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Miscellaneous - Interview with Innes Reekie and Jeremy Thoms

  by John Clarkson

published: 14 / 6 / 2019

Miscellaneous - Interview with Innes Reekie and Jeremy Thoms


Innes Reekie and Jeremy Thoms from Stereogram Recordings speak about its recent expansion into book publishing, and their new book 'Nite Life During Wartime', which is a photographic account of the club and music scene in Edinburgh in the 1980s.

Jeremy Thoms and Innes Reekie can’t remember when they first met. It might have been through the drummer in Thoms’ then band the Strawberry Tarts who was at school with Reekie. It might have been, however, at the Snake Pit, the club night which Thoms once ran and that Reekie used to attend regularly. They are both agreed, however, that it would have been in 1983 or 1984, and within a year or two of Thoms’ move from Aberdeen to Edinburgh in 1982. “We always had a lot in common, right from the start,” says Thoms glancing over at his friend. “We are the same age. Our dads were both art teachers, and neither of us came originally from Edinburgh.” The pair are sitting in a bar in their adopted city. They are there to talk to Pennyblackmusic about their record label Stereogram Recordings and its new book publication wing through which they are showcasing some of the many photos that Reekie took throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. Jeremy Thoms’ musical career began when he was a teenager. He played in various new wave/rock groups in Aberdeen, starting out as a drummer before graduating to the role of front man and guitarist with the Presidents’ Men, who released two singles on local label Oily Records in 1980 and 1981. After moving to the Scottish capital as he felt that it would offer him more opportunities musically, he toured the UK twice as a guitarist and keyboardist in the Revillos in 1985, and played the guitar for a year for the much acclaimed indie band Jesse Garon and the Desperadoes between 1989 and 1990. He has also worked in a diverse variety of other local Edinburgh bands, sometimes as the front man and at other times as a guitarist or a keyboardist. These have included the Pretenders/Blondie-influenced A Girl Called Johnny; electronic/dance act Paparazzi; the country and western-influenced New Leaf with whom he recorded three albums in the 1990s, and classic rock act Skyline with whom he also released another two albums. Since 2009 he has been the lead vocalist, guitarist and main songwriter in the alternative rock outfit the Cathode Ray, whose third album is due out later this year. Innes Reekie, who comes originally from Glenrothes in Fife, moved to Edinburgh as a seventeen year old in 1977 to study English at its university. He was a music photographer for some years before switching to journalism in 1987, starting out by writing for Scottish music monthly ‘Cut’. He spent some years living in London before returning to Edinburgh at the start of the decade, and has worked for magazines such as ‘Loaded’ and ‘GQ’. He has also written for ‘The Scotsman' and had his own column in 'The Sunday Times Ecosse'. Reekie has also been involved in band management and has run two previous record labels. Re-Action Recordings released sixteen records between 2004 and 2009, including albums by Junkbox, the Primary 5, the Low Miffs and former Josef K and Aztec Camera guitarist Malcolm Ross. Mayakovsky Produkts, which he formed with Fire Engines’ drummer Russell Burn, was shorter-lived, lasting just a year, and put out only one album, the 2010 post-punk influenced eponymous only album of Burn’s then band Spectorbullets, which remains highly regarded in Scottish independent musical circles. “It was a kind of no brainer really getting Innes involved,” says Thoms about Stereogram Recordings, which he first established in 2011 simply as a way of releasing the Cathode Ray’s self-titled debut album. It very quickly expanded to include on its roster singer-songwriter and Belle and Sebastian associate Roy Moller, durable alternative rock outfit the Band of Holy Joy and Glaswegian Stooges/Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers-style rockers, James King & the Lonewolves, who had reformed after an absence of twenty-five years. As well as the Cathode Ray and the Lonewolves, Stereogram Recordings’ current roster also consists of Dundonian post-punks STOOR, Edinburgh-based progressive rock-influenced group the Eastern Swell, orchestral studio act the Vintage Calvinos and Americana outfit St Christopher Medal. “I released the Cathode Ray’s second single ‘Slipping Away’ on Re-Action while I was still living in London in 2009, ” Reekie recalls. “I moved back again just after that.” “Mayakovsy Produkts were going to release the first Cathode Ray album as well but they folded,” adds Thoms. “So I started Stereogram Recordings and then also did the Roy Moller album ‘One Domino’, and it was after that with ‘Lost Songs of the Confederacy’, the James King and the Lone Wolves album, that Innes came officially on board.” “But I also introduced you to Roy,” says Reekie. “Yes, that’s right,” recollects Thoms. “You introduced me to Roy. It was all little bits and pieces. It started unofficially with me sending out the press releases to Innes and asking him to circulate them amongst his friends just as a favour, which he did. It started officially when we did the Lonewolves, and since then it has continued.” Stereogram Recordings now has released over a dozen albums and various singles, with Thoms as its head, and Reekie doing press and PR and some of the A & R work. “Each band on Stereogram has its own identity,” says Reekie. “But they also all fit together.” “What links every band together on Stereogram is their lyrics and imagery,” explains Thoms. “STOOR’s lyrics are completely bonkers, but they are really strong. Chris Reeve from the Eastern Swell’s lyrics are really strong too, as are Ali Mathieson’s from St Christopher Medal. It is what unites all of them together.” Now Stereogram Recordings has expanded into book publishing. Its first book, ‘Sometimes Pleasureheads Must Burn: The Birthday Party and Beyond’ came out in January, and, with accompanying text also by Reekie, features photos that he took as a then young photographer both on stage and back stage at a gig at the Nite Club in Edinburgh of Nick Cave’s early band the Birthday Party. There are photographs also of the late Birthday Party guitarist Rowland Howard’s follow-up band These Immortal Souls at a gig and the house they shared in Queens Park in North London, as well as Cave also in London at the Groucho Club and with the Bad Seeds at the Town and Country Club. “We had already thought about extending Stereogram out to cover Jeremy’s father’s artworks,” says Reekie. “There was always a possibility of making it a market place for art.” Thoms’ father Colin taught at Gray’s School of Art for twenty-five years, and also ran a parallel career as an abstract painter and artist of some acclaim, including among his patrons Brian Eno. “I was always chucking things up on Facebook without thinking about it, and I put up a photo I had taken in the 1980s of Nick Cave,” Reekie continues. “And this girl Andi Harriman who works for a Los Angeles gallery Lethal Amounts saw it, and she got in touch wanting to see some of my pictures. She was putting on an exhibition of Nick Cave photos. It was called ‘Nick Cave Smoking’ and it was sponsored by Marlboro. They had to be of him smoking. So, I went through all of my pictures, and out of all the dozens of pictures I had taken of him I had only four of him smoking, but I sent them off to her, She got back to me and said, ‘Great! Can you sign a waver form?’ I didn’t think too much about it, but then she sent me pictures of the four photos on easels the day before the exhibition opened, and two days later she got back in touch and said, ’Here’s a picture of the wonderful mum and daughter who have just bought a copy of one of your photographs for $500.’ That’s £350. I was totally shocked. They had just been lying in my cupboard. That was the prompt. People seemed to be interested, and I said to Jeremy, ‘You know how we how we were talking about branching out? Why don’t we do a photography and publishing arm?’” The Birthday Party had a reputation for controversy. All of its members, except for guitarist Mick Harvey and including Cave and Howard, were drug addicts with long-standing heroin problems. Their gigs were also notoriously violent. Fights between the band and the audiences and even between the group members themselves were regular occurrences. “They were possibly the most aggressive, confrontational live band I’ve ever seen,” recalls Reekie in the footnotes to ‘Sometimes Pleasureheads Must Burn’. Reekie met them for the first time in August 1981 at a show at the Moonlight Club in West Hampstead, after he and his then girlfriend made the twelve hour trip down by bus from Glenrothes for a few days’ holiday. After the gig Nick Cave brushed past Reekie, noticed his ‘Raw Power’ tattoo and invited them backstage for drinks. Off stage Reekie found them in contrast to be quiet, polite, and, as perhaps befits a band named after Harold Pinter’s 1958 existential play ‘The Birthday Party’, articulate and thoughtful about literature. He would see them five or six times more across the UK in the following months, and, while he did not take his camera with him on those early occasions, did for the Birthday Party’s first Scottish gig at the Edinburgh Nite Club in April 1982. ‘Sometimes Pleasureheads Must Burn’ features several extraordinary shots of Cave and Howard at the Nite Club, which captures the real friendship between the two musicians. It finds them at their most off guard and playful, having pulled down a poster for a recent Sad Café gig and doodling and scrawling with Magic Markers on its back. “I wouldn’t say that I knew them,” recollects Reekie. “But they were familiar, and so when they came to Scotland to play I made sure I was there. I was quite welcome to come backstage with them with a camera, and help get the bourbon out. Nick always had two bottles of bourbon on the rider, one for the dressing room and one for on stage. I didn’t feel like I was imposing on them. They seemed quite happy for me to be there. Phil Calvert the drummer has got in touch with me recently because he has seen the book and he has said, ‘I am really glad that there was someone there to document those early days.’ They weren’t just po-faced drug addicts. There was a lot of humour in what they did also.” Reekie’s new book ‘Nite Life During Wartime: Edinburgh and Beyond 1980-1990’ has a similar intimacy, chronicling the club, pub and independent music scene in Edinburgh and some of its protagonists in the 1980s. It captures the extremes and excesses of that era, its glamour and hedonism, but also hints at its political turmoil, its constant threat of nuclear Armageddon and the underseal of darkness that dominated much of that decade. “My dad was an amateur photographer,” remembers Reekie. "He was an art teacher and taught night school classes in photography, and from a very early age I was in the darkroom learning how to develop my own prints. He got me my first proper camera when I was eighteen. I rarely went anywhere without it after that.” “There was that kind of thing in the 1980s of fuck it, let’s party,” says Thoms. “For me it started with the Afghan War in 1980 for which I was convinced I was going to get conscripted for that, and then there was the Falklands in 1982. We were about 18/19 and I thought I’m young. Screw this! I am probably going to be killed soon. I am going to do what I want to do.” Both Jeremy Thoms and Innes Reekie were part of an extensive network of musicians, writers, actors, designers, comedians and photographers, who partied regularly and hard. “It was quite a creative network,” says Thoms. “If you weren’t doing anything creative, you weren’t accepted,” laughs Reekie. The front cover of ‘Nite Life During Wartime’ shows the actress Simone Lahbib, who went on to fame in the television series ‘Bad Girls’ and ‘Wire in the Blood’, posing for Reekie’s camera outside an AIDS benefit gig at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh. She is dressed flamboyantly, wearing a large hat with fake fruit in it and a sleeveless black dress, and looks like Audrey Hepburn in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’. “Simone was part of the scene,” says Reekie. “Doing something like that was in her nature. If you were a pal of hers and if you had a camera, she was a great model.” As well as various other members of the scene, ‘Nite Life During Wartime’ also features photos of various Scottish and especially Edinburgh bands and musicians of the time. “The most famous ones are Edwyn Collins and Roddy Frame from Aztec Camera,“ adds Reekie. “There are great photos of them in ‘Nite Life During Wartime’, which were taken on the same night and at the same benefit gig as the Simone pictures. There are other interesting ones such as a band called the Magic Clan which featured Malcolm Ross and David Weddell from Josef K. There is a band called the Screaming Nobodies as well who were a rockabilly band from the early 80s. We could have all kinds of famous personalities in there, but it is nothing huge. You left your house one night and it is the people that you talked to in the pub. It is what we were seeing every time we were stepping out the door.” As on ‘Sometimes Pleasureheads Must Burn’, Thoms has been both the pictures editor and graphic designer. He and Reekie are still compiling ‘Nite life During Wartime’ when they speak to Pennyblackmusic. “I have some design training from way back, which has come in handy,” Thoms reflects. “Innes turned up the other day with a carrier bag with literally two hundred photos in it. I sat down and spread them all over the floor, and put them into three categories, ‘Yes’, ‘No’ and ‘Maybe’. The ones that I rejected were because the camera was slightly out of focus, the typesetting wouldn’t work with the photos or it didn’t have the relevant people, but 90% of it was really good.” ‘Nite Life During Lifetime’ also has photos of Leith Central Station, a former rail station and branch line terminus which had closed in 1972 and by the 1980s had become completely derelict. It inspired a pivotal scene in Irvine Welsh’s 1980’s Edinburgh-set cult novel, ‘Trainspotting’ “The reason those photos were included is because it was very much part of the time,” says Reekie about the now long demolished station, which now has a supermarket built on its former site. “And it was where ‘Trainspotting ‘came from - Begbie's dad drunkenly wanders in one night and finds Renton, Begbie at al. shooting up and enquires, 'What are you lot doing here...Trainspotting?'” “I just thought it fitted with the general theme of something that didn’t exist anymore. I took it around 1987, but the book didn’t come out until 1993. It just suited that period of being out and about in Edinburgh at the time. Lots of out of towners used to crash there after gigs if they missed the last train home. It was to mix it up and to just take it away from drunken people - there are only so many clubbing pictures that you can look at.” The book finishes with photos of a road trip Innes Reekie made in January 1990 through Hungary into war-torn Bucharest as part of a music charity project to help Romanian orphans suffering from HIV. The photos show the young Reekie and the three local Edinburgh bands he travelled with cavorting and mucking about while on the road with each other. There is a very funny story also in the accompanying notes about how they smuggled a Hungarian girl Reekie had picked up on route into the monastery they were staying in overnight, incurring the violent wrath of its monks who had not let a woman into its premises in five hundred years. The Ceaucescu dictatorship had been overthrown the month before by armed revolutionaries, and, with food and water shortages and regular bomb explosions, Romania was a very dangerous place to go. Reekie also tells another story in the notes about how, having broken curfew, he was smacked in the face with a Kalashnikov by a guard and robbed of a packet of Marlboros, cigarettes having become a currency in Romania. Any last doubts about what ‘Nite Life During Wartime’ is really about is confirmed by its striking central image, a stunning photo spread across its two centre pages of a Romanian broadcasting station, which was Ceaucescu’s main source of propaganda, riddled with bullet holes and having been recently torched. “”It visualises lots of partying while much of the world was going up in flames,” concludes Reekie about ‘Nite Life During Wartime’ Innes Reekie has so many other photos of Edinburgh club and night life that he and Jeremy Thoms are thinking of doing a second follow-up book. The next book in the series, however, 'Shots From the Hipflask: Selected Writings from 1987-2000', which will be published in October or November, will be a collection of his journalism. This side project of Stereogram Recordings seems set to have a long life ahead. The photographs that accompany this article show Jeremy Thoms (left in top photo) and Innes Reekie (right in the top photo) with music journalist Neil Cooper (centre) at the launch for 'Sometimes Pleasureheads Must Burn’ at Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow. ‘Nite Life During Wartime’ will be published on June 20th. More information can be found at www.stereogramrecordings.co.uk

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Miscellaneous - Interview with Innes Reekie and Jeremy Thoms

Miscellaneous - Interview with Innes Reekie and Jeremy Thoms

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