The Tao of Dave Barker: Glass at 40, Remade / Remodelled

Stephen Pastel salutes Dave Barker and his wonderful lifelong project.

When I was young I sometimes thought I could understand a record label by the premises they operated out of. I was privileged and very excited to visit a fair few in the 1980s – Whaam! Records (Dan Treacy’s bedroom in his parents’ council house – unprepared, in the moment, offering nothing and yet somehow everything); Rough Trade (surprisingly slick, very modern and pro, the epitome of upward mobility Ladbroke Grove style); Creation Records (basic, temporary, filled with a mad energy from people who didn’t seem to even notice their surroundings).

Glass Records, I just don’t know – they were one step removed, probably several. They were based in Linburn House, Kilburn High Road, it wasn’t at the time a fashionable part of London but in its favour it was close to the owner, Dave Barker’s house, had a reasonable chippy and bar in close proximity, and was also close to the tube station. The office itself was smallish and unremarkable, it could almost be anything – a private detective agency specialising in extra maritals, the best carpet cleaners in North London, or just as likely the epicentre of a pyramid scheme about to be found out. Dave and his assistant, Josh (Robert Hampson, later of Loop), bounced ideas off each other in a thick unrelenting haze of cigarette smoke. It was Josh who was the main Pastels enthusiast – we’d just been dumped by Creation and were bruised and in need of help and comfort. I remember asking Josh if Dave was into us. He was, Josh was fairly sure – not against us at least.

I don’t think Dave had ever been to see us play before signing us. Had he even heard us? Somehow, this didn’t matter – he very quickly tuned into us, let us more or less do what we wanted, and supported us financially as he could. He became an important ally, and an important friend too. I remember I immediately liked him even though I couldn’t always understand him – “oooob”, he’d preface a lot of stuff with, “yeugg” was the final word on it, Dave usually agreeing with himself. Glass often seemed to operate remotely with the very lightest of touches, so much so we sometimes couldn’t help but wonder what Dave actually did. He did quite a lot – he brought people together, introduced you to music you didn’t know about without ramming it down your face, helped with design and other ideas, never acting like he was some kind of record label genius masterminding your career.

When we were there it felt like the other main groups were The Jazz Butcher, Spacemen 3 and The Jacobites. We didn’t feel tons in common with any of them even though we could see that they were good. We felt free to do our own thing – no one hitching a ride on our style, nor us on theirs. We wanted to record with John A. Rivers in Leamington Spa – Dave was up for it. Dave had a hook-up, his distro was close by. Eventually we realised our potential with Dave’s support – that’s it in a nutshell. That’s why it was easy for me to recommend him to Teenage Fanclub when they needed someone to help them. It was perfect for them and for Dave too – they became his band, his boys, a flagship for his new label, Paperhouse. At that time we, like others, were slightly to one side, not quite available in that way.

The first thing to say about this compilation is that it covers an incredible span – forty years – with Glass Modern’s current roster and pals throwing light on different parts of the earlier catalogue. I feel very flattered that there are four Pastels covers – by Gerard Love, Richard Youngs, Snails and Jowe Head. They’re all very different and I won’t play favourites other than say that they all surprised me and I liked them all. Dave will have been especially delighted that Gerard came through for him – “ Yeup me boy…”. Gerard’s take on If I could Tell you is both sprightly and very lived in, which is probably a perfect summation of where Glass is these days.

One of the things that comes across is how odd the roster has been and is to this day. Two of the records that I really love and know through Glass are Bron Area’s The Trees And The Villages and Mayo Thompson’s Corky’s Debt To His Father. Both are represented here – Fawns Of Love remake Bron Area’s near-perfect Love Stories as a goth pop lament while Future Pilot AKA and Heather Leigh move easily into and through Mayo’s Dear Betty Baby, and BMX Bandits likewise with Horses. Honestly, it’s hard to think of a label that can so easily accommodate Deux Filles and David J and everything in between – where it feels quite normal to have label-mates singing in a thick Birmingham accent about being “The Son Of A French Nobleman, brought up in castles overlooking the Seine”. Dave Barker will always permit and encourage this sort of thing and that’s why Glass is such a great label – there has to be scope for madness but it must be presented as normal. I think this is what Dave has always done, there’s never any frothing at the mouth, just an oooob and a yeugg and even then only when needed.

Even pacing himself carefully, as is Dave’s way, forty years inevitably brings many changes. It’s hard not to listen to The Jazz Butcher covering Nikki Sudden and Dave Kusworth without acknowledging that none of them are here anymore – not there to drop into Linburn House to enthuse or plot or argue about who should be the label’s top priority. Dave loved all that stuff and still does. There’s always music to be made but without someone to listen to you or egg you on or indulge eccentric whims it’s a lonely pursuit. Glass has made the world a much less lonely place for many of us, has made so many great things happen, has brought so much great music to the world.

Glass Remade / Remodelled is a portal into different times but the story it tells is current. It’s ok to be off to one side, to do your own thing, to make your own world – The Wonderful World Of Glass, as Dave called one of his earlier compilations. It is a wonderful thing. Thanks Dave… yeugg.

SP / Glasgow 2023

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