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├é™) 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.