Various Artists – Rough Trade Records – 1980

Stiff Little Fingers – Alternative Ulster / Delta 5 – Mind Your Own Business / The Slits – Man Next Door / Essential Logic – Aerosol Burns / TV Personalities – Part Time Punks / Swell Maps – Read About Seymour / The Pop Group – We Are All Prostitutes

Spizz Energi – Soldier Soldier / Kleenex – Ain’t You / Cabaret Voltaire – Nag Nag Nag / The Raincoats – In Love / Young Marble Giants – Final Day / Scritti Politti – Skank Bloc Bologna / Robert Wyatt – At Last I Am Free

Inspired by a comment on the Toxic Grafity thread, Nic mentioned a BBC 4 programme all about the history of THE FOUNDATION of U.K. independant music which is the Rough Trade Shop, Record label and Distribution service.

If you have not heard of Rough Trade then there is no reason why you would be browsing this site right now!

Through the 30 plus years in business the Rough Trade organisation has touched countless thousands of hearts through the interesting and ecleptic selection of records that were sold over the counter at the west London, and much later, the San Fransisco store. The records that were released on the Rough Trade record label from 1978, and the 1000’s of units (whether records, fanzines or books) shifted that were released from other DIY sources via the distribution centre in Blenheim Crescent, W11, later to be moved into Kings Cross at Collier Street, N1 also helped to spread the thriving U.K independant music scene across the world.

The Cartel was set up with around a dozen key stores in different catchment areas such as York, Nottingham, Bristol, Norwich, Edinburgh etc. Rough Trade tried to organise everything in a pure and organic fair trade kind of way (a long time before those words became popular in the 21st century). 

The Distribution moved to Manor House, N4 and it all went Pete Tong. The record and distibution company quickly folded, although the shops were safe.

Then during (or slightly after) the Rough Trade 25 year anniversary jollie down the beautiful Victoria & Albert Museum (which I was invited and attended) Geoff Travis and Jeanette Lee decided to revamp the famous old record label after buying the name ‘Rough Trade’ back, and got far more success than they ever got in the 1970’s, 80’s or 90’s. Good on both of them…

The Rough Trade shop opened a new store in Neil Street, W1in the 1990’s (which is no longer there) and nowadays a Rough Trade superstore at Brick Lane, E1 is open and doing (I hope) a roaring trade.

Personally I was a Small Wonder customer until it turned into Ugly Child Records towards 1984, then I swapped allegeance and started going to Rough Trade up west London a lot more often than I had previously. In those days I could quite happily spend the whole Saturday afternoon in that store just looking at the wall in awe. This I did on countless occasions! Of course I tried to purchase as many records, tapes and fanzines as possible to make the travel fair more worth while! A small percentage of my booty from Rough Trade (and Small Wonder) is uploaded on this site already, as you can probably guess!

The LP uploaded tonight is a U.S. released compilation on the Rough Trade label with some quite obvious tracks on both sides of this record (some of which are already on this site in 7″ single form). But just because they are ‘obvious’ tracks does not mean they are fillers! There is not a duff track on this LP, so sit back and re-enjoy some real classic ‘A sides’ of post punk singles from the late 1970’s from the original and, in my opinion, best record label ever to have graced this country of ours*

* Except All The Madmen Records – which was distributed by (can you guess?) Rough Trade Distribution.

Hoping on some interesting comments to be attached to this thread, with KYPP browser’s memories of the Kensington Park Road or Talbot Road shops. Nigel, Jude and Pete always helpful behind the counters of these shops.

Dave Fergusson self appointed ‘King Of Punk’ peddling tapes outside the door of Rough Trade shop with his dog ‘Giro’.

Geoff Travis and Richard Scott on the label and distribution side and of course the 1000’s of employee’s that would be working in the warehouses and then going off to perform later that night for the bands they belonged to. Microdisney and the Folk Devils being just two examples that spring to mind right this minute, that had members that also held down day jobs at Rough Trade Distribution.

Get scribbling folks – you as well Mr Tony Drayton! Your good self and your Ripped And Torn fanzine were namechecked early on in the BBC 4 programme.

Please let the KYPP browser know how you got the fanzine into the shop and whether they were good people to be dealing with and any other relevant or interesting details.

202 Kensington Park Road, London W11

Wall of 202 Kensington Park Road, the wall of 130 Talbot Road was also similar.

130 Talbot Road, London W11

In 1978 the world was a very different place. Punk was in ashes, Elvis was not long dead and John Lennon was yet to be assassinated. Music came in analogue form, unsullied by a digital age which was still a hazy blur on the thought horizon. It was in this year that the Rough Trade record label began.

The label grew, quite literally, out of the record shop Geoff Travis had opened in West London in February 1976. The shop was trailblazing, farsighted, welcoming, radical – even revolutionary – and it was brimming over with wonderful things: seven-inch picture sleeves whose market was about to exponentially explode, reggae LPs, punk fanzines, badges. By 1978, it had a distribution system and was taking and selling records from bands benefiting from an emerging DIY culture. It was logical, then, that they should start a record label.


‘Paris Maquis’ ( RT001 ) by French punk rock band Metal Urbaine has the distinction of being the first Rough Trade release and was swiftly followed that year by an eclectic further eleven singles, many of which stand today as classics of their genre. Reggae – reflecting the label’s location in the heart of the west Indian community – punk and a healthy slice of electronic music were presented. Cabaret Voltaire, Augustus Pablo, Swell Maps, Electric Eels and Subway Sect were amongst the first artists.


By the end of 1979, a number of bands now commonly associated with Rough Trade had started to release records on the label, including Scritti Politti and The Raincoats. Such was the label’s recognized importance that a television programme the South Bank Show was devoted to it. When its first album, Stiff Little Fingers’ ‘Inflammable Material’, was released later in the year, it became the first independent record in history to sell over 100,000 copies and charted at number 14.


With the turn of the decade and the emergence of post punk, Rough Trade had grown far too large for its legendary but relatively tiny premises. The growth of the label and the success of its distribution arm, which by then distributed product by many hundreds of independent record labels, meant that larger premises needed to be found and in December 1980, the label and distribution moved to Blenheim Crescent.


The move coincided with what is often regarded as a golden period for the label. Innovative, emboldened by its success and as ever drawn inexorably towards the maverick, Rough Trade released over the next few years some of the finest independent music ever committed to vinyl. New acts to the roster included The Fall, Pere Ubu, Young Marble Giants, This Heat, Robert Wyatt, Television Personalities, Aztec Camera and James Blood Ulmer. Classic LP releases include The Fall’s ‘Grotesque’, This Heat’s ‘Deceit’, Pere Ubu’s ‘The Modern Dance’, Young Marble Giants’ ‘Colossal Youth’, Scritti Politti’s ‘Songs To Remember’ and James Blood Ulmer’s ‘Are You Glad To Be In America?’, all totems of that era from 1980 to 1983.

The signing of The Smiths in 1983 drew Rough Trade into new territory. A stifled independent music scene was gradually giving way to what would go on to be recognized as ‘indie’ and The Smiths, although not entirely foursquare with the genre, found themselves at the forefront of the emerging scene. The intensity with which the media embraced them, and the ensuing parallel success of their records meant that the label had to learn how to promote a band in a way it had never had to do before.


The outcome was an unprecedented run of sixteen chart singles beginning with ‘This Charming Man’ in 1984 and culminating in ‘Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me’ in 1987. All four studio albums reached the top two.

By 1984, Rough Trade was successful and on the move again, this time to larger premises in Kings Cross. In spite of its growth it had shed none of its principles and those characteristics that defined the company early on – egalitarianism, inclusivity, leftfield vision – were evident at the time of the Miners struggle against Margaret Thatcher’s government. Rough Trade released ‘Strike’ by The Enemy Within and distributed records to help support miners’ families. They also donated records to the children of the miners.


In 1987, Jeannette Lee joined Rough Trade and would go on to co-develop the Rough Trade record label as we know it today. A former member of Public Image Ltd and former employee of the legendary punk clothing outlet Acme Attractions, Jeannette would initially be influential in steering some of the bigger successes of late 80-s Rough Trade, including The Sundays whose album ‘Reading, Writing & Arithmetic’ was a top five hit in 1990. Jeannette’s arrival coincided with a new influx of guitar bands that looked set to reinvigorate the label, bands like Galaxie 500 and Mazzy Star.


But it was not to be, and, after an ill-fated move to Manor House, in early 1991, following a series of unfortunate business decisions and credit issues affecting distribution, Rough Trade International, the parent company, went into Administration. All of the assets, including the record company and the rights to the Rough Trade name itself, were sold off in an attempt to cover Distribution’s debts. The Rough Trade story, at least for the moment, was over.


It would be the best part of a decade before Geoff Travis and Jeannette Lee could reacquire the rights to the Rough Trade name and begin again as a record company with the help of trading partner Sanctuary. Once again the old Rough Trade ethos came to the fore – an openness of mind, a willingness to be moved and an unswerving belief in the vision of the artists. They were back in west London, too, which has always seemed the spiritual homeland of Rough Trade.


In Spring 2001, Geoff and Jeannette DJ’d at the V&A for the 25th anniversary party of the Rough Trade shop and the good faith elicited convinced them that they were absolutely right to re-launch the label. They had already released a trickle of albums and singles but it was an unsolicited tape from New York they had received a few months earlier that would spectacularly give them they ammunition they needed.


The Strokes first release ‘The Modern Age’ – the title almost says it all – galvanized both the revitalized Rough Trade and the British music industry, which was sorely in need of a lift post Brit-Pop. Geoff’s and Jeannette’s peripatetic foray to a New Jersey bar in search of the band they would bring back and promote before attending to the small detail of signing them to a contract paid off. Subsequent releases by The Strokes through 2001/2 and beyond would give their label its biggest commercial success since The Smiths.


Releases during the early- to mid- part of the 2000s by important artists like The Libertines, Eddi Reader, British Sea Power, Low, Emiliana Torrini, Arcade Fire, Belle & Sebastian, Sufjan Stevens and Antony & The Johnsons reflected the refreshing eclecticism of the co-founders, but by 2005 the label had hit a vintage vein of credible and commercial form. Antony & The Johnsons were the unexpected yet deserved winners of the Mercury Prize for the outstanding ‘I Am A Bird Now’ and Arcade Fire’s ‘Funeral’ album had become a worldwide hit, eliciting breathless praise from the likes of David Bowie and David Byrne.


By 2006, some old friends had returned, too. Scritti Politti’s ‘White Bread, Black Beer’ suggested they’d never been away and made it all the way to the Mercury shortlist, whilst Jarvis Cocker, whom Rough Trade had managed for nearly fifteen years, released his first post-Pulp album, ‘Jarvis’.


Over the last few years the record industry has not escaped the economic downturn and one result of that has been the severing of ways between Rough Trade and Sanctuary in July 2007 when the label entered an equal partnership with the Beggars Group. A perhaps more appropriate fit, the Beggars deal ensured ‘stability, dynamism and expertise to grow on a worldwide basis’. Rough Trade now has a stronger US presence, one that will continue to grow and serve rising artists like Basia Bulat who can benefit from local as well as transatlantic guidance.


With British Sea Power taking ‘Do You Like Rock Music?’ into the Top Ten and onto the Mercury Prize shortlist in 2008 and with groups like The Hold Steady, ‘the band that set out to do nothing’ finding themselves rising global stars, for the moment Rough Trade heads in the right direction. Important new releases for 2009 by Antony & The Johnsons and The Veils underline the fact that the future is promising. ‘It’s flattering that people are interested in the past,’ Geoff Travis has said, ‘but… the most important thing is what happens now, what happens next.’


Watch this space.


Neil Taylor

  1. betab
    March 19, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    For those of us down on the sunny South Coast, Attrix performed a similar service: a place where a bored and rather scared teenager could just hang about and listen (and spend what cash was available on obscure vinyl). provides some rather fine memories of Rick’s activities and legacy.

    It’s nice to have websites to hang about in and be treated to wonderful bits of music, but sometimes I do wish there were still real time spaces to do the same in…

  2. devotionalhooligan
    March 19, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    nice choice mate, especially after the documentary on the box last week.

    which i thought was canny good… although i’d hoped for some red (c)krayola footage… but hey, can’t complain, right. Mayo was cute though.
    hope you, the missus and the nipper are well.

    big hugs.x

  3. Carl
    March 20, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    Wandering off at a tangent, but record shops were like a treasure trove to a teenager..Just the smell of the places (old vinyl !! ). There was a great shop in Blackpool and it moved to Preston in the early ’80’s called Action Records which was great and me and my friends would always leave there jammed to the armpits with the latest punky noise. Always blasting out UK Subs and Chelsea at great volumes and stacks of fanzines….

    I’m sure Penguin will understand the bit about the “smell ” of records or am I on my own here ????

  4. Wendt
    September 8, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    the link to “roughtrade0002.mp3” on mediafire appears to be broken 🙁
    I am enjoying the A-Side great style, a lot of songs I knew already but was never able to put a name to, as I taped a lot from east german radio station lacking english comprehension and falling for bad pronunciations by the radio presenters
    (btw I am looking for something by some solo guitar guy singing “Of Course Will It Rain Tomorrow”)
    anyway could you please update the mediafire link and/or someone post an alternative ?
    much appreciated

  5. Penguin
    Penguin • Post Author •
    September 8, 2009 at 11:45 pm

    Seems to be working fine Wendt – try it again.

  6. griffin
    February 18, 2010 at 10:43 am


  7. AL Puppy
    AL Puppy
    February 18, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    Is Vic there?

  8. Alan
    September 15, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    As far as we can see, Vic ISN’T here, but if he comes in, we’ll let you know.

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