|PART-TIME PUNKS AND THE MEDIA MESSIAHS
Geoffrey Ingrams is in fact a mystery. He is a cult hero, acclaimed for his prints and for his paintings, though it is for his work in the cinema that he is best known. Topically, his latest film, Marley And The Girlbombs, following the success of Helicopters and his earlier non-visual pictures, has provoked a desire to involve his audience in a total experience and to open his own club, The Wow? Clinic in London. He decided to form his own group, T.V. Personalities.
AH YES, the T.V. Personalities. A grotescue parody of media manipulation? An innocent and harmless topical satire? Or even a disturbing subliminal warning - turn off? A combination of the three provides a recipe that links the gourmet with the amateur question master. Why settle for a cold meal when you could have a hot one? Nicholas Parsons is alive and well, having a smashing time on the Kings Road. 15, 000 people bought his last record, and John Peel helped by playing it more than regularly.
Nicholas Parsons - lately joined by Russell Harty, Melvyn Bragg and Bamber Gascoigne - first revealed his naïve and youthful sense of satirical understatement in early 1977.|
T.V. Personalities first single, "14th Floor", was eventually followed by the unforgettable "Part-Time Punks" four-track EP. This, as I've said, shifted a virtually unprecedented amount of copies for an independent, and is still available on Rough Trade. One of the other three tracks, "Where's Bill Grundy Now?" was an hilarious retrospective examination of the Pistols / Grundy confrontation.
The current single, "Smashing Time", is a succinct, witty appraisal of just how wonderful and exciting it is to live in good old London Town (irony here, I suspect!), bitter but also wistful and pensive enough to be memorable. The flip, "King And Country", is an anti-war song, delivered with that characteristic throw-away understatement.
So here I am, cosily ensconced in the upstairs of Rough Trade's Notting Hill office. Slouched opposite me, sipping Red Stripe and looking slightly pensive, is Nicholas Parsons himself. Rough Trade has its critics so I ask first if Parsons has any doubts about associating with people who have been described as "a bunch of old hippies"?
"No. . . there are nice hippies and nasty hippies, what we have here is a very easy going situation whereby the control over product, packaging - much as I dislike those terms! - is down to us. What actually happened is that Peel played "Part-Time Punks", and Rough Trade went absolutely crazy over it and bought the whole lot. They were totally behind it."
I take him back to the first single.
"Yeah, '14th Floor', now that was really funny. That started it all off. Four hundred copies! I mean there was a band at school, but I was far too introverted to be involved in something like that. Eventually I realised that you could put your own record out and I booked a studio. I was very naïve about it, and when I realised just how much it would cost to get the thing pressed, there was no way I could do it! So I had a test copy done, sent it off to John Peel, and he played it the very same day that he got it. After that, it took me four months or something to eventually get it out, and I just kept on going, doing small batches whenever I could afford it."
"14th Floor" received Peel's approval in December '78 and eventually came out in the May '79. "Part-Time Punks" reached the shops over seven months later, and it was during this period that Parsons was compelled to attempt (successfully) to get some money together for a follow-up.
"By the time I'd written 'Part-Time Punks' I was more aware of how you could get things done at a lower cost. I got it pressed really cheaply, 1,500 of them, black labels with sleeves that cost tuppence each. Whereas, on '14th Floor' about 200 of the early sleeves were hand drawn, and I used to have to take the staples out and then glue them back together. It was a bloody big risk!"
Fortunately, it was here that Rough Trade stepped in, taking the first 1,500 "Part-Time Punks", an additional 2,000 and then another 4,000; from here on in, the whole thing spiralled. If the national pop charts were truly representative of sales the EP would have hit Top Thirty. Selling over a period of six months, as it did, it still managed to scrape the lower seventies.
"The charts are completely meaningless and depend solely on where the record is bought. There are loads of independent records that are out-selling stuff that's in the charts. It's totally depressing. When Top Of The Pops went off the air, record sales slumped enormously. As far as I'm concerned, that just shows that people are moronic enough to buy whatever they happen to see on Thursday night. It's just a market place for impulse buying."
Parsons also has strong feelings about the music press. "Music papers are there basically for the record companies to advertise in, so they fill up the rest of the paper with what is largely a load of self-indulgent fantasy. Who buys Melody Maker for anything but the ads? They might as well stop the pretence and have it full of advertisements!"
This leads us on to somewhat greyer areas. When Nicholas was scratching around to finance "Part-Time Punks", he chanced upon employment at Led Zeppelin's Swan Song label. Virtually a glorified tea-boy, he recalls that period with little affection.
"I had to go and cash a cheque for Jimmy Page once, and I had about £300 in me pocket 'till I got chased around Piccadilly by some real desperadoes! When I got back to Swan Song they started chucking all the gold records at me, they just literally went beserk!"
Nevertheless, it was this stint of forelock-touching drudgery that provided Parsons with the financial means - and perhaps the incentive - to record and release the all-important "Part-Time Punks", and more recently the gently persuasive "Smashing Time".
"Yeah, I guess you could say that I owe a lot to Swan Song. . . and even more to Jimmy Page!"
|Click on image to view larger pic.|
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|Thanks to Mark Flunder for providing the source material.|