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At the Beginning....
On the 20th February 1976, the Rough Trade shop on Kensington Park,
Ladbroke Grove was opened by Geoff Travis, the name Rough Trade
came from a Canadian band. The Rough Trade shop was a shop
that sold Punk Tracks, but soon developed a relationship with the
Reggae community around them, therefore creating an alliance with
them and selling Reggae tracks as well as the Punk tracks.
Rough Trade soon had a band called the
Buzzcocks. The Buzzcocks had a single in 1977 but
did not have a record company, therefore this made
it hard to market the song and also distribute the
song. The positives were that the band gave the
shop the idea to promote independent artists without
a record label, soon becoming the D.I.Y culture of
society. This new culture would then open the doors
for Rough Trade to create their own record label.
In 1977, Richard Scott became Rough Trade’s Distribution worker.
Richard worked towards distributing to a range of independent
companies within the country and also trying to secure an worldwide
independent distribution deal. By 1978, the distribution system was
going really well with the emerging D.I.Y culture and soon gave
Rough Trade the chance to create their record label.
The first release under the record
label was from a French band called
Metal Urbain, the band has the
distinction of being the first Rough
Trade release and was swiftly
followed that year by an eclectic
further eleven singles, many of which
stand today as classics of their genre.
Successful chart positions....
Rough Trade soon became a record label producing lots of different singles and
albums for artists, the big Album for them coming from Scritti Politti called ‘Stiff little
fingers’. This proved to be Rough Trades most successful album to date reaching
number 14 in the charts selling 100,000, the first ever independent to sell 100,000
copies. The album gave Rough Trade revenue that they had never had before,
therefore this money was used to produced and promote more of their artists such
as the Raincoats and also The Specials who went on to sell 375,000 singles with
their song ‘Two tone’.
By the end of the decade there were over 800 independent companies, this emphasising
the impact and growth of independent companies in such a small period.
Holding onto the success created....
The problem independent companies including Rough Trade had were holding onto
their successful bands they have created. The success of Stiff Little Fingers was
soured when they became the first band to leave Rough Trade. At the beginning
Rough Trade did not agree or even create a contract with the band, therefore
having no guarantee of holding onto them. Stiff Little Fingers went to sign for a
bigger record label, this being a positive move for them because it guaranteed them
security in the industry and also success, therefore they did not have any over
choice but to move on and become a major record labels band.
Soon, other bands began to follow the trend and leave Rough
Trade for the major record labels, thus creating Geoff Travis to
create stability and a contract for their new bands to sign and
guarantee at least three albums.
Change in decade and direction....
1980 was the start of the new decade and direction for the Rough Trade records, Rough
Trade records had a new bigger accommodation at Blenheim Crescent and began to
sell a new genre, Black American Pop. The first song on the new genre was the song
‘Sweetest girl’ by Robert Wyatt, the song sold 60,000 singles and reaching #64 in the
charts. Other songs by Robert Wyatt included the famously made song ‘Ship
Building’ , for the soldiers fighting the country which reached # 36 in the charts.
Financial Difficulties....Rifts and Disagreements....
In 1982 Rough Trade had to overcome a number of difficulties, this because the
company was beginning to lose all its money, therefore resulting in Geoff Travis and
his associates to cut back their resources. Cuts backs resulted in the shop were it
all began to be sold to three of workers in the shop, that is still owned by them to
date and also in a difficult position to decide whether to cut back further or release
some bands. The difficult period became even more so difficult because of a rift
between the Record label manager Geoff Travis, and also Distributer manager
Richard Scott. Both believed that their side of the business needed the more money
and this resulted in them not agreeing on where the little money should be put in to.
this rift would never be resolved at the time and not to date.
The rift did not help the company move forward and with the little amount of money to
spend, Rough Trade looked like they were stuck, but an unexpected man went to
Rough Trade and gave a demo to Geoff Travis to listen to, listening to the song over
the weekend, Geoff decided to sign the band ‘The Smiths’, the band that saved the
business from extinction.
The Smiths were the band who went to Rough Trade to get a record deal, when Geoff Travis heard
the song, he signed them to Rough Trade Records and for the first time had a written contract
with a band, the conventional contract stated that ‘The Smiths’ would produce four albums with
Rough Trade Records and this therefore guaranteed that they could not lose the band to another
company like in the past. The Smiths single ‘This Charming man’ reached #26 in the charts. The
Smiths continued their success as they produced a second album and a third, but early loosing
the band to EMI with the third album. The Smiths had a #1 album and 16 top 20 singles, thus
showing there success and drawing attention from the major labels. The band was later singed to
EMI, but due to the contract of Rough Trade they secured three albums and gained lots of
revenue for themselves, therefore being able to fund a new band such as The Sundays with their
song ‘Wooden Tops’ that reached #4 in the British charts.
Conventions and Mimicking....
With the success of The Smiths, Rough Trade
began to become and development in an all
round business. Therefore Geoff Travis
decided to higher staff to meet the needs of
the business, also the management was
handed over, a HQ was established and
also the financial pay changed, where staff
were given a salary where it could be
different to another's. This new idea of new
management and business ideas are good
for the business but some could say a
contradiction of Geoff Travis’s morals, this is
because Geoff Travis wanted to create a
company for the independent bands to
create a platform and become successful,
but Geoff at this point is creating Rough
Trade to be like a major label, a way Geoff
said he didn’t want to be...
Demise and end of Rough Trade
In 1991, The stats showed that 90% revenue was
from the distribution of singles and albums.
With the contracts of their artists expiring and
Rough Trade unable to match the money of
the major labels to compete and keep their
bands, Rough Trade had no more money to
continue the business and as a result 2/3rds of
Rough Trade staff were axed. Following a
series of unfortunate business decisions and
credit issues affecting distribution, Rough
Trade International, the parent company, went
into Administration. All of the assets, including
the record company and the rights to the
Rough Trade name itself, were sold off in an
attempt to cover Distribution’s debts. The
Rough Trade story, at least for the moment,
Rough Trade Reborn....
It would be the best part of a decade before Geoff Travis
and Jeannette Lee could reacquire the rights to the
Rough Trade name and begin again as a record
company with the help of trading partner Sanctuary.
Once again the old Rough Trade ethos came to the
fore – an openness of mind, a willingness to be moved
and an unswerving belief in the vision of the artists.
They were back in west London, too, which has
always seemed the spiritual homeland of Rough
Trade. In Spring 2001, Geoff and Jeannette DJ’d at
the V&A for the 25th anniversary party of the Rough
Trade shop and the good faith elicited convinced them
that they were absolutely right to re-launch the label.
They had already released a trickle of albums and
singles but it was an unsolicited tape from New York
they had received a few months earlier that would
spectacularly give them they ammunition they needed.
New start, new beginning....
The rebuilding process of Rough Trade was in
process, the priority was to create stability,
therefore Geoff Travis and Jeannette Lee
moved into a small office to run their
business, after loosing everything even the
name of the business, therefore one of their
priorities was to get the name of Rough
Trade back. The next upcoming were low
key until 1993 when Rough Trade came
across Jarvis Cocker and his band Pulp.
After working with Geoff Travis, Pulp released
their debut song called ‘Common People’, this
reached #2 in the charts. To follow their debut
single, they soon followed with 5 consecutive top
Pulp brought Rough Trade’s record label back and
signified the new beginning of Rough Trade’s
Now in the 21st Century, Rough Trade wanted to
continue their success like Pulp with another
band, along came The Strokes. A risk was
made when Rough Trade began to promote
and be the record label for the band, but
chose not to put the band on a contract,
therefore this being risky because the thought
of loosing out to the major labels in the
previous years. The Strokes were Rough
Trade’s biggest band to be signed. The
following band were The Libertines, following
The Stokes success, The Libertines
continued the success for Rough Trade and
was the point of where both bands were the
reason of Rough Trade’s reestablishment.
30 Years since the beginning....
30 years on and Rough Trade has had the ups and the downs in the
thirty year period, but to date is running very successfully. The most
recent singer part of Rough Trade is Duffy, a contract with her was
made and it stated her to make four albums. Her debut single ‘Mercy’
had a brilliant response and reached #1 in the singles chart, this is the
first time Rough Trade had ever had a #1 after 30 years on. Through
the years Rough Trade has produced many great artists and to date
are still going strong, hoping in the near future that another #1 will be