Meet The Community – Karen Ashton

Meet The Community

Here we divert our attention away from the artists and bands and shine a light on some of those individuals whose contributions in our social media world have been an invaluable source of musical joy. By asking a series of 10 questions we want to get inside the mind of a selected community member and understand their indie DNA.

In this Edition – Karen Ashton

The first time Karen Ashton entered the EIO40 world was on the 13th June 2016 when she nominated  The Chameleons “Swamp Thing” for The Ultimate 1980’s Indie Album interactive feature we were running on Twitter at the time. “There’s got to be a Chameleons track on the album!” she exclaimed when tasked with picking the 5th track on an album released in that decade.

Because of that Karen will always be synonymous with The Chameleons for us especially when you factor in that hasn’t been the only time she’s nominated them for one of our features over the years. However, that mustn’t be interpreted that Karen is just about the nostalgia. In fact, quite the opposite is true as Karen is probably more well known within our community as a champion of new music. 

She has sat on every iteration of our new music panel from the early primitive formats to the overcomplicated features you see today. When asked to step up with “something new” Karen has never failed deliver. And it’s not just her consistency over the years that’s to be lauded, it’s the also quality of music.  

It’s fair to say that Karen likes a harder edge to her music. Don’t expect too much twee pop and jangle in her crate. Spiky noisy punk with a darker edge is probably more descriptive of Karen’s penchant, but almost chameleon-like she doesn’t nail just one colour to her mast. She has the ability to surprise with the variety of her song recommendations adding unpredictability to her game. 

Famously Karen introduced Fontaines DC to us “before they were famous” when she sponsored “Chequeless Reckless” for the New Song Task Force in March 2018, which went on to be voted by the panel as song of the week. We even got a “cheers” from the band. Bet they don’t do that sort of thing anymore!

Basically this community has been exposed to many superb songs at the hands of Karen and it has become a much enriched place as a result. Her DNA is all over the community.

Some of us have had the pleasure of meeting Karen in the flesh as she came along to our first ever Social in Manchester. I have fond memories of Karen cheering when the DJ played Stone Roses “Tell Me”. I knew at that point that we would always be friends, albeit virtually. 

So, over to Karen….

Where did you grow up?

I lived  in Hall Green, Birmingham until I was 8 when I moved to a small village near Solihull.  It was quite rural, there wasn’t much going on. There was at least a train service so I could go into Birmingham at the weekend, where there was a shiny new Virgin Megastore which I thought was ace at the time.

What first got you into indie music?

I used to listen to the chart show on a Sunday night, and religiously watched Top of the Pops on a Thursday, but I don’t remember having any particular favourites. We always had record players in the house so there was music around but nothing that had a great impact on me. I used to listen to Annie Nightingale on a Sunday night, and later, of course, John Peel, who obviously was a huge influence. 

When I went to university I started going to lots of indie (or alternative as they were called then) clubs where I was exposed to music I hadn’t heard before. Around the same time, and being in Manchester, I started going to lots of gigs.

What was the first indie record you bought?

Really not sure. Best guess – “Inside” by 14 Iced Bears. I heard it on John Peel one night and remember he described it as having a candy stripe sleeve, which made it easy to pick out in the shop. I no longer have it unfortunately. No idea what happened to it.

What was your favourite record shop?

Power Cuts – it was located in the basement of a building off Oxford Street in Manchester. It was a large space with cheap records, the sort of place you lost a lot of time crate digging. It was a regular Saturday afternoon haunt of mine in the late80s/early 90s. I don’t remember it selling new releases but it was great for searching for records you’d heard in clubs. I bought my Chameleons records from there; which is probably why I have such fond memories of it.

What music magazines did you read?

There was a time when I bought Sounds, Melody Maker and the NME. However, this was too much for me to read, even as a student. I was a regular reader of Melody Maker, right through it moving to a smaller, magazine format up to its demise. I loved the writing and it made Wednesdays one of my favourite days of the week.

What was your first indie gig?

This is where I wish I’d kept some kind of record. It would have been when I went to university, but I really can’t remember. The first proper gig (professional gig) I went to was The Waterboys, who played for fresher’s week, but I have no recollection of my first indie gig.

What was your most memorable indie gig, and why?

Earl Brutus at The Roadhouse, late 90s. It was the first time I’d seen them and didn’t know what to expect. The Roadhouse was a great venue, small, dark and the stage wasn’t very high which made it hard to see sometimes but meant you were really close to the  bands. 

As soon as they came on there was something a bit chaotic about them, the guy whose role was to smoke a cigarette and spin the sign (I think it said ‘pissed’ on one side and ‘off’ on the other but I could be wrong). Lead singer Nick had an edge to him, a kind of self-confidence/arrogance in the best punk tradition.

There was something slightly unsettling about the gig, in a good way. It wasn’t another run of the mill gig, it demanded you sat up and take notice. There was always something slightly unhinged about Earl Brutus each time I saw them, but this first time has stayed with me.  RIP Nick Sanderson.

What 3 indie albums would you take to a desert island? 

Unknown Pleasures is a given, no explanation needed.  

Script of the Bridge – The Chameleons. Another post punk classic.

Double Vanity – Broncho. This came out in 2016 and I absolutely fell in love with it. I scoured the AOTY lists and was shocked that it only appeared in one list, from a small US blog. It has consistently been in my most played end of year Spotify lists every year since 2016. It is my most played album (since its release date).  

What indie band/artist would you most like to meet?

Kingsley Chapman, of the sadly now defunct The Chapman Family. He has recently started making music again with his new band Benefits. I loved the Chapman Family and am interested to see what happens with this new band. Whenever I have read or seen his interviews he always comes across as articulate, intelligent with strong opinions and a wicked sense of humour.  

What one song defines your indieness?

Some Wonderful Idiot – This Man’s a Scarecrow. This was a track on a compilation tape I got from a fanzine I subscribed to that was featured in the back pages of Melody Maker. It  had the perfect mix of melancholy and ‘don’t let them grind you down’ vibe wrapped up in the that mid 80s alternative / post punk style.  I thought it was the best song ever, and it remains one of my favourites.

A huge thank you to @Kazashton for taking part. Hope you enjoyed this insight into her indie-ness.

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