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The Big Beat In The Heart Of The Vinyl Jungle

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It seemed like after 1982 or so that Phantom slowed down a little bit … not so many releases. What happened there?

What happened was…well, Phantom had three phases, you know? The first one was when Dare and I were very heavily involved together. But Dare had this Mambo thing – it started as Phantom Textile Printing, but then it became Mambo Graphics. And that started doing quite well. He had this idea of doing these sort of shorts, some board shorts. So he made some and called them “100% Mambo”. And as you know it’s now massive – all over the world. But it was just a little thing he started by himself in a little factory. One pair of shorts, a couple of designs. So that started to work, and he came in less. And the shop started becoming really successful. Between 1979 and 1982 the shop went from four or five hundred dollars a day to three or four thousand dollars a day. Which was big back then – a lot of records per day. And so he didn’t have time to do it.

There were still bands around that we liked – we used to go to three or four gigs a week, and Dare would come as well to a lot of them. But we just sort of stopped putting them out. We didn’t make any big decision. But we weren’t given any demos that we loved at the time. There wasn’t anything that we really loved but we thought “oh, we’re too busy to do this”. We just weren’t given any more demos that we felt any passion about. So after number 17 or something like that, we just fizzled.

And then Ray from a band called the Rockmelons – he used to work in the shop. The Rockmelons started the earliest warehouse parties ever in Sydney. They used to have these warehouse parties and they played really great funky stuff like some of the electro music that was coming out of America and England in the early 80s. I loved that stuff – really melodic dance music, but it wasn’t disco. There was a funk edge to it. And this new band was playing it, with Ray in it.

So we started up the label again to put this record out, and Festival Records approached us and asked if we’d do a licensing deal, because they loved this one song by the Rockmelons. And also the vibe was massive around them because they put on these amazing events and didn’t play at venues. So that was our second phase, which lasted for one record. Because Festival had the rights for three years, and I showed them everything that came later, and they didn’t want to release anything.

And then, I started up the label again in about 1987, or 1988 was it? And that’s when I did the Hummingbirds and the Sparklers. It all sort of became more my label then because Dare was off doing Mambo. He hadn’t sold his share of the business yet, but it was just me running it, and I decided to carry on and do it. So the whole label that restarted with the Hummingbirds and the Vanilla Chainsaws was just me doing it all – with bands that I liked. And I’d tell Dare about it and give him copies of it, but his input was minimal at the time. He still came, but he was so busy with his business.

Eventually at some point he either gave you his share or sold his share to you – is that what happened?

Uh, huh. Yeah, he came to me, and we talked a few times about it. He was quite prepared to sell out, because he was aware that it should be a partner who was working more time, and he couldn’t do that. Fair enough. He was completely gentlemanly about it and he wanted to make sure that I was happy. And then a few other shops started happening around town, like Waterfront started, and then in satellite towns like Wollongong and Newcastle where there were no import shops, and also out at Parametta. All of a sudden they got shops. And all of a sudden our business started to go down a little, because people didn’t have to come from out of town.

Because in 1979, ’80, ’81 and ’82, every Saturday morning punks descended on our shop. They’d come on the train together from Newcastle with spiked hair and all that. I’ve heard the stories since then. They’d tell me about how they’d hide their leather jacket under a bush and wait until their mom went out shopping, and then spike their hair up and get on the train from Newcastle. So many stories like that I’ve heard.

But they didn’t have to do that any more because now they had shops in their own town. So business started to go down. And I think Dare thought that – on the one hand he was directing a huge business that was succeeding, and on the other hand he was directing a business that didn’t look like it was going too well at the moment. So I think that sort of jogged him into making the decision – “Do I really want to do this? I’d like to spend the next two or three months trying to find someone, and then in six months if I haven’t found someone, then try to sell it anyway.” Or something like that. He was incredibly good about it – he didn’t have to do any of that.

But funny enough, on the very day he rang me to say all that, Sebastian Chase rang me up – who I’d had dealings with when I sold the Hummingbirds to him. And he said he’d just come into town, and he’d been in New York for a while. And he was wondering if there was any way he could come in on the record label side of things. Because when Dare told me he was leaving, I went “Fuck, I’m good at running a shop, but I’m not really that good at running a record label.” To really keep it going in a big way and to make it succeed I realized you had to do more and know about contracts and that sort of shit. And by then I still hadn’t done anything except by handshakes or I’d written my own contracts that were two pages and with no words longer than about six letters in them. I used to get major contracts and re-write them in lay-speak so that bands could understand them. Because I hated fucking contracts.

When I signed the Deadly Hume, we had a signing photo – you know how in Billboard, they always have people sitting around and signing and the CEO is standing above them with a big smile – we did this special one off photo for that, and we were all sitting on a burnt out car in a back lane where transvestites hang out in Kings Cross. There’s this gorgeous transvestite prostitute leaning against the car, I’m standing on top of the car with a bottle of champagne – no, one of the other guys has champagne, and I’ve got the contract. We tear the contract into little pieces, throw it in the air, and shake the champagne all over it. That was our photo we sent to all the magazines as the signing photo for the Deadly Hume. Just a complete “fuck all those stupid photos we’ve been seeing for the last 10 years in Billboard.”

Uh, what was the question? (both laugh)

We were talking about how Dare Jennings left Phantom and Sebastian Chase came in …

Oh, yeah! Well, that was it in a nutshell. I was going “fuck, what am I gonna do with the label now that Dare wants to go? Holy shit!” And this was literally on the same day – it was like the whole thing with the bloody Dead Boys record, it happened on the same day. One minute “oh fuck” and the next minute a savior arrives. It was like when I was in Los Angeles with 20 dollars and I had no job and then Dare rings up the next day. One of these things that happens so immediately.

Anyway, so I said to him “Why don’t you come in and talk to me? There may be some opening.” So he comes up for a blab and tells me what he’s interested in doing, and I thought, well that’s just what I need is someone to run the record label – someone with experience. And he’d had experience from running RooArt.

So he came in and it went downhill from there … no, no, sorry. I don’t want to say too much about it, because I’m not really very happy with how it went from there. I don’t think he’ll ever read it mind you. Where you going to print this?

It’ll be on the website.

It’s not like he’s a friend of mine. I tried to sue him last year.

Well, sometimes when that sort of stuff is going on, you want to be extra careful.

No, it’s all over, finished.

Well, what can you say?

Well, when he came in it was good – I’d gotten this guy to run the record label. It was a unwritten deal. We had no money in the label. There was no such thing as the label, really. It was just that we put a few records out and that was it. And he was going to make it bigger and better. That was his expertise. So it was really hard … we’d put a few records out and already had a few deals. Like we had a deal with the Chainsaws to do that Red Lights one and a few other things. And we signed DefFX, and that was a big thing because their records sold really quickly and sold a lot. So it got going, but still not enough money was coming in to pay a wage for Sebastian and Kylie, his girlfriend, basically, who was the accountant. So it all got restructured two or three years later, and we actually formed different companies – a collectibles company, a retail company, and a record label. And we brought in a couple of new partners into the shop and the collectibles area, but not the label.

And we didn’t choose well with the partners at all. It was my fault for not standing up, but Seb’s choice of people were just like anyone who had money would be OK, and we ended up getting a couple of arseholes, basically – people who did not add to what we had whatsoever other than that they put a few thousand bucks in which was gone in a flash, and then we had them forever. So that wasn’t a smart move on Seb’s part at all. I mean, I didn’t like a couple of guys, but he really liked them a lot and sort of thought that it would be OK.

I got talked into too much that I would never be talked into now. I compromised massively.

(At this point the tape runs out and Jules searches down another for me. In the meantime, the conversation runs off another direction and when a new tape is finally going I try to steer the conversation back to where we were.)

(continues overleaf)

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One Response to The Big Beat In The Heart Of The Vinyl Jungle

  1. julian_k July 18, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    Jules Normington. Legend. Gentleman. Living icon of Australian independent music. This deserved to be redistributed!

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