Indie Originals: The New Hormones Story

The story of New Hormones records 1977-1983

Archive for February 2008

A New Hormones mix

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Buzzcocks – Boredom
Ludus – Sightseeing
The Tiller Boys – Big Noise from the Jungle
The Decorators – Twilight View
Eric Random  – Fade in
Dislocation Dance – Vendetta (Theme)
The Diagram Brothers – Bricks
Biting Tongues – Denture Beach
Ambrose Reynolds – Holy Mackerel
Ludus – Box
Dislocation Dance – You’ll never, never know
CP Lee Mystery Guild – Gabble natter chatter
The Diagram Brothers – Fondue Soiree
Eric Random meets The Bedlamites – Bolero (Version)
Ludus – Mistresspiece
Gods Gift – Soldiers
Dislocation Dance – Rosemary
Eric Random meets The Bedlamites – Eastern Promise
Ludus – I stabbed at the sheep
Dislocation Dance – Remind me.

In their own words

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Richard Boon: “Part of my, and that punk rationale, was: make things happen. Make the place that you happen to be living a place that you want to be living in”

Richard Boon: “We put out a fanzine that says fanzines can be anything you want”

Richard Boon: “It was play. Play is very important because it’s transgressive and transformative”

Eric Random (The Tiller Boys): “I watched people in the audience throw up”

Eric Random: “I was still in the same sort of frame of mind as with Tiller Boys: Still quite an aggressive physical sound, but using a lot of repetition”

Cath Carroll: “It was said that Eric’s personal energy field caused electrical and electronic equipment to malfunction, he had trouble even watching TV”

Ian Runacres: “Andy (Diagram) has the perfect blend of musicality, individuality and freedom”

Cath Carroll: “(Gods Gift) looked like civil servants who’d had their desks stolen”

Liz Naylor (on Gods Gift): “One of the great lost bands”

Richard Boon: “A typical day at 50 Newton Street is beyond description. It was an open house to derelicts”

Liz Naylor: “Alan Wise is one of the most bizarre people you’ll ever, ever encounter”

Ian Runacres: “In those days Morrissey was a bit like Zelig”

Lawrence Fitzgerald (Diagram Brothers): “It was almost a family with New Hormones”

Simon Pitchers (Diagram Brothers): “Things weren’t going brilliantly and you don’t want things to go sour, I think. 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”

Cath Carroll: “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. He enjoyed Art and allowed it to resonate. He really seemed to enjoy its meaning, not just its effect or symbolism”

CP Lee: “It was probably just hopeless speed paranoia. At the time it all seemed terribly significant”

Liz Naylor: “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. He really was an important person in Manchester’s music history”

Richard Boon: “I would 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”

Fraser Reich (Diagram Brothers): “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. Richard was so clearly committed to the idea of the creative part of it that actually money hardly got discussed at all”

Richard Boon: “People helped each other. And if someone had a hit: ‘good for them’.”

Liz Naylor: “People were very respectful of Richard and the Buzzcocks, but as a label it never quite captured people’s imagination”

Dids Dowdall (Ludus): “New Hormones actually had better bands than Factory”

Nathan McGough: “New Hormones was important because it was the first independent in Manchester if not the UK. But it hasn’t left the same footprint on Manchester [as Factory]”

Graham Massey: “There was no great vision with Factory, which is odd because Factory has this reputation of being a visionary label”

Malcolm Garrett: “The personae of the bands at Factory were certainly subservient to the overarching persona of the label itself, with the caveat that Joy Division and New Order really were the persona of the label embodied in vinyl, so their visualisation was indistinguishable from Factory itself”

Ian Runacres: “If some of the New Hormones bands had been on Factory and vice versa the world would have been a different place. In some ways better”

CP Lee: “One tends to think of all the Factory bands being quite the same… (New Hormones) was definitely a whole mess of individuals, which possibly led to its eventual demise”

Ian Runacres: “I’m really proud to have been signed to New Hormones, but I sometimes wish I’d have signed with Factory when I had the bloody chance”

Graham Massey: “New Hormones was more of a family thing than Factory”

Stuart James: “Maybe New Hormones as a label was a little bit too diverse. 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”

Richard Boon: “If there was an ethos 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. I like interesting rackets. There wasn’t an overarching ideology. I didn’t want to be Ahmet Ertegün or anything like that”

Ian Runacres: “New Hormones was a better label than Factory: of that I have no doubt. Not just because of Richard Boon’s extraordinary vision – he isn’t just a music ‘fan’ in the way that Tony Wilson was, nowt wrong with being a fan, of course, but because Richard’s vision ‘became’ the music – such was his influence. He was the Malcom McLaren of the North. A truly brilliant man – broke, but brilliant. Richard wasn’t the sort of individual who would be taken in by the drug-fuelled drivel of Salford scallies. He loved the artform and he loved individuals. My conclusion: Eric Random – more important than Fat Boy Slim. Diagram Brothers – more important than Madness. Ludus – more important than, well Morrisey, I suppose. As for Dislocation Dance, well I think we could have been more important than New Order”

Richard Boon: “I’m not bitter – about anything actually. It was a great adventure: set out with that map and see where you land”

Written by justintoland

February 17, 2008 at 9:42 pm

New Hormones sleeve and label imagery

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Written by justintoland

February 17, 2008 at 8:44 pm

Posted in Images

Wagging Tongues: an interview with Biting Tongues

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On February 23, 2007 Biting Tongues played live at Islington Mill Studios in Salford, their first show in Manchester for two decades. I met up with Graham Massey, Howard Walmsley, Ken Hollings, Colin Seddon and Eddie Sherwood at the venue earlier the same day to discover more about the band’s past and what it was like to play together again.

JT: How did Biting Tongues start?

HW: I’d begun experimenting with film. I was already a musician. I’d made a short film with a friend, Richard Roberts, and we went to a gig at the Russell Club one night and ‘thought this is terrible, we can do better than this’. It was a punk period [band], Singing Bananas, someone like that, and we said, let’s show the film and we’ll put a band together to play a live soundtrack. And I more or less introduced people to each other on stage.

GM: To provide a bit of history to that: there were a couple of performances when I wasn’t in the band, and each performance was almost a different set of people. Until the third performance.

HW: And then the film elements kind of got left behind after a while. We still used slides and film loops and then the first proper version of [Biting Tongues] would be the band that played the ICA I s’pose.

KH: No, it would be the Beach Club.

HW: Yes. Which is where New Hormones comes in.

KH: That was the first time that particular five-piece performed. I was living in London so I was commuting up to do performances [and] that was the first time that particular five-piece got together and we worked phenomenally well.

JT: Do you remember the precise date?

GM: I’ve got the flyer [the flyer is dated June 3, 1980]

HW: There was a lot of little envelopes with cassettes flying up and down [between London and Manchester] with ideas for tunes. Ken would send ideas for texts and presentation.

KH: Quite a lot of the early shows, a lot of it was improvised around loose structures or cues set up. I knew Howard from before Biting Tongues, I knew he was working on films and that was the element that I was interested in. And then Graham knew Colin knew Eddie. But what was really interesting was the five of us didn’t know each other as a five – we hadn’t got together socially.

HW: At that time we’d put quite a lot of work into a particular piece and then crash it. We just didn’t do the same things twice. So the evolution of what we were doing, which was always at the edge of our ability – we were playing things that we couldn’t play, that were impossible to play – kept it very fresh and very challenging.

KH: Going back to your criticism of the post-punk stuff, I remember you saying that Punk was just a bit too ‘off the shelf’, a bit too much of a mould or matrix that you could just fit stuff into, and we wanted to completely get rid of all that and just bring elements together and see what would happen on stage. And now I look back the innocence and arrogance and stupidity of some of our decisions like never playing the same numbers twice. When we started recording the first album it was all done in one take – all new material, hardly rehearsed. I was barely on nodding terms with Graham, we’d played like one gig together, and I seem to remember the first thing Graham saying to me, ‘you mind not doing that’, because I was fiddling around with his amplifier in the studio, because I didn’t really have anything else to do.

HW: We didn’t sell that at the time. We’ve only just realised what that actually meant. That opportunity – someone’s paying for you to go in a recording studio – and we’re sort of, ‘let’s just see’. We never really traded on that. So people listening to it didn’t really know what they were listening to.

GM: It was a bit more of a slash’n’burn culture though, wasn’t it? You didn’t expect things to last. Things barely lasted months: they just went (makes noise like a fly) and that was the culture back then a little bit more than it is now.

KH: I think slash’n’burn is a good image – there was a sense of ‘no, you don’t want to do this, you don’t want to do that’.

GM: Coz bands nowadays they start with a career plan and then they get signed before they’ve even got four tunes.

JT: Plus you had the multimedia aspect from the start, which is unusual.

HW: The interesting thing about that is that it really was old school. Until the digital age there was never really an easy way of putting that together.

GM: You were lucky to have a video player [in those days].

KH: It was really labour intensive. We were mostly using 16 mil, thanks to Howard. And the great thing about slides is they were 35 mil, so you’d get quite a good projected spread onto the stage.

GM: Ilford culture.

HW: That first film we used every single frame what we bought – the positive, the negative, the lead offs – and a lot of it, it was black and white, we coloured it in with felt-tip pens.

GM: All that stuff that’s so easy to do with computers now. Even to do just a slide image used to involve weird colouring in and superimposition.

HW: And actually physically cutting up negatives… weird colouring in. Letraset… And now that’s half an hour on Photoshop for some bright kid.

KH: We used to get some text on acetate and cut them into the images as well.

GM: We used to get through a lot of Letraset, didn’t we?

KH: And that’s where “First Use All the Gs” comes from – coz they were always the first ones to go, weren’t they, on your Letraset. Small footnote, the film was called Biting Tongues and the band took the name from the film.

HW: Because it was a performance.

JT: Who would you say you were influenced by at that time?

HW: The punk reference earlier is interesting, because punk referenced rock and I think we actively fought against rock influence. Sun Ra, Miles Davis.

KH: For me a lot of Parliament, Funkadelic and early George Clinton. And at the time you were laughed at, because they were on Casablanca they were disco. And you weren’t supposed to listen to disco. That interest in Clinton didn’t really come until the early 80s.

HW: Some of the Germans – Can, Faust.

KH: Coz we kind of grew up with Krautrock.

JT: Postpunk breaking out of punk’s three minute ramalama.

HW: They may have been punk but they were still straight.

KH: I always get disappointed by retrospectives of punk, because they never mention the funk element, listening to Krautrock; bands like Suicide, they showed what could be done; bands like This Heat: I remember being very struck by what they were doing back in the day.

GM: The band me and Colin had before Biting Tongues that was running a little bit parallel, we used to do Chrome cover versions. There was all that American slant on post-punk culture that came into it. The things that we had in common when we met were things like the Sun Ra.

KH: Impulse tried to reissue Sun Ra’s back catalogue and then they ran out of money or they decided just to scrap the whole project.

GM: So Manchester was flooded with…

KH: That’s never really been given its full credit – all those punched out Impulse reissues that you could get for like 75p. Massive influence. And that was one of the things, we all said, ‘oh, you know Nubians from Plutonium’.

GM: That was a badge. That was a sparking point. Other things that flooded the market at the time were ECM albums. I know me and Colin had a lot of those in common. I wouldn’t say it was an influence, but there was a lot of jazz connections between what we were doing, so jazz was in the pot.

HW: But jazz as in the edge – Bitches Brew, Eric Dolphy.

GM: But it certainly wasn’t just punk. There was a punk attitude.

HW: What punk did was for that time was open the doors to a lot of new, smaller gigs that made things possible.

KH: That whole DIY ethos. I mean up till then, 101 Pop Culture History, but I mean this notion that you either had to have a degree in music or banks and banks of equipment to do music. That was great – all that was cleared away. I think there was an element, the notion of the five of us just going into a studio and recording an album side. Here it is, just go and do it.

GM: Also one of the things we had in common is that we came from a making tapes culture. We messed around with tape recordings. I always see it as two factions – they were the older ones from my perspective. They had all these recordings that were just like ours, where they were messing round with tapes, and cutting up tapes and just generally having a social occasion round the tape recorder and then seeing what you could do with cutting it up. And we did that as well. It was one of the things we had in common and yeah, we’re working in a collage type way.

HW: We never played a song.

GM: No. And that collage culture was around in Zappa and Beefheart and that kind of thing so that was a common ground. Even though we weren’t obsessed with Zappa and Beefheart and that, we knew the common language of collaged record making. And Faust Tapes.

KH: Certainly Faust Tapes again were a cheap…

GM: 49 pence records

KH: Everywhere. And the seeds that those things sowed. And that notion that you could take almost like a social event and re-edit it and re-cut it. Also, and we haven’t even mentioned it, the importance of having tapes running on stage. We called them backing tapes but they weren’t in any established sense of the word, they would be bits of news broadcasts, TV station chopped, things running backwards.

GM: It was there as a texture, it wasn’t there as any kind of cueing system. It was just random, flowy. That had come from bands like Can [who] used to do that with the shortwave radio. It was floating around in the culture to do that, it wasn’t new to do that, but we did it, perhaps turned up the dial on it a bit more than most bands. And those occasions when we got together to make them were equally part of the ritual of what we did. Make the films, make the tapes, then make music. And the text is nothing to do with song writing.

KH: Not at all.

GM: It’s much more from that same idea of, it’s another layer in the collage, it’s got its own place in the overall picture, but it isn’t song writing.

KH: It was the perfect opportunity for cutting text in a venue and a format that would allow the text to interact with everything else. And certainly when it came to the recording, some of the recordings you’d get these really interesting moments where you can’t actually tell whether it was the text being cut up or some random elements being introduced off the tape. Those moments were really great.

GM: And that is almost very common these days in Computer World, when all media lives in one box, but that then it was more out on a limb.

HW: And the fact that it had to be brought together brought its own quality.

JT: Because you were trying to bring all these different elements together and each show had a different set, I guess you weren’t regularly performing live because it was too much work in a sense, you had to prepare everything.

GM: But it was a lot easier to get gigs because in that post-punk culture of do-it-yourself and collectives – there was this Manchester Musicians’ Collective thing going on where you’d go to a meeting once a month and they’d hand out, there’d be a rota of people doing concerts, so we had a regular flow of gigs, but they were mostly in Manchester. We didn’t set out to conquer the world, we were happy to do Manchester gigs, and Ken had a similar connection in London so Ken would be getting us London gigs to do with his scene in London, so we had a sort of Manchester-London axis. We rarely played outside that.

KH: Very rarely.

JT: When you did your first recordings how did you go about choosing what to put on record?

GM: It was whatever we’d rehearsed that week, wasn’t it?

HW: Side two of ‘Don’t Heal’, which was the first thing we recorded, which was for New Hormones. They put us in touch with Stuart [James].

GM: He was a Radio Piccadilly producer.

HW: He produced Mark Radcliffe’s show.

JT: Transmission.

HW: And working towards the recording of that stuff, we did something which is the best thing we do, we started from scratch there. And the principle of that we had actually done before when we did that thing with Bob Jones at the Film & Video Workshop. Bob was a video maker, a film director, and he said, oh I’ll do some film of you. So in a room similar to this [upstairs room at Islington Mill Studios, Salford], he was just sitting there with a camera, and we played for, I don’t know how long, three-quarters of an hour or something. So there’d been a bit of a precedent.

KH: God, I’d forgotten about the Noh Luck Ritual! N-o-H as in Japanese theatre. It’s the kind of thing you wake up screaming over 20 years later.

HW: There’s not really a story [with ‘Don’t Heal’, side two] because it’s simple: it was played live in the studio. I think there was possibly bits of overdubbing or bits of post-production, but essentially the chassis went down in the duration at the time.

JT: Where was it recorded?

GM: It was a place called Drone Studios in Chorlton. The fashion for studios then was to have a very dead sound, so it was a padded room in a cellar, padded with denim, so it was actually like being in someone’s jeans.

KH: A Status Quo fan convention [laughs].

HW: I think it was 8-track.

KH: It was 8-track. You know we even left in stuff like the vocal fluffs. It just stayed in.

GM: Well we couldn’t afford. In some ways it was like, it’s four hours and that’s it, bang! Because that was the budget. It was do or die. It wasn’t take 3 and take 4 or anything like that.

KH: I just remember having this music stand with sheets of A4 paper and index cards with different treated texts on them. And I was just picking them up as we were going along and dropping them in. And there is some kind of odd fragmented narrative through the whole session.

GM: So that’s side two and then side one happened about a year later or something.

HW: We realised that New Hormones were never going to get it off the ground.

GM: I think that’s the first time they ran out of money.

HW: So we had what in our view and in actual fact was a very fresh recording, that from our point of view that needed to be out there. Nothing was happening, we were starting to get more exposure, more people were starting to see us and someone had heard a track on a tape and somehow found us and said I’ve heard this have you got any more like that. What was his name? Peter Kent! He was essentially from Warner’s, from Beggars Banquet, Situation Two. We said, well we’ve recorded it for this other record company but it’s sat on the shelf. And he said how about if I buy that off them and we’ll pay for you to do some more and then there’ll be an album and everything will be great and away you go. So the second side we recorded [side one of the LP] was a slightly fancier affair in a 24-track studio.

KH: I think we actually had two days.

[Colin arrives]

KH: It made a big difference to us to have people like Richard [Boon] and Peter [Wright – the guys who ran New Hormones records] come to us and say, that was amazing, that was really exciting, come and do something. And I think up until then, it had been well this is a really interesting experiment that you are doing. And that was the first time anyone had said, no, this is really vital, come into the studio, we’ll do it for you.

JT: Was that just after the Beach Club show, or later?

KH: That was immediate; in fact it was practically while the audience was still leaving the Beach Club. I just remember, I think it was Peter, coming up.

HW: At that time, we were friends, it was all amicable. I now know, years later, that look in people’s eyes where nothing’s gonna happen. I didn’t then. Oh, isn’t the album coming out yet? Oh, soon, soon. And the rate we were working, it was becoming less and less vital. Although we really liked it as a piece. So when we got the opportunity to release it somewhere else – either put it out or sell it please. And to their credit, because they appreciated what the music was about, they say ‘yeah, okay’. I’m sure they did all right financially out of it as well.

GM: Then the next thing was ‘Live It’, wasn’t it? Which [New Hormones] did get to [release]. It was a cassette, so it wasn’t hard to get together.

KH: But it also put us into a way of working which we hadn’t done before.

[Eddie arrives]

Which was working in an eight-track studio, using a small studio, but using all of it. Spending our time layering tapes into the mix. Some of it was performed live. I think even for Live It, three of the tracks were performed live straight to the master tape.

GM: I think it was all two-track because the machine didn’t work.

KH: No, some of it was mixed…

Colin: It was all mixed at the time as we played.

KH: One session was done [like that]: “Denture Beach” and “42” and “43”.

GM: It was done at Roger Salmon’s [studio].

Colin: That’s right.

KH: But “Reflector” and the others…

Colin: It was from two sessions.

KH: And it was Stuart James that did the straight to two-track session. And then I think we kind of [produced] the other tracks.

JT: Why did you have the two sessions?

GM: Again it was kind of like, here’s a bit of money, oh we’ve got four tracks. Here’s another bit of money, oh we’ve got two tracks. Here’s another bit of money. It’s a product. It was never sort of, here’s the album: this is the concept of the album. [It was] oh, we’ve got some money to do some recordings, oh we’ve got a collection of recordings, that way of doing it.

HW: The ones that went straight to tape are for me the most fresh, right recordings.

JT: Why did it come out on cassette?

GM: There was a definite vogue for cassette at the time. I mean it was cheap to manufacture, but there was a culture of cassettes.

Colin: Major labels were doing it as well.

GM: It was the Walkman era. Cassettes were the format of the moment, so to speak.

Colin: The Walkman was a really big thing when it came out.

GM: It was such a big deal.

JT: And only 500 copies of ‘Live It’ were issued originally?

GM: Was it?

HW: No idea. Sounds right.

JT: What about the packaging – ‘Radio Sweat’ and ‘Pickpocket’ [the other cassettes released by New Hormones in the same series in 1981] came in quite fancy cases, with stickers?

GM: I don’t remember a lot of the other ones. I remember they had a magazine on cassette, ‘Northern Lights’. We did some stuff for that. It would be things like – on one there’s an interview with Ian Curtis in a pub that you can barely hear, some percussion improvisations actually by one of the guys that’s in the support band tonight, Richard [Dick Harrison of Spaceheads and former drummer with Mudhutters and Dislocation Dance]. And they intended to release one a month, like an audio magazine, to go along with this cassette mania that was going on.
They were just running with that idea at the time. It was also because the magazine culture in Manchester at the time was pretty thin… Considering that Manchester had quite a vibrant music scene, nothing was really covering it. And in a way [‘Northern Lights’] was an attempt to redress that.

KH: The other advantage of a cassette release was, you could do it in small batches and kind of tweak the release, which was what happened with ours [‘Live it’]. There was one edition, blue on white cover, and there was only seven tracks. And I don’t think the sound quality was that great. I remember being a bit disappointed by it. And then it was reissued, white on blue and we added an extra track on side one, which was a live recording we’d done at Manchester Poly.

JT: The thing with ‘Northern Lights’ is nowadays you’d probably do it as a podcast.

KH: It was the podcast of its day.

HW: It definitely was. That’s exactly what it was.

JT: And then you were going to release ‘Libreville’ on New Hormones initially.

HW: I can remember the same conversation again, which was, hi guys, we’ve been approached for the material. I think we were more active about trying to push that around, actually. It was a serious thing. We’d put a lot of work into that: we’d had a producer, Roland Beelans, come over from Belgium.

JT: How’d you meet him?

KH: I think he’d heard the first album.

HW: We recorded in a variety of studios. We had our heads a bit more round how we would record the material. But from the New Hormones point of view, once again well intentioned but the wheels fell off.

JT: Do you think that New Hormones, if they’d had the money could have been a really influential label?

KH: I’d hate to think that it was all down to money: they were an influential label. To go back to what I was saying, just the enthusiasm that allowed us all to focus on what we were doing, it was really useful. And there was an awful lot of energy. I remember when we did the Body Repairs night. New Hormones actually had a night at The Venue – Eric Random and God’s Gift.

JT: What’s happened to God’s Gift, by the way?

KH: I don’t know. I lost track of them after that gig, actually.
But I remember Richard [Boon] saying, because I was shuttling between London and Manchester, rehearsals and gigs, and working on ‘Feverhouse’ with Howard. And Richard said, look if you’re going back to London on Monday morning, drop by the office and we can do some flyers and get them out in Soho. I was, ‘yeah, fine’. And I turned up, quite early in the morning, and Richard hadn’t started them yet, he was still laying them out, and basically, he’d taken an old copy of Search and Destroy and had just cut out these old African tribal marking pictures, and I think there was an eye surgery one as well. And he was still doing all this Letraset. But done really quickly, really efficiently – taking an A4 sheet and putting the flyer on it, putting it through the Xerox machine and guillotining it. And I think I was only in the office for 20 minutes and by the time he had finished I had a thick wad of flyers. In fact, the opening lines to “Reflector” were inspired by the flyer, the ‘filed down teeth’. So there was a lot of energy as well.

HW: In answer to your question about money, [Richard Boon was] management for Buzzcocks and Buzzcocks had been a very successful mainstream pop act. One of the first films I ever worked on, again with director Bob Jones, was working on a Buzzcocks promo. That’s how I got to know Richard more closely than before. They used that kind of core momentum and bank balance to begin the experiment. But then Buzzcocks starting crumbling, they weren’t selling quite as much, didn’t have their deal renewed, etc, etc.

KH: I remember evenings spent in the New Hormones house, which was five minutes walk from where Howard lived.

GM: And about 100 yards from where Tony Wilson lived!

KH: The first time I met Tony Wilson he was sitting on the floor in the front room showing someone out of Dislocation Dance how to solve the Rubik’s Cube. That was my introduction to him.

GM: Most of the Manchester music scene was in literally one square mile of Didsbury at one point.

JT: So they all lived there to be close to the Factory office?

HW: And then the floor fell in on the house and they had to move out.

JT: What?

HW: The floor eventually fell in on the house.

KH: It was the weight of all the vintage magazines and paperbacks.

HW: Unissued recordings

KH: And old copies of Jackie annual from about 1965. I remember the most amazing collection; it must have been Richard’s.

JT: You later went on to record for Factory – what would you say was the main difference in ethos between the two labels, apart from that Factory had a bit more money?

HW: Factory didn’t know who we were. They had no idea who we were or what we did, but they did it. ‘Feverhouse’ was a bit of a Trojan horse there, because Ikon had put out the film and done some kind of shuffle where Factory put out the album and that establishes us as a Factory band. And then it’s like, ‘well we’ve got this other stuff that we do’. ‘Ok, fine’.

KH: The other advantage was, we were sort of running out of money to finish the actual film of ‘Feverhouse’, I think we wanted to do one last shoot and some post-production, and I think that was actually part of the deal as well, that Tony Wilson would underwrite…

HW: That was part of the deal but it never happened, they never shelled.

KH: Did they not?

HW: Not for that. I remember a conversation with Wilson which was more or less, ‘well, that was then’.

KH: I seem to remember the film was on his coffee table for about nine months, a rough cut of it.

HW: The other thing was, because I had an ongoing relationship with Ikon – I used to work with them sometimes with other bands – I was in and out of Factory’s office quite a bit. And the main issue there was just dealing with the weight of the machine that was dealing with New Order.

JT: It seems to me from the outside that Factory would have these periods where they would have one very successful band and everyone else was a tiny fragment of interest for the label.

HW: Tony [was] well on record as saying he doesn’t like, doesn’t understand, doesn’t want anything to do with anything remotely connected to jazz. We’re very connected (KH: Remotely connected) to jazz. But I think they understood our position and I think they understood the kind of intention of what we were trying to do, which was kind of beyond and outside of the music. And they were interesting – interesting people to deal with.

GM: I don’t think we had one person there who we dealt with. There was no one who was championing us and bringing us in. Which felt odd.

HW: Essentially we were dealing with Tony and Tony was very distracted and didn’t understand us.

GM: The whole catalogue – occasionally you’d go and try and blag records from the office and you’d be like, ‘what’s this?!?’

HW: What are you doing?!

GM: Who’s commissioned this? Like weird Afrobeat things. It was a real mix.

CS: Later when you’d find out how much they used to spend on sleeves and really successful chart successes didn’t make any money because the sleeve art cost so much, you can see why that was. They could say yes to anything; you could see how there was a lack of selection going on.

GM: There was no great vision with Factory, which is odd because Factory has this reputation of being a visionary label.

JT: Peter Saville’s artwork was visionary maybe?

GM: Yeah, and a lot of it is front. I don’t think it was a particularly visionary label: it just did some good things and had a big wake of – no pun intended.

HW: We were very much further down the food chain than New Order or whatever. It seemed even more absurd when – I remember Tony phoning up and saying, he’d just got this bill off Dave Pringle who’d charged himself at some pittance an hour, but it was too much: ‘How can you pay that for a producer? I’m not paying that’. And for that he did the recordings, he did all the post [-production], he came to London, he mastered it with us. ‘Oh that’s alright then, okay fine’. But then you look at the bill for the cover for that, for the sleeve art, it was Trevor Johnson, and it was preposterous, and it took months. The same thing again, of a value system that didn’t actually understand the thing that seemed to be at the centre of it, the music.

GM: [New Hormones was] a much more sort of family record company. They all practically used to live in one house: Richard and Peter and [Ian]. They lived in this massive house and it was more of a family thing than Factory. Tony always had this media connection as well that sort of widened it out. Didn’t feel quite as cottage industry. Two different styles, definitely.

JT: Factory’s legacy in Manchester is pretty clear – Hacienda, Dry Bar, Madchester, etc. New Hormones doesn’t have any visible legacy. What do you think the legacy was?

GM: For me, I think the Beach Club was a very important club. It was an important in changing clubbing in Manchester as the Hacienda. It was earlier, and a bit more…

ES: Dimpier.

GM: Yes, it was dimpier, but it was the first time Manchester focused in that arts way, because it had cinema on and everything as well. It had that feel.

ES: It was more than just a club where you went and got drunk and watched a band.

JT: Which records/songs of your own from that time stand up best?

ES: “Evening State” stands up for me.

HW: “Heart Disease”.

ES: “First Use All the Gs”.

KH: We’ve got a track on a compilation on Soul Jazz called ‘DIY 80s’. And they’ve taken a track from the very first session we did, the one that New Hormones stumped up for, “You can choke like that”. And listening to it again I was really quite surprised at how fresh it sounded.

GM: I like all of [‘Don’t Heal’] – I like the naivety of it, I like the mistakes in it. I love some of the worst stuff on it like “Blue Traces”. Doesn’t work any way you look at it, but I just love the folly of it.

CS: Folly, yeah, folly: there’s a kind of unquestioning thing, I don’t know whether it’s a youth thing, 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. So it became a real self – not self-referential – but mix that with a high level of energy and arrogance.

Well we found later on that other people followed that and we got lumped in with Pigbag and that kind of thing.

GM: Anti-rock.

CS: That sort of post-punk jazz thing. But that were actually a lot of people experimenting with the same sort of ideas but from a different angle.

JT: What about people like Throbbing Gristle? Did you play with them?

GM: No, we were very aware of them. We had a friend that had the 24-hour box set and we did do the 24-hour box set party [laughs].

KH: I do remember we played the old – when it was still the Whiskey-a-go-go, just on the edge of Chinatown, Wardour Street – with 23 Skidoo. And I remember it was a really great night, I really enjoyed the set that we did. Graham had had some food poisoning and had to run off stage at the end to throw up. And I’m trying to put some of his gear together at the end to clear up and Gen and Paula [Orridge] are right at the front of the stage, and Gen is just staring at me, just fixed. And I’m going, I can’t deal with this right now, I really don’t want to talk to him right now, because I’m still vibrating from the set. And the next morning someone from Rough Trade phoned up and said, ‘it was a really great set last night, I really enjoyed it, what happened to you though, Graham raced off the stage’. ‘Oh, Graham was ill and then I was getting sick of Genesis P. Orridge staring at me while I was trying to clear up’. ‘Oh, it was coz he thought you were all absolutely brilliant, but it’s him, he won’t come over and say it’.

ES: There were a few faces in the audience that night.

KH: Richard Strange was there.

ES: I heard, and this is going back a few years, rumour that Debbie Harry and Joe Strummer were in the audience. I might be wrong.

CS: It’s been interesting relearning some of the stuff for the gig.

JT: Are you using the same equipment?

GM: It’s kind of quite faithful.

ES: Same drum kit.

CS: I’ve got completely different gear, but I’ve realised, with the bass sound, if you just turn the treble up full you can do it with any bass guitar.

HW: You can’t not have had the last 20 years, but…

GM: In readdressing it, we’re not trying to modernise it or update it in any way.

CS: We thought we would actually. When we do the ICA gig we thought we’d bring all the different experiences we had had, and electronics, filmmaking and different things we had all done.

GM: Which we could do if we were in a four-week workshop.

CS: If we were devising new material obviously that would come along, but there didn’t seem to be any reason to change the stuff.

HW: There’s enough essence within that material to still engage us enough to just keep fighting with each other.

ES: There’s still the same vibe in the band. We’re all a bit older, bit maybe wiser, but there’s definitely that energy.

GM: It’s not the sort of band you would design on paper, you know what I mean.

CS: The difference 20 years on is it makes me laugh – when you’re in the middle of it it’s just really funny sometimes, but it was incredibly earnest and serious when we did it. You can kind of step outside of it – what is this? This is really funny.

KH: Colin came up with a thing during the rehearsals yesterday when he said it’s almost like I wish I could reach back 23 years and just smack myself for doing this impossible bassline which I’m now having to relearn.

CS: I must have sent a curse back to my former self because it’s such a horrible thing and then I realised that my former self must have sent a curse back to me anyway for saying that, because it got even harder when I said it. Ridiculous.

HW: For me, having played quite a lot of music of different sorts, looking back at this the chemistry and the shear volume, a lot of what I’m doing, it just deteriorates into texture: there’s no question of any kind of lyric or interpretation of music: it’s just about listening to the other elements and the sax kind of melts under the amount of force I have to put into it to make it survive.

CS: It doesn’t use traditional harmony and song structure at all. I think we were aware of that and deliberately avoided it. I’ve learned lots about that since. It’s always really interesting to go back to it and see why it works, because it does work still, even though it ignores all those rules. It’s like choosing a different medium in visual art, you know.

KH: The same with the text. I want to curse my former self for putting two incredibly complicated arrangements of text, where one idea isn’t in any way related to the other: there’s no verse structure, there’s no chorus, there’s nothing – it is an assemblage of text that needs to be memorised 20 years on. But it still works.

GM: For me, coz later on I get involved in music technology and everything, Biting Tongues was such a great grounding that when the sampler came along – this is the perfect instrument. It would have been so the perfect instrument for Biting Tongues.

CS: You’d made loops and stuff out of reel-to-reel and then deliberately broken the erase head on them and used coat hangers and stuff and then technology comes along and makes that possible.

GM: The language of collage music is definitely something that I took into techno and stuff later on. I think I learned ‘most every musical trick I’ve ever used in anything else in Biting Tongues.
It’s just more of a viewpoint on music – seeing music not in terms of harmony and structure. And just seeing it as organised noise, which is the main thing we used to do.

CS: Sound sculpture.

GM: And me personally, I’ve never come out of seeing music that way – I see music as organised noise and this was the best band for organised noise as far as I’m concerned.

CS: You can see that with ‘Recharge’ – sometimes a track comes on at random and you think, is this early 808 State or is this Biting Tongues? But you can’t quite tell, because they were happening at the same time doing the first stuff. You can hear the stepping-stones of the transition.

GM: But it’s that idea that everything can be included so long as you organise it the right way, and very dense textures in music. And Biting Tongues you can just peel back layers and layers and layers and layers and tune into the most minute detail and that can be the most important thing. I love that about Biting Tongues – it’s depth of ways of listening to it. I can listen to it now and still not be bored by it – there’s surprises in it.

JT: Are you going to do any new recordings?

GM: We-ell… We’re recording tonight.

KH: I think the one thing it would be great to do would be to have a great live recording, because Biting Tongues live really was something to behold. I always thought our greatest strength was the live performances. I mean the studio stuff was really interesting and we did push a lot of barriers, but, the vibe, I mean that’s why I don’t have any qualms whatsoever about coming up and doing a show like 20 years [later] because I know what we do together and I know that it’s good, and it’s still good. I don’t have a second thought.

ES: Four years ago [for a gig at the ICA] was the first time for 20 years that we’d all actually met each other. Me and Ken anyway. The first time we actually got together in a rehearsal room, started going through the tunes and that and you came out with it after about half a day: ‘sound like us’, dead chuffed! It’s like nothing else I’ve ever done before or since. Like Graham says, there’s a lot of different layers, a lot of different influences as well: Stanley Clarke and Bird and Charlie Watts. And it’s still got that vibe about it; when we performed at the ICA the buzz was amazing.

GM: It’s energy music above everything else. I mean, you can break it down in an intellectual kind of way, but really it’s very visceral energy music, if you are in a room with it, it makes your blood go faster.

ES: …Maracatu.

CS: Maracatu is a North Eastern Brazilian music and it has got a sort of insistent drive that’s really similar to this.

ES: It’s the only thing I can think of [that’s similar].
…You can’t do it half-heartedly.

GM: It’s total commitment music.

ES: I’m knackered this week, but happily knackered.

GM: And that’s the thing you remember from any of the gigs we used to do – total commitment. That’s a good lesson that we’ve had to readdress.

CS: The thing you ask about is there any new music. It’s all about finding the right context. We’ve all got different lives in different parts of the country and it’s finding a situation where we could all happily give up the things we do and spend weeks or months in a studio and see what comes out.
It’d be really fascinating. And 20 years ago you’d go, okay if somebody throws money at us. But now there’s loads more to consider as to whether we could find time to do something like that. I’d love the luxury of it, it’d be really interesting. Coz there were little hints coming out yesterday, just bits, and it was weird – just that combination of people and instruments, things that would have no place in any other context – I don’t play these kind of basslines in any other musical situation – it only works with this. So, it’d be very interesting to see what we’d come up with.

COPYRIGHT JUSTIN TOLAND 2007/2008 – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Written by justintoland

February 3, 2008 at 1:50 pm

The Return of the Diagram Brothers

with 2 comments

In February 2007, all five Diagram Brothers – Fraser (Reich), Lawrence (Fitzgerald), Simon (Pitchers), Jason (Pitchers) and Andy (Diagram) – met up for the first time in a quarter of a century. I was at the Midland Hotel in Manchester to take notes and ask questions.

FD: Now Justin, we might be a bit unruly, so it’s all right for you to keep us in line.
My name is Fraser Diagram – I am of course the good-looking one. I sang and played second guitar to Lawrence’s first guitar.

LD: Lawrence, and I played second guitar to Fraser’s first guitar. We had half a guitar each.

FD: Lawrence can actually play, that was the point.

JD: I’m Jason Diagram and I used to play bass, don’t know whether it was first or second bass.

SD: I’m Simon Diagram and I’m the fattest!

JT: How did the band form?

JD: I remember how the name came about: it was Williot-Mohr diagram [a structural engineering term] wasn’t it? The concept was we wanted to form a band based on discords.

FD: You guys were playing in the Mysteronz.

LD: I think it was Simon’s idea originally.

FD: You lads were playing in the Mysteronz, but it wasn’t quite what you wanted to be. And I remember you talking to me and saying ‘I’m in this band, but we might want to do something a bit more cutting edge’.

LD: Is that the term I used?

FD: Or something. And then you talked to me about the kind of music you were interested in doing.

JT: Which was?

FD: Well, just a bit more…

JD: It was based on discords.

LD: I definitely liked XTC at that time.

FD: And we arranged to meet.

LD: I can’t remember.

SD: This is one bit I do remember clearly. What it was, we were in the Mysteronz and we recognized that were some occasional really good bits with the Mysteronz mixed with most of the Mysteronz which was not that good really. The idea was to…

LD: Just leave the guitar solos.

[Andy arrives]

AD: Can I sit here?

FD: The head of the table.

AD: It’s quite a grand chair.

JT: We’ve only just started.

JD: We’re on how did the band form?

AD: I wanna hear this bit – how did the band form?

SD: The Mysteronz had a lot of rubbish stuff and the occasional good stuff. The idea was to take the good stuff and then have a very, very strict quality control so we only did good stuff in the new band and no crap. That was the plan.

JT: Did the Mysteronz play live much? Where were you playing?

LD: Mostly round the university – student gigs.

FD: I’ve still got three pristine tapes of Mysteronz by the way if you are interested. Unplayed.

LD: That’ll be the Mysteronz’ “Headcleaner” tape.

FD: It is, Headcleaner.

SD: Headcleaner! Ha, ha, ha, ha.

JT: Unplayed and unplayable probably!

SD: We do the NME or something Battle of the Bands.

JD: Oh yeah.

SD: That was the worst thing I’ve ever done.

LD: I mean just in the same way that football’s fixed, you just got the idea that all the big record companies had just named their place bands, who were going to win.

JT: So who won the competition then?

SD: Somebody rubbish probably. Even rubbisher.

LD: yeah, that’s fair to say – probably a lot rubbisher.

FD: You guys are educated: you can’t use that as a comparative adjective. Rubbisher.

JT: Did you have a following of any kind?

SD: No, not at all.

FD: It was a really eclectic mix, coz each one of you wrote a song, so you had that fantastic hotch-potch that shows that everybody in the band’s got slightly, well quite different, craves.

LD: Different tastes. Who was the guitarist, I can’t even remember his name?

SD: Nick Semmens.

LD: Nick! He was obviously into his rambling guitar solos of indeterminate length.

SD: That’s right, he used to turn his back on the audience, didn’t he. He used to just go into his own little world and play a solo. He did it very well.

LD: [It was] like everything else in the mid-70s – I’m trying to think of some bands.

JD: It was almost Santana-ish, wasn’t it?

LD: But he wasn’t Carlos Santana!

SD: But Lawrence, can you remember we had that song called “I’m a terrible driver” and that was the beginning of discord, because you put all the discords in it. It went [hums riff].

JT: So the Diagram Brothers came from that song.

AD: I’m a terrible driver!

[Lots of laughter]

JT: You mentioned some of the influences – XTC. Anyone else?

LD: I was into a load of crap then. Embarrassing stuff. And David Bowie.

FD: I was massively into Gang of Four and Beefheart.

LD: I was much more melodic.

JT: You were the New Wave man?

LD: I think I was just – I was more into melody.
I liked the way XTC combined melody with discord – that was pretty much my idea. And I think to me our best was when we did that – I like Fondue Soiree. There’s like a melody and then it goes into anarchy.

JD: I was into Jazz-Rock, I liked Stanley Clarke and Brand X.

FD: Oh yeah, you guys loved Brand X.

JD: Bruford, Phil Collins and Percy Jones.

LD: You were into Miles Davis I remember. And reggae.

SD: In terms of being in a rock band it definitely would have been things like Gang of Four.

AD: People say Diagram Brothers and Devo, but there were never any Devo lovers, not really.

LD: The conceptual thing people put together.

SD: They copied us didn’t they?

LD: No.

JD: They were out a couple of years before us, but they did copy (!)

JT: They teleported into the future and came back…
You all had the same name. What was the philosophy of the band? Why did you do that?

LD: Signing on.
[Laughter]
That’s why bands changed their name, wasn’t it?
I think it was originally with us that reason.

FD: I remember when we met – we met in the pub that time, we had a big conceptual meeting in the pub. Was that in The Shambles?

JD: I think it was.

FD: We sat down, very normal, and without even singing a note or playing a note we discussed the conceptual side of it, and how it had to be ultra democratic. That came to be a kind of interesting rod for our backs, the fact that we adhered to that ultra – we agreed that we’d only do certain things in certain ways. And then we all kind of looked at each other and said okay, shall we have a go. And then we agreed to meet up and…

LD: We’d all decided not to do gigs. We’d wasted loads of time and I think everybody agreed it was a waste of time going round tiny little venues, so we decided to put together a tape, didn’t we. And we were really determined to get it played on John Peel, and you came up with all sorts of imaginative ideas. … And at the same time we got that John Peel Roadshow through those friends of yours, Simon.

SD: Eltifits.

LD: At the same time we just had ready our tape, and we’d actually sent it off just a few weeks before to John Peel. And we’d sent it in a brick.
And that was your idea [Simon], to send it in a brick, because they couldn’t possibly mistake a cassette attached to a brick.

JT: Had you written “Bricks” then?

SD: No.

LD: That was on the first Peel session – we must have done.

SD: yeah, you’re right, so we must have written “Bricks”.

FD: [The brick stunt] cost a fortune as well.

LD: It got us noticed, because I think he had actually heard the tape.

JT: Because he’s seen the brick?

LD: I think it was a bit of both, he’d seen the gig. I can’t remember whether they were simultaneously aware of the tape.
We hadn’t played a gig, we weren’t really intending to until…

FD: We had some good material.

LD: Yeah. And when that John Peel [Roadshow] came along we thought, that’s a big enough gig to be worth doing. We just didn’t play somebody’s 21st birthday party. You know, the usual ‘pub in Chorlton’ type thing.

JD: The philosophy though it was three things, wasn’t it: the democracy was one thing, the discords was another thing, and the other thing was, lyrically…

SD: Simple words.

JD: Simple words, but it was also, because we had a diversity of political viewpoints, we decided only ever to state facts. I guess the best example I can think of with that is ‘Neutron Bomb’, because we some of us were ‘no, we need nuclear bombs as a deterrent’ and some of us were, ‘no, we should ban the bomb’. So we just said, this song should state, ‘isn’t it interesting how they work’. Let’s just state the facts.

JT: A very scientific approach.

JD: Everybody was happy, yeah.

JT: So, the first gig was the John Peel Roadshow [and] Simon was telling me about [how] the PA failed completely.

FD: I remember the Solen Bar, playing at the Solen Bar at University. With Eltifits, doing like a 15-minute set, doing three or four songs, very early on, just to trial, because we trialled Postal Bargains and Animals. Do you not remember that?

SD: I can’t remember anything.

FD: I wondered when that defence would come!
[laughter]

JT: You think that might have been before [the John Peel Roadshow]?

FD: I think we had.

LD: What was the Solen Bar again?

FD: The Solen Bar was around the time of the John Peel Roadshow. But I reckon it was a little bit before, a few weeks beforehand. Because Nigel was a big mover and shaker at that time – Nigel Eltifits. I think he put together, because he wanted to showcase his band, Eltifits. He had a good relationship [with us]: ‘Oh, if you want to play a few songs…’. I’m sure we did a little 15-minute thing. The reason I remember it is that when we played I thought ‘this feels good’. And that’s why I think it was the first thing we did.

JD: But Nigel actually organized the John Peel thing. John Peel got in touch with Nigel and he said he would get together a lot of local bands in Manchester.

JT: So, who else was on the bill?

JD: Eltifits were headlining, then there was us.

FD: [Sings] “When they’re losing their grip, just a bunch of bullshitters, when they’re losing their grip.”
Don’t you remember?

JT: Who was that?

FD: That was Eltifits.

JD: Oh yeah. What was it, a single, yeah?

FD: You guys have got no brain cells.

SD: Who was that band who did that song called “I’m your cat”?

JD: Oh yeah, somebody Mooney? Eddie Mooney was the singer, lead singer and bass player. What was the band called.

SD: I can’t remember. That had fantastic lyrics: “I’m your cat and I just crap, in the bath, what a laugh.” And then it went, “You never fucking feed me, you say I’m fucking rude.”

[Lots of laughter]

JT: So when the PA failed were you panicking? Or did you not know?

LD: I just thought it was the usual crap monitors. You know, because all monitors were crap in those days and just fed back, so, it was only afterwards. We were wondering why the sound sounded very, very weird. And the audience obviously looking a bit restless…

SD: Talking amongst themselves; shuffling round and looking at their shoes.

FD: So I think inadvertently we must have come off as real professionals because we just carried on.

JD: In fact, I think you’re right, I think we were complimented for our professionalism even though nobody could hear us at the back and we were all playing different songs!

LD: We were also freaked out because it was a lot of people to play in front of as well.

JT: How many people were there?

LD: We were focused on getting the right note… It just went so quickly as well.

FD: It was three or four hundred people there actually.

LD: It was packed.

JT: Peel could hear what was going on through the monitors?

LD: It was probably a better sound, because stood on stage where we were the monitors were still working. So he probably had certainly a better sound than the audience. I think if he’d been sat out the front he probably wouldn’t have…

JT: And then he came up when you came off stage?

LD: No. His producer rang up.

SD: John Walters. He rang my office.

LD: They’d heard the tape as well.

SD: And they wanted us to come down to Maida Vale to do a session. And that was like a dream come true. Fantastic excitement.

JT: Simon, you were working in that office on Kennedy Street. And two of you were postgraduate students.

FD: Yes, Lawrence and I.

JD: I was doing a maths degree.

JT: So what did the other students say to you when they heard you were going to be doing a session for John Peel?

JD: I don’t actually remember. I was so excited about it I didn’t actually realize what they were saying! I remember when Simon got the call and we all heard and we got together and ‘Wooaaooh!’ It was incredible.

LD: And then we were blasé by the third session.

JT: Were you surprised how quickly things picked up after that?

LD: Well they didn’t, despite John Peel raving about the session, which he did, we were all pleased about that. I mean that’s how we ended up with Mike Hinc.

FD: We were struggling to find somebody to pick it up.

LD: We went down to London and we played the ICA.

JD: That was when we had three bass players on stage. Coz I played one number and we stayed with Simon Edwards, and we had all three doing, I think it was the last number, Animals – all three of us.

SD: Did Simon Edwards play? Simon Edwards is with Billy Bragg and the Blokes. Yeah, it’s his bassist. He comes from Backwell as well [home of the Pitchers brothers].

JD: We went to the same primary school. And we stayed at his flat when we went down to do the ICA session. By that time I had left the band and Andy had joined.
But it was soon after [Andy] had joined, I think it was the first gig, so they let me do a guest stint. And I brought Simon as well: Three basses all playing Animals. Must have sounded dreadful!

JT: Why couldn’t you get anyone interested apart from Mike Hinc?

LD: In Manchester at the time, it was very London-centric, Rough Trade, all the record industry. It wasn’t like it subsequently became with Factory, there was none of that. It was very low key Factory, they didn’t have the prominence that they subsequently had. And Factory weren’t really interested. I think we were too quirky for them.

SD: The whole of the Manchester scene was very morose.

LD: Yeah, raincoats, Trilbies.

SD: Gloomy and miserable. Richard Boon [head of New Hormones, who later signed Diagram Brothers] said that he didn’t think we had anything to say, when he heard our tape. I remember that really well.

LD: Some of our songs were very political and radical, [other bands] were often just posing about it. No one could hear the lyrics anyway. Who knew, really, what they were saying.

FD: You all encouraged me to sing really clearly.

JD: That was another of our gripes with the traditional American rock bands, you couldn’t actually hear the words. Even if you could, you couldn’t understand them. I mean, sky blue, blue sky. So we decided to make them very simple things that…

SD: “I tweet, I bite the bars”

SD and JD: “And ding the bell!”

FD: Don’t scoff because I can recall all the lyrics to every song at an instant.
It’s funny because now I’m a classical singer, I have the score in front of me, I get lazy, but in the band, there was no question you could have lyrics in front of you – had to learn it all. I mean the idea that you’d fluff it, it was terrible, you’d be letting the side down – I had to memorize it all. We worked hard actually.

JT: So, Andy, how did you get involved with these guys?

AD: I can’t remember.

LD: The Manchester Musicians Collective used to meet at the Cyprus Tavern and we met Andy in the Cyprus Tavern.

AD: I was the long-lost brother, they looked under Diagram in the phone book

FD: We did that in a few interviews and some people really fell for that, didn’t they?

AD: I always get asked ‘is Diagram your real name’; I always say yes! They always say that’s very unusual, and I say, ‘it’s a variation of Diagramovski’. An Anglicisation. And they fall for it every time.

LD: It was in the Cyprus Tavern the first time, because you had a skinhead.

FD: A fantastic skinhead. And there was a poster of it, there was you and – Sid, was it Sid? All shaven looking. And there was a poster, something about poor kids on the dole or something. This poster had been made up. Do you remember this? It was some kind of political thing that you were involved in.

You looked scary, like some kind of hard nut.

JD: God, the tables have completely turned now.

LD: That’s why you were a skinhead you told me, because you used to go on the tube and sell the communist paper to skinheads.
He was extraordinarily brave.

AD: Yeah, there was a lot of political action in London – Rock against Racism.

LD: Dressing up as a skinhead to convert the skinheads.

JT: What part of London are you from?

AD: I grew up in the middle and I was squatting out West – Southall.

LD: It was like a flat from the Young Ones, it really was. I mean Sid was just…

FD: Sid was fantastic.

SD: Sid was definitely the bloke out of the Young Ones

FD: Vivian. Crazy guy.

LD: I remember I came in and Sid was throwing up in the kitchen because he’s just tried to eat about half a pound of ginger. Coz apparently you can get high off ginger.

AD: Nutmeg.

LD: No, it was nutmeg, yeah. First time I met Sid was that – he rushed off to throw up.

FD: You were living in Sale at one point.

AD: That was one of the first places I moved to in Manchester.

JT: Why did you come to Manchester?

AD: My girlfriend was here. I was staying in Gorton for a bit, and then Sale.

FD: Oldfield Road wasn’t it? A road away from where I was born and raised.

JT: When you met the Diagrams were you already playing with Dislocation Dance?

AD: I don’t think I was. But I knew Paul Emerson, the bassist. Because his brother Simon Booth – Working Week – was involved in the whole Scritti Politti scene, which I was involved in. So I knew him through that.
Paul was the sort of chairperson of [the MMC]. So when I moved up to Manchester he was the first point of contact. And then he said the Diagram Brothers were looking for a bass player.
… Bands didn’t really have trumpets. I’d sort of done trumpet at school. I could have gone to music school, but I wasn’t interested in the music, I was interested in rock music and politics. It was all going off, all very exciting. And so I played bass.

LD: You’re being modest – you played guitar as well, and you also played keyboards.

FD: He’s actually a proper musician, unlike the rest of us.

AD: I was classically trained, yes. I was going through the process of ridding myself of that classical training.

SD: But that solo that you did on ‘Here come the visitors’ in Cargo Studios and you said, oh I’ve got a really good idea, I’ll do a bit of trumpet. And I was saying, oh, just bang on the piano. But actually when you listen to it, it’s a proper solo, properly thought out. It’s very good

JT: And you went back to Bristol, Jason?

JD: Yeah, I’d sort of committed to my partner at the time that we’d go back to Bristol when I left Uni. So I stuck to that. Big mistake really.

JT: Were the Skodas already going?

JD: No, I formed the Skodas when I got back. Got together with a couple of mates there, and a girl singer, Annie, and we formed the Skodas.

JT: And you got your John Peel Session through the box of chocoloates?

JD: Yeah. We took a box of Milk Tray, doctored it, changed the contents. Substituted Montelimar for Skodas cassette. Cut out the plastic thing, put the Skodas cassette in there and then sent it with the message ‘listen to the music, eat the chocolates, see which one makes you feel sick first’. And we got a remarkable quick turnaround. That would have been Chris Lycett, I think. He rang us up and said can you do a session.

SD: Did you ever use the surname, Diagram [with the Skodas]?

JD: I don’t think I did actually. I remember our first press release: we all just put a load of deliberate mistakes in. So we just deliberately misspelled our surnames and our first names. Because we said the press will probably get it wrong anyway, so we’ll start with it wrong. Just random names really. We used to change it each time we put something out. But I don’t think I used Jason Diagram on there because when we did the session John Peel walked in and said, oh, what are you doing here. So he hadn’t put 2 and 2 together.

JT: So you succeeded on your own merits, not trading on the Diagram name.

JD: The fact he liked chocolates was…The one link there was, the cassette label was the same colour – it was green.

FD: That’s because it was cheap Christmas wrapping paper, we printed on wrapping paper – it looked really good.

SD: Yeah, looked really good.

FD: It looked like we’d got a graphic designer to produce wrapping paper.

JT: Did you have any input to the Diagram Brothers conceptually afterwards?

JD: Yeah, I did. Some Marvels of Modern Science, the track Litter – in the middle of that, there’s a hysterical laugh. That’s me. Actually I thought that was probably the pivotal point of the whole album. Apart from that, no.

JT: Do you think when Andy joined you became more professional, or not?

JD: Definitely, yeah. We were saying earlier how the band wanted to be recording, not gigging. That’s how I got in, I had a [tape] recorder.

FD: You had a Revox.

SD: A Revox A77, Mark 3 it was. You’ve still got it.

JD: Yeah.

JT: Richard Boon initially said you’ve got nothing to say. Why did he then end up releasing your stuff?

SD: I don’t know. Does anybody know.

LD: He got to know us. It must have been through the Musicians Collective, because by then you were starting to play with Dislocation Dance. They were interested in them I think.

AD: Maybe, I don’t know.

FD: I think by then we were playing some more gigs and he must have come along and thought, ‘oh, bit better now’.

AD: I think he got to know us.

FD: Because he was very intense early on.

JT: Intense? In what way?

FD: You know, earnest. He was a graphic designer.

AD: It’s probably true to say he didn’t get it straight away. Later he was very into it.

FD: That’s right. That’s probably a good way of expressing it. As Andy said, he kind of got into the language, and after a while he’d sit in on things and say, ‘oh you should do this, you should’ – and he’d inject words.
He’d pick up on what we were trying to do.

JT: And did you take any of those pieces of advice and use them?

FD: Hard to say really.

SD: I can’t remember specifically which ones – I’m sure we did.
He also had ideas like the Tangram writing on Some Marvels of Modern Science. He introduced us to the idea of a Tangram, these triangles that you put together to form different shapes. And that features on the album.

FD: I think all the time he was constantly chipping in and where we thought they were good ideas we’d incorporate them, especially if it was on the stage. He was very good, he was a very positive influence really.

LD: He was a Situationist. I remember being in a kitchen with Tony Wilson and Richard Boon, chatting, It was quite obvious where the ideas came from (FD: Yeah). Tony Wilson, I don’t think he had an original idea. Came from Richard. It’s just Richard was crap at business. He was an ideas person, he just believed in doing things. The money side wasn’t [important].

SD: I never worked out the money side really with Richard.
The one thing I remember about Richard Boon, the best thing was, he would always wear these clothes, they were just so absolutely, brilliantly cool. He was a graphic designer and he knew how to look. For me he was the Manchester equivalent of Vivienne Westwood. He was sort of Mr. Cool Fashion Bloke wasn’t he? I can remember he did an interview with The Face magazine. He was telling us about it and he was expecting to be asked all these penetrating political questions and he said, the journalist asked me, she said, you’ve got a shirt with spots. And you’ve got a tie with stripes. Yes. She said, why do the stripes go this way and not that way?

JT: Did you used to hang out much at the offices of New Hormones?

FD: Yeah, I was going backwards and forwards all the time.

LD: That was maybe slightly later on, playing with Eric [Random]. I played violin very badly. I think he liked anyone who played anything very badly.

JT: You also played with the Bedlamites [Fraser]?

FD: What happened was we were starting to do these New Hormones gigs and Richard would say, okay, you’re going to play with Ludus and the Mudhutters. And I don’t remember us ever saying things like, oh, we’re not going to do that. It was just like, ok, we’ll play whatever. And we became massive fans of Eric. I mean we all thought he was fantastic because he did things like turn all the lights off, go to the back of the stage and turn his back to the audience and just get on playing. And I was just in awe of how somebody had the nerve to do that. And of course loads of people got really pissed off with him and that.

AD: He wasn’t playing: he was just playing a tape recorder.

FD: Well he did have looped tapes, didn’t he. And as Lawrence says, by hanging out at the office and getting to know them, because I s’pose to them we were all very uncool. Lawrence and I were doing science postgraduate study. Linder was super cool black, gothic. Eric was just a very far out guy. So we were just a bit…

LD: That strange bloke she brought into the office occasionally. We later found out was Morrissey. In the trilby and the long trenchcoat.

FD: So we got to know Eric and then Eric just loved having people play stuff with him.

LD: It was almost a family with New Hormones. I remember playing bass with Dislocation Dance because Paul couldn’t make a TV [appearance]. Remember? It was on ITV and I just had to learn a bass line and went on.

FD: Remember when we played with the Mudhutters? They’d be out the front cheering us, and we’d be cheering them. It was all very friendly.

LD: I remember Fraser almost getting killed in, where was it, Northampton. Remember? The electrified PA, with three people in the audience.

FD: I got a really nasty shock to the lips.

LD: That was a disaster of a gig, that, middle of nowhere. I don’t know who had booked it but they hadn’t advertised it at all, because there were 10 people there in a place as big as this [hotel lobby]. With the PA that was live: I remember Fraser trying to stay away from the mic and just rocking backwards and forwards.

FD: We were quite fortunate though, because we didn’t have many gigs where there were only three men and a dog in the audience.

LD: I remember a really good one at the – the 101 Club [in Clapham].

SD: I can remember [it] because we never really did encores, did we. We’d just do 20 minutes and that was it. And this one, we were really being spurred along by the audience, we were getting really excited, seeing the audience surging towards us, preparing ourselves for an encore and then we realised that in fact it was not us, but a couple who were acting rather over-amorously on the steps down to the toilets that everyone was pushing and shouting to look at! Diana [Simon’s wife] was in the audience and she can remember it very clearly – she was one of the main surgers!

JT: Andy, how did you fit doing Dislocation Dance, Diagram Brothers and later Pale Fountains as well? Was it difficult?

AD: No, because both Diagram Brothers and Dislocation Dance, all the other people in it had jobs or were students or whatever. And I didn’t.

FD: It never occurred to us to think ‘oh, you turncoat’. It was just something else Andy did.

AD: I think I was playing trumpet in Dislocation Dance: totally different things.

JT: What do you remember about your recording sessions?

SD: A day to set the drums up. Buying a synthesizer – 400 quid – in London.

FD: Catford. We had to go down to Catford.

SD: It didn’t bloody work, it was always out of tune. That was a disaster that was.

FD: I remember doing the John Peel Sessions, the first one was a bit nerve wracking, because it was all like Big Time.

LD: I think that’s the best session. The recording of the songs is better than the ones we did on the album. I mean listening to the album, it’s the first time I’ve heard some of the songs in 20 years and the difference between Pluto Studios and Rochdale is really, really noticeable. And I think that’s the difference with Maida Vale. I don’t know, it was almost like playing live with the John Peel, wasn’t it, because you literally had an hour. It had much more of a live feel maybe.

SD: The biggest mistake we ever made, I reckon, was when John Peel invited us out for a curry and we were too busy trying to work out our overdubs and all that. I really, really regret that. We thought it was more important to give him a good product.

JT: He probably admired your professionalism again.

SD: I think he might have felt a bit pissed off with us.

JD: Mine was even worse than that, coz after that when I did the Skodas session he invited us out for a curry and we went but I felt really sick the whole of the meal and I missed the entire meal again. So, it’s like twice on the trot.

JT: Reviews of Some Marvels were mixed – Steve Sutherland in the Melody Maker called it ‘the most moronically unimaginative record ever made’.

LD: [Sarcastic] Melody Maker had a lot of credibility, didn’t it, at that time.
One above Jackie I seem to remember.

AD: The music press generally was just so not into New Hormones.

FD: No, they weren’t were they?

AD: New Hormones wasn’t fashion-led. The music press was: anything that had a fashion thing about it was what sold their papers. I just remember being totally frustrated every week with the music press at the time, so I wasn’t surprised at all. And all these London bands that were being invented by record labels were on the front cover.

JT: Which kind of bands?

AD: A whole load of New Romantic bands that played these kind of cocktail bar clubs, dire bands. They were bands that didn’t make it – they made it onto the cover of NME and Melody Maker and no one had heard of them. Two or three weeks later [no one had heard of them again]. It was obviously someone’s mates promoting these bands.

FD: I just remember we put a lot of effort into it. As you know from listening to the music, it’s very tightly orchestrated. And I just thought, well I think it’s great, I can’t understand why they don’t get it. So, I was just nonplussed by anybody who thought it was that bad.

LD: The Manchester scene as well didn’t have the power it did later. I even remember, it was after the Diagram Brothers, I did the occasional session mixing at, what was it, Soul Studios? And I mixed one of the Stone Roses. And I didn’t know the Stone Roses from Adam. They were completely unknown.

I mean we knew people through Eric, he knew A Certain Ratio and all of them. And I did gigs with A Certain Ratio.

AD: But A Certain Ratio are a case in point. They didn’t make it.

FD: No, they didn’t, and they were really quite pioneering.

AD: Loads of bands that did make it would namecheck ’em.

FD: They started that weird thing of playing in shorts and khakis and they just had this whole funk-rock thing that was great but nobody was into it. Fans were into it, but the press didn’t get it at all. They were a fantastic live band, really good to dance to.

JT: The bad reviews didn’t get you down?

FD: No, not at all. And Simon was pretty vociferous about it. You were angry.

SD: Well, I would have been, I’m sure. I know if anyone said anything horrible about us I’d hate them, I’d want to kill them.

LD: I think that’s it – we weren’t a trendy band.

FD: Not at all.

LD: Joy Division were a trendy band – People like that.

FD: And I would talk to the audience at gigs and that wasn’t done. I come from a kind of folk tradition, so Lawrence would be tuning his guitar up and I’d just tell a story for two minutes and then we’d go off again. And of course that was very unhip to do anything like that.

JT: Did you ever play at the Beach Club?

FD: Yeah. I’ve got a tape of that. I’ve got a fantastic tape of Love Letters at the Beach Club. It was a brilliant recording, really, really good. The Beach Club was fantastic.

JT: What film was playing when you played?

FD: It was Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Ai no corrida – In the realm of the senses – the Japanese film. And there was something else, coz Carole [Fraser’s wife] got really freaked out.

LD: What drugs were you on?

FD: That Japanese film was very graphic. I think Carole nearly fainted when she cut the man’s willy off.

JT: How would it work, would you watch the film and then watch the band after?

FD: Yeah, it was like a sandwich – film, band, film, band. It just went on for hours.

Even when we weren’t playing, coz we only played a couple of times there, I went to virtually all those Beach Clubs. I really liked them. I mean we didn’t go as a band necessarily.

AD: Looking back, it was probably the best club night in Manchester at the time.

FD: It was very original. Different. And Clockwork Orange. I remember there was a bit of a frisson coz Clockwork Orange was still banned.

Three cracking banned films.

JT: It seems like there was quite a community spirit between Factory and New Hormones people: you weren’t really rivals, you knew each other.

LD: I think that was generally true – we didn’t know the Factory bands that well, but through the musicians’ collective in the early days, I mean Mick Hucknall’s band Frantic Elevators, I remember seeing at the Band on the Wall, they supported us at Leeds University. So you tended to see the same people, like Mick Hucknall was definitely part of the musicians’ collective, I remember seeing him down the Cyprus Tavern.

FD: Lots of the guys in the Fall – Mark Smith was always a bit aloof – the guys in the Fall were always down the Cyprus Tavern. And they were nice.

LD: You tended to know – like you went to the Band on the Wall to see a gig and there’d be the same crowd or variations of the same people in the audience.

AD: That’s right. No one would clap.

LD: Everyone was just too cool to clap.

FD: I remember also, Graham Massey, we did a few gigs with him – he was the Beach Surgeon. Remember? Graham Massey he had this act called the Beach Surgeon and again Richard promoted it. It was great. You remember he had these two plates of metal, and a Trilby, and he did a song and dance routine.

And we all thought it was fantastic – eccentric stuff. And you couldn’t have done that on Factory.

LD: They were into cool.

AD: Factory had a sort of set image.

LD: They did – raincoats and dour and miserable Manchester image.

AD: If you signed with them you had to have their image.

FD: And also you had the Martin Hannett sound put on you as well. That was the whole thing. You had a house style, whereas Richard was more into an eclectic mix.

I haven’t listened to these [Diagram Brothers] songs for a long time. I’m amazed. Some of them stand up quite well. Others I think are very dated, but others are not too bad actually.

JT: Which ones do you think stand up best?

FD: I think a song like “Put it in a Bigger Box”, I think it still sounds really good,
such an original composition. I mean your guitar playing’s fantastic on it [Lawrence].

LD: I don’t think it’s only mine, you’re doing yourself…

FD: No, no. Looking back I realize how inventive you are.

LD: I was listening to Franz Ferdinand and a couple of our tracks, “Put it in a Bigger Box” or “Fondue Soiree”, that could be a Franz Ferdinand song easily.
So, that’s almost become mainstream, that slightly discordant [sound].

AD: There were bands that came after us that played our sort of discordant music like Big Flame and the Dog-Faced Hermans.

FD: Yeah, Dog-Faced Hermans.

AD: And they all referenced Diagram Brothers.

FD: Mmmm.

AD: But they didn’t really get that much attention at all. It’s not until recently that music’s become popular.
I got an email from Greg from Big Flame – I told him we had a new CD coming out and he was so excited and said how he still plays his copy of “We are all Animals”.

JD: When I was listening to the album there’s loads I still like, particularly “Those men in white coats” and “Neutron Bomb”, after I left they are two of my favourite tracks.
The thing I was surprised by, I think there’s a load of Robert Fripp in there, but I can’t remember at the time anyone being particularly into Robert Fripp.

FD: No, I was: Fripp and Eno, No Pussyfooting and all that Frippertronics

LD: Simon was as well.

JD: I really liked him, I really like him now, but I couldn’t remember that at that time he was a particular influence.

FD: The thing that I’m struck by listening back to it – it was just so painstakingly crafted. It’s no wonder we didn’t write an awful lot of material because it just took so long.
I mean, you compare – you listen to Andy’s stuff [Spaceheads]. In a sense I wish we’d had a bit more courage to do a bit more improvisation. It’s really hard to do that kind of music, because I listen to what he’s doing now – it’s got this fantastic, open ended, it can go where it needs to. And we didn’t have that. You listen back and it’s very confined in that it sets out to do something in a three-minute song, and that’s it.
I like listening to a lot more improvisational music these days.

JD: We came on the back of Punk. I don’t think we wanted to be doing long solos or anything.

LD: That’s it, there was no guitar solos.

FD: But in every song, I remember when we were rehearsing, there were a lot of musical ideas in each song. These days you could take one idea and turn it into a song, which is what people do. You listen to a lot of music and you think this is actually only one idea per song.

JT: Dislocation Dance were about 10 years ahead of their time, they should have been huge.

LD: I remember listening to a tape of theirs about 10 years ago, going on a beach holiday. It was a fantastic beach, laid back hippy songs. They should have been huge because they really were mainstream. The Diagram Brothers never were…

JT: Did you never think you might have one hit – novelty – you know?

LD: Yes. You might have imagined “We are all Animals”. That one or “Bricks” might have just been picked up as something.

FD: “Oh look, there goes Concorde again!” Where the hell did that come from? Where did it go? But it was great while it lasted.

AD: I know the guy that put that together.

FD: Did you?

AD: Well, I do now.

FD: Tell him it’s brilliant, wonderful.

JT: Then with Discordo you started going in a slightly different direction…

LD: Gilbert & Sullivan.

FD: I blame this on Simon actually. Simon suddenly got it into his mind.

LD: Richard was really keen.

FD: Richard! You’re right, Richard.

LD: Richard was always chatting about it…Gilbert & Sullivan meets discordance.

FD: Yeah, it was concept driven. But actually I was up for it.
I mean we did have a little dance routine. We did that at Band on the Wall.
It was something like [demonstrates while singing] La-la, la, la-la-la-la, La-la, la la.

LD: It was really good, because nobody did that: it was really important just to stand still and look serious.

JT: So you were a kind of boy band ahead of time(!)?

AD: I think we were just the Jazz Defektors, or something like that. They sort of were influenced by our Discordo period.

FD: I think the idea was to get away from the very angular guitar sound. So Andy started playing the synth a bit more, because he actually had a bit of talent on that. And the trumpet. And then all of a sudden it seemed obvious to better use our talent. And there was the idea of some more vocal because prior to that really I’d just been chief shouter.

JT: And you can actually sing.

FD: Well so can Lawrence.

LD: I can’t.

FD: Lawrence has got a thin voice, in the sense it’s not a strong voice, but he’s very much in tune. Simon’s great at shouting. Andy can sing.

LD: Andy’s good. Your one Dislocation Dance biggest hit was with you singing.

JT: Rosemary. Were you singing on that?

LD: Rosemary.

AD: Am I singing on that?

FD: Are you? You’re as bad as Simon.

JT: That was a hit in Holland, wasn’t it? You played sitting on bales on hay on their Top of the Pops.

AD: I remember being the main composer of that and writing the lyrics, but…

FD: The other thing I’d like to mention. When we did that third John Peel Session, I think he really misunderstood that, because he made a few comments on air: “I’m not sure about this chaps”. Coz that song Tracey, I think we were a bit postmodern before anyone knew what postmodern was, we were taking the piss out of… We wrote it in full knowing that what we were writing was not acceptable – So, definitely strongly ironic.

LD: I was a bit uncomfortable about that at the time.

FD: Because we knew it might go the wrong way.

AD: I haven’t heard it for so many years.

JT: I don’t know that song, what was…?

FD: Well, again it’s very vocal-orientated.

AD: The Expert, that’s the one that stands out.

FD: What’s that?

AD: In emails I’ve got, people talk about The Expert a lot.

FD: yeah, that’s a great song actually.

AD: That’s the one that really sticks with people. That’s the one they reference from that session.

FD: I’ve got a tape from that session.

AD: I haven’t heard it – I haven’t got a clue how it goes.

FD: I could sing it for you if you want.
[sings] It was all about plumbing – doing the plumbing correctly.

AD: Was there a chorus line?

FD: Yes. [sings] And you had that fantastic synth line – that new synth.

AD: I’d really like to hear it.

LD: So would I.

AD: You singing it, I can vaguely…

LD: The later stuff I actually prefer now listening to it. And at the time I don’t think I did. I actually almost thought it was harking back to Postal Bargains, but when I listen to it now it’s actually the later – I listened to Discordo, and I hadn’t heard it for years, and I had a memory of it not being that great, but I heard it when I got the CD and I thought, God, that’s really quite good.

FD: Do you remember ‘Hey Dad’? [sings]
We all sang on that…

JT: Did you think about doing an operetta?

FD: It was all feeling a lot more vocal orientated.

AD: Somebody said there was five.

FD: Well, we did that throwaway. At the time, anybody doing a Peel Session had to do a version of ‘You’ll never walk alone’.

JT: Really?

FD: And we did a classic Diagram Brothers on it – it was all out of tune, deliberately. All over the place, sounded like it was about to fall apart but it never did.

JT: That sounds good. Was that with the guitars?

FD: Yeah, Lawrence went absolutely nuts on that, because it was pre-licensing.

LD: I remember the songs, but…

FD: Anybody who wants a copy of the tape, I’ll make you a copy.

LD: I’ll take you up on that.

FD: I’ll digitize it, because I’ve got a digitizing studio.

AD: You’ve got the Riverside?

FD: I’ve got the Riverside tapes as well. That was BBC 2.

JT: How did the German version of ‘Right Git’ come about?

FD: There was a nice bloke who was an English guy living in Cologne or somewhere. And at the time don’t forget, by the time we’d done three Peel Sessions, people were sending us singles going, ‘oh, can you promote our single’ as if we were impresarios or something. I remember we got mailed to New Hormones lots of singles saying ‘Diagram Brothers will you please promote our single’.

LD: John Peel was played on the World Service, so people in Holland and northern Germany would listen to John Peel anyway.

FD: And there was this guy who basically said, I’d like, if you can promote our single, I’ll get a version of yours released in Germany. All he could afford was to re-record the vocals, and there might have been a touch up on the tracks. And then I think we put Discordo and Postal Bargains [on the reverse]. I never met the guy actually, never met the guy. It’s just one of those…

JT: And who did the translation of the lyrics?

FD: He did. He never sent me a tape. So, I played it to guys, because I work with German guys, and they said this is the most bizarre pronunciation of German – it sounds like it’s, well, I dunno, it’s just very odd.

LD: I thought you’d got a mate to sort of tell you how…

FD: No.

JD: I thought you could speak German.

FD: No.

LD: I’m sure he told us that at the time, that he’d done ‘O’ level German

JT: Like O level’s gonna put you in good stead for colloquial German (!)

JT: How did using all these strange everyday objects as instruments [toasters, etc] come about? Was that Simon?

FD: I think Simon would do percussion, just do percussion, because he brought in his toaster. He had a tobacco tin that he used to play.

LD: Didn’t he always attach something to his drum kit?

FD: He had a plastic beater. He wanted to make that a New Hormones product, didn’t he? Simon invented this thing that now has become quite standard.

JD: He had very different views on drum sounds, partly influenced by Bill Bruford. Bruford used to have a very sort of ringing – his snare used to make a note. I remember a session, in fact it might have been the first Peel Session, where they were taping down Simon’s snare – they were saying ‘no, it’s still ringing, it’s still ringing’. They just put more and more tape on. He was trying to keep this thing, but in our naivete at the time we let them tape it down.

FD: He had this thing, the Perspex disc.

JD: He wanted a bass drum that was sort of crisp, cutting edge, but still had the bass drum. And the way he did that was by using a cork beater and a circle of Perspex actually stuck to the middle of his bass drum. And the beater would hit that so you’d get a click as it hit, as well as the bass drum.

FD: And Richard thought we could do this as a New Hormones product. Richard thought this was a great idea.

AD: He wanted to give everything a catalogue number.

LD: He did, didn’t he? That was Org whatever, that product.

JT: So did it get a catalogue number?

FD: I think conceptually it did. I don’t think anything ever got put in a box and sold. Conceptually it did.

JT: Factory took that whole giving everything a catalogue number to the nth degree, but I think New Hormones did it first.

FD: I think they probably did.

JT: Because Org 2 was the Linder and John Savage collage [fanzine]. And then the Tiller Boys for a while on posters were credited as Org 3 when they were just playing live.

FD: Richard had some great ideas like that. And as Lawrence says, it’s a Situationist approach. The thing itself, the happening, is the product, and we will declare it as such. It’s quite interesting really.

JT: When you were recording for the label were you aware of how cash-strapped he was?

FD: Yeah, it was obvious he wasn’t a rich guy.

LD: The offices were hardly salubrious. You knew they weren’t exactly rolling in it.

FD: I think Richard was so clearly committed to the idea of the creative part of it that actually money hardly got discussed at all.

AD: Yeah, this was like, Thatcherism hadn’t fully kicked in, I don’t think. The idea that we’re in this for the money and the business side wasn’t….

FD: I even remember him saying things like ‘we’ve made quite a bit of money on this with you guys, do you mind if I put it back into these other guys?’ It was all very much for the good of the thing.

LD: Rough Trade was more commercial, [but] even they weren’t – they just ploughed their money back into new bands. They weren’t living in mansions.

FD: There was no sense of ‘let’s try and screw as much money out of everyone’, it was all just – we’re just doing this while we can, it’s creative fun, and Richard was very supportive about the whole creative thing.

JT: It seems now that a lot of bands form and they’ve got a business plan before they’ve got their first gig.

AD: Now you can go to college to study it. I mean I teach that actually.

LD: So, it’s your fault (!)

AD: I teach the recording side. But the kids of 16-19 on my course learn about the music business – learn how to record, learn about the money.

LD: We were quite sussed about the marketing. I mean all that sending a tape in a brick, that was quite sussed and imaginative. What we weren’t good at is probably the connections, networking. And that’s where we relied on Richard and Mike Hinc in London, because we didn’t have that. But it was very much who you knew, to get gigs and that, it wasn’t like you could just do that. There was no way of doing that on your own.

JT: And nowadays with MySpace you can set your self up straight away.

FD: You can end up drowning in mediocrity, can’t you?

LD: Well, at least it means they’re out there.

JT: Out there being ignored.

AD: Yeah, but it’s quite good that you can create little communities.

LD: Marketing is all about word of mouth and it only takes one person to come across something good for it to very rapidly spread.

JT: So, how and why did the band split?

FD: Well, as I recall, we’d come to the end of our time at college. I dunno, I had this sense of destiny: I had to get a job. I was just about to get married.

LD: I think you were always clear that music wasn’t what you wanted to do. I think at that time I was still committed to music, but I wasn’t that great. Not a proper musician like Andy.

FD: I think Simon was very similar – he felt that we’d done that which we could do. We weren’t going to, other than make another album, and New Hormones was winding down.

LD: They were getting into monetary difficulties, and they couldn’t afford to release anything more really.

FD: I just had a sense in which I thought…

AD: The music scene was changing. Guitar bands were not…

LD: The New Romantics were all coming in.

FD: Good looking lads.

AD: Student rock really wasn’t…

FD: It was the era of crafted bands as well. We met that guy who put together Duran Duran – Malcolm Good Idea Diagram.

JT: Malcolm Garrett?

LD: Did he put together [Duran Duran]?

JT: He did their sleeves.

FD: We met him because some A&R person – We called him Malcolm Good Idea Diagram because he was always saying, ‘I’ve got a great idea, you could do this’.
It was somebody from A&M records, a woman, I’ve still got the letter from her. She came to see us at a gig [and] she arranged for us to meet Malcolm Good Idea Diagram and we just said, ‘nah, this isn’t going to work’.

JT: So you kind of did have the opportunity to…

FD: Well. But it was that era of – that creative post-punk explosion happened and now all the sharks are moving in so let’s try and make money out of this. All the New Romantic bands I thought were just crafted by A&R people.

LD: I remember that Bingley Hall gig, sharing a dressing room with…

AD: Bow Wow Wow.

LD: No, we didn’t share with Bow Wow Wow, they were too big. It was a punk band with Rat Scabies – The Damned. I’d always thought they were probably arseholes, but actually they were really nice, they were really nice people.
Coz you did come across bands like that who were shits.

FD: I remember playing with bloody Generation X and they were bastards.

LD: They were complete bastards they were.

FD: Really up themselves.

LD: Obnoxious. They were really obnoxious, the most obnoxious people I’d met.

FD: They were horrid.

JT: Andy, why did you decide to keep the Diagram surname?

FD: That is a good question, actually. Is there actually a proper answer to that?

LD: He was signing on… [laughter]

AD: It was a great disguise.

LD: I did a Peel Session as The Florists, remember.

JT: That was a band, or just you?

LD: No, it was a band. It was Stef, wasn’t it. It was Mike, I’ve forgotten his surname.

AD: He’s married to Kath from Dislocation Dance – Kathryn Way’s husband. A photographer.

LD: But he’s a really imaginative songwriter, and a multi-instrumentalist as well. And we morphed then into Macho Men Crack Under Pressure, which I always thought was a brilliant name for a band. And that was getting better actually. But then I think it was around then I decided, I dunno, I think I decided I’d had enough of pretending to be a musician.

FD: My take on it was it was all very amicable. We’d come to the point with the Diagram Brothers where we’d done what we set out to do, New Hormones was winding down, the music scene was changing. As Lawrence says, I wanted to get on and be a scientist. That’s what I’d always wanted to do – still do.

JT: Do you think if you’d been really keen to make it you probably could have?

FD: I think we were never under any illusion – I think Lawrence is right: Dislocation Dance were a much better prospect if you wanted to take a gamble on earning a living. I was under no illusion we’d ever earn a living. So for me it was just a creative period and a chance, you know I felt very privileged to have the opportunity to do it and have some great experiences.

JT: How did you get involved with the Pale Fountains, Andy?

AD: They supported Dislocation Dance in Liverpool. And we were just chatting out the back and they said would you like to do a couple of songs with us. So I did, and got on with Mike, and happened to mention Love – I said that’s what your stuff sounds like. And that just blew them away because I’d got it spot on. And then we went on tour and eventually fell in love.

JT: I read somewhere that Tim Booth used to come and watch Dislocation Dance and the first time he mentioned the name James was in the back of your van coming back from some gig.

AD: We gave him and Jim a lift back from, I think it was Leeds, they’d come up to see Orange Juice – we were supporting Orange Juice. They gave us a lift back and they mentioned they were in this band James. And we just thought that was a really funny name for a band, and it just stuck with us, in the mind.

LD: I remember them coming up to the New Hormones offices with a tape. And I remember Richard’s comment. That was it, Richard had this list of ‘this tape sounds like… pre-printed – and it was like: Orange Juice, Joy Division. Because most tapes that were sent in sounded like [other bands]. And I’m sure that James at that time fell into the Orange Juice [pile].

JT: Joe Cohen, the sax player with the Decorators said Richard used to play tapes on the Ansaphone and he said, if it sounds good on the Ansaphone…

LD: He did, he did. Coz he’d often play them in the office when a few of us were still there. And he’d often say what do you think of this. Oh it sounds like… He was quite democratic even in his disdain.

JT: I heard that Morrissey used to bring in tapes of his poetry.

LD: I don’t remember that. I do remember him coming up to the office with Linder. I didn’t know he was Morrissey then.
I remember him being in the office once and he was dead quiet and sitting there with a Trilby on.

JT: What made New Hormones special for you?

FD: It was like a pleasant dysfunctional family. People made an effort to get on even if they didn’t like each other.

LD: It was like a family. You know you used to have chats in the office, and even though Eric knew our music was nothing like his.
I think Linder and Ian were the only ones who stayed a bit out of that, you know aloof from the rest. But Eric wasn’t bothered. He would have happily said he didn’t like our music, but it didn’t stop him chatting about it, or being supportive, because he just thought it was good to be doing stuff.

FD: 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. And I think everybody understood that’s what he was doing and so.

LD: Yeah, he was good with that. I thought Pete became involved as well, where did Pete-

FD: What, Pete Wright?

LD: When did he come along?

AD: He was the manager of Dislocation Dance. He was there from the beginning.

FD: He was quite an acerbic character at times. I mean he got stuff done, but he definitely rubbed quite a few people up the wrong way I think.
He was a bit sneering about stuff.

LD: He was. He hated our stuff.

FD: Yeah, he hated us.

LD: And the more he ingratiated himself with Richard, the more our stuff got marginalised. That was my sense.

JT: Who do you think today has been influenced by the Diagram Brothers? There’s a group called the Fratellis who’ve stolen your surname idea.

FD: I think we were one of the first bands to do that. And we used to vehemently pursue that. Coz whenever anybody would ask ‘what’s your real name?’ we’d say Diagram.

LD: There was loads of brothers’ bands, but nobody with a name like Diagram who weren’t brothers. I think we were the first to do that.

JT: Did you think about wearing the same clothes?

FD: No, no. There was never a kind of uniform.

LD: We did have those shirts made – remember? We had – what was her name, Sian Perry – all hand made.

FD: Was it the Mondrian motif?

LD: Mondrian motif. I think I was the only one stupid enough to wear the shirt.

FD: I think you were actually.

LD: We definitely had them made.

JT: So you were going to have a uniform?

LD: It wasn’t a uniform, it was more someone Paul knew and we just thought it might be nice to…

FD: Have a shot at it.

LD: Yeah, I don’t think it got any further than that really.

FD: I think it would be really pompous to assume that anybody was influenced by us, but that zeitgeist sound – noisy, discordant stuff. I’m amazed how acceptable it is now. It’s worked its way through and it’s no longer…

LD: I’m actually amazed even working in Glasgow in museums and I’ve come across people who say – Diagram Brothers? I remember them.

JT: Andy, what did you take from your time with the Diagram Brothers into the rest of your career?

AD: Well, the name.

JT: Apart from that – what did you learn?

AD: [long silence]

FD: Come on, say something positive for God’s sake.

LD: Even if it’s just made up.

FD: Do it to make us feel better. Buddy, throw us a bone!

AD: It was the first professional, real band I was in. It became the yardstick by which everything else was measured.

FD: We did take it all pretty seriously and put a lot of effort into it.

LD: From Pluto Studios seeming very new and different, it became blasé after that. That became the norm.

AD: Did we do night sessions?

FD: That Eric Random and the Bedlamites [Bolero], that was a punishing session. Because I remember going to sleep under the bloody table and somebody waking me up at 4.30 in the morning.

AD: That was up at Cargo. It was Eric’s concept to do Bolero. I don’t know whose concept it was to do this tape loop. Ian Runacres played the Bolero beat on a snare drum, they recorded it and cut it on a piece of tape and had it running it off a tape spool and around a mic stand to get the tension right.

JT: If only Torvill and Dean had used that version.

FD: It is a good version. I think that Eastern Promise track’s really good as well.
Eric’s first album, That’s What I Like About Me, is still one of my all-time favourites. I really, really like it. When I get to know people and they ask me about all this crazy music I’ve got, there’s a few pieces I’ll hang on to and if they like it I know they’re okay. One of them is Trout Mask Replica because I hardly know anybody who likes that, actually.

JT: Everybody has it and no one plays it.

FD: But I do, I love it. And one of them is that Eric Random album. Because I don’t know anybody who really likes that: I love it.
You used to take the piss out of me [Lawrence] because I used to hang on to everything – I’ve got flattened paper cups from every session we did at the BBC. And you used to say oh I don’t know why you bother with this.

LD: And I’m a curator – what’s the irony in that?

FD: So I kept everything – I’ve got bus tickets from Maida Vale.
I knew that one day it would be a part of my life that I’d want to try and remember in detail. I’ve got tapes up the Wazoo. I’ve got rehearsal tapes of the Diagram Brothers, I’ve got tapes of us arguing, all kinds of stuff, coz I just kept it all.

AD: We ought to book a session at your house to transfer it all.

LD: His 50th – when’s your fiftieth?

FD: July 24th.

HT: Do you think that ought to be the occasion for a Diagram Brothers concert?

FD: The thing is, if it was G, C, F and D, maybe. But the chords we played were just impossible.

LD: I’d have to spend weeks trying to work out…

FD: Simon would shape our hands and he’d say ‘ do that. Come on play it faster now.’

AD: There must be muscle memory there somewhere.

LD: It certainly improved your guitar technique no end.

FD: I like the idea that the Mudhutters have a summer bash. It wouldn’t be hard to remember how to at least play “Animals”.

AD: “Animals” and “Bricks” or something

FD: Just two songs, that’d be great. Beyond anything more than that…

LD: “Fondue Soiree”.

JT: You should do “The Expert”.

FD: Good song that.

AD: They’re all quite complicated.

LD: They are, aren’t they? That’s probably why I like them more.

AD: I can remember “Animals” and “Bricks”. I can remember where the fingers go.

FD: “Animals” is very simple – it IS the bassline.

JD: I picked up the bass before I came up here and I could not remember how to do “Animals” – I could remember “Bricks”.

JT: I’m just calling Eric Random…That’s weird – it says there’s an error in connection.

AD: Well it wouldn’t be Eric if there wasn’t an error in connection. You’ve got to go through some sort of special satellite phone to get to him.

COPYRIGHT JUSTIN TOLAND 2007/2008 – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Written by justintoland

February 3, 2008 at 1:49 pm

Indie Originals (short version)

with one comment

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.”

Big Noises
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.

‘Bastard!’
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

Written by justintoland

February 3, 2008 at 1:48 pm

Indie Originals (full length)

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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 record was the Spiral Scratch EP (ORG 1), the first DIY record of the Punk era, and the inspiration for a generation of independent musical activity worldwide.

Making the record was an adventure: “We researched how to [do it] because no one knew,” recalls Boon. “It cost 600 pounds.” The money came from Pete Shelley’s father and Boon’s friends Sue Cooper and Dave Sowden. “Pete’s dad put up 300 quid and they put up 150 each. Zero interest.” At this stage, says Boon matter-of-factly. “There wasn’t a company, there was just an intervention in popular culture.”

Buzzcocks recorded four songs – Breakdown, Time’s Up, Boredom and Friends of Mine – at Manchester’s Indigo Sound Studio in December 1976 with Martin Zero (Martin Hannett) producing. The following month, the results were made public. One thousand copies of the Spiral Scratch EP were pressed. “It was done without paper labels to begin with. The vinyl went through rollers and the label area was de-bossed. But the ink would spill, so [Howard and Peter and I] checked every single copy,” remembers Boon.

The catalogue number was a jokey referenced to Wilhelm Reich’s orgones (the psychoanalyst’s discredited theory of a universal life energy); Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction inspired the photo on the sleeve. “There’s usually something conceptually going on with Richard,” explains Liz Naylor, who later co-produced City Fun fanzine from the New Hormones office.

“First of all we just had a thousand records, and suddenly we needed more because Jon Webster, who was the manager of [Manchester] Virgin [Megastore] at no. 9 Lever Street said he’d take as many as we could give him. This is before centralized buying at multiples like Virgin,” explains Boon. “[Lever] phoned some of his mates at other Virgin stores to see who would take some. And we were doing mail order – there was no distribution infrastructure then. And Rough Trade took some. Then Rough Trade wanted more and it just kept [going] – as money from sales came in then we could afford to press some more.”

The success of Spiral Scratch inspired bands up and down the UK to follow the Buzzcocks’ lead and put out their own record.

After Howard Devoto left the band to return to college, a second New Hormones release was mooted: “[Pete] Shelley and I, once Shelley had taken over leadership, and brought Garth [Smith] in on bass, had been talking about ORG 2,” says Boon. This would have been a 7-inch EP called Love Bites, featuring Orgasm Addict, Something Else and 16. “But,” he recollects, “Then we had this ultimatum from John Maher’s dad.”

Drummer Maher had left school and was set to become an insurance clerk. Maher’s father, “a very firm, old school, Irish guy” was happy for his son to continue drumming as long as he would be making a living. “Even if we’d wanted to do Love Bites as a second seven inch, which would probably have sold quite well, no-one would have [had] any money,” explains Boon. Most of the profits would have been recycled into pressing up more copies.

“Following the White Riot tour [in May1977, supporting the Clash], enquiries were coming in from majors. We didn’t actively pursue any. But once they started coming in we’d go and visit them. And we got on very well with Andrew Lauder [at United Artists],” recounts Boon.

Signing to UA meant putting New Hormones on the back burner. “Suddenly it was work, it wasn’t play any more, although some of it was playful,” says Boon. “Things around Buzzcocks became commercially confused and distracted, which possibly put on hold a lot of other things which interested me a bit later,” he laments. “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. The big London launch gig for Another Music in a Different Kitchen had this fantastic line-up – Cabaret Voltaire, Gang of Four, [John] Cooper Clarke, Slits, Buzzcocks: One pound 50.”

With the exception of the Slits, Boon says he would have liked to sign all the support acts. “All those people apart from the Slits, because they were London-connected, were regional people, were just as adrift as we were. And it’s possibly me reacting to moving to Manchester and thinking: this is dead. So was the North. I come from the North; I come from Leeds. Leeds was unspeakable when I was an adolescent. And suddenly we seemed to have a platform through Buzzcocks where we could give people support who we were interested in. Bring them to Manchester: then maybe they could organize us going to Newcastle, like in Penetration’s case. And I thought that was really, really important. I still do. Part of my, and that punk rationale, was: make things happen. Make the place that you happen to be living a place that you want to be living in.

“Buzzcocks kind of provided a springboard. So when they played London we could bring The Fall down to Fairfield Hall Croydon, for instance, and put Manchester on the map. Put the north on the map.”

Highly enamoured with The Fall, 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. I paid for the tapes. Martin Hannett did a shoddy job and things were getting very difficult. I gave Kay Carroll [the band’s then manager] the tapes, she placed them with Step Forward.”

The Secret Public
So, after the rush of Spiral Scratch, New Hormones lay more or less dormant for three years while the Buzzcocks’ career as the kings of punk pop 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. Where did the name come from? “There was an American West Coast Situationist called Ken Knabb who was doing his own translation of Situationist texts for America under the rubric The Bureau of Public Secrets. And 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,” says Boon. “People would find this stuff and take something from it. People came to see the Pistols, they put some noise in the system and other people heard it and did something with it. And it was the same thing with The Secret Public. Some people will find this and they’ll go off and slavishly do their own collages or whatever, or they’ll get the idea that [a magazine] doesn’t have to be tedious interviews with Tony James.”

As with Spiral Scratch, producing The Secret Public was an adventure in itself. “Access to technology was harder then. Unless you worked in an organization or an institution the only place [in Manchester] you could get photocopying was the Rank Xerox copy centre in Piccadilly. And you could never get your hands on the thing if you wanted to degrade images,” recollects Boon. “The people there wouldn’t copy the images,” recalls Linder.” ‘They’re pornography’, they said. I had to meet with the manager and explain what we were doing.”

Printing was also a challenge. “We found a guy in Salford,” says Boon. “He would only accept cash, no receipt,” remembers Linder. One thousand copies were printed. “Distribution was difficult,” says Linder. “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.” The cover price was 40 p, although “It didn’t have a price on it, which was possibly a mistake,” says Boon archly. “I’m sure most were given away,” believes Linder.

The Secret Public was a one-off: “As so often, there wasn’t enough money. It was either do another Secret Public or make a record,” says Linder. With her band Ludus becoming the priority, in due course the record won out.

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.”

One element of that “different kind of noise” was the decision to give the fanzine a catalogue number. It’s unclear whether this influenced Factory, which took the idea of giving catalogue numbers for things other than recordings to absurd degrees. However, the label’s founders, Tony Wilson and Alan Erasmus were certainly inspired by Spiral Scratch. They also indirectly had Richard Boon to thank for their distinctive visual style. Peter Saville repeatedly pestered Richard Boon for the chance to design something for the Buzzcocks organization. Already employing the considerable talents of Malcolm Garrett and Linder, Boon told Saville: “Go and talk to Tony”. So a myth was born.

Having been unable to turn his earlier interest in the likes of The Fall and Gang of Four into saleable product, towards the end of 1979, Boon suddenly found himself in a position to revive New Hormones. “Once the band were kind of established and there was a team around them like Pete Monks the tour manager, who could sort things out, 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).

Big Noise
The first release on the revitalized New Hormones was Big Noise in the Jungle by The Tiller Boys (Peter Shelley, Francis Cookson and Eric Random), in February 1980. 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 still stood there watching and we’re at the bar.”

“The Tiller Boys was just this conceit,” says Boon. “There was this lovely guy called Ian Watson, who sort of ran the fan club – as he did for the Negatives, a group that didn’t really exist: me and [Paul] Morley and [Kevin] Cummins and Merlin from Merlin Motors – and he put out press releases and NME would print ‘Tiller Boys play five gigs at the same time in different places’. But of course it was fiction. It was play: Play is very important because it’s transgressive and transformative.”

“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.”

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.

“One gig in Ambleside ‘turned into a complete riot – it was completely terrifying,” says Random. “It had been advertised a bit as Shelley, so they were expecting some sort of pop. Also every time something happened in Ambleside, Windermere and Ambleside would clash: we were caught in the middle of it, we had to run off stage – there was a car waiting with the doors open. I think the heading was ‘punk rock riot in Ambleside’ in the local paper,” he chuckles.

Big Noise from the Jungle 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. “It’s February 1980 and Peter, Francis and Eric want to tell you about the delights of Sandy Nelson and ethnic rhythms. It took till 1981 for some to listen,” wrote Richard Boon in a New Hormones catalogue in September 1981, a reference to the huge popularity of the Burundi Beat of Adam and the Ants at that 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, recorded some demos with Linder’s then boyfriend Howard Devoto and contributed a track, ‘Red Dress’ to Factory’s No City Fun movie. However, this version of the band 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 Richard Boon. “A bit more open-ended: We would say post-punk, actually a bit more jazzy.”

A fan of Peter Hammill, Devine asked New Hormones to approach him about producing the band. “Hammill came up to Manchester and did some 8-track recordings and cut and spliced. And Ian wasn’t entirely happy with the results,” recalls Richard Boon. ”So he did his own remix. Peter Hammill got thanked.”

The Hammill recordings helped Ludus develop its distinctive sound. In December 1979, the band – Linder, Devine, and drummer Philip ‘Toby’ Tomanov (later of Primal Scream) – went into Pennine Studios in Oldham 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).

“We recorded the [Ludus] single at the same studio I had been doing the Piccadilly Radio sessions,” recalls James. “In fact it was the same songs. I seem to remember Tony Wilson thinking that the radio session was better, even though we’d spent more time on [the record]. We couldn’t have spent more than two days on it: One day with a bit of a lock-in.”

James went on to produce most of the New Hormones roster at one time or another 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 on Red Records, Red Flame and Island followed, before a final single (a cover of the Flamin’ Groovies’ Teenage Head) 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, who Boon and Peter Wright saw 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 booked Biting Tongues into Drone Studios in Chorlton with Stuart James at the desk. “The fashion for studios then was to have a very dead sound, so it was a padded room in a cellar, padded with denim – like being in someone’s jeans,” laughs Massey.

“It was played live in the studio,” recalls Walmsley. “I think there was possibly [some] post-production, but essentially the chassis went down in the duration at the time.” “We even left in stuff like the vocal fluffs,” says vocalist Ken Hollings (aka Capalula). “It was four hours and that’s it, bang! That was the budget. It was do or die. It wasn’t take 3 and take 4 or anything like that,” remembers Massey.

The session sat on the shelf for a year. “I think that’s the first time [New Hormones] ran out of money,” says Massey. Financial problems would be a perennial story throughout the history of the label. “It was that indie thing: press 500, sell 500, move on. And sometimes you didn’t sell 500,” explains CP Lee who would record for New Hormones later in its existence.

Peter Kent at Beggars’ Banquet had heard a tape of Biting Tongues and offered to buy the master tape off New Hormones and pay for more recordings at a 24-track studio to create a complete album (released as Don’t Heal, the first offering by Beggars’ Banquet sub-label Situation Two – the New Hormones financed cuts are on the second side).

“The rate we were working, [the recording] was becoming less and less vital, although we really liked it as a piece,” says Walmsley. “So when we got the opportunity to release it somewhere else – either put it out or sell it please. And to their credit, because they appreciated what the music was about, [New Hormones said] yeah, okay.”

A space to play in
One important conduit for new bands in Manchester in the post-punk era was the Manchester Musicians’ Collective (MMC). Trevor Wishart and Dick Witts, who both worked at North West Arts, founded the MMC in 1978. “I wanted to see how an organization like North West Arts could support developments not tied to professional music. Trevor Wishart, the composer-in-residence supported this,” recalls Witts, who was himself a musician (later performing with The Passage) as well as an arts administrator.

After initially using the café in the basement of Northwest Arts as a performance space, the MMC started doing Monday nights at the Band on the Wall. “Later we moved to the Cyprus Tavern,” says Witts. “There would be three or four acts a night. Richard Boon would show up and Rob Gretton [Joy Division/New Order manager] would show up.”

The MMC “was trying desperately to be democratic in decision-making,” says Witts. “Earnest” is Boon’s recollection. But, he adds, it facilitated “spaces for a whole range of bands to play in.”

One of those groups was The Fall: they all turned up at the first meeting of the MMC, remembers Witts. Two bands that would go on to record for New Hormones were also MMC regulars: Dislocation Dance and Gods Gift. Both can be heard on the collective’s compilation LP, Unzipping the Abstract (MMU, 1980). The former group’s bassist, Paul Emmerson, was also chairman of the collective for a time.

Dislocation Dance was formed in August 1978 after singer/guitarist Ian Runacres, recently arrived from Wolverhampton, spied Emmerson’s ‘musicians wanted’ ad in Virgin records. Emmerson’s influences piqued Runacres’s interest: “I wish I could remember the list,” he says. “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 [singer Way] ‘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.”

By 1980, the band was ready to release its debut EP, Perfectly in Control, on its own label, Delicate Issues. “Listening back to the early recordings I can’t help thinking, ‘what was I thinking’,” says Runacres. For Emmerson, it all sounds “hopelessly derivative of Ubu and Scritti now.”

By now friends with Richard Boon, the group and manager Wright, agreed to make the record a joint release with New Hormones (it was given the catalogue number ORG 7). 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,” explains Boon of this arrangement.

“All the early indie labels were trying to develop what a contract might be,” he says. “Basically, 50/50 after costs subject to sales. And that sets your budget for your next record.” Bands were free to take up other offers: In the case of the New Hormones stable, this saw Dislocation Dance and Eric Random cutting sides for Wally Van Middendorp’s Dutch label Plurex; Random and Ludus releasing material on Brussels-based les Disques du Crepuscule; and Diagram Brothers recording a single for Outatune in Germany.

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. Fade in and Dirty Bingo were produced by Cabaret Voltaire’s Stephen Mallinder and Ian Kirk at their Western Works studios in Sheffield (“they had a lot of nice, old analogue equipment. It was like a museum,” recalls Random); Call Me was recorded live at the Lyceum, London on March 23, 1980.

“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. In light of this, it seems very bold of him to have pursued anything other than acoustic music,” 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 in 1980 from the remnants of student band The Mysteronz.

Reich recalls the new group’s genesis in a meeting at a pub called The Shambles. “We sat down, very normal, and without even singing a note or playing a note we discussed the conceptual side of it, and how it had to be ultra democratic. That came to be a kind of interesting rod for our backs.”

Musically and lyrically, the key elements of the band’s approach were the use of dischords 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?” and “I din’t get where I am today by being a right git.”

Ultra-democracy also extended to adopting the same surname: Diagram Brothers came from a structural engineering term, the Williot-Mohr diagram. “We were talking and somebody said, Simon, why is it called a Williot-Mohr diagram? And the answer is, because it was invented by Mr. Diagram of course,” recalls Simon Pitchers. “Everybody wanted to be Mr. Diagram,” he adds. “They were early geeks,’ laughs Liz 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 Manchester labels remained unconvinced of the Diagram Brothers’ worth, however. “Richard Boon said that he didn’t think we had anything to say when he heard our tape. I remember that really well,” says Simon Pitchers. “I don’t remember being sceptical,” says Boon.

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 The 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. Recorded at Cargo Studios in Rochdale, Stuart James again was at the controls.

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, Steven 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 Ken 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…”

The two lead tracks are Soldiers, a critique of the army, and No God, with its chorus line ‘There-is-no-God’, as straight-to-the-point as Public Image Limited’s Religion. Musically, it sounds like Mark E Smith fronting the Pink Floyd of Interstellar Overdrive or early Sonic Youth. “They had a very compelling angry, rhythmic intentness about them,” says Carroll.

“Richard loved Gods Gift. He adored them. I think they were his ideal,” says Random. “One of the great lost bands,” reckons Naylor.

Open house to derelicts
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). Boon began renting the space when he was managing Buzzcocks. “I was living in a shared house and it didn’t seem appropriate to be working from it. So I found a cheap office,” he recalls.

“A typical day at 50 Newton Street is beyond description,” reckons Boon. “It was an open house to derelicts.”

“Musicians would come into the offices. There was a beaten up old couch. And they’d just hang out and spliff up. ‘Can I use the phone?’ Then they’d go away. And I’m trying to work,” says Boon.

“Chaos,” says Paul Emmerson. “Just insane really,” says Naylor. “Random was pretty out of it quite a lot of the time.”

“The offices were hardly salubrious. You knew they weren’t exactly rolling in it,” remembers Lawrence Fitzgerald. “Looking back, it could have been the 1930s, the architecture of the building and our maverick but impoverished lifestyles somehow became blurred,” says Ian Runacres.

Adding to the atmosphere, Boon invited Naylor and Carroll to run City Fun from his office. “Richard’s invitation of free rent and phone was not just generous, but a great opportunity to perch and gripe whilst watching the scene go by,” says Carroll. “We liked drinking as well. And Richard liked drinking and speed and they were probably the things that bonded us,” believes Naylor.

“Richard Boon’s kindness” is Carroll’s favourite memory of the office: “He used to buy us halves when we were broke, even though he wasn’t too far behind owing to a failure to put out Wham!-style records. Least favourite memory but still entertaining was the incredibly bad tempered lift operator, Tommy. He seemed to be well past retirement age and had a grudge against the world that going up and down in a lift all day did nothing to wipe clean.”

“He was a complete cunt,” says Naylor. “A one-armed armed, belligerent Irish ex-soldier. He wouldn’t take you up in the lift. He just point blank, because he hated punks, hated the New Hormones group – he would just refuse to take us up. It was always a real ordeal – the debate was, should we nip out to the pub or not, because we’re going to have to walk up all the stairs on the way back. “

“Grumpy old sod. Probably had a very interesting story,” says Boon. Was he a potential New Hormones signing? “I didn’t have Bob Last’s wit.”

To add to the general mayhem, Boon also let out a large connecting room to Alan Wise and Nigel Baguely, who promoted a lot of new wave and art rock gigs under the banner of Wise Moves.

“Ideally they were supposed to be there to pay half the rent, because I couldn’t afford the whole rent,” explains Boon. “Did they pay? Now and again.”

“Alan Wise is one of the most bizarre people you’ll ever, ever encounter,” reckons Naylor. “The James Young book about Nico is fantastic on Alan Wise – it nails him exactly.”

“I remember having really long theological conversations with Alan Wise – he was quite an intellectual guy,” says Fraser Reich of the self-styled doctor of theology. “I remember he dropped a big bombshell and said, ‘you know, I think the only way to be is to be Christo-Buddhist’ and I was absolutely rocked to my foundations, I spent an evening talking to him about Christo-Buddhism.”

Stuart James and Eric Random recall Wise knocking a hole through the wall to be able to use the New Hormones phone free of charge from his office. “I wouldn’t put it past him, but I don’t know that as a fact,” says Boon, who sums up the Wise Moves philosophy as “What can we get away with?”

By 1982, Wise was also managing Nico. “One day she walked in looking especially world weary and bayed out, to no one in particular, ‘Has anybody got a plaaaastic lemon’ in that great The End voice. Liz and I had to leave the building to do a little dance of delight outside,” says Carroll.

Boon’s favourite recollection from Newton Street also involves the German chanteuse: “She comes in the office to wait to be picked up by the road crew – the van’s running late. She’s sat reading this book, she keeps bursting out laughing: Nico, what are you reading that’s so funny? And she says, ‘Bleeeak Houuuuse’.”

“She was an extraordinary presence,” says Naylor.

Another bohemian figure lurking in the shadows was Steven Patrick Morrissey. “He just used to sit in the corner ogling Linder: starstruck,” laughs Eric Random. Lawrence Fitzgerald recalls seeing the future Smith in a ‘trilby and long trenchcoat.” Others have no recollection of his being there at all. “In those days Morrissey was a bit like Zelig – he was present at all these major events at the Russell Club, at the New Hormones offices, but no-one noticed him,” says Runacres.

“He was in and out the office quite a lot, because he was big mates with Linder,” says Boon. “He gave me a cassette of him singing very quietly fragments of songs. And I’m sure some lyrics ended up on Reel around the Fountain and the Hand that Rocks the Cradle. And there was a Bessie Smith song, a blues called ‘Wake up Johnny’. And the trope, which I quote myself on endlessly, is a couple of months later Johnny knocked on Morrissey’s door and woke him up.”

The tape may still exist: “If only I could find it,” says Boon. “He would kill me if I put it on Ebay!”

Almost a family
New Hormones bands would often tour together. One live package, I Like Shopping, featured a line-up of Ludus, Dislocation Dance, The Diagram Brothers, Eric Random and the Mudhutters.

“I Like Shopping was me being a crap Situationist,” says Boon. “I would stand at the door at the end of the gigs selling product. When people were leaving I’d be doing this whole spiel: ‘did you like the show?’ ‘Do you wanna buy the album, now, rather than think about buying it in Rough Trade several weeks later when you’ve forgotten?’ It was another intervention.”

“The thing I remember most vividly about one of our ‘I Like Shopping’ tour gigs at the 101 Club at Clapham Junction, was believing that we’d got our first ever ovation from the 25 or so punters who’d attended, getting really excited, seeing the audience surging towards us, preparing ourselves for an encore and then realising that in fact it was not us, but a couple who were acting rather over-amorously on the steps down to the toilets that everyone was pushing and shouting to look at,” laughs Simon Pitchers.

Bands generally took turns to headline, although Ludus “insisted on headlining at the Moonlight,” says Boon. “Linder (and Ian) didn’t really think the other bands were in the same league as Ludus,” recalls Graham ‘Dids’ Dowdall, Ludus drummer from the summer of1980 to September 1981. However, according to Dids, “All the other bands got on very well with each other and indeed with me.” However, Ian Runacres remembers “Little in the way of competition or hostility… We often shared back line gear with Ludus.”

“It was almost a family with New Hormones,” says Lawrence 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 Dids and members of the 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. “They all liked each other and they all appreciated what each other was doing.”

Earthbound Ghost Need ends with a cover of Ravel’s Bolero, which was a real group effort. “We had shown Allegro non troppo at the Beach Club and I was just smitten by that whole scene,” explains Random. “[The recording session] was the first time I got Lawrence [Diagram]; Andy playing trumpet – it nearly killed [him] recording that. Dids played drums. And we just put a loop of that as the snare loop. Before samplers or anything. It was probably an 8-foot tape reel and we had to stand there with a drumstick trying to keep the tension right all the way through. And we just built over that, the trumpet and the snare,” says Random.

Another collaboration saw Dids, Dick Harrison and Ian Runacres provide a percussion jam for Northern Lights, a quarterly magazine on audiocassette that New Hormones put out four times between April 1981 and February 1982.

“It was the Walkman era. Cassettes were the format of the moment,” recalls Graham Massey.

Northern Lights was the brainchild of Shaun Moores, a “bloke from Manchester with an idea that needed to come to fruition,” says Boon. “There was a guy in Australia did an audio magazine. It may have had an influence on Shaun,” he adds. Moores says he “didn’t know about any Australian equivalent… There was a much more polished, commercially produced cassette ‘zine’ that appeared around that time in the UK – (called something like SFX), but I don’t think that had yet come out when I started to produce NL,” he recounts.

“What I can remember about [Northern Lights] is there being boxes of it in the office,” says Naylor. “Overstock I think is the word.” “It didn’t really work,” admits Boon. “I mean you’ve got bits of talk, bits of music and it’s all a bit random.”

“It 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.”

Alongside percussion jams, unreleased Biting Tongues tracks, and an interview with the Features Editor of the Manchester Flash (a short-lived weekly listings mag), NL 3 includes Richard Boon interviewing a barely audible Ian Curtis in a pub in Oldham Street, Manchester in August 1979. “I used to visit [Joy Division] when they were rehearsing in a room above a pub in the bus depot in Weaste. And for some reason I just said Ian, let’s go for a drink, because I thought he was bright and brilliant and interesting and driven and northern. We would go for a drink. Would he mind if I interviewed him? And he said no problem,” recounts Boon. “It was just a thing between mates. Most things were things between mates.”

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 the series, Pickpocket by Ludus, Radio Sweat by the CP Lee Mystery Guild, and Live it by the 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. 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, because probably Ken Hollings didn’t deliver. It wasn’t just supposed to be the Live it cassette.”

With Ludus’s Pickpocket, released in April 1981, in addition to the music (“Over 20 minutes of songs, instrumentals for close and casual listening,”) the package included a badge and SheShe, a booklet of lyric and montage fragments by Linder and photographer, Christina Birrer. “As a natural progression of early photomontage, I wanted to play with photomontaging myself,” explains Linder. This meant photos of the singer covering her mouth with another photo of her mouth, for instance.

Radio Sweat was a parody of commercial independent local radio, meshing the inane chatter of DJ Mike Barnes (CP Lee), faux-jingles, fake phone-ins and the government’s ‘protect and survive’ nuclear warning tapes with a musical offering that included a disco cover of Magazine’s Shot by Both Sides (featuring Pete Shelley on guitar), a wicked send-up of Dexy’s Midnight Runners, and the Cold War C&W of ‘Bite the bullet, Ivan’.

The whole package came in a plastic ‘transistor radio’ containing photos of Mike Barnes, Radio Sweat bumper stickers, and other ephemera.

The radio parts were actually recorded at Manchester’s own ILR station: Piccadilly Radio. “CP Lee sneaked in one night and we [recorded them] when I was supposed to be monitoring the station’s output,” remembers Stuart James.

“We did a couple of live gigs, DJ stuff: the Mike Barnes Roadshow actually went out,” says CP Lee, better known then as the frontman of rock satirists Alberto y Lost Trios Paranoias. “The Lamplight in Chorlton and I think we did Rafters as well. We had prize giveaways and people were just saying ‘what the fuck?’ Richard and I just loved it.”

After having to pass the results of Biting Tongues’ first recording session on to Situation Two, New Hormones finally got to put out some material by the band with the Live it cassette in September 1981. Issued in two versions – a blue on white cover with seven tracks; and later white on blue with an extra track, Live it was partly recorded live onto two-track tape and partly recorded on 8-track: “Using a small studio, but using all of it. Spending our time layering tapes into the mix,” says Ken Hollings.

“Again it was kind of like, here’s a bit of money, oh we’ve got four tracks. Here’s another bit of money, oh we’ve got two tracks. Here’s another bit of money. It’s a product,” recalls Graham Massey. “It was never: here’s the album, this is the concept of the album.”

A fourth project, 20 Golden Great Assassinations by Liverpudlian Ambrose Reynolds (later of Pink Industry with Jayne Casey and an early member of Frankie Goes to Hollywood) was slated and then shelved. “That was supposed to come with a calendar, 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 Reynolds shared with Jayne Casey].”

By 1982, as Ambrose 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 distribution by this stage: “Once we got to know more about [it] we had a relationship with Rough Trade – yes, we don’t just put stuff out, we trail it. We put out cassettes beforehand with propaganda and interest people. Pete Walmsley who ran Rough Trade’s international department said: Yeah, put all that stuff together and it’ll go out in our mailings.” As a result, New Hormones secured 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 foray Stateside by Dislocation Dance. Richard Boon’s friend (and briefly lover) Louise Greif, a music biz PR, loved Music Music Music, the band’s first full-length LP. 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. “Pop meets jazz meets disco. Who could ask for anything more?” says Emmerson.

Greif and Ruth Polski, the renowned booker of hip New York club, Danceteria, arranged an East Coast US tour for the band in April 1982.

“[The tour] was costed, it didn’t lose any money,” explains Boon. “It was fantastic,” remembers Runacres. “Playing the legendary Mudd Club was a highlight – great, great gig. Just being a young British band in New York! Having the Stones walk through our dressing room, before we supported Toots at the New York Ritz – wow!”

Paul Emmerson fondly remembers the gig in Portland, Maine: “The whole audience knew the lyrics to all the songs and were singing along,” he beams. “It was truly fab,” agrees Runacres.

Despite going down extremely well with 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 (which actually fell through when I got back there!),” 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 dischords, 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, I think. 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, who went on to play with The Florists and Macho Men Crack Under Pressure, before bowing out of the music scene.

“Bastard!”
Aside from Spiral Scratch and Rosemary, 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 next Ludus 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, he 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, a little tiny bit of fundraising. I got a discount from the pressing plant, which was Making Records, Brian Bonner, Rough Trade waved part of their distribution fee: it just didn’t sell, so it didn’t raise any money in the end,” recalls Boon.

“Cruisin’ with Santa if you subscribe to conspiracy theories was brilliant,” believes CP Lee. “[The records] just never arrived, I think about 200-300 got through and then it was too late to get any kind of distribution. I mean anything that could have gone wrong had gone wrong with it. And at the time we were all – watch out MI5. It was probably just hopeless speed paranoia. At the time it all seemed terribly significant.”

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. “When Liz and Richard were working together to keep the company going, 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.”

It was as the label was on the verge of collapse that Boon was offered the chance to sign The Smiths to New Hormones. “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’.” This referral led directly to The Smiths signing with Rough Trade.

“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,” she believes.

Shortly after referring the Smiths to Rough Trade, an opportunity came up for Boon at the London label (the two events are unrelated, he says). “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’. So I went down with them and Gwill [Evans, the band’s manager after Pete Wright] and they had their meeting with Geoff and I used the phone in Rough Trade Booking’s office upstairs and then Geoff came in and said, oh, the meeting was alright. And I said, ‘why did it take you so long to get around to listening to that?’ ‘Because I get so much stuff! In fact, I’m looking for someone to help me wade through it. And I’m going to America for three months.’ And I said, ‘well, I’m up for that’.”

When Boon moved to Rough Trade (early summer 1983), he carried on renting the office at 50 Newton Street, thinking “If I’m covering for Geoff going to America for a couple of months then I might end up back broke in Manchester. But I didn’t. 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!”

By now living in Acton and working at Rough Trade, there wasn’t much Boon could do to salvage the remnants of New Hormones, which included artwork by Linder and several master tapes. “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. It’s so old it’s going to need to be baked for a weekend or something. Tony’s going to, hopefully, bake it, see if there’s anything salvageable, and he and I might do something with it. Then I could finally put out the Worst record ever! But it might destroy their myth – they’re more mythical by having nothing available. They were great lads, The Worst. They really were that post Pistols, just go and do it. And they did. And they were crap, but they were brilliant. [Sings] ‘Put you in a blender, put you in a blender’.”

“My big regret is not putting out Clamour Club by Gods Gift,” says Boon. “It was just great punk rock. Gods Gift belong to ‘the secret public’.”

Boon also “Would 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.”

More McLaren than Ertegün
After moving to London, Boon spent five years as production manager at Rough Trade: “Making sure we went from artwork to finished product”. Feeling burned out, he took over as Editor of The Catalogue, Rough Trade Distribution’s monthly consumer and trade magazine, before being made redundant when the organization collapsed in 1991. After a spell as a house husband, raising his son through a parent run cooperative crèche, Boon “retired’ to the Hackney Library Service.

Does he ever hanker after a return to the music business? “There are some good local bands [Boon lives in Stoke Newington] they need a local record label – N16 Records – but I’m not doing it. I keep encouraging people. I don’t want to do that. I feel as if I’ve retired and I’ve got a job which I like.”

Today’s indie scene could certainly benefit from a new Boon intervention. “He was the Malcom McLaren of the North,” says Ian Runacres. “Richard’s vision ‘became’ the music, such was his influence.”

“Richard used to drop hints a lot,” explains the Dislocation Dance singer. “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.”

The Diagram Brothers recall how the Gilbert & Sullivan meets discordance sound of their final EP, Discordo, was inspired by a long conversation with the New Hormones chief.

Ken Hollings remembers being inspired by a trip to 50 Newton Street to pick up some flyers to take back to London: “I turned up, quite early in the morning, and Richard hadn’t started them yet, he was still laying them out, and basically, he’d taken an old copy of Search and Destroy and had just cut out these old African tribal marking pictures, and I think there was an eye surgery one as well. And he was still doing all this Letraset. But really quickly, really efficiently: taking an A4 sheet and putting the flyer on it, putting it through the Xerox machine and guillotining it. And I think I was only in the office for 20 minutes and by the time he had finished I had a thick wad of flyers. In fact, the opening lines to Reflector were inspired by the flyer, the ‘filed down teeth’. So there was a lot of energy as well.”

“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,” says Random.

‘This music should be heard”
Why then, given the undoubted creativity of Boon and his crew, has New Hormones left barely a trace in the collective consciousness?

Read Q magazine’s Manchester special edition from 2006 and you would be forgiven for thinking the label had never existed. When New Hormones is remembered, it tends to be remembered only for ‘Spiral Scratch’ (as, for example, in Dave Haslam’s Manchester England: Story of the Pop Cult City).

Perhaps it’s a question of economics: New Hormones artists didn’t sell, either 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.

“Dislocation Dance were hugely underrated, they had some wonderful songs and a very forward presentation, with nice girl/boy vocal appeal,” says Cath Carroll. “They could have been a big pop band. They were good songwriters,” believes Eric 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.”

However, he believes that, “With a little guidance, production wise, and some direction, management wise, we had the makings of something special.”

Dislocation Dance could have been really big, agrees Boon. “If they hadn’t spent two hours sitting around discussing Hand Held in Black and White by Dollar and was this culturally significant,” he sighs.

As Boon recalls, by the beginning of the ‘80s, the independent distribution network was sufficiently developed to enable indie labels to have top 40 hits. In turn this led to a certain amount of pragmatism: “You have an artist who sells and makes enough money for you to do all the fringe peripheral stuff. Geoff [Travis] could sell a load of Aztec Camera and sell 4,000 Robert Wyatt on the back of it. Daniel [Miller] had Depeche, which meant Mute could put out Diamanda [Galas]. Tony had Joy Division.”

New Hormones never found its chart act: “I suppose because we were slightly ahead of them, if there’d been more means, Buzzcocks could have been New Hormones’ act,” speculates Boon. “I probably treated them as if they were, even though they were on UA.”

What about when Buzzcocks split up in 1981, was Pete Shelley approached to be the figurehead for New Hormones? “No, because he was going to be the figurehead for Genetic, with Homosapiens. [Genetic was producer Martin Rushent’s ‘indie’ within Island]. No, there was a lot of acrimony, some [directed] at me, but a lot at EMI,” says Boon. “All the people we’d relied on at UA had gone and there was no one at EMI who was interested [EMI took over UA in 1980]. And there was no money and touring America had cost a lot of money – the tour support that was supposed to be guaranteed was never paid: Nothing was happening. And Martin Rushent said to Pete: ‘I’ll get you out of here for a bit. Get out of this mess,’ because it was very messy.”

Without an easily saleable gimmick or concept to latch onto, the major labels never sounded out Boon about turning New Hormones into a ‘major indie’ like Genetic or ZTT. “I probably would have said no had they done so,” he says.

However Boon didn’t and doesn’t begrudge the commercial success of his indie label peers: “Everyone got on. Another aspect of the Secret Public: it was the Secret Entrepreneurs. People helped each other. And if someone had a hit: ‘good for them’.”

“Postcard, FAST: New Hormones doesn’t fit in with any of those labels,” reckons Naylor. “People were very respectful of Richard and the Buzzcocks, but as a label it never quite captured people’s imagination.”

“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. “Peter Wright was more vocal about things [than Richard Boon]. But 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. However, he can hear “echoes of the Diagram Brothers in Franz Ferdinand.”

“I think it would be really pompous to assume that anybody was influenced by us,” says Fraser Reich. “But that zeitgeist sound – noisy, discordant stuff. I’m amazed how acceptable it is now.”

Echoes of Dislocation Dance can he heard in the work of The Cardigans and Belle & Sebastian, as well as the late 90s Japanese hit, Mike’s Always Diary by Kahimi Karie. “I am proud of our output and know that we were listened to (sometimes by supporting bands that went on the have greater success – such as China Crisis, OMD and Mick Hucknall),” says Ian Runacres.

Like his friends and occasional collaborators, Cabaret Voltaire, Eric Random can be seen to have foreshadowed later developments in electronica. “More important than Fat Boy Slim” is Ian Runacres’ verdict: “Sometimes there was a lack of quality control, but what he was striving towards was really amazing.”

The same could be said of Biting Tongues, who would feed directly into Graham Massey’s next band, 808 State, and his later work with Bjork. “I see music as organised noise. I’ve never come out of seeing music that way,” says Massey:“[Biting Tongues] was the best band for organised noise as far as I’m concerned.”

“There are a lot of bands showing bits of the kind of thing we were doing,” says ex-Ludus drummer, Dids. God is my co-pilot were “the accidental spawn” of Ludus, believes Dislocation Dance sticksman, Dick Harrison. Linder’s art is also increasingly sought after, as The Secret Public exhibition at the ICA, plus solo shows this year in New York and London’s West End attest.

For Liz Naylor, the key influence was the label’s attitude: “New Hormones represented an ethos that was then taken up by Big Flame and the Floating Adults.”

“If there was an ethos,” says Boon, “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. I like interesting rackets. There wasn’t an overarching ideology. I didn’t want to be Ahmet Ertegün or anything like that.”

“Richard Boon describes himself as a survivor of the punk wars, but he’s a hero of those wars too, and deserves the equivalent Victoria Cross,” reckons James Nice, whose label, LTM, has reissued much of the New Hormones back catalogue (see ‘discography’).

“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