1985

by Ross Sharp

I’m 26 years old. Royalties manager at the now (long) defunct Festival Records in Pyrmont. I was living in a one bedroom flat in Kirribilli for $67.00 a week. I may have been earning about 25K a year, probably less given the music industry is a really shitty place to work if you’re looking for a half-decent wage to live on.

Vinyl albums and singles and ep’s and cassettes.

Every three months, a computer the size of a spaceship that appeared to run on huge reels of magnetic tape would spit out a sales report.

I’d take that and, by hand and in pen, would transfer the total sales figures for each album by each artist into a series of large, leather bound books of thick, almost card-like paper. The royalty ledger books. The royalty rate applicable for each artist and subsequently each member of the band was handwritten on each page, and, with a calculator, I would calculate the royalty by writing something that would look a little bit like this …

¼ x 15% x 85% x $9.14 less 1% cover allowance = A pissy little bit of money.

There were maybe 200 of these every quarter, and, when they were all done, I would pass the ledger books to the royalty department’s typist who would type them all up and pass them over to the accounts department.

You were allowed one free vinyl album per month working at Festival Records. If you wanted an import, that would count for two months worth.

Perks.

I’m sure I was the envy of my peers.

Lunchtimes, I’d take a bus into the city and go down to the Haymarket end of Pitt Street where Ashwoods and Lawsons were back then to spend my time flipping through row after row of secondhand vinyl albums. I would spend maybe $60 or $70 a week and for that, maybe 10, 15 albums. Punk and post-punk had come and gone, and by that time in the 1980’s, it seemed the airwaves were stuffed to bursting with rinky-dink synths going plinky-plink-screeeeeee, and played and performed by a pack of preening hair-do’s in vinyl shirts plastered with big pink and yellow fucking triangles.

Christ all fucking mighty.

I’d started listening to jazz by then anyway. Possibly as an act of refuge. Coltrane and Ellington and Armstrong and Monk and Mingus, Coleman and Cherry and Haden, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, I’d listen to any fucking thing if it was jazz.

There really wasn’t much else around at the time that aroused my interest. Even the alternative and so-called “avant-garde” artists I’d been so fond of just a few years earlier were sounding a bit ordinary, a bit “been there, heard that”. A person knows they’re getting a little jaded about the musical gills when even The Residents start losing their appeal.

In 1985, “We Are The World” and “Do They Know It’s Christmas” were in the charts and people actually believed Foreigner were a rock band.

Dire Straits had the number one album. Phil Collins was number four.

God, it was awful.

On rare occasions (all too rare), something might pop up on the radio or television that would grab your attention for a few minutes, something that might’ve had a bit of fucking life in it, a bit of energy, a bit of craft behind it, something that didn’t make you want to stab yourself in the eardrums with a screwdriver.

This is one very fine pop song from that year, for example. And it’s still a very fine pop song today..

It was written by James Freud.

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