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Interview

Matt Haynes p1

Matt Haynes is well-qualified to publish Smoke: A London Peculiar. By the time he was 14 he had visited every tube station in London. His parents and several generations before them lived in Bethnal Green, in the heart of the East End – the well-known dockside area between the city and the River Lea. He grew up on the other side of the River Lea, in East London. Now he lives south of the Thames in Vauxhall, publishing his magazine, Smoke: A London Peculiar, from his flat. I asked Matt Haynes about the origins of Smoke, and what’s involved in publishing and writing for this magazine of words and images inspired by London.

READERSVOICE.COM: How long does it take to distribute the copies of Smoke: a London Peculiar, around London?

MATT HAYNES: About three weeks for the initial distribution – but obviously re- stocking is a continuous process, as and when shops run out. You have to visit them all on a regular basis to check up, as very few bother getting in touch to say they’ve got none left.

RV: Where do you pick up the copies and what streets and shops do you go to from there? Do you do certain tube stations each day? What’s the routine?

MH: Well, all the copies are initially delivered by the printer to my flat, and then they just stand around in piles on the landing while I try to get rid of them. For big single deliveries (e.g. the various branches of Borders), I put them in a box and take them on the tube or bus… for smaller deliveries, I just use my bike (pedal, not motor!) and load up the saddlebags – it’s quicker and cheaper.

RV: When did you start getting interested in the history of London, or the “peculiar” aspects of London?

MH: I think I just always have been… I’ve always loved maps and, when I was growing up in London, I used to take the tube or bus or my bike to visit places I’d never been, just because I’d seen the name on the map, not because there was something there I’d heard was worth visiting…

RV: How long were you in Bristol attending university, and what did you study there?

MH: Just the usual three years at the university, though I stayed on there afterwards… and I was studying physics.

RV: How old were you when you started Sarah Records, and other record labels, and how did you go about getting your record label started?

MH: I’d started writing fanzines while I was at university, and the record-labels came out of that… after a few issues of the fanzine, I wanted to include a flexidisc, so I set up a flexidisc label (“Sha- la-la” – the name was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek though, of course, our critics missed this… a recurring theme…) with three other fanzine writers – we shared the costs by distributing the flexis with more than one fanzine.

And Sarah developed as an obvious extension of that – especially given Clare, who I ran Sarah with, had released a flexidisc with her fanzine (Kvatch) featuring the same band (The Sea Urchins) as one of our Sha-la-la flexis. Getting the record-label started was simply a case of asking our local independent distributor in Bristol (Revolver) if they’d be willing to take us on. They were, and that was that.

We paid for the recording of three songs, pressed up 1000 7″s, and took it from there.

RV: What did you aim to achieve with your record labels and what sort of music did you try to release?

MH: I like the word “try”! We didn’t aim to only release a certain style of music… it’s just natural that any label with a distinctive character is going to attract like-minded souls and bands, and obviously that’s going to be reflected in the music, which in turn reflects the demos you get sent, so you end up with a label “sound” whether you like it or not – we weren’t going to deliberately sign a reggae band or a heavy-metal band just because we didn’t have one on the label.

But I think the general impression that people (usually people who’ve never actually heard any of the records) have of the label, i.e. that it was all twee and jangly, is unfair – the Field Mice’s best record was a 12″ seven-minute long sequencer-based dance epic, but you’ll still see them described everywhere as fey with jangly guitars. As for what we aimed to achieve with the label… we always had a strong political element in the way the label was run, even though I’m sure most people missed this, because it was separate from the actual music (though some of that was political too) and quite subtle – politics through deeds, rather than words. Basically, socialism and feminism – no rip-off 12″s, no singles on albums (other than compilations), no pictures of women on record-sleeves – that sort of thing. If anyone had noticed, it could’ve changed the world.

RV: How did you meet Jude Rogers who came up with the idea of Smoke, a kind of fanzine for London?

MH: Jude bought a copy of the Shinkansen compilation, liked the sleevenotes (and the music, I presume!), and starting e-mailing me. We usually ended up talking about London things in these e-mails – usually odd things we’d spotted at tube-stations – and so when she had the idea for Smoke, I guess I was an obvious person to talk to about collaborating.

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