When was Touch established and why?
It started in 1982, on March 4th. I had just left the London College of Printing and had begun working for a big publishing company, writing miniature travelogues and arts reviews which was erratically interesting: often getting bored silly, but learning some of the tricks of the trade. I wasn't particularly challenged by their way of doing things. Punk had shown that not only could you do it yourself, you could quite evidently do it better. Punk also opened up possibilities in media other than music - how new combinations and interventions could be made. There is always that possibility, yet in the context of the late 70s, the 'visual' side is still underestimated: it reconnects to the turn of the century, to the Dadaists, and to Kandinsky, who developed a new kind of 'almanac' which he called The Blue Rider, a collection of artworks, poems, essays with great attention to detail and an awareness of what one might call 'the overlap': how one medium might interact with another. It wasn't a magazine as such, and had a great effect upon the way people thought about form. For better or for worse, all this would later develop into the Bauhaus, but here lay the origins.
There were two major catalysts to what was happening then: firstly, the invention of photography, which threw fine art into abstraction, and secondly, the First World War, which had much the same effect upon everyday reality. Cinema was already a dominant influence upon peoples' perceptions. The end of the old world, as it were, which to me matched the present situation - computerworld, the cultural trauma caused by the conversion to digital technology. Anyway, the Dadaists etc. had a very original attitude to the way printed information could be used, which linked closely to their experiments with sound and language. Kandinsky also did this book called Sounds, a collection of poems and woodcuts, published the same year (1912) as his better known Concerning the Spiritual in Art. The real revolutions in perception might usually be ascribed to individual artists or genres (and nowadays to the High Art of new technology), but they are all fundamentally linguistic. We can only guess at the initial impact of simple assertions, which we take completely for granted, such as - the word is an image...I was obviously inspired by punk, as were most people of my age. When I was at University, I had known Andrew (McKenzie), who was one of the few people I met at that time who understood its ramifications implicitly. I was involved in promoting concerts at University which brought me into contact with a lot of music biz types, and you would think that the obvious points of contact were there, but no. Andrew was 15 and working illegally as a shrink-wrapper at the Virgin Megastore in Newcastle, where I used to hover about with promotional posters, on the look-out for strange items. We shared similar tastes in music - Pink Flag, Metal Box, The Scream, Cabaret Voltaire etcetera - which might seem obvious now, but not in the North East in 1977/78. Heavy Metal was what real men listened to. Punk was just about OK, as long as it was Stiff Little Fingers!
At the time, we were both frequent tapers of John Peel sessions and we'd make swaps. I knew Andrew was involved in tape experiments of his own - Ben Ponton, now of Soviet France, used to work on the singles counter there, and they used to bash it out in their bedrooms. Andrew also had his own band, Flesh, who ended up supporting The Clash at the Mayfair. The Clash crowd in Newcastle were like Reservoir Dogs with bad haircuts; their previous concert at the Poly had caused a riot, Richard Hell got a bottle in his face - that sort of audience reaction was quite common. Anyway, when I left University and went back down to London and the LCP, we kept in touch. Soon after, Andrew got fitted up by Virgin on some trumped-up charge which culminated in him getting compensation for unfair dismissal and enough of a pay-off to buy a 4-track tape recorder.
Roundabout then, by a strange series of co-incidental meetings in a very short space of time, I met Mike (Harding) who was running a small music publishing company in the West End. It turned out that he had been at the same University, but I had barely known him there. We bumped into each other at the Moonlight Club in West Hampstead. He said "I'm doing this" and I said "I'm planning that", so he said why don't you come by and we'll see what happens. Mike had been working with a designer called Garry Mouat (who worked for Assorted Images, Malcolm Garrett's company), and it turned out that Garry lived just up the road from my parents' house in Barnet. I was full of all this punk/Kandinsky/Dada stuff which Garry was also well into. Anyway, Mike and Garry also knew this bloke Bob Pearce who was running a pirate radio station called "Greenwich Free Sound" or something (incidentally, later to broadcast the first Hafler Trio recording); he was also doing this indie cassette magazine called "Morrocci Klung" - this, we must recall, was the time of SFX and the "C-30 C-60 C-90 Go"! So we thought, all the rest is shit, cassettes are a great, underdeveloped medium, because you can't see what you're getting, unlike a record where you can see how many tracks there are on it, and roughly how long they will last. So bearing in mind all the above, the power of TV etc., we had this idea to combine sound with image in order to demonstrate and develop new ways of using media. With the accent on the word 'demonstrate'. We not only wanted to show that it could be done better (the 'quality' of any item is not necessarily a matter of opinion), ours was also a demonstration in the active, political sense. As it happened, around this time BBC2 were showing a season of Samuel Beckett's work. 'Quad' and 'Not I' stood out in particular. Andrew talked about different applications of the Burroughs/Gysin cut-up tech-nique and turned us on to that. I had been taping weird sound-bites off TV which I used to drop in to the tape compilations I made for myself and friends, and I sent some of these off to Andrew for further treatment as it were. Even at this stage there was some pretty wild stuff flying about. I come from a print background - my Grandad used to do woodblock and letterpress, my Dad was an early litho fanatic - 8 or 10 colour jobs on a 2 colour press was his forteacute in the fifties. The obsession with precision - print registration, the overlay of colours etc. But from an early age I was mad about music (as the saying goes) and this was a touchstone when I met Andrew: we had a similar sense of adventure. Garry knew a photographer friend, Panni Charrington, whose processing work was exceptional. Mike became our manager. So that was that really. We got a small bank loan on the back of this business presentation we put together. Went out and bought the best tape copiers we could afford, dodgy nonetheless, as it turned out. Went on from there.
It soon got to be quite involved. After this rush of events, I rapidly realised that Touch (as we now named it) was not going to compute with my 9 to 5 job. I arranged to get myself sacked so I could claim unemployment benefit. Went to live in a squat in Islington for as long as it lasted. The next thing was that Mike's publishing company's main act fell out, leaving him holding the baby. Bob decided he preferred to advance the cause of pirate radio. Andrew was penniless up in Newcastle wondering where the next cat food was coming from, meanwhile developing the first Hafler Trio stuff with Chris Watson.
Touch has always mutated dependent upon the personal circumstances of those involved. It has always been a very personal thing. It had to be. The decisions made early on - not to accept advertising, for example - meant that to a large extent, and for an unforseeable time period, it was going to be a labour of love. Why do we do it? Why not see what is possible? That's the beauty of it. In many ways you could say that it's naively idealistic to try to put out a clear product in a totally manipulative context - not that there's anything wrong with manipulation as such, but standards are standards, or should be! We liked what had happened in the late 70s, but by and large, by 1982, it was all watered down, and now it was up to us. Did you ever see that episode of 'The Prisoner' where Number 6 feeds a riddle into the computer - "W-H- Y- QUESTION MARK" - and the thing starts making all kinds of strange noises, sparks fly and the machine blows up, unable to process an answer? We produced Feature Mist which sold out its 5000 print-run very quickly. All about TV and the mass media. I can't remember exactly how we put it at the time, something like "clearing the mist from the projectionist's window" or something portentious like that. It was really a simple idea, the cassette was like a broadcast and the booklet was your radio times messed about a bit. Garry put it well: the idea that we supplied the soundtrack, script and stills, and the audience edit their own film. To us, the notion that the dynamic of film can exist in printed and audio media is still central, a form of storytelling that doesn'tneed a multi-million dollar budget.
Anything was game: I sent Andrew absurd items on Survivalists or professors talking about drug abuse, he matched it against Molly Sugden or a noise made by some tapelooped tenth of a second. One thing Punk musics had largely overlooked was the possibilities inherent in Steve Reich's 'Come Out'. Do you know that one? "...open the bruise blood to come out to show dem to come out to show dem...". Andrew did one with the line "It's almost nothing you just hardly can see it" - repeat that to yourself 50 times and you'll see what I mean. There's a lot of strange humour involved. We thought "Oh wonderful, it's a great success", so we went on to produce Meridians. Instead of repeating ourselves, we thought right, what's next?. At the same time, things had got a bit loose-leaf. Meridians was about the fragmentation going on at that time, revolving around the argument "do you beat them by joining them or do you beat them by not joining them". An old classic. Meridians as different points on the same body, so we divided it all up and people went "what the fuck is this?". They'd open the package and think "what do I look at first? Where am I?" (Laughs). Actually, the whole thing does fit together, you never know what the order is and how, let alone why - you have to make it up for yourself. This is very basic: using the idea of editing, not to uncover, experiment with or to "reveal the word". Simply be your own editor. Generally, people prefer not to, but who knows what will happen when multimedia becomes easily affordable.
You didn't give a set of instructions, then?
Why should you? The idea of 'use' in a product is a strange beast when it always has to say "do this" or "do that" on it. Another theme of Touch is that each thing we do is a response to what has happened in relation to the items before that - not in terms of sales, and seldom reviews. A narrative grows. Touch Travel has got four maps that fold out, yet they fit together to form a structure which is shown in miniature on just one of them. You have to get the whole lot out at once, preferably onto a wall, and match them up. Garry worked on this design with Neville Brody, who'd been contributing stuff since we started. How much do you give away? We don't explain everything because it kills creativity. We wanted to see how far things could lead. We'd had punk, yes great. The independent system was falling apart with success, putting all its eggs into one basket, which at the time was the Smiths. Then it all came to a grinding halt. We survived it all by just concentrating on what we could reasonably achieve, getting on with it as best we could.
How did you market Feature Mist to enable you to sell so many?
We didn't, because to us, the choice has always been stark between spending money on marketing, or spending it on the quality of the actual product. Also, to provide a service for artists - the opportunity, should any so wish, to release material in an unusual context, where differences can be observed. For Feature Mist, we more or less instantly decided we wanted to ask New Order to contribute. The group, at this point in time, 1981-82, was highly unusual, innovative in a number of subtle, mysterious ways (building up to 'Blue Monday'), and we tapped in to an enormous network. At the time, the definition of the word fanatic was the New Order fan-base, full of strange tales. I went to see them play in Newcastle, the night after Leeds. I knew Dec, who used to drive half the night cross country from Bedford to see every gig, even if it was in the North of Scotland; he introduced me to Hooky and we went backstage. I told them that we'd got this idea in a mumbling nervous mumble and would they help out by contributing. They said yes, and were very generous about the whole business. Basically a short discussion, then a few weeks later Rob (Gretton) handed over a tape and said "there, off you go".
Did they receive any royalties for that?
No. We spent so much money setting up Feature Mist that what money we made went in to doing Meridians which, although it wasn't a disaster, took us a long time to recoup any costs from. Colour printing was not such a good idea. Then we did Travel, which did well enough to enable us to do Ritual, which for us at the time was the last word on that particular subject, combining a tape and magazine. It has all been very hand to mouth. We paid recording costs in some cases, but we never sorted out all the royalty stuff until we started to put out CDs.
Do you have any kind of basic philosophy or manifesto which you adhere to in relation to Touch products?
If you get a strong feeling from it, if what you produce inspires you, almost from a fan point of view, then this feeling transmits into what you put out. Simple energy transfer. If you're a consumer, as we all are, it's obvious when something has been done with care, is original and not coated in advertising, or is trying to be something it's not, or is having to portray something you don'tfeel. It's not work to us, though of course there have been times when it's been bloody hard work...
Do you make a living from Touch?
No, not from Touch, from freelance work. It's a juggling act, keeping a balance between the two. I've also started teaching part-time (at Central St. Martins) which is the first 'regular' employment I've had in 11 years. Amongst ourselves, we've tried to create a support system. It is most difficult for Andrew who depends almost entirely upon income from sales. It makes me laugh when people say '"there are too many Hafler Trio releases" - it's a bit like making a blueprint and then accusing the builder of using too many bricks. People don't get it. The Hafler Trio is not a group that puts out its new album once a year. Why can't music, or more accurately sonic information, be published, even as if it were a daily newspaper? Imagine - you don't read about the situation in Bosnia, you hear it. There's a recipe for instant revolution. People would know.
Money is never plentiful. Once you have got round the usual problems of how to divide the cake, if the cake is quite small, or non-existent, it's not a problem. If it gets to be quite juicy and sugary, you get into all these arguments about who gets what, and then what's it all for? More of the same cake? A different cake? A bigger cake? Or the end of cake? I'm not saying our situation is going to hold out indefinitely but it's worked so far.
Would you say that there are Touch fans as such? Do they buy everything you put out?
Yes, we have a hardcore of people who buy the lot, which is quite a responsibility, and a liability in some ways. I've been in the situation where I would always buy anything that, say, Joy Division, or Augustus Pablo did. It was like seeking essential nourishment. I could quite happily spend all day, and maybe the next, seeking out a particular record I'd got wind of. And most of the time I'd not even bloody heard it. But that'sreally no big deal - you buy a book without knowing what's written in it. You listen to the author. Aged 5, I was totally into the Beatles, then Jefferson Airplane, then some of the 70s German and American stuff - before we all got woken up. Punk was a perfect lesson in modern consumer-ism. When you buy something that is actually crap, you try and convince yourself that it'sworthy, that all the reviewers have got it wrong - it's yours, so it must be good! (Laughs). Consumers are always making do with shoddy products, pretending something is fab when you know deep down it's crap. Music for fantasy for assumed pleasure. Then, all of a sudden, there is a period of intense activity and dynamism, maybe three great records in a week. The sense of engagement. If you understand the way that process goes, you are easily persuaded, when you have such limited resources, to put as much care and attention into the releases as possible. Major companies, by definition, cannot do that. A 45 year-old accountant does not give a shit about whether such and such is like this, or like that. Quality of content is not the criterion. A concentrated volley of first-rate independent releases at the end of the 70s really did expose the majors, and they will do anything not to let it happen again. In the future, everything will be smothered in Sony and sons!
The things we release are not by definition top-notch wonderful, but a good many have been. Nothing we have ever done, I would say, isn't worth the money. It's all a bargain. Which is important, really, if you consider that a CD costs 10 or 11 quid - you get far better nourishment from a few good meals for the same money. Some people think we price ourselves too low and should take a leaf out of the art world. Charge them a fortune. Actually, Andrew did mention the idea of doing a limited edition CD of one copy. Feature Mist was £3.50 when it first came out. It flew out of the window...
I've never actually seen that one. I discovered Ritual in Compendium Books in Camden Town. I suppose I've been a fan ever since, although at times it's hard to keep tabs on what you're going to be doing.
Many things we have to play by ear. Touch Language was meant to come out in 1987 and might just make it for the year 2000! Most releases happen relatively quickly, others, such as z'ev's One Foot in the Grave took over three years. We sat on Mastery of Money for nigh on two years because we didn't want it to get in the way of the first two parts of the sex trilogy and the Mute re-releases. We always have a pretty clear idea of what we are doing, but not necessarily the order we are going to do it in. We've had a collaboration with Wir planned for ages: hopefully that will bear fruit in the near future. In the past, poor distribution has caused us no end of trouble. With Ritual and its precedents, record shops wouldn't like it because there was a book with it, bookshops wouldn't like it because there was a tape with it. Then you had something like Meridians which, if it's displayed in some-where like Virgin, people come along, open it up, have a gander, the whole lot falls out because they didn't know it was loose-leaf, shove it back quickly in case someone collars you, stick it back on the shelf but by now it's looking in a real state. Who's going to buy that when there are all these shrink-wrapped wonders just begging to be torn open? We've made our fair share of mistakes like that. Nevertheless, there is still something to be said for the great unexpected find in the record shop. The fact that we don't get much media coverage means that it's usually out before anybody knows what it is. Some will rightly proclaim that "silence is death", but you seldom hear its compaginate - "too much publicity is death". A death to surprise and discovery, that is. Hype causes a kind of blindness: you can become like a rabbit frozen in the headlights, if you see what I mean.
What about art galleries, have you considered them as an outlet?
Yes we did, but the problem is limited manpower. Anyone who helps us out with admin doesn't do it for the money. Maybe a tenner and some free copies. There hasn't been the wherewithal to employ somebody on a regular basis. In any case, you pay a distributor their good margin to do - would you believe? - distribution. The trouble is, they don't do it, but of course it's not their fault entirely. The press and retail trade are so fucking dumb. Anything new needs to be loaded off a juggernaut for them to notice it. But "The Chain With No Name"! What a joke. This stupid generalisation, again, that if you promote the big fish, the little fish will get fat on the crumbs that neatly distribute their way downwards. The backbone of current Tory thinking. Maybe it works for Depeche Mode and Mute. For a long time, New Order kept up Factory, but look what happened there. But these two are very much the exceptions, I think, special circumstances. So you go around distributing things to shops yourself, like the Acid kids do now. It's all very well when the network/medium is fast. Tons of mates involved and all that. But if you go round distributing things to shops that don't know what they're selling, you usually have to make a bloody speech to leave 5 copies on sale or return. It's pathetic. And incredible how inflexible the petty English shopkeeper can be. If you do this kind of distribution, it becomes very soul-destroying. You don't get anything else done. The problem with galleries and shops was that I'd take in a pile of Touch's, Mike and I would trail around in the car, one eye on the traffic wardens, then the shop would sell out and they'd never ring to tell you, or least of all send you the money. Why not? Basically they don't give a shit. Most of the retail trade is lazy and lackadaisical, especially in London, but it's really a national disgrace. But on the plus side, there's Compendium, Rough Trade Shop, These, and a few more outside London. Not a lot. So once again, we just get on with it. Fuck 'em. As a result, most of our stuff sells in America, Japan and on the Continent, and this country is to us a lost cause. We have tried. People ask us, "why do I never hear about your stuff, it's brilliant", but we send things to newspapers, music papers etc. They go "yeah great" and what do they do? Bugger all. What generally happens is that a freelancer presents a review to the editor, who says "oh, sorry, we can't run that this week after all because there's this big feature to fit in" or whatever. So you either end up with a tiny review two months later, or the freelancer gets into such a backlog that nothing ever emerges. This might sound like a whinge, but it affects everybody who's releasing 'experimental' music. All the time we are told that "nothing is happening". This is absolute rubbish - what this really means is that the press choose to play it safe, whether for the benefit of advertisers or their public, I don't know. But distributors, radio etc. still tend to follow the press - it seems that they don't know any other way of finding out about new stuff.
Another thing to bear in mind - everything that we've done has not been editorialised, anybody who reviews our stuff has had to think what it's about, has to actually give something of themselves; and in the critical media/popular culture/rock circus, nothing is worse than to be seen to have got it wrong, especially if you've had to think about it a bit rather than regurgitate a press release. This, especially with regard to The Hafler Trio, and the jokes therein contained. One of the things about The Hafler Trio that people rarely get is that they are conjurors - here's the rabbit, oh look, where did the rabbit go? Ignotum per Ignotius is a serious joke. It's not a con-trick, as some people have thought. It's about illusions, perceptions, energy. Reviewers are worried that they might look stupid.
So what do they do? Ignore it?
Are there any particular criteria or sets of rules which have to be met by potential Touch contributors, or are you just looking after a bunch of friends?
Yes and no to both. We get some extraordinary things from the 'news from nowhere' network and we'll think "what the hell is this?" and follow it up. We get far more than we can effectively deal with, demo tapes, interesting artworks etc. It is often difficult to keep up, especially now that we are not really doing compilations, which were a good way of honouring some of that. Good compilations take so much time though. Hassle, a lot of the time. Mike and I have to do everything and still earn a living. It's all down to time and degrees of obsession. In general, we have set up a narrative, or a set of possibilities. We'll have a hardcore of activity based around the work with The Hafler Trio, which we obviously want to continue. So if something is presented to us, it has to, in some way, be the match of this context, this proposition. Otherwise what's the point? We often find that we are sent things which people think we're going to like, but are just versions of things that we've already done. It's good that people take the trouble and it's always nice to receive things - a barometer of some sort. But we have to be careful not to overstretch our resources, to what we have already committed ourselves to. If someone sends you a dodgy cassette with doom-laden industrial imagery all over it, you don't generally go "Wow, I can't wait to put this on the deck"!
OK, so you've got a batch of demo tapes, artworks etc. in front of you. How do you decide what's in and what's not? Do you necessarily have to like it?
As Gurdjieff rightly said, art is not for liking. Or shouldn't be, exclusively. Sometimes I really don't "like" it: for instance, some of the things that The Hafler Trio have done I think are brilliant, but I don't immediately like them. How could anybody say they "liked" Picasso's 'Guernica'? Would you listen to Xenakis while you're having your dinner? I know what you're getting at, but you can see that this idea is really quite ridiculous. At the other extreme, I know a bloke who used to listen to demo tapes for Virgin. He'd give each one 10 seconds to connect, max. The criterion is, does it move you? Not move you in the emotional sense necessarily, but does it advance anything? This is a difficult area, again for no good reason, because there are certain taboos in our culture, especially in downwardly-mobile Britain. The first is the notion that you might demand some intelligence and input from the listener. Terrible! How dare you! How pretentious! (Laughs.) So we either have to ignore that one or get on with the serious global quest where we all drink Coke. The second taboo is to adopt an instructive stance, however tentative, and say, well OK, I know a lot about printing and editing and design language, I might actually be able to show you something you haven't considered. How dare you! The word 'didactic', with the emphasis on DIE! It's the reason why we are inundated with so much crap and drivel in our wonderfully-seeming egalitarian culture at the moment, giving us all this so-called choice. The gravy train trickles down all our chins, babbling nonsense. We have so many writers who are actually publicists, so many designers who are stylists, so many musicians who think they are "creative" when in fact they're copyists. But people are easily persuaded to like crap. Maybe it makes them feel more worthy, unchallenged, and secure. But all that is straying off your question a bit. Demo tapes are great when they demonstrate something new. If they do that, then somebody is going to pick up on it, and if you've overlooked it, then it's tough shit.
Would you say that you've got a finger on the pulse as far as the underground/counter-culture network goes?
I do not think that would be possible, nor desirable. Who would be a dragnet? Religious fundamentalists and media moguls...
But people like 'Empty Quarter', 'EST' etc., you are obviously aware of their existence?
Yes, but this is another thing that fits into the distribution situation. This might be getting better at last. For years there has been nothing that covers this kind of music or endeavour. The basis of the last ten years has been to divide and rule. It's so easy. If you split up the communication channels that developed out of punk, if you turn people on themselves, and make living a question of survival, then people are in no position to communicate as best they might: kids to feed, mortgage to pay, gas bills, everything else becomes secondary. You can't be 20 forever, whatever the media image pretends. What, in effect, you are left with is a totally fragmented set of people who spend their energies fighting against this, fighting against that, and when they come up for air and look about for where the opportunities lie, often the first thing they fix upon is how different everybody else is from them, the class system of sufferers and all that. Fighting against each other for the same piece of cake. It's totally self-defeating. One of the ideas behind Touch - inside the very word itself - is to focus upon points of contact, to build new possibilities, and to accentuate the positive, as Bing would say. Touch is not a negative word. When touch becomes negative, you use the word 'molest'.
Do you find it difficult to be objective about your products?
I suppose I find it relatively easy. When something has just been finished and released, I could talk for hours about it, about how meaningful the whole panorama of detail might be, but that's because I've spent so much time immersed in it, thinking about different approaches - then it reaches the stage where I don't think about it anymore. Andrew could write a book on each and everything that he's put out. The best state to be in is one not of unthinking, but one where you just don't have to think, and you follow your intuition. We all tend to think too much, or too rarely as the case may be. Easy also in the sense that I'm one of those boring perfectionists, and easy also because I see few other people doing it, very few. So you can be objective because that model or grid doesn't have the interference you get, say, if you're a record label like Creation, which might be a very good one, but then it'll get compared to Factory, is it as good as 4AD, etc. etc. For us, it'sa kind of innocence, but this also has a downside. It's difficult to compare, to sum up in a catchphrase.
The thing is - it's impossible to imitate. You take the surface off it and say "well, I'll copy that idea" or "like the recordings The Hafler Trio make, so I'll have a go myself, it sounds a bit like traffic noise" but not what lies behind it, it's impossible. So it's like a carefully prepared set of circumstances with the random factor built in. We are very self-critical. We can then be objective about it because we are always entering in and out of other worlds, other situations. The criticism, perhaps, is that after a point you could argue that it does becomes a self-sufficient cell, as you suggested earlier, but if that is so, then you're arguing about the whole basis of human existence. You also have to remember that most of the people in such situations think we're barking mad to start with, to even bother with all this. "When are you going to get a proper job" and all that. As for Andrew, his Dad's an ex-policeman.
So you are not competing with anyone, or trying to corner a market?
We would love to sell bucketloads, but to do this, it appears you have to devote a great amount of energy and money to worrying about the bucket, rather than what's in it.
From the feedback that you receive from your audience, would you say that you've succeeded in changing peoples' lives, attitudes, or perspectives to any degree?
Yes, there's no doubt about it. You could say how much evidence do you need, but that would be telling. I love the idea that we can change or enhance peoples' attitudes, have them demand higher standards, even if this makes me sound reactionary. We do it for ourselves, primarily. But we don't say that everything Touch does is something everyone has to aspire to. We just want a better diet and hope others will agree. To all of us, new information and experience is profoundly entertaining. Instead, people tend to opt for processed rubbish. I mean, look at U2, not that I've got anything against them particularly - no doubt Eno says plenty of Hail Marys every time he gets a royalty cheque! U2 think they're being radical. If anyone is radical in all this, it's Sinead O' Connor, but she gets crucified anytime she doesn't knuckle down and play the girly game. Crucified. I hope she has the last laugh, as it were. A Janis Joplin wig would sort them out!
But U2 obviously believe in what they're doing. Do you think they're aware of what they're doing?
Doubtless with all that's at stake, but it's a doppeldanger that does not work. It presents itself as being critical, but it presents itself in a form and context which is so effortlessly assimilated into the status quo. It's pointless, and it achieves nothing. Good record sales in the short term, of course. The babe of your choice! It sets a false image of what people think of as being subversive or experimental. It's not very convincing. All this Zoo TV bollocks with anti-TV slogans, broadcast via satellite. You can just see Rupert Murdoch quaking in his boots can't you, as everyone laughs to the bank. Did you see the MTV awards? That was a good one. U2 were playing their 'Real Thing' song or whatever it's called, with Garth from 'Wayne's World' playing drums via satellite from LA. Bono didn't look happy at all. Poor Bono, the things he has to do in the name of celebrity. He's said to be a really nice bloke. Who needs it?
Do you necessarily endorse the attitudes and opinions of all the Touch participants, or is Touch simply a soapbox for those individuals or groups?
Ha ha ha - haven't you asked that one already? OK. If I completely disagreed with something, then we probably wouldn't release it, but as I've said, I'm not a total control freak, although I do like to be involved in the things we put out. If, say, Mike or Andrew put up a good argument as to why something should be followed through, I'm happy and willing to be convinced. There are certain things that Touch has put out that I've had very little involvement with. Generally, we are not in the business of doing things that do not reflect our vital concerns in one way or another. Sometimes in a more hidden way that others, more metaphorical, more layered. What it seems to be on the surface is seldom what it is. Or isn't. I'm not trying to be clever, but it's as if you were criticising us for sticking with what ostensibly works well. All our artists do exactly what they want. If I don't like it in totem, which is very rare, it's usually this idealistic streak rearing its ugly head again. Andrew's artistic instincts I trust totally. He's had this disco record in mind for a while, which is going to work up a real lather, but we'll keep the lid on that for now. Look at it this way: most bands start off by wanting to be in the charts, and then, if successful for a while, they get this big idea of doing an 'experimental' album. Who says it cannot work the other way around? It might look like we are self-sufficient, but this is only true up to a point. As I said before, we never work with things that do not interest us. If that makes Touch a soapbox, you do not have to be an known participant to stand on it. I wish more did. As long as it didn't cave in. (Laughs).
Does Touch make a lot of money?
Do me a favour! Ritual, for example, cost us a lot of money to do (with ourselves personally liable for any losses). I seem to remember we made about £200 profit having sold every copy. In a way this is pretty stupid, I know, but we learnt a lot from doing it. Even then, we didn't make Touch into a limited company for another few years because of all the accountancy stuff involved. I suppose, because it may look accomplished, people automatically think that we must have loads, "Christ, they've made a fortune, I'll tap them for whatever..." Amusing situations have occured when people have come from overseas with either my address or Mike's, and then say "where is the Touch HQ?". It turns out to be one of our flats.
Not some huge complex in Milton Keynes?
It's not always so useful to be well presented. People like John Peel seem to have a problem with it. The other drawback is because we are not considered part of the indie scene, even by Rough Trade (now RTM) who have been our distributors for 11 years, when it gets to the NME or suchlike they can cast it aside and say "oh, it's not us, it's not our scene, therefore we don't have to think about it". As you said before. It's all very rewarding as long as you're not expecting a swimming pool in the back garden as your star prize. Once you've decided that you are really not doing it for that swimming pool, everything is progressive. If we did have lots of money, we'd spend it on our artists, and get composers like Arvo Pärt and Giya Kancheli to record something for us if we could.
Another common misconception about Touch is that you're quite a distant or aloof organisation. Is this justified?
You're sitting here in my front room, and anyone can call us up. True, I sometimes hibernate when I have a lot of work to do. I hate the deadline culture, rushing from one 'job' to the next, and sometimes I appear to be dead busy when actually I'm charging up my batteries. True, Mike usually meets more people than I do, his is the central office. The address is on the back of all our products, and that of The Hafler Trio on theirs. We're easy to track down. People love to think that you are aloof. For example, those great aloof artists Gilbert and George - I got their number out of the phone book. Very generous people, again. Like New Order. You're taught to make these assumptions all of the time, and you usually do. The Hafler Trio and the Dr. Moolenbeek story - another prime example.
Do you think you've made any kind of impact on the mass media in any way?
Yes. Put it this way - we do what we do very purposefully. It gets out. We don't do it for a laugh, although it often is. We are totally serious about it in a very light sort of way, which may be a form of commercial suicide, because everything should be fun, simplistic and groovy, all us individuals in this great, groovy modern world. Difficulty, or confusion of any sort, is verboten. But everything turns, and comes around. At certain stages your whole energy is devoted to keeping the flame alight. At others, it burns unattended. To answer your question more specifically, I would say yes without a doubt, but others might say that we'd need a good lawyer. It depends upon what you count as being of value. Do you know about Rupert Sheldrake's theory of 'Morphonic Resonance'? A Bag of Cats? This suggests that if you have understood and focused something, even if you have not transmitted it into a medium of communication, that focus is going to transmit itself to other sympathetic recipients. Nothing comes from nothing.
I read your editorial at the end of 'Vagabond', and I must say I agreed with it completely...
Ah, but at the end you noticed. Details like that are important.
Finally, how do you see Touch progressing over the next ten years? Do you have an all-encompassing vision of where you would like Touch to be?
Yes, I do have a vision of how I would like things to be, but it really is quite an obvious one. As soon as you put it into words, it ceases to be a vision and starts to be a mirage. On a pragmatic level, my life is chaos. I have only a general idea of what I will be working on in a month's time, which is both exciting and in a way frustrating. Anything for a quiet life, as my old aunt used to say. To always do what one is best at. I hope that The Hafler Trio will one day get the adulation, screaming girls and the chance to smash up the hotel of their choice. I hope we'll be interviewed by Wayne or Garth - we've already had Paula Yates, so anything would be an improvement. As Magnus puts it so succinctly, "I've started so I'll finish". We'll keep doing the same thing for as long as it is relevant. But I think it always will be relevant
Is that because you constantly react to current situations?
If anything, the opposite: we are well aware of current situations - only a few of them are worth engaging with. In any case, there's a difference between reaction and response. If somebody comes up to you and intimidates you, you'd go "Whoah yer bastard" and probably chin 'im. Fair reaction. The man about to be arrested for demonstrating against a war, gently placing a flower into the barrel of a policeman's gun - that is a response. It becomes an image that lasts forever, because somebody kept their sense and responded to a situation.
We do not by any means always react or respond directly to a situation even if it directly involves us. There is no desperate hurry, as such. Last year, a Scottish magazine, 'Variant', slagged us off for 'Vagabond', accusing us of being a load of has-beens whingeing on about the non-existence of punk. A dubious assumption actually, the standard knee-jerk, Burchillian drivel. I, for one, am a hasn't-been-yet-been. My co-editor, Jon Savage, is a has-been-a-fair-bit-so-far-been. Obviously they had a nice suit they wanted to try on us. Anyway, the editor wrote to Jon and said there was going to be a slag-off of 'Vagabond' in the forthcoming issue (as editor, quite amazing that he didn't realise that his magazine was already out), and would we like to present a reply in the next issue after that? Sorry, better things to do. That's what the media want, to get everybody snapping at each others heels, which makes for good sparkling copy, they think, but we all know it's a complete load of bollocks. This, from a magazine that exists on an arts council grant and witters on about Situationism. What a joke. But more and more people are making a considered response and engaging with what we do. The momentum is good.
[Interview with Jon Wozencroft by Barry Nichols, Saturday 12 December 1992]