I watched an interesting documentary about Rough Trade records on BBC 4 last night. Rough Trade is most famous for introducing the wonderful music of The Smiths to the world, but their roster also included such diverse acts as The Raincoats, Scritti Politti and Ivor Cutler. The show featured brief performances by these acts and others, as well as archive and new interviews with many of the label’s key players, including label founder Geoff Travis and Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr.
Rough Trade began as an independent record store in London just as punk rock hit the scene in 1976. The record label appeared two years later as an antidote to the major record labels. The documentary showed how the label took a chance on music and acts that weren’t being given a chance elsewhere. Nowadays, “indie” music is a major part of the mainstream, but in the 70s and 80s it was a lot more difficult for bands to find an audience and for fans to find truly alternative music. The label went bankrupt in 1991, returned in 2000 and has unearthed a number of contemporary artists such as The Strokes, The Libertines and even Duffy. I’ve included four tracks from the Rough Trade roster below
Don’t Let the Record Label Take You Out to Lunch is from New York singer-songwriter and comic-book artist Jeffrey Lewis. Unsigned acts could pick up some good advice from its lyric
Take the Skinheads Bowling is by the Californian band Camper Van Beethoven. It was used in Michael Moore’s film Bowling for Columbine and had been a favourite of John Peel
Peel was also a fan of Scottish poet Ivor Cutler, who was 60 years old when he recorded for the label in the 1980s
“The Sweetest Girl” was one of the last singles released by Scritti Politti before they departed for Virgin Records and chart success in 1983. In recent years they have returned and were nominated for the Mercury Music Prize for their White Bread, Black Beer album