Blast From the Past: Xcentric Noise
by Andy “Shesk” Thompson
I’m listening to the Beating the Meat LP from 1984 to get me self in the mood, but it really pisses me off every time I hear it… It was a great compilation, a culmination of the stuff I’d done to date, all the excitement of receiving the tapes, the tape-to-tape duplicating, the stupid sound effects, the letters, the DIY!! When I went into a studio with the quarter-inch tape to put it together (Angel Studios near Hull, with Steve Larkman the engineer — I’m sure he thought I was nuts), I paid about £240. I designed the cover and wanted to do the usual inner sleeve — since packaging was always well important and far more interesting and exciting than a two-track single in a plain sleeve — but I had no money and accepted an offer to release it…and was ripped off, struggled to get any copies, the cover was just turned orange and had no inner sleeve, it never looked or felt right — and yet sounded amazing! There was no communication and it took ages for me to get back my costs for the studio, which only happened because I knew the guy at the distributor Jungle Records and he felt guilty, ’cos he knew I was on a loser. I managed to get a few copies off him, too, but not many. I dunno how many were actually made or sold.
And for the record, I made nothing from Beating the Meat and was forever pissed off that all those years had been hijacked!! Just one of my many regrets, but at least it got the bands heard again around the world! Please have it for free (download via mediafire.com) ’cos I’m not re-releasing it, not that I ever got the master tape back anyhow. I’ll be happy you just at least hear all the bands on it, ’cos that’s all Xcentric Noise was about — trying to pass on some of the excitement I was feeling, spreading this amazing music with message and passion and screaming anger and everyone doing it yerself! It was just so energising….
I first got into punk about May ’77, the moment I first heard it. I was only fourteen years old, previously had liked T. Rex and Sparks and some Bowie. I remember going into school the day after seeing a newspaper with the Sex Pistols in it, and talking music with my mate Mu. He said, “You’d love punk — listen to John Peel.” Bang, it was instant — a real slap in the face. My tranny radio and the pillow were my friends for a few years after that, and definitely the best part of the day! I guess maybe I’d finally found somewhere I felt I could belong, somewhere outside the norm.
I grew up in Little Weighton, England — a village with no streetlights, pretty cut off from the world. I guess I didn’t fit in with the norm, a kinda loner but with friends, the weird one, and the only one really into punk down our way. But ’cos I played football pretty good, I didn’t get fucked around, just the piss-takes like normal. They never got punk rock! I just ended up doing stuff all the time in me room while always liking and supporting the underdog (Hull City / Norman Wisdom [RIP] / Newport County); I was anti-injustice, anti-apartheid and anti-poverty, and I hated pop music, disco and shit soft rock crap.
So that was it — John Peel under the pillow for year ’til I got a tape radio player and could start recording from the radio… Wow, technology! I started going into Sydney Scarborough Records in Hull, and there was a shop in the railway station there, too, and the then-local Cottingham village record store — it was hilarious ordering Telephone Masturbator by the Pork Dukes there from the old bloke with a hearing aid, glasses like monocles and a face crunched up like he had a permanent headache… “Telephone who??” And then ordering through NME and Sounds — I ordered loads through the ads at the back, Adrians, etc. From then on I was just in me bedroom every night listing to records on my treasured mono flat-deck Ferguson record player. Love the smell of them old record players still. I was a total geek, too, as I’d record on cassette the Peel show and the Radio Luxembourg punk show Street Beat (apart from John Peel, it was the only place you could hear punk on the radio), copying down the track listing.
The first punk gig I ever saw was at Little Weighton Village Hall; I’ve no idea what the band was called and I think the members were local farmers! They set up a bird-scaring bang machine to go off before they started playing, then all the lights went off. It was meant to happen and then band meant to kick in, but unfortunately it fucked up — it banged and the lights went out, but no one could see anything and they had to turn the lights on again. But it was a brilliant idea and the fuck-ups all added to it…
SYD’S AND THE SECOND WAVE
Careers at school were crap and all I was into was punk music, so in 1979 I applied and got a job at Sydney Scarborough in Hull (RIP) on 25 quid a week. In its day, it was Hull’s best record shop and I’d been going in there since 1977, so I got a job at my favourite place! My dream job at the time. Soon I was in charge of all the punk / indie buying and I could order stuff for the shop and spend all day drinking coffee and listening to them. At that point, it was the only way you could ever possibly hear that stuff, as there was no real punk airplay on the radio and definitely none on TV. No Spotify.com or BitTorrents back then, just excited anticipation at the delivery van arriving or going to the station itself to make sure you got the parcel before you went home. I was always calling Small Wonder or Rough Trade or Southern or Red Rhino or obscure importers and seeing what they had.
I massively remember the second wave of punk coming in; I can still feel that excitement. There was this punk lull in late ’79, early ’80, but Crass kinda carried the link forward, totally inspiring DIY — you could do it yourself… It was so much more real; it was having another go at the rubbish that was going on. I remember ordering the ’Licks (i.e. Epileptics) and playing it to punk-hungry Hull customers that would always be in, “That’s punk! I’ll have it!”
Following those few months of punk drought, the great second wave of UK punk kicked off: from the Mental there was suddenly the Subhumans; from the Epileptics came Flux of Pink Indians and Spiderleg Records; Discharge, Bluurg, Conflict, the Exploited, Anti-Pasti, Chron Gen! It all exploded. I’d order in 50 or 75 each of the first Discharge and Exploited singles, a hundred of each Crass release, 30 or 40 Flux / Subhumans, etc. Oh, but I had to serve people too, and did have to listen to some really bad shit, like ’80s Tina Turner and Meat Loaf, over the speaker system. Saturdays downstairs were mental — people selling bootlegs, DJs listening to the latest shit disco vinyl, drunks after 3:00 P.M. when the pubs kicked out (no all-day drinking then, and Sunday afternoon was just noon ’til 2:00 P.M.) and people trying to nick stuff.
Syd’s ruled, especially for punk! Some of the Syd’s Kids (RIP Lorraine) are still out there and we meet up now and again! I was in the perfect place to know about anything that was coming out, and I did monopolise space towards the punk side of things as much as I could. Being in touch with Ian MacKaye and Jeff Turner, I’d order a box of each Dischord release — at one point I had the first six Dischord releases in prime position behind the counter…
That whole new wave of DIY punk was as inspiring as the first wave. I was writing a lot to Colsk (a.k.a. Colin Flux), and so inspired by “Colsk,” I adopted my already-existing nickname “Shesk” as my punk name! (If you must know, Shesk was derived from Thompson via Tommo the infamous Polish goalkeeper: Tomaszewski / Tommoshesky.) I loved that whole second wave of UK punk… Discharge were my favourite band for their first three EPs and the Why 12-inch, with the Subhumans close behind. Loved Flux too (but felt guilty ’cos I wasn’t a veggie), and I’ll make quick mentions for Six Minute War and Rudimentary Peni.
As I was so shit at playing guitar, even my first band Plastick kicked me out! (Actually my first was the Atoms, an imaginary band from 1977 — I wrote lyrics to a song I called “Bomb in My Fridge,” but that was about it… I think I’m finally gonna record it soon.) I really liked Plastick’s songs though (and they were on two Xcentric compilations). It was two mates from school; I joined them in ’79, but played only two of their three gigs. The first was at our youth club where the majority of the crowd was Quo / Zeppelin / Sabbath fans and weren’t too impressed, but the Bali Hai gig in 1980 was great night. It’s a distant memory, I was drunk, we were all wearing long grey plastic macs, my guitar was shite and I remember the next day people in the record shop saying I was swearing a lot. Also playing were Sons of the Pope, a brilliant early Hull band, and the Corrosive Infants, kinda Hull’s version of Crass; they were both great that night…
STARTING THE LABEL
Being so into punk and always having liked creating stuff, I wanted to be more involved somehow… On a 1980 visit to London’s Better Tapes and Better Badges and some other obscure upstairs offices, I saw so many zines, badges and homemade or short-run tapes like Fuck Off Tapes / Weird Tapes, etc. None of them were punk, though, more the weird, experimental stuff, but I kinda liked that, too — crazy homemade shit. I went back to Hull with so many zines, badges and tapes, it was amazing! Straight away I put an ad in NME and Sounds asking for bands to send material in for a “punk and weird” compilation tape; “weird” ’cos I liked Throbbing Gristle ever since I was about 15, and “punk” ’cos I was really into it. I did hope for a lot more tapes from the punk side of things, and in fact think I put “weird” in the ad partly ’cos I didn’t expect to get much punk stuff and wanted to make sure I had enough to fill an entire cassette. The first tape I received was by a group called Serfdom that came in a cool handmade sleeve and had a crazy cover of the Motown song “Baby Love.” No matter how bad the early releases may sound in retrospect, it was really raw and exciting! It kinda didn’t matter about the quality, just that something existed that otherwise wouldn’t have!
So this became the first Xcentric Noise tape, Beat the Meat, put together in late 1980 at my neighbor Dave Beacock’s house. He had two tape players and we were able to rig something together with an equaliser in between them to adjust volume, bass and treble levels. Even used Dolby on some — ha! Had a right laugh finding and using the stupid bits in between the songs, and we’d copy the tracks from the tapes to a master cassette. I loved putting the tapes together, all cut and paste visually and musically, including all creaky doors, squeaks and wedding marches ’n’ shit.
For the cover, I used a still image of one of the zombies in Dawn of the Dead — the one set in a shopping centre. The tape itself just had plain white label stickers stamped using a John Bull stamp print kit, and it came with a with xeroxed fold-over cover and insert. 27 tracks and including the great Icon (later called Icon AD), Chronic and Chaos in Uppsala. Initial copy run of ten or twenty, I think.
From first hearing it, I was always into American punk. Initially I discovered the ones Peel played — Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Germs, Social Distortion, Avengers, Dils, Wierdos — but it was at my job at the record shop where I could order all these great releases through Red Rhino, Rough Trade and Small Wonder, allowing me to hear stuff I would never have heard. Still, it was pretty much all just UK and US punk back then.
Around 1979, I started to discover the world punk scene — initially from Sweden, starting with an illegal sale of the Times Up bootleg LP. (Times Up is a brilliant album of early Buzzcocks studio recording with Howard Devoto; I could get ’em cheap in the record shop and used to sell them through small ads in Sounds and NME. I still can’t believe they accepted the ads or that no one ever said anything!) I sold one to Robert Andersson of the band Chaos in Uppsala (future Headcleaner and head of the Malign Massacre label), and we started exchanging UK and Scandinavian punk, swapping some great early records. I was lucky — Robert sent me some amazing parcels! It was a fair swap at the time, but I got some now well rare classics, and they were classics!! I really got into the Swedish scene, and via Robert I also got in touch with Mats Nilsson (Massmedia / Massproduktion label / Headcleaners).
Later on, I ended up doing the UK distribution of the Headcleaners’ first EP (red cover and black cover) via Red Rhino and the Cartel. I did the same for the Shitlickers EP — they kept half of the 200 copies to sell in Sweden and I took the other half. Sold some to Small Wonder Records; he laughed at the name, thought I was taking the piss but took 20 copies… The Swedish version (Skitslickers, with the horrific torture sleeve) was only sold in Sweden and the vinyl is exactly the same with white labels. Classic record!
My first compilation Beat the Meat was all UK bands except Chaos in Uppsala. It wasn’t until that tape starting getting around that the world of punk really opened up. I sent a few free ones out and got some reviews in various zines and tape catalogues ’n’ stuff, and suddenly I’m getting the most exciting mail. I would look forward to getting back from holiday to get the post. Thanks to Fabio (Olho Seco) and Redson (Cólera and Olho Seco), I started getting loads of amazing Brazilian tapes and lots of cool photos. Some of the letters were only in Portuguese, and the tapes came in these clear tape mailers where the customs label took up most of the packaging. It was really cool to get a mention on the seminal 1982 Brazilian compilation Grito Suburbano. There were two scenes I really wanted to be in then — the early DC / Dischord scene and the São Paulo scene…
Around the same time I received my first tapes from Finland via Vote Vasko (P. Tuotanto label). I remember being blown away excited at all these new bands playing great hardcore stuff, especially the amazing Terveet Kädet, Cadgers, Rattus… The latter played the Leeds All Dayer punk fest in 1983 with Black Flag, Cult Maniax, Newtown Neurotics, etc. I went to the pub with the Cult Maniax (who were amazing that night) and when I got back after a few beers, I’d just missed Rattus! Fuck. I missed Rattus in their heyday — by about two minutes. I’ll never get over that one. Jettisoundz filmed the whole show (for a few years they filmed loads of early ’80s punk gigs and must have an amazing archive!), and I recently saw some Black Flag footage online from that gig — I’m on stage with my camera, but not taking fucking photos…
Tez (Andy Turner) of Xpozez was in there right at the start, too, and I was swapping lots of great stuff with Dig, started Earache Records, and with Keith Blakeman of Suicide? No! Murder zine, who was in Suicide (the London band on the Beating the Meat LP, not the New York band). Keith also bought a Times Up bootleg off me and got me into lots of American bands including Bad Religion; he married Dena of Femzine, who came over from Canada on the first DOA tour.
From Italy, things came via Mr. Nasty — his letters were amazing, like pieces of crazy art in written words. We swapped lotsa correspondence and music at the time, and he sent me some great tapes with Eu’s Arse, Indigesti, Nabat, the great 5° Braccio, many others including his band Vomit. He did a zine called Krosta, too. Also Miss XoX (Phabio Zig-ant-E) from infamous Italian band Hitler SS and his Compact Cassette Echo label in Pordenone, Italy. Disforia Tapes, Red Raggini in Italy, too, and Tracy Crazy of the band SIB. The early Scandinavian, Brazilian and Italian stuff still does it for me!!
Jello Biafra also started to write, which was real exciting (Dead Kennedys being a fave band of all time ’n’ all that). We’d swap many record parcels over the years and we’re still in touch; he’s still an avid record collector and his old wants lists are really obscure and interesting. Was exchanging lots of mail with Colsk (Flux of Pink Indians) and Crass. Black Flag sent me their new single (Six Pack) and a few long letters; Maximum Rocknroll’s Tim Yohannan (RIP, he did so much for punk rock!); Flipside…
Other people I was writing a lot to at the time: Rubin Rose, South African drummer who played in Powerage and was the guy in South Africa that was getting their music and message out via Durban (and in such difficult times during Apartheid); Peter Zirschky (from the great Last Warning and Funeral Oration) was the guy I’d write to most in Holland; Jeff and Ian at Dischord; Anton of Upright Citizens in Germany. There was suddenly this small network that was bouncing it all around, and some great punk zines: Final Curtain, Anti Climax, Inaudible Noise, Toxic Graffiti…
HARDCORE OR WHAT AND BEYOND
Hardcore or What was my second tape release; it was completed October of 1981 and featured bands from the UK, Finland, Brazil, Sweden, Norway and Italy. I dropped the weird side and had enough to just release punk. Here I was able to expose the Brazilian scene through the incredible Olho Seco and Cólera, and with Terveet Kädet on there, too, this was the first hardcore punk I released — still sounds amazing! White labels stamped with XNT2 and a one-sided xeroxed insert. Funny reading it back as I put “Punk as music not politics, the spirit of ’76 is still alive.” 34 tracks including Born BC and Huvudtvätt (Headcleaners). For both this and Beating the Meat, I would print ’em up as required, since I didn’t have much cash — as I sold more, I could print more.
Pushead got in touch with me after Hardcore or What and we ended up corresponding. He sent me lots of his art — it was all black and white back then, except when I defaced them by colouring them in and handwriting the titles (e.g. Headcleaners). I hope he wasn’t too pissed off; it was punk to do that at the time! Unfortunately we never met in person, but I’ve always been grateful for his support and input at the time, allowing me to use some of his work. I’ve noticed that there has been further use of the Grevious Musical Harm and the Headcleaners covers over the years (both of which were created especially for those two releases), but I guess it was good for him, too, since he was then seen all over the world. I did distribute the first Septic Death 12-inch, Need So Much Attention, in the UK via Syd’s and the indie cartel; can’t remember how many. Each one had a free poster, but it was a real pain as customs held them up for ages and charged lots in duty…twats!
My third tape, Punk Is…, was released in June, 1982, and had a cryptic title that meant “Punk Is!” and also “Punk Is…?” — in other words: “What was punk at that point in time?” There was the peace punk stuff and the Exploited side of things, with Discharge blasting right down the middle. Tried a few sleeve designs but then just used sky and clouds in the end, and was able to get yellow tape cases for this one — the cassette equivalent of coloured vinyl. It was 25 tracks, bands from the UK, Italy, Brazil and Finland, including Kaaos, Cadgers and the Cult Maniax for the first time. The only hate mail I got was some letter scrawled with all sorts of manic shit and some half eaten sticky sweets stuck in it; I think it was ’cos I’d put Hitler SS on there, taken from the split EP with the band Tampax…
The next one, Raw War, came out in February 1983, and also had a yellow case, but for the first time
had a pro-printed label on the A-side. Red Rhino distributed a few of these, too. This and the next one, Grevious Musical Harm, I reckon were the best; Raw War went down especially well. Came with a printed sleeve and inserts in soft 7-inch covers. Pushead let me use the hanging guys for the cover — a classic Pushead drawing — with the diver on the back. 33 tracks from bands from the UK, Canada, America, Brazil, Holland and Norway, including the Neos, Rattus, Nabat, Indigesti, New York Ravers, Funeral Oration, etc.
Grevious Musical Harm had a much appreciated original drawing done by Pushead — a great drawing of a guitar going through a skull… Printed purple cover, blue printed label on side A, and grey cassette casing. Put together in Angel Studios near Hull, released in September 1983, with 39 tracks from bands from the UK, Canada, South Africa, Germany, America, Italy, Denmark, Australia, France, Poland and Sweden, including Poison Idea, Upright Citizens, Razor Blades, Powerage, Censur, Scapegoats, etc.
Once I made the move into records, the focus shifted away from the tapes, which I almost regret as things were never really so exciting or fun after that. I never followed through with plans for a sixth cassette compilation, though a lot of tapes did arrive after Grevious Musical Harm. I kept them all and I might put together a CD collection of the best unreleased tracks, and sell it really cheap to cover the costs and get the bands heard again. Better out there than in a box in my cupboard… Copyright-wise, I’m just piling in as there would be no other way of releasing it and contacting people, etc. It will be a non-profit thing anyhow, but if any of the bands who sent me tapes see this, please let me know — ta.
Overall, I probably sold 100 copies of Beat the Meat, probably 200-250 of Hardcore or What and Punk Is…, 300 of Raw War and 500 Grevious Musical Harm with distribution via the amazing Red Rhino in York. I did sent a copy of each to John Peel; he sent me three or four letters over the years and he genuinely seemed to like what I sent him, but the only time he rang me was when I was at work in the record shop. He said, “Hello, John Peel here…” — shit, wow, Peely — he told me not to send him any more Cult Maniax Full of Spunk EPs ’cos he didn’t like it (I’d sent him about eight copies), joking they may make him rich one day.
I was dying to release a record, ’cos vinyl is great — each one a piece of sculptured plastic, a solid real thing; tapes are fragile and like CDs don’t have the character or permanence… I knew Born BC from the record shop and thought it would be good to support a local band. Pressed up 1,000 with a green sleeve in October 1982, and distributed them via Red Rhino, who would then pass it to the indie cartel that existed back then — a really good independent distro network, when independent was independent and even had their own charts. The records went straight away so I ordered another 1,000 with a red sleeve, but they took about four weeks to come and the demand had gone by then, so I got stuck with loads. One of the reviews said the guitar sounded like a vacuum cleaner. I was real pleased with it — a great four-track punk EP and cover. Vocalist Lee Potter had a wicked Mohican for a while, and he also worked at Syd’s in the late ’80s. I wish they’d stayed together longer — their last few gigs were leading to better things.
Luddites were another Hull band who were great live, and though they didn’t really like being on what they saw as a “punk” label, were my second vinyl release in June, 1983. They recorded two songs at Cargo Studios and wanted to do a proper two-song single, but since I always wanted to release EPs (I saw it as better value or whatever) I convinced them to add a third track from a different session. I think they always felt the third one detracted from the quality and intensity of the record, and on reflection maybe they were right. I liked the black cover first pressing (1,000 made) but wish I’d done more with the sleeve. John Peel picked up on the song “Doppelganger” and played it lots, so I did a second press of 1,000 in a red cover; some came out orange. I eventually did another 1,000 with a horrible pink / purple sleeve, too, and overall sold more than 2,500 from the 3,000 total.
Channel 4 did a feature on Hull music in 1983, which included the Luddites and “Doppelganger,” and Peel then gave them a session at Radio One. I went down in the van with them, but while they were doing the session I picked up the Headcleaners EP from Mayking Records in West London. The Luddites were interested in me releasing their follow-up record but wanted it to be on a offshoot of Xcentric, kinda separate from the label, and in the end they released the Altered States single themselves. It’s another great one if you can track it down. They also had a couple of tracks on a Benelux 12-inch compilation, too. After the band split, drummer Dave Stead went on to play with Vicious Circle, The Housemartins and Beautiful South.
The Headcleaners EP was my third and I think fave release — the peak of all the good things to date. 1,500 copies were pressed in September 1983. I’d already distributed the red sleeve and black sleeve versions of the first EP in the UK, and they recorded the second in English for this release. I liked everything about it, and it had a great cover design by Pushead (although I scrawled all over his talent). Great to still see them well regarded to this day; they were a great band from the time. I’m still in touch with Mats from the band, and he’s planning on to releasing a retrospective Headcleaners CD sometime in the future.
As a side note, early on between Punk Is... and Raw War, I talked with Fabio of Olho Seco about releasing an EP. I proposed doing a UK release with vocals in English, thinking it would be better for the band, and also I didn’t really just want to re-release the same EP that was out already in Brazil. I don’t think they were really keen on doing an English-language release, and it didn’t happen. But in hindsight, they were right, there was something about the way the Portuguese language works in punk that helped make all the Brazilian bands so powerful, along with their incredible energy and a different kind of drumming, too! But it would still have been brilliant… Around the same time I was discussing doing an English-language Terveet Kädet EP, too. I can’t think why I didn’t pursue it more. Two more big regrets — not releasing EPs from Finland and Brazil… I should have stuck with what I was most into — the world hardcore punk scene — and why the hell didn’t I try to pursue the brilliant Eu’s Arse!?
The band Protest had already been on the Grevious Musical Harm tape and I really liked them — they had a real powerful sound. Their Vinyl Overload EP was my fourth release: 1,000 in black sleeve released January 1984, and then 1,000 in green sleeve. Again, I didn’t manage to shift the complete second pressing — sales were always in the first two or three weeks or you’d struggle to sell them, especially if you didn’t get any airplay. (The exception to this was the Headcleaners EP, which just went.) Elastica totally ripped off the riff to Protest’s “Hypnotic State” on their single “Stutter” — it’s the same riff!! There was talk of doing a second Protest EP and they mentioned a slower, more “soulful” material with acoustic guitars in parts… I was a bit skeptical at the time but I don’t think they ever recorded the new stuff. Often wonder what it would have sounded like! They were a great band in their time and I reckon it would have been worth hearing.
Cold Dance was another Hull band, they were very Banshees-sounding and good, tight and dedicated musicians. I was still trying to do my bit with the local scene and put out their No Glamour in Industry EP — 1,500 copies released in April 1984. John Peel picked up on them and played the record quite a lot. Although it was reminiscent of Siouxie, at the same time it was very different, and a very unique release. They were good people and helped me sleeve up the copies, too. Also, it was my first photo on a record cover!
It was great signing the Cult Maniax — they really were one of my favourite bands and fantastic live. Thankfully I got a copy of their first EP as they had to destroy the majority of the press as well as the pressing plates due to the fact that the subject of one of the songs — the owner of the Black Horse pub in Torrington — took them to court. Blitz is a brilliant single and they had already been on the Punk Is… and Raw War tapes. They had some amazing early songs (that they never recorded) with a real snarling Sex Pistols vibe going on, great harmonies and different song structures — brooding, building and exploding. Big Al was an ace frontman backed by great drums and quality guitars.
My first release for them, the Full of Spunk EP, had a great cover printed on both sides and folded out to a Cult Maniax montage poster. I think 2,500 made, released July 1984. It had the very powerful “No More Beach Boys” which was even better live; the track “Cool Cats Dancin” was more along their rock ’n’ roll side, the “Lucy Looe” side of their music, which carried on into their next release, the Johnny the Duck EP. I was more into the darker, punky stuff — they shoulda been the new Sex Pistols and deserved to be way bigger than they were, but it was hard getting any airplay anywhere! A shame that John Peel didn’t like them. They probably really needed and deserved a bigger label than just me.
Their last release was the live 12-inch Where Do We All Go from 1985. The old lady on the cover was Big Al’s gran, I believe. I can’t remember whose idea it was to do a live release as I didn’t really like them myself (except the best live album ever — Ramones’ It’s Alive). But I hired a live recording crew in and they did a good job; it was videotaped, too, I think by Jettisoundz. I did do a great audio mix in a Hull studio of the whole gig, but that version was never released — they picked the tracks for the 12-inch and mastered them really well. “Harry” is the standout and one of their best tracks ever. I saw years later that Retch Records released a CD version of the full gig that I paid to be recorded, but with a far less powerful mix and crap cover.
Those were good times and they had a great entourage; I enjoyed hanging out with John the Beast — he did the Beast zine and he was hilarious, had a great stupid sense of humour like me. I knew Higgs, who became the Cults’ manager, from his excellent Never Surrender zine. My band Quel Dommage played with them in Ilfracombe once but I was real ill and coughing up green bile. We were crap that night but the Cult blew the walls down, leering Al virtually banging his head on the low ceiling. They all seemed to have a laid-back, relaxed North Devon-ness about them. I hope someday they’ll go in a studio and record the early tracks I’ve only heard their many rehearsal tapes.
In 1983, I started Quel Dommage with some mates from Hull. At the time, among other things I liked Sisters of Mercy, Mekons, Killing Joke, the first Christian Death LP, but I otherwise wasn’t heavily into goth or post-punk stuff and I’ve always wished by guitar sound had been much harder in the band — but I only had a bloody flanger. We split in 1986, but we left behind a few really good unreleased demos (some of which I’ve just put videos up for on YouTube).
Played a few gigs at Spiders and Adelphi club, and other Hull and area venues like Tower nightclub. We even played with the Housemartins twice, once in Northampton when on the way back I threw up my chow mein in the back of the van and it was sliding up and down the inside, looking exactly as it did when it went in… Also did a few gigs with the Gargoyles, the funniest Hull band, who also had Ted Key and at one point Hugh Whittaker from the pre-Norman Cook Housemartins. Eddy Gargoyle was the best Hull frontman of all time for sure!
Bright Lights, the Quel Dommage single and seventh Xcentric Noise vinyl release, was engineered in Bridlington at Ken Giles Studio by Colin Richardson. Colin did all the Chameleons stuff and had worked with Martin Hannett and lots of bands at the famous Cargo Studios — Joy Division and other Factory acts, plus many punk groups such as Anti Pasti. John Peel played the single once… I actually once got into the office of Rough Trade boss Geoff Travis — “How did you get in?” He put on Bright Lights and turned it off after about a minute, saying it was too slow a build up and not for him. Ha ha — apparently he always regretted that one. (For the Americans reading, that’s called sarcasm.)
LIVE IN ’ULL
I also put on gigs in Hull in the early to mid ’80s; was able to use the Trades and Labour Club where a guy called Swift Nick was also doing stuff. A few memories of the time: An amazing Toxic Reasons gig! They played in front of only 15-20 people, well embarrassing. The band stayed over at my folks’ and I remember them asking my mum if she was going to the show. Other bands I did shows for… Conflict — always had their own sound system. One Way System — they wanted to be paid before they went on. UK Subs — I was gonna interview Charlie Harper for Radio Humberside, who gave me an old style ’70s recording box on a strap with a mic; the damn thing didn’t work. The UK Subs always pulled ’em in. I put Subhumans on at the Welly Community Club — them, Cult Maniax and Underdogs. It was just me on the door, lotta drunk punks just walking or sneaking in. I had no security and the PA guy went nuts as there wasn’t a stage, either. Cult Maniax couldn’t make it, which was lucky, really, as I only got 70 quid on the door and I was skint ’cos you don’t earn a lot working in a record shop. Subhumans very kindly just took the £70, shoulda been a lot more.
To be honest, putting gigs on was a pain in the ass, you put so much work in and make posters, try and get a listing in local press and radio, and I’d still get low turnouts (except Subs and Conflict). I was glad to knock it on the head in the end. There was never this whole collaborative Hull scene, really, just a few people doing things. But there were some great leather jackets, hair, pockets of glue and lots of drinking. I didn’t do the glue…
THE FINAL RELEASES
Cold Dance’s second single (1,000 copies released early 1985) didn’t do anything and though I liked Punctured Tough Guy’s EP (1,000 copies, March 1985), I wasn’t sure what I was doing anymore. Both of these had sleeves made by the band, both good moody fodder, but they weren’t strong enough releases and didn’t excite me anywhere near the older punk and hardcore stuff. I had kinda lost direction and I think by now people were a bit confused about what the label was.
Following the Beating the Meat LP debacle in 1984, Red Rhino financed the last few releases, but looking at my accounts I was just losing money. I was no businessman. The whole Cartel / indie network thing was breaking apart and Red Rhino eventually folded, too. I don’t actually know how many records they pressed but I think and hope they got their money back. They paid for Cult Maniax’s Johnny the Duck and live 12-inch, as well as my last release: The Party Pooping Punk Provocations compilation LP had some great stuff on it including the stupid sound effects, plus a great cover design by Chaz from Atrox, a band featured on the album (he also did an excellent zine called Mentally Unstable). This album got the packaging I’d wanted Beating the Meat to have. Bands like Self Abuse (who I nearly released a record by at one point, but just didn’t have any money), Samples, Quel Dommage and the great Stupids.
These last few releases through Red Rhino all had proper glossy printed covers. But I kinda packed it all in then, really — it was only me and I was still on a rubbish wage at the record shop. It wasn’t really any fun anymore and had all become a bit performing right society forms ’n’ stuff, and not just trying to get world punk bands heard anymore. I started taking photography more seriously and in 1989 got into Blackpool College for photography. Funnily enough, having done the label actually helped me get into college as I didn’t have the required qualifications.
I’m still in touch with a few people from back then, but not many, really. Going to Blackpool College was the start of another journey that lead me to London in 1992. I’m now paying the rent as a photographer and still creating stuff in my bedroom, mainly for www.3trousers.com but still writing and recording music. My latest project is playing bass with my amazing Spanish classical guitar mate Blue Yates, a kinda Spaghetti-Western-meets-Pixies-style thing. Also stuff with Rinky Dink, including a charity EP which raised £1200+ for Hull’s Dove House hospice, and I played on a Bella Figa CD release. But I’ve been a bit slack on the gig front these last few years. Love Eddy Current Suppression Ring but they ain’t been to the UK yet. Forgetters are sounding good — Blake from Jawbreaker / Jets to Brazil — and there are still many great records to be heard on the Maximum Rocknroll podcasts that I download every week.
I still listen to loads of the old stuff, and even bought my first record player in many years recently, a USB one. It’s been good to play vinyl again. But Spotify.com is pretty cool and BitTorrents and Mark Riley on BBC Radio 6 — very eclectic and alternative like John Peel in what he plays, and with his great wit and humour that he musta picked up from Mark E. Smith when he played in the Fall… I still like all the Tim Armstrong stuff and still like Bad Religion and NoFX too, but I ain’t on the pulse of what’s going on anymore. All the music seems to have blurred and merged over the years. I’m a lot more mixed in what I listen to now, but still hate pop, soft rock and disco shite, love folk and acoustic and world music, dub, good bass, and loud guitars, but I’ve never gone off any of the old stuff and am still waiting for the next great punk band.
NO CHARGE NO PROFIT
In 2002 and 2003, I did a free label called No Charge No Profit: “Getting music heard without the hassle.” The releases were limited-edition CDRs with labels and sleeves. I was putting stuff out that I wanted people to hear, which is basically what Xcentric Noise was all about in the first place, although this time (especially with the Peely release) it would have been impossible to get the releases signed off, so I just gave them away to people I thought would appreciate them. In the end, I ran out of money (well, it was a bit like giving money away) but I enjoyed doing it — we all need a place to go, and my place has always been filling my head with some kinda creative activity while trying to get a good message across. The No Charge No Profit releases were:
NCNP 1 – Plastic Bet She Was a Goer
NCNP 2 – Jesus and the Gospelfuckers s/t
NCNP 3 – V/A Peely
NCNP 4 – V/A The Brazilians
NCNP 5 – V/A Live in ’Ull
NCNP 6 – Chimps Eat Banana / Blyth Power Split
Big ups to Robert Andersson, Mats Nilsson, Tez (Andy Turner) Xpozez, Fabio Rodrigues Sampaio, Redson (Edson Lopes Pozzi), Inocentes, Ratos De Porão, Nasty, Vote, the great Terveet Kädet, Jello, Tim Yo, Max Rocknroll, Ian MacKaye, Peter Zirschky, Keith Blakeman, Rubin (Wildman) Rose, Steve Neos, Tony Nitwit, Mob 47, Sean Faction, Dick (Bluurg, Subhumans), Dig (Earache), Tommy Stupid, Porky Prime Cut (went in to see one of them matrix’s done once and met the famous Porky — his signature was/is on so many matrixes released in late ’70s / ’80s!), the fine Nick Toczek who helped along the way… Of course, Red Rhino (RIP Tony K — was so sorry to hear he died in 2008) to who I owed so much; Syd’s, Born BC and posse, Paul at Adelphi, Swift Nick, Pete at Spiders, Nick Clay, Better Badges, Jakke and Jari (Kaaos), Crass, Tony (Suspect Device), David Stuart, Pete Craven, Wolfie (Real Overdose), Charlie Mason, Welly (Artcore), Alex Ogg (ex-Panache zine; check his book Independence Days: The Story of UK Independent Record Labels), and all the great underground independent hardcore punk rock bands, zines and people doing their bit for a better place from a special time!
Cheers to Chris (Kill From the Heart) and thanx to Mark Barker for the questions, positive comments and, along with Pete Craven, helping me realise how good the times were (well, musically if nothing else!) and that it was all worthwhile. Sorry if I’ve forgotten anyone, it was quite a while ago and cheers anyone who bought or ever enjoyed any of the Xcentric Noise stuff. There seem to be plenty of links to download it all — I eventually accepted the digital world (in photography, too)… It’s amazing how things have changed. I don’t like it but you gotta move on or get left behind. I’ve never re-released anything… I dunno — I guess there maybe a compilation of the vinyl someday, but I don’t have most mastertapes and don’t really see the point. It was all of a time — a good time — and I’d rather focus on the new. But look out for one final hardcore compilation from tapes in a cupboard… Provisional title: CuT And pAsTe (or CuTs oF pAste) hopefully later in 2011! I guess it will be a 30-year anniversary release… Jeez!!! Keep on!
No regrets! – Je ne regrette rien – Bollox I’ve loads…
— Shesk, 2011