22 Aug Flicknife Records Label Feature: Retrospective on a Legendary UK Label
In purely musical terms, the years 1970 to 1979 had seen the flowering and then the decay of rock music’s greats, with the seemingly unassailable hegemony of the major labels challenged by a host of new start-ups, supported by an underground press of printed fanzines whose look was inspired by the aesthetic of the Situationists. Above all, the ‘70s were a decade of rich variety, creativity and change, with extemporizations around the theme of rock music in a variety of forms that included the psychedelic, progressive, glam, soft, space, folk, blues, and hard subgenres of rock. All of these were derivations from music rooted in the 1960s, that morphed and changed brilliantly as the decade of Vietnam and oil crises got underway, before much of it collapsed under its own bloated self-importance. This was pop culture contracting, concertinaing and consuming itself to great and revolutionary effect.
In the October of that year, around the time Margaret Thatcher was delivering her famous “The lady’s not for turning” speech, the Staggers Rail Act deregulated the American railroad system, and the Police released their third album Zenyatta Mondatta, Frenchy Gloder and Gina “Wild Thing” Nares started Flicknife Records. The plan was, according to Gloder, to make a label that would “do something no other label was doing. Most indie labels in 1980 were doing punk or high-energy rock/pop music, so we decided to go into psychedelic-orientated rock”.
Over thirty years Flicknife Records have offered fans of established underground music figures the chance to hear unusual material that would not fit with the more controlling influences of most other labels. This would see the release of personal and pet projects, new or previously unreleased versions of well known tracks, live recordings, outtakes and never before heard studio demo sessions and completely new material. In Gloder’s words: “If it’s good and we like it, let’s do it!”
This formula has worked as Flicknife Records are a rare, long-term survivor. They have neither sold out to a major, nor imploded beneath the ineluctable pressures of a business that has changed beyond all recognition since those heady days just before the first portable Sony Walkman audio cassette players and Motorola cellular phones.
Listening Station: The Early Years
The Mystere Fives
The first Flicknife release, in 1980, was by The Mystere Fives and was entitled No Message. Reaching number 3 in the UK indie charts, this band were in fact The Electric Chairs part of Wayne County and The Electric Chairs. These were first wave punk pioneers, whose genesis occurred in New York and London; a band who were supported by none other than the Police on a tour of Holland in 1977 and included ex-Police founding member Henry Padovani; a band whose transgender singer later changed his/her name to Jayne.
With its undeniably Police-influenced pop reggae sound, “No Message” was a major departure from the contentious punk, pub rock, blues stylings of Wayne County and The Electric Chairs, whose songs included “Fuck Off” and “(You Make Me) Cream In My Jeans”, but it was catchy and did well in the indie charts.
The Mystere Fives – “No Message”; played by BBC Radio’s John Peel.
The label’s first album came in the form of Stolen Property, from Charlie Harper of U.K. Subs. Harper’s album, made up of cover versions of his favourite songs, mostly from the psychedelic and glam rock eras, was a kind of Bowie’s Pin Ups for a punk age supremo and featured punchy, loose versions of The Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for the Man” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe”. In a way, this album partially signaled some of the the intent and future direction of Flicknife and what would set them apart from most other indie labels.
Charlie Harper – “I’m Waiting for the Man” (The Velvet Underground Cover)
The Velvet Underground – “I’m Waiting for the Man” (Original)
The Days of the Underground: Hawkwind & Flicknife Records
Quite by chance, the music that has to come to define Flicknife to many – that of the hugely influential psychedelic/space rock band Hawkwind – came to the label due to a coincidental meeting with the science fiction writer Michael Moorcock at the famous London venue of yore, The Marquee Club. Moorcock, who had a longstanding connection with Hawkwind since the early 1970s, was invited to join the label. Not long after, Hawkwind signed a deal to release material through Flicknife, which would run concurrently to their contracts with Bronze Records and then RCA Records before they signed to Flicknife in full.
Hawkwind, who have been describe as “probably the most influential British group ever” by many journalists over the years, had already been credited with inspiring many of punk’s greats, including The Sex Pistols and The Clash, by the time they signed their initial deal with Flicknife. This influence over successive generations of musicians, beginning when the band formed way back in 1969, is well-documented. They have been name-checked by a dizzyingly diverse list of musicians, from a huge variety of genres, over many, many years. In addition to punk bands, they influenced grunge artists; in 2002, Seattle’s Mudhoney covered Hawkwind’s controversial song “Urban Guerilla” – a song that, when released in 1973, was banned by the BBC due to an IRA bombing campaign in London. Their influence continued into the trance generation, with such bands as The Orb noting Hawkwind’s impact both musically, through their use of experimental electronics, and in terms of philosophy, through such things as the tribal ethos and the use of psychoactive and hallucinogenic substances.
The material released on Flicknife by these psychedelic warlords spans recordings from over forty years, right up to the present day, including a successful #### re-release of “Hurry On Sundown”, which was recorded by the band in 1969. This catalogue also includes the excellent 1975 recording of the song “Motorhead”1 — a version that, with its lolloping beat reminiscent of a running Great Dane and Dave Brock’s scratchy guitar break and echoey distorted vocals, is almost the antithesis of Motorhead’s later version.
Numerous live recordings and new albums from Hawkwind and associated projects, including material from Robert Calvert and Nik Turner, have also been made available.
1 Lemmy was bassist in Hawkwind between 1971 and 1975.
The Barracudas were an English-Canadian band who, complete with a fake 1960s biography, played ebullient garage/surf/psychedelic music. Their breakthrough track came in the summer of 1980 with the hit single “Summer Fun”, released on Zonophone Records. Their track “Inside Mind” was released in February 1982 on Flicknife.
Nico, the German songstress and former vocalist for The Velvet Underground, furthered the psychedelic-infused kudos of Flicknife when she released her single “Saeta/Vegas” in 1982. “Saeta” is a beautiful song. Carried along by an electronic arpeggio, a shuffling beat and Nico’s deep and haunting vocals, the track’s sparse and sombre mood is reminiscent of Joy Division. The flip side, “Vegas”, is a more straightforward ‘80s offering, with its Thomas Dolbyesque “She Blinded Me With Science”-style quirky guitar and synth parts, though Nico’s vocals are as haunting and powerful as ever.
Alien Sex Fiend
Alien Sex Fiend were a seminal and highly influential goth band formed in the famous Bat Cave club in London. Their image and nightmare soundscapes of drones, samples and heavy guitar work were a big influence on Marilyn Manson – to name but one.
Alien Sex Fiend “I Walk The Line”.
New Age Travellers and the Genesis of a Police State
As the years progressed, new artists released on the label as the Flicknife sound came to contain both punk and psychedelic ingredients, with a peppering of a variety of other influences that made the sound both contemporary and cutting edge. The music was diverse but coherent.
What Gloder seemed to have made was a label that demanded artistic authenticity and honesty from the music it released, whilst reflecting the traditions and energies that much of the mainstream music business was in the process of neglecting and destroying.
From this, Flicknife was able to conjure a sense of the Zeitgeist and the prevailing mood in Britain’s burgeoning anti-Thatcher counterculture – something that was most visibly manifest when, in 1987, the label released the compilation album The Travellers’ Aid Trust.
It is not possible to mention this album without detailing the circumstances that led to its release. The idea grew out of a desire to help a group in society, known as New Age Travellers, who, whilst in pursuit of their ideal lifestyles, had fallen foul of the authorities and been subject to brutal and oppressive police tactics. This was all at the behest of a United Kingdom government, led by Margaret Thatcher, who, it could be argued, was intent on furthering and cementing its own agenda by victimizing sections of the population whose beliefs and ideology ran contrary to its own. This was further accentuated by a police force that previously had been mobilized and deployed in a quasi-military manner to attack pickets during the miners’ strike, so their attacks on the Travellers may have been, in some ways, part of a national strategy.
The main source of conflict revolved around the Stonehenge Free Festival, a music event that ran from 1972 until 1984. This was a celebration of the Summer Solstice and a meeting point for various counter cultures. Many of music’s greats played the festival for free over the years, including Hawkwind, Gong, Jimmy Page, Roy Harper, Crass and Flux of Pink Indians. In some respects the festival had gotten too big by 1984, considering it took place next to the World Heritage Site and attracted 65,000 people. Despite this, and the open selling and use of drugs, the relationship between the police and the festival goers was peaceful and relaxed up to and including the last festival in 1984. Over the years, however, the authorities had attempted, without success, to contest the legality of the festival in the courts, but it wasn’t until 1985, when these attempts were resumed, that a ban was successfully implemented. Unfortunately, this ban was achieved so late that many festival goers did not know about it. A large number of those who arrived in 1985 in ignorance – or defiance of the ban – were members of the New Age Travelling Community.
The New Age Travelling Community grew up mainly in the early 1980s but had its origins in the Free Festival movement of the 1970s. Adherents to the lifestyle lived in converted cars, buses and trucks, wintering in lay-bys and woodland clearings and traveling about to festivals around the UK. Keith Hetherington’s book, “Vanloads of Uproarious Humanity”, outlines the most significant elements that compromised the Traveller lifestyle: Nomadism and Festivals, a sense of life unconstrained and free from routine, and, in many cases, a large slice of hedonism. It was this rejection of the mores of conventional society, coupled with a perceived threat to the safety of the World Heritage site that is Stonehenge, that drove the government of the day to its action against the New Age Travelling Community. These actions culminated in what has come to be known as the Battle of the Beanfield.
On Saturday the 1st of June, 1985, Wiltshire Police, acting to enforce a four-mile exclusion zone around Stonehenge that had been recently granted by the courts, prevented a convoy of several hundred New Age Travellers from setting up at the 11th Stonehenge Free Festival. After a stand-off that lasted several hours, members of the police force attacked the ramshackle collection of vehicles that were the New Age Travellers’ homes, entering the field by force and methodically smashing windows and beating the occupants about the head with truncheons. Sledgehammers were also used to break and damage the vehicles in actions that went way beyond any accepted levels of police action. Anyone in the vicinity was brutalized and arrested, their personal possessions and homes left damaged and destroyed. Those who were attacked included women and children. A court judgement, six years later, found the police guilty of wrongful arrest, assault and criminal damage, despite a serious lack of photographic evidence, as many of the television pictures and press images had gone missing.2
Ozric Tentacles “Even the Air Is Dreaming”
This was the context in which Flicknife released the The Travellers’ Aid Trust compilation album. Featuring the Ozric Tentacles, Hawkwind, Tubilah Dogs, Screech Rock, Nik Turner, Culture Shock, Israel Movement, Radio Mongolia, 2000 Ds, The Sugarcubes (the band Bjork started out in), Rhythmites and Agents of Chaos, the album was made and released to support The Travellers Aid Trust (TAT), an organisation formed by a group of Travellers, civil liberty campaigners, and solicitors in 1988. The album came with a 32 page A5 booklet about New Age Travellers, TAT and the Stonehenge Free Festival.
2 In later years, some of this footage was rediscovered and much of it was used in the 1991 film, Operation Solstice.
In 1986 Flicknife Records started the dance label Soho Girl Records (latterly SG Records), primarily as a means of supporting and promoting the band Soho. To this end a deal was signed with Hedd and Virgin. This resulted in a mainstream chart hit with “Hippy Chick”, which brought the label silver and gold singles, as well as a gold album. The track also features a sample from the well-known song from The Smiths, “How Soon Is Now?”
Soho – “Hippy Chick”
Flicknife’s most recent release is by the Manchester four piece Slydigs. This band harnesses the raw power of rock n’ roll, delivered with a swagger, a pout and dirty guitar and brass. They name The Clash, The Rolling Stones, Bertholt Brecht and Hunter S. Thompson as their influences. Undoubtedly, there is something of all these elements in a music that marries skillful songwriting and deft delivery with an edge of grit and delirium that is captivating and powerful. Their debut album, Never To Be Tamed marks them as a band who are worth watching out for.
Slydigs – “Electric Love”
Welcome to the Future
Flicknife still holds fast to attitudes and beliefs that spurred Gloder to start it. In recent years, they have weathered the radical change that has swept through the music industry and laid to waste a host of other labels, both large and small. Rising to this challenge, Flicknife have also found a way to help more bands get their music heard by using the influence and undoubted reputation the label has built up.
Gloder explains by saying, “I think that we have managed to strike a balance between all the various avenues that are available to sell our products; we have a good distributor in PHD that take care of Amazon and the download sites as well as exports and we now also sell from our site www.flickniferecords.co.uk. Because we get LOADS of CDs from bands saying, ‘How do we sell our product?’, we have decided to offer the bands we like the possibility to sell their products on our site. We get around 25,000 visitors a year of which 25% buy at least 1 CD. So why not offer them as much choice as possible and help a few bands in the process?”
A lot has happened over the last thirty years with changes in society and technology taking place that would have seemed unthinkable back in 1980. The Cold War came to an end, the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc collapsed and fragmented. America became the world’s leading superpower – a position that is now being challenged by the newly emerging, economic powerhouse that is China. Nelson Mandela was released and Apartheid came to an end in South Africa. Desk and personal computers found a place in every home and office and grew in strength, only to be superseded in most ways by tablets and smart phones. Mobile communications arrived and shrank in size from that of a house brick to that of a pocket note book. A strange thing called the internet came into being and we changed the way we consumed music – first with mp3s, and then with streaming services like Deezer and Spotify. The politics that led to the hounding of sections of society, such as New Age Travellers and Trade Union members in the UK, went and came back again, with familiar consequences and policies.
Amongst all this flux and change one thing occurred and reoccurred, like a steady and reassuring beat. It was the Hawkwind Friends and Relations compilation albums. These collections, released periodically by Flicknife, feature material from both Hawkwind and former band members and feature that classic Flicknife mix of rare and interesting, new and old. They are a treasure trove of music for anyone interested in this band and their remarkable legacy. Although the road has sometimes been rocky, with disputes periodically erupting between Hawkind’s founding member Dave Brock and Gloder, these releases continue to provide an interesting sight into the workings and evolution of one of Britain’s most important bands. The most recent release in the series is the excellent 30th Anniversary album called Hawklords Friends and Relations.
Gloder and the great label he built are to be admired for many reasons. However, above all, we should celebrate that at their cores are a spirit and ethos, a commitment to good sounds and the people who make and enjoy them.