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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Making Hay While the Sun Shines
The author has done a good job of collating the memories of most of the protagonists behind Rough Trade. Given the nature of the subject - the idealistic vision of an independent music culture that would not only take on the major record companies but often beat them at their own game - this is a fascinating and important story that by default sheds considerable light on...
Published on 22 July 2010 by JW

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What about the music?
A very readable- if some what chaotic, just like the label account of the rise and fall..and rise...and fall and rise again of the seminal indie label.
The problem is it's focus on the staff of Rough Trade itself, rather than the artists signed to the label, after a while the cast of characters just becomes bewildering, especially since the vast majority of readers...
Published on 13 Jun 2011 by Johnny 5 Eyes


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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Making Hay While the Sun Shines, 22 July 2010
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The author has done a good job of collating the memories of most of the protagonists behind Rough Trade. Given the nature of the subject - the idealistic vision of an independent music culture that would not only take on the major record companies but often beat them at their own game - this is a fascinating and important story that by default sheds considerable light on the way things have ended up now in "musicland".

One revealing aspect is to be found in the book's account of how Rough Trade's audience was so central to the success of their early years - by the mid 80s, the focus had switched to the perceived need to pander to the ambitions of The Smiths at the same time as seeing this one band as the solution to all RT's problems in terms of their dichotomy between the worlds of brown rice and white bread. There's a revealing passage just before the slippery slope of RT's financial problems really kicked in, where The Smiths are revealed to be a bunch of primadonnas on a European tour, and still the penny didn't drop for either the author or his subject(s).

The book briefly records how many small labels went under in the 1991 meltdown. We were nearly one of them, having been closely involved with RT for 10 years. What the book cannot record, because you cannot talk to everybody, is the day-to-day level of incompetence that one experienced. It's a bit like the Tony Wilson Factory maxim that the author mentions between fact and legend, but this is actually a boring conceit that gets no further than Pere Lachaise.

There ought to be a chapter on the phone, because you could never get through to them. For a good long time RT "got away with it", because in terms of the culture and the record sales of independently produced and distributed music, it was all about <what would happen next>. We didn't realise we were making hay while the sun shined.

It's interesting to read that RT spent £700,000 on a computer system that didn't work. A bit like the NHS and numerous others. Why so many organisations balls this up is quite another story not covered by this book - I'm only saying that because Rough Trade distribution went down the swanee just at the time when PC's became affordable.

I'm glad this book does tribute to Daniel Miller's patience. I was reminded of a lot of things reading it and I do recommend it, but more as an 'industry book' where you'd be best informed knowing something of the background.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What about the music?, 13 Jun 2011
A very readable- if some what chaotic, just like the label account of the rise and fall..and rise...and fall and rise again of the seminal indie label.
The problem is it's focus on the staff of Rough Trade itself, rather than the artists signed to the label, after a while the cast of characters just becomes bewildering, especially since the vast majority of readers apart from the staff themselves aren't going to know who most of these people are, the book may have done better shifting more of the emphasis over to the artists themselves. A the avergae reader is going to spend a lot of time having ti flick back through the pages working out who is who.
Stiff Little Fingers who gave the label their first chart success are rather glossed over, I would have also liked to have heard more about Rough Trades answer to the constant accusations from Morrissey and Marr that the label never shifted as many copies of Smith recors as the band though they should have. It's also a bit strange that the shop- the one part of the Rough Trade brand that has continued throughout all the chaos rather disappears from the story at the point the staff bought it out from the rest of the company.
Still if you have any interest in the history of British Indie music, this is an enjoyable (up to a point) read.
P.S the lack of an index for a book like this is somewhat unforgiveable.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars more music, less business, 1 Oct 2011
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... my rating breaks down as an average from 4* for the first part of the book, 2* for the second.

The Rough Trade story is a fascinating one, & well worth telling. At 400 pages, you know you're in for an in-depth account. The first half of the book (basically up to & including the Smiths' time at Rough Trade) is a really good read, & gives a good account of people like Geoff Travis & the other pioneer Traders. They were motivated by love of music & an idealistic/collective spirit & ideology that's all too rare now. There's plenty of interesting, unconventional people involved & some great stories.

However after the first 200 pages, I found the book more & more heavy going, & struggled to finish it in the end. If, like me, the word 'escrow' has you reaching for a dictionary, or you struggle to remember the difference between Rought Trade distribution & Rough Trade Distribution, you'll find some of the later chapters hard work. I felt like I needed to take notes at times. As some of the other reviewers point out, the book's crying out for an index & guide to the people involved, & probably some sort of chart illustrating the relationships between the various companies. My head was soon spinning as I tried to keep up with Impact, Pinnacle, the Cartel etc. In the same way, people like Jo Slee, Steve Montgomery, & the other early adventureres are sidelined by a pretty dull crew of accountants, management types & administrators. I glazed over pretty much any time there was mention of "the Model", some kind of business theory which I never understood.

To be fair to the author, he has to tell the story that's there: in a lot of ways, it seems like the moral of the Rough Trade story is that you can be idealistic & get successful if your 'product' is strong or unusual enough, but whatever you do, don't get too successful - then the original ideas & personnel get diluted, & less simpatico big biz types move in start asset-stripping. I remember tho how exciting the Rough Trade early years were, I couldn't keep up with the amount of singles & albums I wanted to buy every week. The label was a guarantee of quality & originality like Elektra or Island had been in the Sixties. I think this aspect gets lost as the book goes on, & as someone else says here, the perspective is too skewed towards the details of business & finance,rather than the music which was what it was meant to be all about.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential, 23 Aug 2010
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S. Hunter (UK) - See all my reviews
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This is an enthralling book with a keen eye for period detail, with a profound narrative arc that goes into just the right amount of detail throughout. There are literally hundreds of wonderful stories, all related by the protagonists themselves, both staff and musicians. I can't imagine a more thorough, entertaining or absorbing account of this unique, at times almost unbelievable story. Document & Eyewitness is surely destined to take its place in the list of all-time great music books. Very highly recommended.
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4 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lacks a spark..., 7 Aug 2010
Very detailed on the business side of things but something is lacking when dealing with the actual music. Unless you know the bands/records already you would not get any idea as to why they inspired such devotion/ exasperation. A serious book but just a little dull.
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Document And Eyewitness: An Intimate History of Rough Trade
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