Indie Originals: The New Hormones Story

The story of New Hormones records 1977-1983

Posts Tagged ‘post-punk

Factory’s shadow

leave a comment »

The story of New Hormones is, first and foremost, a story about Manchester. Yet, as Ian Runacres, frontman with the label’s ‘nearly men’ Dislocation Dance, points out, “For those outside Manchester the assumption is that Factory was it.”

“I think New Hormones actually had better bands than Factory,” says ex-Ludus drummer, Graham ‘Dids’ Dowdall. Runacres concurs: “New Hormones was a better label than Factory; of that I have no doubt.”

“Factory boy through and through”, Nathan McGough, naturally disagrees: “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].”

For Liz Naylor, New Hormones and Factory had a “really complicated’ relationship. “Factory we all just used to call ‘Fat Tory’ records and they were like the mill owners. There was a real, palpable sense of their power in the city,” she says. “I don’t wholly suggest that Tony [Wilson] went out to do that, and certainly not Rob [Gretton], who was a lovely feller. But that was just how it was because they achieved success quite early.”

With Factory’s power came a sense of exclusion. “I think it’s to do with Saville’s graphics in a way,” says Naylor. “It sends out an aesthetic that says ‘No’. There was something much more approachable about Richard – he’d be around and you’d see him around. I think Tony, because he was on telly, had a kind of distance. I went to Palatine Road [Factory HQ] maybe twice and I felt quite intimidated by being there.”

[Factory] really did have their heads up their own arses,” reckons CP Lee. “It wasn’t deliberate, it was just the way they were – deadly earnest – and it went hand in hand with what we used to call intense young men with minds as narrow as their ties. Then you’d go to New Hormones and it would be Nico jacking up in the bog. Liz and Cath trying to get five quid together to write the next City Fun. And Richard… Just complete madness.”

“New Hormones was more of a family thing than Factory,” says Graham Massey, whose Biting Tongues recorded for both labels at different stages of their career. “Tony always had this media connection as well that sort of widened it out. It didn’t feel quite as cottage industry. Two different styles, definitely.”

Despite Factory’s pre-eminence, relations between the two camps were friendly: “Both labels looked on each other quite affectionately,” recalls Runacres. He felt that New Hormones and Factory “had a common purpose. We were comrades. A tangible example was my loan of Vini Reilly’s amp for a gig in Liverpool, (or did he lend mine?).” He also recalls how on the Dislocation Dance US Tour, “Tony Wilson helped to finance the hire of our backline when the New Hormones cheque bounced. For that, I’m forever in defence of Tony’s reputation.”

Tony and Lindsay Wilson lived on Broadway, just round the corner from 569 Wilmslow Road, home of Richard Boon, Ian Runacres and Pete Wright. “They used to pop in all the time,” says Runacres. “The first time I met Tony Wilson, he was sitting on the floor in the front room [at 569 Wilmslow Road] showing someone out of Dislocation Dance how to solve the Rubik’s Cube,” recalls Ken Hollings.

“[Tony and I] were very close friends,” says Boon. “We’d just hang together.”

Lawrence Fitzgerald recalls an early encounter with the two men: “I remember being in a kitchen with Tony Wilson and Richard Boon, chatting. It was quite obvious where the ideas came from. Tony Wilson, I don’t think he had an original idea. They came from Richard.”

“Tony was a fan. Richard was different: he was an innovator,” believes Runacres.

But, says Albertos and Durutti Column drummer, Bruce Mitchell, “If Wilson stole an idea he would make it work.”

Yet, if New Hormones sometimes lacked the wherewithal to implement its ideas, conversely sometimes Factory’s conceptualism got in the way of the music and the individual bands.

During Biting Tongues’ spell with Factory, Howard Walmsley recalls Tony Wilson complaining about a bill from the record producer while happily spending much more on the sleeve designer. He says this was indicative of “A value system that didn’t actually understand the thing that seemed to be at the centre of it, the music.”

“Factory had a sort of set image. If you signed with them you had to have their image. And you had the Martin Hannett sound put on you as well,” says Andy Diagram. “Raincoats and dour and miserable Manchester,” is how Fitzgerald defines the house style.

“Half the bands were forced into it,” believes Eric Random. “Or they’d end up promoting a weaker version of something else.”

“One tends to think of all the Factory bands being quite the same,” agrees CP Lee. With New Hormones, “There wasn’t a house ident. It was definitely a whole mess of individuals. Which possibly led to its eventual demise.”

“If New Hormones had had the same resources as Factory, it would have left a bigger mark,” believes Runacres. “Some Factory releases trade on the label, they don’t stand up so well by themselves.”

“There was no great vision with Factory, which is odd because Factory has this reputation of being a visionary label,” says Massey. “A lot of it [was] front,” he reckons.

The signing of Biting Tongues could be seen as evidence of this lack of vision: “Factory didn’t know who we were,” remembers Walmsley. “They had no idea who we were or what we did. But they did it.”

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


Written by justintoland

February 3, 2008 at 1:43 pm

Individually dressed

leave a comment »

One criticism levelled at New Hormones is that many of its sleeves lacked the strong visual appeal and brand identity of contemporaries such as Factory. “Ludus aside, New Hormones records tended to be indifferently dressed, which doesn’t always reflect well on the music within,” reckons James Nice, whose label, LTM Recordings, has reissued a lot of Manchester post-punk material.

This critique is “possibly true’ admits Malcolm Garrett, Buzzcocks’ pioneering sleeve designer and co-founder of assorted iMaGes, the agency that created distinctive cover art for early 80s pop giants such as Duran Duran and Simple Minds. “Richard has a genuinely more eclectic taste and gave much freer reign to each artist to develop their own visual persona, not always with any real sophistication or finesse,” he says in Boon’s defence.

For CP Lee, “That’s the essential charm of it: do the sleeve yourself. We’re not going to get Malcolm Garrett, here’s a pencil and some paper – you do it.”

“Budget was an issue a lot,” explains Ian Runacres. “Richard was into graphic design, but his approach was ‘how can I get something interesting, but which doesn’t cost a lot?’” “Richard and Linder were both brilliant in terms of packaging and design ideas,” believes Peter Wright. The sleeve for Diagram Brothers’ Some Marvels of Modern Science is a case in point. “Richard introduced us to the idea of a tangram, these triangles that you put together to form different shapes,” recalls Simon Diagram. “We invented a font, me and Simon, which, thank God, no one else has used – it’s very hard to read,” says Boon. Images of toasters and the atomic bomb were juxtaposed “to make some obtuse comment about technology,” he explains.

Some Marvels remains one of Boon’s favourite New Hormones sleeve designs: “It was a good collaboration with the musicians and it sort of made its point.” Slip that Disc by Dislocation Dance is another. “Cool. Totally ripped off from Parlophone. That was when we were getting on better with the woman at Rank Xerox. Most of it was done on the photocopier.” Another jacket for the same band was less successful: “I didn’t like the horrible yellow back of Music Music Music. That was me getting the wrong Pantone number,” admits Boon. The label boss’s other pet hate is Cruisin’ for Santa: “It was just in a white sleeve with a sticker on it because we were trying to trim costs.”

Despite the occasional faux pas, for Garrett the theory of allowing each band to develop its own visual identity was sound. In his own designs he says he tried to steer clear of a recognisable ‘style’, “Seeking instead to establish and develop a separate identity, if you will, that I hoped would be distinctive, relevant and individual to each band.”

Garrett also tried to apply this philosophy to his work for New Hormones (he was briefly involved with the label when it returned to action in 1980, putting together the mechanical artwork for print for Big Noise from the Jungle, and, more significantly, the cover art for ORG 5). “The Decorators sleeve was in many ways typical of a number of sleeves I did around that time that drew reference from a suitably evocative photograph that I found in a some obscure book in my library, which I had amassed book by book from junk shops and the like over the years,” the designer recalls. “Its mood was eerily ‘romantic’ in a way I suppose, with a face at a broken window. It may well have been a still from a horror movie (used without permission), but I was not interested in anything ‘spooky’, merely its inherent sense of mystery.

“It has been said that some of my work displays what has been called a ‘pop constructivist’ mentality. It’s safe to say I like bright colors and geometric designs. I like optical ‘games’, which give a sense of physicality to otherwise flat, hard-edged designs. That kind of approach didn’t seem relevant for The Decorators and the brooding, narrative style of the lyric writer, Mick Bevan.”

While New Hormones sleeves were all about the individual artist, for better or worse, “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. Almost every other sleeve could equally have been for this band alone: the vision was a much more singular vision,” suggests Garrett. “This was true certainly up until Central Station and Happy Mondays shook things up again in the late eighties,” he concludes.

Classic New Hormones sleeves:
ORG 1 – Richard Boon’s homage to Walter Benjamin.
ORG 5 – Malcolm Garrett brings out the brooding mystery of Mick Bevan’s songwriting.
ORG 10 – Postmodern Parlophone pastiche. Dig those trumpet players!
ORG 11 – A child’s skin being burned off in silver and blue.
ORG 14 – Gods Gift go Edvard Munch.
ORG 17 – Richard Boon’s fold together Diagram Brothers biography is a marvel of modern design, even if the ‘Tangram’ font is “very hard to read”.
CAT 2 – The best of a plethora of great Ludus sleeves: Pickpocket came in a plastic wallet with SheShe, a booklet of lyric and photo montage fragments by Linder and photographer Christina Birrer.
CAT 3 – A plastic ‘transistor radio’ containing photos of DJ ‘Mike Barnes’ (CP Lee), Radio Sweat bumper stickers, and other ephemera.


Written by justintoland

February 3, 2008 at 1:41 pm

“An open house to derelicts”

with one comment

Richard Boon began renting the office at 50 Newton Street 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.

“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.

“Chaos,” is Paul Emmerson’s memory of the New Hormones HQ. “Just insane really,” says Lix Naylor. “Random was pretty out of it quite a lot of the time.”

Boon had invited Naylor and Cath Carroll to run their City Fun fanzine 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 50 Newton Street: “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.” “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 self-styled doctor of theology, Alan Wise, and Nigel Baguely (“his waster sidekick” – Naylor). Together they promoted a lot of new wave and art rock gigs under the banner of Wise Moves. “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.”

“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.”

By 1982, Wise was also managing Nico. “She was an extraordinary presence,” says Naylor. Boon’s favourite recollection from Newton Street 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’.”

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!”


Written by justintoland

February 3, 2008 at 1:39 pm

New Hormones Discography

with 5 comments

ORG 1 Buzzcocks: Spiral Scratch EP 01/77 (reissued “in unlimited edition” in August 1979)
ORG 2 Linder/Jon Savage: The Secret Public (A3 collage fanzine) 01/78
ORG 3 The Tiller Boys: Big Noise From The Jungle (7″ EP) 02/80
ORG 4 Ludus: The Visit (12″) 03/80
ORG 5 The Decorators: Twilight View / Reflections (7″) 07/80
ORG 6 Eric Random: That’s What I Like About Me (12″) 09/80
ORG 7 Dislocation Dance: Perfectly In Control (7″ EP) 10/80
ORG 8 Ludus: My Cherry Is In Sherry / Anatomy Is Not Destiny 10/80
ORG 9 Diagram Brothers: Bricks / Postal Bargains (7″) 04/81
ORG 10 Dislocation Dance: Slip That Disc (12″) 08/81
ORG 11 Eric Random: Dow Chemical Company/ Skin Deep (7″) 05/81
ORG 12 Ludus: Mother’s Hour / Patient (7″) 06/81
+No-one wanted ORG 13
ORG 14 Gods Gift: Gods Gift (12″ EP) 07/81
ORG 15 Dislocation Dance: Music, Music, Music (LP) 10/81
ORG 16 Ludus: The Seduction (2×12″ LP) 02/82
ORG 17 Diagram Brothers: Some Marvels Of Modern Science (LP) 11/81
ORG 18 Eric Random: Earthbound Ghost Need (LP) (03/82)
ORG 19 Dislocation Dance: Rosemary / Shake (7″) (05/82)
ORG 20 Ludus: Danger Came Smiling (LP) (09/82)
ORG 21 Diagram Brothers: Discordo (10″ EP) (06/82)
ORG 22 Dislocation Dance: You’ll Never, Never Know / You Can Tell (7″) (10/82)
ORG 25 Gods Gift: Discipline / Then Calm Again (7″) (10/82)
ORG 30 Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias: Cruising With Santa (7″) (10/82)

In 1981, New Hormones released a series of three limited edition cassettes (500) that came with a booklet, badge, stickers and a sweatshirt offer.

CAT 1 Ludus: Pickpocket 07/81
CAT 2 C.P. Lee Mystery Guild: Radio Sweat 08/81
CAT 3 Biting Tongues: Live It 09/81

Audio magazine, created and compiled by Shaun Moores
NL 3 10/81 (see image in Graphic Design/Packaging section for track listing)
NL 4 (Northern Lights, February 1982) 02/82 (Included two live tracks by Danse Society, a feature on Biting Tongue Howard Walmsley and an interview with original Hacienda manager Ginger a few months before the club opened. A full tracklisting can be found here).

(Shaun Moores: “There were four issues – the last two of which were distributed and funded by New Hormones (as a result of a loose contact I had with Pete Wright and Richard Boon – through knowing one or two people in Dislocation Dance). The first two issues were very much ‘home made’ and I distributed those myself, by taking train rides to Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield – and approaching record shops in person.” According to Moores, the two ‘home made’ issues included an interview with The Passage and a live recording of Cabaret Voltaire at Plato’s Ballroom in Liverpool. As this link to Northern Lights 2 shows, the second tape (a limited edition of 150) featured live tracks by Eric Random and Dislocation Dance, by permission of New Hormones. A full tracklisting for the first Northern Lights can be found here.

ORG 23 Ambrose Reynolds: The World’s Greatest Hits (mini-LP) – later issued by Zulu records
ORG 24 Reserved for Ludus
ORG 26 Biting Tongues: Libreville (LP) – later issued by Paragon Records)
ORG 27 Dislocation Dance: Remind Me (single) – later issued by Rough Trade
ORG 28 Reserved for Ludus
ORG 29 Gods Gift: Clamour Club

CAT 4 Ambrose: 20 Golden Great Assassinations

Biting Tongues: After The Click (Retrospective 1980-1989) (includes tracks from Live it and Iyahbhoone, originally released on Northern Lights issue 3) (ltmcd 2371)
The Diagram Brothers: Some Marvels Of Modern Science + Singles (ltmcd 2480)
Dislocation Dance: Music Music Music / Slip That Disc! (ltmcd 2461)
Dislocation Dance: Music Music Music (Vinyl Japan ASKCD 96)
Ludus: The Visit/The Seduction (ltmcd 2333)
Ludus: Pickpocket/Danger Came Smiling (ltmcd 2338)
Eric Random: Subliminal 1980-82 (compilation) (ltmcd 2437)
CP Lee and Alberto y Lost Trios Paranoias: Radio Sweat (the complete CP Lee Mystery Guild recordings for New Hormones, plus unreleased Albertos live tracks and rarities) (Overground B000005ZFZ).