Having spent 38 years helping indie bands get their music into people’s ears, Rough Trade Records have seen whole scenes come and go. Launched by Geoff Travis in 1978, two years after establishing his London record store of the same name, the label made its name putting out punk releases by the likes of The Fall, Stiff Little Fingers and Robert Wyatt. Relaunched in 2000 with former PiL member Jeannette Lee they were just in time to catch a new wave of indie including The Strokes, The Libertines and Arcade Fire. Here, Travis and Lee talk us through ten tracks that define Rough Trade.
The Smiths, ‘London’ (1987)
Geoff Travis: "The nice thing about The Smiths is that even though they were courted by EMI, we’ve read subsequently that they’d drawn up a wish list of things they wanted to do and one of them was ‘sign to Rough Trade’. It was Johnny Marr who first came down to see us, contrary to what Morrissey says in his book. Morrissey wasn’t even there."
The Strokes, ‘The Modern Age’ (2001)
Geoff: “This was the first Strokes song we heard, and we loved it right from the introduction. I was played it over the phone from New York.” Jeanette Lee: “We saw them a week later in a funny little bar in New Jersey. We couldn’t believe our eyes and ears. It was one of the all-time great moments of seeing a new band.”
Antony and the Johnsons, 'I Fell In Love With A Dead Boy' (2001)
Geoff: "Antony’s first big public performances had been coming out and singing ‘Candy Says’ on Lou Reed’s tour. Lou absolutely loved him. Antony brought the house down, and that’s how we first heard about him. Jeanette: “We reassured him that we desperately wanted to do it, and he decided to give us a try.”
British Sea Power, ‘Remember Me’ (2001)
Geoff: "British Sea Power are now our longest-serving act. This track, ‘Remember Me’, was voted the ninth most important song of the decade by 6Music listeners, which is a great accolade for them. They’ve got fans in high places: anyone who loves great, literate rock’n’roll."
The Libertines, ‘Time For Heroes’ (2003)
Jeanette: “Their demos were quite Strokes-y so we were a bit sceptical, but they put on a rehearsal for us. They were totally fantastic, riveting, charming, interesting and funny. They already had their double act routine going on. We loved them on the spot. Even the day we signed them they were hours and hours late."
Arcade Fire, ‘Crown Of Love’ (2004)
Geoff: “They were self-releasing their album in Canada, and it was just about to come out. We heard it and just flipped out. We managed to track them down and license it just in time before the whole world caught up.” Jeanette: “It was minutes before! We were very lucky. It’s an incredible record."
Jarvis Cocker, ‘Running The World’ (2006)
Jeanette: “When he was working on his first solo record, I kept saying to him that my favourite Pulp songs were the ones that have a bit of bite, like ‘I Spy’. He sent me back this song [chorus: ‘Cunts are still running the world’] and said: ‘Has this got enough bite for you?’”
Warpaint, ‘Undertow’ (2010)
Geoff: “We saw Warpaint play at CMJ in New York and we did that classic thing where we said to them: ‘You’re good, but you need a different drummer’. We don’t usually say that, but it was pretty evident the drummer wasn’t right. It could have backfired, but they said ‘We know!’ That’s when Stella [Mozgawa] came on to the scene."
Alabama Shakes, ‘Always Alright’ (2012)
Geoff: “We flew to Savannah, Georgia to see them and loved them so much we went straight into their dressing room after the show and gave them the spiel about Rough Trade there and then. All the Rough Trade artists have one thing in common, and that’s soul.”
Palma Violets, ‘Best Of Friends’ (2012)
Jeanette: "We knew this band existed and were really good. We’d also heard rumours about this place Studio 180 so we went down there to see them. It was love at first sight!" Geoff: "They were being courted by a host of different record labels. They had a lot of choice, but they knew the history of the label."