In 1981 I was playing in – among several other bands – the Reflections, which included Mark Perry. Mark was going out at the time with an American woman called Donna, who worked at Sounds. Donna must have known I was involved in the network of small-scale musicians circulating our music to each other by post on cassettes, because she asked me to send in a chart for the paper’s charts page – they covered everything at the time from the mainstream top 20s to the genre-specific and sometimes the seemingly random. I have a vague memory that she had to pester me a few times till I got round to it, but eventually I sent in the first Obscurist Chart, which was published on 5th September 1981.
I called it the Obscurist Chart in reference to an interview that had been published in one of the music papers with Pete Wylie, where he coined the phrase ‘rockism’ and advocated the ‘race against rockism’ as an inversion of Rock Against Racism.
The race against rockism appealed to me no end – I hated pretentious overblown music and I hated macho posturing – both so prominent in rock music whether together or separate (of course nothing has changed – witness Coldplay and Oasis, different as they are musically but both horribly rockist). For some weeks (or was it months?) after this interview was published, Glenna from Twelve Cubic Feet and I spent a great deal of time annoying everybody else by adding ‘ist’ to every noun we uttered; so it wasn’t a big step to apply this also to the title of this new chart. And, of course, I was dogged in being a bigger fan of music the more obscure it was.
My school English teacher wasn’t impressed, saying it should have been called The Obscurantist Chart. Interestingly, a google seach now throws up widespread use of the term ‘obscurist’.
I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to work out where to place each item in the chart, and agonised over whether to put my own band at number one or number two in the first chart. Clearly I opted for compiler’s privilege, and got a bit of stick for that from my postal cassette friends.
The rest of the chart was a combination of friends’ music, stuff I’d sent off for out of curiosity from the Cassette Pets column in Sounds, records I’d happened upon in record shops and the odd made-up item. As the chart got established, I’d canvas friends for suggestions of what should be included.
I compiled the first 9 charts, and remember the excitement of opening Sounds each week to see whether my latest chart had been published yet. Number 10 was compiled by my friend Paddy Shennaboppa (now the chief features writer on the Liverpool Echo!). I’d guess he did this with my support, though I can’t remember for certain.
I don’t remember whether I submitted any more Obscurist Charts to Sounds, but no more of the 21 they published (or have I missed any others?) were mine. I have a vague memory of feeling a bit usurped, having initiated the thing. But also that the DIY cassette community didn’t like this opportunity to promote our music being dominated by one person, and therefore took it over as a collectively-owned resource. So the rest of the charts were compiled by various people, several of them by Paddy.
The 21st Obscurist Chart is the last one I have in my archive, dated 11th December 1982. I don’t know why that was the last one. This was the back end of the period when DIY music was at its peak, so perhaps it wasn’t deemed significant enough to include anymore. Or maybe nobody bothered to send any more charts in …. who knows?