Sunday, 20 February 2011
Skimming Stones ... nine times
Skimming Stones, the special issue of Your Heart Out which can be downloaded for free here, touches on the strange story of Lightning Records which completely defies the prevailing narrative about small labels in the late '70s. It was not a media insider's plaything. It was a genuine small business, and openly opportunistic. It had a bizarrely mixed catalogue (novelty numbers, football anthems, punk cash-ins) but it also picked up on and made available widely some of the greatest reggae records ever, and through a WEA distribution deal had some massive hits, including Dennis Brown's Money In My Pocket and Althea & Donna's Uptown Top Ranking. One of the earliest reggae records it picked up on was the lovers version of Feel Like Making Love by Elizabeth Archer & the Equators, with its even more astonishing dub side. It was a massive favourite of John Peel's in 1977. And yet, for such a great record, I confess I know practically nothing about where it came from. The only other place I have seen Elizabeth's name is as a backing singer on Prince Far I's Cry Tuff Chapter 3, along with Ari Up and Viv Goldman. Somehow, knowing Lightning's way of working, I have always asumed the single was a Jamaican recording, though there was a West Midlands reggae outfit called The Equators, an inspiration to The Beat etc.,who later recorded for Stiff.
One other incredibly important thing about Lightning was its Old Gold arm. Long before the recycling industry got going Old Gold was a label that made available a haphazard selection from pop's past on 7" singles which were sold in high street stores. So, for example, when Kevin Rowland said he listened to Aretha Franklin singing I Say A Little Prayer every morning, Old Gold made it possible for young kids to do the same thing before going to school. That would have been around the time of the extreme romanticism of the Projected Passion Revue ...