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 na├»ve 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!