Independent’s Day: A Very British Institution

Being a small nation has its advantages sometimes.

Few, admittedly, but not having to travel 15 miles just for a pint of milk is one of them and…….oh yeah, creating a national independent record distribution network founded on ideals, hard work, altruism and a shoestring budget alone, and run in a democratic and fun way, unlike anything before or since…well there’s that too.

Don’t know what I’m talking about do you?

Ok, listen up because any of you out there who listen to almost any ‘indie’ type music issued in the UK between 1980 and 1990 owe a bit of a debt to some unsung heroes.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you The Cartel.

In late 1976 and early 1977 British punk rock blasted its way into the national consciousness by way of gigs and sessions on the John Peel show. Tangible vinyl evidence however was harder to come by. The first releases by anyone even closely related to the movement were by Eddie & The Hot Rods, a fast R&B band on Island Records and The Damned’s first offerings on Stiff.

Island although putatively independent, were no more than another part of the EMI empire.

Stiff meanwhile could be described as independent but they played no role in what I’m going to relate and, incidentally, any label that releases such a hideous piece of garbage as The Tyler Gang’s Styrofoam deserves to be kept at arm’s length!! (Ok, ok, they had Costello and Nick Lowe to their credit…enough already!)
Neither of the above can be said to encapsulate what was to become the British indie scene.

It wasn’t until the fag end of the 70’s that bands began to produce their own singles independently of the majors. These were recorded quickly and cheaply, pressed on second hand vinyl and usually sported sleeves drawn by the lead singer’s 10 year old brother.

It’s was a wondrous feeling to take delivery of 1000 copies of your very own recording, vanity publishing if you like. For most bands outside the capital, your problems truly started when you realized you had to sell the wretched things. There are only so many record shops in your local neighborhood, and only so many copies you could foist upon them. So with 25 copies ‘sold’ there were still 975 sitting in the cupboard waiting to be got rid of!

Part II coming soon…

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