Madonna, Flashdance, Duran Duran, Stock Aitken and Waterman and Living on a Prayer. For the clientele of shit suburban student nights in soulless high street bar chains, this is what 80’s music has unfortunately come to represent – the chance to get legless on cheap booze and sing along without irony to Bon Jovi in shoulder pads and legwarmers.
Marketing men have repackaged it as the decade that fashion forgot, conspicuous consumption, and awful pop music, whilst talking heads on retrospective documentaries chuckle with embarrassment as they talk about Wham and HI-NRG. However, the reality is quite different, the 80’s were as musically diverse and productive as the more lauded decades that proceeded it. Away from the pop and power ballads, Ska, The Style Council, The Smiths, New Romantic, Post Punk and Acid House all helped soundtrack a decade of great social upheaval and social unrest.
Independent labels such as 2 Tone and Rough Trade played an important part in shaping the musical landscape, as did Postcard Records, who despite only releasing 13 songs were integral to the rise of what became indie music.
Formed in a Glasgow tenement flat in 1979 by teenage student Alan Horne, the label was initially a vehicle to release records by Orange Juice. Fronted by Edwyn Collins, they had some of the sensibilities of punk bands but were altogether more articulate, intelligent and witty and were equally influenced by Americana and Motown. Indeed, when Postcard declared themselves ‘The Sound of Young Scotland’ it was in homage to the Detroit label’s famous motto.
Despite only a thousand copies being pressed, Orange Juice’s debut single ‘Falling and Laughing’ became a critical success, lauded for it’s fey, camp, witty lyrics, tight bass and jangly guitar, which would become the trademark of bands that emerged over the next fewer years such as The Smiths.
Following the early success of this and Orange Juice’s next single Blue Boy, other bands were signed and released singles. Postcard had become the epicentre of Scotland’s independent music scene. Edinburgh post-punks Josef K, were darker, but equally literate (they’re named after the protagonist in Franz Kafka’s The Trial), whilst Australian label mates The Go-Betweens (who now lived in Scotland) released quirky pop. Aztec Camera, like Orange Juice from Glasgow, were the fourth band to be signed by Postcard. They were the musical vehicle of teenage singer-songwriter Roddy Frame and released beautiful, well crafted, multi layered pop songs, such as the b-side to their first Postcard release ‘Just Like Gold’, ‘We Could Send Letters’.
By the end of 1981 though, it was over, despite the relative success of their 13 releases the label had run out of money, they were declared bankrupt. Alan Horne later explained: ‘We were all very enthusiastic and very naive and we rushed right into the middle of it all before we knew anything. We had never seen the inside of a record company before.’
However, despite being short lived, despite only having a miniscule catalogue of records, Postcard’s influence was huge, musically they had a massive effect on the contemporary indie scene, they influenced the Smiths and inspired the acts that signed Sarah Records in Bristol. They put Scottish music on the map and defined the Scottish sound which can still be heard in the music by the likes of Camera Obscura. Perhaps most importantly though their DIY ethos has become the blueprint for independent labels everywhere, Postcard showed the music world, you can make beautiful, well crafted songs on a shoestring budget.
Heres some of Postcards best releases:
Josef K – Sorry For Laughing
Orange Juice – Simply Thrilled Honey
Aztec Camera – We Could Send Letters
By Callum West