When legendary radio DJ John Peel sadly passed away in 2004, one of his many legacies was the welter of more than 4,000 radio sessions recorded exclusively for his late night radio show. Many more were recorded for Peel’s fellow BBC Radio 1 DJs, including Janice Long. While some of the artists behind the sessions went on to mainstream success, often the most interesting ones showcased were those who never crossed over, but whose work makes up what are arguably far more valuable artistic statements of their time.
While Creation wasn’t based in Scotland, many of its acts were from here, with Glasgow born McGee arguably copping his moves from Postcard, Fast Product and other indie labels that seized the means of production during a post-punk era when anything and everything was up for grabs. The fertile DIY scenes that grew out of that in Glasgow and Edinburgh were documented in numerous radio sessions, many of which have never been formally released.
Nick Godfrey was only too aware of all this when he decided to set up Precious Recordings of London, the bespoke record label that announced its first two releases last week. These come in the form of four double seven-inch EPs of unreleased 1986 and 1987 Peel and Long sessions by The Jasmine Minks and BMX Bandits, each pressed in an edition of 500.
For the uninitiated, The Jasmine Minks formed in Aberdeen circa 1983, and went on to release four albums and three singles on Creation, with McGee retrospectively describing them as “the first real Creation band… An amazing unknown gem of a band. Working class heroes to me, anyway.”
BMX Bandits, meanwhile, is the long-term vehicle for Duglas Stewart, the Bellshill indie-pop guru whose group has at various points featured a roll call of fellow travellers, including members of the Soup Dragons, Teenage Fanclub and the Pearlfishers. Late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain once said that “If I could be in any other band, it would be BMX Bandits”. Like the Jasmine Minks, Stewart and co released several records on Creation, and both bands remain key, if neglected figures from Scotland’s post punk era.
“The Jasmine Minks and BMX Bandits are two of my favourite bands,” says Godfrey, “but they always seemed to miss out. Starting Precious Recordings of London stems from listening to old boxes of tapes that, like everyone else at that time, recorded off the radio. Hearing some of that stuff again, I thought every one of those songs could have been a single, but they never got released.”
Having developed connections with members of both bands over several decades of gig going and fanzine selling, and with a leaving package from his three-decade tenure with tipsters’ bible Racing Post in his back pocket, Godfrey aimed to rectify that. As he began the arduous task of navigating the Kafkaesque administrative byways of the BBC, and with a name inspired by Dexys Midnight Runners, Precious Recordings of London is the result.
Given his background, Godfrey recognises the gamble he’s taking with such relatively niche material more than most. Given the historical and cultural significance of the Jasmine Minks, BMX Bandits and other artists who grew up around them, however, he has also studied the form.
In this respect, Precious Recordings of London follows in the footsteps of Strange Fruit, the label set up by John Peel in 1986 with Clive Selwood to release nothing but Peel Sessions. Some 81 twelve-inch EPs plus several compilation albums were put out before the label folded in 2004, six months before Peel’s passing.
Precious Recordings’ double seven-inch vinyl format also echoes the assorted singles clubs run by various indie labels over the last couple of decades. The colour coded sleeve design – red for Peel sessions, yellow for Long – plus the accompanying postcards and sleeve-notes by Stewart and Jasmine Minks mainstay Jim Shepherd, are a badge of quality and distinction again grounded in the original indie ethos.
“I decided if I was going to do it, then I should do it properly,” Godfrey says. “I was very keen to do double singles, which, with the colour coding and the postcards, gives the label an identity for what is basically a labour of love.”
A resurgence of interest in post-punk Scotland’s first flush has run on apace over the last few years. This has arguably come on the back of Grant McPhee’s two films documenting the era, Big Gold Dream and Teenage Superstars, released in 2015 and 2017, respectively.
A slew of archival releases by neglected artists followed. One of the most significant of these was the 2020 release of an expanded edition of Author! Author!, the sole long player by Edinburgh band, Scars. Others have included a never before never heard collection by short-lived combo, The Motorcycle Boy, and collections by Postcard era group, Jazzateers.
Elsewhere, the subscription based Last Night from Glasgow label has reissued The Bluebells’ Sisters album under its Past Night From Glasgow imprint. The Lanarkshire based Creeping Bent Organisation has similarly moved into a subscription model, with various missives from the label’s considerable back catalogue from the likes of The Sexual Objects, The Secret Goldfish and others available online.
It isn’t all about the past, however, with former Scars guitarist Paul Research having just issued his debut solo album, Skate the Royal Mile, while ex Soup Dragons guitarist Jim McCulloch will shortly be releasing his first solo record, When I Mean What I Say, on the Liverpool based Violette label. With the Jasmine Minks and BMX Bandits also having both released new material in recent years, all this activity seems to connect. Just as the artists themselves were originally part of a small but creatively incestuous world, Godfrey and Precious Recordings of London can be seen as the latest keepers of the flame.
“A lot of my favourite bands seem to be Scottish,” says Godfrey, “and that all stems from what was a really fertile time for music, but which sometimes didn’t get the attention it deserved.”
With future Precious compendiums already confirmed by two Scot-pop influenced groups, Blueboy and Heavenly, Godfrey has his sights on others from that era. He also has ambitions to release material by younger artists influenced by the John Peel generation of bands.
“You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to work out the sort of bands I‘d like to put out,” he says.“It is a gamble, but I’m proud of what I’ve got. All I want to do is put something out that I like, and which I think other people will like as well. I don’t want to make money. I just don’t want to lose it.
“Precious is a boutique label, and is obviously designed for collectors, and I’m happy with that, because the things we’re putting out have never been available on vinyl before. Ideally, I’d like to be putting out one record a month. There are so many sessions, and as long as we don’t completely fall flat on our faces, we can just carry on and get them out there.”
The first four Precious Recordings of London releases by The Jasmine Minks and BMX Bandits are available now at preciousrecordingsoflondon.bandcamp.com, thejasmineminks.bandcamp.com and bmxbandits.bandcamp.com.
The Herald, March 6th, 2021