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|Founder||Dare Jennings and
|Genre||indie rock, indie pop, post-punk, detroit, power-pop, surf|
|Country of origin||Australia|
|Location||Sydney, New South Wales|
Phantom Records was an Australian independent record label established by Dare Jennings (founder of Mambo (Clothing) and Jules Normington in 1979. Phantom Records was known not only for its guerrilla retail tactics, but as one of Australia's first great indie labels.
Phantom Records began life as a record shop in Pitt Street, Sydney, opened by Jennings on 17 October 1978. The shop had a big glass window at the front, emblazoned in large letters 'Phantom Records', and in keeping with the Phantom comic theme, beneath that, their catch-phrase 'The Big Beat In The Heart Of The Vinyl Jungle'.
From August 1974, Normington had been managing an import vinyl store, called firstly Ripple Records, then Revolver Records, in the Angel Arcade in Sydney, and while doing that, via his friendship with the members, had been roadie, 'sound guy', then first manager for Australian punk band Radio Birdman. In 1978 Normington left Revolver Records and eventually teaming up with Jennings, followed the Birdman tour around Europe (supporting the Flamin' Groovies ) in early 1978 and during this time they talked of starting a record shop, which Jennings did on his return. By early 1979, Normington was living in Los Angeles and Jennings tracked him down and asked him to buy stock for the shop. Normington's job while living in L.A. and San Francisco in '79 was simply hunting down sixties punk/psychedelic/garage/surf/mod/R&B/soul records and rarities to send back to Sydney.
Jennings entreated Normington to come back and manage the shop. He returned 9 July 1979 and joined Jennings as a partner. They soon employed Steve Stavrakis (who later started Waterfront Records), and Normington turned Phantom into a mecca for record buyers. Phantom flourished in the punk and postpunk years, specialising in "punk, soul, surf, psychedelic, sixties garage and nothing else".
In late 1979, Normington and Jennings had the idea for the Phantom label when they realised they were surrounded by talent who were as yet unsigned. Their girlfriends Penny Ward and Julie Mostyn, respectively, were lead singers in bands: Shy Impostors were about to record and The Flaming Hands had already recorded tracks, as had their friends The Passengers. Post-Radio Birdman band The Visitors had an album's worth of material recorded before their final gig in August 1979.
On 30 April 1980, the first single on the Phantom label—"Face with No Name" by The Passengers and 7 days later "Cool in the Tube" by Surfside 6 were released. Phantom Records went on to become an indie phenomenon, releasing the very first records of great Australian bands such as the Hoodoo Gurus, Sunnyboys, Flaming Hands, Stephen Cummings, Machinations, punk legends The Kelpies, and an early EP by The Cockroaches. These were followed by a succession of pivotal singles and EPs, and the label became as important as the shop in its exposure of new alternative music. Apart from the music itself, Phantom was known for its record covers sporting exemplary artwork by local artists like Libby Blainey, John Foy, Paul Worstead, and Gerard Rouen. Normington and Jennings had intended licensing similarly empassioned vinyl from international artists too, but only ever got as far as one single by Stiv Bators And The Dead Boys. All other releases on Phantom have remained exclusively by Australian artists.
Although the shop's stock was primarily Normington's taste, the label's signings reflected the personal taste of both Normington and Jennings who would ONLY release a record if they decided they would genuinely go out and buy it if it had already existed - and it needed both of them to agree on that - and for several years this creditable selection criteria led to one success after another. Crucially Phantom became an inspiration for others to start labels such as Waterfront Records and Citadel Records, catering to the burgeoning local scene and attracting bands from interstate.
The label's momentum slowed in the mid 80’s, as during this period Jennings was concentrating more on his 100% Mambo clothing company as he phased himself out of Phantom, and Normington was concentrating on making sure the Phantom shop stocked the absolute best records and music mags (from every conceivable country) that fell under the punk/alternative/indie banner, making return trips overseas to acquire stock, scouring many a dusty store for hidden gems which he then shipped back to Sydney, until 1987 when Normington threw himself back into the Phantom label with renewed vigour - this was justified by the success of The Hummingbirds, The Sparklers, The Deadly Hume, The Mark of Cain, Even As We Speak and Vanilla Chainsaws. In the late 80's, Normington decided to form a small new label called Messiah Complex (after an accusation a friend of his had made about him while on a train in Russia a couple of years before), initially devoted to releasing "crushing and fierce garage-punk and grunge 45's only", headed by an evil fictional ego-driven character by the name of Dexter Baxter, who was sued by Waterfront Records management after unleashing defamatory remarks about them (and many others) in his very first press-release (to announce the label's existence). It's a great read. Messiah Complex released exclusive vinyl by Big Chief (their 3rd ever 7"), Superchunk (also their 3rd ever 7"), Canberra's Stooges fanatics Mudrac, ferocious Texan grunge-merchants Sugar Shack (their first 12" record), and displaced NZ punks Casualty, plus a couple of CDs by Sydney punks Downtime.
After several years Sebastian Chase became a partner in Phantom Records. He had been a founding member of the major label "indy" offshoot rooArt Records, in the late eighties. In 1991, Chase had left rooArt after a split with partner Chris Murphy and approached Phantom. Normington knew of him as The Hummingbirds had moved from Phantom to rooArt a couple years earlier. They signed another wave of bands such as Def FX, and The Whitlams and had great success with them. They also formed a subsidiary label called Freakzone and released the first several releases by Parliament/Funkadelic-styled funk band SWOOP on that imprint.
Eventually Phantom was divided into three companies, being basically the shop, the record labels, and a rarity music collectibles arm, and Normington increasingly focused on what to him, had become the most engrossing of these, Phantom Collectibles. Every 3 or 4 months, he published auction catalogues under the title of "Plunder The Vaults", written by himself, and featuring around 3,000 hand-picked rare gems, complete with enthusiastic descriptions, in the same categories mentioned above that the shop had championed at the beginning. But ultimately Chase’s goals for the Phantom companies diverged from Normington - to the detriment of the label. The shop closed its doors in April 1998, just short of 20 years since it opened. In 1999, disenchanted with what the Phantom label had become under Chase's guidance, Normington formed Laughing Outlaw Records pulling in writer Stuart Coupe as a partner and unleashing a whole other slew of quality music. Normington left Phantom in 2000 to run his own music collectables business.
Classic Period Phantom (Jennings and Normington)
- The Passengers
- Surfside 6
- Flaming Hands
- Stiv Bators and The Dead Boys
- The Visitors
- Shy Impostors
- Le Hoodoo Gurus
- The Dagoes
- The Cockroaches
- The Kelpies
- Sardine v
- The Rockmelons
- The Sparklers
Second Phase Phantom (Normington only)
- Shrinking Violets
- The Hummingbirds
- Even As We Speak
- Vanilla Chainsaws
- The Mark of Cain
- One Million Pieces
- Strange Alchemy
- The Godbotherers
- Whole World
- Fear Of Falling
Third Phase Phantom (Normington and Chase)