shop assistance: tracy wilson and turntable report

welcome to our new series on record sellers! first up is:
Name: Tracy Wilson 
Location: Richmond, Virginia
Operates: Turntable Report, Courtesy Desk, Record CollectHer
Has worked at: Flipside Records (1988-94), Deep Groove in RVA (2010-2016-ish), and has been running Courtesy Desk since Jan. 2021.
Bands: Dahlia Seed (1992-’96), Positive No (2012-2020), Outer World

Photo courtesy of Tracy Wilson

Music lifer Tracy Wilson has been involved in independent music since 1988, starting out as a music-obsessed teenager working at the legendary brick & mortar New Jersey shop Flipside. Many of you know her emo band Dahlia Seed (1992-1996). Then she landed at Caroline Distribution working as a store rep and project manager (1996-2006). When the pandemic hit, Tracy started Turntable Report, a newsletter that does some deep dives to find some of the coolest unheard music out there. As the subscriber base quickly grew, she found her readership was having trouble locating certain titles, so she established the mail order Courtesy Desk. She also does an Insta series called Record CollectHer to correct one massive problem in the music world: the lack of female voices, especially when discussing collecting music. She also does pop-ups in Richmond, Virginia, that offer new records from Courtesy Desk and some used titles, including detailed pricing stickers letting customers know about the record with a description, a RIYL, notes if it might be color vinyl, limited, numbered, or anything else that might help the record find a home. Interview by Mike Turner + Images courtesy Tracy Wilson

This is the first in a new series of interviews with people from independent music retail. 

chickfactor: Have you been surprised by the success and growth of Turntable Report? What made you want to launch a newsletter?
Tracy Wilson: Absolutely floored. Popular culture carries deep nostalgia and quite honestly, I have heard so much of that music for the bulk of my life, I don’t need to hear these older “classic” records ever again. I’m good—ha! I have had a long-standing obsession with new music and have kept tabs on it for decades—whether I was working in the music industry or not. As our band Positive No was wrapping up in Jan of 2020, I wanted to fill this hole in my life with a new project that meant just as much to me. I had no idea how many people were looking for a newsletter hyper-focused on new, underground music so I released my first report with zero expectations. It went out to fewer than 50 people at first. It has grown to nearly a thousand readers with zero promotion over these past two years and I am so honored to have these subscribers. It gives me hope that there are a lot of people out there who want to discover new voices and open themselves up to new talent. I know there is no shortage of truly remarkable new records out there, so it is really thrilling to be able to share these finds with a community of people who are equally as passionate about taking these paths less traveled.
When Covid hit, you and Kenneth were doing lots of Facebook DJ party live streams until they started killing the livestreams due to copyright. Did this help spark the next steps of Turntable Report into Courtesy Desk and then Record CollectHER? What is your goal with Record CollectHER? 
During the early days of Covid, we had no idea what to do with ourselves. Even though it was only two years ago, it feels like a lifetime ago. The entire world was fumbling through the dark, trying to make sense of things, and find ways to make the days that all blurred together have purpose and meaning. I felt especially desperate to turn my panic into something productive. We went from being very social people who had spent nearly a decade in a busy touring band and spending a lot of time at events centered around art and music. We suddenly found ourselves stripped of all that stimulation and like everyone else, coping with a never-ending parade of never experienced before horrors. Live streaming DJ sets was a way to connect with friends and fellow music fanatics without having to use words we didn’t have yet for what we were all experiencing. The Turntable Report was already happening; however, I now had less distractions to take me away from it. As my discovery of new music grew along with the number of subscribers, I was surprised to learn that this community of readers didn’t just want to read about these records or hear them, they also wanted to own them. Almost as shocking as it was to discover how few media outlets new music fans have to rely upon, was learning that most record shops are not selling these smaller, underground artists either. Courtesy Desk was born out of the necessity to offer readers a place to purchase the music they were reading about. There is power in numbers so rather than just one of us paying to import just one copy of a record which is terribly expensive, if there are 10 of us who all want this record, I can import it in bulk at a much lower cost so not only are we rewarded with the music we want, but at a savings that I get to pass on to my readers who are now also my customers in some cases. I only sell the items I write about so my shop is highly unusual in that sense. ¶ As a woman who has worked at various record stores throughout my life and have also been collecting records since I was a kid, I also know what it feels like to be an outsider in something I have dedicated my life to and am still passionate about. Minorities are often pushed out of these male dominated spaces and in many cases face extreme sexism/toxic masculinity. I created the Instagram account Record CollectHER to highlight and celebrate fellow minority record collectors who deserve to feel respected and cared for. I wanted to steer the conversation away from the flexing of who owns the most records or the rarest, and offer a comfortable place to share their personal stories about what their collection means to them and how it reflects who they are as a person. Record CollectHER is my humble way of bringing us all together and giving this family of music fans a caring home via our mutual love of collecting music.

Molly Neuman Hernández and Tracy at a Caroline event, 1990; courtesy of Tracy Wilson

Did you have a goal to launch Courtesy Desk and then push to open a record booth or physical location?
I never dreamed my newsletter would snowball into an online store so for a while I was selling records in the back of a beloved vintage clothing shop in Richmond but a recent rent increase put an end to that. If inflation continues like this, I suspect a lot of labels will not be pressing records in 2023. The overcrowded vinyl making/buying community is being weeded out because of insane costs of everything. While this isn’t exactly the resolve the industry was looking for, I imagine pressing plants will be less backed up as fewer people will be able to afford to run vinyl record labels and move over to other formats. You know what the music industry didn’t need? Another playground for the wealthy. One of the things I really love about record collecting was that it was an affordable way for anyone to own art. I am sad to see this evaporate, but music is such a huge part of being a human being that it will always find a way to carry on. The next generation will decide what that landscape will look like and to me aging gracefully is not only accepting what the future brings, but also learning to appreciate that the world keeps moving forward with or without you. 
Do you have a goal to open a full record store or store front or have you given it any serious thought?
Tracy: It has been scary to think too far off into the future. I am still very much taking things month by month. Like most music industry lifers, I do not have much of a nest egg to expand into a larger business. If I were to dream big, I would want to keep a very curated, highly stylized, tiny shop, and have a larger back room space to house my personal record collection that could double as a private social club that invites DJs from around the world to play records, share stories about the music they play, and offer a space for those who want to learn how to DJ, to do so in a friendly space that is open to all. To be clear though, I am really struggling to make plans for a future that still feels so uncertain.
How do you find the stuff you cover in the Turntable Report and stock at Courtesy Desk?
Tracy: This is 30-plus years in the making. For decades I have been reading music mags and newspapers, subscribing to record store newsletters, and joining band/label/distro mailing lists. I love talking to shoppers and employees at record stores. In more recent times I follow hundreds of music-related social media pages, belonging to a network of fellow new music fanatics who are always sharing their newest finds. I listen to radio shows from around the world, check out the occasional music podcast, and follow an absurd amount of people via Bandcamp which alone is a seemingly endless supply of inspiration. I try to keep an open mind and keep my ears filled with as much new music as I can nearly all day, every day. My entire life has been dedicated to music so in turn my social circle is also mostly music people. These peers are also a remarkable resource that I am forever learning from. I may not be the world’s best music writer, but people would be hard pressed to find someone more dedicated to finding new music, lifting up new artists, and  having a willingness to share it with others. Lastly, I work very hard to ensure I am not reliant on algorithms or people who are paid to pitch records to me. I want the music I share with others to be a pure reflection of my dedication, personal taste, and years of experience from being deeply invested in the DIY music community. People can be strangely competitive about finding the next big thing and like to keep these treasures to themselves. I feel the exact opposite way. This should not be a contest. Human beings are making art, pouring themselves into a craft, and they deserve as many of us putting a spotlight on their music as possible. 

Tracy at Flipside; photo by Richard Unhoch

What are your thoughts about RSD?
Record Store Day started with the best intentions, and I think they believe they continue to do important work to drive customers into record stores. Their problem is that RSD has developed into a complicated beast that desperately needs to be reshaped to give back to the music community that helped realize their vision. I am disappointed that RSD has turned a blind eye to the monster they created IE expensive, non-returnable, insanely limited products that pit small businesses against chain stores, bottleneck supply chains that have been further ravaged during pandemic times, and makes life for struggling independent artists even more difficult because major labels continue to control the market and limited/valuable real estate in these shops. There is an ever-growing laundry list of issues that come along with RSD now. They have morphed into something closer to a mob boss backed by the major label thugs who are helping to turn affordable art for the masses into a cut-throat commodity that is closer to day trading than a celebration of human expression. RSD needs to take the time to listen to their community, hear out the needs of their partners, and make some much needed changes. If the music industry wants to survive and grow, RSD needs to help empower and lift the community that has been there for them since the beginning. 
Do you find multi-color-vinyl pressings to be a positive or negative to the industry? 
Ughhhh. I am so completely disinterested in colored vinyl and how it manipulates music fans to focus less on the art and more on obsessive consumerism. The industry has a long history of taking advantage of music fans and catering to big box stores who demand exclusive products. This is not realistic or affordable for most consumers to keep up with nor can independent musicians/labels afford this gross trend that further chokes up already overwhelmed pressing plants.  

Dahlia Seed in 1996; Photo courtesy of Tracy Wilson

Do you find it scary to see the big box retailers getting back into stocking vinyl? Having been in the biz long enough, we know what happens when they pull out of it.
Seriously, the music industry has the shortest memory in the world and NEVER LEARNS FROM THE PAST. The bubble burst is coming and honestly, I am ready for it. Big box retailers are fair-weather friends who don’t really give a shit about the art at the end of the day. A product is a product is a product to them. I don’t blame them for jumping on the fad to make a quick buck, but the end is near. I am truly scared that the biz seemingly has no idea what the shelf life of their product actually is. 
Do you think the CD revival has legs and are we getting near peak vinyl?
I am so nervous to make any prediction when there are so many wild cards in the universe right now. I am still not convinced that new generations will be as excited to own objects that take up space in a world where living spaces are becoming smaller and more expensive. Records, CDs, tapes, books, and DVDs are admittedly a pain in the ass. They take up a lot of space, are a nightmare to move, and more often than not, do not increase in value. In no normal world do collecting any of things makes sense in a digital world. Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled it is still happening, but ultimately, even though I am a collector myself, I care about the art and the people who bring that art to life more. I want music to be affordable yet also allow these makers to survive off of their talents. The whole industry needs to be burned down to the ground and reimagined to be more eco-friendly, artist forward, and welcoming to all kinds of people. 

Dahlia Seed pic by Anthony Maddaloni; courtesy of Tracy Wilson

There are so many ways to find records these days: mom & pop shops, box stores, niche curated online shops like yours, mail-orders, direct from bands/labels. Even bigger music sites like Relix and Brooklyn Vegan are selling music now. Do you feel like it’s starting to become over-extended? With this saturation of places to get records, where do you think the taste-maker like yourself fits into the puzzle?
Is this over-extended or more niche driven to meet the needs of a customer base that is more diverse than ever? Will it last? No. I hope I live long enough to see how younger generations transform the industry that us old timers beat to death/ recycle the same ideas decade after decade. A reckoning is coming, and it will include a spectrum of voices the industry stupidly left out of the conversation for half a century. Bring on the new and different. I am part of the dumb old guard. I am self-aware enough to know my days in the business are numbered and I am okay with just being a fan again because ultimately, that is who I am to my core. 
What is next for Courtesy Desk/RecordCollectHer/Turntable Report?
I think a great deal about my age and where/if I still belong in a community that has been my second family for my entire adult life. I do not want to overstay my welcome. Aging out of the community that has been my literal everything for decades is really hard. I think music has allowed many of us Gen Xers to live a Peter Pan lifestyle and figuring out what aging gracefully means to me is a constant internal dialogue. A serious case of Covid early on in 2020 stole my lung power so I have already been forced to reconcile the fact that I am not the person I once was. Singing is much more of a struggle for me now, another thing that has been a huge part of who I am for most of my life. Making music is so important to me, my sanity, and it has also been at the heart of my relationship with my husband. We have been making music together for over a decade and while some couples have children, we make records together. I am currently working very hard to take care of myself after a very hard two years of health issues so I can continue to do the things I love: make music, support the music I believe in, write (poetry/memoir in the works), DJ, and travel. My biggest dream at the moment is to feel good first and see what happens from there. I think as the fog of the pandemic lifts, a large number of us will be making some major life changes. We have all been through a really scary, difficult time. For those of us who are lucky enough to still be here, I think many of us might be feeling better equipped to face the unknown and take some bold chances while we can.

Other Music’s Bert Queiroz and Tracy at a Caroline party; courtesy of Tracy Wilson

What do you think needs to happen more than anything else right now within the music industry?
I cannot stress enough how ready I am for a total industry do-over. I want less old, white men running the show in basically all aspects of the planet. 
With your extensive life within this mess we call indie-rock and so on what advice would you give bands / labels / stores?
I wish I had more confidence through my twenties and thirties to trust myself and my instincts. In the end I let my imposter syndrome get the best of me and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I would beg those who are creative makers and doers to listen to their own voices and ignore the static around them. Don’t be scared to fail because this is how we all learn some of the most important lessons and get better/ become better people. Life goes by so fucking fast and regret is the heaviest weight a person can carry. 

Photo courtesy of Tracy Wilson

Your honesty about getting out of the way is refreshing and I’ve been thinking and feeling that same way myself a bit before the pandemic. I have made some big changes and see my place as more of an information desk for people left out or to use my connections to bring some of the next generation up. To me that kinda feels like what you are doing with all of your projects as well. So instead of looking at it as a way to age out gracefully, could you see how your wealth of knowledge and true DIY spirit could be a resource and inspiration for a lot of folks coming up that haven’t made those connections yet? 
There are a bounty of wildly talented people making music and releasing records right now. I see many of these creatives struggling to find their way and falling into the traps of an industry that likes to take advantage of them at their most vulnerable; vulnerable being that in many cases they are young, naive, and inexperienced. I may not end up in an above the board official music industry position, however as a caring human being, I want to help these people the best I can. The industry is like a hungry vampire always looking for fresh blood. As someone who genuinely wants nothing for these people other than success and happiness, I am dedicated to giving them honest insight and connecting them with the people I know can be trusted. My opinions are not clouded by financial ties to a band or label’s decisions, so when I offer insight to those who come to me, my answers come from a pure place and one based on decades of experience. I don’t have kids, but I am ready to mom tough love anyone in music who might need it. Money and power are of zero interest to me. I want to help nurture these people and their art in a safe and caring way.
What are you up to this summer? 
Our pandemic home recording project Outer World is going to Kansas to record an EP at the relatively new recording studio owned and run by Caulfield from Sweeping Promises. It all came together rather quickly when their European tour was canceled, and they suddenly had some time available. I have been working on strengthening my lungs after two years of long Covid and I honestly wasn’t sure I would ever make another record again. At this point I think my insecurities and nerves after such a rough two years with my voice are my biggest hurdle to overcome, but I can’t imagine a better place or group of people to dive back into the deep end with. I don’t think any of us will ever say we feel like our old selves again, but making music again brings me at least one step closer. CF

Mike Turner is a music industry lifer who founded and runs HHBTM Records and Crashing Through Publicity. Mike also writes for Maggot Brain and God is in the TV, has hosted the Athens Popfest (2004-2018) and worked in independent music retail for decades with time spent in mail-order, corporate stores, and mom & pop brick & mortar.

Positive No in Richmond, 2017; courtesy of Tracy Wilson
Tracy and a coworker at Flipside, 1991; courtesy of Tracy Wilson

Exclusive Television Personalities Dreamworld book excerpt

We don’t have to tell chickfactor readers who the Television Personalities are. We are thrilled to share an excerpt from Dreamworld: The fabulous life of Dan Treacy and his band The Television Personalities written by the French novelist Benjamin Berton. It will be published by Ventil Verlag on July 29 and distributed in the U.S. via Forced Exposure. We chose the chapter titled Alison Wonderland because it’s about love and photography along with great pop music and London (a few of our favorite things) and of course the TVPs! 

chickfactor: Why did you want to write this book?
Benjamin: I’d discovered the band at the beginning of the nineties (I was born in 1974) as I was a huge fan of British pop music from punk to postpunk. It was a shock for me to discover such an intelligent and melodic band full of cultural references from movies, paintings and books, both sentimental and political, intimate and funny. It was like discovering some band as big and important as the Smiths except almost nobody seemed to know about them. At the time, I started writing books and music reviews for one of the first French indie rock webzines and I made the promise to write something consistent about the TVPs one day. I had written something like 10 novels then, got a few prizes but had always in mind the plan to write about a band. When I discussed doing something for Le Boulon editor round 2015, I started to tell Xavier at a lunch meeting about the dozen wonderful anecdotes I had about Bob Marley, Jimmy Page, David Hasselhoff and Daniel Treacy. We started at 11.00 a.m. and we parted 3 hours later. I realized it was time to write all this down and try to tell Daniel’s story from the beginning to where we were today, so somewhere near the end. And there was already at least 30 books about Morrissey and The Smiths, so why add another? CF

EXCERPT

Alison Wonderland
Six years after the issue of The Painted Word, the Television Personalities return to the 33rpm format with the album Privilege, released this time on the Fire Records label. The company had been set up five years before by Clive Solomon, a former acquaintance of Daniel and the Television Personalities. At the beginning, Solomon and the Television Personalities’ lead singer hung around the same London venues which heralded the psychedelic renewal. Moreover, he had organised gigs inspired by the 60’s even before McGee and others had thought of it, in a new club destined to become famous, the Groovy Cellar. At the time, Clive Solomon wasn’t directly a member of the gang, but hung around wherever they were. His favourite band, among all those who trawled the scene, was … the Television Personalities, who he had seen a good hundred times on stage and for whom he had tremendous respect. It was thanks to them that he had talked to McGee for the first time, and certainly also thanks to them that he had decided to pursue his career. Producer and occasional musician, Clive Solomon’s name figures, at the time of Whaam!, on Sha La La, the one and only single by the brilliant Jed Dmochowski, as executive producer. Whether that means he invested a few quid in the business, or that he was present during the recording sessions, is a matter of debate.

Be that as it may, in 1989 Clive Solomon is still managing Fire Records from his bedroom and is delighted to produce the Television Personalities’ new album, initially promised to Dreamworld. At the time, Fire has not yet defined its strategy, nor emerged as one of the best-entrenched and interesting independent labels on the market. The model would be simple: produce young artistes, but also welcome older guys with a history, in order to try and take over their catalogue via meticulous re-releases and promotion of their new songs. The label establishes itself by crossing the path of gifted and challenging bands like The Blue Aeroplanes, The Farm, Spacemen 3, the main event of 1989, Pulp (the band before success knocked on its door) Eugenius, Mission of Burma, or even Evan Dando’s band, the Lemonheads. It’s a small world. Fire Records has a reputation for allowing its artistes great creative liberty and giving them long-term support. Some are more critical as regards the personality of Clive Solomon. Luke Haines, for example, doesn’t spare him in the picture he paints in his book Bad Vibes. Solomon is described as a rather spineless guy, shy, bald and sallow, overplaying being nice to avoid conflicts. Haines, under contract to Fire with his band The Servants, quits in order to set up the successful band The Auteurs. If Treacy was to hold a grudge against Fire Records and Solomon, as he would against others later on, the release of Privilege and Fire Records’ support of the band in the following years with two intermediate EP’s and a further album, indicate clearly the attachment of Solomon and his team to the Television Personalities.

The label would moreover on several occasions re-release records by the Television Personalities, first in the early 90’s, then again in 2002 to 2003, and continue to accompany the group up until the issue in 2017 of an album containing rarities, demos and other unpublished works, prior to the release of Closer To God in 1992. It would be a lie to say that the label was well thought of by those closest to the band, but everyone agrees that Fire put a lot of energy into making the most out of the band’s reunified catalogue. Of the two albums released at the time on Fire Records, Privilege and Closer To God, it’s difficult say which is the better. The band’s fans usually place them a notch below their first album, which just goes to show the level of excellence achieved. The songs on the Privilege album, produced by Phil Vinall, one of the best British producers, were carved out and even recorded by the band in the course of three or four years of concerts. These are mostly remarkable songs, some even outstanding, which amply demonstrate the excellent health and the unimpaired genius of their composer. Phil Vinall replaces the insufficiently embellished parts, lightens the band’s sound and gives it a clearly pop colouration never attained up to this point. Apart from the weird My Hedonistic Tendencies, a synthpop track which jars and has aged a little, the album is still as pleasant to listen to, after almost thirty years. Daniel Treacy offers one or two compositions which belong to his former psychedelic and arty inspiration, of which the record’s signature song Salvador Dali’s Garden Party, is the best illustration. But most of the record comprises songs with more personal lyrics, where the inherent sadness is offset by the inventiveness of the tunes and the agility of the guitars. Such is the case of songs like Paradise Is For The Blessed, the sublime opening song, or of the sumptuous A Good And Faithful Servant which follows. The texts are redolent of the singer’s existential doubts, of the depression and solitude waiting in the wings, of the disenchantment (the terrible All My Dreams Are Dead) and of the fear of abandonment. The social and political aspects are always present (on Privilege or Conscience Tells Me No), but generally put aside in favour of sad songs which are among the most accomplished in all the band’s discography. Vinall persuades Treacy to emphasize his voice more, which turns out clearly to be a winning card. Never has the vocalist sung so well as on this album, achieving first-rate performances within his register in pieces like The Engine Driver Song, or the very moving What If It’s Raining? The studio work is fluid. Daniel is relaxed and receptive to suggestions. He knows the pieces by heart and doesn’t mind having to go over them several times. He likes to work quickly, plug in, play without wasting time then move on to something else. 

Vinall, who in later years, would be involved for several months with the emergence of Jarvis Cocker (Pulp) and Brian Molko (Placebo), is all admiration. He knows that several of these songs are gems, but he also knows that Daniel is aware of his limits and is not infused with the conquering spirit and aggressiveness which produce superstars. 

Photograph by Alison Wonderland / used in the book

“These are my songs”, he seems to be saying as he deposits them at the feet of the producer. “They’re for you. I’d rather you didn’t return them to me”.

The mixture of rockabilly (Sometimes I Think You Know Me Better Than Myself), of wild or psychedelic pop rock and of lo-fi, give Privilege extraordinary power and richness. A few stylistic waverings may weaken the whole, but in no way lower the quality of the compositions. Privilege is released in February 1990 and has a cool reception, despite the issue in October 1989 of a sound single on the theme of Salvador Dali’s Garden Party. Fire Records does a low-key promotion of the album, accompanied by a British tour of five or six dates as openers for The House Of Love, which achieves little for the band in terms of notoriety. The House Of Love at the time is a band which has a certain success with the re-release of its first single Shine On and the release of their second album. However, the band is in disarray, having barely got over the sensational departure of Terry Bickers and saddled with Guy Chadwick, a leader sinking into a malignant megalomania weaned on alcohol and narcotics. It’s easy to imagine the benefits derived from being yoked together with the Television Personalities.

1990 continues with an endless German tour, but the sales fail to take off, despite an album of the soundest quality. Fire Records and the Television Personalities are not disheartened and release two new singles in the second half of 1991 and the double album Closer To God in 1992. Between these releases, Daniel Treacy, in need of money, signs with the Overground Records label for a series of re-releases of the band’s early singles. John Esplen, the founder of the label, owes his vocation to Daniel Treacy since it was during a conversation at the end of the 80’s that he had seemingly encouraged him to work on re-releasing oldies and afterwards offered him the possibility of reworking his band’s singles. Things would only come into being a few years later. I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives, then Three Wishes are thus revived, just like Smashing Time, Where’s Bill Grundy Now? and Favourite Films. The singles are simply accompanied by new jackets, created most of the time by Alison Withers, Daniel Treacy’s new girlfriend.

This frenzy of releases, for a band which is not necessarily often in the public eye, gives a strange impression to observers and blurs the communication connected with the new songs. Difficult to know, if you’re not watching closely, which songs are re-releases and which ones are new, particularly as the band now mixes enthusiastic up-beat songs with almost acoustic numbers where Daniel plays solo in a totally different register. Where does such a band fit in? What are they trying to say? If, at this time, the band still had any hope of achieving recognition other than esteem and acclaim, it disappears into an often brilliant, but for most people, unfathomable mist. The re-releases of the first albums on the Fire label add to the over-production which, while making the band’s music available once again, inspires the feeling that the Television Personalities have, in spite of themselves, become a nostalgic band of the past, bogged down in its own legend. Adding to that the live recording of a concert during the 1984 German tour, released apparently without authorisation from the band, it’s the last straw. It’s a false impression, since Daniel has never been so productive. Songs pour out like water from a tap.

When Closer To God arrives, Fire Records’ usual strategy, which consists in rekindling interest in the band via revivals of its old albums, doesn’t work. The signal is inaudible, as if jammed, and doesn’t manage to provoke any response. The album which contains 19 tracks is nonetheless monumental and worthy of the greatest interest. It’s easy to consider it as the band’s last great album and a magnificent demonstration of their talent.

Phil Vinall, who is producer again, returns to the more rock sound, full of effects and echo of the band’s beginnings, which, in the midst of the shoegaze and grunge wave, gives certain songs a really powerful impact. Closer To God is harsher than Privilege, but never departs from the melodic ambition and quality of the lyrics. The studio work is more extensive than for the previous album, since not everything has been written in advance. The music is meticulous, crafted, and once again, open to experimentation.

But for all that, it’s not “where it’s at” or in tune with what’s “in” at this moment in time. Psychedelia has had its day and British pop is not in much better straits. Because of being ahead of their time, the Television Personalities are caught between two worlds and, for the first time in their career, almost anachronistic.

Stylistic coherence is not always maintained throughout the 19 tracks. Some songs are weaker than others, but without much impact on the density and power of the collection. Closer To God is a double album and a further occasion for Treacy to reveal the scope of his talents. The cover, designed by Alison Withers, is strange and relates to no known universe. It’s not clear whether it does anything for the album which gets off to a cracking start with You Don’t Know How Lucky you Are and Hard Luck Story Number 39. In these two songs, Daniel warns the listener (and himself) in prophetic tones, against changes in fortune, drugs and decadence.

“Would you like to see scars?
My brand-new needle-marks? he sings like a show-off
You’ve got a job, a house, a company car
But you’ve still got shit for brains”.

The first piece is particularly violent, mixing biographical lucidity and anger directed against the well-to-do. The song ends with “Open up your mind, it’s an open door”, and like an ultimate copout, bids farewell to the world of escapism and psychedelics. Like the previous one, the album is a sort of patchwork of songs composed in the course of Treacy’s wanderings and inspirations.

Between the releases of Privilege and Closer To God, Jowe Head and Treacy initially plan to produce a more intimate album which would only materialise twenty-five years later under the name of Beautiful Despair, a compilation of demonstration items and a few unpublished songs. Treacy literally forgets about the project, before re-injecting it by snippets into the monumental Closer To God. There’s an obvious impression that the band want to give it everything they’ve got. Everything is sweetness and light. And it shows: Treacy is in love. His bouts of anxiety, awesomely expressed in My Very First Nervous Breakdown or Very Dark Today, are contained and overridden by peals of laughter, great moments of self-mockery (the incredible Goodnight Mr Spaceman, the very T-Rex-like We Will Be Your Gurus) and above all some very fine love songs. The benevolent optimism of I Hope You Have A Nice Day is pleasant to listen to, but it’s the sentimental tracks which hit just the right tone that makes the album great. Even though he expresses a little clumsily his homesickness (Coming Home Soon) or his daft projects (Me And My Big Ideas) Daniel Treacy is no longer alone and drowns his sorrows in a one-to-one relationship which lights up his world. Few songs describe so well the ups and downs of love as This Heart’s Not Made Of Stone, and even less dwell on the loved one’s face with such attention and ability for amazement as You’re Younger Than You Know. This lofty, contemplative and luminous song is perhaps the greatest on the album. It’s a masterpiece of balance and delicacy in which the poetic images skillfully succeed each other, mixing naivety and sincerity as if it were a poem by John Keats.

“You’re looking younger now
Younger than the newest star
That shines up in the sky
Younger than the newest dream
Baby dreamt last night”.

It’s hard to tell if the narrator is describing the face of the girl he loves, or if he’s talking rather of the effect of love on his own features. However that may be, You’re Younger Than You Know leaves an impression of plenitude and fulfilment.

Closer To God ends with an autobiographical and existentialist eleven-minute-long title of the same name. Treacy comes back to his complicated relationship with the Catholic religion: his strict upbringing, a mixture of violence (at school and probably at home), of guilt and rejection. We know that his father was not a gentle soul and that life in the Treacy household was not always easy. We’ve already mentioned the nostalgic, but ambiguous relations that the singer had with his childhood. They are expressed here in a song carried by bass player Jowe Head, which is not entirely anti-religious, far from it, but transfers the issues of distress and depression into the realm of existentialism and the relationship with God. Maybe Treacy’s career can be interpreted as an attempt to evince a form of original sin, to defile himself and sink to the bottom in order, like the born again, to rise back to the surface. The song suggests as much, but you can’t be certain whether it’s not all an attempt at theatrics. Closer To God, by its length, its intensity and its ambition, seems to be the spiritual and equally disturbed counterpart of Back To Vietnam. Despite the scope of its dramatic impulse, this final song would rarely be singled out as one of the band’s best achievements.

Photograph by Alison Wonderland / used in the book

With the release of two such important albums in less than three years and intermediate singles of this quality, at the end of 1992 the lukewarm reception makes things abundantly obvious: The Television Personalities are very unlikely to avoid their fate. British pop is at its lowest ebb. The American invasion is under way and despite favourable critics and reasonable sales, the band’s revival turns out to be a partial failure for Treacy and Fire Records. That doesn’t stop the trio from finally crossing the Atlantic for two successive American tours in 1992 and 1993, and going on tour in Japan the following year. But nobody is deceived by the band’s progress which has all the trappings of a breakthrough which only exists on paper.

Things are starting to fall apart. Daniel Treacy manages to keep afloat thanks to the efforts of Alison Withers, one of the most important women in his life. Lover, best friend and colleague, Alison displays infinite comprehension. Daniel and Alison met up at the very end of the 80’s. The young woman figures on tambourine in a single released in 1987 by a friend of hers, Jerry Thackray, a.k.a. The Legend! She moves in the same circles as Treacy and meets the singer several times at the heights of his splendour. The two meet up one evening in November 1988 during a concert by the Spacemen 3. Daniel has come with Ed Ball. Alison is there with a girlfriend. Like a teenager, she sends her friend like a scout to ask Daniel if he would like to talk to her. Daniel stammers a yes and away you go.

At the time, Alison works in a library in Kensington, not far from Treacy’s parents’ home which is now perched over a Council depot in a block of flats wonderfully named “Sky Gardens”. Daniel had come back there to live after separating from Emilee and having spent several months of homelessness taking drugs and screwing up his head. Since then, he has sorted himself out a bit, surrounded by his family, even if he is still quite unstable. Alison also lives with her parents near Croxley Green, twenty miles or so from the centre of London.

Alison is young, knowledgeable, pretty too. She is free and lots of boys run after her. Daniel Treacy falls in love. And things continue, things go better than well. He comes to fetch her after work and presents her to his parents. His father greets her with a smile. His mother is more wary. Alison was to get on wonderfully with Daniel’s elder sister Patricia, who she still sees even now. In the evening, his mother makes up two separate beds for Daniel and Alison who wait until everyone is asleep before getting together like two secretive children. On Sundays, Daniel is sometimes invited by Alison’s parents to share in the traditional family roast beef. He’s not quite the ideal son-in-law, but he’s on his best behaviour. He talks amiably and impresses them with his pleasant attitude. He spends hours chatting about this and that with Alison’s mother. He has an evident taste for commonplace, everyday things, as if this normality at his fingertips is what he’s always aspired to. A family, a quiet little life, maybe some kids: among the 1001 lives on which Daniel Treacy fantasises, this one has always hovered around him without ever managing to draw him in.

In the summer of 1989, they move into a three-room flat near Acton Town in West London. It’s an old block, built in the 30’s. They do some refurbishing, such as painting the entrance hall black and white. They have come into some of Alison’s grandmother’s furniture, as she has just died. Daniel begins to relax a bit. His drug habit is reduced to a few doses of speed on days when there’s a concert. One day, Daniel comes across a strange bag forgotten on a tube train. Inside is the equivalent of three thousand dollars and five American passports in exotic names, two pairs of binoculars and a very expensive camera. From what he would relate later, the bag was just there at his side. It’s not theft. The bag was calling for help. Daniel takes it and gets off the tube while it’s coming to a halt. Officials arrive and seem to search the carriages and inspect the platform. Daniel makes off. Opportunity makes a thief. The money soon disappears. It slips between his fingers like a fistful of sand. But there’s still the camera, and it determines Alison’s career. Librarian and photographer from now on. The young woman takes her inspiration from pop art, does photos and collages. She goes to night-school. Like Emilee Watson before her, Alison becomes the graphic artist for the Television Personalities. Daniel encourages her with a sincere fervour. He encourages her to take the plunge and enrol at the School of Photography near Paddington, after leaving her job at the library. Alison lacks confidence, but her work gets better and better.

Alison excels at portraits of her boyfriend, group portraits and background shots. How many sofas, pale walls, pseudo landscapes, held up behind the tour bus, peanuts and aperitif tables? Pullovers, jackets, bonnets, whatever you like. Her approach is both distant and eager to grasp everything that is sensitive in humanity, in a corporal pose or the flash of a look. It’s not an insult to other photographers to say that Alison “Wonderland” Withers is the photographer who has best captured what there was of poetic, beautiful and sometimes sadly dark, in Daniel Treacy’s features. You only need to look at the dozens of photos scattered about on the Net to realise it: she created the mystery just as much as she was to reveal it during the seven or eight years over which they shared everything. For the band’s record sleeves, Daniel often gives the impetus, the initial idea. Alison develops and exploits it. One of their greatest successes is the collage made for the jacket of the single Salvador Dali’s Garden Party, which they compose lying on the floor of their flat while their cat Madonna rolls itself in the photocopies. Daniel never stops praising the “little works of art” produced by his girlfriend, which he would immortalise in the song of the same name.

There had been Emilee Watson and the flat at Poynders Court. From now on it would be Alison and Daniel, caught up in the eternity of these seven years from 1988 to the middle 90’s.

image from the book

The chronology wavers between the fits of depression, the moments of stability and the air-pockets. It comes in seven-year cycles. Such is the curse. At the ages of 14, 21, 28 and 35. The next one would be devastating, but there’s still some time for happiness and love between the couple. Love is a breath of fresh air. You take refuge in your own little world. Failure is knocking at the door and addiction lurks under the carpet. The flat is a nest, an oasis, small, comfy, held together by the colours, the dreams, the piles of books, drawings and music. The main room is a workshop, based on the inevitable sofa seen on dozens and dozens of photos, on the kitchen table, which doubles as a desk, a workbench for cutting out and preparing the material, a place where they sit and work or just daydream.

Daniel and Alison would keep cats, two most of the time, called Madonna, Andy Warhol or, later on, Orangina. Sometimes their contribution is acknowledged on the record sleeves. Daniel plays the guitar, thinks up songs and writes. He writes texts which gather dust in shoe boxes, poems, dozens of pleasant little notes, short and lively like haikus. He sketches out of happiness. He plays records, reads books. Together, Alison and Daniel watch old British or foreign films, on VHS cassettes bought at the supermarket or second-hand, mainstream programmes or series on TV. They cook with Keith Floyd, the celebrity presenter at the time and gorge themselves on children’s programmes and sitcoms. The Brittas Empire is one of their favourite shows. The series relates the life of an incompetent manager. His ideas are mostly halfbaked and his life is boring. His wife has affairs, or swallows pills to keep her head above water. Gordon Brittas’s deputy suffers from allergies. The receptionist is nuts and keeps her children in the drawers of the reception desk. The series is spectacular and wacky, absurd and slightly cynical. The Brittases are everything which Alison and Daniel will never be. Most of the time, Alison calls Daniel Treacy Mister Brittas. They like the humour of comedian Vic Reeves and his show Big Night Out, which alternates silly sketches and more serious items.

They play board games, frequently matching themselves at Mastermind. Daniel is clever at working out the combinations. He has kept the logical agility of his youth. Black and white key pegs for yellow, green and blue code pegs. There is a complexity and at the same time an inevitability in the trial-and-error approach and in the deduction which makes you think that one day, life will be as simple as the game. You just have to eliminate all the possibilities and have a bit of luck. Mastermind is an allegory of life: you make of it what you can. You reach your goal in one or two guesses, or miss your objective by a move or two. Everything comes down to that: getting there too soon or too late.

Daniel is the sort of guy who never arrives on time. It’s best not to expect him at a rendezvous. Alison and Daniel nevertheless fix thousands of them. She starts by waiting. Then she gets into the habit of guessing when he’ll arrive. She deliberately turns up late. It’s their little unconscious game. It’s obviously much easier to go out together and to leave at the same time so as to be sure of not missing each other.

The two of them go out a lot. There are concerts, of course, usually two or three a week. Alison and Daniel go to the Camden Falcon or the West Hampstead Club, the Laurel Tree or the Boston Arms, pubs and clubs which they frequent. They like to discover new bands and keep in tune with the vibrations of the audience when they first hear an up-and-coming band more talented than the others. Daniel would never lose this curiosity. After the concerts, they often finish the evening, although not systematically, with a few jars down at the pub. Daniel and Alison aren’t keen on parties and are more inclined to spend quiet evenings at a restaurant or in a bar, rather than haunt the night clubs. They have their good addresses: the Stockpot, the Brompton Troubadour, the New Piccadilly or the Honey For The Bears (one of the Television Personalities’ titles) in Acton. Their flat is at 37 East Vale on Second Avenue. They live there for two years before moving to Cambridge Court on Amhurst Road near Finsbury Park in the autumn of 1991. They eat Indian food, good or bad curry, or Mexican dishes in restaurants in Camden or Soho. In London you’re spoiled for choice. Daniel and Alison walk all day long when they are alone together. They like romantic strolls, psycho-geographical walks where you discover the hidden treasures of the town. They linger around in Ravenscroft Park, in cemeteries like Brompton or Old Highgate Cemetery, where Karl Marx and George Eliot are buried. They follow the banks of the Thames near Hammersmith Bridge and explore the East-End back streets between Whitechapel and Liverpool Street.

Daniel and Alison are real townies. Hand in hand, they scour the record shops, flea-markets and charity sales. They know the markets well, and rarely go out without coming across people they know. They never miss a pop-art exhibition and go to the La Scala cinema. Swinging London belongs to the past, but London still vibrates to the rhythm of pop and culture. Their world is full of friends and relations who work in the sphere of the press, music, art: failed intellectuals, booksellers, former or future members of the band. There’s Jowe Head of course, but also Ed Ball who is never far away. Alison avoids certain Television Personalities’ fans who gravitate around Daniel and share bad habits with him. Over time, Daniel has become used to not being successful, and to his position as an outsider, revered by “those in the know”. He can see the admiration in their eyes and takes a certain pride in it, which more often than not, he drowns in self-depreciation and alcohol. Between 1988 and 1995, Alison and Daniel’s life is more a romantic than a bohemian one. Money is short, but the couple live modestly and feed on culture. When they’re not going out, they eat a TV dinner off a tray. Daniel is now a vegetarian. He likes to joke and make love in the afternoon. He’s a shy man but he explores his lover’s body with the same serious attention as when he plays the guitar. Daniel is an intelligent man. He likes to stay in the background and do things discreetly, which is obviously a far cry from his exposed position as a singer. But his opinions are sound and often biting. He has a lively political awareness. He likes to support his friends, is generous and a brilliant imitator of singers or public figures.

In the strange life-cycle of the Television Personalities, everything isn’t hunky-dory in those years. The songs bear witness to the presence of spectres, of shadows that take possession of the singer and cloud his mind. But the darkness has ebbed, and love keeps it at bay. Alison and Daniel’s flat is like a sanctuary, a bulwark against doubt and evil. The exclusive relationship which he has with the young woman is what keeps him whole, keeps him together, prevents him from sinking and giving in to his self-destructive bent.

If someone loves you, it means that you are loveable, whatever you may think. We are all what others see in us. You don’t need to be a great philosopher to know that. Life is good, but not for long. These eight romantic years would be a storehouse of happy images, of memories and regrets for the years to come.

This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book Dreamworld Or: the fabulous life of Dan Treacy and his band The Television Personalities written by Benjamin Berton. © Ventil Verlag UG (haftungsbeschränkt) & Co. KG, Mainz, 2022.

An interview with Paul Kelly

Birdie: Debsey Wykes and Paul Kelly

When I think of royal families, I think of the queens of pop Debsey Wykes, Sarah Cracknell and their partners, Paul and Martin Kelly (from East Village, Heavenly Recordings, Heavenly Films, Birdie). In addition to making excellent music in Birdie and East Village, Paul Kelly has been the ultimate branding wizard (who would probably cringe at the word branding) for Saint Etienne, photographer, graphic designer, pub mate and collaborator on such films as Take Three Girls, Finisterre (with Kieran Evans), What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day? (2005), This Is Tomorrow (2007), Lawrence of Belgravia (2011), and How We Used To Live (2013). We interviewed him about music, film, photography, flying, London and all kinds of other stuff. Interview by Gail O’Hara * Images courtesy Paul Kelly

Chickfactor: Let’s talk about Princes Risborough. Is that where you grew up? What was it like? 
Paul Kelly: Princes Risborough is a very small old fashioned market town that sits midway between High Wycombe and Aylesbury about 40 miles west of London. In the late seventies this was a good place to live if you were into music. Due to its close proximity to London a lot of well known bands would use the local venues as warm up shows or add-ons to national tours. Aylesbury had a venue called Friars which, in the late ’60s and early seventies had hosted groups including the Velvet Underground, MC5, Can, Mott the Hoople and Bowie and in the wake of punk was now putting on The Jam, The Clash and Dexys etc. High Wycombe had The Town Hall, The Nags Head and Bucks College where the Sex Pistols played one of their early shows. From our village just outside Princes Risborough, we could get the bus or train into Wycombe or a lift in my sister’s car to Friars. Between these venues we had at least 4 gigs a week and my sisters could usually blag us into most of them, it was a really exciting time. Punk was a big deal in Wycombe and the big local band were called the Xtraverts. They would play Wycombe Town Hall (about 800 people) on a regular basis and reportedly turned down the chance to sign a major record deal. Although there was a healthy music scene in the area, it never really created any bands that would go on to make it outside the area. By the time we managed to get our band together the musical landscape was very different and High Wycombe had fallen off the map tour wise. I think there had been some trouble at an Adam and the Ants gig at the Town Hall which had led to a ban on live music there and the Nags Head had become more of a blues venue. Anyway, by the mid ’80s we weren’t really interested in hanging around any more, we wanted to be in London. We did a few local gigs there but no one was really interested in us and the place felt out of touch as far as we were concerned. I remember going along to see Pere Ubu in ’78 or ’79 at the Town Hall and there were only about 20 people in the audience, it was a Sunday and there was heavy snow blocking the roads. Even so, I had never seen the hall so empty. Pere Ubu were all over the music papers at the time but High Wycombe clearly wasn’t interested. It was odd like that, strange place.

Was your family musical or creative? How many siblings were/are you? 
I have four siblings, three sisters and a brother (Martin) and we were all encouraged to draw and be creative, art was important in our family. I think our parents realised early on that none of us were particularly academic. My father had been a fine art student with a dream of becoming a painter, but that would have been the early 1950s and after leaving art school he was called up for National Service where he ended up becoming a pilot flying jet fighters. He loved flying but hated military life and as soon as his air force career ended and he became a civilian again, he kind of rebelled. He began wearing frilly purple shirts with orange corduroy flares and cowboy boots. This was by now the late sixties and I guess he knew he’d missed a massive cultural revolution and wanted to catch up. He painted the walls of our house orange and covered them with giant collages using pictures from Sunday supplements. Much to our embarrassment he also put up a massive landscape poster of a naked hippy chick covered only in psychedelic body paint on the wall above his and our mum’s bed. He did take up portrait painting for a while after leaving the Royal Air Force but couldn’t make a decent living from it and soon returned to flying. We all left school able to draw reasonably well but with terrible exam grades. Two of my sisters went on to art college and the eldest, Celeste, is still a painter today. I was into aeroplanes as a kid and really wanted to become a pilot. I did learn to fly and even went on to get a pilots licence but my interest in guitars and music eventually took precedence.

What was Martin like as a kid/teen? Stories please. 
Martin is three years younger than me and I suppose he looked up to me when we were children. Our dad was away a lot and being the only boys in a predominantly female household meant that we hung out together quite a lot. We would often play war games and Martin would usually take on the role of the German soldier, this was his choice as he preferred the uniform but also meant that my friends and I could justify his mistreatment. We had some large upturned shipping crates in our back garden and one day, my friend and I decided to turn these into a German tank. Having stacked the smaller crate on top to form a turret we stuffed the bottom one with crunched up balls of newspaper. My friend Mark and I then persuaded Martin to crawl inside telling him that he could be the tank commander facing an attack by the British, whereupon we threw in a match and set the whole thing on fire. Luckily my mother saw the billowing smoke and came out to see what was going on. ¶ On his first day at the middle school which I had already been attending for a couple of years, he came running up to me in the hall to say hello. I was with my friends and trying to remain cool pretended not to know him. Although we were very close at home, I treated him more like a pest when I was with my friends. He always wanted to join in and in retrospect I think I was probably quite cruel to him.

What were you like as teenagers? 
We were quite small and skinny as teenagers and would often get into fights with other kids. This was probably because we looked like an easy target and so people would take us on, but having had a lot of practice fighting each other, we were quite used to scrapping and I think it took people by surprise when we fought back. High Wycombe could be quite rough on a Saturday night and you really needed your wits about you in those days. There was a strong skinhead presence in the town that has been somewhat glamourised by Gavin Watson in his ’Skins’ photography books. Many of the people we came across however were just racist thugs and I remember Martin being lured out of a pub and getting a severe kicking by about 20 skinheads for no reason at all. I’ve still got a scar on my face after having a beer glass thrown at me by one of their gang. I think that threat of violence and small town mentality is something that helped push us away and towards London. By the ’80s we became more obsessed with all things ’60s and although there was also a strong Mod scene in the town we were more on a psyche mid ’60s tip. 

East Village collage

Tell us about the early days of Episode Four/East Village. What kind of band were you wanting to be like? Listening to? 
In the early 1980s Martin and I used to come into London most weekends to check out the music shops in Denmark Street. We couldn’t afford to buy any guitars but would spend hours studying them. We would also pop along to the secondhand record shops in Hanway Street—again mainly just window shopping. Although we weren’t mods, we must have looked like we were and one of the people who we used to chat to in Hanway Street was Shane McGowan. He had a cockney accent in those days and was always suggesting records he thought we might like. He got us into The Pretty Things, The Action, The (British) Birds and groups like that. So when we started our band, we were mainly playing ‘60s garage and psych covers. We would play obscure songs and pretend they were our own. We had three tracks from The Eyes EP in our set for a while and would tell everyone that we had written them. One day when we were hanging out in Shane’s shop Rock On, he asked if we wanted to come along and watch his new band that night. It meant hanging around all day without any money and so we wandered around until evening before heading along to Gossips in Meard Street to witness what turned out to be one of the first Pogues gigs. It wasn’t what we were expecting at all and I don’t think we thought much of them to be honest. We did however meet Alan McGee that night and I bought a copy of his fanzine Communication Blur for 50p. He said “it’s got lots of Rickenbacker guitars in it so you’ll love it!” He also asked us to send a demo of our band as he had a new label that he had started called Creation but unfortunately we never did. Funnily enough—despite it being a fairly empty gig—I’ve later come to know several people who were also there that night including Debsey who was at the time going out with the accordion player from the Pogue Mahone.

The Kelly brothers made a book about Rickenbackers

What was the total lifespan of the band? Where were you playing shows? Who with? Any John Peel or other interest? 
We began as Episode Four in 1983 and after a few personnel changes became East Village by 1986 or ’87 eventually splitting up in 1991. Apart from a handful of local gigs in High Wycombe, our early shows as Episode Four were at places like the Clarendon in Hammersmith. We were on the fringes of the garage scene at first along with groups like the Milkshakes and Prisoners playing with mod bands like Small World. It was only when we met Jeff Barrett and signed to Head Records which then became Sub Aqua that we really started to become a part of that mid ’80s indie scene. We had already been playing with bands like McCarthy and the Wolfhounds and would follow bands like Primal Scream and Orange Juice before that but Jeff was really at the heart of that scene and opened a lot of doors for us. He had been tour manager for the Jesus and Mary Chain and worked at Creation. He had also become the promoter of Subterania which was a key venue in west London along with The Black Horse in Camden and then The Falcon where we played a lot. We toured a fair bit with McCarthy and the House of Love and picked up a bit of a following of our own. When Jeff started Heavenly in 1990 we found ourselves on the hippest label in London with Saint Etienne, Flowered Up and the Manic Street Preachers. Although we were beginning to sell records and play bigger shows, those bands were NME cover stars and were actually getting on TV and had records in the charts so it felt like we were falling behind. Our last gig was at the New Cross Venue in south London, It was probably our biggest headline to date, and from the outside things were looking up but it felt like we were losing ground to everyone else and when we walked off stage, we just looked at each other and said ‘fuck this, let’s quit’. It was a bit of a relief to be honest. We were doing the Big Star, Byrds type thing at a time everyone was tripping out to Screamadelica and so we felt very out of step. Things might have been okay if we’d kept going as things swung back to that West Coast influence with groups like Teenage Fanclub becoming popular a couple of years later. 

East Village was very un-’80s. Was that intentional? 
At the time, I felt the ’80s was the worst decade I could have possibly grown up in. That’s obviously not true as we weren’t at war or living through a thirties style depression but it really seemed like everything good had already happened. We had been so obsessed with the sixties and punk had been and gone so everything felt flat. We just didn’t want anything to do with what was going on in the charts and lived in our own little bubble. We would reject anything mainstream or popular which looking back was stupid. When the Stone Roses came along they embraced success and being in the spotlight which is what gave them that great sense of confidence. It made the indie scene feel introspective and defeatist. I find the ‘80s fascinating looking back, I wish I had just embraced being young a lot more than I did. When the ’90s came along things instantly seemed to pick up, we were open to different types of music including dance music and all our friends started having hit records, it just felt so exciting.

Contact sheet by Paul Kelly

You ended up meeting Bob when he saw you play. In what capacity did you play music with Saint Etienne? Is that when you met Debsey? 
It was at one of our gigs with McCarthy at Portlands in central London that we met Bob. I think he had gone along to review the gig for Melody Maker or something and only caught us by chance. He came over after we had played and asked if we would like to do a flexi single for his fanzine. We arranged to meet him a few days later and have been friends ever since. A few years later we were on a tube train together heading back from a night out when he said, ‘Do you want to hear this song Pete and I have just recorded?’ Although he had an electric guitar in his flat, I had never seen him pick it up and had no idea he had any interest in making music, so it was a complete surprise. I listened on his walkman to ‘Kiss and Make Up’ and couldn’t believe how good it was. We had been plugging away with our band for years and then he and Pete had struck gold at their first attempt! I can’t remember if ‘Only Love Will Break Your Heart’ was on the same tape but I’m pretty sure I heard ‘Kiss and Make Up’ first. The early Saint Etienne gigs were basically PAs where they would play about four songs to tape with a different singer for each song. They were quite awkward and I think they must have realised that they needed to settle on one singer. East Village played a couple of gigs with Saint Etienne when they had Stephanie singing. We all travelled together in a mini bus to Paris for a Heavenly Records showcase in 1991 and someone stuck on a tape of ‘Nothing Can Stop Us’, I hadn’t heard the song before and I said ‘Wow, Steph, that’s amazing!’ she explained sheepishly that it wasn’t her singing and that was the first time I became aware of Sarah. I felt very sorry for Steph as it was clear her days in the band were numbered but I think getting Sarah in was key to the band’s success. When we arrived in Paris, the first thing we all did was drop off our bags at the hotel and hit the town. I remember knocking on the door of the Manics room on the way out and when I walked in they were all lying in their bunks reading Rimbaud and Nietzsche. They had never been abroad before, but I imagine they felt it would be far too crass to go out and get smashed, they were really sweet guys and we got on well but they had a manifesto to uphold. I think James would have secretly liked to have come along with us though. ¶ By the time I was drafted into the live Saint Etienne set up in 1992 Sarah was already established as the lead singer and the band had two albums out. They were looking to expand the live band and as East Village had by then split up, they asked Spencer (East Village drummer) and me to join. Debsey joined the live set up in December ’92 just in time for a Christmas gig in Victoria. Bob and Pete had been fans of Dolly Mixture and tracked her down to record a single for their own label IceRink. The single was to be a cover of the Candlewick Green song ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ but having recorded it with Debsey they realised it could be a hit and re-recorded it as a duet with Sarah and so it came out as a Saint Etienne single instead –  and that’s how I first met Debsey, at a Saint Etienne rehearsal in Leighton Place, Kentish Town. When the band stopped touring at the end of 1994 we got together formed our own band Birdie.

Debsey (Birdie, Dolly Mixture, Saint Etienne) / Photo by Paul Kelly

Speaking of Debsey, what’s it like being married to one of the best singers on Earth? 
We haven’t actually got married yet although we’ve been together for nearly thirty years and our kids have grown up, one has even left home. We keep meaning to get around to it though and I’ll definitely let you know when we do so that you can book your flight.

Also: Will the Dolly Mixture film ever be available widely for all to see? 
I know I say this every year but I really want to get it out early next year. The hold-up has been obtaining clearances for BBC footage as well as for some of the photographs. We just don’t have any kind of budget so it’s been really slow progress but I’m going to make it happen for sure. We are also planning a photo scrapbook and several record re-issues so there should be quite a lot going on over the next few months.

Recording Good Humor in Sweden / Photograph by Paul Kelly

Tell us a bit about how you got rolling into being the house videographer, photographer, filmmaker and designer for Saint Etienne? (Have I got that right?) 
By 1993 Saint Etienne had done a couple of big budget promo videos in the US and Japan with large film crews—teams of runners and makeup artists etc, and just wanted to get back to doing something simple again. I was having a drink with Bob one evening and he said, ‘Hey Paul, you’ve got a Super 8 camera, will you make a video for us?” The song they had lined up as the next single was ‘Avenue’ and so of course I jumped at it. I’d helped out making a couple of the East Village videos which we had shot on Super 8 and so I knew a bit about making promos but it was through Sarah that I met an editor called Mikey Tomkins who she suggested I ask to help me out. We ended up doing a few more videos together although every time the budget was half decent, Creation would get in a professional, I always did the cheap ones! Mikey actually went on to work quite a lot with Stereolab and was quite into the UK riot grrrl scene. ¶ Bob and I used to joke that you could probably make a feature length film with the amount of money being ploughed into some videos at that time and eventually that’s exactly what we did. We all met at Pete’s flat in Islington one day and watched Patrick Kieller’s film ‘London’. Bob said ‘Look, we’ve got a new album coming out and the label want three videos, why don’t we just take the money from all three and make a film with the album as the soundtrack’ That was how Finisterre came about. ¶ When East Village split up I had begun to get back into photography and would do the odd session for bands that I knew. I always had a camera with me in those days and most of the photo shoots I did with Saint Etienne would be impromptu. Once we were midway through a European tour in 1994 and Martin (who was by then managing the band) called one morning from England saying we need some new pictures can you do a quick session with the band while you’re in Switzerland? It was an early start after having played a gig the night before and we all had awful hangovers. I shot a few pictures and then got on the bus to the next show. I sent the film reel back to the UK and didn’t think any more about it until about a month later one of the images turned up on a US single sleeve, Sarah looked great but Bob and Pete looked a bit knackered. That was often how my sessions would come about, very last minute and no makeup budget. ¶ After I finished playing with Saint Etienne, I started a small design and photography business called Phantom with Steve Rowland who had been one of the merchandise guys on the Etienne tours. I had already done a fair bit of paste up design and artwork but he taught me how to use Apple Mac computers and so I began doing a bit of graphic design alongside the film and photography work. I learnt how to edit by watching Mikey.

Pete and Bob / Photo by Paul Kelly

What are some experiences you had touring / working with them? Inside dirt? They’ve been a band now for 30+ years: What is their secret of longevity? 
Touring with Saint Etienne was absolutely fantastic, it was great fun and quite hedonistic. I think people who encountered us were often quite shocked. I feel sorry for anyone who had to share a flight with us back then. At its peak the touring party consisted of about 16 people and we would all be smoking and drinking and causing all sorts of mayhem, it was more like a rock band on tour and probably didn’t fit people’s pre-conceived image of Saint Etienne. I think things reached a tipping point towards the end of 1994 which is probably why the band took a break and sacked most of the backing band and crew. We were playing Hultsfred Festival in Sweden and all of the acts were being transported by shuttle bus from the hotel to the festival site. There were several bands sharing the bus on the outward journey to the festival site, including Keith Flint and the Prodigy who specifically requested not to be put in the same bus with us on the way back. On the return trip Spencer and a couple of the crew decided to climb up through a skylight at the back of the bus, crawl along the roof and back down through the front skylight. This was while the bus was travelling at about 60mph along a motorway at night. News of their antics spread and it became a talking point back at the hotel. Oasis who were also on the bill, appropriated the story which made the national newspapers back in the UK complete with an artists impression of Liam bus surfing. Everyone generally got on really well and Pete was absolutely hilarious. During gigs he would often give up any attempt to play his keyboard about three songs in and start dancing around the stage. For a while we had a life-size cardboard cutout of Jamiroquai that would be placed at the side of the stage. We were convinced he’d stolen our Melodica from the practice rooms we shared back in London. Pete would generally end up dancing around with this thing until the last night of the tour when he just started kicking it to pieces. Soon afterwards we saw a picture of Björk (who had also shared the same rehearsal rooms) in the NME playing what looked very much like our missing Melodica! I think the fact that Saint Etienne have never had massive success has allowed them to make exactly the kind of records they want to make. This means they are always fresh and not afraid to experiment. If they had had really big hits at the start it could have been a very different story. They came along just ahead of the Britpop thing and were able to sit outside of that whole scene which means they’re not stuck with that label either.

The films you’ve made together with them reflect a deep love of London and they show a desire to endlessly document the city as well. What year did you move to London and how has it changed since then, for better and worse? 
I guess we were drawn together in part by having a similar aesthetic which had come out of growing up watching the same films and television programmes as each other. We shared a lot of reference points and would spend hours discussing things from our childhood and how it would be great to recreate aspects of the things we love. We also watched a lot of films and old recordings of TV shows on the tour bus and so we got to discover things together.  ¶ I had first moved to London in 1980 with my eldest sister. We shared a flat together in Wood Green and signed on the dole. I think she was trying to get into Camberwell art college or something as we spent a lot of time down there in the Student Union bar. She was friends with the actor Tim Roth who was just starting out on his career. No one had any money but we seemed to be there a lot. The first time I went to the Job Centre in London, I was asked what my interests were and when I said art and music they said, ‘Ah, we have a job available as trainee record sleeve designer.’ I went for the interview and got a job with a company called Hills-Archer as a trainee graphic designer working on record sleeves, this was in the days when there was really high unemployment in England and jobs like this were impossible to find, it was such a stroke of luck. We eventually had to move out of the flat and I stupidly gave up the job and went back on the dole. I moved back to London again in 1984 with my girlfriend at the time, she was at North London Polytechnic and we lived in a variety of horrible little studio flats. London seemed really expensive back then but at least you could get somewhere to live even if it was a squat, I don’t know how anyone could afford to move here now without rich parents. I think London was far more accessible then, it was a thing young people could do, even if they were on the dole as most bands or anyone looking for some kind of alternative life usually were.

If you were in charge of your country’s political power right now, what would you do immediately? 
House prices in this country are ridiculous, which in turn creates unaffordable rents. I think it’s the single biggest issue as it effects every other aspect of life in the UK. ¶ I would impose rent caps, heavily tax second homes and introduce basic universal income. I would also make MPs personally accountable and liable for their actions and lies. ¶ The Royal Family should be abolished and their estate—about 1.5% of land in Britain given back to the country. The only argument anyone seems to put forward to justify their existence is based around tourism! I’m sure far more people come to Britain because of the Beatles and the Sex Pistols. 

I was lucky to live in London during what seemed like a golden age of Paul Kelly and Saint Etienne events—fun stuff at the Barbican and your residency at the South Bank. Is there a sense now that the city will return to in-person events post-pandemic? Are we post-pandemic? We aren’t in this country. 
I imagine the pandemic has only just reached some places and so its effect will probably go on for years. Things do seem to be returning to some kind of normality here in London at least, people are desperate to go out again and see eachother. ¶ I do think the nineties and early 2000s felt very optimistic in the UK, especially in London. It definitely changed after the financial crash in 2008 and I remember going for a drink with a friend just before Christmas in 2011 and we were reflecting on what felt like a really depressing year. We didn’t realise then the horror that lay ahead with Brexit, Trump and Covid. Years of Tory austerity and division has left this country paranoid and vulnerable. It’s really sad to say but I think you did see a real golden period while you were here and that has pretty well disappeared. I really hope it does pick up but while we have such a powerful right wing press and people are being brainwashed and keep voting Conservative I can’t see things changing very soon. 

You mentioned in an interview in 2014 that you no longer were able to photograph London with fresh eyes: Do you still take your camera out these days? Or is it more just occasional smartphone camera use? 
Was just thinking about this earlier today. I find it really difficult to photograph anything these days. Everyone is documenting every aspect of their lives these days. It’s difficult to trust anything you see. ¶ Yes, I don’t really know why that is. Maybe it’s just the volume of images being created now. We are bombarded with film and photography these days and it’s difficult to be enthused or believe what you are looking at sometimes. I used to shoot every day but now I rarely ever take a picture. Like most people these days I tend to use my phone. I do film stuff for work but not really for myself anymore which is a shame as I used to get so much out of it. I hope it’s not just because I’m getting older. I do love scanning old negatives and finding stuff that way but it’s not really creating anything new. My son has just started at a sixth form film school and I think young people have a very different relationship with photography. They have grown up with CGI and photoshop and I don’t think they worry too much about authenticity and maybe that’s good thing. Often, when I visit another city or somewhere I haven’t been before I get that sense of awe and I’m sure it is easier to be inspired by somewhere you are not familiar with. I do still love London and I don’t think you can ever really see enough of the place.

What are some of your favorite books and films and songs about London? 
Well, I have to include our mutual friends Travis Elborough and Sukhdev Sandhu here who have both written some wonderful books about London that have shaped the way I view the city myself. ¶ One book which is not strictly about London but urban life is Soft City written in 1974 by Jonathan Raban. It still feels incredibly relevant and reminds you that the experience of living in a city is a universal experience. Travis told me once that he re reads it every time he starts a new book. Nairn’s London is essential along with Soho Night & Day by Frank Norman and Jeffrey Bernard. ¶ Musically the Beatles represent London more than anyone else to me. I know a lot of people will disagree but all of their records are recorded here and most of the record sleeves are shot in London. ¶ Rubber Soul sounds like London to me. Also the Kinks of course.

What is missing from London now that you feel it used to have? 
Most of the pubs seem to have been turned into wine bars or restaurants. ¶ It feels like the very people we would go into pubs to avoid in the 1980s now run them.

What are your favorite parks, pubs, public spaces? Favorite place to get takeaway? 
I’m practically a vegan now and I’m not really bothered about eating out or restaurants to be honest, although Debsey and I do occasionally go along to Indian Veg on Chapel Market which is still hanging on here in Islington (mainly because it’s cheap but the food is good). Our local pub is the Betsey Trotwood which is run by our great friend Raz. We actually played there as Birdie on a Track and Field night before Raz became the landlord and Patrick who now plays in Birdie is the bar manager. It’s a wonderful pub and something of a cultural hotspot for London as a whole. When Debsey and I were first together we spent a lot of time hanging around the South Bank, including the BFI, National Theatre and especially the Royal Festival Hall, not always for concerts but just to hang out in the foyer. It used to be quite empty during the day and had a wonderful gentle atmosphere, it’s much busier these days as the South Bank has opened up with the Tate Modern etc and we don’t get down there so much anymore. Those large free empty public spaces can be very special though.

Nerd alert: What camera(s) do you have and what films do you prefer? Who are some photographers you most admire? 
For film work it’s pretty well all digital now and I have a Sony A7s. Unless I’m working on a decent budget I’ll just use that. I haven’t upgraded that camera for ages and I’m not really sure what people are using these days. If I’m taking still pictures for a job, people tend to expect a really fast turnaround and there is no budget for film and processing these days so I just use an old Canon 5D, very basic but does the job. However, I still have a Nikon FE2 and a Pentax K1000 which is my favourite as it’s so easy to use and small. I still shoot Super 8 and have a couple of Braun Nizo cameras, but that’s as expensive as shooting on 16mm these days so I might try going back to that. One of my favourite photographers of all time is Fred Herzog. I love his beautiful colour street photography taken in Canada in the ’50s and ‘60s, amazing! I used to shoot a lot on Ektachrome colour slide film because I thought that had a similar look. Didn’t they stop making Ektachrome for a while, or did they change it somehow?

Presented by the Colloquium for Unpopular Culture and chickfactor; poster by Seen Studio with Paul’s images

How did you get started in filmmaking? Seems like you’ve been involved with it from all angles (director, cinematographer, editor, producer, camera operator). Which parts of the process interest you the most? 
My dad was a keen photographer. He also shot a lot of 8mm movie film which fascinated me. I think my mum must have sensed my interest because she bought me a Kodak Super 8 camera when I was about 10 or something. As well as filming aeroplanes all the time I used to make action films with Martin as the stunt man, I still have a few and they are quite funny. I would edit in camera which meant everything had to be captured in the first take. There was a Children’s TV show in the UK called ‘Screen Test’ and they had a feature on film editing which inspired me to get a splicer and start chopping up my films. My middle sister Frances and I clubbed together to buy a Pentax 35mm camera in about 1979 and that was a revolution. I’m not sure why but we decided to buy black and white Ilford film and suddenly everything looked really professional. It’s funny she would shoot half of the film taking pictures of horses and other animals and I would shoot the other half, talking pictures of derelict cars and aeroplanes. I eventually bought my sister’s share in the camera for about £20 and became more serious about it. I was in a band by this time though and it wasn’t until we split up that I began to get work taking pictures and eventually making videos. I really wish I’d taken it along to gigs more. At the time I just wanted to enjoy the shows and the camera got in the way, also the film was really expensive.

How involved are you with Heavenly Films? 
Heavenly Films is basically my brother Martin, Travis Elborough and me. One project we are currently trying to finish is a film about Soho which we’ve been working on together for a couple of years but have had to take a break from during Covid. We also ran a monthly film club at Regent Street Cinema opposite BBC Broadcasting House which was great fun and very successful. We would always invite a guest speaker to talk with Travis after the screening and we had some great guests including the legendary masked wrestler Kendo Nagasaki and Peter Blake among many others. That also took a break due to Covid but we should have it up and running again before too long.

You also made a film about Lawrence (from Felt): I remember attending a screening at the Curzon and he was supposed to turn up but he didn’t. Tell us about making that film: was it difficult to pin him down to get things shot? Please tell us some funny stories about Lawrence. Is he still making music? Are you friends? 
I think that was the only scheduled Q&A screening Lawrence didn’t turn up for. I later found out that he had seen the cinema programme in advance and thought that the price of a ticket for the screening and Q&A was £18.30 (about $23). He thought that was extortionate and didn’t want to face any of his fans who might be there as he felt they’d been ripped off by the cinema. The 18.30 in the programme actually referred to the time of the event though which was 6.30pm. I was annoyed at the time as I had to do the Q&A alone in front of a room who had almost all come along to hear Lawrence speak, but when I found out the reason I just thought it was really funny, classic Lawrence. I was actually with Lawrence yesterday, the British Film Institute have just released a Blu Ray edition of the film and we were doing some press together. He has quite a few projects on at the moment and is on great form. I get the feeling he only really tends to get in touch with me if he wants something or needs help but maybe we are all a bit like that really and he’s always good fun to hang out with.

What kind of impact has parenthood had on your creative process? What are the kids like? Do they like your music? Are they musical or photography buffs? 
Debsey and I had our first child just around the time we started making records as Birdie. It was quite a struggle juggling the band with childcare, especially for Debsey. I think Sadie our daughter saw the guitar as competition and would inevitably start crying as soon as either of us picked it up. Debs would have to hide away in another room to write on the piano whenever Sadie was asleep. It was really rare for us to be able to sit together and play as we had done when we first started. When recording we would take it in turns wheeling Sadie around in the pushchair through the streets of Walthamstow while the other person would work. She is now 25 and I don’t think she has ever actually listened willingly to one of our songs. I think she is quite embarrassed about our own musical endeavours. Occasionally however Debsey will pop up on a rerun of Top Of The Pops singing “Happy Talk” or “Wot” with Captain Sensible which she finds quite amusing. Our son Donovan has just started film school and is gradually accepting a few more of our music and film choices.

What song is stuck in your head? 
‘If I knew you were coming I’d have baked a cake’

Paul flying with his dad

I read somewhere you are a trained pilot and carpenter. Why? 
Bloody hell, how did you know that? The carpentry thing came about while I was on the dole. The Tories who were in power at the time came up with a scheme to hide the unemployment figures by pretending that everyone was actually in training. In order to continue receiving benefit you had to take on an apprenticeship. There were about five options, mainly building related and I chose carpentry. I had to juggle playing gigs and rehearsing at night with learning how to make a cut roof and staircase but I did end up with a City and Guilds certificate in carpentry and a free toolbox full of tools so it wasn’t all bad. The flying thing was something I had always loved since I was very small. I guess I wanted to be like my dad and so I started flying when I was 14 and went solo on my 17th birthday, I loved aeroplanes and flying but I couldn’t relate to that culture. There were a lot of people I really liked but the only career option was to join the military or become an airline pilot, neither of which appealed. I had discovered electric guitars and punk at around the same time and the pull was too great. As I get older I do feel drawn back to aeroplanes and I spend much of my spare time visiting old airfields and aircraft museums.

Have you thought about reforming East Village for a few shows? Did you get new fans with the Slumberland reissue? Are you still in touch with the other guys (apart from Martin of course)? 
Believe me, no one needs to witness an East Village reunion. I must admit I have played with Martin and Spencer fairly recently and it was great fun. It was as though we had never stopped, all very natural and instinctive. Having said that I can’t imagine doing live shows with East Village in front of an audience again. Maybe if there were no mobile phones and it could just exist in the moment I could enjoy it, but the idea that someone might document the event and post it on YouTube would be horrific. John now lives in China and I only see him once every couple of years. I’m not on Facebook but I think Martin and Spence speak with him a fair bit.

Will Birdie play at chickfactor 30? 
Yes

What films are in the works now? If you had all the time and money in the world, what dream projects would you make? 
Apart from the Soho film that I mentioned earlier, Martin and I have been working along with Stephen Pastel and Sam Knee of ‘A Scene In Between’ on an archive only project covering the UK ’80s independent music scene. Using archive only it’s a montage of Super 8 home movies, photographs and home video with audio interviews from bands, fanzine writers and journalists etc. who all grew up in that time starting with the Glasgow music scene in the late ’70s and ending up in 1989. ¶ When I was a kid, I had an old magazine with someone building a wooden kayak on the cover, I used to look at that picture for hours. I really like the idea of building a wooden boat in a beautiful old workshop. I’m not really interested in boats but I like the idea of building one. 

Any other future plans? A photo book perhaps? 
Haha that’s what YOU should do, you have an amazing photo archive. ¶ I am thinking of putting together a book of my dad’s paintings and cartoons, just a small run to give to the family and maybe sell a few. They are so beautiful and should be seen by a wider audience. There’s also the Dolly Mixture photography book of course. 
Thanks, Paul! 

Order the Lawrence of Belgravia blu-ray here. 

THE COLLOQUIUM FOR UNPOPULAR CULTURE and SPECTACLE THEATER present LAWRENCE OF BELGRAVIA (dir. Paul Kelly, 2011), 85 min. – very rare screening
WHEN: Saturday 18 June 2022, 5pm
WHERE: Spectacle Theatre, 124 3rd Street, Brooklyn (directions here)
Free and open to the public

CF poll: What were/are you wearing in 1992, 2002, 2012 and 2022?

Jeffrey, Claudia and Miggy at the Middle East, 1995. Polaroid by Gail O’Hara

This is another poll that didn’t fit into chickfactor 19!

What were you wearing in 1992? Like what was your style? What was your uniform of choice? 


Claudia Gonson / The Magnetic Fields (pictured): Hoping that you will dig up some of the many great photos you took of me. In one of them, I am wearing a “New Jersey Is For Lovers” shirt that I still occasionally wear, although it is full of holes now and best suited for night wear. I found it at a Goodwill in Honolulu (!), summer of 1992.

Janice Headley (CF/KEXP): Thrift-store vintage dresses with mens’ blazers and oxford shoes. Black-and-white striped tights with fake Doc Martens and XL band tees as a dress. Big eyeglasses because my parents deemed me too young for contact lenses. 

Daniel Handler: Whatever was on the floor of my room.

Ed Mazzucco / Shelflife Records: Worn out jeans, flannels and Doc Martins.

Kristin Thomson (Tsunami, Simple Machines Records): Golf jacket, cutoff cord shorts with tights, baggy t-shirts or Japanese baseball uniform tops

Clare Wadd (Sarah Records): Well, we didn’t have any money so clothes weren’t really a thing for us. Mostly skirts and t-shirts, black tights, flat shoes. I don’t think I could afford DMs then, though I always wanted some. Lots of jumpers in winter.

Stuart Moxham (Young Marble Giants): Same as now, jeans, shirt, brogues. I have a lot of jackets.

Alicia Vanden Heuvel (the Aislers Set, Poundsign, Speakeasy Studios): Baggie t-shirts, doc martins, flannels, hats, and black eyeliner. I was a goth/grunge teenager who just had her life changed by Nirvana and the Breeders.    

John Lindaman: I think 1992 was square in the middle of a horrible Hawaiian shirt and long hair phase. Apologies to all.

Beth Arzy: Fred Perry tops, thrift shop brown cords, Mary Jane shoes or flowery 60s dresses. Band tee shirts. Cardigans and jeans. 

Peter Momtchiloff: A western shirt, a suede jacket, and horrible black Levi jeans

Theresa Kereakes: 1992 found me wearing a uniform of pleated plaid skirts, black tights, black turtlenecks, string of pearls, and before you think, “preppy beatnik” I always wore Doc Martens. I worked at PBS and I treated it as if it were Catholic school.

Dickon Edwards: I think I was trying to wear stripey blue and white matelot t-shirts, alongside band t-shirts, plus jeans. The whole hooded top look associated with ‘Madchester’ had died away by then, and I think the whole grunge explosion had left everyone in simple band t-shirts and jeans.

Kevin Alvir: I was a child, so like gigantic t-shirts that doubled as a tunic with umbro shorts. 

Tracy Wilson (Turntable Report): Vintage dresses, thrift store cardigans, saddle shoes, Bettie Page bangs, and a Sanrio bag—likely Little Twin Stars or Hello Kitty.

Gail CF: Vintage raincoat, black shorts with leggings underneath, fluevogs, flannel shirts, enormous indie Ts, Mr. Friendly backpacks. 

Fred Thomas: It was a transitional time, and I’m pretty sure I mostly wore band shirts (Misfits, Jane’s Addiction, Smashing Pumpkins, Black Flag, etc.) and big, huge skater pants.

Pete Paphides: the search for a classic button-up cardigan like the ones worn by people’s parents in the 1950s and 1960s is a lifelong pursuit.

What were you wearing in 2002? 

Claudia Gonson / The Magnetic Fields: Height of the 69 Love Songs era. I wore a selection of tight sports jackets in very bright colors, some of which make a word when you zip them up- “BER-LIN”. “BROOK-LYN”. Etc. Also, I was obsessed with British caps.

Daniel Handler: Suits, when I went out.

Ed Mazzucco / Shelflife Records: Corduroys, Gingham shirts and Jack Purcells

Kristin Thomson: Maternity wear, but not the stuff that makes you look like an infant.

Stuart Moxham: As above

Alicia Aislers Set: Those were Aislers Set days and my favorite things to wear were stay pressed Levi’s, button up shirt, a tie or sweater vest, parka.  Of course stripes because, Jean Seberg… 

John Lindaman: All brown.

Janice Headley: Low rise bootcut jeans, spaghetti-strap tops, platform shoes, and baby barrettes in pixie-cut hair, because I was young. 

Beth Arzy: Less garish dresses, Fred Perry tops, unmemorable skirts. Band tee shirts. Cardigans and jeans. 

Theresa Kereakes:  In 2002, I was on the road with a 200-person crew.  T-shirts and jeans. 

Kevin Alvir: Some sort of striped t-shirt with a jean and some purposely fun sneakers. The face of fashion: the look of an overgrown child.

Gail CF: I was working at a teen magazine in NYC. Casual, comfortable. Vintage dresses, motorcycle boots, gingham, sneakers. 

Tracy Wilson: It’s a mod mod world. 

Fred Thomas: Almost entirely thrift store attire, and I had yet to realize that synthetic fabrics weren’t really the way to go for me. Lots of polyester pants, ill-fitting cowboy shirts, tight polo shirts in springy colors, corduroy jackets, and I definitely had one of those garage rock caps that people wore in 2002.

Jim Ruiz: In 1984 I was a real thrift shop Mod, by the mid-’90s, these clothes had worn out and I was reduced to wearing pajamas as stage clothes or trying to dress like a college professor.  Now, almost 40 years later, thanks to narrow lapels and skinny jeans and the internet! I am able to dress the way I’ve always wanted to, and better!  Plus, I still have a full head of hair, and my former bandmate Allison has been cutting it for me. I feel really lucky, it’s crazy. Thanks for asking!

Dickon Edwards: Suits and ties!

Pete Paphides: May I refer you to my previous answer?


What were you wearing in 2012? 

Claudia Gonson / The Magnetic Fields: I had a daughter in the summer of 2010 and don’t particularly remember the next 3 years. I did go on tour for over 2 months of 2012, insanely. I must have worn clothes. 

Ed Mazzucco / Shelflife Records: Dark jeans, more gingham shirts and Onitsuka Tigers

Kristin Thomson: Skinny jeans, vintage tops or band t-shirt, zip up hoodie

Stuart Moxham: As above

Alicia: Same thing as 2002. Ha ha ha  

Beth Arzy: Band tee shirts. Cardigans and jeans. Same as the above… Same as it ever was. 

Fred Thomas: No more synthetic materials! A combination of basics (many pilfered from my job at American Apparel) and a few nicer, more interesting pieces either found in thrift shops or from high end men’s fashion retailers.

Theresa Kereakes: I moved to Tennessee in 2008, and it’s fairly warm for the most part. I like a sun dress and a straw hat.

John Lindaman: All grey.

Clare Wadd: Jeans a lot

Kevin Alvir: Hair with intention. A striking sweater or cardigan and fitted jeans. 

Gail CF: Living in Portland so durable rainwear; red clogs; A-line skirts; cardigans; I basically dress like Paddington Bear in general. Hair: long with bangs. 

Dickon Edwards: Suits and ties!

Daniel Handler: Cardigans.

Tracy Wilson: Space Age flight attendant

What are you wearing in 2022? 

Ed Mazzucco / Shelflife Records: Gray jeans, hoodies, Doc Martins or Onitsuka Tigers

Kristin Thomson: Today, I am wearing my “Ripley” outfit. Army green long sleeved jumpsuit/flightsuit, sneaks. 

Stuart Moxham: As above but with trouser braces and hats.

Alicia: Well, now I like to throw in some comfortable jeans, a soft sweater, old man slippers, maybe even sandals sometimes! I’m getting old. It’s time to embrace the inner Mr Rogers.  

Beth Arzy: Have fallen in love with loafers and have many pairs of Adidas. Bit more conservative on the clothes side with more acceptable things in the wardrobe for work. More Fred Perrys. Band tee shirts. Cardigans and jeans. 

Claudia Gonson / The Magnetic Fields: I am currently recycling some very old shirts that I found in my folks’ house a year ago. In college, like many, I wore loose baggy T-shirts. I found some pretty great ones from the late 80’s and early 90’s, souvenirs from a cross country trip in the early 90’s (Stonehenge in Maryhill Washington, Calamity Jane museum in Deadwood, S Dakota), Also, multiple shirts with artwork by Jad Fair. So, under my winter sweaters, I am enjoying wearing my old weirdo Tshirt collection right now. 

John Lindaman: As many colors as I can bring myself to wear (still mostly grey).

Clare Wadd: Jean even more. T-shirts, jumpers, currently vests. It’s still cold. Dresses when I go out, but still home a lot.

Peter Momtchiloff: A cardigan and pinstripe trousers

Fred Thomas: I now have way too many clothes, as some of the Jane’s Addiction shirts from 1992 and tight polo shirts from 2002 are still in rotation. I try to stick to more basic, streamlined presentation these days, but get inspiration from films, record covers, and other images that most people wouldn’t register just by quickly scanning my outfit.

Theresa Kereakes: Pajamas! “Work from home” means I ask myself, “Am I working in my PJs or sleeping in my clothes?” It’s all yoga pants and hoodies over band t-shirts purchased during the dark days of lockdowns as a way to put money into the non-touring economy.

Kevin Alvir: I wear what I wore in 1992…which is like a gigantic tunic with shorts. 

Gail CF: comfy dresses, tunics, leggings, athleisure. Carhartt! I seem to be addicted to thermals and flannel. 

Janice Headley: Big, thick sweaters and high-rise jeans ’cause it’s cold AF here in MI. 

Dickon Edwards: Suits and ties!

Daniel Handler: Ill-fitting outerwear.

Tracy Wilson: Soft pants and all the colors.

CF poll: How did you learn about music 10, 20, 30 years ago (if you were alive) and how do you learn about it now?

Alicia Aislers Set / Poundsign on the back of CF15 (2002)

Alicia Vanden Heuvel (Aislers Set, Poundsign, Speakeasy Studios): 10 years ago I was mostly touring and going to live shows. frequenting my local record shops, especially Aquarius records here in the Mission, which sadly closed in 2016. I saw Elliott Smith perform there solo once. 20 years ago, it would be through college radio, zines, live shows, indie websites, touring…. 30 years ago, I could barely get a radio station out in the desert where I grew up (Desert Hot Springs, California). There was no internet, we would hitch rides to “civilization” where we would go to Tower records, and spend all our savings buying like one or two records.. I’d sit at the radio, trying to get KROQ, taping my favorite songs, then sit late into the night waiting for MTV’s 120 Minutes or Alternative Nation to come on, so I could “maybe” see the Cure or something good. 

Daniel Handler: I remember going to record stores and humming songs I’d heard on the radio to confused clerks.  Now I know what the song is called but not what it sounds like.

Clare Wadd (Sarah Records): With difficulty back then I think. People might play you things, but you couldn’t necessarily buy them. John Peel used to play some older records now and then. Now you hear a lot of older music on 6 Music alongside the new, and of course you can track down anything via reissues or online.

Janice Headley (CF, KEXP): Chickfactor, the “thank you” sections in CD liner notes, band t-shirts other bands would wear in their publicity photos, record label rosters back when labels had a defined aesthetic, TV and film soundtracks. Nowadays, I discover bands through my day job (at a radio station), social media, algorithms, labels that still have a defined aesthetic. 

Ed Mazzucco / Shelflife Records: Seeking out specific label’s catalogs (Factory, Creation, Sarah, Subway…) and now I learn about it on Instagram or friends sharing info on bands I may like.

Kristin Thomson (Tsunami, Simple Machines Records): I now learn about it through (1) college radio, (2) friends, and (3) Spotify.

Stuart Moxham (Young Marble Giants): I grew up in a musical world; my father was a singer (he’s too old now, at 92,) and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of classical and stage music. We had radio, records, I also had an elder brother who had a stereo and headphones in the early ’70s because, as a sailor, he’d been to Japan. Girlfriends and their older sisters’ record collections majored too. In terms of making music, I sang as a child in church and later in musicals which my dad starred in. I’m pretty much self-taught at playing and composing, obviously influenced by friends though and the records I’ve loved.

Beth Arzy (Jetstream Pony): My cousins were like my sisters and used to give me their old records so I had The Monkees, Olivia Newton John, John Denver when I was 3-4. My mom worked at an easy listening radio station in Northern California when I was 5-6 and I used to get all the records that weren’t easy listening so my life started with vinyl. Now it’s bands we play with who I love, word of mouth, and (this won’t make me popular) algorithms suggesting things I may like. They’re often right!  

Claudia Gonson / The Magnetic Fields: When I met Stephin and other friends in the ’80s and ’90s, we discovered music through Boston’s amazing web of college radio stations. Also, by going to record stores and reading indie zines and the larger music magazines. I also learned about music through a combo of friends (like you!) telling me what they were listening to and going to see shows. Today, I still sometimes learn about music through the radio, while driving in my car or through online radio stations. Stephin’s monthly online DJ session on Lot Radio is fun, as is “How does it Feel to be Loved?” Obviously, the internet- Online music magazines, online performances on Youtube, etc. I also learn about music by reading the NY Times, New Yorker and listening to NPR. Sigh. I am definitely a 50-something East Coast liberal. 

Theresa Kereakes: Thirty years ago, we still had reliable radio without too much consolidation. But I mostly learned about music from indie record stores. Going back to when I was at UCLA in the ’70s (gasp, 46 years ago), I learned about music from the late Gary Stewart, who worked at the Rhino Records store on Westwood Blvd. I bought Elvis Costello and Jam records from him the moment they arrived at the store. I also learned about music that preceded my consciousness from the Capitol Records Swap Meet. Twenty years ago, I was producing a radio show for Sirius, and labels, both major and indie, sent me new music. Ten years ago til the present, I rely on friends, favorite record stores, and interviews with my favorite musicians if they’re asked what they’re listening to. I discovered Roxy Music because David Bowie mentioned to either Dinah Shore or Dick Cavett that he liked them (this was during the Eno era). I learned when I was working at the very mainstream VH1 that mainstream artists don’t always have mainstream tastes. Elton John loved Blur back then, and now, he loves Aaron Lee Tasjan.

John Lindaman (True Love Always): Obviously eternally from surrounding yourself with friends with better taste than you. 30ish years ago I worked at B Dalton Booksellers, and I would read every guitar/music magazine that came in. I also took care of my guitar teacher Tony Geballe’s record collection when he went to Turkey for six months, and it was loaded to the gills with Fripp/ECM/Frith/Eno type stuff, the closest thing to an encyclopedic music streaming service that existed then. An amazing opportunity for a young person—sorry I probably scratched up your records, Tony! 20 and 10 years ago it was from going to good record stores, and the glory days of Emusic. I got downloads of tons of great out of print Brazilian albums from a site run by a guy named Zecalouro, which has since gone dark. Now BANDCAMP.

Gail CF: 1992: Working at Washington City Paper and then Spin. Promos. Combing record stores. Pam & Co. Mike Schulman at Vinyl Ink Records recommending things; Chris, Josh and Jeff at Kim’s (later Other Music) suggesting things. Reading Option, NME and Melody Maker and zines. 2002: Putting out CF15 after 10 years of CF, I learned about music via the internet, Other Music and friends, bands giving me music. 2012: Doing an issue (CF17) forced me to dig deep into what had come out in our 20th anniversary year; PR folks helped. The internet, maybe Soundcloud. WFMU online. Friends, DJs, bands giving me stuff. 2022: Bandcamp for sure; labels, bands/PR folks sending me stuff; WFMU; blogs and friends doing music stuff! 

Fred Thomas: 10 years ago: That was probably the tail end of the blog era for me, where I’d read about or blindly download obscure music from small blogs or bigger music criticism/culture sites. ¶ 20 years ago: Working full time at the record store and taking chances buying whatever came through that sounded interesting or a friend I trusted was excited about. Seeing shows in the same way. There was already an ocean of new music then, but not as much information, so I didn’t always know much about the music I liked. Some of it was blank CDRs or tapes with no track-listings. ¶ 30 years ago: that would have been when I was just getting out of relying on MTV and the radio as the primary sources of new music and started listening to stuff played by friends’ older siblings or the older punk kids who weren’t too annoyed by me at the record shops. Once in 1992 an older record store clerk asked me if I’d help them clean up the house they were moving out of and they paid me with about 70 dubbed tapes of music I’d never heard of before. That was a pretty formative moment. It’s interesting because presently I draw on parts of all the means I’ve used to learn about new music for the past 30 years, just more fragmentally and less from one main source. 

Tracy Wilson (Turntable Report): Thirty years ago I learned about music through talking to customers at the record store I was working at, by reading every music fanzine I could get my hands on, from the sales people at all the different labels and distros I purchased music from, shopping at other record stores, and by going to shows at least three days a week. The only thing that has changed now I that I go to less shows during the pandemic and I have the internet. 

Pete Paphides: 40 years ago: Smash Hits, Record Mirror, the information on record sleeves and labels, hanging out in record stores ¶ 30 years ago: Melody Maker, NME, the information on record sleeves and labels, hanging out in record stores ¶ 20 years ago: hanging out in record stores with Bob Stanley ¶ 10 years ago, hanging out in record stores both with and without Bob Stanley; going in looking for one record, coming out with something completely different because of what was playing, or because something caught my eye. 

Kevin Alvir (Hairs): in 2012: Pitchfork (puke) and assorted music blogs. in 2002: reading Spin Magazine or whatever played on MTV. But I was real into Athens, GA… so whatever those associated labels put out. in 1992: I sat in the passenger seat of my brother’s car. He played Hüsker Dü, Replacements, Dramarama, etc. and those albums mean so much to me. 

Dickon Edwards: My memory is very bad about this. But I think in 2012, I had drifted away from listening to new music, but was still going to gigs at the Boogaloo and other smallish London venues. 2002: Word of mouth, reading the NME, still listening to John Peel. 1992: All the music papers, Peel, BBC Radio 1, music TV like The Chart Show.

CF poll: Who should play at CF30 later this year?

Our first issue

chickfactor zine was started in the summer of 1992 by Pam Berry and Gail (me) O’Hara and our first issue came out at a Lois + Heavenly show at Maxwell’s in Sept. 1992. This year we will be celebrating our anniversary in a few cities and we asked folks who/where they wanted to play. Hope to see you all there!
NYC will be Oct 6 & 8
London will be Oct 28-30
PDX? DC? perhaps

Who should play at CF30 this fall? Where should it be? 
Janice Headley:
Lilys, a reunited Velocity Girl, Horsegirl. It should be in NYC, where it all began.
Beth Arzy: The Pastels, Comet Gain, Lightships, The Aislers Set and Pam Berry! London, Glasgow, Paris? 
John Lindaman: The Aluminum Group, for their new record, in NYC!
Stuart Moxham: Me! Paris, France.
Ed Mazzucco / Shelflife Records: Pipas reunion, Portland, OR
Kristin Thomson: Lilys, Unrest, Versus, Scrawl, Ida, Rebecca Gates/Spinanes, Clint Conley, Ohmme; Longshot, but I’d love to see boygenius
Claudia Gonson / The Magnetic Fields: I nominate one of Amelia and Rob’s many bands. They are certainly some of the most prolific musicians I have seen during quarantine. Maybe it can take place in a castle in the UK. Or Spain. Or New Zealand. Obviously, I am craving travel. 
Theresa Kereakes: Tristen! I selfishly want it to be somewhere that “strongly encourages masking” even if the state doesn’t care. 
Kevin Alvir: NY Please!! Cannanes. The Bats. Ashtray Boy. Pipas. Aislers Set. and I’m sure whoever else you get rules. 
Peter Momtchiloff: Vanishing Twin
Jim Ruiz: Shoestrings. They just released their sequel album on Shelflife after 24 years!!!
Daniel Handler: The Aluminum Group, The Bats, Birdie and the Spinanes, walking distance from my house.
Lois Maffeo: Versus! Their 1993 Let’s Electrify LP that Teenbeat re-released this year provides irrefutable evidence that Versus has been a titanic rock and roll band since the very beginning. Every song they write is wondrous and every show is awe-inspiring! 
Pete Paphides: Butcher Boy. Robert Forster. Whoa Melodic. The Leaf Library. Trashcan Sinatras. Altered Images.

poll: your favorite record stores

What are your favorite brick-and-mortar record shops, online shops, zine stores, etc.?

Gail CF: My Vinyl Underground and Mississippi in Portland. Dusty Groove. Carolina Soul in Durham. Amoeba.

Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket): Amoeba on Haight, and the unclassifiable section three shelves back at Green Apple Books on Clement.

Beth Arzy (Jetstream Pony): Rough Trade East (London), Monorail Records (Glasgow), Sounds of the Universe (London), Flashback (London), OOR (Zurich), Grammar School Records (Rye), Rollin’ Records (London).

Fred Thomas: I love so many independent shops around the world. I’ve worked at Encore Records in Ann Arbor on and off since 1998 and as recently as yesterday (!!!), Culture Clash in Toledo is such a cool store, Love Garden in Lawrence Kansas, Mississippi and Jackpot in Portland. Hello Records and People’s Records in Detroit. Today Clothing in Ann Arbor is a serious inspiration. MOOG is a synth and music shop in Montreal I used to go into every day and never buy anything at the entire two years I lived there.

Ed Mazzucco / Shelflife Records: My Vinyl Underground. Amoeba SF back in the 2000s.

Kendall Meade / Mascott: Main Street Beat, Nyack, NY.

Theresa Kereakes: In Nashville, where I now live: The Groove (new & used records, gazillions of indie 45s, zines. and stuff); Grimey’s (new & used records, books, zines)—they both host live performances and events. Online, I buy from Rough Trade, because I can’t go to any of their stores in person. Oddly, I’ve never shopped in a zine or comic store, even though I lived basically next door to on in Chelsea (and I would always see my neighbor, Johnny Ramone in there). I buy my zines from record stores (I supposed I like one-stop shopping), and online and from book fairs/art shows where the creator is selling in person. 

Stuart Moxham: Bandcamp by miles, but also LSD Records shop in Wilton, Wiltshire and ebay

Alicia Speakeasy Studios: Amoeba is still the best record store in San Francisco.  I love it.  And now, Bandcamp is my second favorite record store.  

Claudia Gonson / The Magnetic Fields: I’m very happy that St Marks Comics moved to Brooklyn. It is near enough to me that I can pop over there fairly regularly. I am not a good music shopper anymore and have not found it easy to navigate through the new record stores I have seen. I do love poking around Brooklyn’s wonderful independent bookstores.

Janice Headley / CF & KEXP: Bandcamp, Patreon, Quimby’s

Tracy Wilson / Turntable Report: I miss Other Music and Steady Sounds so much. Current favorite shops include Uncle Tony’s Donut Shoppe, Acme in WI, and Double Decker in PA.

Pete Paphides: The Record Detective Agency in Palmers Green; Alan’s Record & CD Shop in East Finchley; the Little Record Shop in Hornsey; Monorail in Glasgow; Resident in Brighton; Rough Trade in West London; Easy Listening in Acocks Green, 40 years ago. 

What is your favorite record store? 

Nancy Novotny: End of an Ear, Austin

Sukhdev Sandhu (CF):
Sound Service, Villingen
For its tragic chanteuses, Bavarian folk music, and the nearby Vietnamese restaurant
Flur, Lisbon
For its natural light, gorgeously-sleeved house 12″s, and mellow staff
An Ideal For Living, Stockholm
For its lesser-known Robert Wyatt singles, early el LPs, Aztec Camera picture discs
Nat, Tokyo
For its 70s Swedish punk 7-inch singles
World of Echo, London
For its name, lovely owners Natalie and Stephen, Tara Clerkin Trio mugs
Monorail, Glasgow
For its giving, generosity, endless geographies
Pianola, Tokyo
For its chamber music, oddsome pop, delicate ardour
Discreet, Gothenburg
For its making, channelling and harvesting of mysterious local circles
Fnac, Cannes
Would that most independent stores were as good as this chain one. It made my Charles Trenet cup overfloweth.
Manic Hedgehog, Oxford
Where I blew my student grant in one go

Alexander Bailey: Winzer Records, Palm Springs

Danny Ingram: Restless Records (Soho, London)

Adam Stafford: Jigsaw/My Vinyl Underground of course. Arroyo Records in LA is good! I picked up a couple of Aislers Set 7-inches there recently. 

Brian Musikoff: Sonic Boom Records!

Kevin Coral: Last Exit Records in Kent, Ohio (though I work there so biased) and Current Year Records in Parma, Ohio.

Ken Katkin: Shake It Records in Cincinnati. Historically: Pier Platters R.I.P. and Home of the Hits. 

Carmen Mullins: Crookedbeat (D.C.)! 

Tim Dagger: Currently, Twist and Shout in Denver. 

Matthew Edwards: Swordfish in Birmingham UK. Open Hand Music in Berkeley, CA. 

Joey Sweeney: Repo Records in Philly. 

Ryan Olson: Amoeba obviously here in L.A. but I like Record Surplus on my side of town.

Peter Momtchiloff: Truck Music Store. 

Jen Sbragia (CF, The Softies, All Girl Summer Fun Band): My Vinyl Underground for sure, also there’s a great one in my hometown called the Next Record Store (Santa Rosa, CA, formerly the Last Record Store R.I.P.)

Michael HHBTM Records: My Vinyl Underground / Microgroove / Grimey’s / Wall of Sound / Green Noise / Raven / Vintage Vinyl

Yvette Ray: Rotate This in Toronto

Bx Blackhawk: Bandcamp

Reuben Radding (photographer): Academy! 

David Martin: Government Center in Pittsburgh, Landlocked in Bloomington IN, Love Garden in Lawrence KS, Lunchbox in Charlotte NC, Tone Deaf in Chicago, End of an Ear in Austin

Hannah, @BowlieBlue: Relevant Record Café, Cambridge UK. no inflated prices (and even a student discount!), great vibes, cafe above the shop, amazing variety and seriously lovely staff 

Tracy Dreamy Records: Before London, I used to go to a place called Black Hole in Brea, CA. I think it’s still there. There were some equally good places in San Diego and Lou’s Records was always worth the drive. Obv Amoeba in SF. In London: Sister Ray… but also the record & tape exchange was ace.

Jason Summershine Records: Going Underground in Bakersfield always stellar. Plus, also one here in L.A. too. Points also to Gimme Gimme, Freakbeat & Record Safari in L.A. 

Patrick Carmosino: Discounting ones I’ve worked at, I’d have to say currently – Rebel Rouser in Bklyn, organization and non-Discogs-price-gouging a big +. In a perfect world, it should’ve been the one Chris V. was running on West 8th for a short time but alas…

Keith @anxietyblock: Feeding Tube Records in Northampton, MA. Lots of hard to find gems, specializing in Ptolemaic Terrascope type bands. Owner started the store because his kids weren’t interested in inheriting his very impressive collection.

Leela Corman: Armageddon and Analog Underground in Providence, RI; In Your Ear in Warren RI – the one by the water.

Adam Grimord-Isham: I’ll second Flat Black and Circular and Mississippi, will add Reckless in Chicago and Moon Rocks in Eugene. Specks in PDX is a little but great store!

Mark Woodpigeon: Atom Heart in Montreal always makes me happy. 

Robert Hindle-Yang: Records The Good Kind (Vernon, CT) 

Ben Parrish: In Portland: Mississippi Records, My Vinyl Underground. Olympia: Rainy Day Records. Denver: Twist & Shout

Don Clark: Celebrated Summer here in Baltimore.

The Catenary Wires: Wow and Flutter in Hastings, UK. 

Linda Smith: Normal Books in Baltimore. 

Jon Freer Sounds: Gothenburg, Sweden: Discreet Music. Manchester, UK: Vinyl Exchange, Piccadilly Recs

Chelsey Johnson: Black Hills Vinyl in Rapid City, SD! Also love Steady Sounds in Richmond. 

Bowery Ballroom: Record Grouch / CrookedBeat DC / Joint Custody DC

Lys Guillorn: In CT: Willimantic Records, Gerosa Records

Rob Ferguson: Jack’s (Red Bank, NJ). Princeton Record Exchange

Stephen Pierce: Electric Eye in Florence, MA. 

Leo Lopez: Oakland Ca.: Econo Jam and 1-2-3-4 Go! are really special. Stranded is good too.

Chris Jude: Harvest Records in Asheville, NC

Warsaw Cubicle: Lunchbox Records here in Charlotte! 

Cheesepolice (Twitter name): In Your Ear Boston

Chelsie Dever: Friends of Sound

Can’t Hardly Wait: Dr. Disc, Windsor, ON

Domigon (Twitter name): Rare Groove in Osaka

Jesse Kevon: End of an Ear

Elevator Bath: End of an Ear

Bodega Pop: Record Grouch here in Brooklyn; Mississippi Records in Portland, Oregon

Stupefaction Music: Currently: Rocket No. 9 in Kingston, NY

Libby Cudmore: Reimagine Records; Music & More. Both in New Hartford, NY. Both run by the coolest, sweetest, most thoughtful fans in the world. 

Ryan Daly: Pitchfork Records in Concord, NH, and Mile Long Records in Wheaton, Illinois. 

Ami_59x (Twitter name): Zia Records and Stinkweeds in Phoenix

Astral Swans: Recordland Calgary

Laura Fenwick: No contest, Grimey’s. 

Cheshire Adams: Nashville: Grimey’s. Chicagoland: Vintage Vinyl Evanston, Reckless, Laurie’s Planet of Sound. 

Ben Tye: These two keep on extending my retirement age: Honest Jons LDN and World of Echo Shop. 

Julie Underwood: Love Garden Sound in Lawrence, KS

Slow Season: Forever Young in Prairie, TX, and Permanent Records in L.A.

Black Mesa Records: Guestroom Records in Norman or OKC

Julie Butterfield: Sonic Boom / Seattle and Gre Coffeehouse and Vinyl / Palm Springs

Danny Ethridge: Waterloo in Austin; Grimey’s in Nashville

Albert Rolls: Music Town

Threadwaxing Space & Steve Keene

By Sam Brumbaugh

An exclusive excerpt from the forthcoming Steve Keene Art Book (Hat & Beard Press)

Any old record could be beautiful. Brazil ’66. The Frost. UFO. Orpheus. O.C. Smith. Tom Ghent. The Buckinghams. Renaissance. Johnny Rivers. Wishbone Ash. Danny O’Keefe. Melanie. Glass Harp. For a dollar or two, Steve Keene and his wife, Star, found the most amazing songs on cut-out bin albums. Breezy tunes with a creepy edge, heartfelt pop injected with dark hooks, equally joyful and awkward. The easy price and diamond-in-the-rough vibe mirrored the wide-eyed humor, sly depth, and openness of Steve’s art. Records like his paintings on the Threadwaxing Space walls, great stuff right there, cheap and within reach. We used to play Steve’s music at Threadwaxing shows, and I remember suddenly feeling like we were doing something right when a couple of kids came into the room one night while the Left Banke’s “And Suddenly” played over the PA. They were singing along in such a good mood, bouncing on their heels like the floor was made out of Jell-O. Getting a Brooklyn Lager from a keg for a dollar a cup, hundreds of bargain-basement paintings coating the walls in red glow as far down the impossibly long space as you could see. The room felt like it could go on forever, walls as full of color, motion and shadow as the crowd. The paintings not quite exact replicas of each other, hurried brushstrokes and comments across the images as if somehow the art was heckling itself. Or heckling the idea of prints, and somehow at the same time, of unique “pieces.” $1. $2. $5. $10. $20. Signs stapled to the walls: Art for Sale. Cheap!

Image courtesy Threadwaxing Space.

To claim a painting, half the time you had to get a ladder, and (probably) drunkenly climb it in the middle of a dense crowd watching intense bands such as Shellac, Slant 6 or Boredoms. You’d balance there while writing your initials on a strip of masking tape, stick it on the painting, and then descend. We didn’t know enough at the time to fret over slip-and-fall lawsuits. We didn’t really know much of how to do anything. I’d worked at a magazine and a restaurant, knew Keene and a couple of the Pavement guys, and that they wanted to do a show together. I vaguely knew Tim, the owner of Threadwaxing, a long second-floor loft space on lower Broadway, so I called him up, and we just jumped into doing live shows one night in 1993, completely without a clue. We were always running out at the last minute to buy cups, fans, bags of ice. Late on soundchecks, behind on doors—a long line always snaked out the building, down past Broadway’s gated textile shops and around to Broome Street. Neglecting to introduce bands or introducing them when they didn’t want that, forgetting to put up the city-mandated “No Dancing” signs, overloading guest lists, running late on the run-of-show, our capacity always in mysterious flux. It was all part of the charm of the place, I’d try to tell myself. But Steve was on time from day one, there two days before a weekend of shows to begin his hard labor, double all-nighter installs (painstaking wiring in hooks to hundreds of freshly painted and sawed plywood, hanging them by the dozens on makeshift wires he’d stretched across the walls).

Image courtesy Threadwaxing Space.

With the sudden success of the shows, the big crowds, the agents calling, the press coverage and MTV crews, things quickly felt precariously close to overwhelming. But Steve had a work ethic and self-assurance I took careful note of. And soon enough, I saw that behind Steve’s slapstick lines and slapdash surfaces was a rigor of theory, skill and a method of original process so atmospherically definable that all I had to do was book good shows and make sure there was plenty of beer and booze.

Image courtesy Threadwaxing Space.

Fortuitously for booking shows, the early ’90s indie scene was finally beginning to get going in the city, gelling around record stores such as Kim’s Underground (soon to morph into Other Music) in Manhattan and Pier Platters in Hoboken, the Lower East Side bar Max Fish, college radio stations WFMU and WNYU, and venues such as Maxwell’s, the Knitting Factory and Irving Plaza. Art students in ski sweaters. Scrawny musicians in corduroys and T-shirts. Zine girls in pigtails. Pale, bearded dudes looking like they hadn’t crawled out of their rent-controlled apartments since 1978. Dame Darcy in her wicked witch shoes, white makeup and flowing black Victorian gear. The kid who dressed like a Don’t Look Back–era Dylan, complete with peg pants, dark Wayfarers, fuzzed-out hair and a kinetic bop to his stride. Leonardo Drew. Tinuviel. Rita Ackermann. Grasshopper. Jacqueline Humphries. Stewart Lupton. A lot of these artists and musicians coalesced at Threadwaxing.

Image courtesy Threadwaxing Space.

Until then—outside of the Sonic Youth crowd—there hadn’t been much natural comingling between the downtown art and music worlds. Bands out of the New York art scene were categorically self-conscious and usually pretty bad, and there wasn’t any decent kind of local indie scene. A lot of aging rockers and art denizens had a pinched vibe, seemed “pickled” with coolness, as Steve liked to say, with a collector kind of possessiveness about who you were seen with, where you were seen, and when. Superficially and in conversation, art world people were pretty self-confident, while the indie kids didn’t take themselves so seriously. Steve bridged the worlds by being both those things, and by also being both instinctively enthusiastic and sharp-tongued. He was a relief with his alert cackle, oddly hunched amble, and anything-goes tuneage, with his hectic art-covered walls that gave Threadwaxing a loose, carnival-like atmosphere. Steve brought humor and accessibility to the scene, and these were an essential part of the community.

Image courtesy Threadwaxing Space.

Community is a word that can sound kind of corny, but in the early ’90s there was a (necessary) cold standoffishness to living downtown—a lot of the Lower East Side was perpetually shitty, getting worse, and at night you had to know how to traverse certain patterns of blocks to avoid gun-toting dealers and agitated crack crazies. People seemed angrier back then, more alone, and there was often some kind of confrontational vibe in the air. I, for one, was never too psyched to be walking into some isolated bar full of hard stares and a jukebox’s brittle sounds of Helmet or Alterations. Community was needed, and suddenly there were all these indie bands coming through that crackled with new forms of delivery, who were somehow—like punk—needling the sacrosanct. Steve was able to frame them in a room with an equally bright kind of energy. His art aligned perfectly with the scene, was a focal point even, in both subject matter and method. Hard work not appearing to be hard work, a loose cleverness and warmth of judgment. There was a charm to the serious intent of the amateurism. Nobody was in any kind of hurry, to paraphrase Stephen Malkmus, and—taking another cue from punk—if you imitated a good sound well enough, had something to say or a certain way of dressing, you’d get your shot.

Steve Keene by Daniel Efram

Steve was one of those artists, like Chris Johanson, whose work has the illusion of self-taught naivete. At a cursory first glance you’d think, Oh, I could maybe do that… Which, of course, was not true. But I remember the thousands of people going through Threadwaxing in those years staring at the incredibly vast array of images, and how it might have stoked belief in the possibility of their own attempts. The scene was good that way. It was fine to try. This guy was flinging it out there. Why shouldn’t I? And you could. You’d get an airing, a listen or a look. I mean, most of the people who worked at Threadwaxing were either artists or had bands. I’d just throw their band on one of the opening slots. A practitioner of junkie boogie schtick, a reedy and hesitant singer-songwriter, a Mudhoney-style grunger, it didn’t matter. Some were okay, but even if a band wasn’t good, their friends would come and watch and have a good time, and the set would be fine. James Murphy was our soundguy, and had a band named Pony. Sure, you can open for Railroad Jerk, or whoever it was. Why not? He worked hard, did a good job. Help your friends. Trust people a bit to get on with what they are doing. Give them time to find their way to LCD Soundsystem. The trust and tolerance in the scene, at least early on, was partly a reaction to all the sleaze and fuckery in both the art world and the music biz, and it was exemplified by Steve’s honor system. He’d bring a couple giant, brightly painted plywood boxes and you’d shove one or two or five or ten bucks into the slot at the top of the box when you’d take your painting off the wall.

But all this trust, this polite patience, could also be a problem. I remember the guy from Bitch Magnet complaining about how so many indie bands couldn’t play anything even remotely capably on stage, and what did they think they were doing, putting people through that shit? He got a lot of blowback, but he was right in some ways. There was way too much grating amateurism to endure. Also, the early indie scene was rife with preciously intense fans, and certain shows had a hushed, serious vibe verging on cultish. Reference points could be ridiculously studied. God help you if you looked too preppy or too fashionable or wore a Lemonheads T-shirt to a Bratmobile or Royal Trux show. When Royal Trux signed to Virgin Records, they supposedly bought a purple Jaguar and cruised up and down Avenue A. This was considered pretty cool. This reaction was unusual. Success, money even, was distrusted. Most bands going to majors, their rep dropped a peg. Indie bands at the time didn’t believe in the established methods of a career path and—initially at least, avoided music-biz marketing characterization or the temporary attentions of major labels. Just like those bands, Steve was looking for another way. He seemed to distrust success—or, more particularly, the success of art world acceptance. Threadwaxing was a different kind of opening.

Everything was the process, a system lived night and day, and there were almost no exceptions. At one of the early Threadwaxing shows, Steve came out with the first series of United States presidents. They looked great, popping off the walls. I went up to him while he was hanging. “Wow, Steve, those are amazing. Can I put my name on one of the James Garfields before doors?” “You have to wait,” he said, shaking his head and frowning disapprovingly. No insider access. No exclusivity. Which was okay, I respected this attitude. At doors, I was immediately busy running around doing whatever, and by the time I turned around the presidents had all been claimed. I was pissed, but then felt bad about the instinct to possess. It was the kind of thing Steve hated. (And in a way, he was much more responsible for the shows than I was.)

All art by Steve Keene

Later that year, he sent me a painting as a Christmas card. Really nicely done with care. Chinese food cartons and a plate and chopsticks. “Chinese Takeout. Merry Christmas from Star and Steve.” I had it up in my Bleecker Street apartment for years until some skater kid friend of a friend stole it along with a bunch of records. Skater kids steal with such ease. There was a skate shop on Lafayette a couple blocks away from my apartment. One time after the painting had disappeared, I went in there to look at shoes. They used to play a lot of Beatles and Scott Joplin (pretty contrary taste for what you’d assume their clientele was into), and Magical Mystery Tour was going around on the turntable. The cover was propped up, and I looked at the faded discount sticker across the mustard yellow and realized it was my record. I was pretty sure the Chinese takeout painting was back there behind the closed office door but Steve’s paintings were always winding their way into random places. This was crucial to him. He loved hearing about the strange locations his paintings would pop up in; someone’s grandmother’s apartment in San Antonio, Dennis Hopper’s L.A. bathroom, on the wall of a bail bonds place in Queens. “Wow, that’s so amazing, that’s so great,” he’d respond with genuine glow. His cheerful feeling of randomness, you see it all in the humor and demystification in his images. An old-school classical view of Venice with “Heavy Dub” written along the bottom. A tossed-off Here Come the Warm Jets or some other fetishized album, where he wouldn’t even bother to write the entire record title. Or Made in the Shade, with Mick and Keith as stick figures with yellow blobs for heads. It was still somehow obvious he loved these records, even though the plywood he used would often warp and paintings would balloon out and wind up un-hangable. Essential demise: probably just another part of Steve’s intent. Like the better indie rock back then, he always had such an ease in his ability to demystify things. And while his work ethic was completely methodical, there was something to the whole ethos of randomness he loved, and that exists not only in the surface of his painting, but deep in his core philosophy. Whether it’s an unpainted plywood edge, dots of unrelated color, a crimped word or a slightly off-kilter hook so you can’t ever hang the painting evenly, there are flaws right there contentedly in plain view. Like the city back then, like the way we ran things at Threadwaxing.

At the end of any given night, the Threadwaxing walls would be pretty ragged and bare, most of the crowd heading out the door and down the steps with a painting or two under their arm. The floor would be strewn with red plastic cups, sticky bits of masking tape, and torn ticket stubs. Clouds of weed smoke evaporating in the air with the sweat, the bands hanging around having a drink before load-out. Steve, wired and tired, drinking beer and chatting to lingerers, but looking around with a mixture of contentment and anxiousness, ready to get going dismantling. When we’d finally clear everybody and lock the front entrance, Steve would take the big plywood box, pry off the top, and dump all the money out. Hundreds of bills swirling in the air, floating to the floor as Star and Steve sat down to begin counting. Mostly all one-dollar bills, but at that moment it seemed like a fortune.

Sam Brumbaugh is a D.C.-based novelist (Goodbye, Goodness) who has written for Open City, Chickfactor, The Minus Times and Vice. He coproduced the documentary Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt. He is a music producer and programmer who booked shows in NYC in the ’90s, and has worked for the Guggenheim Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

All photos and flyers courtesy Threadwaxing Space except where noted.

This is an excerpt from The Steve Keene Art Book (Copyright 2022 Daniel Efram, All rights reserved). Order a copy of the book here. Follow the artist Steve Keene, book producer Dan Efram and Hat & Beard on instagram. The book was designed by Henry Owings from Chunklet. Conflict-of-interest alert: The Steve Keene Art Book was edited by CF’s Gail O’Hara.

chickfactor 19 is out now

The new issues are here! Jen Sbragia and I have been working diligently to bring you a new issue to read during these very challenging times. Edited by me (Gail O’Hara) and designed by Jen Sbragia, the issue is 72 pages long and has two covers (red and yellow):

The covers feature (clockwise from top left):
Rachel Aggs.
Horsegirl.
Sacred Paws.
The Umbrellas.

chickfactor 19 features interviews with:
Artsick
Connie Lovatt (Containe, The Pacific Ocean, etc.)
Dan Bejar (Destroyer)
Gina Davidson (Marine Girls, The Fenestration)
Horsegirl
Kevin Alvir’s Fanboy Memoirs
Magic Roundabout
Melenas
(interview by Janice Headley)
Rachel Aggs (Sacred Paws, Shopping, Trash Kit)
Rachel Love (Dolly Mixture, Spelt)
(interview by Gail and Gaylord Fields)
Rebecca Cole (Clay Cole, Minders, Wild Flag)
Sacred Paws
Say Sue Me
(interview by James McNew)
Seablite
The Umbrellas
Laura Veirs
(interview by Rachel Blumberg)
+ Our usual silly polls where indie stars answer our latest round of Qs
+ Lois Maffeo on the latest Tracey Thorn book, Theresa Kereakes on the Poly Styrene doc
+ Loads of record reviews: albums, EPs, 7-inch singles, reissues, comps, collections, films, books and live shows
+ Our esteemed contributors (writers, artists and photographers) including Kevin Alvir, Rachel Blumberg, Joe Brooker, Angelina Capodanno, Jason Cohen, Gaylord Fields, Amy Greenan, Glenn Griffith, Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket), Edwina Hay, Janice Headley, HK Kahng, Theresa Kereakes, Beatrix Madell, Dawn Sutter Madell, Lois Maffeo, James McNew, Kendall Meade, Stephin Merritt, Peter Momtchiloff, Nancy Novotny, Gail O’Hara, Chris Phillips, Sukhdev Sandhu, Jen Sbragia, Stephen Troussé, Julie Underwood, Lydia Vanderloo & Doug Wallen
Order a copy of Chickfactor 19 here!
US ONLY
CANADA
UK & REST OF WORLD
Stockists:
Quimby’s in Chicago
Record Grouch in Brooklyn
Monorail in Glasgow
My Vinyl Underground and Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon
End of An Ear in Austin
Peel Gallery in Chapel Hill/Carrboro
Coming soon: Main Street Beat in Nyack, Sonic Boom in Seattle, Atomic Books in Baltimore and Grimey’s in Nashville
Also online at K Recs or Jigsaw

Rachel Aggs photographed in SE Portland, 2019. Photo: Gail O’Hara
The Umbrellas photographed at the Elizabeth Cotten mural (painted by Scott Nurkin) in Carrboro, NC, 2021. Photo: Gail O’Hara
Horsegirl photographed in Washington, D.C., March 2022. Photo: Gail O’Hara

Sacred Paws photographed by Edwina Hay in Brooklyn, 2019.

Theresa Kereakes on The Beatles: Get Back Mini-Series

Get Back: Let It Be Remix (Info Dump for the Insatiable)

Photographs courtesy of Disney+

Have The Beatles finally mined everything from their brief but splendid existence with GET BACK? Perhaps not for The Beatles Industrial Complex, nor for scholars. GET BACK stands as peak postmodernism, where culture commodifies its own cultural production, and in a critical twist, vindicates the original object of its discontent.

The original 87-minute LET IT BE was received as a downer, and its release at the time of The Beatles breakup compounded ill feelings about the film, Yoko, Linda, and Paul McCartney himself, all of which were suggested to have contributed to the breakup.

GET BACK was met with almost universal praise for its eight hours of restored cinema vérité. In lauding this new access to the exact duration of each long-gone perceivable present of the Beatles’ past, the loudest voices in social media chose to fawn over producer Glynn Johns’ fashion sense or delight in slamming LET IT BE director Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s pompous personality (bloviating while desperate to find a climactic spectacle and deliver his project on time, or at all).

Photographs courtesy of Disney+

Seeing three weeks in the life of The Beatles’ process confirms that neither Yoko nor Linda caused their breakup, and their husbands brought them to the studio of their own volition. Billy Preston saved the day musically. His talent and convivial personality together with his bona fides (he played in Ray Charles’ combo) revived The Beatles’ passion for being a band. GET BACK unequivocally showed Paul McCartney as a stone-cold craftsman who pulled “Get Back” and “Let It Be” out of his pocket with elan. 

I asked filmmakers and musicians alike what they thought. Although they share expertise with the subjects, they speak for the whole of the viewership.

Film Editor1: “Get Back was not a tectonic shift in any way. Nine hours of edited content, released on a major outlet could have been something of a game changer. But it was… not really.”

Showrunner: “Will we see another mini-series based on the remaining 50 hours of footage?”

Musician1: “This captures how long and tedious recording sessions really are.”

Musician2: “This is the fantasy I’ve been waiting for.”

Me: Get Back = Let It Be Remix (Info Dump for the Insatiable)

Filmmakers can see what Sir Peter Jackson had and more important, didn’t have, to work with.  As one editor told me, “the cadence of the cutting revealed how much the story that they wanted to present took place in audio only, and they worked for years to make it look like the cameras caught it.” 

Photographs courtesy of Disney+

Director Allison Anders astutely re-centered the discussion. She praised Michael Lindsay-Hogg for “gaining the trust and creating an atmosphere where the most famous musicians in the world at such a critical time could feel free to share with you, and us, the intimacy of creative process, and for always having the cameras in the many right spots—the most incredible accomplishment!!!” (I felt 100% vindicated by her Instagram post)

Lindsay-Hogg’s career was already stellar. As director of Ready, Steady, Go, and music videos for the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” and the Rolling Stones’ “Jumping Jack Flash,” he knew how to cover musicians in their natural habitat. He conceived The Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus, but the band hated it and didn’t release it until 28 years later, when it had become the stuff of legend. And in the end, all Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s work, despite or because of his attitude and the bummer that is the original LET IT BE, has been vindicated by fans’ overwhelming desire to see more deeply into the creative process of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. CF