Archive for the ‘The short story’ Category
The story of New Hormones records begins with a revolution and ends in a skip. In between much is shrouded in fog.
“New Hormones began with Buzzcocks,” explains Richard Boon, who was both the band’s manager and, in due course, the owner-manager of the record label.
“Once Buzzcocks had done a few gigs, including the famous Lesser Free Trade Hall, there was a bit of a thing around them. But Howard [Devoto] was thinking about going back to college; the future was very uncertain. We just thought: we need to document this – let’s make a record.”
That 7-inch slice of vinyl was the Spiral Scratch EP (ORG 1), the first DIY record of the Punk era. The success of Spiral Scratch inspired bands up and down the UK (and beyond) to follow the Buzzcocks’ lead and put out their own recordings.
After Howard Devoto left the band to return to college, a second New Hormones release, a 7-inch EP called Love Bites (featuring Orgasm Addict) was mooted. However, an ultimatum from John Maher’s dad put paid to ORG 2. The drummer had a job lined up as an insurance clerk – he could carry on with the band but only if it gave him a regular income. A second DIY single offered no such guarantees. With offers from majors coming in following their support slot on The Clash’s White Riot Tour (May 1977), The Buzzcocks agreed to sign for United Artists (UA). “We got on very well with Andrew Lauder,” recounts Boon.
Inking a deal with UA meant putting New Hormones on the back burner. “After we put Spiral Scratch out we started getting tapes from people like Cabaret Voltaire and Gang of Four. And we weren’t in a position to do anything other than offer support slots,” laments Boon. He and The Buzzcocks were particularly keen to support other bands from the provinces, such as Penetration and The Fall.
Highly enamoured with the latter, Boon paid for the band’s first recording session, later released as the Bingo Master’s Breakout EP. “I would have put [it] out if I’d had the money.”
The Secret Public
After the rush of Spiral Scratch, New Hormones lay more or less dormant for three years while the Buzzcocks took precedence. However, one project did come to fruition during this hiatus. At the end of 1977, collagists Linder [Sterling] and Jon Savage put together a fanzine of their work called The Secret Public that was given the catalogue number ORG 2. Linder’s take on feminism saw her mesh images from women’s magazines with those from porn mags; Savage explored the alienating effects of urbanism.
Speaking at the Secret Public event at the ICA in London in April 2007, Linder explained the genesis of the project. “In 1977, there were hundreds of A4 fanzines, mostly words. Jon Savage and I wanted to produce a fanzine that was slightly different – A3, on glossy paper, no text. We had the idea it would somehow stand slightly apart.” “We put out a fanzine that says fanzines can be anything you want, they don’t have to be slavish copies of Sniffin’ Glue,” is Boon’s take on it. The name of the publication came from West Coast Situationist Ken Knabb, aka The Bureau of Public Secrets. “I just thought it was a conceit to turn that round,” says Boon. “It’s a wonderful contradiction: something secret and at the same time public. It seemed a very nice and neat title,” adds Linder.
“The ‘secret public’ were the people we were trying to reach,” explains Boon.
One thousand copies were printed. “It was sold in Rough Trade and other independent record shops, hidden under the counter. A lot of people got it through friends and friends of friends,” remembers Linder. The cover price was 40p, although “It didn’t have a price on it, which was possibly a mistake,” notes Boon archly. “I’m sure most were given away,” says Linder.
Boon believes that ORG 2 influenced the early stage development of the UK style press. “It filtered through to a guy called Perry Haines who founded i-D. And he took from it: I could do a magazine, just pictures of people wearing clothes, and ask them what they are wearing and where they got it.”
The Secret Public, says Boon, was about “putting a different kind of noise in the system and seeing what would happen.”
Having been unable to follow up his earlier interest in the likes of The Fall and Gang of Four, towards the end of 1979, Boon suddenly found himself in a position to revive New Hormones. “Once [Buzzcocks] were kind of established and there was a team around them like Pete Monks the tour manager and Sue Cooper [Boon’s assistant], there was a little more space to operate in. And, God bless Maggie Trotter the bookkeeper, there were some resources.”
By the time New Hormones returned to the fray, the music scene had changed immensely: dozens of tiny labels had flowered from the seeds sown by Spiral Scratch; musically, three-chord ramalama had given way to the dark, dubby spaces of post-punk. In Manchester, the scene was dominated by Factory, home of Joy Division, whose Unknown Pleasures LP set a new benchmark for moody yet muscular introspection and minimalist design.
Despite Boon and his cohorts’ best efforts, New Hormones was never quite able to escape Factory’s shadow. “Factory was the hip Manchester label in everyone’s mind so we were always fighting that a bit especially with press, which was so important then,” recalls Pete Wright, who managed Dislocation Dance and later helped run New Hormones (see sidebar: Factory’s shadow).
The first release on the revitalized New Hormones (February 1980) was Big Noise in the Jungle by The Tiller Boys (Peter Shelley, Francis Cookson and Eric Random). The Tiller Boys had been an occasional live irritant over the previous 18 months, following a memorable debut at The Factory at the PSV [Hulme’s Russell Club] in May 1978, bottom of a bill that also included the Durutti Column, Cabaret Voltaire and Joy Division (Peter Saville’s poster for this gig would become FAC 1, the first Factory Records ‘release’).
“I remember the three of us leaving the stage and standing at the bar,” says Eric Random. “We’d barricaded the front of the stage for some reason and hidden everything. And we came off and there’s still all these tape loops playing and the crowd’s stood there watching and we’re at the bar.”
It was all about “abusing the equipment”, says Random, “affecting people in the audience physically: I watched people in the audience throw up,” he recollects.
“I think we only actually did four gigs altogether and Shelley did two of those,” says Random. “The main nucleus of it was me and Francis really, we did most of the recording.”
On Big Noise from the Jungle, the boys combined Neu! with Sandy Nelson to powerful effect. “This record is so incredibly alive it attacks like a slap in the face,” said Sounds at the time.
The initial roster of the revamped New Hormones also included Ludus and The Decorators.
With the cool, charismatic and design-savvy Linder, Ludus (Latin for ‘play’) had had been attracting press attention ever since their live debut in August 1978. An early line-up, featuring Arthur Kadmon on guitar broke up before it could commit anything to vinyl.
Linder chose Cardiff native Ian Pinchcombe [later known as Ian Devine], to replace Kadmon as the band’s guitarist. “When she met Ian Devine something different happened,” believes Boon. “A bit more open-ended: We would say post-punk, actually a bit more jazzy.”
After a recording session with Peter Hammill proved unsatisfactory, the band – Linder, Devine, and drummer Philip ‘Toby’ Tomanov (later of Primal Scream) – went into Pennine Studios in Oldham in December 1979 with Stuart James, a local radio producer, who had recorded sessions with the likes of Joy Division, OMD and, indeed, Ludus. The result was The Visit (ORG 4).
James went on to work with most of the New Hormones roster over the next couple of years. “He was our producer: Factory had Hannett, we had Stuart,” says Boon. “I was the poor man’s Martin Hannett,” says the producer, semi-jokingly. “New Hormones didn’t have a lot of money to spend in the studios, so it was very much about getting it down. There wasn’t a great amount of time for experimentation. My idea was to just bring the best out of the bands, as much as possible. I certainly wasn’t trying to imprint an auteur’s sound on them,” explains James.
The Decorators debut single, the wonderful ‘Twilight View’ (ORG 5), was one exception to the cheaply recorded rule, cut at Eden Studios with Martin Rushent producing.
The Decorators were a five-piece from Ealing. “It was nepotism: my brother-in-law [the band’s sax player, Joe Cohen],” says Boon. “We wouldn’t have put it out if we didn’t like the record, even if it was family. Mick the singer was quite an interesting guy. They were doing something other people weren’t doing.”
Mick Wall described the band as ‘street rock’ in Sounds in 1980. Certainly, Twilight View has a hint of Nick Lowe about it, although singer Mick Bevan’s voice is like a more tuneful Peter Perrett. “Neo-classical,” says Boon.
Twilight View was the producer’s choice for the A-side. “Martin Rushent wanted to do that track, so Richard went along with his choice: ‘Let’s do a ballad.” It was not really representative of our style,’ believes Cohen. “In hindsight I’m not sure the results were that great,” agrees drummer Allan Boroughs. “One of the things we struggled to do was to capture on record the sound we had live. What [Rushent] produced was really good, but I didn’t feel it was really us,” he says.
The Decs, as they were fondly known, only released the one single with New Hormones. “I think we recorded four tracks with a view to doing a second single, but that never happened,” recalls Cohen. “I don’t think we were the favourites, the label sound was more left field. I never felt we really fitted in with the other bands,” he says. Stints with Red Records, Red Flame and Island followed, before a final single on Virgin France in 1984.
With New Hormones back in business, Richard Boon set about finding new talent for the label. One early discovery was Biting Tongues, spotted supporting The Fall at the Beach Club in May 1980 (see sidebar: ‘The Beach Club’).
Filmmaker (and saxophonist) Howard Walsmley had initially formed the group to play a live soundtrack at a screening of his film, Biting Tongues. The Beach Club show was the band’s third, with its third different line-up (this one stuck). Bassist Colin Seddon describes the nascent group’s approach: “We had a kind of unspoken rule amongst ourselves that if anybody else does it or follows any rules of musical harmony, then we don’t do it… Mix that with a high level of energy and arrogance.” “Organized noise” is how Graham Massey (keyboards, tapes, guitar) sums it up.
New Hormones paid for a recording session in the denim-clad Drone Studios in Chorlton with Stuart James at the desk. Not for the last time, cash flow problems led to the label sitting on the tape. When Peter Kent at Situation Two expressed an interest in putting out a Biting Tongues record, Boon agreed to let them have the Drone tracks, which became the second side of the Don’t Heal LP.
One important conduit for new bands in Manchester in the post-punk era was the Manchester Musicians’ Collective (MMC), co-founded by arts administrator (and later member of The Passage) Dick Witts and the composer-in-residence at North West Arts, Trevor Wishart.
The MMC enabled bands to share equipment and it organized Monday night gigs at the Band on the Wall. “Later we moved to the Cyprus Tavern,” says Witts. The MMC “was trying desperately to be democratic in decision-making,” he says. “Earnest” is Boon’s recollection. But, he adds, it facilitated “Spaces for a whole range of bands to play in.” The Fall were early beneficiaries, whilst two bands that would go on to record for New Hormones – Dislocation Dance and Gods Gift – were MMC regulars.
Dislocation Dance formed in August 1978 after singer/guitarist Ian Runacres, recently arrived from Wolverhampton, spied bassist Paul Emmerson’s ‘musicians wanted’ ad in Virgin records. Emmerson’s influences piqued the newcomer’s interest: “I wish I could remember the list,” says Runacres. “It wouldn’t surprise me if it contained Pere Ubu, Brothers Johnson, Bert Bacharach, the Clash and Vaughan Williams, exactly the sort of cross genre I embraced.”
With an initial core of Emmerson, Runacres and vocalist Kathryn Way, the band quickly attracted local attention. However, they turned down the opportunity to sign for Factory when approached after a 1979 gig at Wilson and Erasmus’s Factory Club. Emmerson recalls getting “Bad vibes after Alan Erasmus asked if Kath ‘was available’. Also they seemed a bit too cool for their own good.” “They were probably all spliffing,” reckons Richard Boon. “Paul would have a hard line on that.”
Instead, the band released debut EP, Perfectly in Control (ORG 7) jointly on its own label, Delicate Issues, and on New Hormones (ORG 7). “Hopelessly derivative of Ubu and Scritti” is Emmerson’s verdict today. With its existing accounts with pressing plants and printers, New Hormones was “just a conduit into not having to have any money upfront, so, if they sold the records then they paid the bills,” says Boon of the joint-release arrangement. Dislocation Dance thereafter put Delicate Issues on the backburner and became New Hormones’ band-most-likely-to.
After the ‘conceit’ of the Tiller Boys had outlived its usefulness, Eric Random carried on recording for New Hormones as a solo artist. In August 1980, his debut EP, That’s What I Like About Me (ORG 8), was made single of the week by the NME despite clocking in at more than 30 minutes for the three tracks, two of which were produced by Cabaret Voltaire.
“I was still in the same sort of frame of mind as with Tiller Boys,” says Random. “Still quite an aggressive physical sound, but using a lot of repetition. I’d started using drum machines by then, things like that, very basic synthesizers as well. Usually I would just start by making a backing tape, which could be anything – like mixing in TV adverts – just to create a moving texture. And then I’d just improvise over it.” Some people preferred listening to the results at the wrong speed.
“It was said that Eric’s personal energy field caused electrical and electronic equipment to malfunction, he had trouble even watching TV,” comments Cath Carroll, of City Fun fanzine (see sidebar: Fun with the Crones). “Eric was very cool,” says her City Fun partner, Liz Naylor. “He used to walk around with a python round his neck,” recalls Fraser Reich. “Just a very far out guy.”
Reich, together with his fellow Diagram Brothers, joined the New Hormones team in 1981. The group, postgraduate science students Reich (vox/guitar) and Lawrence Fitzgerald (guitar/vox), undergrad Jason Pitchers (bass/vox) and his drummer brother Simon (who worked as a chartered structural engineer), had formed from the remnants of student band The Mysteronz.
Pursuing an ultra-democratic approach, musically and lyrically the key elements of the band’s approach were the use of discords and of simple words. “Because we had a diversity of political viewpoints, we decided only ever to state facts,” recalls Jason Pitchers. In essence this meant quirky pieces about everyday life such as Isn’t it funny how neutron bombs work?
Ultra-democracy also extended to adopting the same surname: Diagram Brothers came from a structural engineering term, the Williot-Mohr diagram. “They were early geeks,” laughs Naylor.
The combination of an appearance at a John Peel Roadshow at Manchester University in January 1980 and a demo tape memorably wrapped around a brick secured an early Peel session for the band.
The Diagrams cut a single for Mike Hinc, who ran All Trade Booking, part of the Rough Trade empire. We are All Animals (b/w There is No Shower and I Would Like to Live in Prison) came out on Construct Records in October 1980. “I liked We are All Animals,” explains Boon. “I recall Mike Hinc phoning me up and saying do something else with them, because he was too busy being a booking manager.”
By this time Jason had left the band to return to Bristol, where he formed The Skodas. His replacement was found through the MMC: Andy Diagram, a classically trained musician freshly arrived from the London squat scene. As well as picking up bass duties in Diagram Brothers, Andy started playing trumpet with Dislocation Dance (and
then the Pale Fountains), bringing a new level of professionalism to the bands.
“He was exactly what I was looking for,” recalls Runacres. “Andy has the perfect blend of musicality, individuality and freedom.”
The first Diagram Brothers single for New Hormones was Bricks/Postal Bargains, respectively a tribute to the humble household brick and a tirade against shoddy mail order purchases.
Joining Diagram Brothers at New Hormones in early 1981 were Gods Gift, a different kettle of fish entirely. “Gods Gift were just Goddamn weird,” says Naylor. “They were fronted by this really intense skinny guy, Steve Edwards. And the guitarist [Steve Murphy] was this really big, fat guy.” He was “very, very good” says Boon. “Used to play with his back to the audience all the time.”
“They were devoutly fashion neutral which we always found fascinating,” says Carroll. “They looked like civil servants who’d had their desks stolen.”
For Carroll, Gods Gift were New Hormones’ “Most unsettling and powerful live act, like a very focused Velvets, though they always ended up being compared to The Fall because Steve their singer shouted and had a Manchester accent.”
“Steve Edwards would hold a pint glass and crush it,” explains Naylor. “I remember [him] telling someone off because they were dancing,” says Biting Tongues vocalist Ken ‘Capalula’ Hollings.
The band’s first release for New Hormones was the Gods Gift EP in July 1981. In the label’s catalogue later that year, Boon describes the record as, “Confronting war and religion with uncompromising, compelling noise. And confronting the listener. Frantic minority appeal, loud and extreme…”
“Richard loved Gods Gift. He adored them. I think they were his ideal,” says Random. “One of the great lost bands,” reckons Naylor.
Almost a family
New Hormones was based in an office on the top floor of a large, ramshackle old merchants’ warehouse at 50 Newton Street right in the centre of Manchester (today it houses a backpackers’ hostel).
“A typical day at 50 Newton Street is beyond description,” reckons Boon. “It was an open house to derelicts.” (See sidebar – ‘Open house’).
When they weren’t recording or hanging out at the New Hormones offices, the label’s bands were often on the road together. One live package, I Like Shopping, featured a line-up of Ludus, Dislocation Dance, The Diagram Brothers, Eric Random and the Mudhutters.
“It was almost a family with New Hormones,” says Fitzgerald. “I remember playing bass with Dislocation Dance because Paul couldn’t make a TV [appearance].” When the Diagram Brothers played with the Mudhutters, “They’d be out the front cheering us, and we’d be cheering them. It was all very friendly,” says Reich.
That collaborative spirit extended to the recording studio, where Graham ‘Dids’ Dowdall [Ludus drummer in 1980/81], Diagram Brothers and Dislocation Dance all took their places in Eric Random’s ad hoc backing band, the Bedlamites, for the full-length 1982 LP, Earthbound Ghost Need (the title came from William Burroughs). “I just liked the idea of these people stepping out of their normal way of working, to see how they reacted to it,” explains Random. “It was like having a house band. Except we didn’t have a studio like Berry Gordy,” says Boon.
Another collaboration saw Dids, Dick Harrison and Ian Runacres provide a percussion jam for Northern Lights, a quarterly cassette magazine that appeared four times between April 1981 and February 1982. Northern Lights was the brainchild of Shaun Moores, who produced and distributed the first two editions himself before New Hormones stepped in with an offer of funding and distribution.
“It was the Walkman era. Cassettes were the format of the moment,” recalls Graham Massey.
With its mix of music and interviews, Northern Lights “was the podcast of its day,” reckons Ken Hollings. “Yeah, alright, it was groundbreaking,” chuckles Boon. “Except there was nothing underneath. It didn’t really build any foundations.”
The New Hormones cassette series, released in batches of 500 in 1981, was also aimed at the new Walkman generation. There were three releases in all: Pickpocket by Ludus, Radio Sweat by the CP Lee Mystery Guild, and Live it by Biting Tongues. Multimedia was the thing: “You’d get a tape and you’d get a magazine,” says Boon. “So you have the whole joke of Radio Sweat [a parody of commercial independent local radio]: It’s nicely put together. You’ve got Linder’s work, which was a musical work and a visual work put together. Biting Tongues: I’m sure we were supposed to do some text thing but didn’t. It wasn’t just supposed to be the Live it cassette.”
A fourth project, 20 Golden Great Assassinations by Liverpudlian Ambrose Reynolds was slated and then shelved. “That was supposed to come with an assassination calendar,” recalls Boon. “Me and Nathan McGough and Ambrose did a lot of research [at Manchester Library]. It was too big a project really for too few people,” says Boon.
Renamed The World’s Greatest Hits, the musical part of the project was given the catalogue number ORG 23. “Rough Trade were a bit dubious about the subject matter (people being murdered set to music), so Uncle Geoff at RT pulled the plug, then Richard ran out of money, and so it goes,” recalls Reynolds. “A few years later I released the mini LP on Zulu [the label he shared with fellow Pink Industry member, Jayne Casey].”
By 1982, as Reynolds suggests, New Hormones’ financial difficulties were becoming more extreme. Yet, despite (or perhaps because of) these problems, the label reached its creative high water mark at this time, releasing a string of great records: Eric Random and the Bedlamites’ Earthbound Ghost Need, the Diagram Brothers’ Discordo EP, Ludus’s The Seduction and the fiercely experimental Danger Came Smiling, the punk classic, Discipline, by Gods Gift and two sublime pop records by Dislocation Dance: Rosemary (b/w Shake) and the Double-A side, “You’ll never, never know”/You can tell’. Compare Factory’s output over the same period and New Hormones wins hands down.
The label was also beginning to improve its promotion and distribution by this stage, securing licensing deals for Ludus in Italy (the Riding the Rag compilation LP) and Dislocation Dance in the Benelux countries (the single Rosemary). The latter, a proto-Housemartins kitchen sink vignette with a samba beat, became New Hormones biggest seller since Spiral Scratch, reaching the top 20 in the Netherlands, and prompting an appearance sitting on bales of hay on the Dutch equivalent of Top of the Pops.
The relative success of Rosemary followed hot on the heels of a successful US East Coast tour to promote the first full-length Dislocation Dance album, Music Music Music. Released in October 1981, the Stuart James-produced LP showed off the group’s mastery of a range of styles, from 1940s swing to brown rice funk to bubblegum pop.
Despite winning over both critics and audiences, the US tour “didn’t actually help sell many more records,” notes Boon. It also inadvertently led to Pete Wright’s departure from the New Hormones organization. “I met someone when the band was in NYC and then got an offer of a (paying) job,” recalls Wright. “Things were getting pretty tight back in Manchester by that time,” he notes.
“I thought, ‘we’re fucked’,” recalls Runacres. “Pete leaving probably had a bigger impact than the lack of New Hormones financing. Nothing is more important than an effective manager.”
Shortly after this blow, New Hormones was dealt another when Diagram Brothers decided to call it a day. The band had just released what would turn out to be its swansong, the Discordo EP. For this record, The Diagrams added synth and trumpet to their sonic palette (both played by Andy Diagram) and mixed complex vocal harmonies with their trademark discords, in a bizarre twist on Gilbert & Sullivan. It all sounds remarkably fresh today; at the time it just seemed strange.
Reich recalls how the split came about: “We’d come to the end of our time at college. I had this sense of destiny: I had to get a job. I was about to get married.” Simon Pitchers had also had enough: “Things weren’t going brilliantly and you don’t want things to go sour. It’s a bit like doing a set that’s too long – best to leave everybody on a high note rather than a low note.”
New Hormones’ monetary difficulties certainly played a part in the decision to call it a day. “They couldn’t afford to release anything more really,” says Fitzgerald.
Aside from Spiral Scratch and Rosemary, Ludus’s The Seduction was the biggest-selling record New Hormones put out. Given the record company’s predicament by late 1982, a more business-savvy label boss might have despaired at the anti-commercialism of the group’s next LP, Danger Came Smiling. “Reichian therapy. Screaming birthing therapy!! You have to love them for that, don’t you? You have to love Richard for putting it out,” chuckles Liz Naylor. Today, Boon says it is his favourite New Hormones release. “Richard had a contrariness about him that allowed to him see things like Danger Came Smiling as a valid business move where others would have simply viewed such a release as indulgence,” believes Carroll. “He enjoyed Art and allowed it to resonate. He really seemed to enjoy its meaning, not just its effect or symbolism.”
After further singles from Gods Gift and Dislocation Dance (by now original vocalist Kathryn Way had rejoined, after three years at college), the final New Hormones release was Cruisin’ for Santa, a Christmas 1982 CND benefit single by CP Lee’s band Alberto y Lost Trios Paranoias (ORG 25).
“We’d talked to CND and it was supposed to be a fundraiser: it just didn’t sell, so it didn’t raise any money in the end,” recalls Boon.
Further releases were planned for 1983, including Biting Tongues’ Libreville LP (ORG 26), and a new Dislocation Dance single, Remind me (ORG 27), before Boon’s parlous financial status intervened. “My bank manager called me and said ‘I’ve been having a word with Richard – he had the same bank manager as me – I think you ought to lend him some money’,” recalls CP Lee. “I was like, ‘well, I’m not going to’, which was sad in a way because maybe that was the end of New Hormones, I don’t know. He wanted five grand. In those days that was a lot of dead presidents.”
With New Hormones on the verge of collapse, Boon was offered the chance to sign a new band fronted by Linder’s best friend: “Morrissey came in saying ‘right, we’ve recorded Hand in Glove and we’ve got this live track from the fashion show, could I help’? And I said ‘no, because you need more resources than I could possibly, possibly offer. You need to talk to Simon Edwards at Rough Trade Distribution’.” Boon’s referral led directly to The Smiths signing with Rough Trade.
Shortly after, the New Hormones chief received his own offer from the London label. “I couldn’t sustain Dislocation Dance anymore and I’d done some demos and I took them to Geoff [Travis] and he rang me and said, ‘oh, this is interesting, I want to talk to them. And I want to talk to you’.” Travis asked Boon if he would be willing to deputize for him for three months while he was in the US. Boon agreed.
When he moved down to London (early summer 1983), Boon carried on renting the office at 50 Newton Street, just in case. “I paid two months ahead. Liz and I packed up all the press releases, all this stuff – boxes, labelled them. I told [Leslie] Fink [the landlord], we were packing up, we’d be going in two months, but I paid – He threw everything in a skip! Bastard!”
Based in Acton, there was little Boon could do to salvage the remnants of his record company – original Linder artwork, master tapes and all. “Pete Shelley rescued some things,” he says, “One being a multi-track of The Worst, which is now in the hands of Tony Barber, Peter’s bass player. Tony’s going to, hopefully, bake it, see if there’s anything salvageable. They were great lads, The Worst: They were crap but they were brilliant.”
Boon says his “big regret is not putting out Clamour Club by Gods Gift. It was just great punk rock.”
He would also “Have loved to do something with Basil from Yargo. He walked into the office one day and said, ‘I want to be produced by Thom Bell’ Fantastic – he had ambition. With the last 90 quid of New Hormones’ money I stuck him in a four-track.”
“This music should be heard”
“Richard Boon was the Malcom McLaren of the North: Richard’s vision ‘became’ the music, such was his influence,” reckons Ian Runacres. “He used to drop hints a lot,” the Dislocation Dance frontman explains. “He gave me a copy of Nick Drake’s Pink Moon as a birthday gift. The message, which I didn’t really pick up, was ‘That’s where you should be going’ – You should be a cross between Nick Drake and Burt Bacharach.”
“Richard was really a vital glue conceptually for everybody. I think from him came that sense of it’s a creative house and I support you in your creative stuff,” says Reich. “[He] was so clearly committed to the idea of the creative part of it that actually money hardly got discussed at all.”
“Richard detested business. It wasn’t him really. He was more into the creative side,” agrees Random.
Why then, given the undoubted creativity of Boon and his bands, has New Hormones left barely a trace in the collective consciousness?
Perhaps it’s a question of economics: whereas Factory, FAST, Postcard and Rough Trade all had chart acts, New Hormones artists didn’t sell, either whilst with the label, or after. Even Dislocation Dance, listed by Smash Hits as one of the bands to watch in 1983 (alongside Wham!), never broke through following their transfer to Rough Trade, their eclecticism proving too difficult to market.
“They could have been a big pop band. They were good songwriters,” believes Random.
“Our ideas were bigger than our budgets. Partly a product of our influences,” says Runacres. “I wanted to do plausible American cop show themes, Savannah Band swing and bubble gum parodies. It would have been easier to have just been a guitar band.”
“Maybe New Hormones as a label was a little bit too diverse,” suggests Stuart James. “The bands were diverse. Even though a lot of the bands shared the same producer, there was no signature sound necessarily. The artwork didn’t have a unified style. Even though they were more of a family, it wasn’t perceived as that.
“New Hormones didn’t have the mouthpiece that Factory had,” he adds. “There wasn’t a PR department to the label. It was very much hearsay. It was enough to put the records out.”
But, in the end, it is those records that should determine a label’s legacy. Listening again to the New Hormones back catalogue, the individualism of its output is incredibly refreshing. Play Dislocation Dance’s You’ll never, never know next to Mistresspiece by Ludus: two more divergent, yet equally entertaining takes on feminism you could hardly imagine.
Has New Hormones had any influence? “Hardly any, apart from its attitude,” reckons Boon. “If there was an ethos,” he says, “it was just that this music should be heard. And these players should be paid attention, because they have, hopefully, something to say, or they are making an interesting racket. There wasn’t an overarching ideology. I didn’t want to be Ahmet Ertegün or anything like that.”
“If you look at what New Hormones didn’t put out [The Fall, The Smiths, etc] Richard’s very generous with his advice, or his enabling of other people to do things. And subsequently has been a lot less successful than anybody else,” reflects Naylor. “He really was an important person in Manchester’s music history.”
“I’m not bitter – about anything actually,” says Boon. “It was a great adventure: set out with that map and see where you land.”
COPYRIGHT JUSTIN TOLAND 2007/2008 – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED