A vinyl single. Photo: Getty
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BBC Radio 4's The Single Life revealed the romance of vinyl

At this rate, the self-funded seven-inch may well make a comeback.

Single Life
BBC Radio 4

To the basement of a record shop in Huddersfield where the Mancunian musician/writer Mark Hodkinson is sifting through a pile of self-funded seven-inch singles from the 1970s and 1980s and wondering what happened to the people who made them (15 January, 11.30am). Thirty thousand such records stuff the room. That’s a great deal of hope and effort. “Do you sense the work and the ambience?” Mark murmurs in awe to the shopowner. “Oh yeah,” comes the sighing reply, “but a lot of them have moved on to be solicitors and accountants – the punks anyway. The rockers don’t change, mind. They just cut their hair.”

Once the calling card of any determined band, a self-funded single showed, if nothing else, how hard you were prepared to graft. “You had to book a studio,” someone points out, “to record it. Then mix the record, then find someone to master it and oversee the mastering, then find a manufacturing place and a distribution deal and get the sleeve printed up and get it into the shops. It was a rite of passage that said we are serious.”

Yes, but it could also mostly just be done in your bedroom. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (1989 in Manchester), your teenage correspondent had a boyfriend who was very nice and cool. A young musician in a band with his twin brother and a school-mate, he self-funded a single that became a surprise hit at the Haçienda and the follow-up got to number three in the charts.

Standing in the crowd and watching him on Top of the Pops may have been one of the most vomitously nervous moments of my life, but something I remember happily to this day (and have discussed with him since) is the idiosyncratic, all-consuming, sweat-and-tears making of that white label: in a bedroom in south Manchester on an SH-101 vintage synth. The toing and froing to the kitchen for toast. The intricate sampling from Fatal Attraction. The borrowing of £200 from his mum to press up 1,000 records and then the driving around in a clapped-out Maestro from record shop to record shop in search of an approving seller.

The trio went on to form the successful indie rock band Doves, and so you could say that that agonised-over white label was completely transformative. Hodkinson’s documentary was concerned with somewhat sadder outcomes (bands breaking up, dreams dashed) and yet that same enabling spirit was there. Money borrowed from your mum or aunt, post-recording pizzas in crap suburban bistros, intense pride in the object when it emerged. This past week it was reported that sales of vinyl records rocketed to 9.2 million in America last year, the highest since 1991. They may be only about 4 per cent of all albums sold, but increasingly records are kept as objects, collected. A little more romantic than a download, you know? At this rate, the self-funded seven-inch may well make a comeback. 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 16 January 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Jihadis Among Us

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Former MP Bob Marshall-Andrews: Why I’m leaving Labour and joining the Lib Dems

A former political ally of Jeremy Corbyn explains why he is leaving Labour after nearly 50 years.

I’m leaving home. It’s a very hard thing to do. All of my natural allegiances have been to Labour, and never had I contemplated leaving the party – not even in the gloomy years, when we were fighting Iraq and the battles over civil liberties. I have always taken the view that it’s far better to stay within it. But it has just gone too far. There has been a total failure to identify the major issues of our age.

The related problems of the environment, globalisation and the migration of impoverished people are almost ignored in favour of the renationalisation of the railways and mantras about the National Health Service. The assertion that Labour could run the NHS better than the Tories may be true, but it is not the battle hymn of a modern republic. It is at best well-meaning, at worst threadbare. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life talking about renationalising the railways while millions of people move across the world because of famine, war and climate change.

The centre left in British politics is in retreat, and the demise of the Labour Party has the grim inevitability of a Shakespearean tragedy. Ironically, history will show that Labour’s fatal flaw lay in its spectacular success.

Labour is, in essence, a party of the 20th century, and in those 100 years it did more to advance the freedom and well-being of working people and the disadvantaged than any other political movement in history. The aspirations of the founding fathers – access to education, health and welfare; equality before the law; collective organisation; universal franchise – have all to a large extent been achieved. The party’s record of racial and religious tolerance has been a beacon in a century of repression. These achievements have been enshrined in the fabric of British society and reproduced across the world.

The success brought deserved, unprecedented power and created political fortresses across the industrial heartlands of Britain. But with power, the party became increasingly moribund and corrupt. The manipulation of the union block vote at party conferences became a national disgrace. The Labour heartlands, particularly Scotland, were treated like rotten boroughs, and were too often represented by union placemen.

Instead of seeking a new radicalism appropriate to the challenges of the age, New Labour sought to ambush the Tories on the management of market capital and to outflank them on law and order: a fool’s errand. It inevitably succumbed to another form of corruption based on hubris and deceit, resulting in attacks on civil liberty, financial disaster and catastrophic war.

The reaction has been to lurch back to the status quo. The extraordinary fall from a massive majority of 179 in 1997 to a political basket case has been blamed on the false dichotomy between Blairism and the old, unionised Labour. Both have contributed to the disaster in equal measure.

I believe desperately in the politics of the 21st century, and Labour is at best paying lip service to it – epitomised in its failure to engage in the Brexit debate, which I was horrified by. The Liberal Democrats are far from perfect, but they have been consistent on Europe, as they were in their opposition to the Iraq War and on civil liberties. They deserve support.

But it’s a serious wrench. I’m leaving friends, and it hurts. Jeremy Corbyn was a political ally of mine on a number of serious issues. We made common cause on Tony Blair’s assaults on civil liberty and the Iraq War, and we went to Gaza together. He has many of the right ideas, but he simply has not moved into addressing the major problems.

To be blunt, I don’t think Corbyn is leadership material, but that is aside from politics. You need skills as a leader, and I don’t think he’s got them, but I was prepared to stick it out to see what happened. It has been a great, gradual disappointment, and Brexit has brought it all to the fore.

Frankly, I was surprised that he announced he was a Remainer, because I know that his natural sympathies have lain with a small cadre within Labour – an old-fashioned cadre that holds that any form of trade bloc among relatively wealthy nations is an abhorrence. It’s not: it’s the way forward. Yet there are people who believe that, and I know he has always been sympathetic to them.

But by signing up and then doing nothing, you sell the pass. Labour was uniquely qualified to confront the deliberate falsehoods trumpeted about the NHS – the absurd claims of massive financial dividends to offset the loss of doctors
and nurses already packing their bags – and it failed. Throughout that campaign, the Labour leadership was invisible, or worse.

At present, there is a huge vacuum on the centre left, represented in substantial part by an angry 48 per cent of the electorate who rejected Brexit and the lies on which it was based. Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. There is no sign from Labour that the issue is even to be addressed, let alone actively campaigned on. The Labour leadership has signed up to Brexit and, in doing so, rejected the principles of international co-operation that Europe has fostered for half a century. That is not a place I want to be.

The failure to work with, or even acknowledge, other political parties is doctrinaire lunacy. And it will end very badly, I think. The centre left has an obligation to coalesce, and to renege on that obligation is reneging on responsibility. Not to sit on the same platform as other parties during the Brexit debate is an absurd statement of political purity, which has no place at all in modern politics.

The Liberal Democrats have grasped the political challenges of the 21st century as surely as their predecessors in the Liberal Party failed to comprehend those that faced the world a century ago. For that reason, I will sign up and do my best to lend support in my political dotage. After nearly 50 years as a Labour man, I do so with a heavy heart – but at least with some radical hope for my grandchildren.

Bob Marshall-Andrews was the Labour MP for Medway from 1997 to 2010.

As told to Anoosh Chakelian.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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