.

Heck Radcliffe was trying to get a laugh – I have a funny name and I was a complete music fan, his spin was affectionate and I was just glad to get my name into a book.

The County Father EP was released in 1988 during the fag end of phase one of the label. Money was at a premium so it wasn’t promoted to the extent it deserved, but it had all the hallmarks of a top quality Ugly Man recording. Beautifully recorded. - Radcliffe producing, naturally, three tracks that were painstakingly selected and committed to 12” vinyl – it was the eighties. The lead track was a choice between the intensely poppy Lightheaded – a housemartins style jingle jangle of a cracker that didn’t make it to 3 minutes or Deep South – an atmospheric Cocteauseque concoction taking all of 7 minutes to snare and share.

The decision making was long and protracted. In the end we settled on the more esoteric latter track and a legendary but sadly ignored masterpiece was released. In all decisions about track selection performance evaluation I have always deferred to managers, artists and other people.

I first met Mark during the release of the first Ugly Man single by Black; He was the “head of music” – a grand title – at Piccadilly Radio. I don’t know how I managed to meet him but some how I did and got sat in on a couple of his shows. I those days he was a rookie DJ doing what they now call drive time. He played good music, the sort of stuff he does nowadays. It was fairly mind blowing to see somebody doing all the things you take for granted.

He gave a Piccadilly session to The Man from Delmonte, booked Black for a pan European broadcast from The Liverpool Playhouse and also produced all the output for The Desert Wolves in his spare time. So his place in the Ugly Man hall of fame is fairly large really. In Phase two of the label at the turn of the Millennium he reared his “beautiful” head too – more of that later.

His other significant role in my life was to introduce me to Frank Sidebottom. This was a relationship that he started and one that had a long reaching effect on my life and I will elaborate during my Frank Chapter.

The County Fathers project did not really blossom into anything as Mark pursued his showbusiness aspirations working very closely with the aforementioned Mr Sidebottom. After the point that Mark and Frank and I parted our ways I didn’t have any dealings with Mark except to bump into him occasionally in the most un-rock types of places – national trust cafes in Cheshire that type of thing.

I have a copy of a CD that contains the anthology of County Fathers recordings plus other quality outtakes from a subsequent pop combo St Cloud that Mark captained. It is something that the world would much rather embrace than a “Mike Reid – the music collection” LP. Hopefully I will make that so one day.

I suppose my personal highlight of the musical journey I made with Mark was the Ugly Man Christmas Party in 1988. The joint celebration was held with some local Manchester based fine artists, which sounds quite refined and exclusive but it wasn’t. The evening was opened by Inspiral Carpets, a then up and coming Oldham band, The County Fathers did a set and finally The Man from Delmonte wowed a packed green room. I remember the delight on Mark’s face that night getting to play a full set to a packed and excited audience. It was the stuff of legends.

You can buy Mark's autobiography on Amazon. A right rivetting read

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Arthur Magee

There are people written into the history of civilisation Livingstone , Brunel, Armstrong, The Google blokes, etc. Arthur is one. who is written indelibly on the Ugly Man storybook like those afore mentioned pioneers. Arthur lives in Belfast currently but lived for a while in Manchester. I can only ever remember once going out for a drink with him but he is one of my best friends and somebody who I like to think keeps me going in difficult times and someone to share the joys and triumphs with.

Arthur also enjoys the honour of having two releases in the Ugly Man catalogue. And with separate acts. In the late 80's Arthur was the driving force behind Fallover 24 - a peel-loved band and vital component of the pre baggy scene and then in the late 90's when the Ugly Man was awakened from his slumbers Arthur released a solo tune called Perfect Day. It was the first Ugly Man release in the nineties and heralded the return of the label in time for the imminent arrival of I am Kloot and Elbow

Arthur was the Roy Keane of pop in the eighties, his absolute commitment to what he was doing was ever apparent and it was this commitment that applied to the solo release Perfect Day. Such was his commitment it got nominated in 1998 as one of the Northern Ireland singles of year alongside the likes of Ash and Divine Comedy.

I wouldn't rule out the possibility of further releases in the future as he writes a mean tune and isn't afraid of putting them up for public scrutiny.

I first met Arthur in 1988 when he called around at my Longsight home armed with a threatening pitch about what he wanted to do and how I was going to pay for it. At the time I was in plaster and enjoying a couple of weeks of work after knee surgery. I say enjoying, but that would be lie because I was constantly having to go the phone to answer "silent calls" - nobody at the other end of the phone and then dialing tone. I later worked out that it was my then employer checking up on me to ensure I was at home and not out on my crutches hustling for somebody else.

Arthur came in and pinned me to wall with a list of superlatives about his band Fallover 24. They were the future of music and that Ugly Man with the million pounds we made on Black we should be investing it squarely in Fallover 24 and there was not going to be any argument about that.

Reaching for breath I had to explain to Mr Magee that far from rich from the Black experience we were on the verge of stopping due to the loss making nature of our plans and unsustainable nature of independent record label life.

That said, we released the Pessimistic Man E.P. in 1989 and as stated above, Peel loved and played it. It also picked up the usual support of the local press and we no longer have any copies under the bed so we must sold a far few maybe 500 or so. Pessimistic Man was straight forward non pretentious music. It didn't have all the mystic and spin that can often propel indie musicians into the mainstream. The band invested their time in setting up a community based studio in Moss Side and to some extent lost the focus so epitomised by Arthur's first meeting with me.

They went on to record with the rehabilitating Legend that was Martin Hannet and eventually split. I have asked Arthur to do me a "where are they now" piece on the post Ugly Man period and I await his missive with much anticipation.

The Perfect Day single came out in the summer 1998 and I will deal with that in a later post because there is so much around that release that to do it now, would not do it the justice it merits. Needless to say it plays a significant role in the second phase of Ugly Man the phase where we did some very significant things and ultimately paid a heavy price. So at this stage let's just say God Bless Arthur and take it as read he is a lovely man.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Some lighthearted frivolity to start with. Harmless fun. Now we move to a brief story to illustrate the other part of the double entry style ups and downs of this Ugly Man.

Bryan was a friend of mine who was loaded with talent, loved by millions, not far off, and died at the end of January 2006 without fulfilling his commercial and artistic dreams. I cried for a week because I was unable to to do what I had hoped to do with him and would never be able to have a laugh with him again. It was a long 6 years in which we connected and aimed to bring out a record. It really didn't work out for reasons of personal problems hitting in crucial moments. 11 songs recorded mixed and spat out, that will hopefully form some kind of posthumous salute to a great artist and an extraordinary bloke.

Read what his nearest and dearest say about him on his tribute blog and click on the tracks that are posted on the site, you will see his artistry. You will see the man

During this blog I will refer back to our times together as they illustrate some of the emotional low points I encountered as well as explaining the painful responsibilities there are in trying expose unrecognised talent. It is a lottery of horrendous preparations with so much investment by artists and often very painful the bystanders in that process.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Ugly Man v Multi-National Corporate Greed

In all my working life I have worked for wealth creating capitalist organisations. Growing through studenthood I fancied the idea of being a Psychiatric Nurse - mixed with the wrong sort - but that would have been strange after 4 years on a deeply vocational business studies course at Manchester Polytechnic.

Bare with me it's context. So Ugly Man records was not a vehicle for furthering the capitalist ideal, it was more wrought by a sixth form political sensitivity. Help people, get them onto the next level. Not a very viable model for progression in the corporate world that is the music business.

Two years into the project there I was, working with the anarchy that was The Man from Delmonte. As the blog develops you will see a fleshing out of what The Man from Delmonte was, what it sounded like, acted like, felt like. But this snippet of my life revolved around a letter that arrived in my Longsight home on 27/10/1987. The envelope promised much.

On opening it There was a letter from the Del Monte food corporation asking if we could get in touch and whether we fancied getting together for a chat in "That London" The delmontes had been gaining momentum from their first release and had obviously come to the notice of some hard working PR executive who felt the need to "touch base" - that's what they say in those circles.

I spoke to the band and got in touch with the letter writer setting up a meeting, under the illusion that the meeting would be a chance to talk about potential topics of mutual benefit.

I drove Martin and Mike from Manchester to the swanky offices of Del Monte's PR company in the Knightsbridge area of West London. There are posh offices and posh offices, these were swish and exuded a sense professionalism that I have never encountered since.

Mike and Martin dressed in the oxfam chic and me in my day job suit, we cut a sharp contrast to the surroundings and personnel sent to greet and accommodate us. We were swiftly invited to a beautiful boardroom environment. I can remember even at this point feeling a real sense of well being and potential advantage.

Bam the door shut. "Right let's give it to you straight we don't like what you're doing to our brand so stop it!!!" Having dragged us down at our expense to a cosy chat, so hard knock - well as hard as they come in PR - grabs us by the vitals and says rename your band coz it's causing us a problem.

Stunned for a second or two, we recoil. But quick as flash Mike tells them that their company is completely unconnected with his band and that they can't do anything about it. Adding to the sense of counter claim the point is raised that what they are doing in South Africa is in no way helping the band in the music press. Anxious journalists felt the band in some way glamorised the activities of the Del Monte corporation. The confusion to the consumer must have been immense.

Lasting less then 20 minutes we were treated to the levels of brand investment that Del Monte feel necessary to keep the cans stacked up in our cupboards and the zealous fervour with which they protect that investment. We left, crossing through tour support budget on our meeting agenda and headed back to the North.

We never got a follow up from the legal eagles and shortly after The Man from Delmonte - the band started to get on the telly and radio - blips in quarter 3 pineapple ring inventory may have resulted but fortunately Delmonte food corporation took it manfully on the chin.

Let's get this party started

One of my favourite books is Brilliant Orange a cultural exposition of the Dutch and their football. A cracking read if you like that kind of thing. One of the joys of the book was that the author had chosen to order it in an anarchic random style starting with chapter 7 then chapter 21 and so on. His homage to the Total Football of the 70's brilliantly executed by Cruyff Neeskens and Krol. No formal structure but if you wanted to you could read it sequentially or in the random order. Nice idea.

So never one for an original thought, I have decided to dip in and out of this fractured history of mine and allow you to pick your way through the chaos and action. I used to be a stickler for dates and details. Now I stuggle to put things in the right order, so apologies if it has the feel and continuity of a series of the Simpsons. Just read it and enjoy or undertand.

I'll start with an interesting curio, because it sprang to mind recently and we'll take it from there.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Next Tuesday

Next Tuesday I will be 45 which is kind of poetic without sounding too JD Salinger. 45 Revolutions Per Minute was speed that vinyl used to spin at when I bought my first music in 1966.

Since then I have lived in, what Mao called, interesting times. This blog will hopefully explain what happened along the way from Hermans Hermits to now and in the future.

If you find this and want to comment or add stuff feel free. It's that kind of history.

You can get me at