ZANG TUMMM TUMB ARTICLES “the first draft of history”

Tuum raider

Signs and wonders within ZTT Records fabled Lost Archive

IM SITTING IN A CAR PARKED near a Slough office building and I cant believe what Im hearing. Its Frankie Goes To Hollywoods version of Slave To The Rhythm, made — says the cassette box — on 18 July 1984, a full year before the Grace Jones single came out. Frankies recording is not the sinuous Washington go-go track that everyone knows but a stomping, marching thing, an instrumental. This, not Two Tribes, was going to be Frankies second single.

Readers who were teenagers in the ‘80s will understand why the hairs are standing up on my neck. Others should imagine how theyd feel if Neil Young had recorded Born To Run in 1974, then shelved it without telling anybody. My host Ian Peel had wanted to put Slave To The Rhythm on the new reissue of FGTHs Welcome To The Pleasuredome but ZTT wouldnt let him. “Maybe someone thinks it wouldnt do anything for Frankies legend,” he told me. “We can listen to it in the car. Youll probably never hear it ever again.” So we did.

Ive travelled to Slough to visit the archive of Zang Tuum Tumb Records, the combined arts lab, marketing scam and centre of pop excellence that bestrode music in the 1980s like a digital colossus. I am a ZTT fiend the way most WORD readers are Dylan and Beatles nuts. In Trevor Horn, Steve Lipson and The Art Of Noises productions for FGTH, Propaganda and a host of others they gave me the complete pop diet. In Paul Morleys outrageously pretentious and erudite sleeve notes — which treated literature and philosophy the way The Art Of Noise treated raw sound, as a thing to be sampled and used they gave me ideas to steal. Entering this unprepossessing office building I feel like I am walking into the final scene of Raiders Of The Lost Ark. All the hidden treasures of civilisation are sequestered here.

I say “archive”. What Ian, a writer for Record Collector and DJ and now ZTTs de facto curator, really inherited was a ton of rotting cardboard boxes and a cataloguing nightmare. What he found, though, is dazzling to anyone who loves the work of Trevor Horn and the profligate madness of ZTT. There were eight shelves of Frankie alone, translating to 64 boxes each containing anything from 12 reel-to-reel tapes or up to 50 DATs. Horn and Lipson would work and rework their material endlessly. And the section for Frankies unloved second album Liverpool was even bigger than Pleasuredome.

“They did a lot of preparation,” says Ian.

“There was an awful lot of ‘lets do a cover of Anarchy In The UK or Dyou Think Im Sexy and see how it goes. They made an orchestral version of one track, Is Anybody Out There?, and then just shelved it. That was a very ZTT thing to do. Commission an orchestra, just to see what it would sound like, and then never use the results.”

In the rats nest of tapes he found oddities like a Frankie voiceover by Joanna Lumley, which the fragrant actress later demanded was never used because it was “too rude” (it never was), and endless rejected 7-inch edits of The Art Of Noises Moments In Love — one inscribed, “I never want to hear this again. Anne Dudley, February 1985".

Theres more. Heres the original Band Aid master just lying in a box (Do They Know Its Christmas? was produced at Trevor Horns Sarm West Studios). Heres a handwritten manuscript of the bassline to Video Killed The Radio Star. Heres the Pet Shop Boys original demo cassette, with the note “please return this tape”. Ian has found “at least three” unreleased Art Of Noise albums, one featuring guest vocals from Sarm Wests chef Lucky Gordon, who once had been a pivotal figure in the Profumo affair. And then there were the chunks of Trevor Horns record collection, which contained its own surprises. One was an old folk record — now lost on a shelf somewhere in here — which contained an impassioned break-up letter from a young man to his girlfriend. He had written it, then decided not to send it and hidden it inside the LP. The letter began “Dear Vashti”.

With its antiquated floppies and hard discs the size (and weight) of lorry tyres, this room crystallises a pause between the old world of Take 1 and Take 2 and the future in which everything would be infinitely malleable.

“People used to moan about how expensive CDs were to buy,” Ian says. “But look how expensive they were to make! This was a new way of making records and it cost an absolute bloody fortune. This room is a snapshot in time.” He is a ZTT nut like me, and slowly he is giving this great label — which was too clever and too pop to ever be admitted to the rock canon — its due. But was he never tempted to make off with a rare tape or two himself, like those characters who nick a psalter from the British Library?

“For a split second it was a test of ones integrity,” he admits, ruefully. “But I hate that collector-hoarder thing. The real way to do it is to make it all available again. Then everyone gets to share in it.”