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Caught By The River: A New Fanzine Extract By Jeff Barrett
Luke Turner , May 23rd, 2012 05:32

Before Caught By The River there was, and is, Heavenly Records. Before that, Jeff Barrett ran record Plymouth shop Meat Whiplash. Here's his story

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This Friday, Caught By The River celebrates five years online with a special Variety Show at the South Bank Centre in London. This will feature all sorts of business to delight CBTR and Quietus reader alike: Roy Wilkinson reading from his Sea Power Do It For Your Mum book, a Q&A with Tim Burgess, Chris Yates discussing his new tome, Richard King reading from How Soon Is Now and live music from Diagrams. You can buy tickets for that here. Caught By The River also publish an occasional magazine devoted to music, nature, ale and other interesting things, with Issue Three out now (details here. We're printing an extract wherein Caught By The River founder and Heavenly boss Jeff Barrett recalls his early days in the music birthday. Jeff is also 50 today. Happy birthday Jeff!

I wrote this for a newspaper called Deluxe, which was published earlier this year by a record shop in Totnes, Devon. The owner had heard about my time spent in west country record shops and asked me for a story. His shop, Drift Records, is fantastic. You'll find it on the High Street.

This is a bag from a record shop that I helped set up in Plymouth in 1984. I worked there until, I think, August 1985.

Meat Whiplash was named and conceptualized by a chap from Plymouth called James Williamson. You'll understand how rock & roll obsessed he was when I tell you that this wasn't his real name.

James (aka Ferdy – also not his real name) was a bit of a face in Plymouth, having been on the punk scene in 77/78. I didn't know him then, having only moved to Plymouth (from Nottingham) in 1979. I think he relocated to London in the early 80s, but you'd see him around from time to time, he was a distinctive looking guy.

Anyway, Meat Whiplash, one of the greatest record shops I have ever been in, and that was his idea.

In the summer and autumn of 1984 I could be found selling records on Plymouth open-air market. Myself and my partner, Nick Clark*, had a transit van / market stall combo and every Friday and Saturday you would find us pitched up beside the carpet remnants lorry trying to sell Crass records. Not an easy job but one that suited me better than working for the local HMV. I'd already done that and during that time I'd built enough of a reputation for knowing my stuff that we felt pretty confident about the stall.

Also, I'd taken a year out from the HMV to be manager of the Revolver record shop in Bristol. In 1983/ 84, my year of service, you could rank Revolver alongside the Rough Trade shop in London (I use the singular because at this point in time there was only the one) as being a true Mecca for independently minded music fans. Not only was it a cool shop but also a distribution business that supplied all the independent label releases to South Wales and the South West of England. White labels on tap. Heaven.

Working at Revolver was a joy and an education. Think about how great the music was at that time: the brand new sounds of electro coming in – Whodini, Hashim; Studio 1 on a serious roll with reissues: in early '84, The Smiths and Aztec Camera debuts, The Cocteau Twins taking off, plus, one that had a great effect on me, four singles released on a new London label called Creation, but more of that later.

So I came back to Plymouth, set up the stall and over the course of the summer tried my best to sell great music to the good people of Devon and Cornwall. All I can say is 'thank fuck for Frankie Goes To Hollywood'. If it hadn't been for an easily corruptible record company rep and his endless supply of 'Frankie Says' tee shirts we would have been in serious trouble.

Something else good happened to me that summer. I started a club night in a place called Ziggy's, just off of Union Street, Plymouth's legendary hellhole for sex starved sailors and obliging others.

After making a few quid on a Sisters of Mercy show at the Top Rank, a mate and I took a weekly night at the club and started booking bands. The first three nights, were, I think, Pink Industry, The Stockholm Monsters and Section 25. Not many people came but in truth we didn't really expect them too. It was however really good fun and when my mate bailed I just had to continue.

This is where we rewind to an earlier paragraph and talk about Creation Records. Before I left my job at Revolver, knowing that I was going back to Plymouth, I rang up Creation. I found the number on a white label in the warehouse out back. I'd never rung a record company before, and although I knew that Creation was tiny I wasn't sure what the protocol was. Even so, I dialed the number and was soon asking the guy at the other end if I could speak with someone from the label. He asked me who I was and why I was calling and I told him that I wanted to book his bands for a club in Plymouth. He asked me if I was taking the piss. This was Alan McGee and this is when he and I became friends.

This relationship came to fruition at Ziggy's. Alan and I had stayed in touch and he soon realised that I wasn't a piss-taker. A bit mad perhaps but honest enough to recommend the night to his bands. Before long our stall was not only selling records by The Loft, The Pastels, Biff Bang Pow! and The Jasmine Minks but tickets for their gigs at Ziggy's too. My enthusiasm for Creation records was spreading.

As the summer months came to a close and the box marked 'Frankie tee shirts' sat empty I had a visit from James Williamson. He had come into a bit of money, was moving back to Plymouth and he wanted to open a record shop. Did I want to go in with him?

We discussed his vision and I shared it. It was exciting. I felt bad about leaving Nick on his own, especially as I was about to set up in competition but this was what I wanted and to be honest, the thought of spending winter on that fucking market did not appeal at all. So I said yes to James.

We found the perfect site. Next door to a 'Private Shop', central enough for business but off the main drag enough to stand out. He had a name, Meat Whiplash, I didn't see that one coming, but I shared his love of The Fire Engines, a post punk outfit from Edinburgh who had a song of the same name. (Completely by coincidence, this same song title was soon to be nicked again, this time by a post Marychain band from East Kilbride who were destined to have their records released on Creation. Synergy).

We opened the shop towards the end of '84. A pink punk rock explosion in a black and white town. The Marychain released 'Upside Down' – our 'Anarchy In The UK' – like all great record shops should be, ours was a statement, a declaration of intent. The walls were covered with great record sleeves – The Velvets, Love, The Stooges, Chocolate Watchband, Suicide – along with all the best new releases we had 'em all - on vinyl. It was a blast.

I have many great memories but one that always comes to mind is a Saturday morning, me, James and our collaborator Simes, hungover, sprawled across the counter. This young couple come in, the guy with a shock of strawberry blonde hair starts pulling out record sleeves. Australian imports of The Triffids and The Boys Next Door, he looks around the shop, eyes wide open expressing something like disbelief, he turns to me and says, "What the fuck are you doing here?". Not me personally you understand, but the shop. **

All through this time I was still doing the club. I booked Primal Scream and I booked the Mary Chain, both groups defined the spirit of our time. James loved Bobby and shortly after I left he rechristened the shop, Bobby Gillespie, in honour of the great man. Me, I got lucky. The night of the Mary Chain show, McGee decided to come down too. After the sound check he stepped out of the club and joined me on Union Street. An hour before doors and it was mental out there. Way more people than the 150 capacity club could hold were desperate to gain entrance, the suspicious cops were watching over none too pleased. Alan turned around to me at that point and uttered the words, “Barrett, what are you doing in Plymouth? Come and work for me”. So I did.

*Nick Clark still has a record shop. You can find it on line at rhythmonline.co.uk/ ** I crossed paths with the strawberry blond at a gig in London a few years later. I asked him to join a band I was managing. His name is James Endeacott.