Geoff Travis's status as a music savant is irrefutable . Since starting Rough Trade in 1978, he has released records by The Smiths, The Fall, Antony and the Johnsons, The Strokes, The Libertines and just about everyone else. If you've listened to a vital song with guitars since '78, the chances are he's not more than two or three steps removed from it. The man knows.
Although there's been plenty of hits, there is of course many that for some reason didn't catch fire. Ahead of a new exhaustive Rough Trade Shops compilation, Recorded At The Automat: The Best Of Rough Trade Records, we got the man with the music business's soundest ear to recall some of his favourite tracks you (probably) don't know...
Jackie Mittoo - These Eyes
Jackie Mittoo, who just last year had a song by Superchunk named after him, was the premier keyboard player in Jamaica. Jackie was also the organiser/band leader of hundreds of Studio One sessions, for whom he recorded a slew of classic records.
Jackie was in London visiting when we tracked him down and asked if we could license this track from him. I will never forget the fact that after playing him the Blue Orchid’s single ‘Disney Boys’, he commented that he loved the keyboard sound and part that Una Baines had played on the record. This is a compliment of a celestial order: like having Miles tell you he likes your trumpet playing.
The Feelies - Fa Ce La
For many years the Feelies were the very best band in New York. Bill Million and Glenn Mercer were the real suburban dwellers that David Byrne pretended to be. They mostly like playing near their hometown of Haledon, making Maxwells in Hoboken their personal kingdom thanks to Steve Fallon's unceasing support. They weren't so keen on playing in Manhattan.
This was their first single which we licensed directly from the band.We lost out on their classic debut album to Stiff: something that I always regret as i really believe that Stiff did not appreciate them fully.
Jonathan Richman - That Summer Feeling
Jonathan of course is one of the great originals in all of rock and roll. We licensed this track from Seymour Stein at Sire, who had released it in the USA.
Jonathan formed the Modern Lovers in the wake of his love for the Velvet Undergound and forged a career with his own devastatingly honest and heartfelt music. I like to think that we helped to revive interest in what Jonathan was doing musically during this period and we went on to release three great albums with him.
He always says 'hi' when we see him anywhere, and that is good enough for us.
The Gist - This is Love
When the Young Marble Giants had run it's course, Stuart Moxham recorded this gem for us as his first solo single under this moniker. I can remember being in This Heat’s Cold Storage studio in Brixton when it was being recorded and thinking what a lovely song this was.
Stuart had high hopes for his new direction but I think he did not quite have a grip on the cruel currents of commercial reality. Sometimes when you make a perfect first record you think everything will always be that easy and things will fall into place effortlessly. If only it were so!
Arthur Russell - Let’s Go Swimming
Barry Feldman and Gary Lucas introduced me to Arthur in New York and we began working with him by licensing the World of Echo from Barry's Upside record label. There followed a lot of years where we supported Arthur as he tried to finish the music that he was constantly recording.
One of my best memories was the night Arthur took me to the Paradise Garage,where he led me into the DJ booth, where he was received with great acclaim by the resident DJ. This was after all the man that had recorded ‘Go Bang’ and ‘Is it All Over My Face’. The fact that Arthur's legend has grown into a full blown appreciation is one of those very gratifying things that I wish he was here to appreciate. Walter Gibbons helped turn this into a masterpiece.
Virginia Astley - Melt The Snow
Long before the current movement towards writing about nature and the English countryside spearheaded by people like Robert McFarland, Virginia was exploring such themes in her music and lyrics. Her first album , From Gardens Where We feel Secure, is another classic that should be more widely known.
This track is a single from that record and perfectly captures the beauty and melancholy of Virginia’s best work. Her singing and playing might be classically orthodox but in the world of pop music seemed very singular and original. This record is ripe for rediscovery.
The Veils - Lavinia
Sometimes the music we release fails to connect and it is a mystery as to why that is.
This is one of the most magical records we have ever released, yet hardly anyone ever heard it, except that it struck a chord in Italian hearts in a way that rarely happens with UK based rock and roll. Maybe they responded to the feeling of longing that Finn Andrews expressed in this one of his earliest ever songs. Maybe it is just a simple as Lavinia is a common name in Italy and it went over because of that.
We gave Finn a record deal on the basis of this song; a decision we have never regretted. If you see the Veils are playing somewhere near you, then please go and see them. You won't regret it.
Detroit Cobras - Cha Cha Twist
Mary and Rachel, the two partners in crime in this group, do actually live in Detroit. Jeannette and I went to visit them and to see them play in one of our more memorable escapades. The bar where they played in the outskirts of Detroit felt like a biker bar transported back to Vietnam in 1968.
We were invited back to the band’s house after the scintillating rock and rolling show, where we excused ourselves at about three in the morning, unused to the level of intensity such late night manoeuvres entailed. We excused ourselves and went back to our hotel.
They are one of the few great authentic rock and soul bands left on the planet.
Mary Hampton - Honey In The Rock
This was a very recent release from a hugely unusual and talented individual.
Mary has done what the folk singers of the sixties used to do: take a traditional song and imbue it with the personality and geographical location of its interpreter. In Mary's case it could be the Brighton of Victorian times, such is the particularity of her diction and the singularity of her version.
Her diction and singing are exquisite. She also has penned an original song,'Because We Are Young’, that deserves to be a standard. I am constantly thinking to myself that i must get someone to cover this song. Much in the way that Joe Boyd tried to get Roberta Flack to record one of Nick Drake's songs as a follow up to Ewan Macoll's "First Time I Ever Sw Your Face”.
Mary does live and work in Brighton and if you are very lucky you can also catch her performing.
Miracle Fortress - Maybe Lately
From a one person bedroom musical producer. Something Brian Wilson might have been proud of if he had of been born in the 90s instead of the late 40s, this Canadian slice of melodic gorgeousness was a firm favourite during 2008.
T he same prescient and kind man that led me to see the Dirty Projectors at an out of the way show at SXSW that year, when Angel was still in the band, told me about this Montreal-based artist. We made a deal the next day to release the Dirty Projectors’ Rise Again album and made contact with Miracle Fortress soon after.I don't know what has happened to this project and whether there is new music to come, but I hope so.
Rough Trade Shops: Recorded At The Automat: The Best Of Rough Trade is released on multiple platforms on the 23rd March. You can get it from the website here and no doubt at all their shops. Do that.