Interviews with The Jasmine Minks

The Jasmine Minks signed to Creation in 1984 and have remained with McGee until releasing ‘Popartglory’ on Poptones in 2001.

Here Jim Shepherd from the band talks to us about what it was like in those early days, receiving letters from the Manics, McGee discovering the Mary Chain and what life is like on Poptones.

Tell us about the first time you met Alan and how you came to sign to Creation.

We had done a demo of a few songs in a small studio in Brixton, South London and sent the tape off to the Melody Maker. Ian Pye gave us a fairly nice write up and the next thing I know is that I get a phone call from a guy called Alan Mcgee. He was direct with me and said that he had heard of us through Ian Pye, he was starting a new record label and looking for groups. ‘Do you like the Velvet underground?’ he said and, of course, I said yes and the bond was made.

Alan came along to watch us rehearse – It was quite nerve-wracking having someone watch us. We played really fast and ran through all our songs without a break. The last song was ‘Think’ and Alan nodded vigorously after hearing it. We went for a drink afterwards and I remember Alan drinking half pints of beer (he soon changed that habit) which we thought was a bit unusual (we were heavy drinkers at the time and spent our weekends speeding on amphetamines with beer to keep us straight). He thought that some of our songs were good and that my guitar playing stuck out (Alan was later to try and do a deal with Cherry Red for me to do a solo guitar album in a Tom Verlaine style) but they were too long and needed trimming.

‘Think’ was about 5 minutes long and fast as fuck. We chatted about how to improve the songs. It was useful to have someone come along and give us some clear advice who was on the same wavelength as us. ‘Think’ and ‘Ghost of a Young Man’ were the only songs to survive from that time. We talked about Velvet Underground, Love and little on current music. Adam made a big impression with Alan. (Adam was always quick to make friends with his quick wit and banter), while I was more quiet and made my voice the loudest when it came to knocking the music into shape. Alan was beginning to put on some concerts at his new venue in central London, called the Living Room.

We played our first ever gig there along with Primal Scream (then consisting of Jim Beattie and Bobby Gillespie and a drum machine) and continued to play there regularly with groups such as The TV Personalities and Del Amitri (not one person turned up to see them). Our first recording session produced ‘Think’. We were excited to have Dave Musker and Joe Foster from the TV Personalities to play organ and produce respectively and even more excited to borrow the same organ that Orange Juice used on ‘Blueboy’.

Alan never bothered with a contract for us – there was no way that we were going to double cross him – he was our manager so there was a huge amount of trust there. When the major labels started sniffing around and we did demo’s for them, the idea was to get money for Creation as well as to get The Jasmine Minks moved up a gear. We began to build up a following whenever we played and our confidence grew and grew. We felt we had the ability to be the best guitar pop group in the universe and word was getting round about us too, both in the major press and the indie press. But neither were really getting a grip of a our changing moods and attitudes.

How did your band cope financially and did you worry the label was going to survive the early days?

We were the only band likely to do anything for about a year on Creation. People like Morrisey and Simon Napier-Bell came to see us as well as the Go-Betweens. The first few bands were pals of Alan’s or groups which were likely to get a different audience like the Loft who were much more laid back and middle of the road and groups passing through the label like the Pastels. We were the hope of many people who latched on early to the group and record label.

It was a disappointment when our first few records did not go straight into the charts I must admit. We were very naive and thought that the world would come to us. I didn’t know much about the finances of the label – All I knew was that things were run on a very tight budget and we always took that into account when we recorded, choosing cheap studios for very short sessions and mixing was usually done at the same sessions. We even recorded our first full album ‘The Jasmine Minks’ at a friend’s house (he’s currently in Pablo on Poptones) on his 8 track machine and borrowed the mastering equipment from other friends in The Shamen. We always got our royalties on time with a breakdown of where the money was spent etc. which, from stories I have heard, was not happening in some other independent labels, where groups were being ripped off and not making any money at all. I never doubted that Alan would make the label huge – It was just a matter of time. There were times when our organisation cost us dearly, like when EMI America wrote to me and asked for us to get in touch. I didn’t of course!

You were on Creation prior to the Mary Chain, did everyone at the label think they were going to make as much impact as they did?

I think they did, yes. We were with them when they came down to do their first gigs. We were hardened giggers by then, having been playing for a year. There was a mixture of laughter and amazement when they played. They had this magic. They were so bad they were good, if you know what I mean? Wherever we played with them, they were getting people riled up whether for or against them.

You lent your equipment to the Mary Chain when they recorded ‘Upside Down’. Where you worried what state it would be in afterwards?

No way! We often lent our equipment to groups and most of them much more aggressive than JAMC and we never had things broken. They were quiet guys who liked to make a noise on stage only. We introduced a load of groups to a great rehearsal/recording studio called Alaska studios. We were regulars there and we borrowed other people’s stuff too. Glen Matlock once came in and asked to borrow our stuff – we were gobsmacked and started playing Pretty Vacant as soon as he left the room.

The most scary time for lending our equipment was when we played the infamous North London Polytechnic gig with the Jesus and Mary Chain. The first group on, Meat Whiplash were beaten up on stage. We went on next and nobody messed with us – I looked pretty hard in my long coat and skinhead and Adam had a hammer in his pocket, sticking out for all to see. A full scale riot developed when the JAMC went on though and we had to duck flying pieces of broken up PA system to rescue our gear. We played a European tour with JAMC and Biff Bang Pow with each group headlining alternately.

I thought that the JAMC would have to change their style to stay interesting as they only seemed to have one Beach Boys/ Ramones style of writing. But they persevered and won over thousands of fans throughout the world and kept that going for a long time too. That was something I could not do, although I admire it in groups like The Ramones. The Jasmine Minks would write a load of new songs, play a new set, without any old songs at all, record them, get fed up of them and start the process all over again. It meant that we could never really get a recognisable sound. I feel much the same today, to be honest, although I am more willing to play a few old songs.

Did their (Mary Chain’s) success change the atmosphere at the label?

It did give Creation groups a lot more credibility in the national press and groups began to start to produce more professional sounding recordings with varying degrees of success. From then on the press were always around and the label was getting more and more interest from around the world. It hurt that Alan stopped managing us to concentrate on JAMC, but it was understandable. I have a unique, but unsettling way of coping with people leaving the group. I get really positive and look upon it as a force for change and I revel in it and the options now available. I can be a bit of a loner at times and this is probably reflected in the music press’s willingness to ignore us in the past and with the recent biographies of Creation just published to underestimate our part in the beginning of the label and the hopes that we had then.

It even seems to be ignored (or twisted around) that the Manic Street Preachers got their1,2,3,4,5,6,7 All Good Preachers Go To Heaven name from our LP ‘1234567 All Good Preachers Go To Heaven’. Richie from the Manics wrote to me and told us how much he liked the LP and that it was what inspired their name. Anyway, we got our heads down and produced an album specially for the European market and licensed to a label called Interscope. It was a kind of ‘best of … so far’.

Later on Creation also licensed ‘Another Age’ to RCA in Japan and it sold out there almost immediately. Alan was brilliant at nicking things and he got the demo’s that we did for London Records and we used them on Creation without them even knowing about it. The recordings of ‘Sunset’ and ‘Ghost of a Young Man’ were both actually recorded for London Records in the heart of Tin Pan Alley in London. We felt like rascals in the best of the London traditions, The Who, The Creation and Small Faces…

There have been many Creation ‘eras’ as such, which has been your favourite musically?

My favourite times were probably around 1985-1987 when The Jasmine Minks could produce blistering sets which varied in our changing line-up. Primal Scream were doing some amazing gigs, Biff Bang Pow produced some classic singles like ‘There Must be a Better Life’, Felt came to the label (I used to adore them) and The Legend would do some weird shit that noone would ever dare attempt, like singing a Vandellas song with 3 saxophonists and getting away with it! But the 90’s were great too with the Primals when they sounded like the Rolling Stones and then mixed in the dance stuff too, the first two Oasis albums as well as all the Super Furry Animals stuff and the pure punk rock attitude that led to putting out Kevin Rowland’s ‘My Beauty’. It’s difficult because my real period in music as a fan was 1977 to 1980 when I rushed to the local record shop and bought singles every Saturday. Stuff like the Sex Pistols, Swell Maps, Ramones, Joy Division, Buzzcocks, The Jam, Penetration, The Slits, The Pop Group – ah the list goes on…

Who were your favourite Creation artists?

Primal Scream were the best group in the world back then (and seem to be again now) and in the mid eighties they were doing these mad 20 minute sets with loads of perfect 2 minute songs and a huge group of guitarists and a, totally extravagant, tambourine player. I am a fan of Felt, Oasis, SFA too.

Do you think the huge success of Oasis was to blame for the end of Creation or do you have any other theories?

Oasis helped Creation to go up and up and become a world label, so they were magic for Creation. I think Alan made a sad but understandable decision to get back to a small label ethic without multi-nationals breathing down his neck.

Are you pleased Creation has ended or would you have liked it to continue?

As I said I was sad. But at the same time it is very exciting to now be a part of a label based on the quality of the artefacts and not on whether they may sell millions or not. I think Creation did so much that Poptones is a perfect antidote to the hugeness, and impersonality of what Creation became, regardless of the obvious high quality of Creation’s artists.

How did your relationship with Creation end?

I never felt that it did. To me it was always about Alan’s vision and I never felt that that left me. I have never recorded for any other label although I did produce a group called the Hellfire Sermons once. I have an extreme relationship with music and I either want to be involved in it 100% or not at all. I am not into being a ‘career’ musician if my heart is not in it. I lost interest in guitar music in the early 90’s and began tinkering with electronic music. When Creation was folding I was just beginning to get back into doing guitar/song based music again (Ed Ball gave me great encouragement when I bumped into him in London – I was saying I was too old and he was saying, ‘no you’re not – just do it!’ – thanks Ed) and there was even talk at one time of a Jasmine Minks record being the last ever one on Creation. I’m glad in the end that it was ‘Accelerator’ though!

How did you become involved with Poptones?

Wattie and me basically wrote an album’s worth of quite spontaneous songs over the internet and by emails in the space of a few weeks last year and Wattie (fucking genius that he is) approached Alan with the songs and he and Joe Foster went for them straight away.

Joe in particular thought that there was a chapter in the Jasmine Minks story still to be played out and did a lot of work to get us involved. We wanted a single out with attitude and that’s how we came to get the maverick politician, Tommy Sheridan (jailed for continually trying to prevent warrant sales of people’s personal belongings who refused to pay the Poll Tax and now a member of the new Scottish Parliament), involved. Since then we have been headlines in the tabloids as they try to defuse any ideas of people thinking for themselves or ignoring the established politicians by belittling our efforts or by tryng to spread their disgust at us. It reminds me of what the Sex Pistols must have had to put up with.

How does life with Poptones now compare to Creation?

It seems like the early Creation attitude of fuck ‘em all and let ‘em rot if they don’t like us but with all the experience of the later days Creation. There is a much more international feel to it as well with acts such as Lee Perry involved and the accessibility that the worldwide web offers.

Tell us about the Jasmine Minks plans for the future?

We live for NOW. The Jasmine Minks may be around for a while, we may not. We will put out some records this year (an LP ‘Popartglory’ is due out in summer) and our heart and souls will be in them. But we could just as easily turn around and say that the next record will be in 2005! This is not a money making venture for us – our records stand up for themselves. So be on our side while you get the chance and keep your ears and eyes open…

Interview: August 2001