Christmas 1980 was a happy time (the destruction of the Resource Centre apart) and there were dozens of local bands pounding out interesting, powerful, excellent music all across Brighton most evenings. These gigs took place in a variety of pubs, bars and clubs, notably the Richmond, the Kensington, the Concorde, the Pedestrian Arms, the Art College Basement and the Sallis Benny Hall, to name but a few. But more often than not, you could catch two, three or sometimes four groups in one night at Brighton's own truly venerated venue, the legendary Alhambra, on the seafront.
The Attrix Five were deeply involved with the shop and the label as ever, but we found ourselves naturally becoming absorbed by other projects as they emerged. Rick's band, the Parrots, split up and he formed a new outfit, Voluntary Sector (later VolSec). My twin brother Shaun had been shown some rudimentary guitar chords by some musician friends (including Rick) and had immediately begun writing songs and talking to people about creating his own group.
Julie, as well as being a member of the Mockingbirds, became the manager of the Red Squares. Of course, in Terry Newbury's case it was a bit different, he being a resident of London; but he was always visiting, always on the phone, ready for our next plan of action. And me? Well, I started co-hosting the new local music show on Radio Brighton with the avuncular, smooth-voiced Vince Geddes.
Additionally, I had been asked by members of Birds With Ears to be their new manager. I gave this serious consideration, even though at this stage I wasn't that struck by some of their material. They were a very good live act and I found them interesting. But it certainly wasnt punk rock. In any case, I had been looking after a young mod trio, the Agents, since my time with the Chefs.
They were good fun and the drummer, Darryl, had been in the Chefs for a while. They gigged around town and occasionally out to some neighbouring areas along the coast. The Agents played mostly their own songs, strongly derivative of the Beatles, the Jam etc. It was a laugh and a half, nothing very challenging and it was never going to be a long-term thing.
Tony Byford, the man in charge of the Piranhas business affairs, had moved out of the small flat above the Attrix shop and I moved in. This was my first place away from the parental home and it was all pretty thrilling. Ah! Young days! Groovy goings-on downstairs in the shop by day, lovely young women running amok upstairs by night! Classic records released on an almost daily basis! Brilliant gigs in tiny pubs most evenings for very little cash! I'd better calm down, or I'll have a cardiac.
The Chefs fantastic new single, 24 Hours, was finally issued after months of editing, remixing and general last-minute touches. Happily for all concerned John Peel liked it very much and played it a lot. As a result, it became one of the fastest-selling singles we ever put out. Even better, Peel offered them one of his much-coveted sessions and the broadcast was keenly anticipated by all their fans in Brighton. It didn't dissapoint.
Graduate records, originally the home of UB40, wanted to license 24 Hours and re-issue it, only months after it had been released. Rick worked out a deal with them and it went ahead, repackaged in a new sleeve. My radio spot, The Tuesday Show, progressed from amateur mumblings to something that was unpretentious, relevant to the local band scene and fun to listen to. I played demo tapes (or records when any were available) and Vince and I chatted with musicians. I presented a comprehensive gig-guide for the week, and we got positive feedback not only from the bands, but from within the Beeb itself: even a small feature in the national Radio Times no less (theres a fabulous picture of Vince, various people from groups and myself, taken in the Attrix shop, somewhere).
Rick and Julie had played me more demos by Bird With Ears and I was beginning to get hooked. The level of musicianship was awesome (these were young students) and the songs had something odd about them, they were very dark, atmospheric and insanely funny in places. Fascinating. I decided to end my tenure with the Agents (who were well pissed-off) and became the manager of Birds With Ears. Rick, Julie and Terry were madly enthusiastic about the band, so much so that they decided to take a colossal gamble: they proposed an entire album from them, an unprecedented and potentially expensive risk.
Whilst all this was going on, Shaun had got his little group together. Recruiting Dave Godot on bass and Jon Goodliffe on guitar (from Dick Damage's band, the Dilemma) he called it Joe Dash. I sat in on drums until they could find a more professional replacement. We rehearsed two or three times a week under a wonderful old second-hand record shop just along from Attrix, Brighton Rock. Shaun's first attempts at songwriting revealed his influences: Joy Division, Magazine, the Cure, the Young Marble Giants and above all the incredible Monochrome Set.
Meanwhile, one of the first things I did as the new manager of Birds With Ears was to use my influence at Radio Brighton and get them a session, to be broadcast on my little radio programme. This was a first for the engineers there I think, and it was a bit hit-and-miss. The group played live (no overdubs!) and put down four of their peculiar songs, which duly went out on air in January 1981. This served a two-fold purpose. It was good local publicity and it was a demo-tape for me to secure gigs far and wide. In what seemed only a short space of time, Birds With Ears built up a big following in Brighton: the live shows were extraordinary affairs. Ian Smith, ranting away clad in his unique birdshit jacket, as the band roared through their set night after night, improving all the while.
Some of the other Brighton musicians didn't take kindly to this bunch of art students who had apparently walked straight into a dream deal with Attrix, a whole album for their first release. Cries of 'pretentious crap!' could be heard in various pubs, cafes and rehearsal rooms. But times were changing. The new wave was new no longer (it was six years on at this stage!) the music-scene was going through its very necessary evolutionary process and Attrix Records were determined not to be left behind, still issuing dated, very basic, punk stuff. Birds With Ears represented our chance to move forward. And besides, we liked the material very much.
Meanwhile, my radio show had become popular. Rick's new group had tentatively started gigging, Shaun's first band Joe Dash had supported Birds With Ears (nepotism!) at the Alhambra and things seemed to going along pleasantly. But problems had arisen. As 1981 got under way, the amount of people coming into our shop and buying records had gradually dwindled somewhat. A new major-chain record shop, Subway, had opened up near the Clocktower here in Brighton. We had just about managed to survive alongside HMV and Virgin, but now this was quite a blow.
We had enjoyed a head-start on most of our rivals, in that we provided plenty of product on tiny independent labels which the bigger shops often couldnt supply, but they caught up with us in this respect. The rent on the shop was not cheap and Rick was shouldering all the pressures of fending off demands for cash from various places. The latest Chefs single 24 Hours had sold well, but this wouldnt solve all our financial worries. And there was another, more unpleasant reason why things were starting to get difficult. Back in early 1980 Rick and Julie had secured a verbal agreement with the Piranhas management that for stepping aside and freeing the band from their arrangement with us (so that they could move on to their major-label deal) Attrix would receive a 1% royalty on the following single.
That single, as has been mentioned, was Tom Hark. It sold approximately 300,000 copies and went into the top ten putting the Piranhas in the big band league and it should have kept Attrix solvent. Our estimate of what we should have received from the Piranhas was £3,000. This money seemed to be taking an eternity to arrive and until it did we needed a success on a large scale. Rick, Julie and myself decided that this success would surely be the debut album from what we regarded as the most original, promising outfit in Brighton, Birds With Ears.
Next time: the Attrix Tapes, recording the Birds With Ears LP and the gradual death of Attrix Records.
For the final and concluding part of these Attrix Memoirs:
Go to Part 9
Inside Radio Brighton with Vince Geddes and several local band members
|Birds With Ears - interesting live act|