Wednesday, 4 March 2015

PO! – First recordings: flexi-discs1988

My ambition for PO! was serious; that's why I paid for a Post Office Box so that we could receive letters and not have people knowing where I lived. I also thought it made us look very professional.

PO! recorded three tracks for a demo tape, funded by Leicester City Council and sold copies of the cassette at gigs. As a result, someone called Charlie offered to make a flexi-disc to go with his fanzine ‘Samantha’ The songs were 'Confidence' and 'Appleseed Alley'. At this time, before the Internet and social media, the only ways to find out about new indie bands were through fanzines and John Peel’s Radio 1 show. The mainstream music press, such as the NME also promoted a small number of ‘next big things’ according to the whims of the writers.

The PO! flexi peeking out from Samantha Fanzine

Fanzine Charlie was a lovely person; he was so dedicated to promoting new bands and single minded in his efforts to make his fanzine successful. In fact, he’s the only person I’ve ever known who bought his own photocopy machine, which stood just outside the kitchen in his small flat on Leicester’s Saxby Street. Charlie explained how easy and cheap it was to get a flexi-disc manufactured, and straightaway, I decided to make one myself and start a record company.

It was not long before John Peel played the Samantha flexi, and read out our contact address and this resulted in a flurry of letters and requests for more information. Some of the first people who wrote to us remained fans and friends for many years. Having investigated the cost of producing vinyl records and flexi-discs, it seemed to be relatively cheap to make a 12” LP and so that became the long term aim. In the meantime, Julian, Jan and I played as many gigs as we could, including Leicester, Nottingham and Derby. We attracted lots of positive attention at gigs and through PO Box 132. At some point in 1988, we had received 7 fan letters so of course, I made a list. Wonder where these guys are now?

At that time, there were government grants available for people setting up their own small businesses – the Enterprise Allowance scheme. You had to prove you had £1000 in the bank and some kind of plan, and then you qualified for a weekly allowance. I didn’t have £1000, but I did know someone who agreed to transfer the money into my new Rutland Records bank account and then have it paid back again a week later. The name Rutland Records came from ‘Rutland Avenue’ in Leicester, where my friends in The Originals lived, but it also refers to England's smallest county, which is next to Leicestershire, measuring about 20 miles across and is a symbol of English eccentricity and doing things small-style. 

Ruth Miller on the border between English counties: Leicestershire and Rutland

The Originals: Rags, Yvonne, Kevin and Gary were a really well-rehearsed zany band who shared rehearsal premises with PO! This was a basement on the corner of Chatham Street and Stamford Street, underneath a clothing factory. Now, there are student flats there, but you can still see the load out bay we used when doing gigs. The Originals rehearsed every night; their sound was like a more rock version of The Smiths or Talking Heads, with childlike talk-singing from Gary. I admired their work ethic and made Julian and Jan rehearse more than they liked to. At about 10.15pm each night, we would all go into the nearby pub ‘The Black Boy’ for a drink.

PO! first release on Rutland Rceo

The first Rutland Records release was a 1988 shared flexi-disc between PO! and The Originals. The PO! song was 'Glass King', recorded at Dave Davis' home studio (credited as Wolfman De Moog III). Dave was the partner of Teri Wyncoll, from the community arts organisation Multiplex. By the time of recording, Julian and Jan had left PO! and so the musicians from The Originals acted as my backing band.

With home computers and dot matrix printers in an early stage, artwork had to be produced by hand. This involved using Letraset rub down lettering. You bought a sheet of the font that you wanted and rubbed over each letter to transfer it onto the paper. The sheets were quite expensive, and after a couple of years, the plastic letters dried up and cracked, but there was something artisan and time-consuming about Letraset that pleased me.

A recently acquired teddy bear 'Larry Rutland' belonging to Rags from the Originals became the boss of Rutland Records; he is pictured on the Originals' side of the flexi and also wrote the sleeve notes. Most of the Rutland newsletters and information were printed on red paper; even then I had some idea of 'branding' within a supposedly amateurish tiny business.

inner sleeve from the first Rutland release PO!/Originals flexi

The next few months were spent in a delightful game that was just like 'playing at shops' when I was a kid. I set up a mini office in my flat with an old typewriter and the latest BBC B computer, and visited the PO Box every day to pick up the mail. Then there was a weekly trip to office supply shops to get paper, envelopes, Letraset and other stationery essentials. The photocopy shop was downstairs from my flat at 122 London Road, Leicester, so I got good deals on printing out newsletters, posters and cassette sleeves. At the same time, I was writing songs and deciding which ones I wanted to record with The Originals as backing musicians for the PO! vinyl LP. How could we record and manufacture it for the lowest possible cost?
The Rutland Records Bear Mail Stamp: edited due to comments in section below!

Nineteen Gigs played by PO! in 1988

January 22nd         Princess Charlotte 
February 6th          O'Jays
February 13th       Town Hall Square Rally
March 12th           Granby Halls
March 19th           O'Jays
May 7th                Princess Charlotte
May 15th             Derby, The Cockpitt
May 20th             Derby ? unknown venue
May 28th             Princess Charlotte
June 23rd            Nottingham ? unknown venue
July 22nd            O'Jays
August 13th        Abbey Park Festival
August 18th        Nottingham, Peggars Inn
August 27th        O'Jays
September 7th    Clause 28 Benefit
September 8th    Nottingham Peggars Inn
October 27th      Gig with Brand New Executives (unknown venue)
November 3rd    Princess Charlotte
November 12    London Hype