Tuesday, 15 April 2008

"Did you ever feel a strange vibration in here?"

Roll up, roll up! Stickers, badges, posters, T-shirts! I have entered the world of merchandise. OK, so it's not like there are queues around the block yet, but there's something life-affirming about making objects and sticking the name of your group on them, isn't there? Of course, it just means you're spending money you don't have but rather like wearing a suit to a job interview you somehow feel a bit naked turning up at shows without some merch. After briefly entertaining the idea of doing hip skinny shirts for girls and stylish polo shirts for boys, I was enlightened by Geoff, my business partner. A man seasoned with much more managerial experience than me, Geoff let me have it straight: "Ben, don't bother, it's only fat lads who buy band T-shirts - I've got an attic full of Mediums and Smalls."

So we're doing badges now instead - and maybe stickers too. I've always been a big fan of the band sticker. I remember buying a handful of Buzzcocks stickers at the first gig I went to when I was 12. Onto the school rough book they went, everyone in class was intrigued what this slightly sexy sounding thing was with its colliding ZZs. Bless Malcolm Garrett, for a brief moment I was the coolest person I knew. I've always striven to recreate this excitement with artists I've worked with. We did some amazing stickers for 60Ft Dolls, which featured the band's name using the Happy Shopper logo and font - a very clever trick considering the band had a song of that name. The marketing guy who did those for us is still around so I phoned him to ask his advice on stickers. Why was a quote I'd been given for stickers so much? - "Ah, that'll be the blades they have to make up - go for anything other than square, oblong or oval and it's really expensive." "Cat shape?" "There's your answer."

Still, it's exhilarating to see designs you've helped put together appear on walls or lapels. I look forward to seeing Glasgow's most fashionable swanning around the band's single launch this Friday sporting little cats on their thrift shop V necks. I've not got anything against making 'indie tent' T-shirts but given the sales upside of T-shirts in a band's early days (in my experience so far, about one per gig) I'd prefer to have something small, affordable and cute on sale rather than a large piece of fabric gaffa-taped hopefully to a felt board.

Talking of menswear and felt boards, I had a bizarre experience last week. The meetings I described in the last blog continued and on Thursday I found myself going over to see someone at PIAS distribution. I've known the lovely people there for many years, in the past they've distributed a lot of the records I've been most proud of: Indolent releases like Sleeper, the aforementioned Dolls, Wannadies, and Stephen Duffy as well as my own label Scared Hitless including the first Verruca Salt single. PIAS have recently moved to new offices, situated in a building which until recently were occupied by the kindly gentle folk of V2.

So here I am getting off the tube at Fulham Broadway and walking past the nasty TGI Fridays and the misshapen BMG Music tower towards Farm Lane, just as I did for most of 2007. The old V2 building was in many ways like the older V2 Building in Holland Park - a throwback to the glory days of record companies: a compact, warren-filled, converted older building, filled with enthusiastic young women, cynical youngish men and cardboard boxes filled with 'stock'. If you wander down Kensington High St towards Putney and take a look at Warners, EMI, Universal or SonyBMG you will see that each building is large and new and if there are boxes, then they are hidden away so that guests like me won't syphon off any Duffy stock to take to Record And Tape Exchange. If any further proof were needed that the industry's glory days are over, then look no further than the Universal building, which, like a massive, living iPod, has compressed virtually all of that is left of the UK record business into its shell.

Inside the old V2 building I am greeted by the jolly PIAS receptionist. The hand-carved-by-slaves V2-logo reception is still there, as is the inexplicable enormous Cuban artwork over the bar area, but the atmosphere, with emphasis on the third syllable, is gone; the building seems to have gained a joie de vivre that was missing by the time we limped out last year. It feels weird to be back, especially as I'm the one waiting in reception; I almost expect to see my old self sneaking out of the side door in its false beard trying to avoid a meeting with me. My host, Ian, comes down to greet me and we make small-to-medium talk as we skip up the gantry steps to what was the old marketing department. Blimey, they've kept the old rollerblinds covered in rock icons (Hendrix, Jagger, Strummer, etc - I always wondered idly in meetings how they would have looked if they'd stuck to a strictly V2 palette - Isabelle Campbell, Mark Lanegan, Alan from the Rakes, Lethal Bizzle - surely that would have been cooler, wouldn't it?).

As we walk past the old chairman's suite (now split into two more conservatively proportioned offices) I want to ask where we're going. Surely not! Is this a joke? He's not taking me back to the old V2 A&R department is he?

"And here's my office..." says Ian, ushering me into a room I am all too familiar with. "Nooooooo!" I feel like Charlton Heston's character at the end of Planet of The Apes. Yes, Ian has inherited my old office - what are the chances? etc. We spend the first five minutes, just laughing and comparing notes on the room. He has a framed Peter Tosh poster waiting to be hung, probably in the space where I my Clash poster was - plus ca change. On the felt pin board, is no oversized band T-shirt but a small Fred Perry sticker I had stuck up on the day I bought my current favourite shirt. I comment on it and we realise we are both wearing Fred Perrys.
"Hey let me ask you one thing, though, Ben - did you ever feel a strange vibration in here?"
"Me too - it's weird isn't it? Where's it coming from?"
"No one could get to the bottom of it at V2 - Facilities just said it was the AC"
"But it's there even when the AC's not on"
"And sometimes not at all - then it comes back..."
"Your whole keyboard vibrates when you're typing."
"What can I say, I've been there..."

And so on. We did actually have a proper meeting after all the room-bonding, it transpired that there was not much for my bolt-on A&R company but possibly potential things for the Scottish band at a later date. A partial result then, if you're a glass-half-full man. Which, of course I'm not. But you know what was strangest about the meeting in my ex-office? - It felt amazing to be back but on the other side of the desk! Absolute tantamount proof of what I was saying in the last blog - to be able to walk out of that building, after a smile, a handshake and a 'see you soon'. Away from the strange inexplicable vibration, back into the world of badges, stickers and booking hotels. Single launch party tomorrow in Glasgow, I'll keep you posted how we do...

No comments:

Post a Comment