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.

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