A label, with love
I’m very grateful to Phil Gyford for creating this playlist on Spotify: Facing the other way: the story of 4AD. It’s given me a chance to remember some music I’d forgotten, and one or two haircuts I’d rather not think about at all.
I wouldn’t say 4AD defined my music taste during the late 80s to late 90s, but the label certainly dominated my buying habits. I became obsessed with the whole thing: 4AD’s distinctive artwork, eclectic releases, the whole idea of a mysterious leader called Ivo who was so clearly so magnetic, the Cocteau Twins named a song after him. I fell into 4AD’s orbit and stayed there for years. Not because I was thinking “I must buy everything this label releases,” but because I was thinking “My god, it’s yet another album of music I really like, and look it happens to be on 4AD and wow, isn’t that great?”
It began with the Cocteau Twins, while I was still at school. A 6th form friend called Phil invited me round his house, played some ’Twins at me, and I begged to borrow his tapes. He generously agreed, and I buried myself in the early Cocteaus back catalogue, greedily copying tape-to-tape on my crappy Sanyo boom box. I think it was a Sanyo. Anyway.
From the Cocteaus I moved on, first I think to The The and to Throwing Muses. I can remember buying Hunkpapa on cassette, and I think I was still at school… (checks: yes – it came out in January 1989). I can also remember playing Hunkpapa to friends while driving my mum’s car. They didn’t like it much.
Then the Pixies released Surfer Rosa and everything went nuts. Pixes were huge, everyone was into them after Doolittle came out. We sang “Gigantic” and “Debaser” in the SU bar, drinking our cheap cider and bottles of Newcastle Brown. Ugh.
I was a student with no money for anything except music, so obviously I didn’t bother with haircuts. My hair grew a ridiculous long fringe which flopped over the top of my glasses. I looked like a right flannel.
Eventually I had to get a haircut because I had to get a job. As 4AD continued to release more stuff, I now had disposable income to buy it with. Pale Saints, Lush, The Breeders, This Mortal Coil, Belly, Ultra Vivid Scene. So many happy hours in my tiny crappy bedroom in my scuzzy crappy shared house, with my headphones on and those albums going right through me.
A few happy hours in live venues, too, seeing some of those bands play live. Throwing Muses live were incredible – Kristin Hersh moving her head from side to side, while keeping her eyes fixed straight ahead. Hypnotic, bewitching, unforgettable. Even now, more years later than I care to try counting.
Phil’s playlist is 37 hours long. Take a week off work, and let it go through you.