The first record on Heavenly was released in the spring of 1990, a 12” by Sly & Lovechild. Acid house had hit London hard, offering a hedonistic escape route from what looked to be a second decade of Thatcherism. The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays had performed together on Top Of The Pops and, for a short while, it felt like those bands could take on the world and, as a fan, you could revel in the reflected glory. Primal Scream had changed their prescription and let their hair down while My Bloody Valentine were busy spending a lot of Creation’s money in the studio. Grunge and Britpop were still just twinkles in eyes, still the stuff of madmen’s dreams. And, thankfully, Spandau Ballet had just split up.
In the ensuing 18 years, a whole load of people have walked through the doors of Heavenly Recordings. Without exception, they’ve all been welcomed back time and again by the label’s genial hosts. In fact, it’s hard to get rid of some of them come three in the morning, when the cab is waiting outside with the meter running.
When these gigs were mooted a while back, it came down to me to piece together a Heavenly History, a selective-memory version of events with all the boring bits taken out. I’ve worked at Heavenly for 14 years now in various capacities – from gig promoter to press officer; A&R man to office Bez. If there are any factual inaccuracies in here, I can only apologise and put it down to loss of brain cells. There were loads of people who we didn’t manage to speak to (due either to us running out of time or them being too damn lazy to get back to us), meaning you’re missing out on stories about the likes of Fabulous, Northern Uproar, The Hybirds, The Little Ones, Jon Carter, Dot Allison, Dr Robert, Schizoid Man, Pete Greenwood, Beggars, The Loose Salute, 22-20s, Jaymay, Nada Surf and, of course, Dog.
We’re saving those for the book. As for the fact that there are no incriminating stories about me – well, that’s a writer’s prerogative.
Hope you enjoy.
Robin Turner, Heavenly, September 2008
Cast of characters
Jeff Barrett – Heavenly boss
Martin Kelly – Heavenly boss
Jon Savage – author of England’s Dreaming, Teenage; compiler of ‘Meridian 1970’
Richard Norris – The Grid, Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve, The Time & Space Machine
Bob Stanley – Saint Etienne
Des Penney – Flowered Up manager/svengali
Andy Hackett – The Rockingbirds, Edwyn Collins
John Robb – author of Punk Rock, singer with Goldblade
James Dean Bradfield – Manic Street Preachers
Simon Price – author of Everything; music critic for The Independent On Sunday
Sarah Cracknell – Saint Etienne
Tim Burgess – The Charlatans
Ed Simons – The Chemical Brothers
Sean Rowley – creator of Guilty Pleasures
Pete Wiggs – Saint Etienne
Alexis Petridis – music critic for The Guardian
Beth Orton – Beth Orton
Ed Harcourt – Ed Harcourt esq
Jimi Goodwin – Doves
Patrick Matthews – The Vines, Youth Group
Don Letts – The Don
Romeo Stodart – The Magic Numbers
Christopher Camm – Heavenly hairdresser
JB – The first label that really did make a difference to the way I thought about music was Postcard. It was an inspiration in so many ways. Postcard was a way out of punk, a way out of the mantra of “no future”. It was an optimistic exit route. Back then, people didn’t just start labels – that’s why Alan McGee with Creation, Tony Wilson with Factory and Alan Horne with Postcard were massively influential. McGee was someone who worked for British Rail and started Creation out of pure fandom – that was one of the key things that spurred us on to start Heavenly. The whole way records on Creation were packaged; it was a total art statement. I loved them. I loved that unification, the attention to detail, the thought that had gone into things. That always seemed like something to aspire to. Then, towards the end of the ’80s, there was suddenly an amazing creative energy going around. Punk had had a lot of negative creative energy – thank God it did – otherwise it would have been loads of bands sounding like Scritti Politti circa 1979. When acid house kicked off, there was a sudden massive burst of energy around.
MK – I think in a funny way Heavenly came fully formed. And the underlying ethos back then was exactly the same as it is now. Jeff had already run Head and Sub-Aqua, but when Heavenly was floated as an idea, it was definitely different, definitely a step on. It was always going to be more of a ‘pop’ label, more commercially-minded. There had been a shift in music in the time between those earlier labels and the start of Heavenly. Sub Aqua was kind of halfway to Heavenly. The idea with the new label was to get further away from just being an ‘indie’ label, to push things on commercially. The Roses and the Mondays were a huge influence on everything around that time. Here were two indie bands that, via acid house, had cracked the mainstream. You suddenly saw that indie bands or music didn’t need to be something shy and retiring, it could break out and be relevant and important. That obviously led to Oasis, which was ultimately an incredibly huge cultural shift. You could feel that coming for years, it was inevitable really.
JB – When something new comes along, you do initially view it as Year Zero. You can end up going to the extremes of, “I don’t want to listen to anything I’ve been listening to before, I want this.” You get immersed in buying things from new places – clothes and records from new shops from new people. Acid house had that palate-cleansing thing, culturally. Ultimately, it revitalized me as a person, recharged my batteries. It was “out with the old, in with the new”. Suddenly I was dancing in fields and warehouses, doing everything differently to the year before.
Jon Savage – I’d gone to New York in early 1986, and I was given a 12” of Fingers Inc ‘Mystery Of Love’ with ‘Donnie’ by The It on the other side. I loved it because it was brutal – and it was psychedelic, which really is my default position when it comes to music. It was the start of a love affair with acid house that lasted a long time. It wasn’t a drug thing for me – I only ever took ecstasy once. For almost all the late ’80s, I was stuck in a room writing England’s Dreaming. During that time I had Tony Wilson in my ear going on about Happy Mondays and, although I reviewed their first album for The Observer, I really missed the snowball effect for all these bands. I’d gone to see The Stone Roses in Dingwalls in ’89, around the time the album came out. I really loved all their backwards stuff and the folk influences on the record. When the book was finished, I emerged from my room, blinking in the sunlight. It was early 1990 and everything was kicking off.
I went on a press trip to Sweden to see the Roses. They were being not very good and the trip was a bit of a bore. But also over there was Bob Stanley (writing for Melody Maker at the time) who I really got along with. We hung out the whole time. When we got back, he gave me a note with a list of records to track down and he told me to get in touch with Jeff Barrett. Jeff was doing press for Factory at the time and I’d always thought that Factory needed to have a good, London-based PR. So I went up to Panther House, just off Clerkenwell Road, to the funny little office they were working from at that time. I got there and saw all these mad kids and it was suddenly, “Oh hello, it’s the next generation.” There was lots of dope; there were young kids who were out of it. Well, at least that was the impression I got back then.
And it was brilliant.
Richard Norris – Back in the mid-’80s, I was a wide-eyed young teenager running Bam Caruso – basically, my dream job. As a total enthusiast for all things psych, in a world where you could seemingly count the other UK fanatics on one fist, it was only a matter of time before like-minded characters who were putting out records or running nights would run into each other. Although, as this was before both the internet and mobile phones, it could take a while. One fellow traveller I did bump into was Jeff Barrett. He was running a label called Head, in about 1986, and putting on a few nights in the back rooms of pubs around town. I remember his mass of long red hair, coiffured to almost King Charles proportions (which later led to Happy Mondays giving him the nickname ‘Foxhead’) and his irrepressible enthusiasm for all things to do with music.
As 1987 moved into 1988, I’d discovered the joys of Shoom. I first went with Genesis P.Orridge, who I’d made an album called ‘Jack The Tab’ with in September 1987. ‘Jack The Tab’ featured the first outing of Peter Fonda’s speech from ‘The Wild Angels’ (“We want to get Loaded, we want to have a good time”). That’s where Shoom was at – excellent music, with everyone feeling it. The first person we bumped into when we walked down the stairs into the sweat and the fog was Andrew Weatherall, who proudly showed Gen his Psychic TV tattoo. We loved it there and went every week.
In early ’88, I bumped into Jeff taking money on the door at a night he was running. I was on the way to Shoom and couldn’t stop babbling on about it. I insisted he had to come. He was initially a bit reluctant but once he came along and saw what was going on he didn’t take long to get it, to see how I’d found my new psychedelic kick and my punk rock all in one. I knew he’d get on with Weatherall so hooked them up. Weeks later, Weatherall’s mixing Primal Scream’s ‘Loaded’ at Jeff’s recommendation, and we’re off…
JB – I’d known Richard Norris for ages, through Bam Caruso and through going out clubbing. We’d been talking about trying to get things going and about bands and labels and having to go about things in the usual boring way and he was just saying, “You don’t need to do all those things.” Acid house had liberated things in the same way that punk rock had. Richard was the person who’d got me to go out to acid house parties, I can remember promoting an Inspiral Carpets gig at the Falcon and Richard turned up and was really excited about Shoom. He kept saying, “You’ve got to come down with me, it’s proper!” Anyway, Richard was a catalyst in many ways. He first introduced me to Andrew Weatherall. I remember him asking me if I had seen the Boy’s Own fanzine and saying that I had to meet this guy Andrew, that we would really get on. Well, we must have ’cos he ended up mixing the first two Heavenly singles and I managed him for the best part of the next decade.
John Robb – Acid house was starting and Jeff was suddenly a big part of it. I was into it as well, it made a very pleasant change from freezing cold vans and the indie circuit. There was loads of exotic drugs and never-ending parties; a whole new soundscape to get lost in. Apart from Jack Barron, every other music journalist hated the whole scene. The Heavenly office was an epicentre for old punks who were into all the E stuff and a conduit to all the maddest parties in town.
Andy Hackett – I first met Jeff when he was running The Phil Kaufman Club at the Falcon in Camden. Pretty quickly, I discovered that Jeff really liked Jarlsberg cheese. I was working in a cheese shop on Jermyn Street at the time and I found that if I nicked a big lump of any cheese with holes in it, Jarlsberg or Emmenthal or something, and gave him a big hunk of it, he’d let me into all the gigs I wanted to go to for free. That’s how I got to know him, really. The bands I was trying to get in to see were all those dreadful indie bands, people like The Jasmine Minks, Laugh, Biff Bang Pow… God knows what I was thinking. Jeff had had his labels Head and Sub-Aqua. As each one folded, I think he realized you could run away from debt if you called it something else. So Heavenly was born in 1990.
Jon Savage – All of a sudden, Jeff had started a label and he was still doing press for everyone from My Bloody Valentine to the Mondays. Every time you’d go into the office there would always be some kind of vibe, there were always mad characters around.
JB – The first record we came out with, the Sly & Lovechild record, tends to get passed over by most people. I think everyone thinks that ‘Only Love…’ was the first thing we did. ‘The World According To Sly & Lovechild’ was a bonkers prog-house record produced by Andy Weatherall, arguably the producer of the day… well, of the decade really. Of the last two decades, in fact. And it was a great calling card.
Bob – People were actively looking around the country trying to work out where the next explosion was going to happen after Manchester. I remember getting sent up to Liverpool for Melody Maker on the pretense that there was a massive scene there. London was the obvious place for something to kick off really, because of the club scene. When Heavenly started up, it established itself very quickly because Flowered Up’s first single and ‘Only Love…’ came along just at the point where everyone started paying attention to London as a city, as a musical force.
JB – The birth of the label was the consummation of so many years of being in and around music, a consummation of meeting people. Whether it was meeting Martin or Bob Stanley or Des Penney. There were people I’d known in various walks of life but the label was where it all came together. People like Kevin Pearce bringing the Manics to us after they’d been writing to him. It’s like creating your own family. The basement flat where I used to live on Shepherds Bush Road was a catalyst for a lot of things very early on. Lying on my back in the living room one night, high, the label name came to me. It was like a light going on.
MK – Bob Stanley rung the office and I told him that Jeff was starting a new label. He said that him and Pete had been recording. Terrible to say, but I didn’t hold out much hope for it! Bob was being really sheepish about it and I told him to call Jeff.
Bob – Bomb The Bass and S-Xpress had already made records that got myself and Pete thinking, “We could do that.” Richard Norris lent us a 303 and we went in to a studio to try to make music. The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays each had feet in dance culture but were still basically rock groups. The Grid and people like them were definitely a dance act. It seemed obvious to us that if someone had a foot in each camp, they’d do really well. It was quite a clinical idea in some respects. When we immediately got labeled as an “indie-dance crossover” act, we hated it. And, although the idea might have been clinical at the time, the actual record ended up sounding quite strange – Harvey from The Field Mice playing an amazing bassline. To this day we’ve tried to replicate that sound, even going as far as to get Harvey to play it again. We still don’t know how we did it. The whole of ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ was recorded in two hours and mixed in another two a couple of days later. The whole thing cost us 60 quid. A lot of it was dropped in and out live on the mixing desk; we couldn’t possibly have done it the same way twice. It was very much like a proper dub record in a lot of respects.
JB – I met up with Bob Stanley, someone I’d known for years, when he was a journalist and I was a press officer, and he very much downplayed what him and his mate Pete (Wiggs) had been up to in a studio in Croydon. I met up with him and he played me ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ off a Walkman in a packed pub on Goldhawk Road. And it was seriously, seriously brilliant, something I hadn’t been expecting.
Bob – Martin had told me that Jeff was starting a new label, so Pete and myself met Jeff in the Bush Ranger on Goldhawk Road and played him the track on a Walkman. The track is four and a half minutes long, so Jeff sat there with his head down, nodding away listening to it and me and Pete waited. Four and a half minutes seemed like a very long time right then. It was absolutely nerve shredding because Jeff was the first person we’d played the track to. When it finished, he looked up and said, “I’m starting a label. Can I put this out?”
JB – This was something really exciting, that a total indie kid like Bob could be making this very forward-thinking music. When I was promoting at the White Horse and The Falcon, Bob was the kid who was down there every week selling fanzines out of a plastic bag.
MK – The idea that you could be a non-musician and still get involved was something fantastic. It says everything about what was going on at the time; everyone was welcome to get involved.
Simon Price – The first I knew of Heavenly was when Bob Stanley, previously a mild-mannered janitor of music journalism with whom I was barely on nodding terms at Melody Maker, turned out to be a true Hong Kong Phooey of pop with the 12” of Saint Etienne’s ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ (complete with that “the DJ eases a spliff from his lyrical lips…” intro). If they could make me love a Neil Young song, nothing could stop them.
Jon Savage – I remember Bob asking me after the Sweden trip why I hadn’t ever formed a band myself when I was a journalist in the Punk period. I replied that it would have meant driving up and down a motorway in the back of a van then getting gobbed at by the audience. Bob and Pete took advantage of sampling technology and so they didn’t have to do that. And I was impressed by the fact that they were very magpie-like, taking pieces from here, there and everywhere to make something new.
JB – There were a lot of young people who hadn’t been involved in any scene that I’d been privy to – whether that was Flowered Up or even the Manics – whose whole ethos was a reaction against that culture. They wouldn’t have existed, or at least not so forcefully, if it hadn’t have been for such a massive drug culture for them to be opposed to.
Des – Acid house had kicked off massively in London. Prior to that, I’d gone out gigging the whole time. I’d pay a quid and go to see five unheard-of bands playing pubs in Camden. When we started going to more and more clubs, where the visual aspect was just a DJ punching the air between putting on records, I got the idea that if there was a band who mixed rock ‘n’ roll with the energy of club culture, they’d be massive. Liam was my dancing partner on the club scene. I convinced him he had to be the frontman for this band that only existed in my head. We started writing songs and got together with Liam’s brother, Joe, and some of his mates who could play instruments. Liam came up with the name Flowered Up after watching The Stone Roses play Dingwalls. It was a play on “loved up” and clearly Roses-inspired. The logo was a buddleia flower, the one that grows out of the cracks in pavements; it seemed pretty apt for a band made up of a load of council estate kids. So Flowered Up were born, straight out of the acid house scene, unlike the Roses and the Mondays who’d already been around for a few years.
Jeff had seen Liam in the clubs and saw him as a face, so when we told him that we had a band, he was immediately very into it. We started doing club gigs that would just be three songs long. We’d be quickly in and out, between DJ sets. We were certain that half the audience would hate it – fuck ’em, we were only after the other half anyway. The word spread very rapidly. By our second gig (at the Africa Centre in Covent Garden), we had someone from London Records trying to bribe the doorman 100 quid to get in to see the gig. No one had heard a note of music. Jeff was a ridiculously good press officer; he even got us on the front cover of Melody Maker before we’d had a single out.
MK – The first time anyone heard of Flowered Up was through a thing in Boy’s Own. There was this piece based on the old Sniffin’ Glue manifesto that Mark Perry had done (‘two chords, a guitar and a leather jacket’). Richard Norris – him again! – had done it. It had a pair of decks, a 303 and a mixer and it read, “Now go and form a band”. Next to it there was a picture of these four urchins with the phrase “Flowered Up” scrawled above it. The snowball effect happened in no time at all. Within a few months of setting Heavenly up, there were two Flowered Up covers (NME and Melody Maker), singles of the week on everything and then the Manics…
Bob – Kevin Pearce put me onto the Manics very early on, I went to see their first London gig. I remember thinking it was funny but brilliant at the same time. You could tell that they had something really special but it was almost like, at that point, they didn’t even know what that was. I remember thinking they were all really young, that they’d literally just left school and spray-painted their school shirts.
MK – The Manics came along pretty soon after we started doing the label. I know the story has been told before, but I remember Jeff and I going to see them at the Rock Garden, one of the worst venues in London, a proper pay-to-play venue, and we stood there and laughed – not at them, we were laughing with them, at the insanity of how brilliant and how bonkers it was. We were stood there thinking it was just fucking fantastic. I remember going backstage that night to introduce ourselves. Nicky sneered at us, “What label are you? EMI???”
JDB – I remember the gig that Jeff and Martin came to because we were really, really worried. Here were two people from a proper record company coming to see us in the Rock Garden; a “pay to play” venue. We’d spent something like 50 quid to do the gig and they’d given us a load of tickets that we could sell to people. We didn’t know anyone in London to sell tickets to. We knew what Heavenly was as a label but we didn’t know anything at all about the people behind it. Our manager Phillip (Hall) had sold the concept of label to us. Phillip’s respect for Jeff was absolutely massive. Phillip loved what he would have called the “classic English maverick” or “eccentric”. That’s how he saw Jeff – a barnstorming character who could do stuff through the sheer force of his will. On the way up to London, we asked him what Jeff was like and he said, “He’s kind of like… Well… You’ll just have to meet him, I suppose.” We’d built this character up in our minds and we had this impression that the people at Heavenly clearly “knew stuff”. What they’d put out to that point was very disparate, they clearly had a defined taste that maybe even they didn’t understand at the time. Phillip’s plan was always to get a couple of singles on Heavenly. Really, we needed them more than they needed us. As a record company, they were holding the “elixir of life” and here’s us, a dodgy punk band from Wales playing a pay to play gig. It was obviously going to be a hard sell; I don’t think any of us thought we’d fit in. After the gig, which I’d thought was shit, Jeff came in the dressing room and he wasn’t anything like I expected. He had long hair and he looked like Robert Plant, not some skiddy indie bloke. He had a presence. I knew then it had to happen with them.
Jon Savage – I went to the classic Heavenly showcase night at The Underworld in Camden Town in December of 1990. Around that time, everything was baggy. Then, from nowhere, the Manics came on, very punky and uptight. I went right to the front and started shouting “White Riot!!” and “Anarchy!!” at them and then James looked at me and screamed, “FUCK OFF!!!” which I just thought was fantastic. They’d passed the first test. I went backstage after the gig and talked to Nicky and Richey and they were really sharp and funny. They were there in stenciled shirts, which I noticed had tit pleats. “You’re wearing girl’s blouses,” I pointed out. “Oh yes, they’re our sisters,” they replied, brightly. Did they get into any trouble because of the way they dressed, I asked. “Oh yes, we get beaten up all the time but we don’t care ’cos we’re pretty.” I was totally sold – I mean, how great is that? I’ve stayed friendly with Nicky ever since.
JDB – The first thing we did for Heavenly was ‘Motown Junk’. It was the first huge jump for us. It’s the exact point where we started to believe that we could actually be the band we wanted to be, that people from London could see past the border of Slough and over the Severn Channel. That people in London might think that a band from the Valleys could actually be cool.
Simon Price – The two defining tendencies of early Heavenly seemed to be jangly ’60s rock classicism (eg the achy-breaky Rockingbirds) and drugged-up quasi-Mancunian hedonism (what with Flowered Up, and Jeff being the PR guy for the Mondays, Heavenly was basically the southern HQ of baggy). But there was always room for the unexpected, and the Manics – in that context – were the most unexpected of all. Eternal credit to Heavenly for having the balls to put out a Manic Street Preachers record at a time when the entire music industry was laughing at them.
John Robb – By now Jeff was the best PR in town, all the hip young gunslingers in music and writing seemed to orbit around him. He was working with all the best bands. I’d known him for year but at this point he’d grown his hair and looked like a deranged Fozzie Bear from The Muppets. Then he signed Manic Street Preachers who I already knew about because they had sent me their first demo with a very polite but oddly strident letter from Richey (which I’ve still got, eBay freaks!). I went down to interview the band for their first front cover for Sounds and we sat in their van on the double yellow lines outside the Heavenly offices. I switched on the tape recorder, asked one question and was hit by a non-stop barrage of passion and vitriol from Richey with occasional nods and one-liners from the rest of the band. It was perhaps the best interview I’ve ever done with any band, ever. Right in the middle of baggy, Heavenly were crazy enough to put out a skinny, antagonistic, mascara-wearing, Camus-quoting bunch of impassioned Welsh kids. It was a move of pure madness or pure genius. Most people thought it was madness; I thought it was total genius. The Manics were such a great band when they started. They had the tunes and the raw power to back up their talk…
JB – It never crossed my mind as to whether we should sign Manic Street Preachers or not. I never thought for a minute that they were different or weird or unfashionable or anything. It just made perfect sense. We’d set out to be a pop label; we had no interest in being a dance label or anything “now”.
JDB – I never really knew whether Jeff liked ‘You Love Us’. When he came to the studio he said it sounded a bit like Thin Lizzy. The look on his face made me think that wasn’t a good thing in his book.
Bob – It’s never seemed at all odd to me that Heavenly had the Manics, Flowered Up, East Village and us; it always seemed a very natural fit. I think all the bands shared a very DIY, C86 ethos but were all very ambitious musically. I thought people would get that if they listened to the music. After C86, The Stone Roses had taken things to a new level and I think people felt they could be more ambitious. I think acid house had a really positive effect on music. People weren’t listening to music anymore and thinking, “What’s that meant to be?” There wasn’t anything that anything was meant to be. So many boundaries had gone. That’s why a band like The Rockingbirds could do what they wanted to do; they weren’t tied to that ’80s mentality which said things had to be a certain way. Probably down to the drugs.
Sarah – I remember the first time I went to the Heavenly office, it was in Monmouth Street in those days and it seemed very industrious and important. Ha! I’m pretty shy so it took me a while to get to know everyone, but once I did I knew that Heavenly was a very special label run by people who cared a hell of a lot about what they were doing.
Bob – We’d never written anything, we’d just been doing covers with guest singers and Jeff said to us, “You’d better start doing an album now.” The first song we ever wrote was ‘Nothing Can Stop Us’. The album ended up costing six grand in total, which seems pretty unbelievable now. We’d record a song in a day and mix it in another day. I’d think, “Why do people take weeks or months on a song? This lark’s easy.” We’d sit there thinking, “Let’s have a go at a John Barry, instrumental-type thing” or “Let’s have a go at an AR Kane-style, eight-minute dub record” and try it out. Half the songs sounded shit and we never used them. The basis of a lot of those early songs were samples that we took in and lifted off cassettes. Jon Savage was someone who’d put us on to things and then we’d take them to the studio and loop them up. It says a lot for Ian (Catt, engineer of ‘Foxbase Alpha’) that the records are as good as they are.
Jon Savage – They came to my flat in Maida Vale to fillet some records. ‘Filthy was a bassline from ‘Bamba In Dub’ by The Revolutionaries and a guitar lick from ‘House Of The Rising Funk’ by The Chubukos, and they taped them one afternoon in the flat off 7” singles. The next time I heard them they were part of this great pop noise with Q-Tee’s rap and a massive drum loop.
JDB – Not trying to blow our trumpet here, but when you think that first year of records included ‘It’s On’, ‘Motown Junk’ & ‘Nothing Can Stop Us’, it’s pretty impressive. In those early days, every band on the label seemed so completely different. There was a lot of thinking going on behind the scenes, behind those records and they weren’t afraid to do their thinking in the pub. They were going from white urban scuzz funk to London bucolic soundscape pop music to Situationalist punk rock from Wales. And all this on a shoestring? How did they make it work? Maybe that took people by surprise and meant that it took people a long time to get a hold on what the label was, what it meant. It didn’t really matter what it meant with records like those though…
JB – For me, the Red Bird label – The Shangri-Las, Evie Sands, The Dixie Cups – that WAS Heavenly. That beautiful, daft bird logo they had was a proper piece of pop iconography. So I gave Paul Cannell that picture and asked him to do something similar, I wanted a cartoon image, something very ’50s/’60s, very pop; very innocent. Paul was bonkers enough to be able to take that Red Bird image and come up with something else, something more extreme. I certainly didn’t expect it to be on the end of a rubber though.
MK – He’d carved it into a rubber on the end of a pencil, it was tiny. He came into the office one day and proceeded to stamp it on everything. The actual thing’s lost now, God knows where it went.
John Robb – I got flown out to do a big piece on a big Heavenly piece on a showcase gig they were doing in Paris. Heavenly bands were not known in Paris at the time but there was a pretty good crowd of hip kids that turned out for them. All day, wandering around Paris you bump into the Manics doing a photo session in Monmartre or a Heavenly type getting ready for a long and wild night. My review of the gig has become semi-legendary mainly because I said something rude about East Village. Hands up: I never said East Village shouldn’t give up their day jobs in the review! Some sub edited that in later on. I wish I had though because it was funny and Martin ended up being nicknamed ‘Day Job’ for some time afterwards. He ended up doing pretty well with his day job though, didn’t he!
The Manics were awesome that night. At that period they were one of the best punk bands I’ve ever seen. They were full of attitude and energy, they looked amazing and they talked up a great battle. They combined art, good make up, great stage posing and fantastic songs into a ‘wam-bam-thank-you-glam’ whole. All the squares hated them, absolutely detested them. At gigs in Manchester people would get all arsey with me saying, “How can you write about these ‘puffs’ who wear mascara and who will never make it?” A few years later, these people were singing ‘A Design For Life’ with all the other pissheads in the enormodomes.
Des – When we played live we tried to cause as much chaos as possible. We prided ourselves on it, really. When we went on the Heavenly trip to Paris, we were told it was a very conservative club we were playing. Conservative wasn’t really a word in our vocabulary. We tried to hire a prostitute to strip onstage, we thought we were bringing a bit of the Moulin Rouge into the venue. That didn’t go down very well at all. I remember the Manics ended up getting royally pissed off ’cos they couldn’t sleep at night with all the noise we were making. In our free time, we went out for a wander and emptied a load of CS gas that we’d picked up into posh restaurants.
JB – The first time I was aware of any weirdness with the Manics as a band was when we were talking to London Records about a label deal after the cash had stopped from Revolver, who were funding us up to that point. We started operating outside their comfort zone and they pulled the plug so we went out looking for a new home.
London badly wanted Flowered Up but they sussed that we were on the button. They thought we were cutting edge and the Manics confused the crap out of them. They made us an offer for the label and they included a £5000 advance for the Manics. To put it in perspective, they were offering £150,000 for Flowered Up. And I thought, “We can’t do this deal”. Each band were as important as the other to us, I really didn’t see a difference between what they were doing. So I turned it down. We had absolutely no money whatsoever but how could I sign something like that when they clearly didn’t get what we were doing? So Flowered Up sold out and went over there anyway. London gave us an override, which paid some debts, bought us some gear, not much else, kept things ticking along. Flowered Up were out of control and they made a shit album, but we couldn’t wade in to help out ’cos they had a new family around them. They came good for a short while after that, then it all imploded.
Des – We made a fatal mistake when we sold ourselves to London records. That really was Flowered Up’s downfall. We were a small indie band that should have been nurtured a lot more carefully, not thrust into the mainstream with a rabid record company determined to get us to write hit singles. We were expected to have hits; they’d given us quarter of a million pounds and wanted a return on their investment. Bad drugs got involved and we ended up in a creative twilight zone.
Andy Hackett – I’d been playing in a band called Milk with Sean Read. We left the band around the time The Weather Prophets split up. I vaguely knew Dave Morgan, their drummer, and we hit it off. We were all hanging out down at the Phil Kaufman Club, all getting more and more into country music. The Rockingbirds gradually fell together out of the remnants of those two bands. Country music was pretty unfashionable which made us think we were incredibly fashionable by being different. Now I think it’s far too fashionable, too many people are into it. I only listen to pub rock now – and a lot of that’s too country…
Martin was very keen on signing the band from the off but he was having a bit of difficulty getting Jeff to see us. Literally from the first gig, we had labels offering us deals, but we thought we’d like to be on Heavenly because it seemed like a bit of a laugh. Martin finally convinced Jeff to come and see us by saying we were about to sign with another label and that he had one last chance to see us play. He came to see us at our rehearsal space, which was in a short-term housing let. We used to rehearse in the basement bathroom, which had been the art room of an old school on Camden Road. We’d have to stop playing if ever anyone who lived there wanted to use the bath. You’d come back in and all the equipment was soaking wet, which sometimes was quite exciting when you’re playing with electricity.
MK – The Rockingbirds were a classic Heavenly signing, really. They were totally random, not what you’d expect at all. Very like the Magic Numbers in that respect.
JB – Maybe they were out of time, ahead of their time, after their time… I don’t know. I always remember seeing Evan Dando walking round three years later in Gram Parsons t-shirts. Were we three years too early or 20 years too late? Who knows, who cares? The record stands as one of the great lost albums to come out of the UK. It was nice to see it recognised as such in The Independent earlier this year.
Andy Hackett – The video shoot for ‘Gradually Learning’ was a particularly good Rockingbirds event. Sony (Heavenly’s early ’90s distribution set-up) had given us a budget and we basically put it out to tender to all the people who’d sent in showreels saying they wanted to do a video for us when they’d got a sniff of cash. The brief was, “If you can shoot the video for this money, and get us all out to Texas for a week, then it’s yours.” We wanted a holiday and a video, so we threw it open. Jeff ended up in the video, stilt walking. God knows why.
JB – I’d be lying if I said the idea of doing the ‘Fred’ EP – getting the bands on the label to cover the entire musical output of Right Said Fred – didn’t come out of drugs. The Manics were properly on Sony by then so they weren’t involved. We had three bands and Right Said Fred only had three hits. At the time, we really wanted The Rockingbirds to be a big group. We wanted people to hear them. I think our minds were on pushing them in whatever commercial ways we could. We were slightly twisted at this point.
Andy Hackett – The ‘Fred’ EP was probably not, in retrospect, one of the greatest promotional tools for The Rockingbirds. We did Top Of The Pops doing ‘Deeply Dippy’ with a couple of dancing girls dressed in cowgirl outfits and, not sure why, but I don’t think too many people took us seriously after that. It was the beginning of the end of the band in a lot of ways. I did actually campaign against it vehemently at the time but Jeff was convinced it would go to Number 1. Which of course it did. I do remember it being quite fun doing it in the end. We shot this video with all these look-alikes of famous people. The set was based around a revolving stage; we were on one, Saint Etienne another and Flowered Up another. Everyone got to play a third of their song. The stage kept breaking down which fucked things up completely. The finished results were so bloody awful that they got shelved.
Bob – It was quite odd when The Rockingbirds ended up doing Top Of The Pops with the ‘Fred’ EP. We were disappointed at the time that it wasn’t us doing it. In hindsight, it’s a very good thing that our first ever Top Of The Pops wasn’t Pete miming to a crazed version of ‘I’m Too Sexy’.
MK – Liam (Flowered Up) introduced The Rockingbirds on Top Of The Pops for the ‘Deeply Dippy’ performance. They had to keep re-recording it; I think it took ten attempts. He was so smacked off his bonce; he couldn’t even manage to get the band’s name right, and they were his label mates.
JB – The way we’ve done things over the years has been a mixture of made-up, assumed and cribbed. No one who has ever worked for Heavenly has gone through the ranks of major labels. No one knows the rules as set out by those people. So a lot of things have been done in a very ‘indie’ way, mainly because it’s the best way we could work out. That’s where things like ‘Weekender’ came from; it was our way of working out what to do with whatever money we had in the most noticeable way possible. ‘Weekender’ came mainly out of the bands love of drugs and Pink Floyd. It came from a bunch of junkies gouging out to the Floyd. If we’d have wanted to give that whole Flowered Up thing a proper spin, we would have done the interviews for them. As it was, they ended up telling people about how much they loved Rush. I think Clive Langer (‘Weekender’ producer), recognized the fact that the thing was a story. Neither Clive nor me were people who liked long songs, we were Motown heads. I don’t smoke enough draw to appreciate those kinds of things. But when we heard ‘Weekender’, we all thought it was ‘Quadrophenia’. These were 21-year old junkies writing it remember, informed only by six years of going out clubbing and seeing people fighting against what they saw a “loser life”. Arguable as to who is fighting that life now, but that’s a different story. There’s a funny kind of superiority that druggy people can get over ‘9 to 5’ers and I think that’s what was coming across there.
Des – Barry (Mooncult, Flowered Up’s dancer) was a glazer. He got given a job on Blackheath Lane, a private road in South London. Foolishly, someone gave him the keys to go in and fix a windowpane in the front door. Barry being Barry, he went and got himself a set of keys cut. At which point we moved in for a week. We knew we had limited time as the place was about to be repo’d by the Midland Bank. The guy who owned the place owned a load of racehorses but absconded over a Japanese bond fraud. I’m not sure of his current whereabouts. The place was totally over the top, so much money must have been spent on all the crap in there that was just gathering dust. We spent a lot of time sitting about in the Jacuzzi wearing his top hats, off our nuts. We’d been there about a week when we threw a party (Debauchery). We printed a thousand tickets and sold them at a tenner each. There was no profit, it all went on PA and DJs. And drugs.
Jon Savage – My main experience of Flowered Up was the squat party that they had way down in South London (Debauchery). I took Hanif Kureishi there. It was extraordinary, very wild. It was this weird mansion, very tackily decorated, a few doors away from where Kelvin MacKenzie lived. The people who owned the place had either fled the country or had been banged up. Someone got keys cut and threw the doors open to everyone. Everyone was stoned, on E mainly. There were lots of people taking heroin in the bedrooms which drove me mad. I remember the place being utterly trashed. There was nothing threatening about it but it was totally out of control. Hanif took three Es and was completely off it: I remained pretty sober because I was the driver. He ended up putting his experiences of the party into his novel, The Black Album.
Des – It was a proper turn out – we had Gerry Conlon of the Guilford 4, Madness, Primal Scream, even Kylie turned up. The highlight for me was the prostitute show in the master bedroom on the revolving bed. That room rapidly became the VIP area. By about 6 in the morning, the place was roundly trashed. We’d taken out an entire staircase. The police didn’t turn it out because they knew if they did, they’d end up with a riot on their hands, it was safer to let it burn itself out on its own. The last thing Kelvin MacKenzie, or whoever else lived down there, needed was 1000 drug-addled lunatics wandering round outside his house. When they finally did turn up around 5 o’clock the next afternoon, there was about 30 people sat around monging out. We were long gone by then anyway.
JB – When we signed with Sony, the first two things we tried to do were The Rockingbirds album and Espiritu. Those bands are the total and absolute proof that we’ve never sailed in a commercial boat, ever. Espiritu ticked a load of boxes, they made pop that we loved – there was Bossa, there was hip-hop, there was ‘The Girl From Ipanema’. It was a beautiful girl with a beautiful vision, but people didn’t trust it, it seemed like a step too far for people at the press. It’s weird to think that we all came from publicity backgrounds but we’ve always had scant regard for what you’re “supposed to do” when putting out records. Our instinct is a punk rock, straight ahead instinct, driven by a love of music. We don’t sit and analyse, it’s a case of “Great melody, let’s do it!”
MK – You have to remember that at that time, all the papers were writing about Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine. Of course they weren’t going to get Espiritu or The Rockingbirds.
Tim – I first met Jeff when he still had really long hair. I think it was at the Heavenly event at the Diorama. I properly got to know everyone when I met Martin at a party in 1993. He asked me who was doing my (The Charlatans) press. I told him and he said to me that Heavenly should do it, that they would do a much better job. Sold. Me and Martin have been pretty inseparable from then on! My fondest memory of the Heavenly office was of sitting in there reading the latest NME that I was on the cover of. Primal Scream’s Andrew Innes and Bobby Gillespie were sitting next to me showing me the artwork for ‘Give Out But Don’t Give Up’. And Ed Simons was on the phone behind me doing his first ever interview (he was really nervous about doing it). At that time I felt that it doesn’t get any better than this. There have been many other occasions since but that was the first one where I knew it was a ‘good time’.
MK – There’s a definite feeling with Heavenly that it’s an ethos, a code we all adhere to. If it’s ever forced not to exist, like when the money first got pulled or in 1994 when the deal with Sony went tits up, we find a way for it to survive. We mutate into something else. In 1994 it was as a press office for The Charlatans, Primal Scream, The Chemical Brothers and Underworld. We’ve been lucky in that we’ve gone on, more fellow travellers and like-minded, creative souls coming onboard with curveball ideas. The Sunday Social being the most obvious one.
Ed Simons –Tom and I had just met everyone at Heavenly at the start of 1994 – Jeff, Martin, Robin, Saint Etienne. We were really excited to have people to hang out with in London. One of the things that really inspired us all to do a club was a party back at Jeff’s flat after a Saint Etienne gig at the Shepherds Bush Empire. We all bonded over a load of brilliant records he was playing and the relationship kind of grew from there.
MK – At the start of the summer of 1994, Robin came to myself and Jeff with the original idea to start a club with the Dust Brothers as residents. The actual club ended up being very close to the ideas he had back then. None of us could have predicted how it was going to pan out, but in terms of the way it was envisaged, as a place where like-minded people could hang out and drink and hear great music, that’s pretty much how it was.
Ed Simons – The first one was pretty quiet, there were maybe 50 people and they were mostly people that we knew. The second week, Bob & Pete played and it was roadblocked. The third week, I remember I’d had a big night and I had to pull myself together to get down there. I ended up arriving pretty late. I got there and there was a queue right round the pub, people desperate to get in. It was a pretty easy club to pack, it wasn’t that big, but seeing that still felt pretty incredible.
MK – Once Tom & Ed started, you’d look around the room and the look on people’s faces was pure elation, I guess it’s like what people say the early days of acid house were like – a communal spirit. You definitely had that feeling that you were doing something that other people didn’t know about yet, something special, something illicit. I remember having that feeling at Shoom, you knew the outside world was unawares that you had a secret that you wanted everyone else to know, but at the same time you weren’t going to be the one to tell anybody ’cos then it would be out.
JDB – I remember being there and thinking that ‘Chemical Beats’ was the best thing I’d heard since ‘AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted’ or ‘Fear Of A Black Planet’. Also, ‘Under The Influence Of Love’ by Love Unlimited. I’d never heard a record like that played at that volume. It made me think that they were trying to rock ‘n’ roll-isize everything, which I thought was brilliant. It’s weird if I think about it; there was such a strange mixture of people down there, people like Tim Burgess, Oasis, Bob & Pete, Mani, Tricky, Paul Weller. You’d look round and Beth Orton would be dancing on the bar. It seemed like a new gateway out of the whole Manchester thing, the last real ‘scene’ that had happened. Also, it was on a Sunday. Sunday is always a good piss-up day.
Beth – I definitely got caught dancing on the bar at the Albany a few times. Nobody really cared though; no one was going to kick you out. For any reason.
Sarah – I remember having my arse pinched by Paul Weller as I was walking up the stairs at the Albany. It was very funny to turn round and see who’d done it, a massive cheeky grin on his face.
Pete Wiggs – One of many reasons why The Social was great was because there wasn’t any of the usual crap you got at clubs – there was no guest list, there wasn’t any door policy, it was egalitarian. It did mean it was horribly packed… no one really cared as long as they were inside. I remember when I played records down there with Bob. I’d only just started DJing just around that time. It was a fairly wayward set, but people were asking what things were, there was no heckling. We were made to feel very welcome, it was great to be playing stuff that wasn’t house music and not get some idiot having a go at you.
Simon Price – For a while, and I guess we’re talking the period just after baggy and shoegaze had peaked and Britpop was still picking up momentum, it did seem to an outsider that Heavenly and Creation, and their head figures Jeff/Martin and Alan McGee, had the London indie scene all sewn up: this kind of orthodoxy of what was and wasn’t cool. Which I suppose left me a little cold. But the Social itself, at least at the Albany (before the horrible pilled-up megaclub excess of Turnmills), was nothing but a good thing. A naughty last-party-of-the-weekend booze session with like-minded people in a stone-floored pub basement, where you could see James Dean Bradfield dancing to ‘White Lines’, or the Chemical Brothers (they were still the Dust Brothers in those days, I think?) dropping ‘Under The Influence Of Love’. So many amazing memories. In clubbing terms, it was truly groundbreaking.
Alexis Petridis – I remember the first time I went. I’d moved to London about two weeks before, I was at journalism school, spent ages trying to get in, got in, Jeff was DJing and he was playing ‘Friday Night August 14th’ by Funkadelic which I’d never heard played in a club before. I’d only been to either indie nights or hardcore raves or techno clubs before that. It was a Sunday evening, everyone was off their faces and there were pop stars everywhere. I was like, “Fuck me, this is what living in London’s like.”
Tim – Amazingly, I can still just about remember everything about The Sunday Social. I went to every one, one of the very few people who did.
Sean Rowley – Things did take a turn for the worse for me after a few weeks going to the Sunday Social. The nights themselves were getting more and more sprawling and pretty soon I was missing from work on Mondays. I went through a succession of lies such as, “I went out this weekend and I got spiked and I’ll never take acid again.” After a few weeks, Tuesdays started to disappear, then Wednesdays. After a while of not turning up, I got confronted by the head of Planet 24 on a Thursday morning and said, “I was out on Sunday, jogging, when I got run over and I’ve been in a coma for 48 hours. I’ve had a scan and I’m alright now.”
Ed Simons – It only ran for 13 weeks but it was an amazing time for us. It was the first time we’d had our own club, we were making ‘Exit Planet Dust’, it was a really hot summer, which seems even more incredible to me now, sat here in the worst July weather ever. 1994 really was one of the greatest summers for me. The best thing about it all at the end of the day was the people I met, people I’ve been friends with now for 14 years.
JB – Shortly after The Sunday Social had wound down, we did the deal with Deconstruction and began the next stage of things. It’s worth remembering that it was a Northern dance label, albeit one based in London – its attitude, the people who worked there, the records they were having hits with, it was all grounded very much in Northern club culture. They were the most successful singles label in the country and they wanted to expand, they’d made a massive amount of money and we appealed to them as a slightly off-kilter pop label.
Beth – I first heard of Heavenly when friends of mine, The Rockingbirds, signed there. Later they got hold of a demo of songs I did and I met with Jeff and Martin who wanted to sign me, if only they had a label, so we all waited for the hearts and minds and courage to take us on and when they did I had ‘Trailer Park’ written and off we went over the proverbial wotsit.
JB – So the first thing we brought into the Deconstruction deal was a solo, singer-songwriter, folk artist. Beth Orton as part of the biggest dance label in the country? And it worked.
MK – She was doing folk music but not in a traditional way. She was listening to John Martyn and Nick Drake as much as she was listening to music on the dancefloor and hearing how vocals sounded on contemporary records. That’s why she sounded so unique.
Beth – On my second meeting with Jeff, he played me Laura Nyro’s ‘Stoney End’. I burst into tears and he was fine with it. I felt I was home safe. So many times from then on, I remember phone calls from Jeff that would leave me floating on air with happiness, there was a lot of good news in those days but there was something in his telling of it that made it even more special, Christmas-morning like. And so much dancing, I never met so many people who loved to dance as much as I did. It just took any old excuse to listen to the best music. And there was so much of it, endless reams of it. And just when I thought I couldn’t feel any more, someone would put another record on and off we’d go again. I was given the time and space to be myself and I am forever grateful for that chance.
JB – Over the years we made some brilliant records, we properly A&Rd her. From ‘I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine’ onwards. I played her that song and she went off and that’s how she interpreted it. She nailed that song, totally. When she came along she was totally isolated as an artist – they was no ‘folk revival’ scene. The scene was us doing parties upstairs in a pub on Dean Street with her playing her songs and honing her skills every week, something that must have looked weird to people expecting us to follow up the Sunday Social.
Beth – I remember Tash who used to work in the Heavenly office telling me she wanted to do an acoustic night and I jumped up and down a lot thinking it was a great idea and wanting to be part of it. Although I had spent three years in a studio with William Orbit recording and writing music I had never actually sung live, other than a cover of a Judds song at The Rockingbirds Rolling Revue at The Bull and Gate in Kentish Town. So we started doing weekly Wednesdays at The Crown and Two Chairmen on Dean Street. I remember there was always a fight, me and Tash singing our hearts out as bottles flew through the air and grown men wrestled in the sawdust. It was funny. Every week Tash would make these amazing posters and it was a real event for the two of us and as the weeks went by it became a bit of an event in its own right. I was so nervous I could barely sing for shaking and Tash and me used to just drink our way through the nerves ’til we came out the other side. I learnt more than I knew doing those gigs, I got to listen to all the amazing songs Tash would cover, I would sit in awe at her house as she went through her record collection playing one mind-blowing, heart-wrenching classic after another. And I learned to sit and play my humble offerings in the raw. I knew I could sing with the trickery of William’s studio but I had zero belief in my abilities and here I was putting myself on the line with my new best friend by my side and it was the test of all tests. I had never put myself through something so frightening and I LOVED it!
MK – She’s been a template for so many people who’ve come along since. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the younger kids doing it now had heard Beth via their parents.
JB – Initially she got more respect from the dance community than she ever did from the music press. Ben Watt’s productions, Weatherall, Tom & Ed, the Spiritual Life guys – they were big club records. And they were great records too!
Beth – I grew up around folk music and blues and loved words and melodies that expressed strong emotions and story telling. My favourite thing is to be touched and moved. I grew up more in the city than on the side of a mountain and I loved to dance so when I came to make a record it seemed the most logical thing to mix elements of what I liked best together. It seemed natural to me that different worlds should live happily next to one another.
MK –The Deconstruction deal ended around the start of 1999. In what could have been a quiet period, or an epilogue, two life-changing things happened. A guy called Eric Yu offered to fund us to set up The Social and we found Doves.
JB – We’re all drinkers, all our bands are. It made sense for us to open a bar.
MK – Although it’s probably taken ten years off our life expectancies. Nearly ten years on and I’m still really proud of it. We put so much effort into it, so much thought into getting it right. I think that’s probably why it’s still there now. I like to think it acts like a local with great music, whether it’s on the jukebox or from bands or DJs downstairs. Seeing Shack play in there a week or two after we opened and seeing Edwyn there just a couple of months ago are personal highlights.
JB – For me, I’ll never forget seeing Horace Andy in there, acoustic. And Edwyn Collins. Both really were incredible, heart-stopping. Magic.
MK – Doves happened around the same time as The Social was being built. I knew about the band because Jez (Williams) had been playing on Saint Etienne records and he was never available to do gigs because of Doves commitments. We’d obviously known Sub Sub but that was long since over. I was trying to get a CD of music off them but Jez was being pretty flaky. The next thing I heard they’d done a gig at The Falcon and people were raving about how brilliant they were. A day or two later, Jeff came in the office with a 10” of ‘The Cedar Room’ he’d picked up in Rough Trade.
Jimi – We had just finished recording ‘Lost Souls’ and were still on Robs Records (Rob Gretton’s label). It was an exciting but uncertain time. We’d finally made the record we wanted to make fully aided and abetted by Rob but, due to reasons too lengthy to describe, found ourselves on the circuit touting our wares. We were talking to various labels – you know, pub lunches, free beer, stringing you along for the price of a ploughmans. After being with Rob for years and that total freedom and stoned anarchy, who were we going to trust?
MK – We got the whole album on the morning we were due to go to Manchester to meet them, the first time I ever heard it was on the train on the way up. It really blew me away.
JB – In a lot of ways Doves are our best signing. It took the label to the next level.
Jimi – I recall us meeting Jeff and Martin behind the Britons Protection in Manchester in the summer of ’98. We were trying to be indifferent and stand-offish but failing because we’re nice polite boys really. We went in thinking, “What are these Bumdon cats going to say about the record…blah blah blah… Oh, hang on, these dudes know their onions… they get it… they get us…” It was great because there was no spiel, just passion.
MK – We were coming out of a shit situation at BMG and they were coming out of a period of mourning for Rob Gretton. The timing was very fortuitous. They came into our lives at a perfect time. Us them, too.
JB – We’ve always had a great relationship with Manchester, a business one and a spiritual one. That went back to a love of Joy Division, Buzzcocks and Slaughter & The Dogs. That went back to doing press for Factory. And working with Doves really was the perfect alignment of our relationship with that city.
MK – One of the best decisions we’ve ever made, as this office, was doing ‘There Goes The Fear’ as a single. The band thought we were mad, and most people at EMI too.
Jimi – ‘There Goes The Fear’ was one of the first things written for “The Last Broadcast”. Jez had the backing track done from the last load of demos we’d done for ‘Lost Souls’. We were in Real World studio finishing the album and the phone calls started. Jeff would be on the blower going, ” I I I I… I really think “Fear” should be the first single!” We’d be sat there going, “Er… really? But it’s dead long, we got away with it with ‘The Cedar Room’…”. “No. Listen. It will be amazing.” Numerous phone calls later, we’re finally, “Oh ok!” And they were right.
JB – We used to turn it up full and party in the office listening to that track from the minute we got it. It epitomises our relationship with our bands as fans, we loved that track and had a firm belief that everyone else would too. Thankfully, for once, they did. It was a big, ballsy decision, releasing a seven-minute single by a band who were still establishing. It went from being a hit in our office at 12.30, 1.30, 2.20 in the morning, through an EMI board room to Number 3 in the charts. That was such a result.
MK – The Vines demo CD arrived on our desk at half five on a Friday afternoon. The first two tracks were ‘Get Free’ and ‘Winning Days’. We were obsessed immediately, we knew we had to do the record. It was The Stooges meets The Stone Roses, not Nirvana meets The Beatles, which is what everyone labelled it as. Capitol stepped in and took the band out of our hands. Thankfully, the band’s people, the little Aussie label they were signed to and their managers, signed on the proviso that we did it here.
Patrick – The first time I met anyone from Heavenly was when Robin came over to Los Angeles in 2001 to meet us. We were their brand-new signing. The Vines were in LA recording ‘Highly Evolved’ (HVNLP 36, I believe). Somewhat hellishly for me, at that stage The Vines were entering our fourth or fifth month of living in The Highland Gardens hotel and recording had been postponed while unpaid studio bills were negotiated over. Robin, always one to actually enjoy his time in LA, suggested we meet for a drink at Boardner’s, best described as a really dark bar where Ryan Adams apparently scribbled song words on napkins (well, Robin reckoned so anyway). Craig wouldn’t come out of his hotel room but I was keen to go, if only to avoid the runner from the recording studio who had taken to living in the third bedroom in our apartment which had been made vacant when our drummer had to go home to Australia for mental-health reasons. My main occupation at that time was going for four-hour walks in the Hollywood Hills and then browsing for books in the ‘humour’-section of a chain bookstore. So when your urbane man from Heavenly Records of London turned up for a chat it was exciting. I rapidly put away ten bottles of stout, talked a load of nonsense, sorted out the injustices of the world and then had to go back to the hotel for an afternoon nap. It was more excitement than I was used to.
MK – The first Vines gig in the UK was in Brighton, at the Freebutt. The Libertines were supporting, as they did on the first three Vines tours of the UK. We knew Craig was unhinged so we didn’t know what they’d be like live and on the night they were fucking incredible. That’s when it all started rolling, that’s where the NME first saw them.
Patrick – I’d spent seven of the nine months immediately prior to going to London in LA – away from home. This had softened up my mind, like keeping a suspect in solitary before an interrogation. The very first night we landed in London, Ryan and I bought a whole bag of the two-pound-pills (that we’d heard so much about) off an Aussie in West Acton called Sparkles who had Aussie flags draped on the wall of his house. Real back-packer stuff. So we began our first UK tour jet-lagged and serotonin-imbalanced and in a shaky position to deal with (a) the dreary London weather and (b) lots and lots of press. Heavenly were good to us – they kept the supply lines open as it were. I think the rise of The Vines was just as exciting for the Heavenly folks as it was for us. I keep two mental snapshots of the Heavenly head honchos: Jeff Barrett standing on a chair in our hotel room using a cigarette clamped between two fingers to point out the genius of NERD. And Martin Kelly, spittle on his plump lips and a faraway look in his eyes, red-faced from belting out Beatles tunes at 3am in the very-same hotel foyer. We had a £2000 bar bill that week. My favourite memories of that time have to be a toss-up between (a) the time at Glastonbury 2002 when Ryan and Jackie and I cruelly stole people’s beds from the massively sleep-deprived Heavenly staff. In my defence I’ll say that I was obeying the Golden Rule: don’t sleep in the small bed of a gay man who’s been drinking cough medicine all afternoon. And (b) the time a concierge almost kicked the band out of the Hilton on Edgware Rd because certain members of our entourage could not accept that dropping a wrap on the toilet floor meant the contents need go to waste.
MK – The press went out of control very quickly. None of us, the label or the band, knew what was going on half the time, the NME just went crackers – there would be another cover with them on it on a Tuesday and you’d think, “Fuck, it’s too much!” Ultimately that backfired on the band. Really sad.
Patrick – Whatever happened in the end, of course I’d do it all again if I could. I was in medical school, on course to end up as some sort of demented psychiatrist, if not for The Vines adventure.
Don Letts – I was introduced to Jeff by Sam Bully and by Nils Stevenson (RIP). He also came highly recommended by a mutual friend Jeannette (Lee, from Rough Trade). Since meeting him, life’s never really been the same…
JB – I’d got to know a guy called Nils Stevenson, who’d been around since punk rock, he’d tour managed the Pistols and managed the Banshees. He lived round the corner from me in Shepherds Bush. I went for a pint with him one day and he was saying that his mate, Don, someone I obviously knew of, wanted to put together a reggae compilation. And over a few pints, the idea became that the album would be his DJ set from The Roxy. When he put it together, it was and still is the greatest reggae compilation anyone has ever done. Don is a brilliant bloke, he’s someone you want to know, great fun to be around. We couldn’t get clearance on some of the music and we just went, “Fuck it, it’s got to be on there.” And the legal people at EMI, thank fuck, agreed. So it came out with a load of loose ends and some letters fired off to Jamaican record labels that may or may not exist anymore and we just went for it. That trick didn’t work with the second album we did with Don – we got shut down on the day of release.
Don Letts – How did the album turn out so good? Well, it’s all about taste. And, it’s lucky I got some. Basically the briefs never changed. I just do the best I can and if they don’t get it, fuck ’em.
MK – We seemed to be hitting our stride in many ways. We got tipped off about this band by Wildcat Will (The Sandals/Electric Moccasins Of Doom). He rang me about ten times in one day and, when I finally spoke to him, he was almost breathless, going, “You’ve got to see this band, I saw them at the Colony Rooms, they’re so Heavenly. They’re called The Magic Numbers.” Will knows his stuff, so I took his words and I eventually tracked down the mainman Romeo’s number off our friend Jon Boy who was playing in a band with him (Absentee). I called him and he sounded genuinely shocked that I’d rung out of the blue. It still took him about a week to come by and give us a CD! In the meantime, I was trawling the gig guides to see if they were playing. Eventually, we went to see them play as soon as we could. It was one of those gigs where the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. In a funny way, The Magic Numbers seemed like they were built for Heavenly, they really do have all the elements of everything we love about pop music.
Romeo – We’d been together as a band for just over a year, out gigging constantly in London. We’d had a residency at The Betsey Trotwood and were supporting bands all over town. I was also playing bass in Absentee. Abstentee’s drummer, Jon, was really good friends with Martin and Jeff, he kept saying that I should send stuff to them. The thing is, I’d sent them demos in the past from a previous band, I’d been sending stuff out at various stages for the previous eight or nine years. But, you know how it is – tons of CDs come through the door but if someone knows someone who knows someone, it can get you noticed a lot quicker. Nepotism was alive and well here. When Martin and Jeff came in the dressing room after a gig at the Water Rats, they said the magic words that every band dreams of hearing: “We love you guys, do you want to make a record?” I was pinching Michelle, going “Did you fucking hear that???”
Bob – I went to see The Magic Numbers really early on. There were only 20 or so people there, but after that gig I went to see them at every possible opportunity. The only thing I could connect it to was going to see The Stone Roses before the album came out. It was the only way you could hear those songs. You wanted to hear them as often as you could because they were absolutely fucking brilliant. Everyone seemed to have that too – there weren’t a load of demos or MP3s going around. There was an intimacy about it all, you’d see the same faces every time they played, everyone there for the same reasons.
Romeo – Very quickly after signing with Heavenly, it actually felt like something was happening. With every gig, you could tell that there was a real vibe going on. We became friends with so many people who’d come to every gig. The oddest, most brilliant thing was that people learnt the words from going to the gigs. We’d be playing then I’d realize that people were singing along. This was a year or so before the album came out and way before everything was up on the internet. I was thinking, “What the fuck?? How???” To this day, I have no idea how they learnt them.
JB – It must be pretty obvious to anyone reading up to this point that, although we are commercially-minded, we aren’t altogether conventional. Once again, we had a band, The Numbers, that might have seemed out of step to anyone outside of the office. All we knew was that we absolutely loved them. They were one of the only big fights we’ve ever had to have with EMI. They didn’t want to sign them. I think the fact that the Numbers worked shows our instinctiveness as a label. There were things like getting Pete Fowler to do the cartoons of the band. That was ripping off a Lovin’ Spoonful compilation that their record company had shoved out after the event. And it fucking worked.
JB – Whenever I get asked what my favourite Heavenly records are, I always think of the ones that got away. The Rockingbirds album was that for me. Nada Surf ‘Let Go’ was one. And Ed we stuck with through sheer belief. His records were truly brilliant.
MK – ‘You Put A Spell On Me’ and ‘This One’s For You’, the way they’re written, the way they’re performed – those really are immaculate records. ‘You Put A Spell…’ was pretty much written to order for a compilation of Ed’s music that we were doing. For him to come up with that song was just stunning.
JB – Sometimes I think he was just too fucking good. It’s a sad note that it never crossed over, I think us and Ed gave it everything. In the face of adversity, he kept delivering records we had to put out. I’d say to anyone, go buy the “Best Of”, it’s up there.
MK – One of the things that’s meant the most over the whole of Heavenly’s history has been working with Edwyn Collins. I feel really privileged that we’ve been part of his rehabilitation. I have to pinch myself sometimes when I think about the fact that we’re working with Edwyn, one of our all-time heroes.
Andy Hackett – I’d been playing with Edwyn since 1994, when his original guitarist couldn’t do a tour. This was just when he’s written ‘A Girl Like You’. The Rockingbirds were just starting to fade out around then. So when Edwyn ended up on Heavenly last year, it made a lot of sense to me. In many ways, I don’t seem to be able to get away from the label. Martin and Jeff are still really good mates, I go for the odd sherbert with them. I’ve always kept in touch, probably more so than anyone else in The Rockingbirds. If anything, ending up back there through Edwyn’s band, it feels more natural.
I know that Edwyn and Grace really enjoy being on Heavenly because they love the whole debauched rock ‘n’ roll-ness of it all.
JB – In many ways it’s us coming full circle. Orange Juice and Postcard was one of the things we bonded over initially.
MK – Over the years, it’s fallen to me to be the Heavenly archivist. I’m a hoarder and somehow I’ve managed to hang on to one of everything we’ve ever put out. Looking back over 18 years of the label, of our lives, I’m proud of everything we’ve done. Well, I’m proud of 99 percent of it; nothing’s ever perfect! We’ve been lucky to work with some great, great artists and we’ve had a hell of a good time along the way. Here’s to the next 18.
Ed Harcourt – Heavenly is definitely an extended family for me. It has cult-ish elements to it but its tentacles stray into mainstream culture too. I love the fact that Heavenly can release an album that goes to Number 1 in the charts but then also put out obscure re-issues on a whim, because of a love that’s purely about music. And partying. I think the best was at an EMI conference in Rome with Martin and Jeff and John Leahy and Tony Wadsworth from the label. We were in a hotel and I was playing the piano very loud and the rather camp concierge with his John Waters moustache told us that he’d received about 30 complaints about our noise. Martin proceeded to scream the immortal line, “THERE’S ALWAYS ROOM FOR ONE MORE!!!” before gracefully falling asleep on the piano. That’s my favourite, I think. Also, the first gigs I did at the Borderline over a month long residency were exciting times.
Beth – When I think of Heavenly, I just think of an absolute love of music.
Bob – Heavenly, to me, very closely mirrors Immediate Records. Maybe in a way it was Jeff’s idea in the first place to do that, to mirror that irreverence, that love of pop culture and everything that goes with it. Obviously it’s outlived Immediate. The way that Jeff and Martin can get really excited about things very quickly, then do the same about something that’s the polar opposite six months later. That’s meant the label has never got pigeon-holed, that it can keep being inspiring. That Heavenly can be a label that’s had countless Top 40 singles and two UK Number 1 albums yet still seem like an underdog is something truly impressive.
Jimi – I think I speak for the entire band when I say that our favourite Heavenly experience was seeing Martin Kelly rolling around on the floor at an NME awards ceremony screaming, “Are you liking cock? You’ll like Turkish more!!!” That was in his wild days.
Sarah – At Heavenly, music always comes first. They can take unconventional bands like The Rockingbirds or The Magic Numbers and can make it work. As Saint Etienne, we’ve been on a few labels over the last 18 years including Sub Pop, Creation and Beggars Banquet but Heavenly will always be our spiritual home. Heavenly’s an honourable label. It’s about hearing something you love and wanting to share it with as many people as possible. It’s about believing in magic.
Andy Hackett – No one really talks about The Moonflowers these days. They were my favourite of all the Heavenly bands. Well, certainly of the ones who played gigs naked, anyway.
JDB – I think, and this is being a bit harsh on ourselves, that if we’d kept a bit more of that Heavenly ethos – if we’d kept our first album a bit rawer, a bit more like “Motown Junk” – I know it would have been a better record and it would have stood the test of time better. I suppose that says it all about Heavenly, really.
Romeo – From the first time I met Martin and Jeff, I could see their absolute enthusiasm. As a band, you need a lot of self-belief to get up there and do it. To have them reassuring us, pushing us on, that’s what made it work for us. They’ve always made us feel like we were all in it together.
Chris Camm – Heavenly is the only office in the world where more work gets done when the boss is out.
Jon Savage – The Heavenly mob were people I always hung out with before I finally left London and that connection has stayed because it was very solid in the first place. Jeff and Martin are proper enthusiasts, something which I’m always attracted to in people. For instance, when I gave them a CDR of late ’60s/early ’70s hippie rock, the stuff I actually listened to then, they said, “Right, let’s put it out” and that was ‘Meridian 1970’.
Simon Price – I think Heavenly has a distinct aesthetic, an iconography and a frame of cultural references, that you either ‘get’ or you don’t. I wouldn’t call that elitist so much as… selective. I mean, in the early days, I was basically a great, big goth at the time, and yet Saint Etienne – who were essentially Heavenly’s flagship band – totally ‘spoke’ to me. I think back in the day, Heavenly was almost worshipped by the press, and the hard-partying rep helped, ’cos people ‘wanted in’. And, with the odd exception, the little Heavenly sparrow was a pretty reliable indicator of quality.
Patrick – The folks at Heavenly are always good for a great recommendation – be it the Mark Lanegan record or the Black Mountain record. And keep in mind that when we were working together, our American label was Capitol, a label run at high-levels by a cabal of rehabilitated fiends. There really is no place for that in rock ‘n’ roll.
Tim – What do I think of when I think of Heavenly? Magic Moments. Always
Don Letts – For most labels music is their business. For these guys, music is life itself (but not as we know it!). They exude a passion that’s rarely ever seen these days. But could I walk a mile in their shoes? Are you crazy??!!!
Richard Norris – There’s very few people in the music business who act in the same way as Heavenly. First and foremost everyone involved is a fan of music, which, strangely enough, is quite a rarity in the music business – a lot of people seem to be attracted to the stuff around the music, rather than the music itself. Not many other record company people would collar you on a wet afternoon in Soho, demand you come to the office and listen to some new band or some great old record that’s just been reissued, not because its business, but purely for the sheer love of it. For this and many other reasons the Heavenly crew are some of the very few ‘music business’ people who I’ve been continually in touch with over two decades. Their division between work and play is pretty much non-existent. But if you are doing something you truly love, what’s the difference?
JB – These first eighteen years really have been a long, strange trip but I think we’ve somehow managed to take everything in our stride. We’ve just ended up developing a very strange stride…