I had a bit of a phase of book buying in May last year – I had been reading up a storm after being on medical leave for a bit and had an Amazon voucher to hand, which I used to pick up some stuff that had been on my wish list for ages. This was one of many books that came in a bit of a rush (read about them here) and of course here I am, 11 months later, reading them. Anyway, this was well worth the wait.

Neil Taylor – “Document and Eyewitness: An Intimate History of Rough Trade”

(26 May 2017)

A lovely overlap of my musical interests (indie record labels, indie bands) with various work interviews and projects (notably on one member of the distribution Cartel and on experimental improvisational musicians, who always seem to pop up everywhere) made this a fascinating book to really delve into. It’s a detailed and exhaustive history of Rough Trade (as shop, record label and distributor), stitched together brilliantly from what must have been hundreds of hours of interviews with almost all of the main figures of the company, plus other people in the business and some of the bands that were represented. You often get different angles on the same event, and most of the time, the interviewees are left to represent themselves, with an introduction to each section and some interpolations from the author.

There are also photographs printed in the text, images of badges and other ephemera, such as hand-written contracts, as well as a proper glossy plates section. There’s even a couple of pages at the end giving mini-updates on people quoted (this was published in 2010, so there has obviously been some water under the bridge since then).

The fanzine side of things is gone into in great detail, and the administrative mess this gets into is symptomatic of the whole system the company appears to have been run on:

… it was always capable of turning into a ball-ache unless you kept your eye on things, which we didn’t. (p. 140)

This was how the whole thing – and indeed a whole industry – was run. Have we lost that now, or is the non-businesslike indie producer and musician still alive and well in this era of social media. Here’s a lesson drawn from a meeting of indie record label managers:

They weren’t businessmen and they never pretended to be. Record labels aren’t run by businessmen – they are run by visionaries. (p. 339)

A truly wonderful book that I heartily wish I’d worked on – although having been published in 2010, it would have been written before I even started being a transcriber. A warm, detailed, loving recreation of a company’s life – just great.

I’m currently reading Iris Murdoch’s “An Unofficial Rose” and enjoying it more than I expected – hooray! I’m going to start “Dear Mrs Bird” soon, too, to catch its publication date. What are you reading?