NEWS: First Indie Chart toppers celebrate charts 40th birthday

NEWS: First Indie Chart toppers celebrate charts 40th birthday

The band who first topped the indie chart are to celebrate the industry institution’s 40th birthday with a special London show.

Spizzenergi took the top spot as the chart was launched mid-January 1980 with their Rough Trade-released single ‘Where’s Captain Kirk?’  and remained there for eight weeks.  The band, now known simply as Spizz after a succession of alter egos including Spizzoil and Athletico Spizz 80 – celebrate the milestone with a show at The Garage in Highbury and Islington in London on February 1, with support from Gabi Garbutt & The illuminations and The Existential Rage of Dunstan Bruce.

Founder member Kenneth Spiers, also known as Spizz, announced the show on his Wednesday afternoon weekly radio show on Resonance FM.  He spoke to God Is In The TV to explain how the chart had been vital in sustaining the boom of independent labels that had risen up with the punk explosion.

“Labels like Rough Trade and Cherry Red realised they were missing out because the Top 40 concentrated on sales from places like WH Smiths and bigger shops,” he said. “but our records were being sold in the network of independent record shops that had sprung up after punk.”  Smaller labels like Rough Trade were selling a lot of records, he said, but because they had to wait for cash to come in from sales before repressing, they were finding it hard to reach the official Top 40.

Having been launched in 1980, published by Record Week and soon also picked up by music paper Sounds, the chart was soon a go-to guide to alternative sounds as the 80s progressed, with bands like The Smiths, whose official Top 40 presence was limited, having their true popularity more accurately reflected.

Eligibility for the chart came down to the distribution network used for releases, which ruled out major labels.  Having been initially associated with guitar-led indie music, although electronic music pioneers Mute were notable exceptions to this rule, the chart has been through many changes.  “You had the whole phase in the 90s of major label ‘masking’,” says Spiers, referring to a technique where majors would release ‘fake’ indie records through chart-eligible channels to capitalise on its credibility.  “But then you had the whole Ibiza thing, where people would come back from holiday and buy certain dance records in really large numbers,” he says, “that was a great thing.”

He laughs about the origins of ‘Where’s Captain Kirk?’, a song which was aimed to capitalise on the now long forgotten first ‘Star Trek’ movie and was later covered by R.E.M.

“My greatest fear is that when William Shatner dies, they won’t play ‘Where’s Captain Kirk?’ on the radio but that bloody ‘Star Trekking’ song (by The Firm).  I don’t think Shatner ever knew about it though. We had a tip off from a friend who worked at Heathrow airport that he was coming in on a flight, we were going to get down there and photobomb him but in the end we thought it just wasn’t meant to be.”

Shatner will certainly know all about it if he’s a subscriber to Electronic Sound magazine though, as the single is being re-issued as a cover mount on their January 2020 issue.

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