Alan Jenkins | Cordelia Records | Interview

Uncategorized April 19, 2022

Alan Jenkins | Cordelia Records | Interview

Alan Jenkins is a man behind countless projects that began with English new wave band The Deep Freeze Mice and continued his career in many other groups, including The Chrysanthemums, Ruth’s Refrigerator and so on.

In the meantime he founded Cordelia Records that allowed him to release many DIY projects during the four decades of activity.

How did it all begin for you? Would you like to talk a bit about your background?

Alan Jenkins: It all began for me when I heard T. Rex in 1972. ‘Hot Love’ and ‘Telegram Sam’. I was thinking about those recently – I always assumed that Bill Fifield played the drums on them but then I read that it was Clem Cattini, who I understand played on 42 number one hit records in the ‘60s and ‘70s including ‘Two Little Boys’ by the, now discredited, Rolf Harris. Rolf Harris never made me want to form a band.

Were you also active before the formation of The Deep Freeze Mice?

Only in the sense of making cassette recordings in my bedroom, sometimes with my school friends Sherree and Graham who went on to be in The Deep Freeze Mice.

The Deep Freeze Mice are full of surreal lyrics. Can you share some further words about how inspiration for songwriting usually comes about?

Sometimes I think that I’ve failed if somebody hears one of my songs and they can’t figure out what I’m talking about, but then again sometimes I think right! I am now going to create the weirdest lyrics the world has ever known even though it’s very unlikely that the casual observer will spot the references to ancient Chinese mythology that I just read about in a biography of Mao Zedong. (That would be ‘Horse Day’ from ‘Nosetown and Ratville’). It isn’t as if there are record company executives who are worried that my next album won’t make the charts. So there isn’t a standard method, but I’ll give you a couple of examples from The Deep Freeze Mice. ‘Don’t Eat Aluminium’ started with a news report that tea contained traces of aluminium and was a possible cause of Alzheimer’s disease. ‘Minstrel Radio Yoghurt’ was about a temporary job that Sherree and I had at a notorious local animal product processing plant. We worked a twelve hour night-shift in a factory where we were surrounded by horrible bits of dead animals – it looked like a giant autopsy – and they needed to be processed in various ways. Eg: we had to put lots of little fish into plate freezers so that they came out in the form of big oblong slabs that could be moved by a forklift truck. In the song, I was trying to contrast this with the chirpy commentary from BBC Radio 1 that was on in the factory all night. So some of the songs sound surreal but are actually quite factual, and probably the other way round.

The Deep Freeze Mice in 1978 | Graham Summers, Alan Jenkins, Mick Bunnage, Sherree Lawrence

What were some of the bands you played together and did you ever feel like you were part of a certain DIY scene back then?

I think we mainly felt isolated back in the ’80s in Leicester. The most popular local bands were usually an identifiable copy of a famous band – The Talking Heads or Spandau Ballet et cetera – and they were all more popular than we were. I started to feel more a part of the scene after I opened the Cordelia Records recording studio in the mid ’90s and I recorded hundreds and hundreds and Leicester bands. Predictably, you could tell that a lot of them had been listening to Nirvana, Oasis and/or Radiohead, but I got to work with some more interesting ones too. Examples would be Brother Roach, Dead Cowboy Culture, Airport Girl, Sourpus… but I doubt if your readers have heard of them. The most famous artist I ever recorded was ska legend Laurel Aitken.

The band released so many records so I was hoping we could start at the beginning. I love the irony of your song, ‘I Vote Conservative (Cos I’m in Love With You)’… tell us about it.

I made a new recording of the first Mice album a couple of years ago. The talk-over section in that song now goes: “You know Margaret, when I wrote these words in 1975 I might not have taken it so lightly if I knew the full horror of the situation. How you were planning to steal everything in the country, give it away to rich people, and then make the rest of us work for them as slaves; because, to you, we were just some worthless underclass that didn’t matter.”. We recorded the first Mice album the same year that she came to power, and we didn’t know that we were about to enter the darkness of the Margaret Thatcher apocalypse.

Where did you record ‘My Geraniums Are Bulletproof’?

In an eight track recording studio in Nottingham called Rainbow Sound. This is interesting: I just googled it and I found this photograph on their Discogs page (they were also a label apparently).

Andy Terry at Rainbow Sound

I think the guy in the foreground is Andy Terry who recorded the Geraniums album, and that’s definitely the desk and the tape recorder that was used. I had never seen that picture before today.

The second side of the album was a collage of our home recordings. I should say that the remaster of the album that I made a few years ago has improved the quality of the audio considerably. Also, for anyone interested in the history of the band, the Cordelia label rereleases all have extensive sleeve-notes that meticulously document this stuff. Sorry about the advert.

Would you like to share how the story of your band unfolds through all the albums you released?

(I’ve given all the albums a rating out of five).

** ‘My Geraniums are Bulletproof’. 1979. Mick Bunnage hasn’t joined us on bass yet but he came to the recording session in Nottingham where we recorded and mixed side one in eight hours.

** ‘Teenage Head in My Refrigerator’. 1981. We move to Leicester, rehearse as a band regularly, play concerts that nobody likes and record our second album, mostly at a place called Street Music on 4 track with Dave Wells who later toured Europe with Simple Minds.

**** ‘The Gates of Lunch’. 1982. The songs are improving and this is the best of the early albums, but Graham Summers becomes disenchanted with the band, largely because nobody in Leicester likes us, and he eventually leaves.

*** ‘Saw a Ranch House Burning Last Night’. 1983. A transitional album recorded at a friends’ studio in Norwich mostly using a drum machine.

***** ‘I Love You Little Bo Bo with your Delicate Golden Lions’. 1984. We found a new drummer, Peter Gregory, and recorded our best album so far. It’s a double, and double albums are usually the best.

***** ‘Hang on Constance Let Me Hear the News’. 1985. This is our other best album even though it isn’t a double.

The Deep Freeze Mice recording ‘Hang on Constance’ | Alan Jenkins, Sherree Lawrence, Ricky Wilson (engineer), Peter Gregory, Mick Bunnage

** ‘Live in Switzerland’. 1986. Compared to the reception we were used to in Leicester, our concerts in Switzerland were like Beatlemania.

**** ‘War, Famine, Death, Pestilence and Miss Timberlake’. 1987.

** ‘Rain is When the Earth is Television’. 1988. This is a compilation of out-takes.

*** ‘The Tender Yellow Ponies of Insomnia’. 1989. There are some good songs on here but we haven’t rehearsed for a while because everyone except me has moved away from Leicester.

There seems to be a certain concept present when it comes to your albums.

There wasn’t a formal concept on any of the Mice albums but themes would emerge naturally. ‘Hang on Constance’ is the closest to a concept album, it’s mostly about crime fiction.

The Last Deep Freeze Mice gig in St. Gallen, Switzerland | Sherree Lawrence, Alan Jenkins, Mick Bunnage, Peter Gregory

What about Yeah Yeah Noh?

We became friendly with John Grayland after a band he was playing in, (I think it was called Pete Bounds and Dave Springer) supported the Mice at a gig in Leicester. One day John said: “My mate Derek writes lyrics and he wants me to help him form a band”. As we had plenty of time between Deep Freeze Mice commitments Graham Summers and I agreed to be the rhythm section. We went into a rehearsal room with John and made up some backing tracks on the spur of the moment and recorded them on cassette. John gave these to Derek and that became Yeah Yeah Noh’s first batch of material. I played one gig with them on bass but Graham and I didn’t want to pursue it because it wasn’t really very interesting beyond Derek’s witty lyrics. Everything John Grayland did in those days revolved around the fact that he was a massive fan of The Fall and Yeah Yeah Noh were Leicester’s version of The Fall. I like The Fall too. I’m only just discovering some of their later stuff.

Would you like to tell us about the formation of Cordelia Records / Egg Plant / . How many copies did you usually release back then?

Cordelia started in 1984 when I tried to make a go of running a record company as a business. It was named after my cat. I have since consistently failed to run a successful record company for decades. Egg Plant was, or possibly is, a joint enterprise between me and Yukio Yung, or Terry if you prefer, for the purpose of releasing records by our band The Chrysanthemums. It started in 1987 while The Deep Freeze Mice were still going but less active. We used to press 1,000 LPs in those days. From this perspective it’s amazing that we could sell that many.

What was the scene in Leicester?

I don’t think Leicester has ever had its fair share of successful bands. We always felt like rejects back in the 1980’s. This was because we were the only ones on the cutting edge of the avant garde, and nobody appreciated the sophisticated and revolutionary nature of what we were doing because they were all so stupid.

When I was preparing for this interview and checked that you have over 200 entries on Discogs, I became nervous, haha. One of the pros of being DIY is that your artistic output doesn’t suffer, isn’t it?

Yes. If I had spent my time pursuing major record labels nothing would ever have happened. The matrix numbers tell me that Cordelia has released 106 albums now – knowing how good our bookkeeping is, this is unlikely to be accurate, but it even so… It’s taken a while of course.

How did you meet Yukio Yung (Terry Burrows) to form The Chrysanthemums?

There was a long running fanzine in the ‘80s called Outlet that was produced by a man called Trev Faull. In one edition he wrote about both Terry and I. I must have been looking for new musical projects because I wrote to Terry and said “Let’s form a band” and he said “Yes, let’s form a band”.

I mentioned Clem Cattini earlier. Trev Faull is one of the unsung heroes of underground music journalism and is especially an authority on early British instrumental records. He plays keyboards in a Tornados covers band and there’s a video of them playing Telstar with Clem Cattini on drums.

What’s the dynamic between you?

Terry had a better home recording set up than me in those days, so I used to commute to his house in London and we would record together. In the meantime we would write songs together by exchanging cassettes. Here’s an example: we made a flexi disc as an introduction to the first Chrysanthemums album, to be given away in a magazine, and we asked indie/DIY legend R. Stevie Moore to record spoken introductions for the tracks in the style of a radio announcer. But Stevie didn’t know what our songs were called so he made the titles up. We particularly liked Stevie’s creation ‘I wish Marvin Gaye’s Father Had Shot Me Instead’ and one day Terry gave me a cassette demo of a new tune and he said “I think this might be a good one to call ‘I wish Marvin Gaye’s Father Had Shot Me Instead’, so I wrote appropriate words for it. Sometimes we did it the other way round. Terry and I have different approaches to some things: for instance, his favourite ‘70s krautrock band is Kraftwerk and mine is Faust.

The Chrysanthemums released another batch of records that are filled with fun! What’s your favourite record?

I like ‘Little Flecks of Foam Around Barking’ the most. Well, obviously this is the best one because it’s a double album. Actually we recorded a new double concept album about five years ago, but this hasn’t been released yet. It is based on an episode of the popular cartoon series Scooby Doo.

How did the R. Stevie Moore collaboration come about in The Chrysanthemums?

Terry was in contact with Stevie already. He released the ‘Verve’ album on his Hamster label. We had both heard of Stevie because of his contribution to the famous Recommended Records sampler, and Chris Cutler of Recommended had heard of R. Stevie Moore because The Residents gave him a tape of one of his songs.

How about Ruth’s Refrigerator?

Ruth’s Refrigerator followed on from the end of The Deep Freeze Mice. I met Ruth after I heard one of her songs played on John Peel and I asked her if I could include it on the next edition of the Obscure Independent Classics series of L.P.s. She brought in bass player Terri Lowe and Terri brought in drummer Robyn Gibson. We made two albums for a Belgian based label called Madagascar.

Ruth’s Refrigerator somewhere in Germany Terri Lowe, Ruth Miller, Blodwyn P. Teabag, Alan Jenkins, Robyn Gibson

Then came Jody And The Creams, later just “The Creams”.

The Creams were my major project for the ‘90s, it’s a shame they seem to have disappeared without trace. The Creams albums were:

** ‘A Big Dog.n’. 1990.

** ‘Lords of the Gromet Canning Factory’. 1998. These two were collages of my home recordings, recorded about the same time but ‘Gromet’ not released till later on Pink Lemon Records of Germany.

***** ‘Ie.’ 1994. This one followed on from the end of Ruth’s Refrigerator when organist Blodwyn P. Teabag, Robyn Gibson and I left the band and Vladimir Zajkoweicz of The Chrysanthemums joined us on bass. This is a double album, so it must be a good one. There is a newly restored and expanded version coming out on Cordelia soon.

***** ‘The Creams & Nico’. 1995. The band expands to add Alison MacKinder and Peter Pengwyn (formerly of Jesus Couldn’t Drum). This was released on L.P. and a long CD but the two formats didn’t have any songs in common, so this is sort of a triple L.P.

*** ‘Pluto’. 1996. More from the same line-up.

*** ‘Malcolm’. 1997. Double mini-CD (doesn’t count as a double album).

The Creams reform as a smaller unit with Me, Blodwyn, Robyn and Howard Fairy on bass. Howard was previously in other bands with Robyn.

*** ‘Are You Real Or Just Some Sort Of Disgusting Fridge Magnet?’ 1997. A live album from our 1996 tour of Germany. Recorded professionally on 16 tracks, it sounds better than our earlier studio recordings.

***** ‘The All Night Bookman’. 1998. By this time I had set up a commercial recording studio in Leicester and this album was everything that we recorded there during the years after Howard joined the band.

The Creams in, probably, 1997. Robyn Gibson, Blodwyn P. Teabag, Howard Fairey, Alan Jenkins

Around 2000 you started The Thurston Lava Tube.

It was around then that I discovered instrumental surf music and everything changed. I think hearing ‘The Ventures in Space’ was the key moment. Blodwyn and I met The Ventures in 2003 – here is a picture of Don Wilson holding a copy of our first album.

I told him that ‘Ventures in Space’ was a huge influence on the whole ‘Experimental Surf Music Scene’. I was sorry to hear that Don died last week. We loved The Ventures.

The Thurston Lava Tube recorded eight albums during the ‘00s and we effectively split up when I moved to Suffolk in 2010.

The Thurston Lava Tube | L-r: Blodwyn P. Teabag, Alan Jenkins, Gary Gilchrist, Mat Bartram

You also have two pretty recent releases under the name of The Melamine Division Plates.

The Melamine Division Plates album ‘Novosibirsk’ (2019) might be the best album produced by the ‘Experimental Surf Music’ scene. But then, of course, it’s a double. There have been a few other ESM releases that I have been involved in down here in East Anglia: three albums by Culpho Dog Gymkhana and the ‘Beyond the Sea’ series of albums. The ReR megacorp released a boxed set that covers a lot of this area.

What about Aaaaaaaaxb – ‘Beyond The Pillars of Hercules’?

That’s another one.

I’ve been spinning pretty much non-stop your ‘Notes on the Life Cycle of the Quantum Mouse’. Can you share some further words about it?

I thought this might be my last album while I was working on it. I put a lot into this one. Over Christmas 2020 I had the idea for the song ‘Margaret Hodge is Gloating’ and it all followed on from there.


Where do your obsessions with mice come about?

I’m not particularly obsessed with mice more than any other animals. Having said that, I got some new plectrums made recently…

Would you mind talking about ‘The Experimental Surf Music BOX’ (8 CDs & documentation). That seems like a big project to gather everything together?

This was Chris Cutler’s idea. He has been an advocate of the ESM movement and he suggested making a big thing to celebrate it. There are some informative and entertaining notes in an exclusive booklet.

By the way, I last played live in a band called Vril which included Chris Cutler on drums, Bob Drake on bass and Lukas Simonis on the other guitar. We played in Holland and Belgium a few years ago. I see Chris is on tour with Pere Ubu at the moment.

“Henry Cow was a big influence on the improvisational side of my work”

Tell us more about how it was to play in group Vril?

Continuing with the Chris Cutler theme… he suggested me as a replacement second guitarist in Vril because he knew of my work in Experimental Surf Music. Vril had already recorded two albums. It was hard work learning the set-list because their tunes are so full of non-obvious twists and time changes, but it was ultimately very rewarding musically. Henry Cow was a big influence on the improvisational side of my work, so it was very interesting to play in a band with Chris. If I was having trouble with some technical part of one of the tunes he was on hand to give me useful tips. There was one particular number, I think it was ‘Impossible Canal’, where the timing alternates between 9s, 10s and 11s and I think I might have played this correctly twice. I wasn’t aware of Bob Drake before although I had probably heard some of the prog rock bands he played with in the ’90s – Thinking Plague, 5uu’s – but it turned out that he was a musical genius on the level of Mozart and was our main musical director. Lucas Simonis also played with Trespassers W, who I was more familiar with, and he wrote the tunes. This version of the band only existed for ten days – five days of rehearsal followed by five concerts.

Vril in Rotterdam Lukas Simonis, Chris Cutler, Bob Drake, Alan Jenkins

Are you working on something new? How has the pandemic influenced your creative process?

Yes I’m recording bits and pieces but I don’t know what it will amount to yet. I was mostly working on my own or remotely with other people already, so the plague didn’t really do me any harm. I recorded a song called ‘Flying Crocodiles’ yesterday.

Let’s end this interview with some of your favorite albums. Have you found something new lately you would like to recommend to our readers?

I listen to new things all the time, or at least old things that are new to me. My memory is terrible but I shall try and think of some examples.

Dalmatian Rex and The Eigentones’ new (double) album that just came out.

I just read the book Our Band Could Be Your Life about the American underground punk scene in the ‘80s and I discovered a few good things that had passed me by before: ‘Double Nickels on the Dime’ by The Minutemen, The Replacements ‘Let it Be’, Mission of Burma’s ‘Vs.’ – I didn’t know any of those before last year.

This is a good one: Les Maledictus Sound – ‘Les Maledictus Sound’, I expect you knew it already.

Klemen Breznikar

Alan Jenkins Bandcamp
Cordelia Records Official Website / Facebook

  1. Josef Kloiber says:

    Thank you Klemen for the interview !

  2. Spyros Spacefreak says:

    A living legend!

  3. Random WIlder says:

    Great interview. Everything this man touches turns to gold. He deserves to be so much more well known.

  4. Bob says:

    Love experimental surf and Zappa covers. Death to insidious Illuminati smultch in all it’s forms. Peace.

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