The name Rough Trade is legendary. Those who created it are even more so; the ultimate tastemakers, they have helped music fans all across the country discover their favourite artists. Whether through the iconic record store or their indie record label, they have spent 40 years playing god with the music world as they determine who gets a head start.
Geoff Travis, founder of the Rough Trade record shop chain and its record label, does not immediately appear to be the man responsible for “defining the British post-punk sound”. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t the tall, impish smiled, slightly balding man at the table. Still, when he began talking, I could see some of the spirit behind his words that made him so successful.
Jeanette Lee, on the other hand, is exactly as I expected. Known for her honesty and musical sense, she is responsible for the signing of some of Rough Trade’s more major acts, including The Smiths. Though small, particularly sandwiched between Travis and John Robb, who leads the conversation, she can hold her own; partially because of the huge level of respect had for her by them and, frankly, everyone else in the room.
Over the course of the hour, we learn about where the two came from, as well as when they discovered their love of music and how they came to be one of the most influential partnerships in UK music. We hear about the clubs Lee frequented that resulted in a position at the punk-famous Acme Academy, and the records bought by Travis as he hitchhiked around America, and would become the roots of his first record shop.
As exhausted as I was, having been up for a very long time on very little sleep, I found myself enthralled by their discussion. Theirs is such a serendipitous partnership, a rare relationship that has contributed so heavily to UK music; its history cannot be ignored. It was also intriguing to learn more about characters from the 70s and 80s that, so shrouded in myth and mystery, they seem more like fiction than fact, yet to Travis and Lee, they were friends.
Almost unconsciously, Lee kept returning to a point she made about tribalism and the role it played in the subcultures of the 70s and 80s during punk in particular. It’s something that is slowly dying out as your appearance and relationships become more and more separated from the things you love, but hearing of it almost made me nostalgic.
It is no secret that, as with many musical eras throughout history, punk and post-punk were incredibly influential on our society. What I didn’t realise before their talk is the degree to which people like Travis and Lee, initially just fans of music, changed the game. Rough Trade is famous for breaking down barriers and introducing new music and, from hearing them talk, it is safe to say they won’t be stopping anytime soon.