In the Budget of 1983, the last that Geoffrey Howe was to present as chancellor of the exchequer, it was announced that the Enterprise Allowance Scheme – trialled the previous year – was to be rolled out across the country.
The scheme was intended to reduce unemployment, then running at a record level of 3.2 million, and to encourage self-employment. It worked like this: if you’d been unemployed for at least 13 weeks and could find £1,000 of capital (possibly in the form of a bank loan), then the government would pay you £40 a week for a year to get a business started. The income was tax-free and was substantially higher than the current rate of unemployment benefit.
Among the 300,000-plus beneficiaries over the next few years were several who became really rather successful indeed: Creation Records, Superdry clothing stores, Viz comic – all owed their start in business to an initiative pioneered by the employment secretary Norman Tebbit. Indeed Tebbit has a reasonable claim to being the greatest patron of the arts in modern British history, a fact that may well annoy him just as much as it annoys those in the arts.
Not, of course, that the arts were the target market. During the pilot period, participants had included ‘such diverse activities as a kissogram service, a hang gliding school, a private detective agency and a lampshade manufacturer’. But in August 1983, a Solihull group called Eye Do It became the first musicians to join the scheme, and opened the floodgates.
Guitarist David Brown explained: ‘The idea came to me when I heard someone discussing the scheme in a public house. I thought there was no reason why an aspiring pop group could not get help if plumbers and decorators can do so.’ Other members of the band at that time were Paul Florence, Martin Hope and singer Sarah Winsper.
They used the money to release their first (and, as far as I can tell, only) single, ‘I Lost My Mind’ b/w ‘Hold Back’ in February 1984. The label was NRO – it stood for No Rip Off – and its only other release was a compilation album that included a further Eye Do It track, ‘The Brick Wall (Knock It Down)’.
‘I Lost My Mind’ isn’t the greatest single of the decade, but it’s a perfectly solid example of the synth-driven pop that was so prevalent at the time. And at the very least it deserves to be remembered for breaking new ground in the economics of indie music.