Hilary Morrison Interview

Hilary Morrison is the co-founder of Fast Product. This is an excerpt from one of two interviews we did with her for the film Big Gold Dream.


GM- We’re starting the film in the years immediately prior to Never Mind The Bollocks being released to add a little context.  What were you listening to around then?

Hilary Morrison- Bowie. T-Rex and soul. And lots of funk. Lots and lots of funk, Parliament, Funkadelic. Sly and The Family Stone. Oh, and of course, you know, we all grew up with The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, but that was our big brothers’ and sisters’ music.

GM- When the punk scene started happening in London what led you to become aware of it, and how did it effect you?

HM- There used to be a little independent record shop in (*Edinburgh’s) Lady Lawson Street. Of course, you’re reading about things in a music paper, art papers. We’d all listen to John Peel.  I remember going out to buy Anarchy In The UK, seeing it in the shop window and coming back and it became, without realising, a benchmark.

People used to come to my flat and I’d say, “You’ve got to hear this record.” And it suddenly became this sort of thing that people either went, “Wow,” or they went uhhh (visually looks uncomfortable). And then the White Riot tour came. Everyone snaffled up tickets. And it was one of those moments where you realised all the things you were feeling – about being slightly disenfranchised and the state of Britain at that time and Scotland in particular, with jobs and being young, and not having money, and things just being very confused…. To suddenly be with a group of people, you looked round and you thought ‘Oh! They’re just like me’.

And seeing all these bands on the White Riot tour was just absolutely extraordinary. But what was most extraordinary was the bands came down and mixed with the audience. They came right and hung about with the audience and chatted and that was just unheard of. Absolutely unheard of.

And then the next thing was the appearance of people like The Buzzcocks. And I bought my then boyfriend a copy of ‘Spiral Scratch’ and said, “Gotta listen to this!” And everyone was doing that. There was just this thing with listening to John Peel, buying the music press, going anywhere where you thought there might be something happening, and chatting to anyone that was like minded.

And that’s how we all met each other. I met Davy and Rab, and Dave Carson, too.

When Virgin Records had an appearance of The Sex Pistols we all went along and that’s how we all met each other. I got John Lydon to sign a single I’d just bought. As I handed it to him to sign it he went, “I despise you.” And we were all like, “Johnny Rotten despises us!” It was so silly. I’ve still got that single.

GM- You talk about meeting these like-minded people.  Obviously you go to gigs and see these bands but what other ways did you meet people?

HM- (We) Just all started hanging out together. There was a sort of buzz and people would say, “Oh, you’ve got to come see this band.”

I remember going out to see The Scars, going all the way on the bus, all the way out to Ratho to see them practise in some youth club and barn, or a raffle or something. And then started meeting other people – “Are you going to such and such a gig?”,  “Yes”, then you’d go along.

Then we all started looking for somewhere we could hang out, and all talk about what we wanted to talk about: The excitement of the times. So, there was a pub.

We very quickly discovered that we weren’t like London punks; we didn’t have any money. There wasn’t the bondage trousers and all that look. The look was very much making yourself look as cool as possible because we’d all been into Bowie and stuff. So, we immediately called ourselves glam punks.

We were a bit into the glam thing. Second hand clothes. And everyone was very young, unemployed, very short on money, or they had dead end jobs. But we didn’t think we looked as weird as we thought we did until we started trying to get into various places and found out very quickly we weren’t allowed in.

There was a pub next to the art school, that was just the art school people They didn’t mind, they let us in. And there was a pub in Cockburn Street that for a brief while let us in. And you just met more and more people. Like, a mini sort of collective, I suppose.

GM- What was the next stage? What led you to start forming bands together?

HM- It was a bit like being in a gang. People started saying they were in a band and didn’t have a musical instrument. I remember Davy Henderson and I formed a band, I think, the day we met after the Pistols signing. We said  “right”, we discovered we’re all into Roxy Music, Brian Eno so we thought, right, we’re call ourselves The Warm Jets, because that seemed cool. We didn’t want any of these punky names that were like The Cobras or whatever. It had to be something a bit glam. So we were The Warm Jets.

But we had no instruments, nowhere to practise, nothing. It was about a pose. What was a wake up call for me was, on my birthday, Rab Allen of The Scars and Davy Henderson turned up and gave me a guitar and said, “Right, we’ve got to have girls. You’ve got to start playing the guitar.”. I thought “woo, right, this is serious”.

My then partner, Bob (Last) was off on… we had both been working in theatre. I’d been a very junior wardrobe mistress at The Traverse and had lost my job… through that, we had got hold of lighting equipment and were loaning it to The Rezillos. And so we went along on a number of gigs and were doing lighting and helping out and doing a more professional show, and through that we started to see these other bands all over Britain doing stuff. And we thought, “right, why don’t we do a record label? You know, why not?

There were bands as good as any of the ones that were putting out records, supporting The Rezillos or playing in places, and it seemed the obvious thing. Let’s do a record label.

And because I could, I had all these skills. You know, I could type. I had done, I had done an unemployment course where I had learned phone skills, you know, how to talk on the telephone. Sound good on the telephone.  I could phone up people and beg, and type letters and put logos together, and make things look really professional. Which was crazy because we were operating from a tiny little flat.

I can remember at one point, when we were putting out the Gang of Four record for example, The Gang of Four phoned up and started complaining down the phone and shouting at me because they clearly thought we had an office and possibly, you know, all the accoutrements that went with an office. No, it’s just me.

I got sent on the overnight bus to go down to London to talk Rough Trade into taking on the records. I got sent to go around major TV/Radio producers, you know, go see these radio producers, hustle them, convince them to take the records and play them. You know, I’m just walking in cold off the overnight bus, convincing Rough Trade, please, you know. Going to Radio One producers. It was kinda horrible. Not to put to fine a point on it. It was kinda horrible. It was a very…. I suddenly had this wake up call, that just liking The Slits was not a sexual revolution. It was big, bad, sexist world full of really horrible people that when a young woman turned up from Scotland saying, “Please play this record.” They were like, “Sit down next to me. “Come here little girl.” What the fuck!

GM- That’s really interesting because I really thought that with punk becoming so National and opening up doors for female led bands like The Slits and Siouxie and the Banshees, pushing boundaries, and with Rough Trade that sex divides would have been lessened?

HM- I think there was a lot of wishful thinking. I think amongst ourselves, a lot of the guys were very encouraging but equally there was a system in place that had favoured men. And when it’s challenged, that doesn’t give easily. And so we were slightly naive because we were young. We thought there was a little mini sexual revolution going on, as well, so when I got off the overnight bus and went to see Rough Trade, I thought there would be these two guys that would go, “Hello, come in.” And welcome me as an equal. (and not) find two sort of, rather grumpy hippies going, “Who are you, little girl?” You know? That was a wake up call in a way. And I think it made a lot of us women start to chaff a bit. We began to think, wait, this isn’t happening the way we thought. And it’s not happening fast enough. Boys just starting to wear a bit of makeup and borrow our clothes is not a sexual revolution Not for us anyway.

GM- Did that sort of reaction, when you went down to London make you sort of fight this more?

HM- Yeah, I mean, can I swear? It was a bit like we were fucked if we did and fucked if we didn’t. You know, I got hate mail. I got weird hate mail. Even in the music papers, I got accused when Ian Curtis died… That it was people like me. Me, that’s why he killed himself. And I thought, I actually knew why he killed himself and it had absolutely nothing to do with people like me, whatever that meant. It was very odd. It was very strange. And I think that was because we as the record label turned them down. Because I turned down the original Joy Division because I knew what the name meant and I hadn’t met them. I knew what the name meant, and I was uncomfortable. And I thought, no, not until I know what’s going on here. I’m not just running with this. I’d since met them, and Ian Curtis came up, he was a lovely guy, he liked cats. He came to visit us. It was all fine. We did something  (with them) later on, but you know, I had reservations. Does that make me a bad person? no.

GM –  Do you think that this sexism was something that downplayed your role in Fast? My impression of Bob is that he’s somebody who would have gone and done something himself but he said it was when you gave him the copy of Spiral Scratch that made him think we could do a record label?

HM- He was itching to do something. And I felt I sort of goaded him a bit. This is the thing, this is the thing… I had a certain… a sort of, youthful, confidence I suppose… as a girl, you know, that I could get in places. And I was slightly naive about that. I think we all were, actually, slightly naive. When I felt it happening, I didn’t play up to it. I used to get quite sort of, cold and shut down, and sort of stare people out. Where do you want to take this exactly?  The movement, punk, whatever it gave you, was quite a cool thing for women to have. We could suddenly just go, “Okay, you know. “Let’s stare people out, what’s going on here? “Okay.” And to be honest, a lot of guys didn’t like that. They really didn’t.

GM- ***Unintelligible question about whether Hilary was responsible for pushing Scottish talent at Fast because of her friendship with Rab and Davy and her involvement with the local scene and having a good ear for recognising talent***

HM- Yeah. I was sent out to sort of, once we’d done the Mekons, I said, look, we had the Mekons lined up, Gang of Four, I said, “We need to find Scottish talent.” That same thing is going on here. I know there is. And I was told, right, go out and find it.

I very quickly did. And then it was a case of saying, “Listen to this.” But I think there was a sort of pop sensibility I thought. I was getting into pop music and dance and stuff like that. So it was the same, even with The Human League because there was this like, “Oh, what do we do with Human League?” And I said, “Oh, my god, it’s like Donna Summer! “Yeah, that’s great, go with it!” “Oh, hadn’t seen it quite like that”.  And so there was sort of pop sensibility, I suppose. And that was quite nice to have, to have my pop sensibilities suddenly come to the fore. Reckon that went well

GM –  Can we just go back for a moment and talk about the concept of Fast, for people like me that might still not quite understand it. Can you explain it to me?

HM- Well, to a certain extent we wanted to show, it was like, pulling the curtains back and showing the mechanism behind the process. To say to people, “Anyone could do this.” It’s not a great mystery, it was to demystify it. So, even in the way that we put the artefacts of a record together, we would try and show how it had been done, that it wasn’t just a mass produced thing that was beyond peoples’ abilities or capabilities. And that became quite important. And it was also to have a bit of fun with the methods of production. To say that, I suppose it was terribly idealistic to take the means of production. That was a slightly sort of, pop-Marxism to it that you take the means of production and control it yourself, and influence it yourself. But also to show how ephemeral it was. That yes, it mattered, but it mattered for a moment. So, when you had that moment, make it matter, make it say something. Because, you know, tomorrow it might mean nothing.

GM- What about the design you mentioned. The designs of the sleeves is very important. Talk a little bit more about that.

HM- I was mostly involved in the photography, but in the design too, to a certain extent. Again, there was very simple things like, it’s quite hard to explain because nowadays people aren’t even aware of Letraset, for example. You know, you have digital technology that can bring a million fonts to you. But we would have to go out and buy Letraset and drop down each letter. So, occasionally we’d do a deliberate error to show the process by which it was done. Both of us were quite keen onto doing that because it was a fun element. The photographs, I did a lot of photography with the different bands. And again, there was always this thing, too, by this time of trying to get the London press to take seriously what we were doing. Because by this time, I think, elements of the new wave and punk and the whole thing, the South had re grabbed and it had become a bit of the centre, you know? And we were very much saying, well, no, this is a very vibrant scene going on up here. That’s slightly different, that comes from a different direction. And we also wanted to constantly inject little bits of glamour into it because we had seen elements of what was called punk, but at the same had become Punk with a capital P. It had been commodified and was being sold back to kids. So, if you went out to a nightclub and you hadn’t been to London and brought your bondage trousers, you weren’t a real punk. And we were like, “Really?” So, we were, it was almost like we were trying to remodel our scene on our terms with this photography, with the glamour, with having a distinct style. Which I think worked because other people, when they started out doing labels, as well. That was the way that they went. Scots are always like that, we’ve always got to do our own thing.

GM- What were the reactions you’d get from some of the s covers you were designing and taking photographs for? I imagine punks would want, you know, something sort of macho, or angry and stuff like that. Did you ever get backlash?

HM- Yeah Yeah. When we did a very deliberate thing with, these things were worked out with the band. I did a photo session with The Fire Engines where they said, “Right, we want to be commodified. “We’re going to be half naked, oiled up, “with slabs of meat and boxes of soap powder. “But we’ll have one guy in a suit.” And I did this photo session. It was very funny, it was in my flat. In the middle of the photo session, I had had a break in the week before, I had all these half naked, oiled up boys on my sitting room floor, and the doorbell goes, and it was the police about my break in I thought, hope they understand why I can’t invite them into the sitting room. But that was worked out with the band. But when I took those photographs to Face, I got thrown out of The Face. I was told they were disgusting and obscene. Now, go figure. You take a male thing, which the guys wanted to do, flip it, show yourself commodification and sex, flip it with guys, their face I mean, I had them thrown back at me, and asked to leave. So, there was odd, odd things. Candy Skin, I got attacked in a nightclub and told that the Candy Skin sleeve was disgusting and sexist and I said, “Well, I’m a woman and I’ve done it. “And a lot of thought’s gone into this. “And I can show you it’s not sexist.” And that kind of objective guy telling me that I’m being sexist about women. You know, you haven’t a clue. There were the odd little blips.

GM- Were such sexist reaction from guys quite common in that time?

HM- Yeah.

GM- As the scene progressed did it get less and less? Or was it just constant?

HM- It changed. It changed because we changed. We all got a little bit tougher. And more girls started doing things in bands. And trying out stuff, and standing up in their own little way and saying, “No, this is what we’re gonna do. “Like it or lump it,” and that was good. There was a lot of things going on. Some of the stuff was just, young men who were slightly insecure. You know? And they probably grew up to be charming men with broad-minded views, but when they’re young, dumb, and you know the expression. They don’t like challenging women Or they like challenging women but they don’t women who challenge them. Let’s be clear on this.

GM- From this reaction, at what point did you decide to form your own band?

HM- When the Warm Jets failed to do anything. I was asked in by Dave Carson to do something. He had a band called The Dirty Reds. And I was asked to come in and do something with them. And then we changed the name and started, I had written a lot of lyrics that were all sort of, angry young woman lyrics. But it wasn’t an enjoyable experience because I was the only girl in the group. Well actually, I got Patricia Brown from Etttes to come in because I didn’t even like being on tour on my own and this sort of thing. It was not a good place to be. It was fun, it was interesting, but it made me sick with nerves half the time. When I see pictures people show from back then, they’re all sort of, and I’m just looking (looks uncomfortable).

GM- That’s interesting that you’ve been behind this record label, releasing and representing bands but then, you’re in a band yourself not enjoying it.

HM- Yeah, ’cause I was the only girl, and that was difficult. It was interesting at times. We occasionally got booked into places where we shouldn’t have been. I remember turning up at Kirkcaldy Mill, it was full of bikers. And God knows why we were booked. Just full of bikers who wanted heavy rock. And we were about to get seriously done over. And I said to the guitarist very quickly, “Play Smoke on the Water, play Smoke on the Water!” And he went into, and as he did that, I made an appeal to the girls in the audience. I said, “Look, come on, I’m just trying to do a thing.” Got them, turned them round, got them on side, and they stopped and they lessened and we played, and we got out alive. But another time in Ferguslie Park we got out under a police escort. The locals sort of, and back in those days there was sort of divide, there was guys that had long moustaches, wee hard men and you know, they turned up at all punks gigs, right! You’ll get done! Ferguslie Park, they turned up. And we’re playing with a group called The Fegs. We had to get out under police escort. You know, we were surrounded! And I said, I told ’em I want to go home!

GM- It just seems unimaginable that you could have that sort of reaction just playing a gig.

HM- Yeah, it’s unimaginable, but it happened! Things were very divided. And somehow our parents, our attitudes, even you know, some of the guys would play up to it. They’d put a bit of makeup on, they’d wink at guys. Even if they were heterosexual, just to tick off the wee hard man sort of attitude. And it was like, whoa, what are you doing? I mean, Rab and Davy used to parade about. Used to borrow my clothes sometimes! And go out on a Saturday and walk around town. Then they’d be surprised when they’d get chased up Cockburn Street or whatever. But they also… it was exciting for them.

GM- Backtracking on the subject of Davy and Rab, we were talking to Paul Mackie, he was saying that he met Rab because there was an advert up in Hot Licks. And I found out that it was designed by yourself,  appealing for like-minded musicians. Do you remember that?

HM- Yeah, I do remember. God, I’d forgotten about that. I think I’d met Russell but then we put this really weird thing up. Something about polymorphous. Oh God, I can’t remember. Yeah, it was some weird thing. I remember we just wanted to see what would happen. Again, it was the Bowie thing. It was all that sort of influence.

GM- I think when we spoke to Paul he said what appealed to him was the actual design and not so much of the content of this.

HM- Well I think there was a correlation because there was that thing, too.  It was very influential with collage. You know, the ready made materials, what you had in hand. Cutting it up, using it. Mixing in a bit of drawing and stuff, as well. Anyone could be an artist.

GM- Looking at Keir Street. What was the atmosphere like there? What was happening locally? Most of the original (FAST) bands came from the North of England- Mekons, Gang of Four.

GM- I was a wee bit older than everyone else; I had a flat. That was it. So it’s all back to mine and we would talk about films, books, share things, we’d even do, it sounds really pretentious, but we did even do a little cutting up of stuff, we did a bit of art. Occasionally, listening to records. Endlessly sharing records. The music that we’d listen to before, saying, “Have you heard this? “Have you heard that?” And people would turn up. Boys walked around with records under their sleeves. Sharing music. Sometimes a new record would come out and you’d put it on and you would just play it all weekend, over and over, and over.. sing along with it.

GM- Still on the subject of the Scottish bands. A little later, Fast still existed. But Fast Product, the label, stopped releasing records after The Dead Kennedys then Pop Aural started releasing records. What was the story there?

HM- Pop Aural was… Fast Product had been something that was about showing the means of production and experimenting, and then Pop Aural was an attempt to say, okay, if people are going to take this seriously and want to actually have careers, how do you?

Because there was a certain extent to which we thought it was like a training school. We said to people, “Okay, if you want a music career.” And not everyone responded to this. “Here’s what you have to do: “Get a very good lawyer. “Get a very good accountant. “Be professional, get a manager, find yourself a manager. “Go and get yourself music publishing. “This is what you have to do. “Ignore it at your peril.” And you will hear even today of people who didn’t have a good accountant. Why’d you think all these bands would be reforming? They haven’t got pension plans. I can remember saying to The Human League “You have to get a pension plan.” And it wasn’t being boring, it was saying, “if this is the route you want to go, this is what you have to do. And if you don’t do it and make enough, do something else”. Think about it because this is how the world works. And it’s not to be dull, but it’s to make people aware that they had to make choices because if they didn’t make choices, they would end up victims. Because someone else would make the choice for them. Do you see what I mean? That they had to be thinking about these things. Music wasn’t just something that happened in a vacuum. And you got lucky.

GM- It seemed like Pop Aural and Fast were there to actually push people. Is that correct?

HM- Not necessarily. It was to teach people that if they wanted to control things they had to understand the beast they were trying to control. And that if they didn’t have control, they’d be controlled. And you hear about that and people in the music business all the time, they sort of meander in aimlessly. And then they wake up and realise how controlled they are. Our thing was always, have as much control as you can. Because then you’re much more likely to be able, not necessarily always to do what you want, but to do more of what you want than a major record label, who’s just controlling you, would ever let you do. And that can work in a positive way or it can work in a very negative way. But it’s about having that awareness. And that’s not a bad thing, is it?

GM- No, absolutely. Again, at this time there was the management of the Human League who were originally on Fast Product. But then you started to get Dare, and you know a big big big, you know, number one single at Christmas and mult-million-selling album. How did that affect Pop Aural?

HM- The thing was, it was always this thing of saying to people, we didn’t want to become a major record label. You know, that was never the intention. So we said to people, “Look, if you want to keep doing this “you can either go and do your own record label, “know how it works, or go and get a deal. “But go and get a deal with your eyes open. “Good lawyer and a good accountant. “And keep control.” But a lot of people realised they needed management to steer that and management was a fast track to learning an awful lot about the moneyed world. The line of money, the money trail. How that all worked. And Pop Aural, probably, other labels were coming up by this time. And we did EarCom, which was an idea I really liked. I think we’d have more resonance these days, where we did these, the idea being like, a music magazine where you got a taster. And you got tasters of different things. But they were difficult, very time consuming to put together. Having to phone people up in, you know, Germany, you know, we had DAF and Not Mercy out in California. And bringing all these people together. It became a very time consuming thing for not much in return. And as you get older you start to think, well, hang on. You have to make decisions. And by that time, Dare was just, we didn’t know it was going to be….when The Human League split, nobody knew that they were gonna be as big as they were. And it was a whole different proposition. Things change. Life changes.

GM- So, what happened to Pop Aural?

– It just all went by the by. Management took over. It’s a 24-hour, seven days a week thing. Not a lot else can fit in with it. One of the things that I saw repeatedly, it’s a very strange phenomena whereby a very ordinary person that you know really well, and like, and they’re a mate, and bla bla bla, they sign to a major record label, they get successful, and, they’re a different person. Not to name drop, John Peel became very matey. He turned up at Keir Street one day looking for a curry. because he heard I was a vegetarian, and he wanted a vegetarian curry, and came in. I was talking about this and he told me the story of Marc Bolan. Him and Marc Bolan were best friends. Mark Bolan had a hit, next day, didn’t return calls. There was a sea of people surrounding him and that was it. And it’s what happens. People change. Money changes everything; success.

GM- So, what was next for you?

-Um? I started having children. I’ve done all sort of things: Worked in theatre, doing music. I left school at 16, so I did a lot of, wasn’t an education, so got a degree. And I am a community educator, work with charities. Because I don’t think young people and disadvantaged young people these days have the opportunities that we had. Or, even the chance to see where they lay. So, I’ve done a lot of things to try and change that.

GM- Just to finish up. Of all the records that you’ve released, what’s your fondest memory and your favourite record?

HM- I think the first one, The Mekons because we had nowhere to record it. I’m sure someone’s told you this already.

Someone said, “Oh! “I think my uncle’s got a place in the country “we can go to.” This was one of the Rezillos. We thought, right,  we can make a big noise. So we get down there, and find it was all locked up, his uncle only stayed there sometimes. So, the long and short of it was, The Mekons first record started by breaking into the house Out in the middle of nowhere. I was quite small, so I was put through a window. Let everyone in, took over this house for the weekend. Recorded The Mekons single. And I thought, yeah, this will be the stuff I’ll remember when I’m old. And it was.

(Favourite Record) The Scars, actually. Because the band, at that time they were mates. It was good to see them get something here out on vinyl.

-An awful lot of the Scottish bands, they were just, they were either sort of, pretendy bands like The Warm Jets, where, “We’re a band!” Oh yeah? Or they, they were good but they didn’t have that certain something just yet. The Fire Engines came along. They evolved into Win, and there was things going on. Some of the bands were just pop bands, or R&B, weren’t breaking new ground. They weren’t pushing the envelope.

GM- What do you mean by ‘That certain something?

HM- Well, I think John Lydon put it best where he you know, “We mean it Maaan!”, there are certain records, tracks, songs, that you hear, and they stop you dead. You know, Anarchy In The UK was one. Spiral Scratch was one. Much later on, I think Teen Spirit was one. There are bits of Rock ‘n Roll, bits of music that just stop, you know? There’s a passion and intensity and absolute commitment that just screams through. And you know it when you hear it. Not everyone has that. There are people that do great things and do good things and have fun, but we always wanted something that would make people kind of go, “what?” You know, getting to Thursdays, having a guy singing, Sitting On the Dock of the Bay, in a sort of howling Fife accent. That was a moment. You know, when Paul did that, it was amazing.


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