Dylan Jones: 'Punk is a period in musical history that becomes more important the further we get away from it'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

One of the many wonderful things about Neil Taylor's fascinating Document and Eyewitness: An Intimate History of Rough Trade (Orion, £14.99) is its brief evocation of an even earlier period of rock'n'roll retail, when records were often found at the back of electrical shops, after you had made your way past fridges and cookers, washing machines, vacuum cleaners and televisions.

Taylor's lovingly compiled oral history paints a picture of a landscape composed from the fragments of the fading London underground, the emerging international punk scene, the nascent fanzine culture, and a couple of nerdy music freaks who wanted to create the musical equivalent of San Francisco's cult bookstore City Lights.

Document and Eyewitness is an essential purchase for anyone who was involved in or influenced by the punk maelstrom of 1976, a riveting evocation of a period in musical history that becomes more important the further we get away from it. 1976 was the year that formed the basis of the 35 years of pop culture that was to come after it.

Rough Trade is one of those labels that helped kick-start the post-punk era, a label that has touched everyone from the Fall, Pere Ubu, Stiff Little Fingers and Cabaret Voltaire to the Young Marble Giants, Scritti Politti, the Smiths and Jarvis Cocker. And this book is its story.

There are some great vignettes here, including a recollection from cartoonist Savage Pencil, who used to write the "Rock'n'Roll Zoo" column for Sounds. He once put together a template for a fanzine based on the Ramones, called Pinhead. Its genius? Well, it was going to have no dialogue and no narrative.

The book triggers many memories, including a couple of possibly forgotten Robert Wyatt singles released in 1980. A tale of old hippies come good, naïve business dealings and drug-fuelled arguments as well as some fine music, Taylor's book is a joy (although you can skip the tedious ownership details towards the end).

If you read one music book this summer, make it this one.

Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'