BRAIN FOOD: Decisions

Geoff Travis, Rough Trade Records - The man who signed The Smiths owns up

by Geoff Travis
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013


My job entails running an independent record company and taking charge of which groups and artists we sign and work with. A record company is only ever as good as its artists. In order to judge the merits and prospects of music and musicians that we come across, it's invaluable to be able to share your thoughts with someone. Yet it's rare to find somebody that you can discuss these things with without there being a power struggle or some other agenda at work. The question for me is: are they great, do they move me, are they doing something worthwhile within the context of the history of music?

My musical business partner for the past 16 years, Jeannette Lee, is the perfect person to debate these things with. So my best decision was to ask her to come and work with me.

Together we have recently signed The Libertines, The Strokes, Belle and Sebastian, British Sea Power and many others that we are excited about. Another good decision was signing The Smiths. It is probably the single one thing RT is famous for.


Not acting decisively enough to complete the signing of the Stone Roses.

They travelled from Manchester specially and we had a meeting in a pub near Euston station and agreed to work out a deal. Meanwhile, we recorded a first single and Peter Hook, New Order's bass player, joined the band in the studio to record and produce the song. Unfortunately, the final mix was - let's say - a little wanting.

The band returned to London to record in the Zomba studio in Willesden.

The house engineer alerted the Zomba bosses that something very special was going on under their noses and so the Zomba brass started hotly pursuing the group. I have always believed, perhaps falsely, that if Hook had done a better job, Zomba wouldn't have been alerted to the group's existence and the Stone Roses may have come to Rough Trade. Then they might have made four records instead of two.

I could say the same about my failure to sign the La's. But the fact that we've since signed a band like The Strokes means it isn't all lost opportunities. Don't look back, as the man said.

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