Friday, August 04, 2006

ron johnson - the greatest label in the world?

my favourite label of all time, ron johnson put out some fantastic records (and one or two really bad ones).
i won't go to into the label as rhodri covers ron johnson beautifully here.

but i do want to have my say about the label and, more importantly i suppose, some of the bands i loved.

various artists | the first after epiphany

if you're not familiar with ron johnson and you can find a copy of "the first after epiphany" on eBay then you should buy it.
it's a great overview - it has everything you need to show what the label was all about: stump, a witness, shrubs, jackdaw with crowbar, bIG fLAME.

shrubs - take me aside for a midnight harangue

the shrubs.
other than bIG fLAME (who kind of don't count as they're my favourite band anyway) shrubs were my favourite ron johnson band.
when "bullfighter's bones" was on C86 i thought it was an astonishing song.
i bought the "take me aside for a midnight harangue" LP and was surprised at how gentle it was - intricate dual guitars that seemed to be playing completely obtuse things that only just fit together.
most ron johnson releases would be likened to captain beefheart and generally that was wrong.
but with the shrubs it was reasonably near the mark and after all nick hobbs, the shrubs singer, had worked with the magic band in the early 70s.

shrubs | blackmailer

my favourite shrubs song was and is "blackmailer" (or "blackmailer's heartache" as it was titled on the album). on the album it was a sublime, drifting thing.
like the ghost of something sinister.
the version of "blackmailer" on the "blackmailer" EP though is a different beast altogether.
played at quantum speed the guitars clatter and the drums go haywire while hobbs' vocal takes on the role of dervish - shouting, yelping, heading for another place - not so far off the mark actually, as only last year nick under his alias of nikolai galen released a solo album for improvised voice which is the nearest thing to speaking in tongues i can think of.

if i was ever able to make a final list of my top 5 LPs i would struggle to decide which albums were in and which weren't.
the only thing of which i'm certain is that "take me aside for a midnight harangue" would be in there.

shrubs remain a legendary (to me anyway, and a few people i know) band.
they deserve to be - they sounded mythical.

a witness | loudhailer songs

a witness.
for a short time i corresponded with vince from a witness.
he was a nice chap (i recently met up with him again and he's still a nice chap) - somewhere i've got A4 sheets of typed a witness lyrics that he sent me.
he also sent me a mix tape that contained swans next to jimi hendrix which at the time i found very odd indeed.
i sent him my band's first cassette and he said he liked it except that we should lose the drum machine and get a drummer.
a witness had recently done just that, getting alan brown of bIG fLAME to drum with them.

a witness | i am john's pancreas

i'm torn about which part of a witness i like the most.
i love the drum machine driven attack of "loudhailer songs" and the album "i am john's pancreas" is quite simply one of the best records of the 80's - it's just been reissued on CD by euphonium. go buy it.

but i also love (for different reasons) the later a witness of their peel sessions - they weren't released by ron johnson but came out as an album on strange fruit.

sadly the death of rick aitken, a wintess' guitar supremo, ended the band.
both rick and a witness will always be missed by anyone who loved the band.

great leap forward | a peck on the cheek á la politiqué

great leap forward.
after bIG fLAME split alan brown started making dance music - well, no, not quite. but he'd bought a witness' drum machine from them and began the great leap forward project.
it sounds like the obvious next step after bIG fLAME to me.
whiteboy funk with scaping guitars and great bass lines all smothered in intelligent, intellectual lyrics.
great leap forward were the top dancefloor band that never was.

stump | mud on a colon

the first record i bought by stump wasn't on ron johnson. in fact they only released one record on ron johnson (not counting compilation appearances).
they were always a ron johnson band though - even once they'd signed a major deal they remained a ron johnson outfit.

stump | quirk out

"quirk out" was my first stump record.
that old friday night TV favourite "the tube" had made a video of the band doing "buffalo" and it was stunning - it later turned up on the "gimme shelter" video compilation.
i ordered the album - a 6 track EP really - and collected it during my lunch break one wet wednesday afternoon.
wednesday afternoons at sixth form were dedicated to sports and other such activities.
i was being made to do table tennis that afternoon, the only good thing about that was that table tennis was played in the hall and it was raining very hard outside.
i spent 2 long hours knocking a tiny ball across a table at a friend who didn't want to be there either, knowing my stump record was sitting in a bag in the changing room.
finally - and it seemed like forever - it was time to go home.
i barely managed to change from gym kit to normasl clothing before i was rushing up the road to listen to it.
"tupperware stripper" was funny as all hell, "buffalo" didn't disappoint after the tube performance - what a record.

other notable ron johnson releases.

mackenzies | new breed

mackenzies promised so much.
their 7" release "new breed" was fantastic.
but then they, along with a bunch of ron johnson bands, got into remixes and the whole thing went belly up.

twang | sharp

as with mackenzies, twang's first single was a great record. harsh, whiteboy non-funk. brash and agressive.
their other releases were a bit poo.

noseflutes | the ravers

noseflutes were interesting.
still are.
probably the least listened to of my ron johnson records, but when i do i always wonder why i never listened to them more.
a little bit beefhearty (now i'm doing it!), some great african styled percussion - in fact quite a world music-y feel now i listen back.
the lyrics were always great - check out "body hair (up in the air)" from the "heartache is irresistable" EP.

so, that's the bands that remain top of the pops for me when it comes to ron johnson.
a label that was always exciting, and in the mid 80's released records that sounded like nothing else.


  • At 8:19 AM, Blogger Tom said…

    Ron Johnson recods - the one single reason that dispels the myth that C86 was "twee"!

  • At 8:47 AM, Blogger crayola said…

    doing a quick tally in my head there were more bands on C86 that were released by ron johnson than any other label.
    so boo sucks to the polka dot skirt brigade.


  • At 2:02 AM, Blogger PC said…

    I was writing an article on Ron Johnson for my (tiny, 150-copy run, Norwegian) fanzine and wrote Dave Parsons for some press-clips, photos etc. A week or so later I received a huge parcel containing not only the above, but some 10-15 records (LPs and 12"s), free of charge. I can't remember ever having been so thrilled to bits about a postal delivery. So not only an amazing label, but very nice people as well! (And I still feel shitty about never having thanked him properly... Dave, if you should happen to read this, I'm still very grateful!)

  • At 2:08 AM, Blogger crayola said…

    i've passed your message on to dave and told him where to find you.

  • At 4:14 PM, Anonymous np said…

    May I just say that I photographed the album cover for the Noseflutes 'The Ravers.'

    .. ok, I'll get my coat.

  • At 5:12 AM, Blogger Novemberer said…

    "Probably the least listened to of my Ron Johnson records, but when I do I always wonder why I never listened to them more" - you've defo hit the nail on the head there! I've been (re)discovering Noseflutes over the last year or 2 c/o blogs &, yep, they really were (are?) a strangely brilliant band. Am in a similar predicament with Stitched-Back Foot Airman - didn't investigate them at the time as cash was short but heard some of their stuff recently & it's great...


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