Extraordinarily, someone has asked me to write my memories of Burnt Offerings, a cassette compilation I released in 1982. Apart from making me realise how little my life has changed (still permanently involved in hopeless musical projects), the memories it brought back are mainly happy ones!
Why didn’t I take Burnt Offerings straight to Stick It In Your Ear? Scratching around in what remains of my brain cells, I do remember that I feared it wasn’t cool enough for them. They regularly had their cassettes and their fanzine positively reviewed in Sounds, Melody Maker and the NME. Their bands tended to be quite serious and post-punk. And the main (i.e. best-known) band on Burnt Offerings was Thieves Like Us, the band I had fruitlessly been managing for several years. That band was popular but wasn’t viewed by the music intelligentsia as cool at all. I believe I feared that Geoff and Phil might reject the tape, and I have endured a lifetime of not being able to cope with rejection.
The other matter was that the quality was dodgy. The home-made cassettes were spliced together from demo tapes and live recordings and had a lot of hissing and clicking going on. I feared that it was below the standards of sound quality that SIIYE would have expected.
The thinking behind it was to try and emulate the compilations coming from cities like Bristol and Manchester, even Southampton (the City Walls compilation). My job/hobby as music journalist took me all round the Hampshire area and I was constantly frustrated at seeing great live bands who had failed to break though nationally, or even properly into London. This seemed quite unfair, and there was another, greater frustration eating away at me.
Thieves Like Us had been signed to the Earlobe label, an imprint owned by a New Yorker called Larry Uttal, renowned for having discovered Blondie and founding the chart-busting Bell label (most famous artist - ahem – Gary Glitter). Hardly was the ink dry on the contract before it all went horribly wrong. He wanted to turn the band into a poptastic chart act, while they had gone all serious and wanted artistic integrity. Personnel problems raised their ugly heads and the recordings gradually being made in various studios at Earlobe’s expense featured varying line-ups. By the time Burnt Offerings came up, the band had effectively split, the label had effectively dropped them and the rights of the recordings rested with Larry, who had no intention of releasing them. Of course, we couldn’t release them either, and could never have afforded to buy them back. Angry at all this, I was determined that at least some of their music should see the light of day, so started to put together some live recordings. Tommy Winstone, our long-suffering sound engineer (who went on to become one of the UK’s top tour managers) had been recording shows at places like the Pinecliff in Bournemouth, Jumpers Tavern in Christchurch and the Greyhound in London, so I started sifting through them. It soon became clear that there wasnt enough material for a live album, but I did rescue three tracks which represented the band’s new arty, non-commercial direction: Golden Handshake, One Man’s Beat and Trampoline.
It must have been then that the two ideas – a Thieves live album and a local combination – gelled into one and the idea of Burnt Offerings was born. I had recently bought, from Comet in Southampton, an extraordinary Sharp hi-fi system which had twin cassette decks. I only bought it because it was in a sale, but the possibilities presented by the twin decks soon became clear: I could duplicate cassettes. It wasn’t exactly sophisticated and was very time-consuming and painstaking (it all had to happen in real time), but it worked. I started thinking of what bands to invite. As a local radio broadcaster, I was forever deluged with demo tapes, and as a live reviewer, I had several special favourites.
In Winchester, a jobbing pub band called Zip Code had changed into an image-conscious art-rock band called Four People I Have Known, modelled, image-wise, on the band Japan. Thinking about it now, for the first time in over thirty years, I realise that there was quite a lot of politics involved. Four People I Have Known’s drummer was Paul Bringloe, who’d split amid much bad feeling from Thieves Like Us a year or so previously. Leader of Four People I Have Known was a rather scary guy called Jack Burnaby, and I visited him in Andover Road to get a copy of their tape. He couldn’t have made it clearer that he assumed I was planning to rip them off, but he did part with the demo, which consisted of Blood On Your Hands, Be My Animal and Walking To The Centre Of The Earth, three rather similar sounding tracks featuring heavily flanged guitar from Rick Aplin, who I am pleased to say I still see at gigs to this day. The tracks represented them well and I had high hopes that their followers would buy a few tapes.
By coincidence, another band was doing the same as Thieves Like Us and changing from a great novelty band to a more serious type of outfit. The Time, a lively four-piece from Gosport, had recently issued their own cleverly packaged tape but it disappointed their fans, who were hoping for the funny songs in their repertoire, such as Stephanie And Peter and Roughies And Toughies. Both of these I included on Burnt Offerings, together with a newer track called This Fever. The Time, too, were effectively in the process of splitting up, but felt I was doing some kind of public duty in letting these tracks see the light of day.
Yet another ex-Thieves Like Us drummer, John Parish, had retreated to Yeovil and formed a new trio called The Headless Horsemen. Their tracks were the slow, obscure Hopeless, a ditty called Wet Lunch Hour and a cover of the Beatles Drive My Car, which was seen as a work of genius or an absolute disgrace, depending on how you viewed the Fabs. The Headless Horsemen later evolved into Automatic Dlamini and eventually into the PJ Harvey Band. John is now a renowned producer and solo artist. If you add in Kevin Robinson of The Time, a comedian whom has risen to the heights of Game Of Thrones under the name of Kevin Eldon, Burnt Offerings contained a couple of pretty famous people. Not that we knew it at the time.
So there we had it. Twelve tracks, all of which I thought were good, and representative of the Hampshire / Dorset scene. I found a shop which sold TDK C45 tapes, which were the ideal length. I attached a label to each side, typewritten and stuck on with Pritt. Then I asked Jenny Rosser, the partner of my neighbour Tony Hill of Sarsen Press in Winchester, if she could design me a cover. I have absolutely no recollection of why we called it Burnt Offerings, so it can’t have been of any particular significance. Jenny came up with a cassette sleeve depicting a burnt chicken being removed from an oven, and listing the tracks in her beautiful handwriting. Tony then printed them on some lurid orange paper which he had left over and wanted to get rid of. Everything was in place, and everything fitted neatly into the DIY ethos of the times.
The system I had dreamed up worked like this: I bought the tapes for 80p each and sold them to the bands for £1. The sale price we set was £1.50, so if the bands sold them at gigs, they would be making 50p a time. Of course, I had given no thought to the publicity, advertising or shipping, so ended up making a substantial loss. But everything I have ever done in music has made a loss, so nothing new there. We sold them at the record shop in Stockbridge Road, Winchester Wax, and gave their address in publicity, as it seemed more professional than a private address. I placed a series of small ads in the NME, and it immediately produced results. Anorak tape collectors from all over the UK and even abroad started sending their cheques and I spent untold hours duplicating those damn cassettes and packaging them up. The bands dutifully flogged them at their gigs and the greatest success came in the PR department. All the bands were photogenic, so I sent the local press and the national music papers some good black and white photos and a detailed and user-friendly press release, which many of them duly used. The tape got plugged and reviewed all over the place, but there was never any radio play, since radio stations weren’t geared up for cassettes.
Looking back though the paperwork now, I reckon we must have sold several hundred in the end, which was quite a result. Sadly, a search of the shed and the attic has failed to turn up an actual copy of the tape. If you’ve got one, don’t bother to send it. I don’t have anything to play it on.