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What I want to hear, I’m asking Robin Turner, former employee of Heavenly Records and now author of a book marking the 30th anniversary of the record label, is how someone has ever done any job there. And if the accounts are to be believed in his book Believe in Magic, then back then the Heavenly Office was party central. Mondays at the label’s office were an extension of the weekend, and the weekends, actually, were messy.
“It sounds like the office was completely insane, which it was at times,” admits Turner. But ideas were also created by those impromptu meetings in the office on a Monday. You would sit around and chat with someone from the NME or Mojo, and that was the way you got them to understand a band, and that ended up getting the cover for them.
“I still think it’s like that. ‘Let’s go eat at the Ivy,’ some people would say. That’s not how we did it. In the fridge, we had a load of cans. For each of their own.’
It definitely succeeded, whatever the case. About 30 years after their first release, The World According to Sly & Lovechild, which came out in the summer of 1990 and sounded very much of its time, as remixed by the late Andrew Weatherall, Heavenly Recordings is still going strong. It’s home to 6 favorites such as Katy J Pearson, Baxter Dury and Working Men’s Club these days.
It has defied changing musical fashions, industrial politics and personal excess to remain a vital force in the 21st century, the brainchild of label head Jeff Barrett. It is quite an accomplishment, given how the music industry has been turned upside down in the last 20 years. Many of the labels that were the immediate contemporaries of Heavenly, such as Factory and Creation, operated by Barrett
The key to the success of the label? “I don’t think it’s ever been afraid to take risks and follow an instinct,” Turner says, “even if the instinct is completely outside of what you’d expect.”
It has always been. At the height of the acid house, Heavenly was born. In truth, if there hadn’t been an acid house, it would not still exist. And yet, just to fight that, a Welsh punk band was one of the label’s first signings. Yes, it was Barrett who brought us the Manic Street Preachers and released their first stirring singles, Motown Junk and You Love Us.
Heavenly was host to Saint Etienne and Flowered Up in its early days, but also a Camden country band, The Rockingbirds. It signed future partners Ed Harcourt and anthemic rock band Doves and The Magic Numbers, Paloma Faith and Sophie Ellis-Bextor, in subsequent years. To this day, this unconventional thought continues. You’ll hear bands like Stealing Sheep and Gwenno on Heavenly, who sinned
Anyway, what’s a Heavenly band? Turner says, “I think it’s people who know themselves.” “If you think of a band like the Manics, they knew exactly who they were early on.” And someone like Gwenno knows precisely who she is right now. She was someone who had a good album in Welsh, and she chose to do it in Cornish at the point that she wanted to record a second album, when there were a lot of eyes on her. That’s nuts, you think, but like she says, if she can’t do it then, is she ever going to get the chance to do it again? ”
Heavenly’s backstory goes like this. Jeff Barrett worked for the Creation label of Alan McGee – his first job was to manage The Jesus and Mary Chain across Europe, where the band performed 15-minute sets to the dismay of promoters – when he found Acid House and met Andrew Weatherall. Yeah, and he was also fired as the press agent of Primal Scream. And then Barrett created Heavenly Record
Turnner claims it was just the right moment. Acid House had created a new economy. Every night of the week, people went out. “Maybe they became drug dealers, maybe they became promoters, maybe they became people who ran record labels.” It has just opened up an entirely new range of possibilities.
There were no DJs before. At 11 o’clock at night, people were DJing at your local bar, She Sells Sanctuary. But there were no people whose names you knew, that you went to see and follow. Acid house created a new template and a lot of it was Heavenly. It diversified, but that’s also the acid house spirit. It’s not about being too long.