Tag Archives: rough trade

THE SMITHS: I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish (12″, Rough Trade RTT 198, 1987)

The Smiths – I Started Something I Couldn't Finish

The Smiths are, for me, an odd band. I’ve got a few of their records, but I’d never really describe myself as a fan. Whenever I hear any of the vast majority of their songs, I’m reminded that I like them, and ‘This Charming Man’ and ‘How Soon Is Now’, in particular, I really like. Yet still, I’d never really describe myself as a fan. I’m not sure why this is, but I’ve an inkling that the root of the problem is… Morrissey.

His singing voice often threatens to slip into self-parody, and the way he carries himself has always been kind of a bother. His questionable use of the Union Jack, and more so, his vocal support of Brexit, set him out as somebody who clearly has a very different worldview to me – to put it kindly. Obsessive Smiths fans are a weird phenomenon, too, although I used to enjoy seeing Morrissey-haircutted groups of scrawny lads hanging about in town.

‘Sleeve by Morrissey’, it says on the back of this 12″, and I guess that for all his faults, at least Moz had a certain sense of style or what would now be referred to as ‘branding’. The Smiths’ record sleeves were unfailingly good things – very simple, very effective, very consistent in their approach, and a pleasing connection between sound and image.

On this cover is Avril Angers, in a still from The Family Way from 1966, which I haven’t seen but have just read about. It starred John Mills, grandfather of Kula Shaker’s Crispian Mills, so there’s a six-degrees-type connection between The Smiths and Kula Shaker, if you want one. Despite it being a ‘sleeve by Morrissey’, there are also credits for Caryn Gough (layout) and Jo Slee (art co-ordination), which perhaps brings to mind an Apprentice-style scene with Morrissey sitting next to trained experts, telling them how to do their job. What fun.

According to Wikipedia, Morrissey fronted Slaughter & The Dogs in the late 1970s, which I didn’t know – and which I’m not quite sure is true? He was also a huge New York Dolls fan, which makes me warm to him. A little.

THE GO-BETWEENS: Before Hollywood (LP, Rough Trade ROUGH 54, 1982)

The Go-Betweens - Before Hollywood

Item number one, inspired by the selection of this record

2345. As I fired up the random number generator to select a record for this post, I noticed that the number of records in the list of possibilities now stands at 2,345. That number must surely have some kind of numerological, Kabbalistic meaning? I bet it represents travel, or progression, or something along those lines. Regardless, it’s a very satisying number to type: 2345. Get to a keyboard and try it.

Item number two, inspired by the label that released this record

I’m constantly, overwhelmingly impressed and in awe of the selection of bands that Rough Trade Records have released. Look at this quickly-compiled list of a few of them:

  • Cabaret Voltaire
  • Subway Sect
  • The Raincoats
  • The Pop Group
  • Robert Wyatt
  • The Slits
  • The Fall
  • Wire
  • The Pastels
  • The Smiths
  • Galaxie 500

…and that’s just a handful Any label would (or should) have been proud to release one record by one of those artists. But here’s a label that released many by them all, alongside many more. I don’t know why this is impressive – it’s just pressing records, it’s just shifting product, ultimately – but it is impressive. It speaks of a long-term sense of quality and class that should be an inspiration to all record labels.

Item number three, inspired by the players on this record

Lindy Morrison (drums, backing vocals) once stood as the candidate for the Australian Democrats party in New South Wales.
Grant McLennan (bass, guitars, vocals) very sadly passed away in 2006. More than 1,000 people attended his funeral.
Robert Forster (guitar, vocals) has appeared in a large number of Hollywood movies, including Mulholland Dr., Jackie Brown and the remake of Psycho.

Item number four, inspired by the cover of this record

Band photographs are a funny thing, aren’t they? It’s always difficult to find a photograph that sums up both a band’s collective personality along with that of its individuals; let alone their music. This record’s cover photograph, by Tom Sheehan (who has also shot a massive number of other artists – look him up), does a pretty good job. It’s informal yet strangely confrontational and distracted. The band members look deep in their own thoughts, but are drawn together by the colours of the composition. There is what looks like a blurred clock at the front of the image; what does it mean?

SWELL MAPS: A Trip To Marineville (LP, Rough Trade/Rather ROUGH 2, 1979)

Swell Maps - A Trip To Marineville

This album is an insight into a strange set of minds. I bought it in around ’92 or so after hearing Swell Maps’ name dropped in the context of a variety of indie-pop and fanzine mentions of – very vaguely and very possibly wrongly – music that prefigured the Pastels and was ‘shambolic’ before the whole post-C86 world of shambolicism became a going concern. Just looking at the sleeve and artwork raises some immediate questions:

  • What/where is Marineville?
  • What’s the significance of the burning home on the front cover?
  • What are these songs all about – ‘Vertical Slum’, ‘Midget Submarines’, ‘Harmony In Your Bathroom’, etc… are they literal or some kind of bizarre set of metaphors?

I can’t answer any of these, but I like the fact that before even playing, this album has successfully generated a strange world of intrigue that seems both ramshackle (in the cut-and-paste styling of the inner sleeve collage, or the wide variety of recording sessions noted under each song’s liner notes) and oddly ‘complete’ (in the confidence to include a free 7″ containing four more songs, when the album itself already contains around seventeen). The band members have their performance names – Epic Soundtracks, Golden Cockrill, Phones B. Sportsman and so on – and the whole package suggests as much time sitting around devising plans and schemes as was spent creating the music. And that, of course, is how it should be – non-careerist music created by weirdo artists with a hidden, defined set of personal guidelines for doing so.

I wasn’t old enough to be interested at the time, but I wonder if other records were released in the late-1970s rush of invention that followed punk and led to so-called post-punk which share such a sense of invention, adventure and playfulness as this one? In a very small but somewhat significant way, I believe that this record and others like it paved the way for the entirety of the ‘indie’ scene that grew up in the ’80s and which is now, essentially, the mainstream. Naturally, this album’s on Rough Trade, who had a finger in pretty much every musical pie of note from the late ’70s through the mid ’80s. Respect.