“Under the present system of mass education by classes too much stress is laid on teaching and too little on active learning. The child is not encouraged to discover things on his own account. He learns to rely on outside help, not on his own powers, thus losing intellectual independence and all capacity to judge for himself. The over-taught child is the father of the newspaper – reading, advertisement – believing, propaganda – swallowing, demagogue – led man – the man who makes modern democracy the farce it is.” – Aldous Huxley, Proper Studies (1927)
Culture Industry is a term coined by Theodor Adorno (1903–69) and Max Horkheimer (1895–1973), who argued in “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,” that popular culture is akin to a factory producing standardised cultural goods – through film, radio and magazines – to manipulate the masses into passivity; the easy pleasures available through consumption of popular culture make people docile and content, no matter how difficult their economic circumstances. Culture industries may cultivate false needs; that is, needs created and satisfied by capitalism. True needs, in contrast, are freedom, creativity, or genuine happiness….Culture not only mirrors society, but also takes an important role in shaping society through the processes of standardisation and commodification, creating objects rather than subjects. By standardising the consumer’s needs, the Culture Industry is manipulating the consumer to desire what it produces. The outcome is that mass production feeds a mass market that minimises the identity and tastes of the individual consumers who are as interchangeable as the products they consume.
“…..We all learn to fear authority. They say the only way to deal with it is to gain a piece of the power structure. So be a cop, a lawyer, a soldier, a businessman. Take their power and use it against your brother. Even well intentioned seekers of power for justice are subverted and compromised. We need to be rid of these demagogues, the pompous hair shirted sooth sayers who are in the position to initiate positive change but instead repress it to perpetuate their rule.” – M.D.C. 1981
“Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee. Sink all coffins and all hearses to one common pool! and since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, though tied to thee, thou damned whale! Thus, I give up the spear!” – Moby Dick, Herman Melville.
“Reality is not enough; we need nonsense too. Drifting into a world of fantasy is not an escape from reality but a significant education about the nature of life.” Edmund Miller, Lewis Carroll Observed
“Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality” – The Cheshire Cat, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
1996 was probably the high water mark for the music industry worldwide. But all things come to an end. Whoever creates, demands destruction. At the time I was living in a bedsit, and signing on. I could almost feel the high tide lapping at the window. To me, 1996 was also probably the end of all music genres, and the start of the long slow drop into the abyss. At a time when most people were yet to discover the internet, or mobile phones, and big screen TVs in pubs were starting to look like they were going to change everything, I decided to start a record label. What the fuck was I thinking?
How did Iron Man Records come about?
“A slave is one who waits for someone to come and free him.” Ezra Pound
I started buying records at an early age but soon found that record collecting was an expensive luxury and the only choice was what was stacked on the shelves or anything that hadn’t already sold out. I spent time finding good second hand shops but, the majority of records I found were old vinyl in poor condition or unwanted items. I could never find much I was interested in. I spent a lot of my time reading the music magazines for free in shops on Saturday afternoons, looking at the features and reviews, there was never much I really found any interest in. The bands all seemed the same. To me, none of them had any story or mystery to them, they seemed to me like manufactured, heavily marketed and promoted vehicles for generating money for the record labels behind them. Few of them captured my imagination or seemed to have much to inspire me in any way shape or form. For a while it seemed like the album artwork was almost more interesting or imaginative than the music on the record itself. I suppose the late 1970’s and early 1980’s did produce some good bands but I think anyone who was in their early teens at the time would agree that the 80’s were a bleak time for interesting new music.
One good thing did happen during that period, I discovered tape trading. In the back pages of many music magazines at the time there were small classified adverts listing people who lived all over the country, and all around the world, who had an interest in all sorts of bands. A typical advert would read something like “My name’s Joachim, I live in Germany and I like bands like Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, The Accused, Suicidal Tendencies. Write me with S.A.E (self addressed envelope) for live tapes, swaps at this address….”
I would read the advert, and then read it again thinking…”I know who Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax are… but who are The Accused or Suicidal Tendencies?” I would write to the person in the advert and find out. Before long, the postman was delivering parcels to me that were coming in from all around the world. A couple of my friends were doing the same, we swapped amongst ourselves and with the people we wrote to.
The packages that arrived by post, sometimes two or three a week, contained hand written letters from people the same age as me. Sometimes the tapes would contain an album or a couple of band demos or a live recording of a gig on another. I got the first demos from Heresy, Doom, Carcass, Regurgitation and numerous other bands in this way so I was already looking out for them when the band’s first album got released. I discovered bands like Oi Polloi, Stupids, Dr Know, Rhythm Pigs, Sabbat, Butthole Surfers, Sacred Reich, Nuclear Assault, Faith No More, Prong and many others in a similar way.
Sometimes i would get a fanzine through the post with a long letter listing recommendations, some of the people I wrote to also reviewed records for fanzines or wrote their own. I began to realise that the bands I was watching on top of the pops each week and the features and reviews in the music magazines were just the tip of the iceberg and that the really interesting music was everywhere, you just had to know where to look.
This was the starting point for everything I do now. I had this idea to try and find a way to let more people find out about, and enjoy, the music that I was finding for myself so easily. I wanted to get all this music out to a wider audience. I couldn’t understand why more people weren’t doing what I was doing. I had this naive idea I could somehow come up with a mechanism to provide some kind of alternative to everything I was seeing and hearing through the standard mass media channels at the time. If truth be told, I don’t think I had any idea how to do it or where to start but seeing as I had no friends around me that knew any better, I might as well make a start and make it up as i go along.
Every week I used to go through all the magazine and fanzine gig listings I could find. I would hope I’d spot a gig for a band I had heard about through tape traders and people I had been writing to. I started going to see bands play in London as my older sister had a place where I could stay. I would show up to gigs and hope I could get in without having to show any ID, I was 16 at the time. I spent a lot of my time at venues like The Sir George Robey in Finsbury Park, The Canterbury Arms in Brixton, The White Horse in Hampstead, The Fulham Greyhound, and I used to go to loads of other places too many to mention here.
I often went to gigs by myself, once I had managed to get a drink at the bar I would try and find someone who looked friendly and just start a conversation. The easiest way to do this was to ask them about the bands playing or what records they had bought recently or what other bands they were into. I started to make new friends and some of them I’m still in touch with today. Many people I spoke to mentioned various record shops they could recommend, other venues or fanzines worth checking out and many of them mentioned John Peel. I had already discovered John Peel myself through listening to the radio late at night but I hadn’t realised just how significant he was in terms of the numbers of people my age who listened to his show regularly. Sometimes John Peel would get a letter in from a band, or a mate of a band, I had heard about through tape trading, and he would read it out over the air. He would include the details of their upcoming gig, news of a forthcoming release and an address to write to if you wanted more information on the band. Quite often, if I couldn’t find anything in the gig listings worth going to see, I would take a chance on a band mentioned by John Peel.
Going to gigs, or earning enough money to go to gigs became, for many years, the complete focus of everything I did. I loved seeing bands play, meeting new people and sharing a drink with other people who liked the music I was into. But going to gigs and tape trading wasn’t enough, I wanted to take it further, I wanted to contribute in some way, help these bands reach a wider audience.
In 1990 I had the chance to decide where I wanted to live, I had an offer from several Universities to do a degree in Geography (Don’t ask) and I decided that Birmingham was the University for me. The City of Birmingham up to that time had been producing the most interesting music that I had heard. For example Napalm Death were based in Birmingham, I had been at the first Godflesh gig at the Canterbury Arms in Brixton completely by chance. Godflesh at the time were from Birmingham. I had showed up to see Dr and the Crippens (from Bristol) play but they cancelled and Godflesh and Sink played instead. Bri from Doom was there, I had been tape trading with him for a couple of years and he had told me a lot about what was going on in Birmingham. I used to trade and write to Les from Concrete Sox too and he was always talking about the Birmingham scene and how good the band Doom were. I had a load of Napalm Death live tapes that I had swapped and a lot of the talk between songs was all about other birmingham bands or records that members of Napalm Death were listening to. For a while, many of the bands I was discovering all seemed to play, or had played in Birmingham either at The Mermaid or The Barrel Organ. Birmingham also seemed to be the place where many bands I was listening to were going to record demos or their first records. For example Heresy, Doom, Carcass and others all recorded at Rich Bitch studios in Selly Oak, right next to the University. It seemed Birmingham between 1986 and 1990 had been attracting bands to a healthy alternative music scene and that was what brought me to Birmingham in 1990. However, like all things in the music world and everywhere else, change is never far away, and in Birmingham, things changed…for the worse.
The Mermaid closed down, The Barrel Organ closed down, in 1992 the Hummingbird closed down. What was left were venues like The Jug of Ale, The Hibernian, The Hare and Hounds, The Flapper and Firkin and the only real alternative venue of any size was The Foundry. There was also the Institute and Edwards Number 8. It seemed to me that the only promoters left in Birmingham were only in it to promote the bands they liked already or they would only put on bands that would appeal to the student population regardless of what might be thought interesting or new. How naive I was. Looking back on it with Hinesight, most of them were probably trying to cling on financially as the world around them was already collapsing and they would do anything if it meant better tickets sales. More ticket sales meant more beer sales. More beer sales meant the venue and the promoter had a future. There had to be a better way to attract customers. At this time, the Internet hadn’t arrived yet in any serious capacity.
Across Birmingham student bars were selling beer at £1 a pint, DJ’s were paid £50 to play records in the local pub, big screen TV’s were everywhere playing sport, computer games were encouraging people to stay at home and play, more channels were accessible on the TV, Cable, Satellite channels and changes in peoples use of their leisure time were all eroding ticket sales. You didnt have to go and see a live band anymore to have a fun night out…you could go to the pub and listen to a dj, or watch the sport, or go clubbing, or go to a sports bar and drink cheap lager. The council already had plans in action to build a new shopping centre right in the middle of town, people would be able to go shopping anytime they liked. If this wasn’t enough to sound the death of any hope for the future, do you remember how Birmingham used to have one of the best dance music scenes in the country? House of God, Crunch, a host of other dance nights were all attracting students and other young people…live music was no longer as important as it was, particularly in Birmingham. If you ran a pub, why would you pay £300 or even £500 for a live band when you could get a DJ for £50? It has always been hard enough to run a pub and make money from beer without worry about the rest. Things like marketing and promotion were expensive and complicated, a simple solution for attracting people to drink beer and spend their money was the aim of the game and its still the same today. (It’s interesting to note that these days people even DJ for free in pubs with a laptop or an ipod and think they’re achieving something, they’re just being used…they have their ego flattered and they help sell beer for someone else but, I digress.)
This is where I found myself in 1992. The venues were closing, the promoters were doing anything to stay in business, or moving on. The breweries would rather fit a big screen tv and provide food than have a fully equipped venue and regular live music. It was too expensive and there was too much risk involved. As far as the promoters were concerned, I don’t think anyone was making any money, it was a lot of hard work and a lot of stress. When the venue was packed and the beer sales were good the bands got the credit. When the venue was empty and the beer sales were poor the promoter got a talking to. Either way, if you were a music promoter it was a lose or lose situation. The situation was desperate. Then something happened that pushed me into action.
At the start of 1992 Two bands I had been a fan of for years, from opposite ends of the musical spectrum, came together and appeared on prime time TV right in front of my eyes. One band was Extreme Noise Terror, a band John Peel had introduced me to through numerous plays on his radio show, the other was KLF…a band that had first caught my attention with their antics on top of the pops and an interesting approach to releasing records.
The KLF attracted my attention for a number of reasons, you can look up what they are all about anywhere on the internet. Their most notorious performance was what finally did it. The KLF collaborated with Extreme Noise Terror at the February 1992 BRIT Awards, they played “3am Eternal” and fired machine gun blanks into the audience and dumped a dead sheep at the aftershow party. This performance announced The KLF’s departure from the music business, and in May 1992 the duo deleted their entire back catalogue. I’m sure anyone will tell you how scarcity increases value of some items, the internet has put an end to scarcity, and so the value of music and downloads has become almost nothing. You can get anything you want anytime you want it. There’s no apparent value in ownership anymore. Anyway, back to watching ENT vs KLF on the Brit awards: I watched in disbelief, laughing my head off as the two bands performed on LIVE tv. For the first time in as long as I could remember, something had made me laugh out loud and had lit the fire of enthusiasm to do something myself.
I had been playing in bands for many years by this time, I had been to hundreds of gigs, talked to lots of fanzines, labels, bands, venue promoters and gig organisers. I thought that if no one else was going to do anything to try and sort things out I would have to do it myself. This was the chance I had been waiting for, I had this stupid idea that I should start putting on gigs myself, bring to birmingham all the interesting new alternative bands and I should mix the bills up with good local support acts. All I needed was a venue going bust that would be desperate enough to let me have a go. I would need a sound engineer to look after the sound and I could make the rest up as I go along. That’s exactly what I did.
I started at the Hare and Hounds in Kings Heath. My friend Tom Wiggins was a sound engineer, or at least he reckoned he could do the sound if I paid him and sorted everything else out. I went to the landlord at the Hare and Hounds and managed to persuade him to give me one night a month. I would do all the promotion, I would take all the money on the door and I would have to pay the soundman and pay the bands. I started doing one show per month and then moved on to one show a week. I never made much money, enough to pay the sound man and give the bands a donation towards their costs but there was never enough money for everyone and I certainly was not going to make anything for myself. When I graduated I had a couple of dead end jobs. I decided to sign on, to free up my time to put more effort into organising the gigs, marketing and promotion. I spent many late nights thinking about what I could do to make things better. I had done my research, I had a strategy and I was putting the strategy into action, but still there was not much money and not many people coming to the gigs.
A few years later I spotted a poster for a gig at The Ben Johnson, a pub that became Monkey Mick’s opposite the fire station in Aston. It was a poster for a band called Dogfood and on the poster it said the event promoter was sponsored by the K Foundation. I assumed and hoped that this was in some way related to the KLF and showed up to the gig with no idea what to expect. I had an interesting night out. Leaving the gig after a few drinks and making plenty of new friends, I felt I had at last found another small group of people who were also looking for an alternative. They were hell bent on making their own fun regardless. I was also pleased to discover the music promoter responsible for the gig posters. He appeared more unhinged than I was, and at best came across as a dangerous lunatic. His name was Richard Temple and we became good friends. Richard introduced me to the internet, I had no idea what it was, how to use it, or even what possibilities it presented. Richard had to admit that putting K Foundation on the posters was only an attempt to attract people to the gig, he was a fan of KLF and used the name purely to see who would show up. As he stated to me some days afterwards “as a strategy it worked quite well. For a start…you showed up.”
By 1996 Richard was organising shows in Birmingham under the name of “Discordian Promotions” and I was operating under the name of “Badger Promotions.” Both of us were trying to organise shows for interesting touring bands with support slots filled by local acts. I think we both knew that neither of us were ever going to make any money either for the bands, ourselves, or the venues we were working in. But we couldn’t stop, the phone kept ringing. I think we both continued because we were both working at it and it felt good that there was someone else as mad, doing it, too.
In 1997 I had come to the conclusion that there was really no hope for the future of local gig promotion in Birmingham. It was a disaster area and would continue to be so until someone or something came along to change everything. Anyone who knew there was no longer any money in it was moving on in the hope of better things. And when I say no money in it, i mean the costs of putting on a gig properly would always be more than the return on the door. Gigs would always operate at a loss, or at best break even. Those that remained were either too stupid or too bloody minded to stop. Or they were the type of person for whom earning money or promoting half decent new music was not the purpose. Richard and I had started using the internet and hoped that this could be the “thing” to change everything.
Richard set up the first internet based discussion group for “music in Birmingham” called “Discordian.” It started life at egroups, then became a yahoogroups list. We started putting email addresses on posters and flyers and invited people to join the discussion online. For users of twitter or facebook these days, this is where it all started for some musicians in Birmingham. It was slow to start, painfully slow. I don’t think many other people in Birmingham had any idea about the internet either and certainly no idea about what was to become “social networking.”
The basic idea behind the discordian group was to provide a platform where people who were into alternative music in Birmingham could freely discuss all things music eg: gigs they were going to, bands they had seen, records they were listening to and so on. It was also a sneaky way to promote the work of Robert Anton Wilson, the word “discordian” and all related “ideas.” After many months the list still only had about 20 users and Richard and I were the main contributors.
So, always the one with the insane ideas, Richard decided to test whether the “Discordian” discussion group for music was the problem, or the concept of the internet based discussion group itself. Richard tried to think of something that was less likely to be of interest to people in Birmingham than music. He picked the subject of “being naked in public places.” The reasoning was simple: “surely more people would be into going to local gigs than walking around naked in public?” Right? How wrong could anyone be. Richard and I were both masters at that. Richard set up a discussion group that was essentially aimed at people who “liked to walk around naked in public and network with other people who liked to do the same.” Within a month the group had over 1,000 users, within a year it had got out of control. Richard had to shut it down. At least we had the answer we were looking for, the internet is a powerful tool but you need to know how to use it and what you talked about, provided, discussed or promoted mattered. Just because we had access to the internet didn’t mean that people would show up to the gigs in any greater numbers than before.
The bands, the music, the quality, the profile of the bands were still an important part of the equation, we still had to choose the bands carefully. In fact, everything we had done offline before pretty much mattered just as much as what we were doing online now, we had just given ourselves even more work to do online and off. The internet was not a replacement for our work offline, it was an addition to our offline strategy.
I continued to think about ways to reach a wider audience, how could a local band in Birmingham reach a wider local audience, a national audience or even an international audience? Did you really need money or could you do it with strategy alone? Richard and I sat around drinking and arguing about what the internet was or wasn’t going to do for us, and how it would change the future. I had my ideas, Richard had his. We drank a lot, Richard smoked a lot. We argued about the differences and similarities of music, drugs, politics and porn. I have to admit, looking back on it neither of us knew anything, but at the time Richard was the only one who had any clear vision of what we were dealing with and what the future might be. He had invested serious time finding out how things worked online and if anyone knew anything it was more likely to be him.
At the same time, in the national press I was reading about the internet being the end of the music business. I’d heard that one before. Piracy will destroy the music business, Home taping is killing music and now digital files and downloading is killing the music business. It had to be rubbish, somebody somewhere was losing power and control and they didn’t like it. I thought about it a bit longer and read and re-read the articles about the internet and music. I thought to myself that people who knew how to use the internet effectively and use it in cooperation with everything else they did would no doubt succeed. People who didn’t know how to use the internet effectively were going to fail. The Internet appeared to me as a ten ton truck approaching. Somehow I had to get behind the wheel or face getting run down. At a time when the local live music scene was in a mess, and the music industry had announced it was starting to collapse, I decided to start a record label of my own. I wasn’t after money, I wasn’t after a quick hit, or the hope of selling the business on to a larger company when I had made a mess of things. I knew I had no future promoting local gigs, I had already been at it for 5 years in Birmingham at this point and had seen enough to put anyone else off music for life. I wanted to generate an access point, a hub, a network, an embassy for anyone with an imagination. I just wanted to help bands reach a wider audience. And I wanted an audience to be able to reach interesting bands.
In 1997 I was on the dole, I had no money in the bank, I was behind with the rent, I owed people money, I had 5 years as a local music promoter behind me, what did I have to lose? I didn’t have anything but there was one small problem. The bank was not going to lend me any more money, my credit card was full. I needed to find someone who would give me some money, enough money to release a record and test out my ideas. Someone who would not ask for it back, even if I failed completely. I also needed someone who would not ask me to push a brand, or an agenda, or some sales or marketing nonsense.
I spent my time making lists of things I thought I might need. Each list had a combination of 5 things. Money, a space to work, access to a phone, a printer, a better internet connection. I had all of the above already to some degree, but I needed to be working from somewhere other than the small piece of carpet at the top of the stairs, outside my room in a shared house. I needed a phone line that wasn’t shared or in another persons room. Mobile phones hadn’t arrived at this point in my life yet. The phone would be ringing at all hours and my housemates would probably want me to move out, or worse still, they might start answering calls. At the end of each list I had “distill an open manifesto” or “mission statement.” I needed something to “purpose” or help navigate the label’s work in the years ahead. Anything would do. Just nothing commercial. I would know it when I found it. I kept my eyes open everywhere I went. Then, by chance, I found a brand new copy of “The Manual” (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way) 1988 – a book by The Timelords (Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty), better known as The KLF, in a bookshop. It had remained unsold, hidden away on the wrong shelf. I bought it and read the book cover to cover. I thought about what I had read in some detail. This would do, I thought. I sent my receipt as proof of purchase to the PO BOX printed in the book and requested The Guarantee. This is the reply that Bill Drummond sent back on headed paper.
Something else happened by chance. I was organising a gig at The Old Railway on Curzon Street in Digbeth. I used to run shows every week on a tuesday and wednesday. I can’t remember who was playing, but the gig was not well attended and the soundman Rhys was complaining bitterly about my inability to manage my way out of a paper bag. He was probably right. I was on the door, and a local Councillor called John Hemming appeared. He introduced himself and asked me if I would be interested in setting up a record label. He wanted to lend me the money I needed to make a start. He would give me access to a phone, some office space and in return I would have to pay all the costs back and share half of any proceeds with him. I was shocked that something like this could just show up at the door of a gig. I stared in amazement. He asked me again if I would be interested. “This bloke is a lunatic, the deal sounds like nonsense” I thought. Then I thought a bit more. In only takes five seconds to realise, everything in life is nonsense. I didn’t have a better plan. I had to say yes. And so everything I thought to be true, turned upside down. I realised I would probably have to move out and find some new housemates. What I had just agreed to was probably going to take a hammer to everyone and everything around me. I was right.
You never really know how you are going to react to something, until it actually happens. A complete stranger, turning up to a gig, offering to lend me money to start a record label, that I was already trying to assemble by myself, was one of them. I had already worked out the name for the label, Iron Man Records, after the song of the same name by Black Sabbath. Iron Man resonated in my imagination. Birmingham was Ozzy’s town, a sprawling mass of industrial nightmare to some, home to the rest. And I liked the lyrics to the song. I wanted the record label to be an access point, a meeting place, a network hub, the Birmingham Embassy for the Imagine Nation. I had the “manifesto” in the Guarantee from the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, all I needed now was a logo.
The Manual outlines the importance of a logo to go with the label name at the top of your official headed notepaper. I wasn’t interested in headed notepaper at this stage, but I had to agree, the record label would need one. I reached for the tin opener as that seemed to be the most common item in my life at that time. I put it on a photocopier to see what happened. In the end I had to ask a friend to try their scanner and come up with something better as I had no idea about graphic design.
Iron Man Records officially began on 23rd November 1997. I had been working on ideas throughout 1996. I had noted 1996 as the most disappointing year of my life so far, how could anything I tried next be any worse? Birmingham can be a bleak and depressing place. Bands like Napalm Death, Godflesh, Doom and the rest, I’m sure, were all influenced by the place they spent their time. It shows in their music. I wanted to take a tin opener to peoples perceptions of the Birmingham Music Scene and to the Music Business in general, I wanted to see what it was all about for myself and offer an alternative. I wanted to find out if anyone could set up a record label. I wanted to see if I could work to help bands reach a wider audience without having to be a greedy, money motivated idiot. I didn’t just want to do it myself, anyone could do that. I wanted to do it properly, and fairly without compromise, without chasing money, or some naive notion of social acceptance.
Not long after I started work on the record label, Barney, the singer from Napalm Death, showed up at The Old Railway to write a review for Kerrang. I spoke to him briefly and asked if he could recommend a good studio in Birmingham for bands to record. I had heard so many horror stories about Rich Bitch. He laughed and said “Go and see Bag at Framework Studios, he’ll sort you out.” Barney gave me the address and a phone number.
When I found Framework Studios I found Bag aka Paul Siddens and Simon Reeves. Bag had worked with Napalm Death for the last ten years, Meathook Seed, Charger, DBH, Little Giant Drug, Cathedral, Carcass, Bjork, Admortem, Family Cat, Crowbar, Six Feet Under, Obituary, Ride, Coal Chamber, Skin Lab, At The Gates, Saxon, and PJ Harvey. Bag starting teaching me some of the most important things about touring, recording and everything else I might need to know. The rest is history, I still work with Framework Studios. Simon Reeves plays bass in Last Under The Sun which is the band I started in 2001. The first release on Iron Man Records was a local band called I.O.D and it’s still one of my favourites, a local band that had only played local gigs and with Bag’s work in the studio, they produced a great debut release.
That was then. That was the start. Where is Iron Man Records now? A lot of things go around in my head. I’m still much the same as I was, even all these years later. The reality of running the record label and working with bands for the past 21 years has tempered my optimism a little. I’ve learnt a lot. No one is free. No people on this Earth are free. Music and the creative Arts are still something meaningful to me, something of value. Understand, Entertainment may be a lot of things, but in simple terms: music and art eases the pain of our subservience. The idea of culture in the modern world, to me is almost like someone saying “ shut up, be happy, don’t be angry, have this culture, you’ll like it”
The only place left, where any of us can still hope to be free, is in our heads. The Imagination. Everything starts in the Imagination. If you are a musician, everything starts with the music of your imagination. If you want to live in a different world you have to imagine it and attempt to create it through your actions. Your world may only exist in your imagination but meaning comes from doing. Any attempt to create a different world is what I work to support. Iron Man Records is an independent record label, a network, a hub of activity, an Embassy for the Imagine Nation. Refugees of popular culture are welcome.
Iron Man Records is run by two directors, Mark Sampson and Kevan Tidy.
In 2000 I set up Birmingham Music Network with Anthony Hughes to work alongside Iron Man Records. At a time when social networking was in it’s infancy and online discussion groups were establishing themselves, Birmingham Music Network aimed to encourage a more meaningful, face to face, networking experience. BMN set out to help stimulate discussions, ideas, and growth. It aimed to inspire and share knowledge among musicians across the West Midlands region. But not to control it, filter it or funnel it. Some people got it, some people didn’t. Some people didn’t like it at all. BMN had to look a little disorganised to prevent others from taking an interest and trying to push it in the wrong direction, but at the same time, those who understood the potential for an independent networking hub quietly benefitted and the meetings continue to this day.
I work on all of this in addition to everything I do as Iron Man Records. I’ve organised more than 1000 gigs in Birmingham since 1992 under the name of Badger Promotions. I’m a musician myself, I play in a band called Last Under The Sun and also Police Bastard. I’ve played with many other bands over the years but these two are the ones I’m working with currently.
At the moment, I write and maintain several music related blogs, I’m active across social media and work hard to promote new music. It’s not as easy as you would like to think. Many people take it for granted that they can turn up at the door of a gig and pay to get in. While standing at the bar, ordering a drink and listening to the group already on stage, few people understand the work that has to go into planning, organising, managing and promoting a night of live music. Fewer still will realise how many musicians go on and off stage and don’t even get paid for their work. Many musicians pay to rehearse, pay to acquire and maintain their instruments and music equipment, pay to get themselves to and from the gig, pay for their own drinks at the bar and pay for their own food while they are away from home. Musicians are only slightly better off than poets, but even poets seem to be surviving with their craft in healthier numbers these days while many musicians are being forced to call it a day. Lets be clear, music is not an easy business, in fact, in can be brutal and many musicians mental health takes a beating. And some choose to end their lives in despair.
What does Iron Man Records do to survive?
I suppose the simple answer is Iron Man Records attempts to cheat. It doesn’t generate any money of any significance from any of the releases on the label. To date the record label has only generated a tiny fraction of the costs it has taken to operate so far. So where is the money coming from that finances the label? Aside from the crippling financial madness of Iron Man Records, I work as a Tour Manager. I use all the skills and experience I have generated organising gigs, running a record label and playing in a group myself to take bands on tour all over the UK and most of Europe. The money I earn doing Tour Management work just about generates enough for myself and the label to survive on.
Some recent clients I’ve worked with include Seasick Steve, John Paul Jones, Shalamar, The Monkees, Dua Lipa, M83, Barry Adamson, Hotei, Madness, The Stone Roses, Mika, Killing Joke, Adam Ant, Shye Ben Tzur and the Rajasthan Express, Roland Gift, Omar Puente, Fatoumata Diawara, Anthrax, Modestep, Imani Williams, Talib Kweli, Little Barrie, House of Pain, The Enemy, Friendly Fires, Curse of Lono, Crystal Castles, Bullet for my Valentine, The Orb, Vagina Monologues, Eska, Edwin Sanz, Kaiser Chiefs, Billy Ocean, Taio Cruz, Ivo Papasov, Sierra Meastra, As I lay Dying, Roisin Murphy, Ladytron, Son de la Frontera, Jeffrey Daniel, and many others…..
I sometimes assemble online strategy for bands and companies to generate a bit of extra income. I have built websites for bands, belly dancers, festival organisers, consultants and creatives of all types, and bloggers.
Kevan Tidy offers Legal Advice to musicians, writers, filmmakers, inventors and creatives.
I have lectured at Birmingham City University as part of their Music Business degree course, I’ve delivered work for the Musicians Union, projects for Birmingham City Council, Learning and Skills Council and Advantage West Midlands.
I had a thought some years ago. ”When All Music is Digital, All Independence ceases.” The major labels that defined how people perceived the world and the Music Industry, namely EMI, Warner Brothers, Sony BMG, Universal have all taken a hit from the changing way that most people consume music. Some of the labels like EMI have gone bust altogether. The process has been both good and bad, neither good nor bad, and to some degree meaningless for everyone involved. Many people listen to more music now, than at any time in their life, and it’s had nothing to do with any of the major labels. At the same time, musicians are finding it easier than ever to track their share of the revenue. Digital stats are easy to access, but many musicians are finding that their share of the revenue has also become smaller than ever. For example a band might be pleased to know they have generated 40,000 streams, but disappointed to find they have only sold 65 copies of their physical album, in ten years. A super league of perhaps the top 1% or even less, have pulled away from everyone else in the business and are generating more than 75% of all global revenues. Consumers are looking to the new major labels like Youtube, Amazon, Spotify, Google, Apple and other platforms. In my view, whoever controls the digital platform, controls the music, and the revenue streams returning to musicians and creatives. I have taken the position that the future of independent music has to be independent of these platforms, in some sense. Iron Man Records is now releasing all new records on Vinyl, as well as through digital channels. Iron Man Records has a fund raising page on Patreon.com and currently has 32 Patrons donating $209 a month to help raise funds for Vinyl releases. At first look the idea might appear insufficient, perhaps mad, but independence is not easy in the market place, and it won’t stop Iron Man Records from trying.
From there to here…..what does it take to survive?
The following text was posted on my first website in 1996. I had started organising gigs in 1992 with a group of others in Birmingham under the name of Badger Promotions. I tried to share all the money from the door takings with the bands who played. When there wasn’t enough money from the door, I used my own money to pay the bands.
How it all started – July 1996
I used to play in a band some years back but I found it difficult to get shows booked without National press or a demo tape. I started booking venues myself, in order to get shows for my own band. At the time, my only friends were those who were struggling with their own band projects.
None of us had any money to record demo tapes, we had all suffered at the hands of rip-off promoters, nobody seemed interested in promoting Punk / Hardcore in Birmingham unless you had a record contract, some of us were even considering giving up altogether. It was time to do it for ourselves.
Between us, we started booking and playing our own shows on a regular basis, sharing the tasks of organisation, promotion and performance. Our philosophy? To book the venue ourselves, organise promotion ourselves, operate the door, ticketing and mailing lists ourselves, and any money that we made was shared between us to cover costs of band practice and promotion for the next show.
From this small beginning Badger Promotions evolved, and today Badger has mutated to form a record label called Iron Man Records.
By far the largest sector of activity revolves around the live promotion of independent bands who since the start, have multiplied their numbers so fast, I haven’t got an accurate count as new bands are joining every week. The bands continue to work together, supporting each others shows, and at last it is looking as if the whole is becoming greater than the sum of the parts. And that is just in the West Midlands area.
Badger Promotions maintains its own database of contacts, information, promotional techniques and useful advice for new bands wishing to make a start for themselves in the West Midlands area.
Iron Man Records began on 23rd November 1997. A lot has happened since then. Sometimes it can be difficult to keep your mind on the job you set out to do all those years ago. Things change, priorities change, people change, you forget things, and you can be easily distracted. The Manual had a few really useful tips, some of which I had already discovered for myself at this point. The Manual helped formalise a simple framework of things to do, and things to avoid alongside an approach to the essentials that the work would require. I have kept The Guarantee and a list of quotes that have continued to inspire and inform what I do since the record label began all those years ago. I try not to forget where it all came from or how it all started. But, you also have to let go and keep an open mind and be prepared to update and renew your approach as the world changes around you. I like to think It’s what you know, on what basis, and how you apply yourself that matters. To me, Music isn’t just entertainment. Music has a meaning to me, and it demands a meaningful approach. My approach may be nonsense to some, but most things in life are nonsense in some sense. You have to pick a way through it, do as you will, and stick to the plan as best you can. You can read more of what motivates Iron Man Records here: https://744.a30.myftpupload.com/about/reasons-why/ One of my favourite quotes is: “Of course I’m crazy, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.” Robert Anton Wilson. All musicians have a place. All music represents a piece of the puzzle. It’s up to you to work it all out.
By the end of 1996 I had worked out what I wanted to do and why. As Dr. Timothy Leary said, the next task was to go out and “…..Find The Others.”
Here is a list of Bands and releases on Iron Man Records. Each group had something about them I liked: their lyrics, their ideas, their music, their attitude, their approach. Some lived and died in a very short period of time, some are still working today. Sometimes I didn’t necessarily agree with everything a band had to say. But my approach was to support them as best I could. I don’t think I set out with any specific genre in mind. I wanted to work with bands that played from the heart, had a good imagination and had something to say. If the group was good onstage, and easy to work with offstage, that was good enough for me. This list serves as a brief History of Iron Man Records to date.
IMB6001 I.O.D – Mundane Existence CD album 2000
IMB6002 P.A.I.N featuring Howard Marks and Larry MacDonald – Let Me Grow More Weed CD single 2000
IMB6003 P.A.I.N – Our Universe Commences Here (O.U.C.H) Vinyl / CD album 2001
IMB6004 LESS – “And I’ll see you never work again” taunted Florence CD album 2001
IMB6005 GORGEOUS – Cursed with Being….. CD album 2003
IMB6660 LEGION OF DYNAMIC DISCHORD – Negative Entropy CD album 2001
DLPR2006 PIGFISH – The Reverend James CD mini album 2003
IMB6007 SIST – Talking Points Not Tragedies CD EP 2004
IMB6008 ACADEMY MORTICIANS – What Happened? CD album 2004
IMB6009 P.A.I.N – Oh My God, We’re Doing It! CD album re-issue 2005
IMB6010 LAST UNDER THE SUN – Windfall CD album 2004
IMB6011 LAST UNDER THE SUN – All Empires Crumble CD EP 2005
IMB6012 LAST UNDER THE SUN – Gone CD album 2009
IMB6013 SENSA YUMA – Up Yours! CD album 2004
IMB6015 DUFUS – Neuborns CD album 2004
IMB6016 DUFUS – The Last Classed Blast CD album 2006
IMB6017 NIGHTINGALES – Out Of True CD album 2006
IMB6018 POLICE BASTARD – It’s Good To Hate….. CD / DVD 2009
IMB6019 LAST UNDER THE SUN – Hooligan Jihad CD 2010
IMB6020 POLICE BASTARD – Dead To The World – Digital Release (23rd November 2015)
IMB6021 POLICE BASTARD – Confined CD 2013
IMB6022 JOHN SINCLAIR – Mohawk CD 2014
IMB6023 DEATH TO FANATICS – Iron Man Records 1999-2014 compilation CD 2014
IMB6024 Police Bastard – Confined – Digital Release – 2013
IMB6025 Steve Fly – They Came To Starburg – Digital Release – 2014
IMB6026 John Sinclair – Mohawk – Digital Release – 2014
IMB6027 T.C. Lethbridge – Moon Equipped – Digital Release (23rd November 2014)
IMB6028 T.C. Lethbridge – 2000 TC – Digital Release (23rd November 2014)
IMB6029 T.C. Lethbridge – Mina – Digital Release (23rd November 2014)
IMB6030 Police Bastard – Traumatized – Digital Release – (23rd November 2014)
IMB6031 John Sinclair – Beatnik Youth – Remixed and Remastered – Digital Release
IMB6032 John Sinclair – Beatnik Youth – Remixed and Remastered – CD Release
IMB6033 John Sinclair – Beatnik Youth Ambient – LP Release on Vinyl
IMB6034 Dr Marshmallow Cubicle – Occupy – Digital Release (23rd April 2016)
IMB6035 Robert Anton Wilson – Meets Steve “Fly Agaric” Pratt – Digital Release (23rd June 2016)
IMB6036 Police Bastard – Confined – Vinyl Release
IMB6037 Rachel Mayfield – Winter Of Desire – Digital Release (12th October 2017)
IMB6038 Brassick – Appreciate Your Concern – Digital Release (15th October 2017)
There are also a few things worth keeping in mind I’d like to share with you. I’ve learnt many things since I started the record label. These are probably the most significant to me.
Few people are willing to accept the extent to which blind chance affects their lives.
Few people know how it works. Most of us spend our lives trying to discover it for ourselves while trying to look like we know what we are doing.
Few people recognise that accidental success is not luck or a one off, but rather a demonstration of how things actually work.
Success more frequently comes from maximising the opportunity that falls into your lap by chance, rather than actually making something happen by yourself.
Success is more like being able to stumble upwards without any time to prepare or get ready, than a carefully planned journey.
It’s what you know, not who you know that matters. Do your research. If you know what you’re dealing with, you’ll know who to ask for help.
Phone people, don’t email them.
Tomorrow is just a word. if you are going to do it, do it today.
The Law of Fives: The Law of Fives states simply that: All things happen in Fives, or are divisible by five, or are multiples of five, or are somehow directly or indirectly related to 5.
Imagine the numbers 2 and 3. 23. 2 divided by 3 is 0.666. the laws of synchronicity and seriality may be nonsense, but so is everything else. So do as you will.
“Don’t believe anything. Nothing which is the product of a human mind is a fitting subject for your belief…..But, you can suppose anything…..and you should because supposing is mind expanding. Suppose flying saucers, fairies, God…..if you must…..but don’t believe it” – Ken Campbell
What else does Iron Man Records do?
Iron Man Records still works with Framework Studios in Birmingham. The Recording studio these days, is based on Floodgate Street in Digbeth, easy walking distance from the City Centre. The Studio is run by Simon Reeves who used to work with Paul Siddens aka Bag, back at the start of all this. The studio handles everything from recording rehearsals, editing, track laying, to bands recording a single, EP, albums, audiobooks, singer songwriters and just about anything else you can imagine. Simon can also master recordings. In recent times, Simon at Framework Studios has worked with Police Bastard, Spirit Bomb, Selfless, John Sinclair, Robert Anton Wilson, Steve Fly, Oliver Senton and more.
Iron Man Records has also been instrumental in offering bands from all over the world, the chance to come and play in the UK. No one is illegal, and no musician should be treated as illegal either. If you are born on the planet, you should have the freedom to travel on the planet without restriction, in my view. I have worked hard to help bands get work permits and where necessary I have offered musicians the chance to audition in the UK to invited audiences without the need for work permits at all.
Iron Man Records runs an online shop selling all sorts of music from vinyl, CD, DVD to video and T-shirts and so on. It’s a tough business, but I work hard to try and keep physical products available in addition to whatever you can find as a digital download or via streaming services.
Iron Man Records offers Tour Management Services to bands and artists. The work tends to be a mixture of the following:
Tour Management – A professional solution for touring artists, providing a reliable service at a reasonable price. I organise the administration for a schedule of appearances, contacting each promoter or venue to ensure the clients technical and hospitality demands are met. I ensure the work remains within the budget. I take care of the day to day planning and management of activities on the road, and any unforeseen issues or emergencies should they occur.
Transfers – A simple and cost effective transfer service to or from the airport, the office, an exhibition, or an event.
Backline and Gear Moves – A reliable service to pick up or drop off backline, gear or trailers depending on your need. I use a suitable panel van, splitter van, or a Luton Van depending on the work involved. I also drive bands around where tour management is provided by someone else.
Vehicles: I hire vehicles according to the needs of the work involved, the available budget, and any specific client needs. I work with a number of suppliers based in London, Oxford and Cardiff. I work for you, not the hire company. I always try and source the highest quality vehicles at the most competitive prices, that are best suited to the work.
Sometimes I do things I don’t fully understand. Iron Man Records is involved in a number of other activities. They neither generate money, nor have anything much to do with the record label. But I do them anyway.
Gimpo’s M25 Spin is one of them. Gimpo is best known to any KLF fan as the man who filmed the Burning of a Million Quid on the island of Jura in 1994. He drove Bill Drummond and Mark Manning to the top of the world as told in the book Bad Wisdom, and he managed to lose his boat ticket, causing chaos and panic, whilst on a trip up the Congo river in search of the Heart of Darkness. But that’s another story. Gimpo was also the ski-masked person armed with lighter fluid and matches when Rachel Whiteread turned up to claim the K Foundation art award for “Worst British Artist” on the steps of the TATE in 1993.
Gimpo’s M25, 25 Hour Spin, happens on the weekend closest to the vernal equinox. The Spin follows the outer lane of London’s M25 Orbital Motorway, clockwise, for 25 hours. It is not a race. Gimpo is making the worlds longest road movie. He wants to know where the M25 goes. The Spin has happened once a year since it started in 1997, and will cease in 2021. The spin is Gimpo’s idea, and it goes one louder than “Le Mans.”
Money Burning and Ritual Sacrifice is as much a part of what I do with Iron Man Records as releasing records. I have an interest in the nature of money, its relation to thought and knowledge, and how these are entangled in the primal psychology of sacrificial ritual and what it is to be a sovereign being. In simple terms, I burn money every now and then, usually in a phonebox. It helps to maintain some degree of sensitivity in my own thought processes. Money Burning also raises a number of questions. The idea of a cashless society is one of them. How do you destroy digital currency is another. I try to avoid any decisions for purely financial gain. Burning Money is something you cannot fully understand until you’ve done it yourself. It’s a sacred act. It’s up to you to understand what it means. I like to maintain a commitment to the artistic merit of bands, artists and creatives that I work with. Burning Money and trying to help creatives may appear to be a contradiction, but actually, you have to learn to embrace contradiction. For many years I quietly did my own money burning thing, in my own way. And then I met Jon Harris through my work outside the record label. We both ended up sharing responsibility for a number of bands, it started with Soulsavers. The band featured Kev Bales on drums, I didn’t know it at the time, but Kev was the drummer for TC Lethbridge. Later on, I had to ask Jon to step in and look after Seasick Steve. I had found myself double booked when Steve announced some new tour dates at short notice. That’s another story. Jon and I got on well. We shared an interest in Burning Money, and the increased sensitivity and awareness that money destruction generates. We also both liked The KLF and all sorts of interesting topics I probably shouldn’t discuss here. I’ve been following Jon’s “Money Wisdom” from the start, his blog makes for an interesting read.
When Daisy Campbell put Cosmic Trigger on at the Cockpit this year, Jon organised the merch and volunteered me to keep an eye on it. I saw the Cosmic Trigger play twice as a result and it started the cogs turning again after a creatively bleak period in recent times. On 23rd October, Jon held his Burn Your Money – Ritual Mass Burn at The Cockpit. Alongside Daisy, and members of the cast and crew of Cosmic Trigger, I found myself dragged into proceedings. Not only did I find myself lying on my back with a balloon stuffed up my T-shirt being blamed (yet again, I might add) for all forms of Patriarchy by a Canadian artist (is this issue about Patriarchy a Canadian thing?), I also ended up on the merch stall afterwards. I like to do my bit for the cause. These things happen. I try not to understand.
I have contributed to Jon’s Burning Issue Magazine ‘The World’s first magazine EXCLUSIVELY for Money Burners and other destroyers of currency.’ I’m also trying to support Jon with finance to facilitate the SUPER DELUXE Special Edition due for publication in 2018.
Jon Harris has written a book. The Money Burner’s Manual: A Guide to Ritual Sacrifice by Jonathan Harris is now available as a limited edition hardback. If you have ever considered the issues and consequences of Burning Money, or sought to understand more about it, this book makes a fantastic read. The book contains the best of Jon’s research, thoughts and interpretations, methods, meaning and history of Money Burning. I don’t fully understand it all myself, but it gives the reader a lot to think about.
To some, Burning Money and ritual sacrifice appears immoral or insane. But, if you read The Money Burner’s Manual, you may find yourself to be a prophet of a new age and your actions may be proclaimed as righteous and sane. Work it out for yourself.
Let me talk briefly about a couple of bands of interest on the label. You may have no idea who they are, but like most bands on the label, you don’t know them, but they have an incredible story to tell.
TC Lethbridge – “2000 TC,” “Mina” and “Moon Equipped” were released by Iron Man Records on 23rd November 2014. 23 years after the band split up. The reasons why are not simple to explain.
I went to a meeting in 2014, in the back room of a pub, The George in Southwark actually. The pub is just a few minutes walk from The Shard in London. Gimpo worked on The Shard and if I was going to park anywhere, parking at the foot of the Shard endorsed his work. I’ve spent time, 25 hours at a time, in a van going round the M25 with Gimpo, and believe me, it’s an experience to be had. I was with Steve Fly, a writer, musician and someone who plays drums for the Detroit Poet, John Sinclair. John used to manage MC5 and was a founder member of the White Panthers. Steve and John had released Mohawk through Iron Man Records and I was interested to accompany Steve to the meeting. I wanted to listen in, and if necessary, endorse him as a potential Music Director for The Cosmic Trigger, a new stage play by Daisy Eris Campbell. Daisy is the daughter of Ken Campbell who staged the Illuminatus! in 1976. I was 5 years old when all of that was going on.
The meeting was interesting as I had never met Daisy before and I had no idea what to expect. Michelle the production manager, who was opposite, seemed to be keen to find the right people to take on the task ahead and no one was thinking any of this was going to be easy. A lot of hard work was ahead. If Bill Drummond had gone out to get Araldite in 1976, never to return…I was sure that this new stage adaptation of Robert Anton Wilson’s book The Cosmic Trigger was not going to be any easier for anyone.
Robert Anton Wilson was an American author novelist, psychologist, essayist, editor, playwright, poet, futurist, civil libertarian and self-described agnostic mystic. I discovered Robert Anton Wilson as a teenager and by way of a band called The KLF and their various aliases from The Timelords, The Jams, The Justified Ancients of MU MU, to 2K and K Foundation. Magic Temple of Discordian Promotions gave me many of Robert Anton Wilson’s books as a present which I’ve read and sometimes re-read. Both Robert Anton Wilson and the discussions I had about his work with Magick gave me inspiration when organising gigs for bands in Birmingham, at a time when signing on and eating the food in my housemate’s cupboard was about all I had. The last posting that Robert Anton Wilson put on his website said: “I look forward without dogmatic optimism but without dread. I love you all and I deeply implore you to keep the lasagna flying.” The whole concept of keeping the lasagne flying made sure I didn’t get any ideas like getting a job or doing anything sensible with my time. In fact, I only stopped organising gigs because the venue I worked at, The Old Railway, was scheduled to be bulldozed. But that’s an aside, someone else was at the meeting who I knew of but had never met before.
Flinton Chalk was sat across from me, he was the one who sold the old car to Jimmy Cauty which ended up being used in KLF music videos and was renamed Ford Timelord. Flinton had bought the car from a film studio and spent time with friends dressing up as a nun and driving around doing donuts in muddy fields in the middle of the night. You might be wondering where on earth all this is going. You see, as John Higgs will tell you, if you happen to run a record label and read his book The Brandy Of The Damned “This is the problem with doing weird things. If you behave like a reasonable person, then the world will be reasonable back. If you step outside of the norm, however, and act in freaky ways, then the world will match you step for step. ”
And this is how I ended up talking with Flinton about the car, dressing up as a transvestite pirate nun, Jimmy Cauty, KLF, Julian Cope, Tall Hats, Stones Circles, and his time living in Avebury. I used to live in Wiltshire so I know that part of the world pretty well. Judging by the number of times I had driven through Avebury late at night in the early 1990’s, its a wonder I hadn’t run Flinton down. Somehow we got on to 111hz which can wait for another time, and then to a serious story about his trip to Mothers Jam on Fyfield down near Avebury. A stone tried to dematerialise Flinton and Julian Cope on one of their outings to collect photos and detail for The Modern Antiquarian. Flinton also told me about his band TC Lethbridge, named after Thomas Charles Lethbridge, who was an English archaeologist, parapsychologist, and explorer.
Having spent every last penny for the last 17 years on a record label that few people have any interest in, or understanding of, I was in no mood to consider working with another band, and certainly not one that hadn’t played a gig, or had been missing for 23 years with three unreleased albums. But, I have done many things over the years, sometimes for money, sometimes for free, and sometimes because insanity is a far more rational approach to a complex situation than trying to think things through properly. And that’s how I ended up agreeing to help TC Lethbridge until they found someone more suitable.
Sat next to me, Steve Fly had just been appointed Music Director for The Cosmic Trigger so the work was done. I didn’t get out of the building until I had also agreed to do “whatever I could” to help The Cosmic Trigger. What had started out in my mind as a meeting to endorse Steve and “listen in and learn,” ended up as “You don’t listen and you never learn.” And so it began. Flinton’s band, TC Lethbridge had found itself a record label.
John Higgs is the Author of ‘The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band who Burned A Million Pounds’ and ‘I Have America Surrounded: The Life of Timothy Leary’. John published Stranger Than We Can Imagine in 2015 and writes fiction (as JMR Higgs) including The Brandy of the Damned and The First Church on the Moon. He’s just published a new book called Watling Street.
I’ve read John’s book on Timothy Leary and also his book on the KLF and The Brandy of The Damned. All of them are well worth the read, you can make your own mind up which one to read first but, before you consider any of those, I want to tell you about another work.
John Higgs has written a book called 2000 TC: Standing on the Verge of Getting It On. The book is not for sale, it was published as a private edition of 111 copies. Don’t ask. The answer will blow the right side of your brain.
2000 TC was written to mark The Cosmic Trigger play and festival performance in Liverpool. It is the story of TC Lethbridge, who played their first gig after the play on the Saturday – 23 years after they formed. TC Lethbridge are Doggen and Kev Bales, of Spiritualized and Julian Cope/Brain Donor, and Flinton Chalk, who you’ll find more about in John’s KLF book (pages 116-117).
2000 TC is an album recorded by TC Lethbridge in Avebury 20 years ago. It was remastered by the same person who remastered the recent Led Zeppelin re-issues. Don’t ask about that either. Flinton met me backstage at The Barbican, London on 31st May after John Sinclair had performed with The Founder Effect supporting Marshall Allen and The Sun Ra Arkestra. The gig was to celebrate 100 years since the birth of Sun Ra and it was a suitable venue to hand over the 2000 TC master. The album was released on November 23rd by Iron Man Records along with Moon Equipped and another album called Mina. The band have been missing for 23 years and now they are back with the intention to begin playing gigs, with a book by John Higgs, and three albums on Iron Man Records.
I should mention that Thomas Charles Lethbridge was born 23rd March 1901 and passed away on 30th September 1971. You may also be interested to know that 30th September 1971 is my birthday. Let me be clear: I am not the reincarnation of TC Lethbridge. It appears from birth, despite my protesting, I have been destined to know TC Lethbridge and release the records by a band of the same name. You cant make this stuff up.
The voice on the 2000 TC track Bou Saada is that of Brian Barritt. He makes an appearance in the book Cosmic Trigger, when Timothy Leary tells Robert Anton Wilson that he needs to talk to Brian if they are to both understand Aleister Crowley.
John Higgs said “Spending a few months writing a biography of a band who have yet to show their faces in public was not the most career-minded way to spend my time, but it had to be done. This is a story about people who’ve had some form of visionary or incomprehensible experience, and about how they can only move on and process what happened to them through a creative act. It is about the impact an uncompleted artistic project can have on a life. It also functions as a jigsaw piece, connecting the story in my Timothy Leary book to the one I tell in The KLF.
So, yeah, it had to be written.
No doubt it will be made more widely available at some point, in some format, in some way, should the band keep gigging and putting themselves about.”
John Sinclair has been described as a Cultural revolutionary, pioneer of marijuana activism, radical leader, political prisoner by the end of the 1960s, a legend of the imagine nation, the last of the Beatnik Warrior Poets, and a founding father of the U.S rock and roll constitution.
From 1966-67 Sinclair founded the Detroit Artists’ Workshop which became part of the ‘hippy revolution: Sex, drugs, rock & roll and fucking in the streets.”
In 1966, he began to manage the proto-punk/Avant Rock band MC5, simultaneously, in the summer of 1967 the Detroit Riots broke out. This event along with years of police harassment aimed at the Detroit Artists’ Workshop led Sinclair and his friends to take refuge in the college town of Ann Arbor Michigan. MC5’s first album was recorded “live” at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom in 1968 and “exploded onto the scene like a bomb though a courtroom window” and was released along with the declaration that Sinclair, MC5 and a select few others had formed the White Panther party, in opposition to the U.S. government, the war in Vietnam, the war on drugs, the culture wars and to show open support for the Black Panther Party.
The White Panther Party spearheaded the process of a “rock’n’roll revolution” during 1968 to 1969, and the writings of Sinclair for the underground press helped document and analyse the White Panther Parties “Total assault on the culture” and the mutual opposition to the Vietnam war. The White Panther Party remains the only political party ever formed by a rock’n’roll band. They preached the poetry of an immediate revolution–a sonic rainbow revolution–and carried out their radical political and cultural organising and edutainment work alongside their fellow revolutionaries on the East, and West coasts of the U.S.A. The White Panther Party was referred to by the FBI as “potentially the largest and most dangerous of revolutionary organisations in the United States.”
In November 1968, Fifth Estate published the “White Panther State/meant”. This manifesto, emulating the Black Panthers, ended with a ten-point program:
1. We want freedom. We want the power for all people to determine our own destinies.
2. We want justice. We want an immediate and total end to all cultural and political repression of the people by the vicious pig power structure and their mad dog lackies the police, courts and military. We want the end of all police and military violence against the people all over the world right now!
3. We want a free world economy based on the free exchange of energy and materials and the end of money.
4. We want free access to all information media and to all technology for all the people.
5. We want a free educational system, utilising the best procedures and machinery our modern technology can produce, that will teach each man, woman and child on earth exactly what each needs to know to survive and grow into his or her full human potential.
6. We want to free all structures from corporate rule and turn the buildings over to the people at once!
7. We want free time and space for all humans—dissolve all unnatural boundaries!
8. We want the freedom of all prisoners held in federal, state, county or city jails and prisons since the so-called legal system in Amerika makes it impossible for any man to obtain a fair and impartial trial by a jury of his peers.
9. We want the freedom of all people who are held against their will in the conscripted armies of the oppressors throughout the world.
10. We want free land, free food, free shelter, free clothing, free music, free medical care, free education, free media, EVERYTHING FREE FOR EVERYBODY!
Our program is Cultural Revolution through a total assault on the culture, which makes us use every tool, every energy and any media we can get our collective hands on. We take our program with us everywhere we go and use any means necessary to expose people to it. Our culture, our art, the music, newspapers, books, posters, our clothing, our homes, the way we walk and talk, the way our hair grows, the way we smoke dope and fuck and eat and sleep — it is all one message, and the message is FREEDOM!
We are the mother country madmen in charge of our own lives and we are taking this freedom to the people of America, in streets, in the ballrooms and teen clubs, in their front rooms watching TV, in their bedrooms reading underground newspapers, or masturbating, or smoking secret dope, in their schools where we come and talk to them or make our music, in their weird gymnasiums — they love it! We represent the only contemporary life-style in America for its kids and it should be known that THESE KIDS ARE READY! They are ready to move but they don’t know how, and all we do is show them that they can get away with it. BE FREE, goddamnit, and fuck them old dudes, is what we tell them, and they can see that we mean it.
The only influences we have, the only thing that touches them, is that we are for real. We are FREE. We are a bunch of arrogant motherfuckers and we don’t give a damn for any cop or any phony-ass authority control-addict creeps who want to put us down. For the first time in America there is a generation of visionary maniac white motherfucker country dope fiend rock and roll freaks who are ready to get down and kick out the jams — ALL THE JAMS — break everything loose and free everybody from their very real and imaginary prisons — even the chumps and punks and honkies who are always fucking with us.
We demand total freedom for everybody! And we will not be stopped until we get it. We are bad. There’s only two kinds of people on the planet: those who make up the problem and those who make up the solution. WE ARE THE SOLUTION. We have no problems. Everything is free for everybody. Money sucks. Leaders suck. School sucks. The white honkie culture that has been handed to us on a silver platter is meaningless to us! We don’t want it! Our program of rock and roll, dope and fucking in the streets is a program of total freedom for everyone. We are totally committed to carrying out our program. We breathe revolution. We are LSD driven total maniacs of the universe. We will do anything we can to drive people crazy out of their heads and into their bodies.
ROCK AND ROLL music is the spearhead of our attack because it is so effective and so much fun. We have developed organic high-energy guerrilla bands who are infiltrating the popular culture and destroying millions of minds in the process. With our music and our economic genius we plunder the unsuspecting straight world for money and the means to carry out our program, and revolutionise its children at the same time. And with our entrance into the straight media we have demonstrated to the honkies that anything they do to fuck with us will be exposed to their children. We don’t need to get rid of all the honkies, you just rob them of their replacements and let the breed atrophy and die out.
We don’t have guns yet — not all of us anyway — because we have more powerful weapons — direct access to millions of teenagers is one of our most potent, and their belief in us is another. But we will use guns if we have to — we will do anything — if we have to. We have no illusions.
Knowing the power of symbols in the abstract world of Americans, we have taken the White Panther as our mark to symbolize our strength and arrogance.
— John Sinclair, MC-5 manager,
White Panther Party Minister of Information,
Trans-love Energies, 1968
Shortly after the FBI cottoned onto Sinclair and the WPP, he was sent to prison after giving an undercover police officer, two joints of Marijuana in a set-up linked by many to the secret spy operation called COINTELPRO. Sinclair received a distorted maximum penalty of 10 years.
John utilized his time in prison fruitfully to read and write, producing the incendiary books, ‘Guitar Army’: a collection of writings for the underground press, and ‘Music & politics’, co-written by Robert Levin.
The Free John campaign aided Sinclair’s release after a long 29 month campaign and reached its climax in the “John Sinclair Freedom Rally” that took place at the Chrysler arena in Ann Arbor. The now legendary benefit featured Phil Ochs, Stevie Wonder, Allen Ginsberg, Bobby Seale, Archie Shepp, John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Lennon composed a song especially to help raise awareness of Sinclair’s case called “John Sinclair” which was featured on the ‘Sometime In New York City’ album. Three days after the rally was held, Sinclair was released and had his conviction overturned.
After being released Sinclair got back into music management and promotions through the Rainbow MultiMedia Corporation. He helped produce the historic Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz festivals and he also became involved in radio, hosting popular shows on WNRZ and WCBN, and founded The Peoples Ballroom, The Free Concerts in the Park Programme, The Ann Arbor Tribal Council and took on a key role in the success of the local Human Rights Party.
In 1975 the Rainbow Peoples Party disbanded and Sinclair moved back to Detroit and his poetry, Journalism, radio programming and urban cultural activism. He spent 15 years with a loving family and while working as the editor of the Detroit Sun newspaper. He was also the founder and director of the Detroit Jazz Centre, assistant professor of popular music history at Wayne State University, programme host for WDET-FM, director of the City Arts Gallery for the Detroit Council of the Arts, and editor of City Arts Quarterly.
He formed a band in 1992 called The Blues Scholars, and in 1994 he recorded his first CD and consequently set out on tour as a performance artist backed by Jazz, blues and rock groups. Several of Sinclair’s poetry collections were published along with his major work in verse, ‘Fattening Frogs for Snakes: Delta Sound Suite’. He has released more than 15 CD’s of his work with Music and Verse.
John relocated to Amsterdam in 2003. His grass roots radio show is now the flagship of the encyclopedic Radio Free Amsterdam. In 2008 Sinclair became the editor-in-Chief of Headpress, an apolitical anthology series from the London based Independent publishing house of the same name. ‘It’s all good’ a compilation to Sinclair’s music journalism and poetry was released on the 9th of April 2009. Later that year on August 14 2009, Sinclair also played at the Bonded Warehouse Stourbridge as part of a Poetry and Spoken Word event put on by Iron Man Records.
2013 saw John Sinclair sign to Iron Man Records to release a new album of poetry called “Mohawk” on CD. Beatnik Youth was released in 2017 as a double CD with 4 ambient tracks released on limited edition Vinyl as Beatnik Youth Ambient. Beatnik Youth features contributions from Howard Marks, Keith Levine, Bobby Gillespie, Brian James, Angie Brown, Zodiac, Jesse Wood, Mark Stewart, Alan Clayton, Steve Fly and bass on all tracks by Youth.
Since 1996, Iron Man Records has witnessed the music industry panic and stumble into a period of both catastrophic collapse, and rapid change. The old major labels have started to crumble, only to be propped up, or replaced, by the next generation of major labels who don’t want your money: they want more than just your money… they want your time, your work, they want to re-arrange your priorities to suit their needs, and they want your contacts and a share of any proceeds too. And while they’re at it they will do their best to stop anyone having any original ideas of their own whilst maintaining a helpful or supportive facade. They’ll keeping you engaged with an endless stream of notifications and updates to be sure you stay in their net and consume their products or services.
We may be watching the demise of Universal, Sony/BMG, EMI, Warner Brothers and so on, but they will be back in time with another face. The new major labels have already signed you up, and sold you on, without you even realising it. How many of us have signed up for Amazon, Apple, Ebay, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Spotify and so on? The so called champions of do it yourself music, the crowd funding platforms, are in on the game too. They will do nothing for you, but they won’t let go until you hand over a fixed fee, or 30% of your hard earned revenue. And with all these companies, there’s nobody there. It’s an automated system that collects your money, and makes you do all the work. They will even have you targeting your own friends and family for their benefit.
Every year the Music Industry seems to be getting meaner, tighter and more hilarious in it’s tactics to sell you it’s products, and keep it’s costs down. Automation is the name of the game. And you will end up doing all the work and they’ll have you selling everything to yourself and others. After all these years, Musicians are still starving. Perhaps its all over for music as a format. But, There is always an alternative, there are many alternatives and they are all around you all the time, just open your mind, open your eyes, and look for yourself.
Iron Man Records works hard to give music, and those who make it, value. There is always hope. The Imagine Nation is all around us. Iron Man Records is just one small part of something. Every band on the label has something interesting to offer. Every musician has a story and a piece of the puzzle.
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Tomorrow is just a word. Do it Today. Enjoy Music. Be Kind. Be Happy.