Archive for the ‘The full story’ Category
The story of New Hormones records begins with a revolution and ends in a skip. In between much is shrouded in fog.
“New Hormones began with Buzzcocks,” explains Richard Boon, who was both the band’s manager and, in due course, the owner-manager of the record label.
“Once Buzzcocks had done a few gigs, including the famous Lesser Free Trade Hall, there was a bit of a thing around them. But Howard [Devoto] was thinking about going back to college; the future was very uncertain. We just thought: we need to document this – let’s make a record.”
That 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).
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.
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