Shagrat Records was started in 1990 by Nigel Cross, founding editor of Bucketfull of Brains magazine, for many of the usual reasons that people start their own record labels.
Says Nigel: ‘In the summer of 1985, disillusioned after five years spent in the service of the pop music business machine, I withdrew and started to ask myself whether I even still liked listening to music. Like many have done to re-charge their batteries and re-ignite their enthusiasm, I went back to year dot and began to dig out sounds from the late 60s that had first whet my appetite. In correspondence with my good friend Colin Hill, we were soon exchanging letters and cassette compilations – unlike many of our contemporaries, we had both started out listening to a lot of the music from the British underground, in the afterglow of 1967 and the flower-power era.
We had grown up on John Peel’s Top Gear and Night Ride programmes; we read the alternative press – IT, OZ, Gandalf’s Garden, later Frendz and local equivalents – for me Manchester’s awesome Grass Eye, for Colin North Devon Snail – we loved the network of little underground clubs that had sprung up in the UK in the late 60s –Birmingham’s Mothers, Aylesbury’s Friars, Plymouth’s Van Dike, and Preston’s Amethyst. In London we looked to the UFO and Middle Earth, and of course the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm was our spiritual home. I’d also recall with fondness what a cool place Ladbroke Grove had been back then, a kind of Greenwich Village or Haight Ashbury – ah the freak enclaves of west London!
We were children of the free concerts, the big dope festivals and arts labs. In our universe Radio Geronimo still ruled the roost! We looked back to an age when you bought records almost as much for their sleeves as you did for their contents. Sadly freak designer Barney Bubbles was not long in his grave back then, but we saluted him and the likes of Martin Sharp, Nigel Waymouth and Hapshash and the Coloured Coat.
We were swimming against the fashionable tides of the late 80s and it felt good! We dug deep into the exotic and the obscure and regaled each other with stories from the halcyon daze of yore. Bridget St John, Hard Meat, the Bonzos, Mick Softley, Little Free Rock et al were the tops of our charts. We quickly established a common love of the community bands like the Pink Fairies, Hawkwind, Mighty Baby, Magic Muscle and the Edgar Broughton Band. Equally we loved the blues boom bands especially Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac and the burgeoning folk rock movement spearheaded by Fairport Convention. What bound us even more together was a shared love of ZigZag magazine especially the very early issues – arguably the most single overriding influence of my teenage life.
In the 80s I had become good friends with Larry Wallis, singer, song writer, guitarist and producer and member of the likes of the Entire Sioux Nation, the Pink Fairies, and the Deviants not to forget house producer at Stiff Records, composer of ‘Police Car’ and one of the stars of that now legendary first Stiff tour in autumn 1977.
Larry would regale me with stories about his now departed pal, Steve Peregrin Took, some time cornerstone of Tyrannosaurus Rex and founding member of the Pink Fairies. I knew he had demos he’d made with Took as part of the short-lived 1970 band, Shagrat (who'd played Phun City that summer) and eventually I persuaded him to dig ‘em out and play me them. I was not a little impressed but no reissue labels were interested in putting the material out. 1990 marked the 10th anniversary of Steve’s death, so we decided to release a 45 to commemorate the man: ‘Amanda’ b/w ‘Peppermint Flickstick’. It seemed appropriate to put the record out on Shagrat Records.
I hadn’t thought beyond that first single, and to be honest my next plan was to put out a fanzine celebrating all the things mentioned above that would be called Soft Cloud, issue 1 of which still lies unfinished to this very day, but then we heard that another figure from the olde days had just resurfaced – Edward Barker - cartoonist, designer and underground figure par excellence - Edward had been in the inner circle of the Deviants and Fairies, had produced one of the first important books on the British underground era with Mick Farren - Watch Out Kids - and of course had been art guy at IT and OZ. Newly returned from Cornwall to the Holloway Road, Barker was happy to give us a title and artwork for a further Shagrat release and we were off and running.
With no particular angle except to release stuff that had been recorded or has been inspired by that first British underground era, Shagrat Records tips its hat to Dandelion and those early Stiff releases. We haven't quite kept to that original ideal - music is music whether it's being made now or 40 odd years ago so it's an eclectic mix of releases and we have cast our net recently beyond these shores (the West Coast rock scene of the late 60s is the other love of my life!).
We do stick to vinyl though - small limited runs. It might be something of a vanity label but each release is usually something that in days gone by I would like to have read about in the weekly music press and wanted to buy immediately or seen in the window of my local record shop and wild horses wouldn't have stopped me from purchasing!