How Asylums and South Record Shop Are Making Southend Rock

On a day when that august (and indeed August) celebration of the best albums of the year, the Mercury Prize nominations list, was released, a small part of Southend-on-Sea was showing what a bit of DIY spirit and grit and determination can do. At the start of 2014 Richard and Stephen Onslow decided to open up a new record shop in Southend on Sea. Richard had worked in PR for EMI and XL Records, but quit the big smoke after seeing a gap in Southend’s High Street for an independent record shop selling both used and new vinyl. 

At about the same time, Luke Branch (vocals and guitar), Jazz Miell (guitar), Michael Webster (bass) and Henry Tyler (drums) got together having been in various bands with little external recognition, and formed a new group. In collaboration with their friends, they also set up a record label. 

Today, in 2016, the band that Luke, Jazz, Michael and Henry formed just over two years ago, Asylums, played an instore gig at South Records, Richard and Stephen’s record shop. The occasion was to celebrate the release of Asylums’ debut album “Killer Brain Waves”, released on their own label, Cool Thing Records. 

For a self-released album, the music is making more waves than just the killer brain variety. From being Album of the Week on BBC6 Music, getting played on XFM, Radio 1, and having the likes of Steve Lamaq come to their sold-out launch show at Islington’s The Lexington, Asylums are creating quite a stir. 

None of which will come as a surprise to any sharp eyed readers of Every Record Tells A Story, after their debut EP was lauded here as one of the best records of 2015. 

As record enthusiasts themselves, Asylums have released their album in a Pink Vinyl edition, and, more importantly, the album fulfils the promise of those early singles. Today’s in-store appearance at South Records also underlined what a great live band Asylums are.

South Records is no HMV in size, but does have the benefit of a raised area at the back, which acts as a natural stage, and is thus an excellent venue for in-store appearances, as Mystery Jets showed earlier in the year. 

Other bands, please take note.

Opening with “Second Class Sex” singer Luke Branch is an animated presence, whilst guitarist Jazz acts as wing man, throwing shapes and pulling extraordinary guitar-face with aplomb. “Joy In A Small Wage” manages the tricky task of having something to say about Britain / the world today, whilst still being as catchy as heck.

The half hour set managed to squeeze in a decent selection of the new album, including “Necessary Appliances”, “Sunday Commuters” and closing with a frenetic “Slacker Shopper”. Asylums also managed, through Luke Branch, to include a brief element of crowd surfing, which is to be commended in any record shop gig. You don’t get much of that at Rough Trade East…

Talking to the band afterwards, it’s clear they aren’t resting on their laurels. As well as a forthcoming tour in October, the band are heading back in the studio to keep up the momentum. All have full time jobs at the moment, so must grab what spare time they have to build on their success, and if at all possible in this beleaguered music industry, cover some of their costs.

There’s also the small matter of supporting the other bands on the Cool Thing label, including Petty Phase, Bait and A.C.I.D. of whom we shall doubtless hear more in the future.

This is how the music industry is working now. New independent record stores in local areas fulfilling a need that the supermarkets are unable to serve. New bands producing music, their own records and embracing others in the local community to help with artwork, videos and photography. 

The merchandise table was a great example. LPs, mini photo books, stickers, and a cassette of demos – all creative examples of how a band can produce and sell merchandise as they attempt to make ends meet.

This is subversive genius: Asylums take on the rock pin button badge: an Asylums Blue Peter Badge
There might not be much money in music nowadays, but they’re all having a lot of fun, the music is great, it’s saying something, and it’s from the heart. 
Killer Brain Waves has an outside chance of charting this week if enough people get behind it – which would be extraordinary for a self-released LP. 

If you like what you hear, you know what to do….

If you are yet to be convinced, here’s a 30 second blast of the gig (used with permission):

Live dates:

  • 19th Aug – Sub 89, Reading
  • 8th Sept – Bestival
  • 16th Oct – Hackney Wonderland Festival 
  • 21st Oct – Chinnerys, Southend
  • 22nd Oct – Eagle Inn, Salford
  • 23rd Oct – Cellar, Oxford
  • 25th Oct – Cellar, Bristol
  • 26th Oct – Hope & Ruin, Brighton
  • 27th Oct – The Cookie, Leicester
  • 28th Oct – The Rainbow, Birmingham
  • 29th Oct – West End Centre, Aldershot







3 responses to “How Asylums and South Record Shop Are Making Southend Rock”

  1. Mondo Avatar

    Agree with all of your points – although would say, the epicentre of the swelling Southend scene is The Railway Hotel one of the greatest music venues anywhere – let alone the local area. We’ve put on nights there (Podrophenia presents) and had people coming in from Holland and Yorkshire for them..

    Wilko’s a regular and some heavy-hitters and cult talent have played there…

    Well worth an investigation if you’re round and about this way again

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Thank you sir! I live in Leigh, so the Railway’s reputation (and lovely pub sign) has reached even this far.
      Would be glad to pop down at some point to feature more of what’s happening that way…


  2. Matti Avatar

    Notwithstanding the fab progress made by Asylums (big round of applause), the fact that Southrecords opened in the present-day climate of mass downloads is also an amazing achievement in itself. Being temporarily based here in Ottawa, Canada I am often crestfallen to learn that another city music retailer has bitten the dust. Thus, well done to Richard and Stephen and all those who support them. And another top article!

    Liked by 1 person

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