Friday, 30 December 2016
Like, I suspect, most people who visit this blog, I first 'encountered' Frenchy Gloder as a customer for the records released in the 1980s on his Flicknife label, most specifically his catalogue of Hawkwind, their past and then current members, their friends and relations. What Flicknife did, of course, was to provide an outlet for the band, post their RCA contract, for archive releases and then for the new material that came along with the Earth Ritual Preview EP and The Chronicle Of The Black Sword album, a valuable bolthole when they could no longer rely on the support and finance of a major label. I'd think in that respect, Frenchy and Flicknife kept them going, sustaining them through a fallow period in 1983 and then relaunching them into the public eye as a independent label band with that classic 1985 concept LP.
As a convert to the Hawkwind cause only a few years previous, I lapped up those releases. Not just the Hawkwind albums and singles, but Inner City Unit's Punkadelic and The Presidents Tapes, Huw Lloyd-Langton's Night Air - though not so much the bootleg quality LLG live album despite it including the brilliant 'Mark of Cain' - Bob Calvert's genius Freq of course. I even preserved with the compilation Friends & Relations sequence, despite, I'm afraid, its adherence to the laws of diminishing returns. (Sorry Frenchy! But the first of them is still terrific!).
Later, I was privileged to write sleeve-notes for Cherry Red / Atomhenge's new edition of Freq, at the start of their Hawkwind catalogue reissue programme. And later again, I got my first chance to interview the engaging, and still highly enthusiastic for all things Hawkwind-related, Frenchy for a feature on the bands of the free festivals in Record Collector, where he recounted the trials and tribulations of his work with Dave Brock on the Travellers Aid Trust compilation, a seminal and hugely important snapshot of the free festival bands of the 1980s. If they hadn't released that album, memories of those bands would be much reduced, and our understanding of them that much poorer.
That led on to spending an afternoon in Frenchy's company over an Italian lunch in Harrow, listening to his stories of working with Hawkwind, and exploring the tales of the multitude of other musicians he worked with on the label back in the day, ones, such as Nikki Sudden, whose work I didn't follow back then, but who've become important to me more recently. Put those Hawkwind records to one side, and if the only album that Flicknife released was Sudden's wonderful The Bible Belt, he'd have still presided over a label of lasting importance. But he released Nico, Charlie Harper, Glen Matlock, The Barracudas... he did Jeremy Gluck's cult/underground supergroup classic I Knew Buffalo Bill. He put Ozric Tentacles and Dogs D'Amour on his compilation albums. None of it was easy. "You had to fight for every review, every bit of publicity. You had to go there – go to the papers, pull favours, even for a couple of lines, you had to fight for it, there’s no other word for it," he told me, for a label feature for Record Collector. "You had to be saying, ‘it’s a great single because of this, this and this…’ Even in the 80s, there wasn’t that many independent labels, even 4AD or Beggars Banquet or Cherry Red, who could say that they’d had three or four albums in the Top 50. We could."
My RC piece, published back in 2015 along with a retrospective of that stone-cold classic The Chronicle Of The Black Sword, was based on that happy afternoon's reminiscences, though the afternoon's joy in chatting with him about his great catalogue was tinged with sadness by the time I'd got back into London, because it was the day that Huw Lloyd-Langton, that wonderful guitarist, passed away, and I learned the news from a text from a very upset Frenchy, who'd continued to hold Huw in the highest regard. Of course, my piece on the label could, within the constraints of word count, only scratch the surface of his label. Thankfully then, this brilliant memoir, written with Shindig! contributor Greg Healey, does what I couldn't begin to do, which is to relate his whirlwind personal story, from his beginnings, of Romani heritage, in the little republic of San Marino, with vivid recollections of family and food, to his discovery of the lifestyle and ethos that is Hawkwind ("I was a massive Hawkwind fan and if they were playing in Switzerland or Italy or Germany, then I would go," he told me that day in Harrow), and his itinerant wanderings through Europe and onto England where he arrived, primed and positioned for the advent of punk rock.
His life in the 70s and 80s was just a crazy sequence of scrapes, near-misses, adventures and escapades. In that respect, it's a no-holds-barred autobiography that's honest about the affect on his health and his family that his lifestyle created. You can read it for that side of his story and get vicariously caught-up in the roller-coaster of drugs that fuelled many of these stories; someone fully embracing that side of the rock 'n' roll situation. And a rollicking great read that side of it is. (You'll come out the other side of it thankful that so did this charismatic man).
But then, you can also read it as a part of the written documentation of the backstory to Hawkwind, and for Frenchy's sketching-out of the characters, such as Nikki Sudden and particularly Nico, who lived with Frenchy and his wife Gina for a few months in the early 80s, who had records released on his label. Of course, in respect of Hawkwind, he has lots to say about Dave Brock (I liked the generally affectionate way that Frenchy and Greg describe Dave in their text and recognise the way that they paint him as friendly, approachable but slightly aloof, with his encouraging "Good show" expression), but he also knew Lemmy very well, was friends with the mercurial Calvert, and generally does a good job of describing the characters in and around the band during that Flicknife era. He didn't like the way his words were used in Carol Clerk's The Saga Of Hawkwind, and says so, and indeed his book is a much more 'fan friendly' tome in the way it deals with inter-personal relationships. Though... in regards to the 'Stonehenge' live album - This Is Hawkwind, Do Not Panic - no amount of his insistence that this was all derived from performances at the stones will override the fact that it's largely from Lewisham Odeon on the 1980 Levitation tour! A small niggle!
At the same time, he was part of the London counterculture in the 1980s, mixing with many in that environment, from the likes of Captain Sensible, to the new-psychedelic and goth Batcave and Alice In Wonderland club scene. That all of this is committed to memoir for posterity, vividly described in page-turning prose, is a thing of importance, and between them Gloder and Healey have done a great service not just to those who come to this book as Hawkwind fans wanting to read the story of their time on Flicknife, but to those who are interested in Gloder and his wider achievements in supporting a raft of musicians who were in essence underground, outside of society and the mainstream but producing good work that needed to be heard. In turn, his memories deserve to be read.