Monday, 4 August 2014

"Simply Thrilled: The Preposterous Story of Postcard Records" by Simon Goddard + unseen Paul Slattery photos of Aztec Camera & Orange Juice from 1980

(L/R) "Simply Thrilled" Author Simon Goddard, Edwyn Collins and Photographer Paul Slattery
Just before we went to see Roddy Frame play at the Shepherds Bush Empire (you can read the review of that gig here) we popped along to the launch party of Simon Goddard's new book "Simply Thrilled: The Preposterous Story of Postcard Records", which is out now on Ebury Press. The party was a well attended gathering at Scottish outfitters Lyle & Scott's flagship store in Carnaby Street and the author was there, along with Edwyn Collins, to sign copies of the beautifully presented book. Retro Man Blog's very own Paul Slattery has some of his early pictures reproduced in "Simply Thrilled" and he caught up with Edwyn for the first time since he photographed Orange Juice as they, and Postcard Records, were just starting to make waves back in 1980.

Author Simon Goddard made his name with three impressively detailed books on The Smiths, Morrissey and Ziggy period Bowie, all crammed full of the minutiae of his subject’s music. These were fact packed Rock ‘n’ Roll encyclopedias and song-by-song guides that satisfied the thirst for knowledge and curiosity of every ardent music geek and connoisseur. However “Simply Thrilled: The Preposterous Story of Postcard Records” is, as the title alludes to, a very different proposition. Whilst researching the book, the author came up against so many differing versions of the same story that he decided to go with Postcard Records boss Alan Horne’s advice to just go ahead and “print the legend” to “write the myth, as that is far more interesting”. Actually, there probably wasn’t that much for Goddard to get his investigative teeth into anyway, Postcard only released around a dozen or so records from a meagre roster of four bands - Orange Juice, Aztec Camera, Josef K and The Go-Betweens - and it was all over in a couple of years, hardly the stuff that encyclopedias are made of. So, what we do get is a thoroughly entertaining “dramatic reconstruction” of the Postcard Records story, not written in some dry Q&A format with an endless cast of characters reminiscing on times gone past but in what could pass as a screenplay to a musical Bio-pic. I can imagine “Simply Thrilled” being filmed say in the vein of Joann Sfar’s stunning fantasy “Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life” or the recent movie “Svengali” which, although a work of fiction does somewhat blur the boundaries between a parody of the music business and real life.

Orange Juice in 1980 - Photo copyright Paul Slattery
Don’t worry, fans of Goddard’s previous books will still get their fix but they will have to skip to the large annotated discography at the back to find notes on release dates, the colour of labels or the meaning of comments etched into the vinyl’s run-out grooves. Don’t expect much on the stories of Aztec Camera or The Go-Betweens either, as there are almost as many pages devoted to Louis Wain, the Victorian Cat Artist whose cute drumming feline became the Postcard Records logo, than there are about those two bands. Josef K fare slightly better in terms of column inches although it is very clear that Horne never really wanted to sign them in the first place. “Simply Thrilled” is very much the story of Alan Horne and Edwyn Collins, from their first encounter right up to the demise of Postcard Records rather than an in-depth look at how a Record Company works. Alan Horne is described as a sensitive and clumsy loner who comes across as Kenneth Williams playing the role of Andy Warhol, spitting out quick-fire ripostes and cutting put-downs. He is introduced to Edwyn Collins via mutual friends and recognises him as the singer of a band called The Nu-Sonics who he saw play at a chaotic and violent gig in Glasgow. With their shared love of The Velvet Underground and Soul music they soon become close friends, bickering and trying to out-do each other like a comedy double act. The Nu-Sonics evolve into Orange Juice, inspired by the slightly fey melodies of Buzzcocks (as immortalised in OJ’s classic single “Rip It Up”), Subway Sect’s embracing of Northern Soul and the scratchy disco rhythm guitar of Chic’s Nile Rogers. The seed of Postcard Records is sown when Horne decides to produce a flexi-disc of Orange Juice to give away free with copies of his fanzine and his confrontational character soon becomes the driving force behind the label.

The "Simply Thrilled" launch party
Alan and Edwyn seem to delight in offending Glasgow’s macho, aggressive elements and Orange Juice seem to equally offend hard-core Punks, hooligans (or “Neds”) and Teddy Boys alike. The band become almost an “Anti-Rock” concept, with their semi-acoustic guitars held high, there are no Peter Hook, Paul Simonon, Dee Dee Ramone style low slung basses and certainly no throwing of guitar hero shapes or poses. With their jumble sale second hand clothes of tartan, plaid and suede it was a somewhat twee look and sound that was to pave the way for countless “Indie” bands to come. The pair’s confrontational approach brings them into conflict with the influential DJ John Peel who they tell to “wise up old man” as they thrust a copy of Orange Juice’s debut single at him. It worked; Peel played the record that very night although he did complain about the two rude Scotsmen who accosted him in the BBC’s lobby. John Peel was later to accuse Orange Juice of “ruining” his favourite band, the Undertones, but you’ll just have to read the book to find out how! Then there’s the running feud with Rough Trade’s Geoff Travis that at one point reduces Alan to a worrying depression. He eventually snaps out of it and gets his revenge by negotiating a deal that amazingly secured Postcard an 85/15 cut of the profits. In his interview with Goddard, Geoff Travis strongly denied this so Horne actually digs out a copy of the original contract (no doubt from his sock drawer that passed as Postcard’s filing cabinet…) to prove to the author that his version was actually the truthful one. Along the way there is an embarrassing meeting with The Velvet Underground’s Nico who, they are horrified to discover, no longer resembles the gorgeous blonde chanteuse from those iconic photos of her New York heyday.

Aztec Camera in 1980 - Photo copyright Paul Slattery
Then in a somewhat “pot calling kettle black” scenario, The Fall’s Mark E Smith refuses to put up Orange Juice and their label boss at his house after a gig in Manchester because he thought Horne was “a weirdo”. Goddard excels in bringing these vignettes to life and he is particularly adept at conjuring up evocative scenes of the violence experienced at those early gigs in Glasgow. Considering that the label’s motto was "The Sound of Young Scotland”, there is not much emphasis placed on the impact that Postcard Records had on Glasgow’s music scene and their influence on Creation Records’ Alan McGee and bands such as Belle & Sebastian, Teenage Fanclub, The Pastels, Franz Ferdinand and the whole C-86 “Indie Pop” boom. But that is a minor gripe, this is a book brimming with an enthusiasm that will make you dig out all the records and we are left with a teasing clue from Horne that what came after Postcard was far crazier, whether that is crazy enough to merit another book we’ll have to wait and see.

Simon Goddard has also written the highly acclaimed "Mozipedia: The Encylopedia of Morrissey and The Smiths" and "The Smiths: The Songs That Saved Your Life" as well as "Ziggyology: A Brief History of Ziggy Stardust". You can buy the books direct from Ebury or from the usual outlets.

With thanks to Simon Goddard, Maria at Ebury Press and Paul Slattery for the excellent photos.

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