Friday, November 04, 2005

Other Fine albums from our Catalogue you may enjoy…..

I know its only a record company and record companies come and go but I feel the need to say something about the twinge of sadness I feel with the passing of Festival Records.....sorry… FMR…but I guess to those of us who have been around for a year or two, they will always be Festival.

Yep, a record company is just a record company, and this one has been controlled for most of its existence, at least in Australia, by the not-user-friendly Rupert Murdoch, who bled it for much of its life. But Festival, at least on this side of the pond, was something else. It was, for years, half locally owned (by Kerridge Odeon and before that by a series of entrepreneurs) and it had a freedom of spirit and a drive, by virtue of the people who worked there and the fact that it was small and relied on its deals with offshore indies and its suss in the local market to survive. In the eighties most of Festival’s major indies, Island, A&M, Arista, Jive, and Chrysalis, were bought and effectively turned into little more than names by multi-nationals. Whilst under the wing of Festival, all those companies enjoyed better success in New Zealand than anywhere else in the world. Even Mushroom jumped ship for a while, although its subsidiary, Flying Nun stayed in the fold. Things were tough after that and never, despite the best efforts of some pretty talented people, never really recovered. The surprise is that it took Murdoch so long to offload FMR…rumours having been rife for years.

Trips to several conferences in Australia over the years confirmed pretty much what had been obvious to many for a long time, that a&r was not a strength in the Australian operation, and hadn’t been since the golden years of the sixties. Indeed at one of those conferences, at some hellhole in Coffs Harbour, MD Roger Grierson stood up and announced that whoever had signed that “last piece of shit, was fired”. Sadly things didn’t improve much, and they even neutered pretty much Mushroom after they absorbed it. It’s a tough call trying to think of the last act signed by FMR in Australia that couldn’t be generously described as toss. Anything vaguely interesting on their books right now comes out of NZ.

And I would guess that if Warners are smart they have bought the company as much for these as its glorious catalogue.

New Zealand’s operation was different. For much of the past three decades Festival was a cornerstone of local music, giving a home to those that needed one, pressing and distribution facilities, and a place to store all those unsold discs. Much of the history of New Zealand’s popular music is tied to the company, especially in the era before the multi nationals showed much interest in NZ music (with a few exceptions, in real terms about six years ago).

The lineage of New Zealand labels and artists that owe their (often brief) careers to Festival is astounding. Think…Th’Dudes and Dave Dobbyn, The Exponents, Deep Grooves, Wildside, Mikey Havoc, Scribe, The Screaming Meemees, The Blams, Hello Sailor, The Chills, Tall Poppy, Headless Chickens, D4, Mar-ve-elle, Upper Hutt Posse, MC OJ and Rhythm Slave, Bats, Car Crash Set, Carly Binding, Coconut Rough, Ngaire, 3 The Hard Way, Look Blue Go Purple, The Clean…damn, the whole bloody Flying Nun catalogue…and that list took about 2 minutes..there are hundreds more, major and lesser….

I took Nice’n’Urlich to FMR and I doubt anyone else could’ve seen the potential in that. We sold over 40,000 albums across the series. It was a perfect FMR record. In a similar way, does anyone really think that Dirty, as talented as Callum is, would’ve had the success they had with Scribe without FMR’s talents and understanding of detail. Or with anyone else…..

With Festival, then FMR, every sale counted, it had to, and they took pleasure in taking a record to a few thousand sales. A Festival success would often be counted as a failure anywhere else. But it wasn’t.

When I had my clubs, it was Festival who turned up week in and week out with new records, with rare remixes. Thus Eric B & Rakim’s Paid in Full was a far bigger hit in NZ than anywhere else in the world. Likewise Womack & Womack’s Teardrops.

When I first when to Festival, at the instigation of Victor Stent, in 1980, I’d released a few singles, sold a few thousand, distributing effectively out of my flat and had several hits but had hit a brick wall. I found an independent synergy with Festival that I guess others did later.

The company, then, was run, like a fiefdom, by Ray Porter. It was Ray who used to put ads on the back of album covers for other records in his catalogue, without making any effort to consult the acts involved, so a an album for, say, Traffic might have four Shirley Bassey albums advertised on the back (in fact they always included Shirl…Ray had a thing about her). By the time I arrived these were, thankfully, in the company’s history. Although Ray did try and insist, when The Screaming Meemees’ See Me Go became the first NZ single to enter at number one, that we put the band in a club that week to quickly record a live album to add it to. I resisted. He also gave me a golden licensing deal with Propeller, offering me 25% of retail, a deal that was to cause Festival major headaches in the future after Ray left (he knew he was leaving when I signed) when it was realised that a most-favoured-nations clause in the A&M contract (they were on 20%) could cost the company millions.

That problem was covered with a side handshake deal between me and Ray’s successor, the large, in every sense of the word, Jerry Wise, a man who I still regard as a mentor and whom I miss to this day. Jerry was English and used to work as an accountant for The Who and as such I guess he really had seen it all and took everything in a gracious stride.

Jerry and I always got along fairly well and he saved my label’s and my bacon several times and took our dealings very personally. He was open, honest, generous, both in spirit and financially. We had a run in with a studio that had gone back on its word on a deal and Jerry took them to task over this, which was something he didn’t have to do. In fact Jerry, over the years, did an awful lot for a lot of people that he didn’t have to do, and there are many of us who owe a great deal to this giant of a man. Friday nights at Festival, with Jerry’s open door policy, became quite an institution, something which survived him to the end of the company. I respected him immensely and his, far too early, funeral, in Dominion Road, indicated that I was in no way alone.

I guess the personal side of Festival was what really made it what it was. There have been quite a few comments over the years about Festival being neither an independent or a major, sitting more or less in between. It wasn’t a major because, despite failed attempts over the years by the Australian office, it had no multinational operations supplying product. And yet it wasn’t an indie because it was owned by Newscorp. Rather, it was an indie trying hard to be a major.

But it was the independence of spirit that defined it and that spirit came from the staff and management over the years. There are too many to name one by one, but Festival and later FMR often had a team second to none and provided quite a training ground….the manager of a major US label started in Newmarket. I haven’t many business dealings with FMR in the past couple of years but, clearly, the tradition has continued through to the likes of Jonathan Hughes, Dylan Pellet and Darryl Parker, often regarded as the nicest guy in the industry, and the others at FMR at the end.

From Carlton Gore Road, where Jerry had to ring me to get the skinheads designing their album cover out of the stairway during a retailers conference, to the damp end of Nikau Street, to the rather odd offices in Scanlan Street, to the final resting place in Freeman’s Bay, Festival Records contributed something that was often un-catered for elsewhere. Over the past forty years, they provided something that no-one else did and it’s hard to see where the interesting little labels with something quirky and vital will go now. But then again, perhaps its time, like the record industry as we know it, is past. There is no doubt however, that without the support, drive and belief exhibited by the management and staff of this wannabe major, the indigenous NZ industry would not have been in the position it was in 2000 to make that jump to where it is now.

A minor but cruel irony….Flying Nun quickly ended a disastrous deal with Warners years ago and now end up owned by them, indeed such a large slice of our national musical heritage is now controlled by a listed American company. It’s like Coca Cola owning Bastion Point…..


aannnnd……The tunes that worked for me today…..

Donald Byrd-Love Has Come Around…pure of the happiest songs I know.

Darkman-Annihilating Rhythm..wild pitch, I love wild pitch

Patrick Chardronnet-Eve By Day..lovely sparse old school techy thing. Favourite new record…

Kerri Chandler- Sunset…Kerri’s on a roll…again…

Luther Vandross-Apologise (Quentin Harris mix) ..I guess it’s a bootleg, dunno, and I don’t even know where the original comes from and this is just on blank CD-R, and the new whizz kid takes no real risks however its kinda nice to hear Luther sound contemporary…even if he is dead

EPMD- Listen to my the second, quite frankly, brilliant album from Eric & Parrish, a wry rhyme about getting a deal, over Faze-O’s Riding High

Tyree Cooper-Acid Over (the Piano mix)..prototype acid house complete with an exquisite blue funk piano line (from Marshall Jefferson?)..

Patti Jo-Make Me Believe in You (BSO / Asher mix)…one of those songs, that, truly, unless you Kid Cremed it or something, it would be impossible to mess up. And they haven’t……

John Davis & The Monster Orchestra­-The Theme From Kojak..big band orchestral disco complete with a lollipop….not a million miles from….

Louie Ramírez-Do It Any Way You Wanna.. a sultry Latin spin on the T Connection tune,

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Up, Down, Turnaround.....

My life is a series of coincidences. I know that’s a fairly obvious statement, hardly the thought of the epoch, but it still confounds and amazes me sometimes. But I am firmly of the belief that once ones ceases to be amazed and confounded by the unexpected or the new, its time to go and it scares me to think that I may not be able to make that decision for myself one day. Then I guess its up to those around me to do it for me…whoa, this is getting to grim and it wasn’t where I wanted this to go at all.

Coincidences...yep , I’ve actually had some fairly good fortune from coincidences. One of the best was the fact that a little radio station in Buffalo, NY, which had picked up “How Bizarre” and had red hot phones, just happened to be affiliated to Z100 in NYC and passed on the information after the record company had lost interest. Is that luck or coincidence..I’m not sure, but it worked for us.

I don’t know if it is a case of luck, a small world or coincidences, but I keep on bumping into people I know in big cities (read: really big, not large towns like Auckland or even Sydney…a city only becomes a big city when it stops looking up enviously at other cities and Sydney is a poor man’s LA...Melbourne is a big city as is Denpasar which only has a population of half a million but is self confident, and is not obsessed with any other metropolis). I turned a corner in NYC and literally walked into Simon, an old friend. Whilst we were discussing this unlikely meet, our mutual friend, Debbie, walked around the corner. None of us knew each other was in NYC at the time. I was waiting for Harry who knew all of us but was late…spooky.

I walked into Camden Tube station some years back and sat in the carriage, head down as you do, trying not to get the shitty ink of The Evening Standard on my hands, only to hear my name called. Across the way was Valo, my Chilean friend from Auckland. He was staying four doors from me in Islington. I had no idea he was in London. He had no idea I was in London.

I had just left Auckland and went out for a meal (ok..honestly, it was a dozen frozen Margaritas but it was was a Mexican restaurant) in NYC (ok Harry was involved again). At the bar were various members of Pop Will Eat Itself. I had last seen them three days earlier at the bar of Cause Celebre.

I could go on and on, but I won’t..

Ok.. one more. This is from a small town, Auckland, but it’s a goodie. I was sitting in Vulcan Lane as I have from year to year, having coffee with my old friend Adrienne Winkelman, getting nostalgic about the days when we both though we punks, about the narrow pink tie she gave me in 1977 (I still have it….an Adrienne Winkelman original!) when she said “Whatever happened to that Johnny Volume?”) Johnny, of course was the guitarist in the Scavengers, the wonderful bloody Scavs, and my flatmate, when Adrienne had an unrequited crush on him.

As she finished the sentence, John Cooke (for that is he), walked around the corner out of O’Connell Street, looking like he did when he left our lives in the very early eighties, back into it. The endgame was a late night or three in my club and a not inconsequential bar tab but that is another whole mess and irrelevant to this.

What is relevant in 2005 seems to be the whole Avain Flu thing. Now call me sceptic or an optimistic or whatever but I’m having problems with this one. I live in an “at risk” country (and don’t the Australian media love pointing it out over and over again…the half truths, the outright lies and the horror stories that even the reputable media flaunt daily indicate that racism is alive and well to the south of me) and I’m aware of the possibility that this thing may mutate but damned if the conspiracy theorist and disbeliever in me isn’t wondering, like SARS, if this isn’t just the west playing a few games with us yet again. We have a global pandemic with us already, its called AIDS and its not only obliterating Africa, its firmly into Papua New Guinea, the South Pacific, China, South Asia and is killing millions. And the west is doing little more than playing lipservice to this as we speak.

I’m not usually a conspiracy freak, I mean, I don’t think the shooters in the Kennedy case had help from Cuba, but this bird flu thing is a little unreal. To date, over quite some years, less than a few dozen people have allegedly died from this, some unconfirmed and more than a few had been drinking duck blood. And the population of Asia many billion?, most of whom live in crowded, poor conditions with their poultry all around them. It doesn’t ring true. Anyone who has worked with birds in closely knows that birds dying from seemingly random circumstances is more than common and is as old as mankind. We are told it might mutate into something.

More to the point this has a two fold benefit to the west, it pushes vast amounts of cash into the western economies…Australia is threatening to inoculate its own population and the buffoon in the White House is rolling out the War on Influenza type clichés he needs to pacify those still to stupid to wonder why they voted for him. And it keeps Asia, ugly old Asia, full of diseases, and terrorists in line, just when their economies are booming and threatening to overtake the first and second world. Oh, and it keeps the people ever so slightly fearful and subservient..

I’m just waiting for someone with some influence to point out that the emperor has no clothes…..

Ok some records of the day…..

  • Led Zeppelin-Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You…..I have a soft spot for Zep..yes they were a bloated old monolith, ugly as sin and they deserved punk more than most, but they had a couple of songs…for every bloody Stairway there were two killers like this and you watch how an educated dancefloor reacts to Dyer Makyr. There was a great house bootleg of his by PQM many years back..apparently Page loved it.
  • The Merseybeats-I Stand Accused…the old Sam & Dave song, written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter was also covered in a perfect fashion by Elvis and The Attractions back in 1980. I discovered this banging scouse remake on a compilation about five years back. A perfect song, perfect in any version.
  • So to another Elvis Costello B side….Nick Lowe and His Sound..What’s So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding.. on the flip of a Nick Lowe single and credited to the above. If you ever wanted to explain to anyone why Elvis Costello and The Attractions were so bloody them this. Then play them..
  • Brinsley Schwartz- What’s So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding..which is just as good but completely different. Nick Lowe was /is cool. Full stop.
  • Patti Labelle- More Than Material… a house by numbers mix from 2004, by veterans Darryl James and Fred “Somebody Else’s Guy” Macfarlane that I love…lush warm and big and a record that owes a lot to..
  • Inner City’s Whatcha Gonna Do with My Loving (Morales and Knuckles vocal mix) from about 91, a time when Frankie and David were untouchable. I told Morales how much I loved this a couple of years back and he said it was one of his favourites. From the opening piano to the loping groove, Its brilliant until it drops down into the slowed down Jack your Body / Let No Man refrain on dense strings, and then it gets much better.
  • Roxy Music-Out of the Blue.. my early Ferry fixation, off the underrated Country Life, which was the album where Bryan, years before he became a pratt, stripped off the arty pretensions and made the first, and only, great Roxy pop album (although Manifesto had its moments). A song that soars…
  • Andres Trentemoller­­-Le Champagne…off his first EP, on Naked and the best thing Naked have released in years…a record to play in the garden
  • I’m desperate to hear the Carl Craig remix of Theo Parrish that’s out right now, but in the interim…R Thyme-Use Me (Carl Craig’s piano groove) from about 94 or so is just fine
  • The Features-City Scenes..I play this whenever I get a little down as I did this morning. I released it in 1980, and it was the first. It’s a record I’m immensely proud off and it cheers me up always

Further to my last post 2 September, 2005 Open Letter Planet E and Carl Craig Supporters Dear Friends, I first would like to thank you for the years of support, the support of my company, Planet E Communications, Inc., and the support of my music. I am so happy and proud to have had a wonderful career making music that I love and to play it around the world. I am reaching out to you today to tackle the issue of unauthorized releases of my material, mainly the Audioslave reedit of my title "Darkness". I'm not happy to see this and other unauthorized releases of my material, including the release of "Poontang", "Intergalactic Beats" and of my remixes. Though it is endearing that fans would be interested in owning this material, the purchase of these releases isn't supporting Planet E and our music at all. By purchasing these releases it gives less of a chance for Planet E to officially present this music in a way that fits our vision, such as Designer Music and various other productions. So friends I ask that you avoid these unauthorized versions. It light of this current release, Audioslave has been kind enough to send me a cd-r of their re-edit, months ago of course, which now gives Planet E the opportunity to release this product as well. We will also offer this release at a price that is as close to our cost as possible. So please consider that we will make this release available a.s.a.p. Please cancel your order or return the unauthorized copies to the manufacturer or distributor of purchase. Also, I ask that you send all information concerning the origination of these unauthorized copies to me directly at ****** so that we may take the appropriate action to stop this activity. Thank you again!!! Peace. Carl Craig Planet E Communications, Inc. I think he means Radio Slave, not the bad US rock band