THE REVILLOS

Well before the September 1979 announcement of DinDisc’s launch in Music Week, Wilson and her staff had spent most of that year seeking out recording artists for the nascent label. Case in point is DinDisc’s first release, issued on September 7, 1979: the Revillos, “Where’s the Boy For Me?” b/w “The Fiend.” The Scottish band debuted really in name only, having reconstituted out of the (ahem) Rezillos, a fairly well-known punk-pop group, in order to free itself from a Sire Records contract.

The label on the Revillos 7” visually subordinates the DinDisc logo to another moniker, Snatzo. This was a Virgin imprint created exclusively for the Revillos, which suggests that whatever Wilson’s role in signing the Revillos to DinDisc in June 1979, the band had likely already negotiated with Virgin Records directly for their post-Rezillos re-launch. Although the Revillos would release three more singles and an album for DinDisc by 1980 (at least some produced by Mike Howlett), maybe they’re not the best illustration of how Carol Wilson and her staff ‘discovered’ bands. OMD and Martha and the Muffins were the label’s two main acts, Wilson told me, but “the Revillos, who had less commercial success… were equally well loved by us at DinDisc.”

A side note here is that one ex-Rezillo, guitarist Jo Callis, found far greater fortune a couple of years later than his former bandmates ever would. In April 1981, Callis was asked to join the Human League, who under Phil Oakey’s leadership were struggling to formulate an effective lineup after the departure of founding members Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh. Callis co-write some key songs for the Human League’s chart-topping 1981 album Dare, including the global smash “Don’t You Want Me.” As noted earlier, the Human League were another Virgin act whose publishing had been originally snapped up by Wilson during her Virgin Music tenure. It appears Callis had no involvement with either the Rezillos’ or the Human League’s original Virgin contracts. Interestingly, a scan of the League’s publishing credits indicates that founding member Philip Adrian Wright (he of “slides and occasional synthesizer”) signed his publishing to DinSong, in contrast to the other founding members. We’ll see more ex-Leaguers in the DinDisc story later.

DIN 1: Revillos – “Where’s the Boy For Me?” b/w “The Fiend”
DIN 5: Revillos – “Motor Bike Beat” b/w “No Such Luck”
DIN 16: Revillos – “Scuba Scuba” b/w “Scuba Boy Bop”
DIN 20: Revillos – “Hungry for Love” b/w “Voodoo 2”
DID 3: Revillos – Rev Up

 

ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK

For its second release, DinDisc issued “Electricity” b/w “Almost,” the debut single by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD), released on September 29, 1979. While “entirely obscure” when Carol Wilson first heard them in May, the Liverpool group already had a relationship with the Manchester-based independent label Factory Records. In fact, “Electricity” b/w “Almost” was originally issued by Factory Records, produced by Martin Zero (a.k.a. Martin Hannett, the label’s producer). In this sense, the original A&R discovery of OMD was made by Factory, which was keen in its early years to push onto bigger labels recording artists they thought they couldn’t break out properly, as label historian James Nice explains:

True to their word, Factory posted copies of Electricity to most leading major labels and music publishers in London. The first to show interest was Carol Wilson, then head of publishing at Virgin, who had already signed Magazine and The Human League… Enticed by [Peter] Saville’s thermographic sleeve, Carol Wilson played the OMD single straight away, and liked what she heard. ‘I was a huge fan of Kraftwerk, La  Dusseldorf and electronic music, so I thought it was great. OMD were a perfect fit for what I had in mind for DinDisc — they had a serious, artistic side with real depth, as well as a commercial, pop side. That duality was reflected in all the early DinDisc signings, like Martha and the Muffins, and then the Monochrome Set.’

Intrigued, Carol Wilson and artist development manager Dave Fudger travelled up to Liverpool to see OMD perform live. ‘I went up to Eric’s most Saturdays,’ she recalls. ‘They had a matinee with the same bands as the evenings, so I would arrive for the matinee and if I liked any of the bands I would stay on to see them again in the evening, then drive back to London in the middle of the night.’ On this occasion, Wilson and Fudger remained in Liverpool and auditioned OMD the following day in the back room of the house owned by Paul Humphrey’s mother. ‘They were very non-committal afterwards,’ remarks Humphreys. ‘We didn’t know if we’d impressed them or not.’ Soon afterwards, Factory financed a demo session at Cargo featuring Bunker Soldiers, Red Frame/White Light, Julia’s Song and Messages. For Carol Wilson, the range and quality of these new recordings proved decisive, as perhaps did the fact that Gary Numan was now riding high on the singles chart with Are ‘Friends’ Electric?, triggering a goldrush on synth pop. ‘Coming from publishing, I thought they were four really strong songs. Messages stood out as an obvious hit single. I told Tony I didn’t want to steal his band, but he said they should sign to DinDisc and go off and have hit singles, because he couldn’t do that for them.’ (Nice 2010: 66-67)

“I never signed a band unless I thought they could be commercially successful,” Carol Wilson has told the OMD fan site Messages. In 1979, the duo appreciated the faith she placed in them but were clever enough to maximize their hand.

‘I remember we were driving home and reading [DinDisc’s draft recording contract],’ says Andy McCluskey. ‘£30,000 advance for the first album, and we added up all the advances and they came to £250,000, a figure we could barely comprehend. We thought we were going to be so rich. DinDisc was the first and only company we ever talked to. They were really quick off the mark.’ OMD and manager Paul Collister subsequently engaged Factory lawyer Paul Rodwell to negotiate a more advantageous deal, which allowed them to build their own studio, The Gramophone Suite. ‘I’m not sure any other label would have been prepared to take that risk,’ notes Carol Wilson, confirming that not every London label was run by charlatans (Nice 2010: 72).

DinDisc signed OMD in September 1979 and immediately re-released FAC 6 as DIN 2, reprinting Factory designer Peter Saville’s 7” original sleeve graphic (which Factory pressed originally at considerable expense on a university thermographic machine) in black and white on standard paper. Perhaps the most significant alteration was the fine print noting that publishing and recording copyright for the single were now in DinSong/DinDisc’s possession. “Electricity” attracted critical attention to OMD’s particularly Kraftwerkian take on the emerging synth pop but failed to crack the British singles charts, so DinDisc re-released DIN 2 six months later with uncredited remixes of the original Martin Hannett recordings, to support OMD’s debut album, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (released February 2, 1980). “Electricity” failed to gain chart traction a third time, although OMD’s second DinDisc single “Red Frame/White Light” b/w “I Betray My Friends” (released February 1, 1980, produced by the band and their manager a.k.a. Chester Valentino) managed to reach #67.

OMD drew greater popular interest with their third DinDisc single: “Messages” b/w “Taking Sides” (released on May 10, 1980), which reached #13 on the singles chart. A better song and the persistence of the DinDisc publicity machine can take credit, no doubt, but so can producer Mike Howlett. He recalled his first meeting with the band to record “Messages”:

The first contact and engagement with an artist often determines the subsequent relationship with the producer, and my relationship with OMD was always a bit tense because they felt I had been imposed upon them. The record company did apply some pressure to persuade them to use a producer. They had already released their own self- titled and self-produced album (with then-manager Paul Collister), which had been recorded in their own studio. It had reached 23 in the UK album charts, but the record company knew the album could do a lot better if there was a hit on it. The song Messages was agreed by the record company and me to be the best choice, but only if it was re-recorded with a fuller-sounding production. The record company in this instance was, again, DinDisc with Carol Wilson at the head (Howlett 2009: 52).

Howlett assured the duo of his belief in the pop appeal of “Messages” and told them no significant revisions to the underlying composition or arrangement were necessary. Where Howlett changed OMD’s sound was, first, by replacing the thin sound of the band’s Roland Compurhythm with a live drummer (Malcolm Holmes, who became a full member in short order). Second, Howlett added the distinctive ascending tone that reaches its ultimate pitch with dramatic impact when the rhythm appears at the end of the intro. His reasoning again illustrates the DinDisc focus on pop appeal.

The first 20 or 30 seconds of a record aiming for popular radio play are especially important because radio producers are inundated with dozens of new records every day and tend to listen only to the first few bars before making snap judgements and moving on to the next song. For a new artist with no previous success these first few seconds must grab and sustain the attention of listeners to have any chance that they will hear the rest of the song (Howlett 2009: 56).

Third, Howlett had Andy McCluskey reduce his bass line to “three quavers on the low root note of the chord beginning each bar, with a semi-tone slide up into every second bar” — the distinctive pulse of “Messages.” “The effect was immediate and better than I had hoped—Andy leapt around the room ecstatically!”

OMD’s collaborations with Howlett were further vindicated with their fourth single, “Enola Gay” b/w “Annex” (released on September 26, 1980), which finally cracked the UK singles top 10 at #8, and their second album Organisation (DID 6, released October 24, 1980), which reached #6 on the album chart. Single and album complemented each other effectively in the DinDisc promotion machine. “There was no pressure from the record company to find another single,” Howlett (2009: 63) recalls. “To her credit, Carol Wilson understood that we had a fairly surefire hit with ‘Enola Gay,’ and was content to allow us free rein with the other tracks.”

For a third time, Howlett deployed his midas touch with OMD on “Souvenir” b/w “Motion & Heart (Amazon version)”/”Sacred Heart” (released August 4, 1981), putting extra effort in recording Paul Humphrey’s breathier vocals and creating another simple bass line for Andy McCluskey. In his dissertation Howlett recalls that McCluskey erupted in anger during the mixing session over the fact that he neither wrote the song, contributed the vocal, or even came up with his own bass line. Consequently, this would be Howlett’s last production credit with OMD, who from this point forward insisted on their own choice of producer. Recalls Humphrey:

It’s a slight character flaw [Andy] has always had as he always needed to be the centre of attention and “Souvenir” meant that for the first time in OMD, he wouldn’t be that. It was interesting when we were recording Architecture and Morality [the third OMD album: DID 12, released November 6, 1981] in Mayfair studios and we got a lunchtime call from Carol saying “Souvenir” had gone to no 3 in UK charts, I leapt for joy and went out to buy champagne and when I got back Andy had left the studio and stayed away for the rest of the day!! He’s mellowed a bit with age and over the years I found ways to deal with this (quoted in Howlett 2009: 69).

McCluskey’s insistence on keeping his own counsel didn’t always serve OMD’s best artistic interests. Their fourth album, 1983’s Dazzle Ships, had a 16-month gestation (about as long as their entire previous recording career) and received a critically mixed reception for its sprinkling of radio broadcast excerpts and musique concrete. It went to #5 and then sank, spending only a third of the weeks on the British album charts that Architecture and Morality enjoyed. Significantly, by this time DinDisc had gone defunct and OMD were recording for Virgin Records proper. As Paul Humphreys avers, “If we’d stayed with Carol, I doubt if we’d have ever released Dazzle Ships. As a career move it was a very bad one. Virgin should have given us a kick up the arse, but they thought we knew what we were doing” (quoted in Nice 2010: 211). Evidently chastened, McCluskey and Humphrey directed OMD’s sights toward maximum pop appeal for the rest of their long career.

DIN 2: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – “Electricity” b/w “Almost”
DIN 6: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – “Red Frame/White Light” b/w “I Betray My Friends”
DIN 15: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – “Messages” b/w “Taking Sides”
DIN 22: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – “Enola Gay” b/w “Annex”
DIN 24: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – “Souvenir” b/w “Motion & Heart (Amazon version)”/”Sacred Heart”
DIN 36: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – “Joan of Arc” b/w “The Romance of the Telescope (Unfinished)”
DIN 40: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – “Maid of Orleans (The Waltz of Joan of Arc” b/w “Navigation”
DID 2: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
DID 6: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Organisation
DID 12: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Architecture & Morality
DEP 2: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – “Introducing Music” [promo only]

 

PETER SAVILLE

OMD wasn’t the only artist that came to DinDisc via Factory Records. Through the OMD relationship, Peter Saville — newly relocated to London from Manchester where he was an equity-owning co-founder of the cash-poor Factory — contracted his services out to DinDisc as label art director (King 2003: 14).

Carol Wilson might not have conquered the charts with DinDisc’s first record, yet by signing OMD she gained a prodigiously talented in-house designer. Following a few unhappy months at mainstream studio Acrobat, Peter Saville struggled as a freelance, and even considered returning to Manchester to work for his father as a manufacturer’s agent in the building trade. Fortunately Tony Wilson suggested that Saville might usefully talk to DinDisc. ‘Peter delivered the artwork for Electricity,’ says Carol Wilson, ‘and some label logo ideas. Then he asked if I needed an art director. I thought, fabulous, even though the idea of an art director at DinDisc hadn’t occurred to me before. So we provided him with a big room and a PMT machine, which was the source of much merriment as DinDisc was staffed almost exclusively by women. The fact that Peter’s room overlooked a girls’ school was a bonus, I think. We paid him £5000 a year, and there were no restrictions on him undertaking outside work as well, so he continued designing for Factory, and soon after that Roxy Music and Ultravox. In that sense the culture at Virgin was very relaxed.’

In time, the volume of outside work undertaken by Saville would become a significant issue at DinDisc, as he tactfully admitted: ‘It got very, very tricky.’ Moreover, the simplified sleeve for Electricity gave Saville his first taste of artistic compromise, something for which he had little appetite. ‘When I first worked for DinDisc after Factory it came as an immense shock that sleeves couldn’t cost more than forty pence, etcetera. One design I proposed was for a black and white outer with a colour inner, which was turned down immediately, as it would only be seen after the buyer took it home’ (Nice 2010: 80).

Still, as collectors of post-punk and new wave records today know, what Saville deemed cheap and tawdry was nonetheless distinctive and resonant for the market. “The packaging [on DinDisc] was always great, compared to North America,” remembers Martha Johnson from Martha and the Muffins. “Like, they spent a lot on packaging.”

Under Peter Saville’s art direction, OMD’s eponymous debut album (DID 2) received the 1981 D&AD Silver Awards for the most outstanding album sleeve range, and for accompanying promotional poster.

Shrewdly, Wilson anticipated the costliness of Saville’s design in her business models. Referring to OMD’s eponymous debut album (DID 2), which featured an expensive Saville design (“a bright blue outer cover punched with a grid of die-cut lozenges, these revealing an orange inner sleeve”), she explained:

I think we knew that design would be expensive to manufacture, but we didn’t care. All recording contracts contained standard packaging deductions at that time, and whatever OMD were losing, rest assured DinDisc lost more. Anyway it didn’t matter, because the album broke the group commercially (quoted in Nice 2010: 98).

Saville’s designs have since bestowed continuing interest in the DinDisc vinyl catalogue, almost all of which is today out of print. In 1981, his work for OMD’s debut LP (shown here in its die-cut glory) garnered Silver Awards from the British Design and Art Direction (D&AD) for individual album sleeves and individual album poster. Saville swooped up other D&AD jury citations for his work at DinDisc: individual album sleeves for Martha and the Muffins’ Metro Music (DID 1), the Monochrome Set’s Strange Boutique (DID 4), Martha and the Muffins’ This is the Ice Age (DID 10), OMD’s Architecture & Morality (DID 12), and individual record sleeves for a single for OMD’s “Messages” (DIN 15), the Monochrome Set’s “The Strange Boutique” (DIN 18), and Martha and the Muffins’ “About Insomnia” (DIN 19), OMD’s “Souvenir” (DIN 24), and OMD’s “Maid of Orleans” 12″ (DIN 40-12).

 

DUGGIE CAMPBELL

DinDisc’s third release is a bit of an obscurity: Duggie Campbell’s “Enough To Make You Mine” b/w “Steamin” (released October 1979). The A-side was produced by Sting, a familiar figure from DinDisc’s pre-history who by that point was watching his career take off. I’ll let the undated website message of one Doug Campbell take it from here.

In 1979, I signed to Virgin Records in the UK, three of my songs were produced by Sting. One of those songs – “Enough To Make You Mine” – was released on the Dindisc label under the name “Duggie Campbell”.

In the Eighties, I moved out to South Africa and co-wrote the “Topsport” theme for the national TV station with Terry Dempsey, the writer of hits like “Daydreamer” for David Cassidy. Since then I’ve composed music for countless jingles, TV and movie projects and performed with my band “Havana Gas” in Dubai, Singapore, Tanzania, Botswana and Swaziland. Check out www.havanagas.co.za

Recently several of my songs were recorded by Storme – my wife and musical collaborator – on a CD entitled “Storme” distributed by BMG in South Africa,

Currently I’m collaborating with Frank Naude on a songwriting project at www.thesongcompany.com

It seems impossible to find a recording of Duggie Campbell’s DinDisc single online, although the 2009 video below shows Campbell performing “Enough To Make You Mine” with a South African band Panache. Although the song in the video suggests an easy-going, slightly world-flavored composition of the kind associated with Sting’s first group Last Exit, his producer’s credit failed to lift the single out of obscurity. The story behind Duggie Campbell’s career at DinDisc remains to be told. Did Campbell signed initially to Virgin proper? Did DinDisc release it as a favor to someone in the Virgin group? Did Wilson throw Sting the producer’s fee to tide him over during a lean period? What happened to a second single (“Real Nice Girl”) slated for DIN 11?

DIN 3: Duggie Campbell – “Enough To Make You Mine” b/w “Steamin”

 

Next: “a bunch of Canadians from the colonies”: Martha and the Muffins, Martha Ladly, Nash the Slash.

 

DINDISC OFFICE DIRECTORY:

1. in the beginning: Virgin Music and Carol Wilson
2. “Wilson’s dowry”: Sting and Strontium 90
3. organising DinDisc
4. DIN 1, DIN 2, DIN 3: the Revillos, OMD, Peter Saville, Duggie Campbell
5. “a bunch of Canadians from the colonies”: Martha and the Muffins, Martha Ladly, Nash the Slash
6. the Monochrome Set, Dedringer, Modern Eon, Hot Gossip
7. the end of DinDisc