Punk: The Vinyl Frontier | Part 1
The Punkerama Records Story
Neil Trelford • Photography: Bernie McAllister
It’s no longer just nostalgia, it’s a thriving market once again. Yes, since 2013 there has been a huge resurgence in the sale of vinyl records – last year saw the highest number of vinyl LPs sold since 1991. This year is on target for another needle crackling rise.
The deaths of some music world giants was a key driver in vinyl sales, as people bought records as a memento and works of art. When David Bowie dared to leave the capsule in 2016, he left behind the oddity as the bestselling vinyl artist of that year, with five albums posthumously featuring in the top 30.
The boom of digital streaming / downloading and the global phenomenon of Record Store Day has encouraged music discovery and it’s now that both older generations and younger generations are investing in something tangible.
Even supermarkets such as Tesco now stock vinyl, bringing an even greater demand on the pressing plants across the globe. Plants are reportedly struggling to keep up with demand, many of them still using the record-pressing machinery from the 1970s. With major labels again dominating the supply chain, smaller and independent record labels face longer lead times and higher costs for lower volume editions.
So step back before the resurgence and discover the undercurrent of independent labels that kept the love of vinyl afloat.
Back in 2010, Northern Ireland’s own Gary Fahy released the first vinyl LP on his newly formed Punkerama Records label. Punkerarama 001 saw original Belfast punk stalwarts, The Defects, make it to wax for the first time since the 1980s. This diverse compilation featured an A Side of anthems and previously unreleased demos and a live B Side recording from Belfast’s legendary venue, The Pound. It was this LP that pioneered a host of eclectic releases spanning across the now seventeen years of Punkerama Records existence.
The Defects would prove to be a label main-stay with several releases including two new material albums Politicophobia (2013) and 45 Minutes (2015). Other noteworthy original Belfast punk bands have become label mates over the years too including The Outcasts, Rudi, Victim, Stage B, The Androids and Protex. But Punkerama wasn’t just living on the timeless appeal of these Northern Ireland punk greats but also bringing up and coming Northern Ireland talent to turntables around the world. Hardworking local bands like Runnin Riot, Hard Case, Buck Eeijit, Suckin Diesel, Pocket Billiards, No Matter and XSLF have all got a Punkerama I.D. and are in a catalogue of great company with the likes of punk giants U.K Subs and GBH.
The Punkerama catalogue is fleshed out by a blend of LPs, EPs and CDs from The Fits, Paranoid Visions, War Iron, Stevie ZeSuicide, Charlie’s Harbour Rats, Broken Bones, Infa Riot and not forgetting the 2013 Christmas Charity release ‘A Merry Jingle’ by The Punkerama Allstars.
Nowadays releases on Punkerama Records are as eagerly awaited with the same Christmas-like buzz brought around by Record Store Day. 2017 has already been a great success with sold out 7” picture disc releases of The Outcasts ‘Frustration’ and Rudi’s ‘Big Time’.
So now with 50 releases under his studded belt, we caught up with the founder, Gary Fahy, to find out how it all began and what’s next in store for Punkerama Records and it’s fan-base.
So with an impressive repertoire now behind you, what drove you to produce your first record?
The main reason was to support and promote local bands. At the time there wasn’t a current local Belfast label as such and to be honest I needed a personal challenge at that time too. So with me being an impetuous idiot I launched straight in and started Punkerama. I am very protective of the local music and believe that more bands should release material on homegrown labels – keep your music close to home and you won’t get ripped off!
Throughout the years have you stuck with the same pressing plant?
No, I have used loads of pressing plants. I’ve experienced a whole mix, some have been great and some really awful. Some really expensive ones do a crap job and sometimes the cheaper ones produce amazing products. At times it can be a real pain with my biggest problem being the pressing plants get fully paid up front and it can take months before you get your product, does not seem fair or right to me!
What changes have you experienced about the record producing industry over the years?
The changes are very simple. Before the ‘Vinyl Boom’ hype by the major corporate labels, small labels were treated with respect as valued customers but now we are pushed down to the bottom of the queue. We don’t make them the same levels of money they are now getting from big labels.
Hey, but when the big labels have run out of stuff to reissue on vinyl no doubt the pressing plants will be begging for our business again.
The Defects seem to be a mainstay for new material, what’s the special connection with them?
The Defects were a band I always loved (as of many local bands!). I got speaking with Buck (Thomas Ian Murdoch – Lead Singer) and he said he had old live stuff and a host of demos. That truly got me interested and before long Buck and I really got into it and as they say ‘the rest is history’.
They are a band whom I call friends now and they keep coming up with great new stuff. They have released more on my label since they reformed than when they did back in the day. They seem happy to be on my label and they want me to release their new album.
I still say the new stuff is equally as good as their old but some fans don’t agree (but their opinion doesn’t matter to me, LOL). I love this band ……….and of course I love all the other bands on the label too!!
Besides the Punkerama catalogue, what’s your personal record collection like?
My record collection is not what people might think.
Everyone reckons its all punk but it’s not, it’s across genres and eras. I’m really into 12″ singles especially extended mixes of 80’s stuff like Simple Minds and Soft Cell but I’m partial to a bit of Metal especially Saxon, Judas Priest and AC/DC and of course the punk stuff, in particular, U.K Subs, GBH and The Damned. But then I also go as diverse as Nils Lofgren.
I don’t consider myself as a record collector, well except for keeping all the number one serial numbers from each of the Punkerama releases, LOL.
As well the anticipation of the record releases, your annual Birthday Bash is a date in the diary that is looked forward to not just for the surprise element of what bands will be playing but also it’s for charity, tell us about that.
Well, I don’t know about the anticipation of my releases LOL but my birthday charity gig is something I have been doing for a few years.
Basically, I wanted to do it so I could hear music, see friends and see my wife all in the one go. That’s much better than just doing the traditional easy option of going out for dinner, LOL. Every year the plan is to make it different and year certainly is. There’s a special one-off reunion from Belfast punk super-group SHAME ACADEMY ( members of The Outcasts, Rudi and Stalag 17) supported by up and coming locals Takers And Users, veterans Protex, my wonderful daughter Jaime Rachelle and my old friend Susan ( from Killing Susan ) who has started a gritty tribute band Cultess in honour of the troubadour Goth rockers, The Cult.
Oh and then there’s sir Terri Hooley to keep us all upbeat with his unique DJ performance.
Its a night of great music, fun and drinks in order to raise money for Starlight.
Starlight is a renowned charity that helps terminally ill kids with their last wishes. They are amazing and close to my heart. I’m a lucky one, yes lucky seven as I have seven kids and thankfully all of whom are in good health.
Belfast is always amazing for supporting charity and no better way than by our music. It’s an honour to put on a gig for such a great cause! I’ve been so well supported in the last few years that I heard that one of the Snow Patrol guys couldn’t get in to my last one because it was sold out!
True or False?
I personally don’t know but it I guess it just shows how popular my events are.
So what’s next for Punkerama Records, any new releases on the horizon?
Plenty going on, more trials and tribulations with the pressing plants, LOL.
Next up is a solo 7” single release by Charlie Harper of U.K Subs and then the new album by our favourites, The Defects. It’ll be available on vinyl LP, CD and Download.
Also in the pipeline are a few seven inches namely picture disc releases of The Outcasts ‘Magnum Force’, The Defects ‘Brutality’, another UK Subs and my daughter’s ( Jaime Rachelle) EP called ‘The End Of The Rainbow’. After The Defects new album, we’ll have a colour vinyl re-issue of the powerful ‘Blood And Thunder’ album by The Outcasts.
Well, that’s the plan but as with everything, it’s all dependant on funds. My label has always been very close to going under, so we will see how we go and maybe this time I’ll release that much needed Hit Record!
Finally, if there was one artist past or present that you’d love to have on Punkerama who would that be?
From the past it has to be American band The Cramps, I was and still am a huge fan.
And from those that are still performing then there are two bands – local heroes Stiff Little Fingers and Scottish legends The Exploited. I don’t think I will ever have either but I’ll keep pursuing. I have had a few jokey moments with Jake Burns about it but he is always very diplomatic and avoids giving any commitment. He’s a great guy and a real gentleman thus he always lets me down gently! LOL.
I’ve come close though by releasing the seven-inch single by XSLF featuring SLF originals Henry Cluney and Jim Reilly.
I don’t think either of these bands or any band would be disappointed with the Punkerama product. So follow The Defects and together we can continue to punk rock the world!
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