People from the era tell their stories.
» Shane Dabinett
TRAPPED IN A SCENE
INTERVIEW WITH SHANE DABINETT, FOUNDER OF MANIC EARS RECORDS
When and why did you get into punk rock? did you actually grow up in Bristol, and how did you find the scene there?
I got into Punk when I was 13, I grew up near Yeovil in Somerset, and used to hang outside the local indie record shop at weekends with a band called ‘The Mob'. It was all 1977 stuff then, Sex Pistols, Damned, The Clash, The Stranglers, The Buzzcocks, The Skidz, Generation X, Sham 69, The Police and so on. I used to go to Taunton with a punk girl called Christine, who moved to London in 79 and formed a band in early the 80s called ‘Bikini Mutants' with another Yeovil punk girl called Debbie. (In 1990, I found Debbie backstage at Reading Festival, she was playing in ‘My Bloody Valentine') We used to see bands like Sham 69, Buzzcocks, Richard Hell & the Void-Oids, John Cooper Clark in Taunton and Exeter, The Stranglers. I saw the Stranglers several times at various venues in the West Country including Bristol with The Dictators. We used to go to a lot of ‘The Mob' gigs in the early days (including once when they supported ‘The Fall') and then about 79, Mark of The Mob heard about Crass and they all moved to London. I am a bit fuzzy in this area, but Josef Porter used to drum for ‘The Mob', he also did ‘Zounds' and later formed ‘Blythe Power'. They were really excited about Crass and the new wave of Punk movement starting up then in London. I moved to Bristol in 82 and met up with Amebix, Disorder, Chaos UK and Lunatic Fringe etc and set up a gig in Bristol with The Mob/Disorder/Amebix/Chaos UK for the Squatters Action Group.
Were you in any bands of your own?
When and why did you decide to start your own label? who else was involved in the very early days of Manic Ears?
I was doing a fanzine in 83-85 called Manic, inspired by Children of the Revolution Fanzine as Tim Bennet was involved in the Bristol scene and lived with those bands in various squats/houses too. We shared an office in the back room of Full Marks Bookshop when Tim started his label COR Records with some inheritance money. He kicked off his label with Chaos UK ‘Short Sharp Shock' with the singer on the cover, Mower, being attacked by the Police on a ‘Stop the City' demonstration, I think.
I started doing a tape label then too, so, me and Tim were working out of this back room in Full Marx Bookshop, he was running COR Records, I was doing Manic Fanzine and the Tape Label ‘Lethal Dose Tapes'. I was very inspired by what Tim was up to and he started to make good headway when he put out the Stupids EP, followed by 2 Stupid's LP's.
Then Full Marx Bookshop changed premises, and Tim found some really old office space at the top of this run down building. It was at that time I met a guy from the other end of Bristol called Mark who did a Fanzine called ‘Ears Of A Dead Man', it was not so popular as Manic or COR, but Tim had stopped his fanzine due to his record label commitments, he was doing 18 hours a day on that label at some point. So I got together with Mark and started a Mail Order Distribution by Fanzine networking and Mark came up with the idea ‘Manic Ears' Distribution, using ‘Manic' and the ‘Ears' part of our fanzines. However, Mark did not put a lot of effort into the distribution and I was working up in this shitty old office space with Tim. I was running Manic Ears Distribution mainly by myself. In the end Mark just said he wanted out of it and left me to do it all. Tim lost that office space and we moved our separate operations into our bedrooms in our homes. I had a little room off my bedroom that used to be an old Kitchen at some point, and I converted it into an office to run Manic Ears Distribution and the Tape Label, and later Manic Ears Records. Tim was in another house running his label out of his bedroom.
It was at this house that Bear (Lunatic Fringe) and his Brother Beano moved in, with Chaos from Chaos UK. They started up a fanzine called Skate Muties from the 5th Dimension and Chaos UK approached me to put out their new LP, they wanted to do a split LP with a Band they liked from Ipswich called ‘Extreme Noise Terror'. I did not have the money at the time, but went to Revolver Distribution and asked about starting a label, got a bit of a brushing off at first until I said I had a band to kick the label off with, Chaos UK, to which they responded, ‘oh, oh, ok, come in and we will discuss a Manufacturing and Distribution deal'.
To what extent did your participation in the thriving tape trading underground shape your approach to running a label? what are your fondest memories of that time?
Tell us a bit about your relationships with all the Bristol bands, Chaos UK in particular...
That was the point in time I decided to try to get the money together to run a label, it took a year of planning, and at the time Extreme Noise Terror had come over to Bristol with their master tapes as they had already recorded their side of the LP for £82! I was thinking up ways of raising the money, I went to a business planning group who had a link to grants from Prince of Wales Trust fund which changed to the Youth Enterprise Scheme. After a year of business planning, pulling a business plan together, I managed to get a grant of £2000 plus a bank Overdraft facility of £500. There was also this scheme for the unemployed in place where the Government paid you £40 per week to live on plus Housing Benefit for the first year of running your business. All you had to have was £1000 in your account and a Business proposal. So, after a year of having Extreme Noise Terror's masters for the LP in 85, by 1986, I had got all the funding in place and was set and ready to get going setting up a Record Label. I got Chaos UK into SAM studio in Bristol to record their songs for the split LP and had been discussing with Hammy an LP by his band, Civilized Society? This was also recorded and studio paid for. I was living off the £40 per week provided by the Enterprise Allowance Scheme for the first year and using the grant money to fund recording costs for Chaos UK, pay ENT recording costs, and Civilized Society? Studio costs. So I had 2 LP's to kick off the label with, I went back to Revolver and was ready to go, signed their Manufacturing and Distribution deal and Manic Ears Records was born. I stopped the Tape Label and concentrated on the Record Label, and on 6th September, 1986, the Chaos UK/Extreme Noise Terror Split LP was released called ‘Earslaughter'.
Needless to say, living in that house with all those punks, and all those things going on around me, was pure fun and absolutely chaotic. Most of the Bristol bands were close by and Tim was nearing the end of COR Records as I think after 3-4 years of running it solo was really time consuming as I found out with Manic Ears. There was Chaos in my house, my label was based there, Skate Muties was based there, and Chaos UK used the living room to practice in! so, it was very Chaotic, also, Spider from a psychedelic band, The Seers, who were our friends, lived in the room across from me so there was so much activity going on in that house. The Seers had signed a deal with Virgin Records so things were taking off for them after they put out an indie single about the Hungerford Massacre called ‘Lightening Strikes' which received a lot of press attention and got them a Major Record deal.
I was also promoting gigs at the Tropic Club in Bristol. It was a busy time with bands from all over the world staying over at the house. Also, people just showed up out of nowhere and stayed. So much partying went on, so many bands called in, so many people stayed over. However, Manic Ears Records was not getting any press attention. A situation I later managed to rectify. John Peel played ‘Earslaughter' in 1986 and he said that Extreme Noise Terror should see their manager! A year later, when Napalm Death hit the shelves with Earache Records suddenly Extreme Noise Terror became his favorite band! He overlooked them at first, and many have said that ‘Earslaughter' was out way before its time, but considering ENT had recorded their stuff a year before it was released did not make sense to me at all.
What were your aims and motivations when you started Manic Ears? and how did they develop as time went by?
Well, that's a tough question, The aims at the time when the label first started was to release earsplitting British Hardcore that was influenced by hardcore bands from all around the world such as Japan, Italy and the USA. It was to make noise with a political message but not in the same vein as previous punk like Discharge, Crass, GBH, Flux Of Pink Indians and the stuff that came out of Riot City Records and Southern Studios. It was not intended to be commercial in any sense; however, when John Peel picked up on it did become slightly commercial in an indie sense. It was not commercial pop, more anti pop, more noise, and the lyrics did not have to be sung to be understood, they could be shouted, grunted or whatever, but the message was still there. The idea was to release extremely noisy music. It did crossover to the metal scene. That is how the crossover scene developed with bands like Napalm Death, who, incidentally, Manic Ears turned down on advice from Pushead of Thrasher Magazine/Septic Death. Then, when Earache put Napalm Death's LP out, it was unbelievable; they shifted 10,000 copies in one week, whilst the 1,500 Ripcord LPs I had just released just trickled out! However, saying that, Dig who ran Earache Records had a specific marketing method which worked. I was running on the system that COR Records did. That was because I had seen how Tim had run his label. The Stupids were the COR band that put COR on the Hardcore map and inspired Manic Ears and Earache Records.
'Earslaughter' was obviously a very major turning point... were you aware just how important an album it would become as it was being recorded? could you believe what was happening as the buzz around ENT went through the roof?
Not when it first came out, it was largely overlooked and it only sold 1,500 copies on release. It took a couple more years and bands like Napalm Death to arrive on the scene before Extreme Noise Terror were noticed. At the time I put ‘Earslaughter' out it was overlooked by the press and sold on the Chaos UK side of the LP. 2-3 years later, it was selling on the Extreme Noise Terror side! I was not aware how ENT would change the music scene, at that time, like I said, it was overlooked and did not sell well, 1,500 copies on release is not a lot. It was 2-3 years later that ENT buzz went through the roof and it was unbelievable! I was like, huh? Why wouldn't it sell when it was released? Why was Napalm Death getting the credit when ENT did it first? I was flabbergasted and annoyed as ENT did not get the recognition as Napalm Death did until 2-3 years later. It was very frustrating.
What are your fondest memories of the UKHC scene that Manic Ears was so heavily involved in, circa 1986/1988? now's your chance to wax lyrical about your unsung faves etc!
I think my fondest memories were making so many friends in the hardcore scene, especially Pushead who was very popular at the time writing for Thrasher mag, doing Septic Death Band and his label. Also, the phone calls that I would suddenly get on a Sunday morning from John Peel about the latest Test pressing I sent him, especially Dr & Crippens, he went barmy over them. I met him several times at gigs around the country too, especially Extreme Noise Terror shows, and doing the BBC sessions in Maida Vale studios with the bands was extremely fun. Other fun memories was the wind ups Rich Militia came up with Sore Throat against Napalm Death which I leaked to the press, as by that time I got to know some Journalists personally. And finally the Gaye Bykers On Acid ‘Rektum' scam, that was so funny, the press all fell for it hook, line and sinker, like I really took in some band from East Germany, who escaped through Hungary to Bristol, and was helping them put out a record! Even John Peel called me up offering a session, but I had to tell him the truth, it was a GBOA scam, not true John, bless him. May he rest in peace.
What are your favourite - and least favourite - of your earliest releases now, with the benefit of hindsight? and why?!?
I think I regret putting out some of the American stuff out, it did not sell at all and I spent too much on recording those bands, plus the license deals, I should have stuck to Britcore only. The punk/Hardcore phenomenon was worldwide which was what I was trying to get across, but I should have stuck to British bands primarily as Manic Ears was a British Hardcore label. In hindsight that is my main regret. My favourite band was Dr & The Crippens, I had to mould them into a hardcore band and they had their special British humour which helped. I really pushed that band as far as I could as I thought they were the new Stupids in a sense, they did well but after Manic Ears closed up they could not get a decent record deal, so really, they were a Manic Ears Band throughout and that is where they belonged.
Likewise, which were the best- and worst-selling releases for Manic Ears?
The best selling were Chaos UK/ENT after 3 years later of release, Ripcord later too, and Concrete Sox, and Sore Throat. Civilised Society? did not sell that well, although they very good. Dr & The Crippens, I had to mould them into a fast hardcore band with Dave Ellesmere on drums (ex Discharge/Insane) to speed them up and really pushed them press wise and they sold about 3000 a release, still not a great deal. The best selling LP/CD was the Compilation LP, ‘The North Atlantic Noise Attack' which was out the same time as the PEEL sessions ‘Hardcore Holocaust' collection, it did over 5000 copies.
What was the deal that went down between you and C.O.R.?
Now, I must set this straight, people think I took over COR Records, that is not the case. All I did was take over his Mail Order and take 2 releases, ‘Bad Beach' and the Compilation ‘Digging In Water' and put them out on Manic Ears. I did not take over COR Records at all, it was still Tim Bennet's label, and he still did the deals with the distributor etc over his label even though he stopped putting stuff out. All I did was take over his massive stock of Mail Order records and put out 2 LPs he had lined up for his label before he decided to call it quits.
When did you realise that you might be able to make a living from the label,or was that always a possibility in the back of your mind?
It was when I started working with Gaye Byker's On Acid that I saw that what I was doing, the whole label deals were wrong. I should not have done 50/50% profit deals after recouping costs with the bands. I should have done a 10-12% deal on retail price of records sold. However, that was how we punks operated, and it did not work out, I was losing money although people thought the opposite due to press coverage, I was in deep trouble with the VAT man etc. The press coverage was just me getting to London and meeting journalists and getting to know them, and leaking stories to them. I thought it would help sales; it did in some cases but not all the time.
Looking back now, it was obviously quite a rollercoaster ride! how do you regard the musical legacy you helped create?
Whoa, what a statement! I hope I made a mark on the hardcore scene as did COR and Riot City Record's before me. I think ENT got the recognition they deserved although it was belated. It should have happened when the Split LP was put out in 86 not 3 years later!! I don't regret it, I do regret selling the label, I was forced to by Mike Chadwick from Revolver Distribution. I owed them money too, he wanted it back, I owed the VAT man, I had them on my back, I was 26 years old by then and naïve to business strategies, and looking back I could have worked a strategy out and resolved the issue but I stupidly listened to Revolver and sold it. I was forced to by them, but we live and learn….Manic Ears was sold to Trojan, who later sold to Sanctuary who later sold to Universal. Now Manic Ears stuff, master tapes etc are sitting in a box in a warehouse somewhere and no one knows about it. I have tried to contact them to get stuff reissued to no avail, as they don't know what they have. Most of my records have been re-released by the bands all over the world anyway; I don't mind at all, I was surprised to see it out in Germany/Italy and such places on new labels. I wrote them and asked for a copy for myself and wished them luck! I even helped Epitstrophe Records in Germany put out Saw Throat ‘Indestroy' LP on CD with Rich Militia again…I really don't care, it means my stuff was appreciated even if some of the bands like Ripcord hold grudges, they forget that I helped get their stuff out on LP in the first place and in the scene. However, it's been 20 years, so I don't know why they still hold grudges; they have released my LPs out to Epistrophe too in Germany! I don't mind, why should I? I don't own Manic Ears anymore, I wish I could get hold of the company who now own it and just do some label management and reissue with some sleeve notes but finding someone in the company is impossible as they don't know what they have!
What would you say to someone thinking about setting up their own label? obviously the market has changed immensely since you first took the plunge, but what words of encouragement, advice and warning would you offer up?
Get good bands, do a deal on % of retail, work out publishing rights, MCP rights etc and understand that Punk labels do not make a lot of money so keep cost minimal. Do not sign up foreign bands, stick to the British scene you are involved with and plug away at it.
What have you been doing since the label folded, both musically and otherwise?
I been back at University and got 2 degrees in Information Technology and MSc level, the past ten years I have been very ill as I always had Crohn's Disease, and that has set me back now and I suffer tremendously with that disease. I have been in and of hospital having Major surgery 3 times in past 10 years. I can't really get back into the work place as my health won't let me unfortunately. That is it really, nothing exciting at all! Except for a failed relationship that has left me with wonderful son who is currently 10 years old and thinks the world of me! That's my legacy, it is my son! Zane Dabinett!
This is the unedited interview, the edited version appears in the book ‘Trapped in a Scene' and is out now via Cherry Red Books, Author Ian Glasper
Copyright Cherry Red Books and Ian Glasper
The unedited version supplied by Shane Dabinett