After his first vinyl reissues label, Sing Sing Records, was laid to rest in 2014, Jeremy Thompson couldn’t get the jones for lost rock rarities out of his system. He has jumped back into the reissues market with his new label, Reminder Records, which will mine the same territory: glam, pub rock, proto-punk, power pop. Eric Davidson spoke with Jeremy Thompson, and Cheryl–one of his “rediscoveries”–for PKM
Since 2009, when Jeremy Thompson started his first vinyl rarities reissue label, Sing Sing Records, the debates of vinyl’s resurgence, shark jumps, and occasional “They still make records?” press reports have waxed and waned (pun intended). Even Thompson himself got a little burnt out on it all. To him, it wasn’t about trends, but an uber-collector’s deep need to just see favorite lost sounds available again for less than shark-jump prices. In 2014, Thompson put Sing Sing to sleep.
After more than a decade of expecting vinyl to finally go away, a couple basic record-buying habits have surfaced: younger collectors interested in picking up vinyl mostly want clean copies of the classics; and older fans who still have their original copies of Exile on Main Street, Never Mind the Bullocks, or 1999 would rather blow dough on super swanky box sets or utterly obscure old bands that offer an exciting germ of discovery. “That shit’s not even on YouTube!”
“Teenage Rebel” single by the Irish band Strike, 1980:
There is an obvious, if unadmitted connection of vinyl to older sounds. Hence even record labels that work with new acts have noticed that you can reissue some cult oddity, package it with a modicum of care, tack $5 onto the usual price, and you’ll probably make more from that than hoping Joe Twentysomething will dig around the internet to buy a new band’s album that’s sitting there on iTunes. And biggies like Rhino Records and the Record Store Day consortium have learned the same understandable survival lessons. (I am speaking of sheer economics here, NOT questioning any labels’ love of everything they put out. And, of course, for indie labels trying to work with new acts, vinyl is an expensive and often time-consuming proposition, given the paucity of pressing plants and number of acts who still really want their albums to come out on vinyl. And god bless ‘em.)
Sing Sing made a name for itself by executing perfectly recreated reissues of excellent lost “junk shop” single (mostly) that fed fringe fan and DJ needs for new old sounds – under-underbelly ‘70s glam, pub rock, proto-punk, and power pop acts that you and your collector friend probably never heard (or were far too collector pricey).
“Something’s Wrong With My Baby” – Jeff Hill, 1979:
Without schlepping too far down collector dirt roads, 7-inch singles seem primed to be the first casualty of vinyl’s silver years. Their basic cost and eventual retail price make them seem odd to anyone under 35 staring at a slab of 12 or more songs compared to two or three. Undeterred, Thompson’s disinterest in arcane ideas like “making a profit off music” is proven again as he has reanimated his love of lost sounds with his new label, Reminder Records:
Starting with a trio of great 7” singles featuring various takes on early ‘80s, pre-synth dominated New Wave, my particular favorite out of the batch is the 1981 chirpy power pop two-fer from Cheryl, a British lass who barely made it out of the demo stage of a music career. But what a career! Aside from her one great record release, she went on to a wild ride of job jumping.
So we caught up with Thompson to find out why he jumped back into the records pool, and Cheryl to find out how she jumped out.
PKM: Your previous endeavor in record rescuing was Sing Sing Records. Why did that wrap up?
Jeremy Thompson: We started the label in 2009 and ended it in 2014. During that time, we put out over 60 releases. It was a lot of work and I still had a 9-5 job at the time, so I think it just got to be too hectic.
PKM: So then how/why did Reminder Records begin?
Jeremy Thompson: I guess I decided to really do it after taking a trip to Japan last November. I had a lot of people there coming up to me telling me how much they liked Sing Sing, and how they dug the records we reissued. We would end up at (Teengenerate singer/guitarist) FiFi’s bar, Poor Cow, and hang out with all these people and listen to 45s. It was just really fun, and also made me see that people still care about this stuff. So, I started reaching out to the bands and setting up the company pretty much right when I got back.
PKM: What is your musical or genre vision/revision with Reminder?
Jeremy Thompson: I guess the vision is just to put out really high-quality reissues of records that I want people to know about and enjoy listening to. As far as what type of music will be on the label going forward, it just comes down to my personal tastes. There are certain records that I’ll hear and I just kind of get hooked on them. I think it’s good to try and pick things that people have never heard before so that when they first put it on they get that same sense of discovery.
PKM: Tell us about the first three Reminder releases. How did you come across those records, and why did you choose them as the label’s jumping off point?
Jeremy Thompson: The first three records are:
Cassie – “Change My Image” / “Will You?”
Cheryl -“Killer Kiss” / “It’s Me”
The Sound – Physical World EP
Cassie was a punk/new wave group from the Isle of Wight that was active from 1978 up through 1985. They did this one great single that was poorly distributed at the time and didn’t get any real traction outside of some local airplay. I first heard the single several years ago from a music blog online and was immediately taken with both the songwriting and how great the singer was. Also, I tried to do some research on the band and wasn’t really able to find anything about them at all, so they were this really mysterious group to me. I finally found the drummer, Hugh Kim Lewis, and he put me in touch with the singer, Debbie Coles. They’ve all been really great to work with.
The Cheryl single was kind of the same story. I found the songs online somewhere, and immediately thought this would be a really cool record to re-release. Both songs are great, and it has that really good picture sleeve. She was actually pretty easy to find. She owns a business in London making stained glass and has a website with contact info, so I just gave her a call. I could tell when I called her that she thought it was a practical joke or something, so I had to explain to her that I just really liked the record. She has had an interesting life, and she has actually appeared on other records, like the Sound Ceremony albums, doing backup vocals and stuff.
The Sound record is not like a super obscure band or anything, but I thought it was strange that the single had never been reissued on vinyl before. It’s such a great record and original copies have gotten super expensive, so I thought it would be a good time to do it. Phil King helped me get in touch with the folks that handle Adrian Borland’s estate, and they were super nice and excited to do it.
Classic Bunking Off! – A Chat with Cheryl
PKM: Where did you grow up, and was music an interest early in life?
Cheryl: I was born in 1962 and I grew up in North London. I discovered David Bowie when I was around 13, and I just adored him; I also followed Patti Smith and Iggy Pop. Then at the age of 14, I fell into the punk scene which was a fabulous and exciting time, seeing live bands at places like The Marquee, The Roxy, Camden Palace, and The Rainbow Rooms, to mention just a few. Those were fun times, and I rubbed shoulders with people like the Sex Pistols, Adam Ant, and Ian Drury. After my punk phase, I went all hippie and soul, but live music was a big thing for myself and my friends, and I got to see live bands several times a month.
PKM: You left school at 16…
Cheryl: I hated going to school, for me it was like a punishment. I couldn’t concentrate on anything I wasn’t really interested in, [like] art or English or sociology. I would have a good trick of rubbing glue all over my hands so I could spend the hour-long lessons picking it off to entertain myself. When I was 15, I had a boyfriend who would meet me at the school gates at lunchtime in his old Jaguar, and we’d drive away for the day and return to sign in at the end. Classic bunking off! Also my friends and I would jump on a bus to Oxford Street and go stealing earrings from Top Shop, or go down to Notting Hill to a fab cafe called The Point and sit there smoking and drinking herbal tea. More classic bunking off!!
PKM: You’ve mentioned many jobs you ran in and out of for five years after you left school. Which of them would you say was most palatable?
Cheryl: My favorite job was when I worked for my uncle in a massage parlor. He gave me the job as the receptionist there. I matched the clients up with the girls. It was the best job ever, and the most enlightening and definitely the most entertaining. If you knew the things that guys handed money over for you would get a thousand laughs. You would also be interested to know that the girls working there were not, contrary to popular belief, forced into anything, but rather that they had normal lives outside working hours, and gave up after five years and moved on to buy themselves a comfortable life. But that was there and then; I am sure it’s different now.
I also worked in a cafe in Earls Court making breakfasts and sandwiches, and fell in love with a transvestite [sic] called Petal who loved me like a little sister. I’d hang out with him and his swanky friends. I also had a lockup shop in Camden Market selling vintage clothing, and I think that’s when I realized I’d like to be my own boss someday.
PKM: Is there a story you remember of being treated poorly or “like a girl” from any of those jobs?
Cheryl: Nah, I liked being a girl. Any excuse to use my feminine charms was a winner for me. I was never taken advantage of, quite the opposite in fact, I had too much confidence.
PKM: How intense was your teen rebellion at the time. Was any of the late-70s punk era anger influencing you? All those notions of post-WW II England still being kind of bombed out, and not many good jobs for the youth, bored kids roaming the streets, etc…
Cheryl: I was very rebellious; still am to a degree, but nothing to do with bombs or WW2. There were plenty of jobs to be had if you were the type like me who had the courage to chat yourself in there, without the qualification or experience, but the bloody cheek to say that you had them. As us Jews would say, plenty of Chutzpah.
PKM: You were a photographer assistant, recruiting consultant, and merchandising representative.
Cheryl: I had a boyfriend who was a press photographer. I assisted him in his cruel determination to get that exclusive and candid shot. For three years, we chased police cars and spent most nights in Fleet Street printing and handing in the daily news in picture form. This was very exciting. The other jobs were just a way of earning money. I didn’t drink alcohol or ever take drugs, but I liked to buy vintage clothes and records and go clubbing, so it was helpful.
PKM: You were asked to be a Penthouse Pet? How did that happen?
Cheryl: I went for that interview in Park Lane, I really thought it would have been fun, but my boyfriend at that time went nuts, so I didn’t do it, I think he was right. I was around 19.
PKM: The cigarette out the window story is funny, if you want to tell that one in more detail.
Cheryl: I was working for a contract cleaning company. They gave me a company car, but I hardly did any work, and instead I was session singing and driving around London smoking fags and throwing them out of the window as I drove – to my horror, or rather my boss’ horror when he went to take the car back, because I was found out to be doing two jobs. And we discovered about twenty large burned holes in the backseat where they had blown back and charred into the upholstery. Not to mention the fact I’d reversed into a tree and the back of the car was totally fucked. Yeah, I got the sack.
PKM: Ha! So you tried out as a session singer at a studio in London. Like the other early jobs you got, you make it sound like it was just a lark, but what got you wanting to try your hand at singing?
Cheryl: I read in the Melody Maker that there was a job for session singers with experience. I lied and said I had done it before and got the job. It was something I hadn’t done before and thought it would be fun, and it was. I think they liked me, my voice was ok, and I looked good, so from backing singer they launched me…. They gave me a try at going it alone, but only one record was pressed, “Killer Kiss.”
PKM: That studio was run by Chas Chandler [formerly of the Animals and former Jimi Hendrix manager]. Any other rock star sightings when you worked there? What projects did you work on?
Cheryl: I met him a few times, and he was nice. I didn’t get involved with anyone famous whilst recording, but almost got on Top of the Pops as a backing singer.
PKM: Is there a story where it dawned on you, “Eh, this singing thing isn’t really for me”?
Cheryl: Well, my impatience did at the time, and I never felt in control of the situation. Not really sure I’d fit in to the music/entertainment business to be honest – too flaky and fake. And being yourself wouldn’t be easy, would it?
PKM: So you moved on from the music biz. You helped hype a Coen Brothers movie at Cannes. Can you tell us about that experience?
Cheryl: I was a promo girl for one of their films. I went to the Cannes Film Festival with that photographer boyfriend of mine, we were there for a month; we slept on the beach and in his car. I was in my element! I went to lots of press parties and met lots of famous people, but I wasn’t that impressed as I realized they were just flesh and blood like me, but with a great deal more of a headache.
PKM: And you were a “Starbird,” one of those silly girlie pinups in the British paper, the Daily Star.
Cheryl: Yeah another one of my whims, a bit of glamour modelling. Well, I was always “the little one with the big tits,” but that was short-lived as well. Too many photographers trying to get into your pants.
PKM: Let’s jump ahead to how this reissue of your “Killer Kiss” single came about. Were you surprised to hear from Jeremy Thompson?
Cheryl: Jeremy was a welcome contact, and I’m delighted that people like that little part of my history.
PKM: Did you know where the tapes were and all that, or did Jeremy do the detective work?
Cheryl: Jeremy ran the whole show. I had a few copies, but now I have a dozen!
PKM: Are there any other recordings from around that “Killer Kiss” time that would be worth getting out there?
Cheryl: Maybe, but finding them will be a challenging task.
PKM: And what are you up to lately? Do you ever get an itch to sing again?
Cheryl: Right now I am very much a family woman. I have a wonderful husband, we’ve been married for 33 years; three fabulous grown-up kids, two gorgeous granddaughters, four dogs. I am a stained glass artist. I teach it and make nice windows on a domestic basis for my customers. This is where I have landed, and my life is pretty great. I probably should’ve written a book as I really didn’t have an ordinary upbringing or life. But everything I did or tried to do was what has made me what I am today – satisfied, fulfilled, and wise.
PKM: How do you approach what you want to reissue? The obvious answer is you put out stuff you like, of course. But I know some reissue labels tend to focus not just simply on unearthed faves but check with the collector market first to see “what’s hot.” I may be wrong, but with Sing Sing and now Reminder, I feel you do not put a huge weight on what these recs might be going for on Discogs.
Jeremy Thompson: The scarcity of an original copy is a consideration when choosing what to release. I don’t think it makes any sense to reissue records that can be found for cheap either online or in a record store.
The other side of that though is just because some single goes for $400 on eBay does not make it an interesting record to reissue. There are plenty of expensive punk records that I never need to hear again. So I do think that the price of an original copy is important, but it’s never the deciding factor on what gets released.
PKM: I feel you have made it a point to get the rights in order, etc. for your releases – not always a priority with cult reissues.
Jeremy Thompson: There really is no other way to do it. I want to make sure the people in these bands get to see some money for the work they did.
PKM: As usual for any indie label, costs can become a problem. A few reissue label people have told me they don’t really want to do singles anymore because a lot of stores just aren’t ordering them as much, partly because their eventual retail costs can seem too high. Did that factor into Sing Sing’s demise?
Jeremy Thompson: The cost of putting out records didn’t factor into the decision at all to shut down Sing Sing. It was totally a decision based on the fact that I had this terrible day job that I would do all day, and then come home and be faced with like three hours of packing records and answering emails. I just got burnt out. My life has totally changed since then, so I feel like I’m much more equipped to take this on now.
As for putting out 45s specifically, before I started [Reminder] I went into Academy Records in Greenpoint and told the guys working there about my plan to release some singles, and they immediately started poo-pooing it and telling me singles don’t sell, etc. So that made me really nervous. I was prepared to just lose all the money I had invested in getting this thing off the ground.
I have to say though, I haven’t seen any real decline in people buying 45s at either a wholesale or retail level from the website. I’m having to repress all of the first three Reminder Records releases already, so I don’t know if it’s Covid-related and people are just stuck inside and buying stuff or what, but I can tell you that they are selling at a higher level than they were when I was doing Sing Sing.
PKM: Whoa, that’s cool news! And what about the view that massive, fancy box sets are the way to go because it’s a higher profit margin, and they’re so droolingly appealing to vinyl fans.
Jeremy Thompson: Going forward, Reminder will do singles and LPs. I’m totally down to do some sort of fancy boxed set if the project calls for it, but off the top of my head I can’t think of anything. Maybe like an Ellie Jay Records best of singles box or something could be cool.
PKM: Can you tell us a favorite good/crazy story or two, from Reminder or Sing Sing, about tracking down lost masters, or lost musicians themselves?
Jeremy Thompson: I’m trying to think of ways to make a story about tracking down master tapes exciting, but it’s pretty tedious. Lots of phone calls and emails. I’ve had a lot of interesting interactions with members of different bands I’ve worked with over the years. The De Cylinders shows were notable. I remember finding the band members and working out reissuing their singles, and then like a week later they sent me a message saying they were going to be on TV in Amsterdam on a pretty big morning show. They did the show and it was amazing, they sounded like they had never stopped playing together.
De Cylinders, on Dutch TV, 2009:
So a few days passed, and one of the guys in the band emails me and tells me they got a government grant to fly all six of them from Amsterdam to NYC to play some shows, and then like right after that they were all here, and I was taking them in a van to play at Cakeshop.
It all happened super fast, and it was like they were immediately ready to do this whole thing after not playing together for over 30 years, which was really impressive and great.
PKM: Crazy! So there seem to be two schools of obscure record reissuing: release exact as possible replicas of the original thing; or repackage a bit to add extra songs or graphics. You seem to fall into the former camp, and I’m wondering if Reminder will expand away from the exact replica template as things go on.
Jeremy Thompson: The way I see it is that if I’m going to reissue a record that already exists – like for instance a single from 1979 that came out on an independent label in an edition of 500 copies and had a cool picture sleeve that the band designed – I’m not going to impose any of my own ideas on that. I want to release it as close to the original as possible because all of those elements were done intentionally by the band, and it’s part of what makes the thing special. There are cases though, like the new Dave & Lee LP I’m putting out, where there is no original artwork, so then obviously we have to make something for it. I’m lucky though, my wife Mary is a very talented graphic designer and works with me on all the artwork. Overall I just try to make everything look, feel, and sound as high quality as possible so that the people in the bands I work with can feel proud of the final product.
PKM: I assume you only “need” to do runs of about 500-1000 of these records, but that of course can make them quickly collectible themselves. Is that at all in the back of your mind when planning these releases – to create interest – and hence inevitably higher prices in the collector realm?
Jeremy Thompson: It’s definitely not in the back of my head to make the reissues collectible or drive up the prices of things. I honestly try to keep stuff in print for as long as possible and make it available for a reasonable price. For me it’s more about getting this music in the hands of as many people as possible so that the bands are more well known.
PKM: You and your wife’s work on that amazing Wired Up! book really proved you weren’t in the reissue game just to toss out a few discs. You obviously have a deep interest in forgotten junk shop singles, and all that implies. When did that really start for you?
Jeremy Thompson: I first got into that stuff when I started following Robin Will’s Purepop blog back in like 2007 or 2008. I also think William Martin from Radio Heartbeat/Rebel Rouser introduced me to a lot of those records when I first moved to NYC. He did a DJ night at the Charleston on Bedford Ave. and was playing singles that I still don’t have, and still haunt me to this very day!
PKM: What are some upcoming Reminder Records releases we can look forward to?
Jeremy Thompson: The next three records will be out in late August, and are up on the site now with descriptions, photos, and sound clips. They are:
Dave & Lee – Singles Collection LP
Lazy – “Rock n Roller” / “Am I Dreaming” 45
The Daze – “I Wanna Be A Star” / “At The Seaside” 45
PKM: Would you ever consider releasing new bands on Reminder Records?
Jeremy Thompson: I’ve thought about that and I’m not opposed to it, but I don’t know who those bands would be at this point. Maybe once we can start going to shows again I can think about it.
Just a smattering of other fine osbcurant punk/glam/garage/outre vinyl reissue labels to dig into: