Ron Johnson- small label- great catalogue
Ron Johnson- small label- great catalogue

Ron Johnson Records: The first 11.

When I was 19 I was in a band. I was the “singer” and I was into punk ”“ which covered everything from the Pistols to Cabaret Voltaire, as far as I was concerned. The drummer was into punk too, but also jazz. The guitarist was mainly into drinking, and he liked John Otway. And the bass player was into prog rock and stuff that was, to me at the time, somewhat obscure: Pebbles 60s psychedelic compilations; Fred Frith; Henry Cow; the Residents; and all the other bands that were on Recommended Records at the time.

Ron Johnson- small label- great catalogue
Ron Johnson: small label - great catalogue

But all of us liked the Birthday Party. The band was called Splat! and, surprise surprise, we sounded a bit like the Birthday Party and a bit like The Fall. The guitar player left and was replaced by another: who was into the punk stuff I was into. We played a few gigs around our home area of Nottingham-Derby and some people liked it. It seemed like the only thing to do was to make a record.

Now, we knew that the music business sucked and that no-one at any major label had any ears: so it was pretty clear from the off that we’d be doing it DIY. Following the “instructions” that made up the cover of Scritti Politti’s Skank Bloc Bologna we booked a couple of days in a studio ”“ Cargo in Rochdale, because we knew that Joy Division and The Fall had been in there and we’d like the kind of sounds they’d recorded ”“ booked a mastering room, got the thing cut; got it pressed; and then hand-stamped and hand folded the 2000 labels and sleeves. Then we got a distribution company ”“ Red Rhino Midlands ”“ to try and shift it for us. That was Ron 1: the first record on Ron Johnson Records. Sales were, shall we say, modest: but Peel played it; we did more gigs.

We made a second record: Ron 2, unsurprisingly. Sales were, shall we say, consistently modest: we did more gigs; we did a set for broadcast on Dutch national radio; we split up.

Did I mention I was working nights in a biscuit warehouse at the time? Well I was. I was also running Ron Johnson Records. I had a back catalogue (of 2), a distributor, but no artists. Note to self: must find some artists.

Ronco Records objected to our catalogue numbers: apparently there were other Ron 1’s and Ron 2’s. We had imagination: the next one would be ZRon3. I have no recollection of what, if anything, the Z signifies. One night in the biscuit factory I heard John Peel play Illness by Big Flame on the radio. That’s a good sound, I thought to myself. Bizarrely, and with little effort on either side’s part, Big Flame “signed” to Ron Johnson.

ZRon3 was Rigour by Big Flame. It’s still my favourite of all the Ron Johnson releases. The record did well; there were good reviews in the press ”“ single of the week in NME? ”“ Peel really liked Big Flame.

ZRon4 Tough! by Big Flame. More of the same from the Mancunian maestros. I just wished it had had the spitting power of Rigour.

ZRon5 Loudhailer Songs by A Witness. Big Flame introduced us to A Witness and this was the result. Some great Fallesque poptones. Like Big Flame, sold okay, got great press and Peel loved it: Lucky in London!

 

ZRon6 Mud on a Colon by Stump. Demos had begun arriving at the mid-terrace headquarters of the RJ empire and the one that stood out ”“ head and shoulders above the rest ”“ was Stump’s. The record did well; the band were a roaring success on the live circuit; and managed to get themselves on The Tube. Peel loved them too! They moved on to a label that offered more in the way of major label like push, but, who knows, a Ron Johnson Records Stump album may have been an equally successful punt (with hindsight).

NME ran a piece on the label entitled Biscuit Master’s Breakout.

ZRon7 Why Popstars Can’t Dance by Big Flame. And the reason popstars can’t dance? Because guilty feet have got no rhythm.

 

ReRon8 Two Kan Guru a 10-inch recap of Big Flame so far (including their first (non-Ron Johnson) tunes).

ZRon9 New Breed by MacKenzies. Scottish friends of Big Flame. More of the same as far as RJ was concerned: indie charts; press; Peel play and Peel sessions. Happy days.

 

ZRon10 Full Steam into the Brainstorm The Shrubs. London-based friends of Stump. Beefheart influenced madness. The Shrubs’ success was a little less immediate than Big Flame’s, A Witness’ or Stump’s. Their leader, Nick Hobbs, worked tirelessly to promote them wherever he could. They sold okay ”“ in RJ’s limited terms, critical success NEVER equated to commercial success. Peel sessions etc. etc.

ZRon11 1936 The Spanish Revolution by The Ex.
This double seven inch with 144 page photo book was the “art object” of the Ron Johnson catalogue. Sold very well ”“ but production costs were too high for the label to capitalise on its success. Still, making money wasn’t the point here.

 

And that’s the first 11. In 1986 all of the UK bands that were currently signed to RJ were put on to the C86: and that was probably the beginning of the end!

4 COMMENTS

  1. Great to read that – collected all the records on Ron Johnson at the time, but only got to see the Shrubs live (the others never made it down this way) – happy times

  2. […] Parsons used to run the classic John Peel label Ron Johnson Records releasing Big Flame etc. If he had set up his label five years earlier he would have released the […]

  3. Hi Dave, I’m a huge RJ admirer from the U.S., had a chance to write about Jackdaw many years ago. I wonder if you could contact me via email, I have a proposal…

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