Friday, 20 August 2010

Rough Trade : Document And Eyewitness

Just finished my "summer read" of 2010. "Document And Eyewitness:An Intimate History Of Rough Trade" by Neil Taylor.
Rough Trade Records, along with Small Wonder, Mute Records and Factory Records were the bulk of my collection back between 1978 and 1983. Swell Maps, Cabaret Voltaire, Young Marble Giants, The Fall, Scritti Politti, Pere Ubu, File Under Pop, Metal Urbain, Doctor Mix & The Remix, Chris & Cosey, Virgin Prunes, Cult Figures, Slits, Spizz Oil/Energi, The Pop Group, The Gist, Delta 5, Subway Sect, The Monochrome Set, Wire, The Prats, Blue Orchids, Essential Logic, The Raincoats, Kleenex. Most of the catalogue ('78 - '83) still sits upstairs in my "gimp room". No Stiff Little Fingers or Count Basie though. can't stand reggae!
It is a fascinating book (to start with). The story of a young enthusiastic Geoff Travis going to Cambridge University then off to Canada and USA and collecting vinyl along the way collecting like minded souls to help realise his dream of opening up a record shop in London. London, mid 1970's with it's bulging pub rock scene and squatters paradise. It is written in a first person narrative, from the horse's mouth as were. Contradictions are therefore rife and that is one part of the appeal of the book. The characters come out too. Geoff Travis, Scott Piering, Daniel Miller, Jo Slee, Jon Savage - a whole list of names with stories to tell.
For me the book became un-putdownable when the shop opened and "punk" took off. Well, not necessarily punk - but the whole D.I.Y. experience. The likes of Daniel Miller and Richard Boon and Green Gartside and Danny Wigley come in to the book to relate a history as yet (and as far as I know) untapped. Then the penny drops that Rough Trade should be a label as well as a shop and Rough Trade Records is born with Metal Urbain's "Paris Marquis" 7".
I think the first Rough Trade record I bought was "Extended Play" by Cabaret Voltaire. I have a vague recollection of buying it on a Saturday morning with my "paper round" money, and cycling 4 miles back to home to play it repeatedly until the football results came on TV.
My favourite Rough Trade Records release - if there can be such a thing - is Robert Rental + The Normal "Live At West Runton Pavilion 6/3/79" (ROUGH US 2).
It does exactly what it says on the tin.

I was fortunate to see Robert Rental + The Normal live on the same tour at The Drill Hall in Lincoln. They were supporting Essential Logic (with William Bennett) and Stiff Little Fingers, whom apart from "Gotta Gettaway" intro I never liked.....Out of a crowd of 200 or so there was only a half a dozen or so who appreciated Robert Rental + The Normal that night. The sound, the frequencies, bass tones and pulses at such ear splitting volume. I was at home.
1976 and the birth of "Rough Trade" which in my ignorance I never knew was gay slang, through to 1983 is brilliant - and a few good photographs to boot. Then comes 1983 and The Smiths, and the setting up of The Cartel distribution outfit and chart success and dissension amongst the workforce etc. The book then becomes more like a trade manual or text book on accountancy, names of managers, middle managers, transient managers, companies, organisations, departments, more managers, more companies etc and it all gets bogged down in legal talk and litigation - and at the same time the music has switched from interesting characters to Johnny Marr and Johnny Marr alone. I don't like The Smiths. Never did, never have and probably never will - in fact I didn't even know they were on Rough Trade Records.
Looking back (hindsight alert) I lost interest in a lot of music in 1983/84, priorities changed, sounds changed.
This is all about halfway through the book and it carries on and on. My mood switched from un-putdownable to: I must finish this so I can start a new book! A label that brought me Cabaret Voltaire, Swell Maps, Pere Ubu, File Under Pop is now giving me Duffy, Pete Docherty, The Strokes, British Sea thanks.
Rough Trade lost their integrity and became a major label satellite. They got greedy, but then I suppose that was "Thatcherite Britain" at the time and they just fitted in like a piece in the giant jigsaw puzzle?

I visit London a few times a year but I haven't been to a Rough Trade Record shop in years. Maybe 6 or 7 years. Back in the late 1970's/early 1980's (along with Notting Hill Record + Tape) it was the only place to go and spend the savings. Now it is just like a Sister Ray or HMV. A few years ago I was in Bavaria, and the guy from (the band) Operation Cleansweep asked me what I was doing the next day so I said I had plans to visit Dachau and he told me not to bother because "It is like Disneyland" and I suppose that is now what I think about Rough Trade Records shop.
The first time I went in to Rough Trade I stood next to Genesis P-Orridge. I'll keep that memory.

So, is it a good read. Yes. I am an avid reader of music biographies, histories etc and this one has some good stories and twists - and does - like all modern music biogs mention Chrissie Hynde. The only thing that is stopping me from writing my memoirs is that I have yet to meet, play with or fuck Chrissie Hynde.

1: Book cover.
2: The greatest live LP ever released.


  1. Could you possibly upload a playable link for the Live release you mention? As a Daniel Miller fan I I would love to hear it.

  2. Wouldn't know an upload link if I stumbled across one. As I have stated elsewhere on this blog, I do not download music from the internet, I buy the product. As a person who releases stuff I do find it a slight pisser that folk put my stuff up on the internet (on blog sites) with out my permission for free. So I would never ever do the same.
    I say check the discogs site and/or E Bay, it was released by Rough Trade US and Rough Trade Germany. Classic album.