# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Flatmates - Part 14

  by Martin Whitehead

published: 13 / 1 / 2002

Flatmates - Part 14


Chapter 27: Don’t you come round here with that polar bear Our management’s plan was that ‘Heaven Knows’ was the single that was going to get us signed to a major deal. After ‘Shimmer’ had attracte

Chapter 27: Don’t you come round here with that polar bear Our management’s plan was that ‘Heaven Knows’ was the single that was going to get us signed to a major deal. After ‘Shimmer’ had attracted the interest of the majors, ‘Heaven Knows’ would have shown that it was no one off fluke and would have had majors clambering over each other cheque books in hand. It was obvious to me that this was going to cost a lot of money. I told our manager Brian Hallin that there was no way I could pay for all this on Subway’s meagre cash flow. We were planning a major label assault on the charts with the resources of a Dad’s Army record label. Brian in truth had no other way of financing the project other than for me to pay for it all. If we’d looked for another source of income we’d have lost the initiative and record companies would have forgotten the Flatmates. Brian tried convincing me that this was a golden opportunity and that Subway could have its first chart hit. I might have been very inexperienced but I knew that chart singles cost lots of money that could only be recouped by hit albums. At the end of the day it was because I was the main songwriter that persuaded me to pay for ‘Heaven Knows’ and the accompanying promotion. When the band got signed I’d not only benefit as a member of the band, but I’d receive the lions share of the publishing advance, even though for the sake of good band relations I gave away 40% of my income as 10% to each of the other 4 in respect of their contributions. As well as any publishing income I also owned the Flatmates back catalogue. I knew it was a big gamble and that if it came off I’d have little to complain about, but had I known that the final bill for making that record would be over £25,000 I’d have thought more than twice about it. One particular incident summed up our management’s inability to consider who was putting the most into the ‘Heaven Knows’ project. As I mentioned earlier, pretty well all of Subway’s expenses were paid by Revolver Distribution and then deducted from Subway’s record sales. Revolver were therefore going to have to pay all the costs for recording and promoting ‘Heaven Knows’, but I would ultimately have to repay Revolver. Subway was never a limited company, so if the worst happened I wouldn’t be able to put the company into liquidation and walk away from the debts, I would have been made personally bankrupt with all the stigma and legal obligations that that entails. Brian Hallin arranged a meeting in Bristol with me and Mike Chadwick and Lloyd Harris of Revolver Distribution at Revolver’s warehouse and office. Brian was going to explain to Mike and Lloyd what the plan was so that they would advance Subway the money to pay for everything. Naturally enough, I wanted to know that every penny that was being spent was absolutely necessary. I arrived at Revolver for the meeting at 2o’clock as had been arranged only to find Brian leaving the premises. Brian had brought the meeting forward an hour and not thought to include me in the revised plans. The 3 of them had spent the last hour discussing how they were going to spend money and then charge it to my account. I lived no more than a 10 minute drive away and all 3 of them had my telephone number, but none of them thought of calling me even when they were all in the same room together discussing my future debts and liabilities. We pulled out the stops promotions wise for ‘Heaven Knows’. The single was to be issued in 7", 12" and CD single, the latter was to include ‘Shimmer’ in addition to the 4 tracks we’d recorded for the single. It was only after commissioning the design for and placing the adverts in the music press that our management discovered that singles with more than 4 tracks weren’t eligible for the charts. Fortunately we hadn’t yet mastered the CD so ‘Shimmer’ was left off despite the adverts saying otherwise. The ads were of course apparently in the name of The Subway Organization, my label, and in the eyes of the Trading Standards Officer, me. Subway received several letters from upset fans who had bought the CD expecting ‘Shimmer’ to be on it. To avoid a visit from the aforementioned Officer I sent out ‘Heaven Knows’ T-shirts and a letter of explanation to everyone I received a letter of complaint from, placing the blame firmly with our management. We also employed agents for press and radio promotions and hired a strike force to keep pouring stock into the shops. We made a video for the single, this time with a professional video production company. Brian also had a "great idea" for a sleeve image. One of the marketing successes of The Wedding Present’s ‘George Best’ album had been a picture of George on the album sleeve and subsequent photo sessions with the ex megastar footballer. Brian had seen the prize winners of a wildlife photography competition, one of which was an image of 2 polar bears that appeared to be talking to each other. I spent a telephone conversation that lasted nearly 2 hours telling Brian repeatedly that it was an image completely unsuitable for the Flatmates. He told me repeatedly that he thought I was mad, it was a great image. The polar bear just became a metaphor for how, even on our own label, we were getting fucked over time and time again by people who had walked into the band 5 minutes ago. They’d never been there when we got the band together or when Kath left and we recruited Sarah or when we decided that Rocker would have to be replaced. It wasn’t just our manager selling us out for the sake of a memorable picture, it was Tim hijacking the recording session, it was Brian Hallin’s meeting with Revolver, it was Chris Allison ignoring the development of the band and doing what our mutual management thought was best for short term bandwagon jumping. We made the video for ‘Heaven Knows’ at Castle Coch just outside of Cardiff. Despite having the appearance of a mediaeval fairy tale castle, the building is a very elaborate Victorian folly. The video was loosely based on a pastiche of the Pet Shop Boys ‘Heart’ video. The video was directed by Oliver Curtis who coincidentally had been on the same photography foundation course as myself at Filton Technical College in Bristol. In November 1998 I noticed that he was credited as Director of Photography in the BBC’s production of Thackeray’s ‘Vanity Fair’. We had 2 hired actors in the video, playing Dracula and his bride. In a reversal of the Pet Shop Boys video where the girl loses her clothes, Dracula got reduced to his boxer shorts. The video was shot the week we recruited Jackie and she couldn’t make the shoot at such short notice, so it featured Deb, me, Joel and Tim. Cut in between the storyline were shots of the 4 of us running around the castle courtyard and Deb walking round the balcony lipsyncing to the playback. The instructions from the director were to run maniacally all around the courtyard. Whilst I did that, Tim ran maniacally all around Deb. In the final cut Deb’s in the centre of the shot, Joel’s in the background banging a drum, Tim darts backwards and forwards every couple of seconds and I occasionally shoot through the scene like a passing comet. As an acknowledgement of our inspiration for the video a bat was superimposed fluttering over the battlements in the opening scene. We also shot a further scene which was edited out of the final cut of the video. The video opens with a car driving up the long approach to the castle and screeching to a halt as the bride leaps out. As a secret joke reference to the polar bear debacle a polar bear crosses the road and is narrowly missed by the car. I spent over an hour dressed in a polar bear’s outfit and walked backwards and forwards across the road as the car drove past me. The shot was to be incorporated into the opening seconds of the video before the music and actual story started. It could have been easily edited by MTV or anyone who thought it was superfluous. In the end it mysteriously never made it to tape. Perhaps those extra 5 seconds really had to be edited off the start of the film, but the fact that having shot the scene and paying for the crews time it never made it to the final version, and we were never consulted about it, just goes to prove the very point we were making by including it in the video. Once again, even if only in a very small way we were becoming bit players in someone else’s idea of what we should be. Many bands make great points over how, when they’ve signed to a major label they’re going to retain artistic control of all their work. We were writing our own material and putting out records ourselves, but we had about as much control over what was coming out with our names on as The Monkees. Then again, at least they got to play on their own records which was more than I was getting to do. I had nightmares where we were becoming the next Milli Vanilli. ‘Heaven Knows’ came out in September 1998. Bizarrely it entered the Melody Maker’s national chart for 1 week, at I think number 45, but only achieved number 12 in the NME indie chart. It sold as many as ‘Shimmer’ which made number 1 in the Melody Maker indie chart and 2 in the NME’s. The video, sadly without the polar bear, received regular play on MTV and a whole flurry of press followed. Like ‘Shimmer’, ‘Heaven Knows’ was reviewed on Radio 1’s ‘Singled Out’. Errol Brown of Hot Chocolate said it was great about all these rough and ready bands playing in garages and how he could hear the drums going out of time, which was pretty ironic seeing as how Joel was playing the drums over a computer programmed bass drum beat. The bills for production and promotion costs rolled in and exceeded £25,000. The single recouped £10,000 in sales. That left a deficit of £15,000 to be added to Subway’s debt to Revolver, which already stood at £10,000. Mike and Lloyd at Revolver decided that £25,000 was a greater debt than they were prepared to support. They refused to lend Subway any more money. Through licensing in finished recordings and by making albums for £500 Subway managed to put out more records. Several of those budget albums sold quite well, especially ‘Lovehappy’ by The Charlottes which sold about 4,000 copies. That left me with another problem. How could I pay royalties to bands that sold records when Revolver wouldn’t even give me any of the money I received from those sales? At least The Charlottes appreciated the situation and took their royalties in the form of copies of their record. Eventually Revolver took over the label and ran it themselves for a couple of years until the debt to them was reduced. The only release they put out during that time was the Choo Choo Train ‘Briar High’ singles compilation. I have little idea what quantities that record sold and no one at Revolver bothered keeping accounts for it. Ric Menck and Paul Chastain kept the £500 they’d received to deliver a Springfields album and jumped ship just as soon as Creation showed an interest in them. I was paid £50 to design the record sleeve, which is all I saw out of Revolver for that record. The excessive costs of ‘Heaven Knows’ meant the end of Subway. The gamble had failed and it had cost me my record label.

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