The story of HVN26

One of the more obscure items in the Heavenly catalogue is a book by Kevin Pearce called Something Beginning With O

Kevin was, and still is, one of the best music writers out there; only recently he completed the 50-chapter odyssey Your Heart Out, which can be found here. You can explore his writing more deeply here. Dive in — trust us, you’ll be rewarded. He’s also just started sharing playlists which he calls The Shoebox Selections, Volumes 1 & 2 of which can be found here. 

The edited extract below, from Robin Turner & Paul Kelly’s Believe In Magic: Heavenly Recordings The First 30 Years (White Rabbit Books, 2020), tells the story of how Something Beginning With O came about:

HVN 26: Something Beginning with O. A book by Kevin Pearce.

 Kevin Pearce is somebody that taught me a lot about music. I remember when I was up in London from Plymouth I bought a fanzine from Rough Trade called Fun N’ Frenzy, simply because it was named after a Josef K song. Reading it on the train back home, I realised I’d just read one of the best writers on music that I’d come across. I still think that to this day, actually. If you read Kevin’s blog, Your Heart Out, I’d still say he’s one of the best writers on music anywhere.

Kevin was the first person to ever tell me about the Manics. He dropped me a line to say that he’d been receiving letters from a kid called Richey Edwards which were like mini-manifestos, full of slogans and very passionate about his group and groups that he liked and where he wanted his group to fit in. 

With Kevin you get a pure voice, somebody that hasn’t been edited and is just communicating in pure thoughts and passions . . . sometimes those voices are ridiculously overenthusiastic. I like that. (JB)

Kevin Pearce

Something Beginning with O was written around 1989 and 1990. Initially it was a much larger project, but I was very into the idea of stripping everything right down to the bare minimum, using five words instead of a hundred, and creating something very instant, very visual, and very pop. It was pitched as being about obsessives and outsiders, but it was really all to do with my own obsessions, what I saw as important in the story of pop, and how by understanding the past we can move on to something better. It was, I confess, very much inspired by reading too much Nik Cohn, but also it was a protest against the way music was being written about, in the music press and particularly the sort of Johnny Rogan school of biography tomes.

And, yeah, mods and punk, and Paul Weller, Kevin Rowland, Vic Godard: these were my shaping forces. Nobody was writing about them back then, at least not in a linked sense, or in a way that tried to shed new light on these things. I could see all these connections, like the strangeness of The Jam’s success, the early mods’ attention to detail and Dexys’ fixation with getting everything right, and that all seemed part of the same thing. But it wasn’t just the contents, it was the approach, playing games with ideas and so on, creating patterns with the text and the rhythm of the words, and using lots of great literary quotes strategically placed alongside pop ephemera and songwords, which was meant to be a bit like DJs and producers were doing with sampling. If that sounds pretentious, it was meant to be.

I tried to get publishers interested, but they really couldn’t grasp the concept. ‘It’s not a real book.’ ‘Well, no, that’s the idea.’ I gave a copy of the manuscript to Bob Stanley, who was a mate, and he loved it. He passed it to Lawrence, and he loved it, and asked me to do a book on Felt, which never happened, but by then I knew I was on the right track. Then Bob passed a copy to Jeff at Heavenly, and he got it straight away, the idea of using lots of rare photos alongside the text, and said he really wanted to publish it.

I knew Jeff through my fanzine Hungry Beat, and we were part of the extended early Creation community, then later when he moved up to London I went to a lot of the gigs he put on at the Black Horse, and so on. I had lost touch with him a bit, but I knew what he was doing at Heavenly, and had even pointed him in the direction of the Manics, which seemed to work out pretty well.

To decide to do the book as part of the label was brilliant. Factory were good at that, giving catalogue numbers to a club or a poster, but I don’t think even they did a book in this way. And other labels had set up separate publishing ventures, but we knew it should be part of what was going on with Saint Etienne, Rockingbirds, and so on. It just felt right to do it with Jeff, and oddly he got quite close to doing records with Kevin Rowland and Vic Godard around that time, which was pretty weird, for when I wrote the book they had more or less disappeared, and even Paul Weller was without a record contract after the Style Council dissolved.

Because it was all new to us the gestation period was quite long. An old friend, Andy Beevers, helped enormously with many of the practicalities, and it was his idea to use the Mark Perry photo that we ended up putting on the cover, which was a brilliant move and a sort of statement of intent. Andy also put us in touch with Carol Briggs who did a fantastic job on the design and layout, she really got the context the words needed, and people like Jon Savage were very kind in helping out with photos they dug out from their archives.

When the book was finally published, in April 1993, the response was incredible, and a complete vindication of the risk Jeff was taking. There were all sorts of people who really got it, from Bikini Kill to Weatherall to Michael Bracewell to Simon Reynolds to Paolo Hewitt to Alan Horne, to young mods who got their mums to ring up to order a copy, and there are people around the world, somehow, who still quote lines back to me, and it’s even been translated into Spanish.

It was the right time, back then, almost coincidentally, for the book, because a lot of the music being put out – stuff like Massive Attack, DJ Shadow, Sabres of Paradise, Tortoise, the early drum & bass stuff, all of which I loved – seemed to fit in with what may be the best remembered quote from the book about how ‘the best mods had the best record collections, the best wardrobes, the best bookshelves, the best minds.’ Of course, none of these people would think of themselves as mods, but they were a lot closer to the true modernist spirit than idiots dressing up in Adidas trainers and target t-shirts and listening to Blur and Oasis, or whatever.

My one regret is not keeping more than a couple of copies, as they are worth a fair bit now. But, despite demand, it’s not been republished, and never will be, because it very much belongs to a specific time, one when it was radical to consider meaningfully mods or Kevin Rowland, The Pop Group or The Action, and when in the pre-Internet age information was less instantly accessible. 


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