The Dream Syndicate ‘Medicine Show’ (A&M Records)
I left school in July 1983 with very little and was made to attend Fareham Technical College in September that year to try and get some qualifications which I really didn’t want to do. I was, however, looking forward to the social aspect of college life! Outside of our lessons, and sometimes during, we were mainly socialising in the pub. Through this experience I managed to join the college football team and got to know a few of the older students. Even when I was asked to leave college in early 1984 I still managed to play for the football team. The routine for most games was similar; in the first half, I would always play in goal, while in the second half I would play outfield. The reason for this is that by the time the second half had started our regular goalkeeper had returned from the pub to add his contribution! This goalkeeper was called Mark ‘The Cat’ Steadman and his nickname was self-appointed. After a while, I found out that Mark worked at the coolest record shop in Portsmouth which was Virgin Records in Charlotte Street. This was a regular haunt for me when I went into the city centre and had any money. After a while of knowing each other, Mark told me that there was a full-time sales assistant job going at Virgin and he recommended that I apply for it. I was really keen to do this and sent off my application form for the job alongside hundreds of others. Mark told me that if I did the following there was a good chance of me getting the job:
- Say exactly what he told me to say
- Listen to The Dream Syndicate ‘Medicine Show’ album and talk about it.
I agreed to both and Mark dropped this album round to my house along with two other albums which were similarly important, but obviously forgettable 36 years later. I listened to it a lot and fortunately loved it. During the job interview itself with Mitchell Edmond (manager) and Paul Hensman (assistant manager), I subtly dropped the album into the conversation as well as the Julian Cope ‘World Shut Your Mouth’ album. I had seen Julian live at the Civic Hall in Guildford earlier on in the year and that made a good impression. I got the job because of my great music taste and started working on the retail side of the industry on 15th October 1984 when I was still 17. I am forever indebted to Mark for giving me this leg up into the industry because I would not have managed it without him. He was fully aware of the debt owed as over the next two years as was proved on a regular basis when I was made his assistant as the store’s cassette buyer. This involved him rummaging through the cassette drawers behind the counter and slinging anything that was not master-bagged properly or rewound into ‘Dave’s dirt box’ which I had to sort out by the end of the day. This was my introduction to the music industry and The Dream Syndicate.
Although ‘Medicine Show’ is a great album my favourite album of theirs is ‘The Days of Wine & Roses which was released on Rough Trade Records (who I would later work for). Whilst researching this blog I contacted Geoff Travis to see why he never put this album out after such a successful debut record. He informed me that “We licensed from Slash for the first album. When they left Slash for A&M we had no entitlement for Medicine Show.”
The first track ‘Still Holding on to You’ is still one of my favourite tracks of theirs and is a great album opener which sets up what is to follow. Hearing the album again recently has brought back a lot of fond memories of growing up at the time and discovering incredible music. The highlight of the album for most hardcore fans of the bands is ‘John Coltrane Stereo Blues’ which is just 8:48 of pure bliss. This track is one of the highlights of seeing the band’s loud and raucous live shows. The album still stands the test of time, like a lot of albums from 1984-86 do, and is worth a listen. The band were on the forefront of the wave of Americana bands that hit the UK’s shores during the ’80s alongside REM, The Long Ryders, Jason & the Scorchers, Rain Parade and many, many others. For some reason, legal I am assuming, this album is not available to stream but it is worth delving into the band’s back catalogue and live YouTube clips just to get a feel for what all the fuss was about.
“My musical awakening; the record that transitioned a snotty-nosed punk rocker into a serious rock n’ roller, sending me on a journey back to explore the influences – and forward into a new and exciting world of garage rock and psychedelia. Sometime during the Dingwalls show my mind exploded – and music would never sound the same again” Mark Steadman
All in all a timeless record which is one of the most important records in my life and not just for musical reasons. There’s an argument that if it wasn’t for this album and Mark ‘The Cat’ Steadman I would never have got to work in the industry.
Thanks to: Mark ‘The Cat’ Steadman, Geoff Travis/Rough Trade