Gary at the Rough Trade shop in Talbot Road that gave Wiiija Records its name…and as I first met him

“SONG FOR EWE” is the feature where artists beloved by VELVET SHEEP choose an obscure song they’ve been listening to that day.

Today’s guest is someone who was really, really important to the early days of Velvet Sheep fanzine. Someone who gave me records, made me coffee and let me interview people  ad hoc on the phone and at his house many a time, a regular and instantly recognisable figure at the gigs I attended and a man whose vinyl releases inspired me to write the zine in the first place. In fact one of the first ever gigs I attended on the train from the ‘burbs was for a band on his label – Terminal Cheesecake.

With his label Wiiija Records he was a key figure in the UK gestation of Riot Grrrl through his support of Huggy Bear, he released a number 1 hit single with Cornershop, he also put out some ace records by the likes of Free Kitten, Therapy?, Bis and Velvet Sheep favourites Terry Edwards & The Scapegoats. Currently living in Berlin and managing The Kills, it’s a legend in my lifetime, Mr. Gary Walker

babes in toyland

Gary with Michelle & Lori of the Babes in Toyland, 1990

It was buying the 7″ for “In The Days of Ford Cortina” by Cornershop (sadly not the curry coloured vinyl version) and “Rubbing The Impossible To Burst” by Huggy Bear, coupled with discovering The Jesus Lizard on the flipped of their split with Nirvana that made me realise that I was living through my very own explosion of punk at an age I could truly enjoy it! (the first being only a year after I was born), and in visiting (initially) the Neal’s Yard Rough Trade and buying cheap xeroxed fanzines I realised I could actually be a part of it. Not just follow the scene but report it, and help perpetuate it. If that doesn’t sound too pretentious for a punk.

Gary Walker’s Wiiija Records put out two of those records and when I went for an interview at Queen Mary & Westfield College in Mile End (where I got in), I was thrilled that it was on the Hammersmith & City line which meant that I could take a direct (albeit long) journey to Ladbroke Grove where the other Rough Trade shop was in Talbot Road. Gary worked there, and its postcode W11 1JA gave his label it’s name. I’d already spoken to Gary on the phone while at home in Gravesend writing the zine, when once he put me straight through for an on the spot interview with the inimitable Dale Shaw of Blood Sausage. When I asked for him at the store, he not only came up from the basement for a chat but he came bearing gifts in the shape of an LP by Sexton Ming & His Diamond Gussets. A legend was born!

Gary let me drop by his place in Highbury several times during my original Velvet Sheep fanzine days, just for a coffee and a chat, or sometimes for memorable interviews with the likes of Mary Lou Lord, Slim Moon of Kill Rock Stars and a phoner with Pumpkin Wentzel of Guv’ner who I had a major crush on at the time (even over the phone). I also remember chewing the fat with him at a couple of storming gigs by Free Kitten, and of course i’d often see him around invariably standing around with the man mountain that was Rob Tennant of Touch & Go (Gary’s diminutive frame made them an arresting pair) at gigs including the aforementioned Jesus Lizard.

I was pleased when I went onto my first “proper” job working at MTV Europe on the “Alternative Nation” show, that I could help get Cornershop in for a live performance circa their “When I Was Born For The 7th Time” album (but just before “Brimful of Asha” went stellar). It felt like I was helping get some of my Wiiija heroes further than the couple of hundred that read the fanzine every few months.

I really appreciated Gary’s patronage over the years, and am pleased that we are still in touch as mates, and that his support continues. He’s still an inspiring guy, who lives for and loves music. He’s unassuming, kind and warm but he is one of the most punk rock souls that I know. It was only natural that I would ask Gary to contribute a song for the revitalised Velvet Sheep fanzine, and I was keen to find out what he’d choose since he has always been an arbiter of great taste. And I wasn’t disappointed.

And as a small spoiler alert, the next “song for ewe” contains someone responsible for Gary’s choice.

Anyway it’s enough sycophantic (but truly meant) blathering on from me…

nirvana book

Gary as featured in Bruce Pavitt’s Nirvana book – “Experiencing Nirvana – Grunge in Europe 1989”

…It’s over to Gary:

“As a teenager in the 80s, we were as much about free music as today’s generation. I must have a hundred or so 90 minute tapes recorded from John Peel shows, and tapes of whole albums borrowed from friends or from the local library.

We had good record shops in Norwich, but my Peel tapes tended to feature the harder to find or more extreme sounding bands that I knew I should appreciate but couldn’t always penetrate.

I would see “Live at the Witch Trials” by The Fall in the racks – I had liked the singles and Peel sessions I’d heard but this album by them seemed too dark and impenetrable. Plus, there were too many singles by GBH, UK Subs and The Exploited to buy (often on coloured vinyl, I was the original part time punk, Dan).

I think I liked that kind of straight ahead punk because even though I knew already that it was descending into cliché, my young self felt a sense of community in that scene – even though when I went to shows by those bands at the Gala Ballroom the punks would make fun of the way I looked or even steal my camera like they did at the King Kurt show…

But anyway, I taped “Live at The Witch Trials” from a friend, and have just had it on cassette ever since, with the opening track Frightened becoming one of my favourite ever songs. Eventually The Membranes and The Three Johns and those bands would come to town and I found a group of friends around the country who became my real community. Last week, I was in LA and I finally bought LATWT at Gimme Gimme – a US edition with a live band shot rather than the painting, and with the cheesy rainbow IRS label. Today I played it. “Frightened” – perhaps not so obscure, but also not their best known song – seethes paranoia and alienation as The Fall did at their peak. I love the drum sound and Martin Bramah’s frenzied, scratchy guitar playing carries me away every time. And of course, it sounds way better on vinyl!”