An in-depth overview of the Countdown label. An 80s mod classic.
This is the ultimate compilation of Countdown Records, the label that brought us the Prisoners, Makin' Time and a host of equally excellent bands and records who were given their one shot at fame. It brings together the best tracks from the four Countdown compilations and numerous singles, many of which have never appeared on CD before. It features the earliest recordings of Martin Blunt of the Charlatans - the Dennis Greaves produced pre-Countdown demos and also early recordings of James Taylor of the JTQ (with the Prisoners) and Chris White of Acid Jazz heros Mother Earth (the Kick).
The story begins though with a band that wasn't even British - the Untouchables - who sent their debut indie 7" to Extraordinary Sensations for release on the fanzine's own label, Well Suspect. Eddie Piller and Terry Rawlings, who ran the fanzine and label from an industrial estate in Dagenham, liked what they heard but soon realised that Well Suspect wasn't big enough to handle the release. Rawlings had a contact at Stiff and duly arranged a meeting with the label's maestro Dave Robinson. Robinson, having witnessed first hand the Mod/2-Tone explosion with Madness, was well aware of the large underground mod scene and took a chance on the band. Stiff signed them and released the same 7" that the band had sent to Extraordinary Sensations. Called Free Yourself, it surprised everyone by climbing up the charts to peak around the Top 20. Shockwaves spread through the scene and Robinson quickly grasped the nettle. He wanted a Mod label through Stiff, and who better to run it than his friend Maxine Conroy and her two mod sidekicks? An office was acquired in Hoxton (at that time still a rough area in East London but more importantly, just around the corner from the Stiff office), and instructions went forth to find some music.
Countdown was born!
After reviewing countless demos, the first signing - Makin' Time - were made and given some rehearsal time. Meanwhile, the label had settled on a line-up for the first release, a scene sampler featuring some established names like the Times and the Jetset alongside some of the younger and newer bands. Journalist Gary Bushell (the only major music journalist to acknowledge the reborn mod scene) was enlisted to write some suitably upbeat liner notes and designer Terry Rawlings came up with a sleeve based around an old David Bailey photo. The album was launched with much fanfare and a special low price. Whilst initially concieved as just a showcase for the label and a pool of future talent, "5 4 3 2 1 Go!" proved remarkably successful in its own right.
Soon the label needed a follow-up so Piller was sent to Australia to check out the burgeoning mod scene there. As a guest of Shake and Shout fanzine, and living with major mod players Don and Gary Hosie, a compilation was crafted out of the vibrant antipodean underground scene. Heroes like the Saints and Stupidity were bolstered by the Mushroom Club, Reasons Why and a host of other up and coming bands. Called, rather unimaginatively, "Countdown Under...Party At Hanging Rock", the album was released in the summer to a warm response.
The label promoted regular Countdown nights at both the 100 Club and the Clarendon Hotel, where they met up with their second major signing, the Prisoners. Although the Prisoners wanted to stay on their Medway-based independent, they had just released the seminal The Last Fourfathers (Big Beat CDWIKM 223) and were less than impressed with the lack of critical response. Perhaps Countdown offered an opportunity to work with a label that understood the band and knew where they were coming from? The band considered an album offer.
At that time, following the critically acclaimed release of Makin' Time's debut album Rhythm And Soul, the label entered what can be best described as its brief "golden" period. The 100 Club was permanently sold out and The Klub Foot shows at the Clarendon Hotel, Hammersmith, had broadened the label's overall appeal. By the time the Prisoners signed, sold out tours of Britain, Ireland and the continent were pointing towards a successful future. Makin' Time's debut single, Here Is My Number had been hammered on radio and hovered just outside the national charts for almost four months. Great things were expected in terms of sales for the album, and the band was being touted as 'the next big thing' in certain sections of the media.
Strangely, somehow it didn't happen like that. While the sales for the album were good, a second single Feels Like It's Love failed to catch attention at radio to the same extent as its predecessor. Both bands went from strength to strength on the road though, and Rhythm And Soul made it to a third pressing.
However, the golden summer couldn't last. When the end came, it was mercifully quick. Even before the release of the Prisoners' In From The Cold, there were signs that Stiff was in trouble. Stiff went bankrupt four weeks after the release of Countdown's big record.
Although the Prisoners were never really happy with the mixes on the final version, "In From The Cold" had garnered a host of great reviews along with a sell-out tour with the Ramones. Their fourth album was destined to put the band up into the league that they undoubtedly deserved. In fact, by the time the intial pressing sold out, the factory had already ground to a halt, and that was it.
The label couldn't survive without its paymaster and distributor, so, reluctantly, the two bands were released from their contracts. Further projects were halted and the label founders all moved on. Eddie Piller started a brand new label, Re-Elect The President, which released two further Countdown compilations: Smashing Time and The Final Countdown, Terry Rawling concentrated on wiriting, while Maxine Conroy left the industry. The label only lasted two years, burning brightly before it imploded. It summed up a time and a place in mod history.