Saturday 6 April 2013

Keeping The Circle Around - The Return Of Playtime Records

There’s been a trend in recent years for bands from the 1980s and 1990s to reform, but Playtime Records are taking things a step further by becoming the first record label to reform to release some of their classic lost back catalogue.

Playtime was home to releases by Inspiral Carpets, New Fast Automatic Daffodils and host of other bands including Bandit Queen, The Rainkings and Molly Half Head. The first release on the revived label will be a compilation entitled Another Time 1989-1994 by The Rainkings, who featured Stephen Holt and Dave Swift after they left Inspiral Carpets and members of The Bodines.  The album will feature remastered versions of their two singles, Sunlight Fades and Get Ready, and a host of other unreleased tracks.

'Playtime Records have always been held close to my heart as they were the label to give both Inspiral Carpets and The Rainkings their first opportunity to release recorded material. Playtime have always been extremely supportive of new, up coming talent. When Paula approached me about a Rainkings album release I didn't hesitate and wanted to make sure it happened no matter what it took. I don't think we would have done this for anyone else'. Stephen Holt, Inspiral Carpets / The Rainkings

Shortly after that will be a compilation album from the New FADS, entitled Fated, Dated And Emulated (1989 - 1992) featuring their early Playtime singles and a host of other material including previously unreleased tracks.

"This stuff used to drill my head. The shouty one is me and I seem to have been excited about something. The chance to make stuff up and people tell you it was good, reeling around in the wee small hours, Manchester glamour, going places with your mates and just having TOO MUCH FUN. All brought rushing back to life by Paula and Playtime Records." Andy Spearpoint, New FADS

Playtime’s history is an interesting one, born out of a very different and more supportive infrastructure to the music business than today’s major label and iTunes / amazon dominated market place. We spoke to founder Paula Greenwood to find out a little bit more about the label, then and now.
Can you tell me a little bit about how the label came into being? 

I set up the label in 1988, initially with a small grant from the Princes Trust and a weekly £40 Enterprise Allowance. I’d been working as a production assistant on The Last Radio Programme (Piccadilly Radio’s Alternative Radio Show) along with working at the International Club doing press and promotions. It was a fantastic time to be working at both of these places because there was so much great music around in Manchester and beyond. I was lucky to have been involved with the music scene during such an exciting period.  Setting up Playtime was a natural progression for me to continue supporting new bands and doing what I loved.  

People will automatically link your label with the Inspirals and the New Fads, but you had a much broader range of artists than that didn’t you? 

Yes, the roster was pretty diverse. There was never any real music policy other than if I liked it and I got on with the band, then I’d do it.  Our roster included Inspiral Carpets, The Blue Orchids, Molly Half Head, Honey Tongue (a collaboration between Jo Wiggs from The Breeders and Jon Mattock from Spiritualized), Swirl, The Rainkings, Too Much Texas, TC Hug, Elliot Green, New Fast Automatic Daffodils and Bandit Queen.

The label continued into the 1990s, but closed down in 1997. Why was that?

We worked with some amazing bands that we loved very much but it just wasn't financially viable anymore.

So what did you do next then?

I went to work at Palm Pictures a film and music company set up by Chris Blackwell (founder of Island Records), where I signed Cousteau and Angel Tech. I studied an MA and then worked with Cathal Smyth from the band Madness, running his publishing company. Here I signed and worked with artists including Automata, Just Jack and a brilliant hip hop collective called Border Crossing. I also worked in events. These days I am very much focused on producing digital projects.

It’s been fifteen years since the last Playtime release, what made you resurrect the label now?

We had various recordings that had been deleted or unreleased sat there doing nothing - it was frustrating that they weren’t available. I'd been thinking about it for a while, it was just finding the right time to do it and also making sure it was an enjoyable experience. When I started listening to the recordings, I got excited about the bands again and wanted to start doing something more about it.

The music business has changed a lot since Playtime stopped releasing records in 1997, the web wasn't quite what it is now, so many more possibilities. Although it’s been very challenging for the music business to adapt, it has also been a lifeline for a lot of independent artists and record labels.

I didn’t want to go back to the way we used to do things, it was too expensive an option and I wanted it to be fun and DIY. I began with a tumblr blog and then got obsessed with websites in general and started to learn web design. I finally built a website for the label and started to connect with fans of the bands on Twitter, who have been incredibly supportive. It's an on-going journey and a real challenge learning code etc but I really love it. 

Doing this mostly via the web keeps the costs down too. There was a time when we'd be spending thousands of pounds on radio pluggers, PR people, tour support, marketing people, designers etc.  

So what are you working on?

I've pretty much spent the last year or so making contact with artists, tracking down masters, listening to stuff, compiling and chasing people…… The Rainkings and the New Fads compilations will be the first releases. I’ve worked pretty closely with Stephen to get things moving with the Rainkings release. He’s been brilliant at finding other recordings and spending the time improving and mastering the Playtime recordings and various other unreleased recordings. It’s great to see him back on stage with the Inspirals again, brings back a lot of good memories and he’s an absolute pleasure to work with. The release date is April 29th.

I’m also working on the New Fads compilation. Out of everything, this has taken the longest time to make happen as I wanted to add some other tracks that Playtime don't have the rights to.  The compilation will include all the Playtime recordings, unreleased tracks, Peel Sessions and some PIAS recordings.

Pretty much everything on the album is no longer available or unreleased, it’s been an exciting process tracking down recordings and listening to everything. They are a very much loved band and deservedly so too, they were one of a kind.

We are planning a May release but it may well jump into June. Also, both bands have songs featured in the film Spike Island, based around The Stone Roses’ legendary Spike Island gig

What else do you have in the pipeline?

The second unreleased album by Bandit Queen is pencilled for the Autumn, I can’t believe it’s been so long and it still sounds fresh.  I really want to get all the Elliot Green singles and unreleased tracks together, I would love for more people to discover them.  There’s also a demo album by TC Hug, which sounds great. It was one the band released themselves before signing to Playtime. Once I've got all the catalogue available again, I might start thinking about something new next year!

Playtime's official website can be found here.  There is a free label sampler available from the site until April 28th.

They can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, Soundcloud and Tumblr. The Rainkings album Another Time 1989-1994 will be released digitally on April 29th. The New FADs compilation Fated, Dated And Emulated (1989-1992) will be released in May or June.

Picture credits for New FADS and Honey Tongue - Louise Rhodes

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