Heavenly Recordings Est. 1990
The story of the bird …
Jeff Barrett, Heavenly founder:
“We’d not long started the label and Des Penney, the manager of Flowered Up, one of our bands at the time, said I should meet this fella Paul who, Des said, was a brilliant painter. We were on the lookout for someone to do the artwork for Flowered Up, and Des said that this was the guy.
I remember the first time I met him, he came round to my flat with Des. He was dusty and scruffy and scrunched up. He seemed to walk with a limp and he spoke with a drawl. I liked him. He showed me some photos and some prints of his work. They all looked like him. I liked that too but fuck there was darkness. Turns out Paul was one of those people that like acid and heroin. At the same time. Some of his paintings were nightmares. But occasionally there was light — Paul liked E’s too.
I was going to say that we commissioned Paul to do the artwork for the next Flowered Up single but that’s bollocks. You didn’t commission Paul. We played him the song, which was the appropriately titled ‘Phobia’ and he showed us the painting. One look at that and it was fuck knows what came first; the art or the music.
He stuck around after that, leaving an impression on everyone he met. He was a real talent — something of an outsider artist I guess but he was bloody good and a nice fella. It happened that we needed a logo for the label. We had tried a few but they were pretty rubbish really. I kind of knew what I wanted and explained this to Paul by playing him some records that summed up the mood and feel of it. I was actually much more blatant than that. Most of those reference records were on a label called Red Bird. It was Leiber & Stollers label from early sixties New York City. It was the home of the Shangri La’s, who are still one of my favourite groups. Their logo was great. It was unsurprisingly a red bird. It was a cartoon type drawing of a red bird playing a lute or a small guitar. It was POP. “This please”, I said.
Now I knew that it wasn’t going to be as ‘sweet’ as that image, I didn’t want it to be, but Paul did have a very playful side so I was excited by what his take on it would be. I had to wait. Weeks went by and I got sick of asking for it. “Tomorrow” he told me, “you’ll have it tomorrow”.
The next day, sure enough, Paul came in to our office, but he was empty handed. No big folder or wallet holding the artwork of our logo. “You fuck”, I shouted at him. “You fucking fuck”. “Hold on Barrett”, he said, “has anyone got an ink pad?”. Martin passed him a black ink pad and Paul pulled something out of his trouser pocket. It was a rubber, an eraser, one of those small things you used at school. He punched it onto the pad, walked over to me and stamped the sheet of paper on my desk, bam,bam,bam, bam, and there it was. Our bird. Carved from the corner of that rubber. It was love at first sight.”
Flippin’ the bird…
When Paul Cannell carved a cranky bird out of a rubber and stamped it all over the desks of a fledgling record label in Clerkenwell, the scene had been set. This would be its seal of approval. The Heavenly Bird was born.
As a press office in the ‘80s, Heavenly had worked with the Factory & Creation record labels, planning maneuvers with the likes of Happy Mondays, My Bloody Valentine, New Order & Primal Scream. When Heavenly started as a record label itself in 1990, it was as tapped in to the Zeitgeist as it was possible to be. History kindly documents that much of what was happening around that time – in everywhere from clubland to magazine world — could be in some way linked to that label & their capers.
The Heavenly Bird has graced the sleeves of some of the greatest folk, beat, underground, country POP released in the last 20 years. That same bird has appeared on flyers for legendary nights at The Albany, Turnmills and (to this day) The Social in London Town.
The first record on Heavenly was released in the spring of 1990, a 12” by Sly & Lovechild. Acid house had hit London hard, offering a hedonistic escape route from what looked to be a second decade of Thatcherism. The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays had performed together on Top Of The Pops and, for a short while, it felt like those bands could take on the world and, as a fan, you could revel in the reflected glory. Primal Scream had changed their prescription and let their hair down while My Bloody Valentine were busy spending a lot of Creation’s money in the studio. Grunge and Britpop were still just twinkles in eyes, still the stuff of madmen’s dreams. And, thankfully, Spandau Ballet had just split up.
In the ensuing 18 years, a whole load of people have walked through the doors of Heavenly Recordings. Without exception, they’ve all been welcomed back time and again by the label’s genial hosts. In fact, it’s hard to get rid of some of them come three in the morning, when the cab is waiting outside with the meter running.
Heavenly Christmas party, Camden Underworld, Dec 1990
An eyewitness account:
“My first encounter with Heavenly was at the Camden Underworld in December 1990. I’d casually bought a few of the records ‘cos of mixes I’d liked and the odd song you could hum along to in the shower, but you could hardly call me obsessive. Anyway, walking into the depths of the Underworld, the then headquarters of London’s indie Mafia, pre-Christmas, I witnessed four different stabs at post Acid House musical hedonism. They all blew me away.
First up, a badly stencil-shirted band spouting deranged punk rock spite and bile, then a sharp dressed dreamy Byrds-esque rock’n’roll quartet. Next up, punchy house-driven pop music performed by two shadowy blokes and a beautiful blonde. Finally a bunch of North London Scallies ran riot, pilled to oblivion and high on life. They were flanked by a bloke dressed as a flower.
By the end of the night, I had been sucked into the pit and spat out of the venue onto the street. Catching the night bus home exhilarated, sweat sodden, religiously drop-kicked into a new way of life.
Fuck me, I was feeling Heavenly and I haven’t been the same since.”
“‘Little bird up in a tree
Looked down and sang a song to me
Of how it began’”
Sean Rowley, DJ
“Things did take a turn for the worse for me after a few weeks going to the Sunday Social. The nights themselves were getting more and more sprawling and pretty soon I was missing from work on Mondays. I went through a succession of lies such as, “I went out this weekend and I got spiked and I’ll never take acid again.” After a few weeks, Tuesdays started to disappear, then Wednesdays. After a while of not turning up, I got confronted by the head of Planet 24 on a Thursday morning and said, “I was out on Sunday, jogging, when I got run over and I’ve been in a coma for 48 hours. I’ve had a scan and I’m alright now.””
“All of a sudden, Jeff had started a label and he was still doing press for everyone from My Bloody Valentine to the Mondays. Every time you’d go into the office there would always be some kind of vibe, there were always mad characters around.”
“The two defining tendencies of early Heavenly seemed to be jangly ’60s rock classicism (eg the achy-breaky Rockingbirds) and drugged-up quasi-Mancunian hedonism (what with Flowered Up, and Jeff being the PR guy for the Mondays, Heavenly was basically the southern HQ of baggy). But there was always room for the unexpected, and the Manics – in that context – were the most unexpected of all. Eternal credit to Heavenly for having the balls to put out a Manic Street Preachers record at a time when the entire music industry was laughing at them.”
“For most labels music is their business. For these guys, music is life itself (but not as we know it!). They exude a passion that’s rarely ever seen these days. But could I walk a mile in their shoes? Are you crazy??!!!”
“What do I think of when I think of Heavenly? Magic Moments. Always.”
“For me, the Red Bird label – The Shangri-Las, Evie Sands, The Dixie Cups – that WAS Heavenly. That beautiful, daft bird logo they had was a proper piece of pop iconography. So I gave Paul Cannell that picture and asked him to do something similar, I wanted a cartoon image, something very ’50s/’60s, very pop; very innocent. Paul was bonkers enough to be able to take that Red Bird image and come up with something else, something more extreme. I certainly didn’t expect it to be on the end of a rubber though.”
There’s a definite feeling with Heavenly that it’s an ethos, a code we all adhere to. If it’s ever forced not to exist, like when the money first got pulled or in 1994 when the deal with Sony went tits up, we find a way for it to survive. We mutate into something else. In 1994 it was as a press office for The Charlatans, Primal Scream, The Chemical Brothers and Underworld. We’ve been lucky in that we’ve gone on, more fellow travellers and like-minded, creative souls coming onboard with curveball ideas.