There cannot be a rock music fan in the United Kingdom who did not at some point listen to the late John Peel’s legendary radio shows. His championing of acts from The Fall to The Undertones to PJ Harvey and the White Stripes helped countless bands on their way. But his own record label is less well-known. Here, we’ll find out a bit about Dandelion Records.
Set up in 1969 and named after his hamster (!)Dandelion was a pet Peel project that allowed him to release records he loved but which had little chance of commercial success. His judgement was pretty much always spot on: only one single made the UK charts, when Pictures in the Sky by Medicine Head reached no. 22 in 1971. In its short life (1969 – 1972), 18 Dandelion artists released 27 records, and one eccentric sampler called There Is Some Fun Going Forward. They were very close to signing Roxy Music but Island Records whisked them from under Dandelion’s noses.
Set up on idealistic, not to say somewhat shambolic, principles by John and his manager/business partner Clive Selwood, the first release was Bridget St John’s LP, Ask Me No Questions. Bridget was a singer/songwriter in the Joni mould, a relatively conventional proposition. Nevertheless, they had a hard time finding a major to distribute them. As Clive recounts:
“Though Peely had helped Decca and EMI earn millions from acts they never knew they had, he was still regarded as a dangerous hippie…”
They eventually managed to get a deal with CBS, and were later distributed by Warner and Polydor, but the acts were resolutely non-commercial.
They attempted to revive the career of Gene Vincent, releasing an album called I’m Back and I’m Proud, but by this time the legendary rocker was a drunk and more or less a liability. He wasn’t the only Dandelion signing who was a challenging proposition: they had also signed a sort of pre-punk band called Stackwaddy (not a hybrid of Stackridge and Showaddywaddy), who Peel unwisely chose to showcase the label in front of horrified WEA suits. They worked on building sites by day, came straight from work, smashed into the free drink at the record company office and were paralytic by the time they came to play. The singer took a piss on the stage and they could hardly get through a song. Later that same night, they were on their way to play another gig when one of them was sick on a policeman, earning the group a night in jail.
But there were highlights too. The recording of an Australian band called Python Lee Jackson was curtailed due to the singer being too drunk (bit of a theme here). An unknown called Rod Stewart was brought in to replace him for the session. Rod’s fee? Some spare parts for his car, from the band’s manager – who also sold second-hand motors! Rod and The Faces were Peel’s favourite live band for many years and of course, he was on that famous Top Of The Pops appearance when the band played Maggie May, with Peely, looking a bit sheepish, perched on a stool ‘playing’ mandolin.
The label’s biggest success was with Machine Head, a two-piece, bluesy, multi-instrumentalist duo who had three hits in the early Seventies. Another act, Tractor, were big on the hippy festival circuit and are still playing today, But the Dandelion label itself was not to exist for long: it disbanded in 1973. They just didn’t have the financial clout to hold onto the calibre of artist necessary.
It seemed that this would be the end of the Dandelion story, but mint condition LPs from the label sell for a good whack. A German label, Repertoire, reissued six of them and a fair bit of the catalogue is available on Cherry Red. A six hour DVD tribute to John and the label was released in November last year.
Like John’s radio shows, the label showcased stuff he thought was great, no matter how weird or commercially untenable. He didn’t, it turns out, have quite the genius for label management as he did for playlist selection, and it wouldn’t be unfair to say that Dandelion released the odd stinker, but – like the man himself – the passion and energy and sheer mad love of the music shines through in everything they did. And that’s not something you can say about a lot of labels.