Geoff Travis, founder of Rough Trade, and my life as a f**king magazine
In celebration of our debut single and "the War issue"
My life is a f**king magazine.
Pages of projects, my life, twixting and twaining.
I’ve grown up in them. You are your experience, and in the same way that you are what you sleep with, you become what you do, I guess.
I wasn’t sure whether to hammer your inboxes daily with micro-content, a la Patti Smith, in the run-up to my biggest news to date (beyond Psychomachia) or to just throw it ALL down here.
Because what I really want to share is our. Beautiful. Single. (You can nab a pre-order of here).
But it feels more honourable to make a cover star award of Geoff Travis, founder of Rough Trade - arguably the most important indie label in the history of the British recording industry. We met as judges on the Doc n Roll Festival, he memorably said, “I bet you like performing,” as we hustled together for a group shot. He’s right. Just gotta stay away from manifesting drama in one’s personal life, and love you what you do - but like all those Wellness Live Ya Best Life aspirational platitudes - how do you jump off the cliff by a bungy rope if you ain’t stapled in financially?
When I went back to university at 25, bounding in all Educating Rita, like a spring daisy from another nervous breakdown/rehab (again), I did a BA in New Media Journalism and Radio, it taught me to be pretty self-sufficient and DIY, editing across media, coding, I was working in BBC Radio as a researcher by the second year, reporting at celeb parties and on September 11th, before making radio documentaries for 1XTRA, R2, etc. Authenticity has become more and more apparent to my sanity over the years. I’ve taught Media Ethics, Broadcasting, Pop video courses, loads of zine workshops with victims of torture, and minority groups, after school clubs - that sort of thing before getting more and more quasi-academic, and wannabe Doctor, shifting between teaching vocational media work to City & Guilds, B-Tec, undergrads and some Masters (in a particularly sketchy institution). I’ve also consulted internationally for cash. I’ve become more and more capable over the years, but it also means I am pretty multi-skilled and good at problem solving, but it also prevents me from working to true calling. As life does for most people who have to earn a living. The reality of being a writer and performer is that without compromise to industry demands, you’re on your own.
Which flips me back to Geoff Travis - there was a crossover period when I was still trying to lecture and edit Ambit (Ambit won in the end, despite it being a charity, and the money not being as good as teaching, I felt more committed to the responsibility of helming this great institution).
I invited Travis to give a guest lecture when I was leading a class on the Music Industry to American undergrads (employed by the brilliant writer, Heidi Dunbar James). I was surprised what I knew, despite having written about music since my early days, DJing etc, you may know from PSYCHOMACHIA, which examines the patriarchal nature of the 90s music industry as fiction, I’ve been around it forever - before editing Ambit I was the “Off The Floor” editor of the arts on DJMag, but have never felt part of the boys club - despite knowing so many of the wheeler dealers who have hustled through life making money from music - we all feel like outsiders sometimes. My DJ moniker took a non-female angle, K-Rocka - a nickname, and it was through doing a series of lectures about the music industry in the UK, I kinda realised that actually I’m likely qualified as much as anyone else - but the guest lecture from Geoff Travis was landmark - I hope you may have time to listen to this founder of Rough Trade, I’ve added the lecture as a podcast here. It’s a masterclass in independence. He’s very cool, casually reeling out how he didn’t sign The Stone Roses, and being at one of The Strokes first gigs, and not knowing that one of The Libertines was going to end up a heroin addict. There’s also the pain of board meetings, not really being in it for the money, and the backend of the music industry. It’s solid - thank you to the students of that class for their questions…
Gil and I started sharing our work live in 2018. He’s what one may call a “professional musician”, his first A&R was John Niven and he’s been signed to major labels and produced John Martyn among others. He was performing with Little Barrie when we met, at a book reading for Tony O’Neill (who also used to work in music, playing keys for my friend Kelli Ali, but also Kenickie, Marc Almond and others. His first book, Digging the Vein was published by Wrecking Ball Press who put my novel out). Gil and I became friends after that signing, and in the maelstrom of our relationship, his band with Little Barrie imploded - as bands do - despite their only single as Pet Weapons being loved and played by Lauren Laverne.
Gil commenced on The Long Road of who am I, why am I, etc. The important road.
We collaborated before we got together - co-writing a poem that introduced him at Red Gallery, 15 December 2015. And by NOLA, 2018, we were making a film for Jeffrey Wengrofsky’s festival in NYC, me writing a poem, chalking it up in the streets, filmed, and Gil then made music to accompany it. We later showed it at the Liminality show at Gallery46, first performing together there. We then played other galleries, like the Bomb Factory in North London. In Berlin, The Social, Pikes Ibiza. We’ve now done a couple of tours.
Our friend Martyn Goodace did the Das Wasteland compilation which was our first release, on vinyl, from Berlin days…
We met Blang! Records boss Joe, who works with Paul and Jules, Beth and La, with his wife, after the first show we did out of lockdown, in Sheffield at Sidney & Matilda, a great venue, supporting Band of Holy Joy. (There’s a documentary about Blang! Records which is worth finding - about antifolk and why they started)
The sound guy at Sidney & Matilda was good, turned me onto local hip-hop poet Otis Mensah - but in the basement, people were conditioned to not stand close to each other and it felt like we were defo sharing air. By the end of the tour - it was a futile underground party of sweat-filled sardine dancing in venues in Edinburgh and North Shields. But that first night, it was that kinda romantic dream: a record label coming up to you after a show and showing interest. Blang! Records were later doing a residency at the Hope n Anchor is Islington and asked us to play. We filmed the shows for them, and they offered to put out a single. Initially it was suggested we did it with Pink Eye Club on the flipside, but we played them Rock n Roll Is A Deathwish, after they’d chosen Paradise Burns - that’s what’s coming. There are 50 lathe-cuts. The artwork’s by the brilliant Bert Gilbert - “northern Marina Abramović” - who’s showing at the forthcoming Horror show at Somerset House, curated by Jane Pollard and Ian Forsyth (who directed 20000 Days with Nick Cave). We’ve done a beautiful UV spot bespoke print and they really are limited and beautiful. Bert used Gustave Doré as her main influence on the piece. A modernised rising of a new enlightenment, we can but dream.
David Erdos has been super-kind in his review of the single in International Times. Comparing us to everyone between early Dylan (the first record I ever DJed was Subterranean Homesick Blues), and my vox being halfway between Wendy James and Siouxie Sioux. (It’s in that link…he’s a genius, love his acting too…)
I would like to invite you to our single launch at Rough Trade East on Wednesday - there are some free tickets, but they are going fast…Jonny Halifax Invocation, Sharon Gal, Savage Pencil, Gil, some poets, we’ll all be celebrating the first look of The War Issue of Ambit, which coincidently is equinox (the end of summer) and World Peace Day. I began talking about this “War issue” of Ambit back in 2020, with a submission that stood out, and went public on it in April. It’s resulted in 50+ international contributors selected by myself and my brilliant co-editors in Beirut, Sarah Chalabi and Zeina Chamseddine of Dongola Books. We launch in Beirut, supported by British Council Lebanon, 18 November.
There’s so much to say about this issue - and the magazine does it. Order here. It’s a reaction to the spectacle of War we receive in mass media through mainly direct experiences from Poets, Writers, Artists. For me, it says more than most news orgs.
If you sneak onto our Bandcamp - you’ll see the artwork, but as there’s a holiday tomorrow, perhaps I’ll have time to make a lil video.
x. Love n light.
Please come on Wednesday if you can. A few free TICKETS HERE.