Part 9 - final and concluding part
With the pressing financial concerns mentioned previously and the added fact that there was something of a dearth of quality songs around locally, we at Attrix knew there couldnt possibly be a fourth Vaultage album. Looking at our back-catalogue, there was a glaring gap in the chronology, nothing had been issued as RB02 - these nerdy, archiving details are important to earnest young men of 21!
But my brother Shaun had a fabulous idea which would kill two birds with one stone: why not release a cassette instead (which would be hugely cheaper) and showcase, on one side, some ancient (but until then unissued) material, and on the reverse a contemporary selection.
This became Shaun's pet project and he went at it with great gusto. The Piranhas let us use two superb songs, full of their (now sadly lacking) seedy wit: Feel Queer When You Aint Here and Things Could Be Worse. There was a golden oldie from Nicky And The Dots, Toronto, the Lillettes contributed the wonderful Air Conditioning (complete with Pythonesque chatter in the middle!), and the original group which really began it all, Attrix, weighed in with the frankly awesome Electric Shock Treatment (a Rick Blair classic).
Over on side two the then-new groups had their own showcase: Emma Sharpe And The Features (Brighton's Altered Images), The Red Squares, Nouveau-A-Go-Go (very Bill Nelson) and Three D (Barb & Phil from the Lillettes), with their fuzz-guitar and female-chant fest, Emotions. Shaun got together with Terry Newbery and a new face on the local scene, one Kevin Stagg, who mastered and then made hundreds of copies for us at his own KLS studio here in Brighton.
The tape ended with its own silly but perfectly formed jingle, recorded by Terry, Kevin and Shaun as a last minute prank, Go Buy Attrix Records. Released in March 1981, the cassette was a great success and copies of it are now difficult to track down. The previous month, Birds With Ears got the green light to go forth to a 16-track studio in London and record the album we had been promised. The band (plus myself) decamped to Terry Newbery's house in Barnes and then to Alvic Studios in West Kensington. And a memorable week it proved to be.
Every evening following the days toil we would reconvene at a pub near the studio where much booze was consumed and general merriment ensued, sing-songs around a battered old piano. Most of the group slept on Terry's front-room floor (shades of the previous summers Chefs meeting with Pete Waterman) and the week-long stint went smoothly enough. The band played fabulously well, laying their bizarre funk-pop-jazz-comedy songs down with some precision.
Terry, at the helm, cut quite the authoritative figure in front of the console as he relayed instructions to the rather pensive Mike Gregovitch, Alvic's house engineer. When dealing with such Ealing-comedy-meets-Dr. Seuss material, there was little need of many special effects or undue over-production. Ian Smith sang with power and feeling, the rhythm-section was solid as the proverbial rock, synthesiser and organ overdubs added atmosphere, and Rob Hayes played scratchy, funky guitar.
Rick and Julie were pleased with the finished mix and while the album sleeve was being put together the band went out on the road to start the process of promoting it. Birds With Ears gigged extensively throughout 1981, including many high-profile London appearances, culminating in a fantastic three-night mini-residency at the ICA that summer. There were glowing live reviews in the music press and their fan-base mushroomed. There were so many gigs that a lot are lost in a haze of imperfect memory; Birds With Ears were absolutely everywhere at that time.
Meanwhile, as touched upon earlier in these scribblings, the Attrix record shop was now going steadily downhill. I myself, after January of 1981, was rarely there other than to sleep in my tiny flat above the shop. The money situation worsened and debts started to steamroller. The sessions for the Birds With Ears album had been expensive, and the rent on the shop piled up.
One day, Julie arrived at the shop looking pale and with a haunted expression. She explained that Rick had been behaving rather strangely and had actually gone missing for some time. She had discovered him hiding in the coal-shed at the end of their garden, catatonic. He had suffered a nervous breakdown from all the many pressures and responsibilities. Of course, some of this had not gone unnoticed by the rest of us. He had been getting cantankerous lately and snapped at us frequently. A black cloud of depression seemed to have settled over him and now it had burst its banks, spectacularly.
In the days that followed, Rick stayed at home to rest while Julie took over in the shop. This was a brief shot of optimism for us all, Julie was (and still is) a warm, funny, lovely person to be with, and the atmosphere suitably lightened. However, those storm clouds refused to budge. John Peel, having championed everything that Attrix had put out up to this point, played just a single track from the Birds With Ears album Youthinasia (awful pun! Ricks idea, Im afraid).
Peel was clearly underwhelmed by the record and that was that. No airplay nationally meant we had to rely on gigs alone. The group played their hearts out far and wide but with no big-budget to prop them up they couldn't do it on the scale required to kick-start the album sales on a country-wide, let alone European basis. We were all starting to get seriously worried. Ricks state of mind was in danger, we owed money to a variety of people and businesses, our once legendary, busy little shop had become almost always empty and the Birds With Ears album sold only in trickles.
My personal life interrupted things at this stage too. I fell very deeply for a girl I met at a gig at the Richmond in May of that year. You know what the heart can do to us at such times! I felt drained by being constantly on the road or in the studio and now my attentions were firmly fixed elsewhere. I had continued to help my brother Shaun out with his group, Joe Dash, by sitting in on drums until a suitable replacement could be found.
We recorded four songs at the demo studio of MCA publishing in Piccadilly that August of 1981. I had wangled this as a favour from Suzy Horne, formerly the Piranhas' Fan Club secretary and now working for the motor-mouthed Pete Waterman in London. My radio show was ticking along very nicely thank you, there was much to distract me from the depressing demise of the Attrix mini-empire. I was going to the shop less and less.
Also, that August I left the flat above the shop and took a room in Tony Byford's new flat in Hove. It had happened gradually, but now it seemed I was rarely in the vicinity of the shop, let alone working there...I recall occasionally dropping by around this time (late Autumn 1981) and being shocked by the cataclysmic alteration in its fortunes: virtually no customers, very few records on the shelves, dirty floor. And the young chaps who were now nominally in charge were lounging around, feet up on the counter.
These were Attrix fans who had just left school and wanted to be associated with this formerly hip organisation. The sad truth is that these pimply youths were all that Rick and Julie could get to run the place. It had gone from being the most revered, groovy set-up on the South Coast to an embarrassment. I arranged a meeting with Birds With Ears and told them I could no longer manage them, I wanted out.
They were friendliness itself and gave me encouragement for whatever I did in the future. I cant remember which way round it happened, but at the end of the year everything caved in financially and the shop was closed, sold off. It became David's Book Store, which indeed it still is.
In a last-ditch attempt to stave off total disaster, a determined Rick Blair got together with Terry Newbery (who briefly managed the band after my departure) and a Birds With Ears single was recorded, again at Alvic in London, I think. The two songs (both superb, in my opinion) were Fit To Burst and Falling Apart At The Seams, which were frankly prophetic and ironic titles in the circumstances. Significantly, this forty-five was never issued: the money had completely run out.
The Vault had gone, so no bands could practice cheaply. The Resource Centre was destroyed, and easily-affordable printing facilities went with it. The Alhambra, that haven for hundreds of groups new and old, was on its last legs, and would be demolished only two years later. And now Attrix records, the home of all that had been great and worthwhile, had vanished forever.
In the aftermath of this sadness, we all went on to do different things, of course. Rick continued playing, writing and recording excellent music up until his appalling, tragic death in 1999. He is much-missed, as is Russell Greenwood, the amazing drummer with the Chefs and a really lovely bloke, who also suffered a cruel, early death.
Julie went on to raise a Waltons-worth of children, all of them gifted creatively. In the early eighties I lost contact with Terry Newbery, hey Terry, you old rascal! How are you?
Shaun's band changed its name from Joe Dash to Venus In Furs and released five albums of astounding material between 1984 and 1990, (mostly self-composed and performed) with reviews in the music-press that one can only dream of. He still writes and records, sporadically.
I myself looked after Shaun's group for a while and did their lighting and onstage sound for them. Then I did quite a lot of acting, before becoming a radio presenter and then voice-over artist. But I will say this: virtually everything I know came from those crucial, astonishing formative years with Rick and Julie at Attrix records. Great days!
Go back to the beginning
Now read Stu's Reviews
|Shaun and Stuart Jones outside the shop in Sydney Street|
|Original poster when the shop and record label was on the up and up|
|Above: Ian Smith, Birds With Ears flamboyant frontman|