DIY, money, and me
Paul Artrocker deserves a plaque on his wall...
The cute little loft-flat that I have lived in, in North London, since about 1998 should have a blue plaque on the house wall outside. Its not that I am so ego-centric that I believe anything I have done merits any acknowledgement but more that someone I had the pleasure of working with has merit, and considering we are talking about music, perhaps the plaque should be 'vinyl' black. The wording I had in mind was
“Here lives Paul Cox of Too Pure Records in a flat enabled by the success of PJ Harvey in 1992”
It could go into greater detail but, lets face it, there's only a limited amount of space on those plaques.
And that's how I think of it, that without the success of the above mentioned release, I would not have my own place to live, so thanks Polly. I have also gathered that this seems to be how the whole music industry works; that one great success funds everything around it, including the other, less commercially successful artists and the industry structure that surround it (which in major label terms, is a massive and wasteful corporate structure mostly completed with spongers and blaggers and bureaucrats).
Just recently I needed to raise money using my mortgage on said flat, so I approached my Building Society who, ultimately, own the place themselves. Faced with my pitiful part time income, non-existent savings and invisible Artrocker income, the curt chap on the phone told me that I did not merit a loan of any description (let alone a black plaque!). It seems that a 'PJ Harvey moment' comes along infrequently.
Towards the end of the 1980's I had found myself working at an independent record distributor in North London, on the same industrial estate and a stone's throw from where the mighty Rough Trade distribution would receive its death rites. In that small upstairs room, a group of 'should-do-better' indie kids had been thrown together as a national telephone sales team working for the man who by some industry quirk had the sole rights to The Rocky Horror Picture Show (a pension scheme if ever there was one!). Simultaneously, the new, grass roots dance scene, soon to be christened 'Acid House' by the tabloids was sweeping the nation and was nailing fast the indie coffin lid. We were putting independent dance tracks into the charts, and even when those glamorous chart positions weren't achieved, records (yes that is vinyl), of the repetitive beat variety, were selling by the van load.
Before I'd joined this dynamic, drug addled commercialism, I had started a small club in North London, with the help of my fellow Portsmouth evacuees, with the aim of putting on some bands we liked and, in effect, to act as the replacement local meeting and drinking place we'd left behind on the South Coast. Preposterously named 'The Hot Sausage Machine', we set out to run a weekly night featuring our own two bands and the small handful of bands we had already played with in London. The success of the Club, and others of the time is not for this article but suffice to say that it did not go unnoticed by my fellow acid-house tele-sales team members, one of whom found the whole DIY set up, the quality of the bands, and (it can't be denied) the largish number of people showing up, an inspiration and reawakening of his indie fanaticism. Richard, a reformed new waver and semi-goth-head, soon proposed the idea of a record label with the aim of documenting this scene, as it happened, and choosing one band to release as the spearhead of what we understood to be the antithesis of the warehouse rave movement and Manchester 'indie-dancers'.
To start a label was not really the proposal, but to record and release something, as a document, and just to see if we could do it or how to do it, was closer to Richard's idea. The original motivation to start the club was just to have fun, to have a place to play, a place to meet, drink and also to get to see some bands we liked. It is strange yet exciting, how ideas can blossom if you act upon them. So it was not hard to accept Richard's proposal without either of us knowing how one goes about releasing something oneself, but how difficult could it be? The Desperate Bicycles DIY Mantra 'It was easy, it was cheap, go and do it' was not the one we were to follow though.
Because our 'scene' was based around The Sausage Machine Club in Hampstead, we decided there could be no better way of documenting it than recording some performances to release as a live album. To me, this would be our version of the 'Live at The Roxy' album or the 'Hope and Anchor Front Row Festival' double album, or even the Mods Mayday, all of which seemed to capture the musical moment and spirit of their times. But by either naivety or professionalism we weren't going to cut corners so decided to get a mobile recording studio to set up outside The White Horse on two separate Saturdays and record the whole sets of several bands which would be mixed in a studio later. We asked bands who had already played at the club and who were now taking their next steps towards indie notoriety, and we asked bands who were brand new and in need of their first exposure to a wider audience. We also said we'd give all the profits away to charity – that's right, I said 'profits' – we really must have been naïve. Not satisfied with that, we proposed to release a single by one of the most outlandishly tuneless bands of the time, Th' Faith Healers, and to our surprise, they accepted.
'Ideas, ideas ideas', it almost sounds like a Political slogan doesn't it ? In terms of DIY it really is the root of all actions because without your original idea, you have nothing to act upon. Less than two years after our audacious début recording ideas we had another conundrum. Silently, and without even consulting, two releases had become three releases, and four, and we were in danger of becoming … 'a label'. At this point we crossed paths with two new bands on 'the scene', Stereolab and PJ Harvey. Both played at the club and both enjoyed the success we had had with our previous releases and both were interested in releasing singles and albums with us. Thankfully we simply could not help ourselves in the face of such exciting ideas and we agreed to work with both bands without the slightest clue how it would be financially possible. It did prove possible and my flat bears testimony to that, but those means of achievement are another story. Returning to the time we recorded the live album at The White Horse Richard simply said that to add to our paltry savings we should take a walk one lunchtime down to our local bank in Stamford Hill. Jokes about Jewish acumen can be set aside here because we met with one Carol Thurlow, a friendly assistant bank manager whose rock'n'roll knowledge amounted to jokes about 'the new Beatles'. We met with her, (that means we sat across a table in the same room with a bank manager!) and told her what our ideas were and how we intended doing this and why we did and how much we thought it would cost...... and that we'd give away all the profits (perhaps we didn't tell her this bit!). And you know what ? Without any ticking of 'income boxes' or savings history (perhaps Richard having a mortgage played more of a part than I remember) Ms Thurlow booked her tiny moment in indie history by enabling us to book the studios, and I was pleased to see her name on the back of that first Too Pure Records release when I took a look half an hour ago, before writing this piece. Perhaps it was the excitement we conveyed about the idea we'd had that persuaded Carol to take a small punt into the rock'n'roll world, I'm just glad she did.
It shouldn't cost quite as much to get that black plaque up on the wall of the house should it ?