As you can tell from Clive’s comments below he has been an active underground participant for a long, long time. He still is very active producing excellent, unusual music in England.
Among the many bands I’ve been in over the years most of which never got to the point of doing a gig, Darting Tongues was one that did many and some of those were at the Hermit Club in Brentwood (Essex, England), this was in the early 1980’s, at one of those Hermit gigs I was introduced to Phil Knight who came with his then French girl friend to do a review of our performance for the newspaper he wrote a music page for which I think was the Walthamstow Gazette. There is now a book written by Jeff Merrifield about the Hermit Club called “More Than Just Bricks”:http://www.playbackarts.co.uk/meryfela/shop.htm
Phil was and still is in The Legendary Pink Dots and is now known as The Silverman or Phil Harmonix, actually, technically speaking the Dots didn’t exist at this moment in time as they had just split up. Phil and I got on well immediately and stayed in contact. A few months after our meeting Darting Tongues also split so Phil and I put together a very basic studio in his Walthamstow flat (Walthamstow is just outside London), until I met Phil I didn’t know much about the underground cassette culture. For the following several months I drove to Phil’s every Sunday to record our fantastic music on our really crap equipment. These sessions varied from Phil and I working stuff out to improvisations which included Richard Beck who was the Darting Tongues bass player, the result of these sessions became “Primeval Waltz” by Moisten Before Use, this album was released in March 1984 and launched Fragment. At the time of writing this I am re-mixing Primeval Waltz for CDR re-issue.
By this time Phil was now living with Julia Waller who was the singer with Attrition, a new incarnation of the Dots now existed and Phil and Julia had started Terminal Kaleidoscope Distribution, needless to say Primeval Waltz was instantly on the T.K. list as indeed all future Fragment releases were until it folded a couple of years later. T.K. was later resurrected by the Dots for the Dots.
Although a lot of sales went through T.K. I was getting lots of letters and orders etc directly to Fragment which obviously increased considerably after T.K. folded, so this period is a bit of a blur due to there being many things happening so I can honestly say I can’t remember my first contact, who it was or what it was for, but for the next several years I was constantly typing, packaging and going to the post office which thankfully was about 5 minutes walk from where I lived at that time.
Had it not been for the cassette underground I find it difficult to see how Fragment and many other labels could have got under way because commercial distributors would not touch cassette based labels so we had no choice but to operate our own mail order service and rely on independent distributors like Jarmusic and Staubgold etc. Also I can’t stress enough how important fanzines/magazines and local/college radio were for our existence, without these people there was pretty much no chance of getting your cassette based albums reviewed in any main stream publications and absolutely no chance of getting airplay on any main stream radio, I know this as fact because I tried, oh how I tried! So a BIG thank you to Don for doing his No Pigeonholes and also Mike Honeycutt’s Mystery Hearsay, there were of course many more but I’m trying not to make this full of lists. A few zins that really deserve a mention among the many were Freak Out (Italy), Psych Out (Italy), Dead Eyes (USA), Empty Quarter (UK), N.D. (USA) and Impulse (UK).
There were also many people out there who were not musicians but loved difficult music so they invented a label and started putting together compilation albums, at least once a week I would receive a request for tracks to include on some album or other and it has to be said I couldn’t keep up with the requests so most got a reply to say I had nothing available, some of those who were lucky (or not, depending on your point of view!) were Color Tapes, Mystery Hearsay, Obscure Delight, Epitapes, Irre-Tapes and Teddy Bear Music. This was a good way of getting your music out there although one had to accept by the time your track was on the final product the listener was listening to at least four generations of hiss build up with as many generations of top end loss!
But this was a great period for music and it liberated many musicians because it didn’t matter how off the wall your music was there was always people out there who would give it the time of day to review or broadcast but I know as time went by many found it increasingly difficult to keep up with their post bag as there’s only 24 hours in a day and what with their day job to contend with, time was at a premium.
So it’s now 2009 and I’m still making great music and now my productions both sound and look professional, however, as the years have gone by it seems to me that challenging music is struggling to find it’s audience, I think this is not because people aren’t open to it but they no longer have access to it, ironically because there are now so many radio stations both on the air and the net people don’t know where to start to hear it, plus of course music has been devalued due to the digital revolution and as a result music is available everywhere all of the time and most of it is free to anyone with a computer and internet connection and that worries me for it’s future!
See more Fragment covers at the Tape Label feature.