All three previous books on pop music written by Simon Goddard have been a delight to read and so I was bursting with excitement and anticipation approaching the release of his endeavours to tell the story of Postcard Records .
As someone who is old-fashioned enough to still want to walk into a shop to buy things rather than go on-line, I set out on a tour of book stores across Glasgow on the supposed day of publication only to find none had been delivered, although very helpfully I was informed some book and record shops were expecting copies in time for Record Store Day on Saturday 19 April.
Sadly, this didn’t prove to be the case. I could have gone to a personal appearance by the author the following day and picked up a copy but couldn’t reschedule pre-arranged plans. On Easter Monday the shops were closed, and come Tuesday and Wednesday I was too busy with work to find time to get into the city centre shops. Thankfully, the late night openings on Thursday allowed me to take care of things. All that pent-up energy waiting to see what was behind the wonderfully designed cover led me to read the first few pages on the train home rather than do the usual thing of getting lost in music.
It was a strange introduction in that a short but informative prologue told the tragic story of Louis Wain, the Victorian and Edwardian era artist whose drumming cat became the symbol adopted by Postcard. It’s only a short journey from the city centre to my home…just enough time to read the seven-page prologue and whet my appetite for what was to follow.
Over the course of the next two nights, interspersed by a particularly tiring and troublesome day at the office, I devoured the remaining 240 pages of the book. And I woke up on Saturday morning feeling a bit iffy and sick as if I’d eaten something that was a bit off.
It pains me to say it but Simply Thrilled : The Preposterous Story of Postcard Records was a bit of a let-down. I’m not saying it’s a badly written or boring book – far from it – but the sense of excitement and anticipation of the chase of getting my hands on a copy was far greater than what I felt as I turned its pages.
The fault lies with the way the author has gone about the task. The publicity material churned out by the publishers says:-
“This is the preposterous true story of Postcard Records, the renegade label which, with its mad DIY ethic, kickstarted the 1980s’ indie music revolution. From its riotous punk origins to the intertwining sagas of Orange Juice, Aztec Camera and cult heroes Josef K, this is how they took on and triumphed over the London ‘music biz’ big boys, against all odds. Acclaimed music writer Simon Goddard has interviewed everyone involved in the making of the legend of Postcard Records. The result is a giddy farce involving backstabbing, ‘Arthur Atrocious’, gluttony, heartbreak, ‘Disco Harry’, cheap speed, ‘Janice Fuck’, disillusion, Victorian lunatics and knickerbocker glories. But it’s also the story of creating something beautiful from nothing, against all the odds.”
Simon Goddard has interviewed everyone and has seemingly taken everything they said at face value and published it. He himself knows such an approach is risky – in the foreword to the book he says what follows is a fairy-tale and not a documentary. He admits that many people’s recollections contradicted one another while others were distorted for what could be any of a number of reasons.
So what we get is a book which feels too much of an in-joke in which the main protagonists tell the story as they want it to be remembered and which, understandably, puts them in the best possible light. This book isn’t really the story of Postcard Records – it’s more the like one of those projects in which people are asked to give their memories of a time and a place – in this instance Glasgow in the late 70s and early 80s – for a talented writer to record for posterity. I do admire the tenacity of the author in getting the notoriously reclusive Alan Horne, the brains behind the whole Postcard venture, to speak to him in such depth.
It’s quite clear that Simon and Alan spent countless hours together and there can be no argument that the mogul has a treasure-chest of wonderful anecdotes, many of which are embellished throughout the book. But such is the size of the shadow cast by Alan Horne that I can’t help but feel that the story would have been better told as an authorized biography of his life and times rather than having others come in and say completely contradictory things and so confuse matters.
In terms of the music, the main focus is on Orange Juice and Josef K which is fair enough given that between them they accounted for around three-quarters of the material released on the label. And while the chapter on the Go-Betweens is one of the most enjoyable in the book – Glasgow must have seemed like a strange and alien planet to Grant McLennan and Robert Foster – the dearth of material on Aztec Camera is a bitter disappointment. They don’t feature until well into the book and there’s not actually all that much said about them.
It’s almost as if this version of the story of Postcard comes to a crashing halt at the time Orange Juice decamped to a major label and Josef K called it quits in the aftermath of one disastrous gig too many in a Glasgow discotheque in August 1981. It certainly reads to me that Roddy Frame was signed to the label only because it allowed it to boast of having a 16-year old wunderkid on the books rather than the label owner actually liking his music. As such, it is no real surprise that Alan Horne makes no real effort to make a star out of Roddy.
Simon Goddard admits he has written a preposterous tale which means he hasn’t been able to come up with the definitive story of Postcard Records. And therein lies my disappointment in his latest book. In saying all of this, I am glad I bought Simply Thrilled. It has a number of very funny and outrageous tales although whether they are true or not is another matter.
It is also a reminder that the Glasgow of the late 70s and early 80s was not the greatest place in the world if you dared to be different and a bit of a dreamer. It was a conservative city in its outlook and its attitudes and all too often those traits made it a dangerous and frightening place for flamboyant and confrontational characters like Alan Horne and Edwyn Collins.
The book ends at the point in time when Alan Horne gets the opportunity to set up Swamplands as part of the London Records empire. How that came about is one of the best and loveliest stories in the entire book….but to say anything more would be to spoil things.
I think I can however, get away with quoting, in full, the afterword:- “So when is your book ending? Just with Postcard? Those were sort of my normal years compared to what came after. Seriously, the real nuttiness was when I went down to London. That’s a whole different soap opera of insanity there. Another story. God! That’s a whole other book…” – ALAN HORNE Here’s hoping.
It’s not that long since I posted all of the Postcard singles on the blog, so today I’ll link in a few alternative takes, all inspired by the book:-
mp3 : Orange Juice – Felicity (flexi version)
(recorded April 1979 at an Edinburgh concert on a low-fi cassette by Malcolm Ross; made available on flexidisc with copies of Falling & Laughing as well as various fanzines)
mp3 : Josef K – Heaven Sent
(recorded for a Peel session in June 1981; given a posthumous release as a single in 1987 by which time Paul Haig had re-recorded it in a completely different style at the outset of his solo career. Oh and the tune is also near-identical to that of Turn Away as appears on the Orange Juice LP Rip It Up)
mp3 : Aztec Camera – We Could Send Letters (NME Version)
(different mix from the Postcard b-side; made available on C81, a mail order cassette from the NME)
mp3 : Go-Betweens – Your Turn, My Turn
(a song Grant and Robert offered to Postcard for release as a second single on the label but which was turned down flat by Alan Horne)