The Sound of Young Scotland: A History of Postcard Records

An obscure influence is a sure way to make one reassess the musical landscape. Take Franz Ferdinand, rather than listen to Sixties Rock or New York Punk they looked closer to home, to Glaswegian bands like Orange Juice and Josef K, both of whom were originally on Postcard Records. John McKay tells the story of this small but essential label.

Postcard Records, despite its brief existence, gave rise to three of the most talented songwriters ever to come out of Scotland. Founded by Alan Horne in 1979 in order to bring the newly rechristened Orange Juice to an audience outside of their native Glasgow, Postcard strove to be poppy, camp and inventive. They were utterly dissimilar to anything else that was going on in Scotland at the time. While Simple Minds were beginning their journey to stadium wankery by jumping on the New Romantic bandwagon, Postcard were releasing records with inner sleeves depicting scenes that wouldn’t look out of place on a shortbread tin. But even their own ideals and image were not set in stone. The wide-eyed, awkward romanticism of Orange Juice and Aztec Camera stood in stark contrast with the edgy frantic sound of Josef K. Head in the clouds pop on one side, demented introspection and jarring guitars on the other.

With its first release, Orange Juice’s bittersweet ‘Falling and Laughing’, Postcard had a Melody Maker single of the week and plenty of media interest. It allowed Orange Juice to go into a proper studio to record the follow up, ‘Blue Boy’, which was also released to wide critical acclaim. Soon after Josef K released ‘Radio Drill Time’ which met with similar praise. Alan Horne’s Midas touch continued when he hooked up with the Go-Betweens for their first UK release. After hearing Lee Remick on John Peel’s radio show he made a point of going to meet him. They got along famously and ‘I Need Two Heads’ was released, again to the whoops of the weeklies. In 1981, the man who is arguably the biggest star to come from the Postcard canon made his debut, 16 year old Roddy Frame’s band Aztec Camera released ‘Just Like Gold’. The song got into the independent charts; it seemed that Postcard could do no wrong.

The success of Postcard had a positive effect on every band trying to make it in Scotland as journalists came up from London in an attempt to find the next big thing. Critical acclaim was pouring forth, but it was not translating into records sales for Alan Horne’s charges. Having a man in an office give you four out of five is all well and good but it doesn’t pay the rent, and it was possibly this that made Orange Juice look to Polydor to release their debut album. The demos for the album were bought up by Polydor, Orange Juice found themselves signed to a major label and Postcard found itself without its biggest band.

Compounded to this were the problems endured and created by Josef K. The band had recorded their debut album, it was cut, test pressings were made and it was just about to be released before the band decided they weren’t happy with it and decided to start again. When it finally was released, the band split up. The actual reasons for this aren’t clear, though it is thought to have been mainly frontman Paul Haig’s decision. Reasons such as a dislike of touring, lack of income and friction between band members seem to have been mostly to blame. Whatever the reasons were, it was another massive blow to Postcard.

After a final single from Aztec Camera, who found themselves signed to a major label soon after, Postcard folded. Having seen all their bands fly the nest one way or another in a space of a few months.

Both Orange Juice and Aztec Camera broke into the top 10 in the next couple of years, with Roddy Frame finding worldwide success. Years after Orange Juice broke up Edwyn Collins pulled off a really quite amazing Lazarus act in the 90s with the song ‘A Girl Like You’.

Postcard’s influences can be seen on Sarah records, the whole c86 “scene” of the mid/late 80’s and pretty much any band who decided to pick up a guitar and tell the listener that although their heart is broken, it’s all right: it’ll mend by morning and they’ll be humming a tune all the way. The songs they released have a head in the clouds quality to them that really cannot be matched. Pure joyful naivete in the face of a musical scene that all too often finds itself in a mire of self pity and world weariness.

John McKay | Winter 2004