A brief history of the Pink Label.
by Simon Down
The Pink Label very much started from under the shadow of Creation Records. I had been involved with Alan McGee from the start of Creation. I had got to know Alan through a good friend, Ken Popple who played drums for the third incarnation of The Laughing Apple (earlier members of Alan McGee's band included Andrew Innis of Revolving Paint Dream and more substantially, Primal Scream). I knew Ken and Dick Green (Creation Records label manager) from living in Boston, Lincolnshire. Ken and Dick later played in Alan's band Biff Bang Pow. In 1981 I moved to London and gradually got involved in the indie scene. At some point before starting Creation Alan and myself had discussed starting a label together but nothing came of it. Alan was always brimming with ideas; some good, some mad, some both. One of these ideas was trying to make money putting out Scottish Oi bands on a label called Essential (also a vehicle for the Laughing Apple), I think one of the bands was called Sub Culture and some singles came out, but we didn't go into business.
The Pink Label started because Alan Magee wouldn't release the June Brides records. The first Creation single was The Legend's (subsequently the journalist Everett True?) 73 in 83 and I played bass guitar very badly on the B side (Alan McGee, Patrick Fitzgerald and various others also played on this single). I subsequently helped out by folding and spray painting (!) Biff Bang Pow record sleeves, and DJing and minding the door at the various sites of the Communication, Orgasm and Living Room clubs. I was also running my own pub club at the Pinder of Wakefield in Kings Cross. I was also managing the Jasmine Minks from late 1983 onwards. I eventually must have given this up as my own label took off. Interest in them had died down by this time. Alan liked the June Brides and had put them on at the Living Room on numerous occasions (there is a live version of I Fall on the Alive in the Living Room - CRE LP 001), but for some reason he didn't want to release their records. I knew the band and Phil Wilson reasonably well and had at some point failed an audition to become their bass player. I was keen to get my own label going so I suggested to Phil that I would put their records out. With Alan's help and advice I got a production and distribution deal with Rough Trade, I put the Brides into the studio. I seem to remember a figure of £500 being the start up capital, mostly used in the studio.
The first June Brides single (In the Rain - PI 001) was recorded in February/March 1984 and released in May. I seem to remember that Joe Foster of the Television Personalities and general Creationite produced this and I also remember that he moaned about the lack of payment: I think we all thought we were big pop stars in those days, with similar egos. The Ringing's first and last (PINKY 3) and the June Bride's (PINKY 2) second followed in late summer. This was an exciting summer for many reasons. The various clubs that Alan, myself, and others were putting on were the venues for some great gigs. The Jesus and Mary Chain were causing a storm and were going to put out a record with Creation. I had received a demo tape from them but Alan made sure that he kept them well protected. I remember that the demo tape went missing mysteriously from my collection later - I think that Alan thought I might put out a JAMC bootleg! I remember some journalist stealing a line from me about Jesus (like the Ramones meeting the devil) for his review of one of their first gigs in London at the Three Johns pub in the Angel. Television personalities, The Nightingales, The Pastles, The Mekons, Alternative TV, The Three Johns, Microdisney, Go-betweens, The Jazz Butcher, The Loft and many others were all playing various pubs and the Old Ambulance Station (Old Kent Road I think) where there took place the almost legendary Jesus gig. It seemed that every other John Peel or Janice Long session involved some band that Creation or the Pink Label was involved with.
I had by this time got a business partner ('Funky' Ed Down, my brother, also had a financial stake in the company). The workload was growing and I had run out of money to do the recording. Paul Sutton was a friend from further education college in Lincolnshire. Paul subsequently went on to form September Records after the Pink Label folded. Our relationship, like many others in the music industry, sank on the rock of mammon: The Label had some debt at the bank and my brother and myself paid this - we never saw a penny from Paul. Ah, impetuous youth...
Anyway back to the story. Through friends of Dick Green, John O'Neil, ex of the Undertones and others, also came onto the scene and started to form a band that became That Petrol Emotion. Creation Records should have put their record out. Unfortunately Alan had run out of money in Spring 1985 and the band were very keen to get their first single released. John O'Neil asked us if the Pink Label would put the 7 inch single Keen (PINKY 4) out and we couldn't say no really. I was living with Dick Green at the time and this did not go down well with him or Alan McGee. That Petrol Emotion hadn't even got a singer at the time, but Steve Mack was found just in time to slot the recording of Keen in the same sessions as the recording of the June Brides LP There are eight million stories... (PINKY 5). If there is anybody out there that has the LP and wondered why the Enemies or NMEs (I was never sure how it was spelt) track was not listed, the only reason was that we didn't want to pay for the licensing costs, as it was a cover. I can't remember who the track was originally done by. We also did a video for the Keen single with a company called Film at Work. In the Rain had got single of the week in one of the music magazines and the band had been giging a lot. Their album sold really well. As we pressed more copies up we changed the main colour of the record sleeve, which had this awful drawing by some friend or girlfriend of the band, from red, blue and then purple. The LP sold well largely because of the NME front page Paul and I helped secure, through our journalist contacts: The whole visibility of bands outside London at that time depended on the scribblings of the journalists. Consequently our job as band/label managers was really all about organising the press. I think at one point the album topped the indie charts for a week or so, I seem to remember that it was the Smiths of New order that pushed them off. Later we put out the two June Brides singles in a 12 inch (PINKY 9)
We were looking to expand the label and we became aware of The Wolfhounds and then later in 1985 McCarthy, both from Essex. We also started organising the licensing of Wire material from EMI. At the time Wire's music was not available and we saw it as a good way to make some money to finance our own releases. The mini LP Wire Play Pop (PINKY 7) sold well and helped finance the next year of releases. We had ideas to set up a re-issue label but time and lack of money caught up with us. I think Joe Foster and Alan McGee eventually did this. 1985 to mid 1986 was the best period of the label without a doubt. Looking through the diaries I have of the time it seems that the bands were playing a lot of gigs. The press cuttings and diaries I have of the time suggest that we were all pretty busy.
As well as the guitar pop/punk sounds of the June Brides and the rest there were various other scenes going on at the time. The brilliant Milkshakes headed a strong collection of rockabilly bands (the X-men - who had singles out on Creation, The Stingrays and the Prisoners were others). And The Men They Couldn't Hang and Pogue Mahon were doing well with their punk/traditional fusion. Jamie Wednesday were associated with this scene and Paul and I were keen to avoid a Label 'sound'. We both thought that Jamie had a great pop sound and that the songs had the potential for a mainstream crossover. We thought Vote for Love (PINKY 6 and 6T for the twelve inch), and later We Three Kings (PINKY 10 and 10T) had that potential. Unfortunately we were the only ones who thought so, and they didn't sell well at all. The band reformed later as Carter USM and did rather well. Paul and I were not particularly purist in indie terms. We were having discussions with various majors for a licensing deal but unfortunately didn't manage to get the deal. In retrospect its easy to see why, we were full of enthusiasm, but very naive and belligerent in our attitudes to the industry. I suppose we took our model from Alan McGee and his 'terrorist' approach. However, I suspect that Alan's anarchistic rhetoric belied a strewed business brain and rather mundane and business-like coalition/network building. Finally however, our bands simply weren't that good. Phil Wilson had flashes of brilliance but was too wrapped up in the do it yourself mentality of punk to really sustain success in the mainstream, and his voice was also somewhat suspect (bless him!). Listening to Stories again recently for the first time in years, I really liked it, but it is rough!
The June Brides felt that they could get more money by swapping labels and went to the more established In-Tape label. That Petrol Emotion put there own second single out, I can't really remember why particularly, they probably thought they could get more money on there own, and there was also some embarrassment about pissing Dick Green off so much. None of the bands were under contract initially, although after the June Brides leaving I think we got slightly more litigious. The bands generally felt that they should be getting loads of money from record sales. I don't think they understood how little money two or three thousand records generated, or how long it took for royalties to be processed. The entries in the diaries show that we paid up and on time, and we always paid what our accountant said we owed. Nevertheless, TPE were prepared to record an extra track for the 12 inch of Keen (PINKY 13), which Rough Trade were keen (!) to release. This was Zig Zag Wanderer the Beefheart number, which I thought was a great rendition.
The later half of 1986 therefore, was the time when the lost of talent and failure to capitalise on our initial investment started to take effect. According to my diaries of the time, even at the beginning of 1986 I had had enough of the music industry. Unfortunately the next crop of bands didn't make as large an impact. The Wolfhounds and McCarthy did well enough with their first singles (Cut the Cake PINKY 8, a 12 inch only, and Red Sleeping Beauty PINKY 12 and 12T) and their subsequent singles even did even better (The Anti Midas Touch PINKY 14 and 14T, and Frans Hals, PINKY 17 and 17T). In fact musically their first two singles were very good, and were probably the best that Pink released. One of my favourite tracks is still the Wolfhounds LA Juice from Cut the Cake. I'd love to hear some good band do a big production version of this. I don't think McCarthy bettered their first two singles either. Thereafter their work always sounded a bit like a wimpy Smiths to me. I always liked the epic Wire-like thrash of the early singles. Even the strength of sales for the Pink sampler album Beauty (PINKY 15 - great LP cover), the Wolfhounds Anti-Midas Touch and McCarthy's Frans Hals couldn't patch over the losses sustained by the failure of Jamie Wednesday singles and Rumblefish's first single (PINKY 16 and 16T). The business was destined to fail and this knowledge very much put the dampers on my musical aspirations. The final straw was the failure of the Wolfhounds album (Unseen Ripples from a Pebble PINKY 19) and the single from the album, Cruelty (PINKY 18 and 18T). Unfortunately this album was also a little wishy washy and the raw power of the earlier Wolfhounds had been lost. If the Wolfhounds album had of been a runaway success I think we may have struggled on: we were keen to sign a very promising band called Yargo. But ultimately the lack of success that Paul Sutton had with the Wolfhound and McCarthy on the September Label suggests that it was a good time to get out.
Personally I was very disillusioned with the music industry. In my youth I felt that it was not going to be like 'business'. Actually and paradoxically it is more ruthless and cut throat than many other corporate environments. I was really interested in the music for a while and played with the idea of being a businessman. I half-heartedly 'managed' Rumblefish for a while (I still think Tug Boat Line is a classic song, although the production is a bit ropy on the single, PINKY 16 and 16T). But wasn't really doing much managing. I also went for a few jobs in the industry to try and get me out of working for London Underground, who I had been working for throughout the period (I had a mortgage to pay for and the label didn't generate enough for a salary). But thankfully the various music companies didn't employ me and I decided to go to University full time. I didn't listen to music for about a year, but hearing Nirvana and the Pixies stopped all that. I now work as a Lecturer in Australia and enjoy listening to music of many kinds. I look back in amazement at what we all did in those days.
In addition to the Discography Peter has compiled there are various other records and videos that people might be interested in knowing about:
Videos were made for the following:
That Petrol Emotion's Keen
The June Bride's In the Rain
The Wolfhounds Cruelty
Various Artists - Shelter Video Compilation (VID)
The June Brides - In the Rain
Should anybody want a copy of these, send $20 (US) and an address and I will endeavor to get a copy made.
Pink material also appeared on various compilations:
Imminent 1(Bite 1) - June Brides Comfort
Imminent 4 (Bite 4) - McCarthy God the Father
Both on the Food Label
A Different Kind of Tension (PRLP1) - The Wolfhounds Cut the Cake and The June Brides Every Conversation
On Pressure of the Real World label
NME/Rough Trade (1986) C86 Compilation LP
Wolfhounds - Feeling So Strange Again
McCarthy Celestial City
Seeds 1: Pop (BRED 74) - The June Brides Every Conversation
The Beauty compilation LP (Pinky 15) was Licensed in Spain with a very slightly different sleeve design by Otro Mundo Verde Producciones (Green 1).
There was also an album, A La Guillotine, released in France by Tuesday Records (TUE 871) which was a compilation of McCarthy's Pink output. If the label had continued it is likely that this would have been PINKY 20 followed or preceded by McCarthy's first proper album, which appeared on Paul's label September. I can't really remember the circumstance of this release, Paul Sutton was dealing with McCarthy by then. In addition to the Pink singles Red Sleeping Beauty and Frans Hals McCarthy's first self produced single (MAC 001) made up the rest of the LP with In Purgatory, Something Wrong Somewhere. The track The Comrade Era, on this MAC 001 single sounds as though it is the same one as the track on Red Sleeping Beauty, but I can't be sure if it wasn't re-recorded for Pink. God the Father only otherwise released on the Immanent LP above appears, but unfortunately for the sake of completeness Celestial City does not.
I also have tapes of various versions of recordings that were not released. For example I think there is a 'dub' version of McCarthy's God the Father, which was just a bit of a laugh really. Most of the master tapes are with the bands (I decided that there was not any point being overly precious about the ownership issue, it was their music after all, although I do have some master tapes and the 24 track 2 inch masters should anyone want to do some new versions!).
Anyone who wishes to find out what records I have or wants more information should e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.