Bristol Archive Records Blog Label Feature





British post-punk lore is full of tales about the bands bursting out of places like Manchester, Liverpool, and London, and the scenes that nurtured those artists. But while it didn’t make as many headlines, the Bristol music scene of the late ’70s/early ’80s was a vital, vibrant one, just as worthy of attention. Decades later, great Bristol bands like Electric Guitars, The Cortinas, and many more are being given a new lease on life with the work of the Bristol Archive label, which is making the music available to a whole new generation of listeners, not to mention those who missed it the first time around. We talked EXCLUSIVELY with label head Mike Darby about the legacy he’s helping to keep alive through Bristol Archive.

What’s your background in the music business in general and the Bristol scene in particular?

Mike Darby: I have run Sugar Shack Records since 1985, which has primarily concentrated on the rock genre. I was in a band in 1980 called The Rimshots — white-reggae/ska/mod/pop kinda thing. We are just about to release our second single via 1977 in Japan.

How did Bristol Archive get started?

2008 was probably the startup period. It all happened quite quickly when a friend of mine, Dave Bateman, Vice Squad’s guitarist, passed away suddenly. It got me thinking about all the other guys who had either died or who would be forgotten if we didn’t create an historical vault of information of all the things that made up the Bristol music scene. Bristol is known for Portishead, Massive Attack, Smith and Mighty, but all these guys found their style, their vision, their confidence in music from the past, and much of this would have stemmed from the punk scene, 1976 onwards, the clubs…and the Bristol vibe.

What made you decide to concentrate on digital-only releases?

The vast majority are digital-only because many of the artists are unknown outside of Bristol and therefore potentially will have limited appeal. The digital era has meant that releasing records is cost-effective against manufacturing CDs or vinyl. Having said that, we have released on CD The Best of Fried Egg Records (Bristol 1979-1980) and Western Stars (The Bands that Built Bristol). We are also in the process of releasing a vinyl album from The Cortinas.

What would you describe as the defining characteristics of the late-’70s/early-’80s Bristol scene that set it apart from, say, Manchester or London?

The fusion of black and white influences. The brilliance of Talisman, Black Roots, Restriction — these great bands helped create and influence where we are today.
Can you describe a few of those you consider the key bands of the scene, and what their sound was like?

The Pop Group: weird, out there, unique, brilliant. Talisman: great songs, the best reggae band in Britain. The Cortinas: the leaders, the trendsetters…1976 punk. Andy Fairley: unknown, art, off the wall, out of his head, Mark Stewart [of The Pop Group] and [Portishead's] Geoff Barrow love his music, dead. The Various Artists: pop, songs, hooks, should have been massive. Electric Guitars: creative, great look, great songs, different, left field but still strangely commercial. Shoes For Industry: A theatre company, a record label, art, music, visuals.

In later years, Bristol would come to be known for trip-hop with the success of Portishead and Massive Attack. Do you think any of the groundwork for what they did was laid down by the post-punk scene?

Certainly for Massive Attack, as they were into punk, and around at the start of things in Bristol when punk started moving down the M4 from London. Geoff [Barrow] from Portishead is younger, but has a great sense of history, and in particular Bristol history and culture.

One of the great things about the label is that it brings to light a lot of great music that might have been lost otherwise, but who were the bands on Bristol Archive that came the closest to “breaking through?”

Claytown Troupe, The Seers, Electric Guitars, Talisman, The Cortinas, Glaxo Babies.

Your website is an amazing source of information about the Bristol scene, can you describe what people will find on it, and how all that info was put together?

I was around from 1978, watching bands, from 1980 in bands, and from 1985 releasing records, so I’m a bit of a dinosaur and a Bristol Music buff. All the bands felt it appropriate to tell their story, have the opportunity to put their music out there again, or for the first time, and be part of something — something which, through the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, never happened in Bristol. [There was] a real sense of teamwork, pulling together, being part of the same team, creating a historical account of how it started, why it started, and who was involved. Some are now key players, some never got past first base, but all deserve to be remembered for being there and being involved. There can’t be another city in the world which has pulled something like this together. If only our football teams could do something similar — oops, shouldn’t have said that!

Do you hear echoes of the old Bristol sounds in any of today’s bands? What’s coming out of Bristol nowadays?

I hear Electric Guitars, Art Objects, Fishfood, in some new music on the radio. Nowadays I like Cars On Fire, Left Side Brain, Darkhorse.

Tell us about what you’ve got coming up that you’re most excited about.

Releasing The Cortinas on vinyl is really exciting, as I’m hoping it will lead to loads of other similar projects. There will be 200 special albums which will include pics, posters, and stories, from people who are players, were players, people who would say that the Cortinas had an influence on their life and why maybe they got into bands. Can’t wait. I must thank Nick, Dan, Dexter, Mike, and Jeremy because without The Cortinas’ support and help, Bristol Archive would not have grown so quickly, and you would not be asking me questions.

By Darren Ressler

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