Bella Union boss Simon Raymonde recalls landing his dream job – and how you could never be sure who was coming through the door of an 80s record store…
Back in 1980, fresh out of school with only a few weeks’ bruising summer work on a building site under my studded belt – and keen to move in with my best friend Stan to a room in a small at in Earls Court, London – I met Nigel House. He’d not long since opened a superb record shop in Ladbroke Grove, called Rough Trade. It was a brief but significant meeting, and led to me spending most days that year hanging about in his shop with Stan, soaking it all in – and then every night, going to see any and every band we could around London.
At a time when small record shops like this were plentiful, I was fortunate to have also made friends with both the boss of the nearby Beggars Banquet shop and his brother – who ran an indie label upstairs called Situation 2. Steve Kent, who managed the shop, must have soon realised that even though I didn’t work there, I was such a massive fan of the punk/post-punk/reggae vinyl scene from me pouring over the back pages of Melody Maker and the NME, that I probably knew nearly as much as he did.
Thankfully, he asked me to help him out in the store, initially for a day or two and then, fairly soon after, every day. Barely 100 metres from my bedsit, this was my dream job. Not long after starting in the record shop, my post-punk band The Drowning Craze signed a deal with Peter Kent’s Situation 2 and, without realising it, my destiny was set right there and then. You see, 4AD also shared this little label office above the record shop, and while the size of 4AD now in 2018 is probably that of a small multinational, back in 1980/81 when I walked through the door in my teens, it was just a small team of probably two or three. But it soon became my whole world for the next few years.
The record company office could only be entered by coming through the shop first, so that doorway became almost as central a focal point as the shop counter itself. Ironically, my very first meeting with Cocteau Twins was at that door, and looking back on it now, it was more significant than I could ever have imagined. Having taken the train down from Scotland in early 1982 to visit the label for the first time to drop o a cassette of their first ever recordings, the trio (Elizabeth Fraser, Robin Guthrie and Will Heggie) had got their timings a little off and arrived around 9.30am, before anyone from 4AD had even gotten in, before we had even opened the shop. Seeing them through the window, shuffling around outside, looking curious and a little restless, I opened the door and asked them if I could help. They were lovely, shy and so very softly spoken. I duly took the tapes and promised I would pass them on to Ivo Watts-Russell. Their debut LP came out in September of that year.
The doorway continued to bring in more than just vinyl customers. One of my forever-heroes, Billy Mackenzie of The Associates, was a frequent visitor to the shop/label. Billy would never just wander in, he EXPLODED through the doorway – colourful, excited, engaged, a force of energy and with more charisma in his tiny frame than any one single person I’d ever encountered before. There was a glamour to Billy Mackenzie that belied the punk background of this Dundee boy. Indeed, I’ve heard stories of him turning up at record labels in a Rolls Royce, which may have been true, but the glamour I saw was inside. He had a beautiful soul, too, and I was never happier than when he asked me to walk his beloved whippets around the block while he had a meeting at the office. And as a side note, Sulk by The Associates could well be one of the greatest albums ever made.
In 1982, the door opened one day to the stunning Lydia Lunch, who was working with The Birthday Party and also their guitarist Rowland S Howard on Some Velvet Morning. Like Billy, here was someone who really knew how to make an entrance. She stayed in the shop a while, talking to the boss, Steve. All the customers were well aware of who she was and I’m sure she could tell I was a little awestruck. She came up to me as if she was about to ask me something and, out of the blue, kissed me right on the mouth – then said she loved my red hair. While I wasn’t exactly a virgin, I truly felt like one at that moment, and I’m sure my face went brighter than her dark-cherry lipstick. I didn’t see her again; probably a good thing, as she would no doubt have had me for lunch.
One Friday later in 1982, the door swung open with a distinctly cold wind as co-owner of Beggars Banquet Nick Austin waltzed briskly through on his way upstairs as normal. “Oh and by the way chaps, don’t bother opening the shop tomorrow, as today’s our last day,” he delivered, as casually as if he were asking for no milk in his tea. The abrupt end of an era, it didn’t even feel like an affectionate punch. Doors shutting. Within a few months, my first band was over and I was invited to join Cocteau Twins and sign to 4AD.
SIMON RAYMONDE was the bassist and keyboard player in Cocteau Twins and founded the independent record label Bella Union