Monday, 6 April 2009

Now That's What I Call Unrecouped

I'm going in. This time I'm looking for tracks by the Honey Smugglers, for My Jealous God, for anything by Syndicate* (don't look for a footnote, that's how they wrote their name in 1989) for Swimming With Sharks 0r maybe for Airhead. Perhaps I'm even looking for Ultrasound or Gay Dad. Actually, I've found Gay Dad! Result! But the others... no, they're not there and most likely never will be.

I was trying to make a Spotify A&Rmchair playlist which would have given you a go on loads of bands who were good but never made it. Some of them (Ultrasound for example) you may have heard of, most of them (Airhead?) you probably won't have unless you've been paying too much attention. And while everyone goes on about how you can't get Pink Floyd or the Beatles on Spotify - as if anyone needed these artists on any more formats - I think it's much more of a shame that you can't get all the flawed greats that have been lost over the years.

Relax, I'm not going to bang on about Spotify again here. Actually, no, I was going to say one thing; make one frankly and possibly foolish admission: I quite fancy Roberta from Spotify. Have you heard her yet? She voices their adverts, sounds in her late 20s maybe early 30s, is quite well spoken and sounds intelligent and genuine. I want to believe her when she says she hopes I'm enjoying Spotify. But wait, The Word magazine have gone and ruined it for me - they too (well, Andrew Harrison) are taken with Roberta and they've gone and interviewed her and got her photo. Yes, she is very attractive but no, she is not, as I thought, a voiceover artist who was picked by Spotify's ad agency to represent the brand values of the company - she actually does work for Spotify. I feel ashamed of being so cynical.

The last couple of times I've listened to iTunes at home I have genuinely missed her voice popping up every four or so songs. But that is probably more a sign of the fact that I haven't listened to iTunes hardly at all since Spotify.

But onwards to the playlist. I was looking for all these long forgotten bands because last week I went to a see a group fronted by a guy who used to be in an act I once signed to Indolent. Westpier were not one of the bands who made it big in the wake of Britpop. I seem to recall they once played a show at the Falcon where they were supported by Embrace. Anyway, there was an intial buzz possibly caused by the fact that the debut single was pretty good - I can still hear Jo Whiley's voice on daytime Radio 1 straight after having given it an exclusive, saying, "That moves me!" I still haven't worked out what she could have meant but I took it as a positive. Unfortunately, it didn't move many punters into record shops and after doing a short tour and recording some more tracks my memory of their career gets hazy. I know that the ridiculously handsome guitarist Carl went on to play in Kylie's band on a world tour but I only kept in touch with the manager.

So there was Carl, still handsome, up on stage last week with, somewhat bizarrely, the former manager on keyboards. It was a fine show and one I am ashamed to say I left early because I had another show to attend which seemed important at the time. But it got me thinking, not only are there all the groups who never got a deal - and I'll be doing a blog on those very soon - there are all the bands who make up the 90% of record company signings who never make money.

Common wisdom has it that the artists who get record deals then go straight to the bargain bins are by definition not very good. But this is myopic. Quite often they aren't very good, it's true, but some of them are there due to bad timing, bad luck, wrong single choice or simply that Jo Whiley's producer decided they didn't like the record. Or in Westpier's case did.

So who would be on the A&Rmchair playlist of bands who never made it but deserved to? Well, I could put a whole load of stuff I signed, which I think might be cheating. Having said that there are a couple who must be included. I'll include one I think should have made it and partly because I don't feel fully responsible for signing them - I picked them up after they'd been dropped by Go Beat - Wubble U. Their single A Bit Like U - was actually championed by Steve Lamacq on his show who played it on advance release. As it turned out, it was in advance of them being dropped and the single never got released. In my more positive moments I imagine it being used as the soundtrack to some cutting edge witty TV advert and netting everyone involved unlimited shedfulls of cash. Then I come back down to earth and remember that last year when Isosceles' track Get Your Hands Off was used in an Oxy spot cream TV advert the money paid would just about have covered a weekend family break.

I'll start this playlist now - where there are no existent links I'll try and upload the song if I have it. And of course, anyone reading this list thinking "Hey I know the guy who used to play vibes in My Jealous God!" is advised to be in touch immediately. Incidentally, I've had so many mails and Facebook messages from people saying they can't work out how to leave Comments here that I suspect there might be something wrong with the software. Again, anyone more intelligent than me (clearly not difficult) please leave a message explaining how to do it.

So here's a short playlist we shall, of course,call: Now That's What I Call Unrecouped

1990 Honey Smugglers - Listen
Fronted by a genuine talent called Chris Spence, the HS were touted by the folks who ran The Sausage Machine and who went on to form PJ Havery label Too Pure. It's a shame that the HS signed to Fiction and never really cracked it. This track is worth the cost of admission alone, though. You can read all about the making of this demo and lots more about the band on drummer Steve Dinsdale's blog. Clearly he's either got a better memory than me or he was keeping a diary during those late 80s early 90s days. The demo that Steve writes about was paid for by me with East West's money.

1989 Syndicate* Baby's Gone
This Scottish band were on EMI in the days when EMI boasted Talk Talk and River City People and were enjoying success with Food signing Jesus Jones. And talking of Food, one half of that label, Andy Ross, was still occasionally writing about music for Sounds as Andy Pert. He wrote an absolutely raving five out of five for the Syndicate* album which I immediately went out and blagged off a friend at EMI. He was right - and it still sounds great. I know nothing about them and I'm afraid to find out more in case it puts me off them.

1987 Swimming With Sharks - Careless Love
This was sisters Inge an Anete Humpe who sang mellifluous German ballads without sounding mawkish. And there are two words I don't often use. Inge was onto her solo career by the time I joined WEA which had released SWS. She didn't have any solo success either. By the way, did you know that the current overused term du jour Ear-wormy is originally from the German Ohrwormig

1989 Boys Wonder - Goodbye Jimmy Dean
Another Warners family act, this time twins Ben and Scott Addison. What were WEA doing wrong in the 80s? Did they not listen to me when I said "Don't put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Tikaram"? Boys Wonder were originally signed to Warner's imprint Sire, which as anyone vaguely interested in pop knows, was run by legendary artist collector Seymour Stein. He is still around - I last saw him in a Kensington pub, deep in conversation with the man who signed the Enemy. My good friend Michael and I saw them in Manchester when we were students and I can still remember two of their songs (Lady Hangover and Elvis 75) from having heard them only once. They were dropped and then picked up by Rough Trade who put this out in 1990. It predates the rock pastiche of the mid nineties by five years but manages to rise above it like to exist in a world of perfect pop. Ben and Scott went on to have success with Corduroy but for my money - and I'm not just saying this - they never bettered their Boys Wonder songs. Oh and they were in the year above me at school. How cool is that? Well, OK, but I think it is...

1999 Gay Dad - To Earth With Love
A lot of you will remember this lot as they're existence wasn't that long ago (only 10 years ago. Arghhhhhh!) And indeed a lot of you may have dismissed them as hugely hyped and massively disappointing. Wrong, wrong, diddly wrong. This is the opener from their debut non-selling album Leisure Noise (they signed for two albums FIRM so London Records had to pay for album number two - ouch!) and remains their finest hour - not a million miles away from Boys Wonder in its flagrant referencing of classic rock, it has a nobility to it which, as I wrote here a few weeks ago, still gets those back of neck hairs going.

1991 Airhead - Funny How
This lot were originally called The Apples then Jefferson Airhead but had to change their name when they signed to Warners in the early 90s. They didn't do as well as another major label 'Head' band who changed their name, though. Also unlike Thom Yorke and co, Airhead decided that a sense of humour was the best way of ingratiating themselves with Radio 1. But their big hope Funny How, didn't make the charts and they were dropped shortly after releasing their debut album. But despite its humour, Funny How's hookline contains just as much self deprecating poetry as Creep: "Funny how the girls you like never fancy you, funny how the ones you don't do."

1986 Salvation Sunday Cold Grey Eyes
Weird another family outfit, namely Joanne and Steve Winterbottom. They were signed to Polydor in 1986 years before I started in A&R and I saw them live by accident at the Tunnel Club in Deptford - normally the venue for Malcolm Hardee's comedy club where hecklers from all over South East London would roll up for their cruel sport. Salvation Sunday were not great live but this odd riff-based single is a genuine classic, and I defy you not to get a shiver down your spine as the singer hits that final note on Eyes.

1993 Honky - The Whistler
Ok, a confession, I did actually sign this lot. Although, when I signed them they were called Club St Louis and we dropped them after one single. I discovered them in the unsolicited tape box and immediately drove up to Doncaster to meet them. They turned out to be two lovely chaps just out of their teens one white, Matt and one black, Kye who were making very melodic hip hop. Let's Go Lazee flopped and so I was never allowed a chance to release the follow up which was mixed by none other than Mark Stent (the man who mixes everyone from KLF to Madonna to Oasis) and sampled Breakout by Swing Out Sister. After ribbing me for how bad my label was ("East West? More like Least Best!") they went on to sign to .... WEA - effectively the same company. And while this time they did get on The Word (click that link) and release an album, they still never had the success they deserved.

1996 Wubble U - Petal
I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, it's another one of mine, OK?! But listen, I haven't uploaded that song I mentioned above so you'll have to do with Petal, which they were touting on former label Go Discs before I signed them. We remixed it and made this amazing video, which got constant play on MTV in the days when people actually watched the channel. Unfortunately MTV viewers probably thought: What a bunch of complete FREAKS and avoided making a purchase that week. Petal is lyric-free but does feature specially recorded guest vocals from Stanley Unwin who you might recognise from the Small Faces Ogdens Nutgone Flake album. But the band could write amazing Dury-like words when they put their mind to it and A Bit Like You proves that: "I like a girl who talks with her mouth full, who's clever and nubile and won't cane me mobile... " Produced by the Ben and Andy Boilerhouse, it's frankly miles better than their zillion-selling Texas album.

I'm going to stop for now because you're probably already full of unsuccessful music but rest assured, I will return with more of this so be warned!

Here's an A&Rmchair Playlist of some more successful things, which I'm enjoying right now.


  1. Just jarred my memory back to a very, very bizarre New Year's eve party hosted I think by Ben, Scott and Clive from Doctor and the Medics in a flat in Lewisham circa 1983/4 not sure whether to thank you for that or not!! Wasn't Dave Coker in Wubble U? Luke

  2. I liked Honky. 'The Ego has landed ' is on my ipod.

    Do I win a prize?

    1. Hi-Ho Martin (and Hey-Ho Ben)....

      Tel from Facebook ahoy!

      That same night Ben came up to Doncaster to meet/sign Honky (March 93?), he also came to THE ON's studio, 'Badge'. We'd been crafting our debut since Oct 92, each song taking around a month to complete. We had the songs, the skill, and an instant following (300 people trying to get into a room that held 100 at our first gig). Our bassist/drummer - Stan White and Keith Angel - also moonlighted as Honky's rhythm section.

      I wouldn't have been surprised if Ben took one look at our dingy basement 8-track Tascam 38/Studiomaster/Hi-Fi amp setup, under the local church (where we only recorded after everyone else in the town had gone to bed), and compared it with Matt's flashy state-of-the-art 24 track Otari professional 9to5 setup he had going; all that glitters... It's a shame Ben didn't get to see the day we brought a 16-piece string section in, or when we bussed an entire 56-seater coach-load of friends and relatives down to do backing vocals. We were ambitious. However, that night Ben arrived the desk was all primed for a mixdown, so, to put on some kind of 'display', I pretended I was putting down a lead vocal (when Keith just had the track on 'mute'). Ben must have seen right through it, but we'd had no warning he was coming down.

      After I'd gone through the Peppers tapes (for The South Bank Show special) with G.Martin (in Jan 92, whislt I was at Salford Uni) I knew what I wanted my band to be, with no limits on where we could go sonically, and serious about making one of the best albums of the 90s. Then 'Giant Steps' arrived and we all collectively said, "BASTARDS!"; one of those 'Brian Wilson in his car hearing Strawberry Fields on the radio' moments. ;-)

      If I have one regret Martin, its that when we met at the Monarch in 98, my question to you was '...about the end of Butterfly McQueen; how did you do that?', instead of, 'Want to make some music?' One day I might pluck up the courage to ask you. In fact, Alex & Tom White keep asking ME that question... but imagine the four of us.... OOOF!

      p.s. Yes, here's £5. X

  3. Actually the Honey Smugglers wouldn't have needed to sell too many to recoup as Fiction spent piss-all on us in the first place.

    Honoured to be on your list !

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Forgive me Ben for hijacking your comments, but: Kate ! Great to hear from you after all these years, yes you really did all you could for us. I dunno where AF was at, but it was somewhat bizarre that when we were included on one of those `Indie Top' compilations, he sent them the butchered 7" version of Listen which faded just as it was getting going.

    I mean DUUUURRRR.

    Thank God our livliehoods never depended on people like him that's all I can say, and hell we had some good nights did we not?

  6. Kate Dale (one of those many folk I mention above, who don't do the Comments software) sent me this:

    went to see them in paris everywhere.....roadie for them...well they gave me a lot of lifts home in the the biggest boy cock up i have ever seen....bloody....loved them....non fiction good name for that rubbishy promotion etc everything...if you want something doing...make sure you are old enough to do it yourself...watched it happening right before my eyes...but didn't have a leg to stand on at the time...........ahhhhghhhh....ahh....sorry of those things that should have been so so so much better.....anyway thanks for listening to it again...think my 12" is in the loft...kate dale...x

  7. I had Funny How on cassette single. I went through a phase of just playing that and The Milltown Brothers Which Way Should I Jump. I loved both those bands and both tanked.

    Whipping Boy and the album Heartworm would be on my list. Crazed genius destined to fail but left behind some fantastic music.


  8. a few months ago i dug out all the "my jealous god" cd singles.
    all 3 of them.
    then during the respinning session i remembered that i once tried to go see them live, however, i arrived at the venue 24 hours to late.
    happy daze indeed.

  9. Luke and John, doesn't the idea of a cassette single seem somehow more ancient than a 78?

    Thanks for all comments on this post. As ever, a lot of people wrote to me directly. And ex members of the Honey Smugglers are now in touch with various ex-employees of their record label, I believe. Funny how...

    The list of unsung artists with their unsold records grows and grows too. As Quint says in Jaws, we're going to need a bigger boat, so I'll return to this theme when I'm ship shape.

  10. How about Out Of My Hair - In The Groove again still sounds like it could be a hit to me. As for Airhead, I couldn't agree more. I bought the single of Funny How and couldn't believe it wasn't bigger.

  11. I also had that Airhead single. Wasn't the line "Funny how the girls you fall in love with...." rather than "Funny how the girls you like....". Excuse the pedantry.

    My vote for lost album goes to "Mobile Home" by the Longpigs - their criminally ignored second album. of course, Richard Hawley went on to greater success and for topicality I believe Crispin Hunt was mates with and sung at the wedding of Derek Draper and Kate Garraway.


  12. Blimey, recommendations for both Longpigs and Out Of My Hair BOTH of whom I was very involved with. Really, I appeared to tracked failure rather successfully in my A&R career. More details to follow in a future blog

  13. Salvation Sunday was an awesome band...I was hooked the minute I heard Cold Grey Eyes....still have my old vinyl..too bad no digital...

  14. Would it be at all possible for you to post
    "A bit like you - Wubble U" ?
    if you don't wish to upload it to your blog
    would you email it to me at
    if you would that would be great :)

  15. just to add on to PizT's post, could you possibly come forward with the lyrics as we are debating on some of them.
    Ian Dury is my idol and this song in fact does have many elements of his writing style.
    If that style tickles your organ than you may want to have a listen to Unlucky Fried Kitten.
    Rio x
    I reckon you do not care for HTML. Fair enough. Your above mentioned bands are solid having had interviewed and promoted quite a few myself
    here are some linkys

  16. Hi Ben
    Thanks for taking comments. I found you cos of my quest for A Bit Like You...which is scintillating. I really want to do songs in that style. My band is called Unlucky Fried Kitten...and we often get the Dury tag...though it is unintentional. I just happen to have taken influence from an idol, I guess.
    You talk a lot about Airhead. Well...Ben and Sam Kesteven...bass and drums...were in my band called Death In Venice at the same time as playing in Airhead. They also contributed to Unlucky Fried Kitten's 2004 album. They are lovely lovely guys and I'd work with them over anyone else. Anyway....I've gone on a bit...sorry.
    Another funny link. The guy in the above post...PIZT...I even know his music. It's Aussie Industrialism...really rather excellent. Ah...the internet. I'm chuffed about today's usage.
    Andy (Unlucky Fried Kitten)

  17. Valuable post! A good writing style and information is certainly useful. For all readers continue to write such excellent articles. Thank you.Thanks for sharing this information.


  18. Indeed a very interesting blog. Read a pleasure. Cognitive information that is very good.

  19. Great post. Thanks for all the great information. You never leave blogs without the proper info.

  20. Hi, nice post. I have been wondering about this topic,so thanks for sharing. I will certainly be subscribing to your blog.

  21. Wow, nice post,there are many person searching about that now they will find enough resources by your post.Thank you for sharing to us.Please one more post about that..

  22. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that I have really enjoyed Roofing your blog posts.
    bollywood saree

  23. Wow, nice post,there are many person searching about that now they will find enough resources by your post.Thank you for sharing to us.Please one more post about that..

  24. This page appears to get a good ammount of visitors. How do you advertise it? It offers a nice individual twist on things. I guess having something authentic or substantial to talk about is the most important thing.

  25. I was very pleased to find this site.I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.
    web design baroda

  26. Thanks for mentioning Boys Wonder, the greatest band since the Action not to make it, even more depressing though was the transition to Corduroy - personally I couldn't stand that wine bar yuppie polite muzak style stuff! Plus the songwriting was so bland!