28 Jun 2017
Caesar talks about the past (part one) 
The Wake - FAC 88 Talk About The Past - poster

The Wake formed in Glasgow (Scotland) in April 1981, after singer/guitarist Caesar joined forces with drummer Steven Allen and a bassist, Joe Donnelly. Caesar had previously played with Altered Images and wrote their first single Dead Pop Stars, but elected to leave shortly before the band crashed into the UK charts.

- extract from the LTM biography by James Nice

The interview that follows was conducted via email with Caesar between around 2010 and 2012. Originally planned for Cerysmatic Factory's print fanzine Scream City, it never saw the light of day. This was my fault and down to my dilatory approach. The interview process should take, ideally, about 90 minutes. In this case we're talking 18 months. By which time Scream City's editor had decided it was time for the print project to rest (at least for the moment. Ed.). So, what follows is some talk about the past, from the (5+ years) past.

- Ian McCartney

In a VBS TV "Soft Focus" interview a few years ago, ex-The Wake bassist Bobby Gillespie tells the story of how the band signed to Factory. His version of events seems pretty simple: you basically knock on Rob Gretton's door and hand him a tape, leading to the band recording for Factory. Is this how you remember the events leading up to The Wake's being on the label?

Bobby's version of events is basically right. Some of us went to Manchester. It must've been around January 1982. I'm not sure who was there from the group and who wasn't. Anyway, a Wake delegation went down.

The idea was to visit Richard Boon at the New Hormones office - as well as Rob - to give them a copy of our self-released single On Our Honeymoon. We might have handed in a tape as well as the single - I can't remember - but the main thing was to give both a copy of the record. We were looking to support Buzzcocks or New Order. Also, obviously, we hoped that something might happen label-wise eventually.

Anyway, New Hormones wasn't really operating as a label anymore. Richard Boon had his hands full just managing Buzzcocks of course. But he was very friendly and helpful when we went to see him. I'm not sure how we got Rob's home address. It could be that Richard Boon gave it to us - I can't think how else we would've got it. But Richard Boon was kind enough to advise us a little and he was very encouraging.

However, we managed to find him, Rob was hugely approachable when we turned up at his door. We gave him the single and I got in touch with him shortly after to see if we could do any gigs with New Order. Sure enough something came up immediately; I'm not certain where it was - one internet site mentions Trinity Hall in Bristol 26th Feb 1982 and that sounds about right to me. After playing with them a few times he spoke to us about doing something with Factory. He'd already had a word with Tony about us.

As well as seeing us live, I guess Rob liked the fact we'd done the single independently and had the initiative to take it down to him and so on… The brilliant thing about people like Rob and Richard Boon was that they kept in touch directly with new music. Well, NEW Hormones and NEW Order after all.

Cheekily enough, when Rob asked us to do something - probably having in mind a single or an EP - I said we wanted to do a mini-album even though we were completely unknown. Again, the great thing about Factory then was they just went with an idea and enabled you to do it if they thought there was something behind it. No demos, no proposals, no need to explain what you were trying to achieve. If they believed in you, they backed you.

They booked us into Strawberry Studios in Stockport to record - it was a pretty state-of-the-art studio at that time, part owned by 10cc. I suppose Rob liked the fact they'd provided that facility outside of London.

And that's how we came to make Harmony.

The Wake - FACT 60 Harmony

A release like The Wake's debut single On Our Honeymoon would, I'm sure, have had the likes of Virgin records knocking on the door. Were labels other than Factory making offers at the time, and were they considered? Also, how many copies of On Our Honeymoon were pressed?

As for the notion that On Our Honeymoon (1,000 copies pressed) might have had the likes of Virgin Records approaching us that certainly wasn't the case...

I had been signed to a major label for a short time as part of the original line-up of Altered Images. I was the guitarist and wrote quite a lot of their early songs - first single Dead Pop Stars for instance - and I was still potentially contracted to CBS/Epic when I left to form The Wake. Even though I could've been tied to them legally they had absolutely no interest in keeping me on fortunately. We didn't contact any majors re The Wake.

It's hard to realise now the impact the new independent labels were having - we think of indie music as a genre, a style of music, whereas back then it was actually an explosion of small labels like Fast, Rough Trade, Factory and Postcard - and they were just the better known ones. It wasn't a guitar based beat group style of music at all - there were all kinds of musical approaches out there - it was more a way of thinking about how to keep creative control.

The Wake - On Our Honeymoon

Unlike previous independents like, say, Stiff Records, labels like Factory weren't just calling cards to try and get a major deal, they were labels that appeared to be saying this is a way ahead - responding to the supposed ideals of punk - a new way of doing things, a new way of releasing music, and we were really attracted to that and thought it was the way forward for The Wake. Personally speaking, I would've seen The Distractions single on Factory, Time Goes By So Slow, that record, the song itself, the way it was presented by Factory, as some sort of ideal, that was what I wanted the group to be doing, that was the template.

Major label interest actually came later around the time of Talk About The Past. Just as that was about to come out on Factory we signed a publishing deal with Blue Mountain Music which was a company connected to Island Records. When we signed that deal, which came off the back of a headlining gig at the Hacienda, the boss of Island at the time - it was Dave Robinson who had started Stiff Records - heard Talk About The Past playing in the Blue Mountain office - and in true corny showbiz style burst into the room saying, ‘That‘s a hit! Who is it? They‘ve got a deal.'

Not too surprisingly, in subsequent meetings, when it came down to the details of signing to the label for real, some conflicts arose. The main problem was our determination to choose which songs could be released as singles. Another big stumbling block was our suggestion that singles might not necessarily appear on albums as was our way of doing things at Factory. Also we wanted final say on - and the option to design - all artwork including any advertising. Basically we were trying to retain the creative controls we had at Factory. This was the ultimate test for us - had this so-called major learned any lessons from smaller labels like Factory? And, of course, they hadn't taken the slightest bit of notice. So the deal never happened.

In any case, Tony really encouraged us to follow up on any major label interest. He was always very open about that. He was pleased when bigger labels took an interest in the Factory groups.

Around the same time, we recorded a session for the David Jensen Show on BBC Radio and the broadcast led to phone calls from - and meetings with - a few other well-known labels but it never came to anything.

We were always trying to move forward on a creative level - that was the main thing - and Factory was the right place to be when working on the Here Comes Everybody album which was coming next.

The Wake - FAC 178 Something That No-one Else Could Bring

The Wake's time at Factory was about five or six years. Starting round about sometime in 1981, with the final release Something That No One Else Could Bring being in 1987. Now, I'm not trying to be a cheeky bastard (and please correct me if I've got it wrong) but by my reckoning the sales of the records wouldn't have paid enough to live off. Did you have another way of making money during these years?

...and did you have any discussions about moving elsewhere?

You're so wrong - we were living the dream and owned properties across the world. OK - I'm only kidding.

Record sales weren't enough to live from on a regular basis but we got occasional royalties and made money from gigs. Basically, we went through phases of having enough to get by on and some times of signing on and doing a few part time jobs now and then. The publishing deal made a big difference as it involved an advance.

Certainly now we make more from the LTM reissues than we ever did from the original Factory recordings. Then again, the records wouldn't exist at all without Factory's considerable financial input.

As mentioned before, we had major label interest around the time of Talk About The Past. The one we took most seriously was when Sounds journalist Dave McCullough, Geoff Travis (Rough Trade) and Mike Alway (Cherry Red) started up Blanco y Negro Records through Warners and there was definite interest from Dave in his new role as head of A & R. In the end we stuck with Factory for as long as we felt a connection. Possibly it was the right place for us to be all that time although it changed later.

The Wake


End of part one.

See also: part two

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