Lydia Tomkiw & Terry Burrows – Pressed In An Atlas
From Obscure Independent Classics Volume 5
Released on Hamster Records And Tapes, 1988, UK

« I started the label when I was about 19 and a student. I’d sent some Jung Analysts demos to the Cherry Red label, which was cultishly popular at the time, and they were interested in what I was doing but eventually wouldn’t commit to anything, so I got fed up with waiting and started Hamster. The name was based on a very lame private joke about the “rat race” – “my life is more of a Hamster race…” At first I just released Jung Analysts cassettes that I duplicated myself. John Peel played some of the early stuff. Then I met Mark Beaumont through an advert in a record shop and we started recording together in our respective homes on portastudios and four-track tape recorders as Push-Button Pleasure – and I released a couple of albums on cassette (some of which might find its way onto a future release). It was when we decided to release LPs requiring us to put up quite a lot of money for pressings that Mark became a “proper » part of the label. But it was always done on the basis that I paid for my releases, he paid for his, and everything else was done jointly. Essentially it was a vehicle for our own uncommercial music, and similar kinds of music by people we liked. There you go, that’s the genesis of the label! »
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For the upcoming weeks, we have decided to focus on highly prolific British musician Terry Burrows and the label he ran throughout the 1980’s : Hamster Records and Tapes. Like his label, the music released by Terry Burrows is protean : drawing inspiration from Eno’s ambient, British experimental dub or New-York avant-garde scene, we had the chance of having Terry talking us through a selection of his work and his label’s catalogue, starting today with a song he recorded with Algebra Suicide late-singer, Lydia Tomkiw.
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You told me that what drove you into creating a label was that Cherry Red showed interest in your music; but in the end, as they did not commit to anything, you figured out that you’d rather start your own label to have your music released.

TERRY BURROWS: Well, Cherry Red kept asking me for demos. They obviously saw some potential but in the end I think we  saw that what I was doing didn’t really work for the direction they were going. And I just got fed up with it all. I never really seriously thought I could make a good living from my music because it was pretty clear that unless I wanted to be living on social security it didn’t have massive commercial potential, so would always have to be combined with some other source of income. That was OK as long as I was a student but it didn’t “fit” in the real world. I figured that if I controlled all of the music, means of production and manufacture then it might be possible. But you only have to look at the list of things I put out to see that was never going to work! So I combined it first with a high-paying career designing computer systems, and later became quite a prolific published author. I saw it as being part of the great tradition of subsiding the arts!

The demo you mentioned, was it what would become the first Hamster Record and Tapes release?

TERRY BURROWS: Hmm. Can’t exactly recall. I know the very first demos were things that have never been released. I believe the final demo had tracks that were included on what would be the very first Hamster cassette. (HAM001 Don’t Panic! Low Flying Norwegians! by Young Analysts.) In retrospect, some of the early cassette releases should probably have remained locked away in my bedroom!

How did you meet/choose the artists that would release music on Hamster Records and Tapes? Were they part of a British underground scene you were part of? Hanging around the same places?

TERRY BURROWS: I don’t think that Mark and I were ever much part of a “scene” as such. It really did start of as an umbrella for my own music under assorted guises, and then when I met Mark (Push-Button Pleasure) he got drawn into it all as well. People we chose were often local, with a few links to University of East Anglia/Cambridge. But if I discovered someone interesting I’d often make contact with people – that was how the R Stevie Moore connection came about, for instance.

How were your relationship with some other underground experimental or post-punk label, like Cordelia records? Was there a form of solidarity between different labels?

TERRY BURROWS: In the sense that we often helped one another. I’d like to paint it as being a part of some cool scene, centred around me as Suffolk’s own Andy Warhol! But actually we were all pretty geeky, and generally preferred being in our fledgling home studios and watching arthouse cinema to being out at gigs or clubs!  When I realised that I didn’t really like the sales and promotion side of running a label, other small labels started releasing my music. I guess Cordelia was the closest label as they not only releases my Jung Analysts and Yukio Yung albums, but Alan Jenkins and I started a band together (The Chrysanthemums). I do recall a Saturday afternoon in about 1989 at my flat in London, where by then I lived, where I had about a half a dozen friends over; we were sitting around drinking when someone commented that every single person in the room had their own record label! But connected to that, I was only last week sitting around drinking with my friend Martin Howells who has been in several Hamster/Chrysanthemums/Onoma projects, musing that most of my life-long friends have come about through music, and many through the label.

What put an end to the label ? Was it your own musical projects ? 

TERRY BURROWS: Well, although Hamster became a two-man operation, I don’t think Mark would be particularly affronted if I said that it was me that largely drove things along, sorted out production, pressing, distribution and the like. But it was dull stuff that led to me “leaving” Hamster. I decided to set up something on my own that encapsulated a lot of different business activities – not only my own music but music production, computer consultancy and later writing and university lecturing – and so I just handed the label name over to Mark. I think he only released one further album after that. But I think the main reason I put the idea of a label on a back burner was that The Chrysanthemums started to become quite a cult band, especially in Germany, and we did several tours and used to get in the indie charts over there, so bigger labels became interested in what we (and then I) were doing. None of that worked out terribly well, though!

Can you tell us about this beautiful and very short collaboration with Lydia Tomkiw? How did you meet?

TERRY BURROWS: I think Algebra Suicide (her duo project with her husband Don) and I both appeared on the same compilation album and one of us wrote to the other. I probably suggested the collaboration as I liked her voice and poetry but wasn’t so keen on the backing music she used, and thought something gentler would work. She send me over three pieces with her voice and a drum machine and I worked around them eventually dropping the drum machine out altogether. I always thought that was a nice track. I only ever finished one piece, but I recall there’s another that I worked on but just never mixed. We never met in person, although she did phone me up quite a few times after her and Don broke up. The last time we spoke we were both fairly drunk and she kept asking me weird and funny questions, one of which I recall clearly as whether I would I prefer to sleep with Ethel Merman or David Bowie! After a long silence we picked up email correspondence in 2007 and then things went quiet again, and a few months later I found out she’d died. From what tributes people wrote about her she seems to have been a complex, self-destructive and troubled soul, but I’d have to say that all of my interactions with her were great fun. (And she told me that she used some of my Jung Analysts tracks as part of her MA show.) It’s a sad tale.

 

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