Kevin Eden interview
Kevin Eden of WMO UK [KE] was interviewed by Graeme Rowland of Cracked Machine [GR]. Kevin wrote the Wire book, Everybody Loves A History (SAF), and co-instigated Wire Mail Order. The interview is split into three parts, which can be accessed via the links below:
3. Who Were WMO?
KE: Being involved in compiling Behind the Curtain was the motivator for starting the WMO label. One day I sat down and wrote out a list of Wire related things that had never been released or I felt needed reissuing. Desmond's album (Alone On Penguin Island) was definitely one. I think it's a grossly overlooked record. The Gilbert/Lewis 1980 Peel session had bowled me over the first time it went out. The MZUI Australia broadcast was around and it was logical to put those two together. We knew the P'o album hadn't been reissued. There were some Wire tracks that I knew hadn't been released from their 70's incarnation, the 1988 Peel Session. And I felt that if we could represent all parties, then a solo album by each could be good as well.
GR: What do you think of P'o in relation to Dome?
KE: Is there a relation to Dome?
GR: Well P'o is more song based but they have a similar studio sound.
KE: I think it was a way back into the song form. Dome had gone out on a limb. Dome 3 had Peter Price on it as well. That's the connection.
As soon as I mentioned the idea of the label Bruce handed over the master tapes to Desmond's album and Document and Eyewitness. He had had the idea of a spoken word album for a long time and Mute didn't seem to be taking the bait. So when I said how about it for WMO, his little face lit up like a sunbeam!
GR: These were the releases that were discussed before you reissued the Desmond Simmons album?
KE: Absolutely. The idea of a newsletter being set up was sanctioned by Wire. The setting up a label was an entirely different kettle of fish. It was more complicated because we ended up with contracts and having to negotiate things. Having said that, the amount of generosity on the part of the members of Wire regarding the release of these recordings has been fantastic. I hope they saw that there was enthusiasm. I think that they'd seen how I'd acted regarding the book and I'd become friends with them over that period and since. I would hope that there was a certain integrity in how I approached the things that I did with them.
So we planned to make Desmond's album the first release. I met Desmond and he was overjoyed that it was happening again. He offered these extra live tracks he'd recorded with Beacon Hill Six and I found the tracks with Soft Option in Colin's tape archive.
GR: So what was the shortlist that you had before starting the label?
KE: Alone On Penguin Island, the Gilbert/Lewis Peel session and MZUI Australia, the Bruce Gilbert spoken word album. Possibly something by Graham if we could find it. Something by Colin if we could find it. Something by Dome because we knew there were bits recorded here and there which had never been issued. Some Wire seventies stuff because I knew these tracks from bootleg cassettes and remnants from Document and Eyewitness and maybe some eighties Wire if there were any out-takes.
The P'o release was at this point going to be done by These Records, but later they relinquished it to WMO.
GR: Why was Desmond's album chosen as the first release?
KE: It was readily available and I felt it deserved to be first. I still love the album and feel very sad that it's still grossly ignored. In the process of readying that for release, the material for Graham's pre>He was found. He's married and lives in Sweden and he'd left a lot of stuff in storage. I think the bill was mounting up so he decided one day to clear it all out. He invited me to come along and help myself to whatever was there. There were loads of tapes and bits of artwork. I filled two big holdalls with cassettes.
GR: Demos and the like?
KE: Plus albums by Family, aboriginal music - just tapes of music that he'd listened to. I sat down and sorted out the stuff that was his own music. The first thing I found was a tape of Desmond's album which had They Fly Information which wasn't on the original release. Desmond said it had been left off because Bruce and Graham both hated it.
The basis of Graham's album was going to be something centred around He Said "Argh..." which had been released on Touch Tapes. I was ploughing through all this stuff of Graham's and came across this incredibly long piece of music that became Dolass Violphin.
Within a month I'd seen Panasonic play and this track was a revelation! Where the hell was it from? I rang Graham up within minutes of playing it, with the idea of putting it out on a 12". I just thought it was so unbelievable that there was Aphex Twin doing this stuff and Panasonic were doing something even more similar, and here's this track recorded in 1983! All his stuff was found in his archive.
Some Wire pieces were found; A Panamanian Craze?
GR: Is there a saxophone being played on that track?
KE: Yes, it's Graham.
Anyway, Charles was up for the label, and at the time he was an accountant for a big company in California and he had some money saved, so he was able to float WMO and fund the first releases.
GR: How much money did you need to set up the label?
KE: About fifteen hundred pounds.
GR: What quantities were the releases pressed up in?
KE: A thousand, except for Whore, which was a different matter. Charles had the idea of a tribute album from the beginning. I told him there couldn't be a tribute album for Wire. He said we didn't have to call it a tribute album. But this thing had raised its head and was obviously not going to go away so in the end I said, "OK, lets draw up a shortlist. You deal with America and I'll deal with Europe." We went mad with the list!
GR: Weren't REM involved early on?
KE: They were asked. I think they were that close to recording but it never happened.
We had high aspirations with the names we drew up on the list. U2 were approached. You're pulling faces, but we wanted this thing to sell! We definitely had our commercial hat on with Whore. If people were going to get to know about Wire we had to get the bands that people would buy it for. It got slowly whittled down. Therapy? were asked and did do a live recording of a song for us in Spain but they didn't like it.
I actually spoke to Kylie Minogue's management about doing a track and Whigfield!
GR: Is Kylie Minogue a Wire fan?
KE: No idea!
GR: It seems a bit odd to ask people who aren't into the band.
KE: I didn't care!
GR: You thought it was a ridiculous idea in the first place so why not go the whole hog?
KE: Absolutely! Lets go completely mad with it! Why shouldn't a Wire track be completely commercial?
Whilst we were preparing it we put the Gilbert and Lewis CD out, and I think pre>He. We wanted Whore to get good exposure, and the main independent distributor was Vital, so I approached them about distributing it.
Colin suggested we try and get My Bloody Valentine involved. When he heard we had them (Map Reference) on it, he fell off his chair! He was definitely surprised that I'd got them to commit something to tape!
GR: Maybe since it was a cover Kevin Shields wasn't so precious about it?
KE: He was precious about it! It was like drawing teeth! So because of who was on it Vital were well up for it. They were able to give it a lot of exposure. We got a promotion company working on it, got lots of press across Europe and it did very well on both sides of the Atlantic.
GR: I know Main already had their track (Used to) in the bag before you approached them. Had anyone else already recorded something?
KE: Nobody else. We had one band pull out on us at the very last minute so I rang up Robin Rimbaud (Scanner) who I'd already met at the Electronic Lounge and asked him to do a cover, even though I knew he only did instrumentals. He said he loved Wire, but he chose a track that had already been taken. Then he decided on Eardrum Buzz. A few days later at a Disobey, he gave me a DAT tape! I was amazed he'd done it so fast! He'd been up all night getting it done. He was the quickest one.
Charles came up with the title. We got around the idea of a tribute by describing it as "Various Artists playing Wire". That did very well in terms of sales, which enabled us to put out other things. Vital took up the option of distributing Turns and Strokes and that sold well.
It's important to note the input of the designer, Dave Coppenhall, who did nearly all the sleeves we put out. He had free reign on Whore. Whatever we've given him to do, whether it was something new like The Haring or a straight reproduction of an old sleeve his professionalism and his integrity have been absolute.
GR: Which releases wasn't he involved with?
KE: Desmond's which was a straight reproduction of the original artwork, and Lewis/Gilbert/Mills on which we used my photos. The layout work was done by Jon Wozencroft.
GR: Hasn't that one sold out now?
KE: Yes, I'm staggered that was the first to sell out! We're close to selling out of Dome as well, but I think people were waiting for that for a long time!
GR: Wasn't the Dome album originally scheduled to appear on Blast First?
KE: No, that was Dome live at Disobey. (An Extract of Tervis appeared on the out of print Blast First compilation Three Fingers And A Fumb). We approached Blast First for a slice of that cake but they declined. Mute have always been great, very easy to deal with. The Coatings material was very easy to sort out once they knew what we wanted.
GR: Out of all the WMO releases, which one do you think you've enjoyed listening to the most?
KE: The problem with that question is I listen to them all a lot at the time of preparing them for release and after that occasionally. The fact is I'm excited by every release and I've hopefully given every one the attention to detail that it deserves, across the board, whoever it is. I've aimed to make them all complete documents and I hope that's born out when I do sleeve notes for them. The only ones I've put sleeve notes to are the reissues or the archival stuff. To me, gilbertpossstenger and Dome are new releases and therefore don't have sleeve notes. At the moment I'm playing the Michael O'Shea album a lot because I'm having to pay attention to certain things I want doing when it gets mastered. I play Coatings, especially the Peel session version of German Shepherds, and the Dome album a lot. I suppose those two could be my favourites, but it really depends what mood I'm in.
In fact, to be honest, I very rarely play Wire. I have a binge, about once a year, and play things. I'm too busy listening to other music and walking the dog!
From the very beginning when we set up the label we always knew we had a limited life span. We knew when we reached the end of the list that would be it.
GR: But the list did grow...
KE: That was fine. We discovered that we could get the gilbertpossstenger release. We discovered These Records weren't going to reissue the P'o album. The Dome album had been considered and that eventually became definite once we discovered what was available.
We've reached the end, and what surprised me greatly was when we put the statement out about us ending and the amount of chat it generated, and shock!
Since starting the label the Ideal Copy Wire email list has started up, the Wireviews Web site and this big explosion of information available via the Internet.
GR: How did you become aware of the Wireviews site?
KE: Craig wrote to me and asked for some CD's to review, so I sent him some and checked out the site.
GR: The Internet must have made things easier?
KE: It certainly increased mail order sales.
GR: And Colin talked about that back in 1979, in the interview archived on the WMO Web site!
KE: I dug that out for that specific reason! It's all happening now! It was in the air then.
GR: Was there ever a mission on the part of WMO to get Wire back together as a band?
KE: There was always a mission to get Wire back together, but whether it was WMO's or mine personally or every other Wire fan's is laughable. I never personally said, "Oh, you guys should get back together, or WMO thinks...". If they do they do, if they don't they don't. I'm glad they have, and I'm excited at the prospect of new material.
GR: Why did you decide to compile Dugga, the mix of Drill covers?
KE: Whore had come out and one day in conversation I mentioned to Bruce about picking up the Seefeel Succour album and a track on it which sounded like Drill. Bruce said, "There can never be enough Drills!" and the lightbulb went on. I thought if Seefeel could do a Drill without even knowing it, why can't other people do Drills? So if Charles is to blame for Whore, then I'm happy to be blamed for Dugga Dugga Dugga!
GR: Do you know anything more about Ibrahim? His Extra Marital Drill was my favourite Dugga track.
KE: Ibrahim was somebody Charles met through email. He's the kind of guy who sits at home and does all this stuff on cassettes and CDR's and posts it out to his mates. Charles heard something and asked him if he wanted to give us a noise when he found out he was a big Wire fan. He gave us plenty of noise! In fact that track was much longer. We did a serious edit on it.
GR: That's a shame!
KE: We cut it at the point where it was peaking, getting louder and more intense. On the longer version it drops and fizzles out. When we were editing it with Denis at the mastering studio I suggested cutting it at the point where it's taking off and having the Lion Tamers come in. I said to Charles that that was the cherry on the cake and he said, "No, it was the icing." I said, "No, all of it's the icing!"
GR: Did Band of Susans record their hidden Drill at the same time they did Ahead for Whore? [The Band of Susans track is 'hidden'—rewind the CD from track 1 to hear it—Ed.]
KE: Yes, so did the Ex Lion Tamers.
GR: Did they actually record the Pink Flag homage, which never got released?
KE: The backing tracks were recorded.
GR: Although you said that it was never really intended for release there must've been some intention to put out Flap King early on when it appeared on the WMO release schedule?
KE: Yes. They recorded it at the same time they did their tracks for Whore and Dugga, and it sat there unmixed and time moved on. At that time Charles and I were constantly talking about potential releases and one of them was the idea of the Ex Lion Tamers album. But then looking at the hard economics of it, to me, having done Whore and Dugga, it seemed we'd done enough tributes! I thought it would be like flogging a dead horse! The band themselves decided not to pursue it. I think everyone agreed it was best left to lie as a glorious memory! It became an irrelevancy.
GR: And the MZUI Waterloo Gallery installation album never got reissued because Cherry Red wanted too much money to license it?
KE: The sheer economics of MZUI? I would dearly love to see MZUI out. The problem is not necessarily the licensing fee that Cherry Red want. They want 500 quid, which is a standard licensing fee. But that has to be recouped to start off. The way I envisaged packaging and reissuing MZUI was identical to the way it came out on vinyl: a CD in a little plastic wallet with a big fold out piece of paper. You've got to get everything down to CD size, which means more folds to get all the pictures on. And there are more pictures, which weren't used on the original insert. The artwork costs would need recouping too, and I don't honestly think that MZUI would do it. I wasn't prepared to take that risk.
This brings us to the reason for setting WMO up as a limited company. Charles and I had a big learning curve with Whore. We had to become a limited company because we were dealing with big labels like Island, 4AD and Beggars Banquet. Charles and I did not want to get stung by any come backs that could potentially happen. Nothing has happened, but we didn't want to be in the position of being the ones on the line!
Setting up a limited company hardly costs anything, and if something goes wrong they can only take the company. The other side of the coin is that you have to keep accounts and declare them every year through to Companies House. You have to deal with it as a business. This can be very tedious and boring. It's the side I don't get thrilled about.
As Coatings came out, Vital, who were distributing it, bought out their main rival RTM and there was an absorption of the two companies. As part of that absorption they decided to consolidate and what that usually means is something gets slashed. Coatings came out in November, and in December I got a phone call to tell me they'd drawn a line and anything below that line was off for distribution. We fell off, Swim fell off, Domino fell off and lots of other labels. Basically the money-spinners were kept. Within two months of having a big release out, which I thought would sell well, we no longer had a distributor! Coatings has since sold well, but there was a winding down period. Cargo were still distributing the smaller stuff, but for nine months I was left with very little distribution in the UK.
At the same time this was happening Charles was not happy with the situation at World Domination and he also saw the writing on the wall, that World Domination were actually going out of business, so he jumped ship. By doing that he left a bit of a tangle behind him. I'm not having a go at Charles, but it affected Colin and myself too. It's all been sorted out now, but these are the facts as it happened. Because World Domination went under there was a big mess left behind. WMO almost stopped as a business, which was why we put P'o and Dugga out at the same time. We had them ready to go and Dugga was ready to go through World Domination but when we learnt what was going on we decided to pull it out. It was a gradual slow climb back. We'd also pulled everything out of Cargo and went to another distributor in the UK, who didn't do the work for us. So we were left in limbo for about six-to-eight months. Painfully tedious time.
GR: Colin has said that distribution is very corrupt. Would you agree?
KE: Cargo are not corrupt. As far as my dealings with them go. They are incredibly supportive. All my dealings with Cargo have been great. Bill Dolan at Cargo is a big Wire fan, and he's been fantastic. He was supportive from day one. When Vital dropped a lot of labels, Cargo mopped a lot of them up and they've since grown. They've become almost the second largest independent distributor.
After all the mess with Vital and distribution I went back to Cargo and asked them if they wanted to take the whole catalogue and they agreed. Things took off again.
When it came to the Dome release, they agreed to do a P&D deal, production and distribution. That's where they pay for the CD to be made and take the cost back out of sales. Before we were funding nearly every release ourselves and then selling it to the distributor. The costs are spread out better with P∓D. They did Dome and gilbertpossstenger and now they're doing the O'Shea album.
Charles and I have learnt an awful lot and we've been through some big ups and downs financially. We were never close to bankruptcy. Now we're going to stop before we do!
GR: Michael O'Shea is (almost) the last release, so do you have anything to say about that one?
KE: It's different!
GR: It brings things full circle since WMO started by reissuing the first non-Dome Dome label release and it's finishing by reissuing the second one.
KE: That certainly wasn't intentional. Michael's was shelved at one point. Then about six months ago I got an email from a guy called John Byrne in Ireland, saying that he knew of other tracks that Michael had played on. He had a load of information including an interview Michael had done for the press and photos. He knew Michael's older sister in Dublin. This re-ignited the flame.
I think it's a wonderful album. It's absolutely unique and nothing like Wire or Dome. Don't buy it because you like Dome! Don't buy it because you like Wire! Buy it because you like good music! The hardcore will buy it because it's a Gilbert and Lewis production.
GR: Well, Bruce and Graham liked Michael O'Shea's music enough to record an album and I think there must be a cross over between their musical taste and some Wire fans' taste!
KE: I hope so. I think if you'd asked me this time last year if we were going to reissue the album, I'd have said no! I get the feeling that now there's an attitude of change and the time is right. Everyone I've spoken to about this album is absolutely overjoyed that it's happening, especially his family. It's difficult to talk about because it's such a magical album. The more I talk to people who knew him and the more I discover about Michael, the more I realise that the guy was incredible! He was an extraordinary, eccentric figure but he was incredibly tied into so many types of music. He never spoke about it. He was very reluctant to blow his own trumpet. He was just happy to play to people on the street. He didn't want to record in a studio. He was unhappy playing at the Royal Festival Hall. He had a residency at Ronnie Scott's, which he blew out, because he didn't want to be put in a position of having to go on to perform for an hour every night. He wanted to go out and play when he felt like it. He was his own man! He pointed his nose in the direction he wanted to go and that was the direction he went and if it brought good things it brought good things and if it brought bad things it brought bad things. Unfortunately that's how his life ended as well. He stepped off the bus at the wrong time and walked into the path of a Post Office van.
When I found out from John that he'd died I phoned Graham and Bruce up and there was a silence at the end of the phone, but they both knew even though they didn't know, because of the lifestyle that he led. It's sad, but at least he left something behind for people to listen to which is completely timeless. It isn't a fashion album! You can't put it on and say, "That's from the '80s!"
So that's going to be out in May. We've got all the tracks in place. I'm going to see his family at the beginning of March to speak to them for the sleeve notes and about copyright, tie a few loose ends up. I'm also currently pursuing another piece of music which he recorded for the Irish television station RTE in the eighties, just after the album came out. He performed live on an arts program. I don't know if it's available. They might have binned the tapes! There might be video footage and if there is we might be able to include that on the CD. If it's not available we've still got the original album plus an extra track, which is another take of Guitar No. 1, plus collaborations with other musicians. It does flow very nicely. I'm very pleased with the way it's been put together.
Obviously Bruce's second instalment of The Haring will appear whenever he makes it! And when he's not Wire-ing. That won't be a WMO Ltd release. It'll be done mail order only and we'll announce it when I know that Bruce has something to commit.
GR: Who decided not to cut the sections of The Haring into individual tracks? I'd have liked to have been able to play it on random.
KE: Bruce just presented it as one long track, and I never thought about it! Actually Dugga was going to be one long track plus the Ex Lion Tamers on the end! Charles thought that it wasn't very radio friendly, not very user friendly.
GR: Does Paul Kendall's Parallel Series label still exist?
KE: I spoke to Paul recently. He no longer works for Mute. He's working freelance and he's in negotiations with a certain Sheffield label. He has got plans and he's busy doing stuff.
GR: How do you view Wire now compared to Wire in the past?
KE: I see what Wire are doing now as very much R&D work. I think that's how they would view it as well. They're finding their feet. For the first time in their careers they have control of their output in every way. They're all older and wiser to the pitfalls of getting involved with a label that wants product and tours etc. I'm pleased they're doing it for themselves. Something we all have to deal with and accept.
GR: Does the reactivation of Wire, and their new label pinkflag.com, have anything to do with the end of WMO?
KE: That implies that there's some great master plan behind things. No, it's purely coincidental and as I said earlier, we've run our course. The wheels are about to fall off!
It's probably timely that things have gone this way. As we slide out, they slide in. pinkflag.com is a label for Wire recordings. The WMO releases will be available until they sell out. That might take two years. At the end of 2001, WMO Ltd will cease to exist and from January 1st 2002 WMO, will take over. It's an administrative change. A subtle change, but no change of business. It essentially means that Charles will be out of the picture completely and I will be left holding the baby.
The problem is the baby's getting too big to hold and I want it to walk on its own two feet and leave me alone!