Nowadays the BBC network is very much TV by committee and so programmes like the recent The Story of Indie: Music for Misfits often veer towards the safe rather than the challenging. Saying that, each of the three documentaries was mostly enjoyable enough stuff.
’In the 1970s,’ the show’s BBC Four webpage page tells us, ’the music industry was controlled by the major record labels, and the notion of releasing a record independently seemed like an impossible dream. At a time when even the Sex Pistols were on a major label, the true act of rebellion was would be to do it yourself.’
A big generalisation, albeit with more than a couple of grains of truth in it but I’m guessing that whoever wrote those two sentences has never heard Clem Dane’s The Wee Kirkcudbright Centipede, released by Glasgow based Klub at a time when The Pistols were front page news in 1977. Klub were certainly no EMI, Arista or WEA and managed to survive by flogging records by some local light entertainment artistes and dodgy Scottish club comedians like Hector Nicol. Early the next year, they put out the musical embarrassment that was Andy Cameron’s Ally’s Tartan Army, a single that went on to sell over 360,000 copies and made the UK top ten, meaning that, in terms of sales, Klub dwarfed those of Fast and Zoom. Klub also later released a three track single by a proggy Glasgow band with a Beefheart fixation called Chou Pahrot, whose songs had titles like Gwizgweela Gwamphnoo and Buzgo Tram Chorus. Where they fitted in with the label’s vision I cannot even begin to guess.
If I did have a problem with Music For Misfits it was with the lack of historical perspective in the first of the three shows, which presented a world where no independent records seemed to have ever existed before Spiral Scratch.
No mention of Triumph Records, founded in 1960 by Joe Meek together with William Barrington-Coupe; no Immediate, run by Andrew Loog Oldham and Tony Calder; no Stiff or Chiswick and despite this being the BBC and multiple mentions of John Peel, nothing about his own Dandelion imprint. Nothing on Fatal Records, set up by The Saints to release (I’m) Stranded in Australia in 1976; not a mention of the countless American labels that released shedloads of rip roarin’ rockabilly and glorious but obscure soul back in the ’50s and ’60s, although the focus was on indie from British shores, England and Scotland to be specific – even Belfast’s Good Vibrations was ignored, which I found a strange oversight.
No Ork either obviously, a label that gave the world Television’s Little Johnny Jewel, Richard Hell’s Blank Generation and Free Again by Alex Chilton.
Forty years after its launch, the entire output of Ork has just, for the first time, been collected together and, along with a couple of previously unreleased singles from the The Feelies and Erasers, been released by Numero Group. The compilation includes some sublime NYC punk, new wave and powerpop, one fine example of the latter category being this gem by Chris Stamey, aided and abetted by the genius that was Alex Chilton. This is the beautifully bittersweet The Summer Sun:
Ork was the brainchild of Terry Ork, a gay Californian who moved to New York in the late ’60s and befriended Gerard Malanga, soon becoming his assistant in the Factory while also finding time to work for Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine.
He also for a time managed Greenwich Village store Cinemabilia, where Richard Hell first met future Voidoid Robert Quine and he let Television rehearse in his loft. He later managed that band. Ork hung around in Max’s Kansas City and then in CBGB and according to Marky Ramone’s book Punk Rock Blitzkrieg, at one point he effectively became the booking agent for that legendary bar. Indeed, he was portrayed in the 2013 film CBGB by Johnny Galecki, although the role was relatively minor – if I remember this pretty forgettable film correctly, his big moment was offering to give Iggy Pop a blowjob.
Terry Ork came across New Jersey band The Feelies in 1976 and agreed to sign and manage them. The following summer they recorded a couple of songs, Fa Cé-La and Big Plans, for Ork, which was apparently going to be hooking up with major Polygram. The deal, through, stalled and the single never came out via Ork. By the time Terry acquired the finances needed to make the release happen, the band had gone off the tracks as their sound had moved on.
Another version of Fa Cé-La was, though, released as a single on Rough Trade in 1979 but this is the superior version intended for Ork. Just listen to that What Goes On guitar and marvel!
For more on the Ork Records Complete Singles compilation, click here.