From Stiff Little Fingers to Lynched: Rough Trade’s Irish bands
Geoff Travis, founder of Rough Trade Records, says he feels a deep connection with Irish culture
Geoff Travis at his Rough Trade Shop in London, circa 1977. Photograph: estate of Keith Morris/Redferns/Getty Images
Geoff Travis signed the Smiths and the Strokes, but the founder of Rough Trade Records is also completely over the moon about his latest acquisition: the self-described outfit of “Dublin folk miscreants” called Lynched.
“I love Planxty and the Bothy Band, so it’s kind of weird that Lynched has popped into my universe and it’s very exciting for me,” Travis says. “It definitely says something about my connection to Ireland and Irish music.”
Rough Trade Records began life as a shop opened by Travis in West London in 1976. He founded the label two years later, and Travis and co-owner Jeanette Lee still trawl the world looking for the most exciting new sounds. They’ve created a bona fide alternative empire in the process.
His latest signings Lynched share a terrific upcoming triple bill in Vicar Street, Dublin, in aid of Pieta House, which will also feature DJ sets from Travis, Jeanette Lee and James Vincent McMorrow. “The funny thing is they’d already invited Lynched to play before they had any connection whatsoever with us, so I was very pleasantly surprised,” he says.
I was totally smitten by them - Geoff Travis on Girl Band
Travis rates Girl Band as his favourite live band. “I really think the world will eventually come to them. It’s just a case of letting them work at their own pace. I read about them a little bit and then I went to see them at the Great Escape in Brighton. They played the Haunt about three years ago. I got there early and they were first on, and I was totally smitten by them from that moment.
They are also a total credit to your nation because they’re just the best four people you could ever meet, in terms of the way they are as people, how they carry themselves, their discipline and work ethic. They really care about each other in a way that is quite rare amongst men in general, whatever about bands.
“Bands are notoriously dysfunctional and don’t confront any real issues. They strike me as completely the opposite. They’re real men and strong, but they have a huge amount of emotional intelligence. You can hear that in the music and the way they interact with each other.”
Travis is fascinated by Irish current affairs and culture; the Apollo House and Home Sweet Home story comes up in conversation. “For me, it all began with Van Morrison, ” he says. “I worship Astral Weeks. It never fails to yield something new for me every time. At school, we did Portrait of An Artist as Young Man and I was really taken by it. I did a long essay on Ulysses in college and I’ve read it three or four times. It is a lone star in life of opening up all the possibilities of language.”
It’s Celtic soul music of the highest order - Geoff Travis on Lynched
Prior to music, Travis dabbled in acting and worked as a drama teacher. “We did a Yeats play called The Dreaming of the Bones, in which I acted very badly, and we did a tour of Ireland and played at the Abbey Theatre. I also love history and I’ve learnt a lot about Irish traditional music . . . Lynched represent history in terms of the breadth of material they play, but they invigorate it and make it sound modern. It’s Celtic soul music of the highest order. I hope I’m not sounding like a tourist brochure for Ireland, and I’m aware of the dark side of it all too.”
One of his first signings were incendiary Belfast punk band Stiff Little Fingers. “Stiff Little Fingers were my first studio experience. I mixed Alternative Ulster. I’ve produced a few records since, but that was the first I worked on. I did it in Olympic Studios, where the Stones and Led Zeppelin recorded. I think it turned out well.”
But Travis certainly isn’t a man who spends much time and energy looking back. “I think we’ve got a good roster at the moment. We’ve got a Sleaford Mods album coming out in March and lots of exciting things on the go. When I was a kid growing up in London, I’d buy Island Records stuff a lot, and I’d like to think it is still possible to have a label like that where you release classic reggae alongside someone like Nick Drake.
“Jeanette and I would love to lead people to music they might not necessarily listen to otherwise. Sometimes it’s not easy, but that’s what drives us, and it’s what we always want to do.”
Girl Band play in aid of Pieta House with Lynched, Rusangano Family and DJ sets by James Vincent McMorrow, Geoff Travis, Aisling O’Riordan and Jeanette Lee at Vicar Street on February 17th
Diamonds in the rough: Classic Geoff Travis signings
The band who changed everything. The Smiths made Rough Trade the label and iconic brand it is today, releasing four stone-cold classic albums between 1983 and 1987 and becoming the definitive indie band. Johnny Marr and Andy Rourke blagged their way into Travis’ offices with their demo. “Listen to this,” Marr demanded. “It’s not just another tape.”
It’s easy to forget just how much of a wasteland indie rock had become in the early noughties until the Strokes arrived. Sets of turntables had been outselling guitars for years, but the Strokes and the White Stripes put rock back on the radar with a bang. They also paved the way for Rough Trade’s legendary A&R man at the time, James Endeacott, to sign the Libertines.
Born Antony Hegarty in Chichester with a father from Donegal, Antony and the Johnsons scooped the Mercury Prize for I Am a Bird Now in 2005. Last year, Travis tweeted: “Definitely not eligible for a share of Prince’s estate but more satisfied by the knowledge that I work with Anohni.” Incidentally, Travis unsuccessfully tried to sign Prince and the Clash.
BELLE & SEBASTIAN
Stuart Murdoch’s Glaswegian cult band signed a four-album deal with Rough Trade in 2002, and released their last studio album Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance in 2015. They headline Iveagh Gardens this July, which will be their first Dublin show in almost seven years. Presumably there’s a new album in the can, too.