It all started in the most unlikely of places, Great Malvern in Worcestershire. It was 1971, psychedelic music and flares were in; Arsenal won the double, and I was sharing a house in South London, with amongst others, Richard Jones. Richard came from Malvern, and after much prompting, persuaded me to join forces with him and his old school friend Will Atkinson to promote rock concerts at the large, and somewhat under-utilised, Malvern Winter Gardens.
Somewhat nervously we awaited the day of our first promotion, the 3rd July 1971. Hawkwind + Skin Alley + Sidewinder disco, all for only 12 old shillings. What a bargain! We celebrated as over 600 people turned up, and we were able to share a small profit between the three of us. And so it went on, in fact for the next ten years, every three weeks or so I would drive to Malvern and help to promote a concert with my partners Will and Richard.
We decided to call our company Cherry Red Promotions. Where did the name Cherry Red come from? We pondered for weeks over what to call our new venture, and eventually it was Will who came up with the name – it was the title of a track from the Groundhogs ‘Split’ album – we liked the Groundhogs, we liked the name, so that was that. Tony Macphee, it’s all down to you!
Iain McNay with Richard Jones and Will Atkinson. Cherry Red Promotions, 1977.
In 1977 Punk music was happening, and the three of us loved it. We promoted all the punk bands we could at Malvern; The Damned, The Stranglers, The Jam, Generation X to name a few. And then there were The Tights, Malvern’s own answer to the punk explosion. It was Richard again who persuaded me in the Malvern wine bar, on New Year’s Eve 1977, that we should start a record label to release a Tights record. On 2nd June 1978 The Tights first single was released. The following week it was record of the week in the now defunct Record Mirror, the week after that John Peel played it, and before we knew where we were we had sold our initial pressing of 2,000 records. Meanwhile I had secured proper distribution for the single as a friend, David Thomas, had just started the first proper distribution service for independent records; Spartan Records.
Now, however I had an important decision to make – I had to decide whether to leave the relative security of my day job so that I could devote all my time and energies to Cherry Red. While I made up my mind The Tights went back into the studio with Malvern based produced John Acock to record their second single, ‘Howard Hughes’. After I heard it, I decided, ‘that was it’, I would leave my job and try my best to turn Cherry Red into a self sufficient independent record label. I had the advantage of having had experience of working at record companies. I had spent the previous year at Magnet records, and the three preceding years at Bell/Arista records. I knew how record companies worked, but could I do it myself?
The second Tights single ended up selling over 4,000 copies, but the band broke up soon after. They were all young and somehow not really prepared to commit themselves to gigging regularly. If I was going to make the company work, I knew I had to find albums to release, and quickly, because the profit from singles was minimal. I had meantime met Morgan-Fisher, quite famous for his previous involvement in Love Affair, The Third Ear Band and Mott The Hoople. He was to provide Cherry Red with many album releases over the next few years. The first though, ‘The Sleeper Wakes’ never really woke up and didn’t sell more than 700 copies.
The next single was from Detroit band Destroy All Monsters. I had read about their single ‘Bored’ in Sounds, it was out on a small American label. The band consisted of ex members of The Stooges and The MC5, and singer Niagara looked great in a photograph. I hadn’t actually heard the record, but had a strong feeling that it must be good. I wrote to Detroit, offering $500 to license the record, and received the master tape in the post a few weeks later. Fortunately I liked it, and so did many others as it sold over 7,000.
However, I still had to sell albums to make it all viable. I had an idea. There were many compilation albums available consisting of chart hits from the major companies, but no-one yet had compiled one from the many independent records now being released. By this time there was a whole range of small independent companies issuing singles just like I was. Rough Trade, Mute, City, Industrial and Factory, had all started up in business and there was a strong camaraderie spirit between the labels.
We were beginning to support and build an alternative to the whole music business structure. Independent distribution, promotion, marketing and pressing services were starting to emerge. I called a few labels suggesting the idea and within a few days had 14 tracks promised, including of course, The Tights. The album featured the diverse sounds of Thomas Leer, Throbbing Gristle, The UK Subs, Robert Rental, Cabaret Voltaire and 9 others. The title ‘Business Unusual’ was thought up by Genesis P-Orridge from Throbbing Gristle as he and I sat together in a tea room in Oxford Street. Within a few weeks of release it had sold 10,000 copies.
January 1979 saw my first visit to MIDEM, the annual music business extravagance in Cannes. Along with a few other indie labels, I valiantly tried to convince a decidedly uninterested international scene that British independent music was about to explode internationally. Disco music was at a height. Dreadful, boring, uneventful music came out of booth after booth, as I walked around the convention centre. The only oasis was the occasional inspirational sound of The UK SUBS or another English punk band, and then I knew that Phil Scott from City, or Caruso Fuller from The Label were around. I licensed ‘Business Unusual’ to a couple of overseas companies though, and that was a start.
The vision I always had for Cherry Red was one of diversity. There was the Rough Trade sound, the Factory image, the distinctive music of Mute. But I wanted Cherry Red to be as versatile as possible. I knew that would never bring us ‘hip credibility,’ but I didn’t mind about that.
Next was another single and a Cherry Red supported UK tour by Destroy all Monsters. Singer Niagara, who had looked so brilliant in photographs looked completely lost on stage, and couldn’t sing really. The NME headline over the review of the first gig at Dingwalls just about summed it up; ‘Niagara Fails’ it had jestfully exclaimed.
I’d seen the then controversial all girl group, The Runaways play the previous year at The Roundhouse. They were great! When I heard that Phonogram in England didn’t want to release their new album, I tracked down their manager in New York and offered him a small advance for the record. One Friday evening a month later I arrived at Chappels recording studio to meet singer Joan Jett and her manager Toby Mamis. Joan was there recording some new tracks with Paul Cook and Steve Jones from The Sex Pistols. I was a little nervous at first. Were a band who were used to the financial benefits of a major record company going to be happy with the minimal resources of Cherry Red? I needn’t have worried. Toby Mamis already knew the game I was playing and was just pleased to get the album out. When The Runaways album was released we were viewed in a different way. It was little like being promoted from the Vauxhall Conference to the Third Division. We were now in the league!
Iain McNay with Bill Gilliam, Manager of The Dead Kennedys.
By this time I had became close friends with Morgan-Fisher. Locked away in his somewhat minimal Cherry Red financed studio in a corner of his small Notting Hill apartment he produced a ‘compilation’ album containing performances by unknown bands he had ‘found’ on his travels. Morgan did a series of interviews, including Radio 1, and convinced everyone of the validity of the Hybrid Kids album. But they were never more than a creation of his very fertile imagination. He also had a publishing contract that he didn’t like very much. Years previously he had signed to DJM music and still owed them 42 songs. ‘No problem’ we decided one night in his local wine bar after drinking several bottles of Riesling. He would record, and I would release a 42 track instrumental single. He promptly recorded 42 ‘songs’ the next day and, a month later, when the single was released, he was out of his contract. He briefly had his own label, Pipe records, through Cherry Red, which released the notable ‘Miniatures’ album – 50 tracks of no more than one minute in length by 50 different artists.
Bill Gilliam was in partnership with Chris Gilbert. I had met Chris in my dealings with the Hollywoods Brats, for whom Cherry Red had released an album. (Incidentally we have just reissued the Brats albums on CD – what a great album!) He explained that he managed an American band called the Dead Kennedys and wanted to know if I would be interested in releasing an album by the band. The Kennedy’s already had their classic ‘California Uber Alles’ single out on Fast Product, and I knew the album would do really well. The only problem was that they wanted $10,000 to record the album, a sum that I didn’t have. I mused over the situation for a few days and talked about my frustration to Richard Bishop, the buyer at Caroline exports, the Virgin records owned export company. Richard immediately offered ‘Why don’t Caroline lend you the money and you give us the export exclusive for 3 months?’ And it was that easy. I flew to San Francisco, met the band, came back with the master tapes of ‘Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables’ and a few weeks later Cherry Red had an album in the National Top 40. Now people were taking the label really seriously, and best of all, I had some money in the Bank account to help expand the company. Offers for overseas licensing were flooding in on the back of the Dead Kennedys success, and Cherry Red was clearly ready for a new stage.
I was still working from my flat in Wimbledon at this stage, but it was clear I needed help now. For the previous three years I had done everything myself. I took on two people to help me, Mike Alway with the creative side of the record company, and Theo Chalmers with the publishing. I’d always had a strong feeling to take the music publishing side seriously. I didn’t know much about it, except that publishers seemed to make a lot of money through doing very little. I thought to myself, ‘If I can make money on the publishing, I can sign lots more bands to the record label.’ So far I’d signed all the available publishing on acts that I had signed for the record label, and I knew it was time to develop it further. Theo’s brief was to go out and sign the publishing of interesting bands, even if we didn’t have the recording. The first band he signed was Blancmange, who later went on to have 8 Top 40 records. We quickly built up a large catalogue covering the whole spectrum of independent music. If a band had only one song, we would still publish it and meticulously account to them their royalties. Matt Johnson (The The), Ben Watt, Tracey Thorn and The Go-Betweens were all signed on long term publishing contracts at this early stage.
Theo Chalmer, Mike Alway, Iain McNay. Cherry Red team, 1982.
It was at this point that the Cherry Red label really started to take off. The choice of Mike Alway as A and R man was a wise one. Within 18 months he had signed Eyeless in Gaza, Felt, The Monochrome Set, The Marine Girls, Tracey Thorn, Ben Watt, Thomas Leer and The Passage. It was a magical period. Virtually every release we put out entered the Independent charts. When we put out the ‘Pillows and Prayers’ compilation album, (unheard of value with 17 tracks for 99p) in December 1982 it went on to sell 120,000 copies. But one day the following Summer, when I returned from an extended American trip, Mike’s Alway’s resignation was on my desk. The lure of Warners Bros backing, and dreams of fame and fortune, had been too great. He was to leave Cherry Red and intended to take with him all the important acts. Blanco y Negro was born, and Cherry Red was losing its star players. It was a massive blow, both business wise and personally, as Mike and I had become good friends.
But life went on. We launched Anagram Records as a home for many of the bands that we published that didn’t really fit on the Cherry Red label. One Way System, Alien Sex Fiend, The Vibrators, The Angelic Upstarts and Vice Squad and many others helped make Anagram a success. A compilation of hits from seventies glam rock band The Sweet found its way into the pop charts, as did the ‘Punk and Disorderly’ compilation albums.
Adrian Sherwood was ahead of his time, and he intrigued me. His ON-U Sound label was delivering some of the most original music I had ever heard. Adrian didn’t have much money, and wanted to make as many records as he could. We financed seven albums over the next two years which have all found renewed life as CD reissues. Felt and Eyeless in Gaza meantime both decided to stay with Cherry Red and John Hollingsworth succeeded Mike Alway at the helm of the A @ R department. John’s two most significant signings were Yugoslavian political and musical extremists Laibach, and Red Box. I had to read Laibach’s political manifesto in candle light in their squat in Belsize Park before they would sign the contract. Red Box just walked into the office with the finished master of ‘Chenko’, and nearly had a hit with us, before going on to top ten success with Warner Bros.
Late one extremely wet and cold Monday evening I was driving home from having dinner with our German licensee, when I suddenly found I had two flat tyres. I called the AA rescue service and sat somewhat dejectedly as I waited for them to come. I switched on the John Peel show and the first record I heard was the haunting song by Jane, ‘It’s a fine day.’ I loved the record, and even more, loved the song. Next morning I rang Peel’s producer to find out more about the record. I tracked down Edward Barton the owner, bought the rights to the record and the song, and three weeks later ‘It’s a fine day’ was out on Cherry Red and sitting in the lower reaches of the National charts. It wasn’t until nearly 10 years later that the true significance of my flat tyres became apparent. In January 1992 I was having dinner at MIDEM in Cannes again when Pete Waterman from PWL came over to me enthusiastically pronouncing, “Iain, we’re going to have a No 1 hit with your song.’ I didn’t even know which song he was referring to until he explained that he was putting out a new version of ‘Fine Day’ by a group called OPUS 3. It didn’t actually get to No 1 but was a big hit all over the Continent and has now become one of Complete Music’s biggest copyrights. [Cherry Red Music changed it’s name to Complete Music in 1984]
In 1985, two years after leaving for bigger oceans, Mike Alway’s ship came upon stormy seas and he and Warner Bros parted company. Together we formed El Records under the Cherry Red umbrella. El achieved widespread critical acclaim. Everybody loved the sleeves, the image, and many people seemed to like the records. But alas very few bought them, and after three years El records died a natural death. However its spirit lives on in Japan with many successful bands there, especially Flippers Guitar, acknowledging the influence that El had on them.
In 1987 I decided to leave my own business, and for 4 years I didn’t come into the office. I travelled from Country to Country on an extended adventure exploring the World and myself. I would make the occasional phone call to the office to see how things were going and eventually returned to London in May 1991.
When I returned, both the music and the structure of the music industry was rapidly changing. It seemed that the huge multi-national corporations had decided that the way to now break new acts in the UK was through the ‘indie’ network. The Independent charts, which I had helped initiate way back in 1980, had become invaded by records released by labels that were either financed by, or even worse, owned by the multi-national corporations. The word ‘indie’ had become a marketing word that was banded around and had absolutely nothing to do with either the original intention of the chart, or even the meaning of the word.
The attitude of the acts was also fast changing. No longer were they willing to build their career over time, over two or three albums; success, both creative and financial was wanted fast.
We did sign a couple of new bands; Prolapse and Tse Tse Fly. We did all the ‘right’ things. We achieved the rock show evening plays, the good reviews in the music papers and the credible gigs. But we didn’t any more have the right resources that were now needed to sustain a bands career. It took money, a lot of money to help make a band successful.
I wondered for a time what to do with the company, which direction to take it in. There were certain acts that we had previously worked with who still sold a fair amount of records around the World, who understood the way we worked. So we still put out records by Alien Sex Fiend, The Monochrome Set, Momus and others. But I could see a huge gap in the independent market. There were a few labels specialising in re-issues but no-one was really concentrating on the music of the late ’70 and early to mid 1980’s. And that was the area I knew best of all.
So, we rapidly began to find another niche for ourselves. We methodically began to acquire the rights to as many of the important independent labels of the late ’70’s and early ’80’s as we could. Flicknife, No Future, Rondelet, Midnight, Temple and In Tape were some of the many labels we acquired rights to. We started a new series called ‘The Punk Collectors Series’ in 1993 which was an immediate success. More recently we have launched a ‘Psychobilly Collectors Series,’ a ‘British Steel’ metal collectors series, and a ‘Goth Collectors Series.’ All have been very popular.
Probably, the project closest to our hearts in the office, being an office full of avid football, fans is ‘The Football Collectors Series.’ We started this in 1995 and are now up to 50 releases. We have collections of songs of most of the Premier League clubs, over half the 1st Division clubs, as well as some of the bigger Scottish clubs. Add to this, the songs of the National squads of England, Scotland, Jamaica and Ireland and you really do have a diverse selections of football songs. We have inevitably slowed down with our football releases of late. We would still love to complete the set of all 92 league clubs but we have to balance the work involved with possible sales which excludes many clubs for the time being.
1999 saw us take over the day to day running of the much respected RPM label. The last three years has seen the label’s output grow considerably under the guidance of Mark Stratford and we now aim to increase the RPM catalogue by 30 or so releases per year. The amount of time Mark puts into the research of every release is considerable and the feedback we get on the quality of the releases, especially the packaging is excellent.
We have started several new labels the last couple of years or so. The 7Ts imprint is now up to 15 releases. This has been covering the area of many forgotten artists of the 1970s such as Showaddywaddy, The Glitter Band, Hello and Barry Blue. We have again gone to a lot of trouble with the packaging and all the other details to try and make the releases as definitive as possible.
Nick Currie’s Analog Baroque label has definitely been keeping its finger on the pulse. Apart from his own excellent output as Momus, Nick has also given us two Stereo Total albums which have done very well, both critically and sales wise. Exposure of the second album was very much helped by the band’s support slots on The Strokes European tour.
Gina Harp has now had three releases on her Arrivederci Baby! imprint. The second, the extraordinary Japanese girl duo, Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her, scored well with the media, and look destined for great things in the future.
The main label addition for the Cherry Red family of labels in 2002 was the re-launch of Joe Foster’s Rev-Ola label. I am sure that many of you will remember Joe from his days as a member of the TV Personalities. He went on to become a co-founder of the Creation label with Alan McGhee where he originally launched Rev-Ola as their catalogue division. Creation was eventually bought out by Sony and Joe moved on with Alan to start Poptones. However Rev-Ola became dormant at this time and late last year Joe approached us about reviving a much loved and admired label. We are already up to about 20 releases as we cover the diverse worlds of artists such as Ivor Cutler, Randy Meisner and Sandy Salisbury.
Another project we are particularly enthusiastic about is the Sidewinder Sounds label. This label is for new bands and artists, mainly non-British, that we feel deserve exposure in the UK. Our first releases, ‘Masters Of The Hemisphere’ and ‘Busy Signals’ have received complimentary press exposure and we look forward to developing this label further.
Our relatively new book division continues to expand with a further six more books planned for 2003. Our policy is still very much about fans writing in depth books for other fans, and we were happy to see at the beginning of 2002 that David Parker received the Record Collector magazine’s ‘Book Of The Year’ award for his detailed work on Syd Barrett’s recordings. We now have a long term agreement with Garry Sharpe-Young to publish his ‘Rockdetector A to Z series’, six are already out with more to come. This past year has also seen books published about Apple Records, Ozzy Osbourne and The Rolling Stones.
We have also continued to grow on the DVD front. Two Marc Almond releases have been very well received, as have DVDs featuring William S. Burroughs and The Chameleons. Many more are lined up for 2003 and beyond.
The Cherry Red Story 1991 to 2017
Iain McNay returned to Cherry Red in 1991 with the intention of re-aligning the company in what was a much-changed music industry. Iain explains: “Martin Costello was running the publishing side (Complete Music) and overseeing the label. The great thing was, four years later, I still had a business, and I was grateful for that. Martin’s principal passion was publishing and during that time the label had become much less active, so when I came back I started to revive that side. Not long after that we hired Adam (Velasco, now Cherry Red MD).”
Adam started at Cherry Red in 1992 and explains: “I left school at 16, did a journalism course, and worked as a trainee researcher for the BBC. I wanted to work in music and I put an ad in Music Week seeing if I could get work. I’d done various jobs in the industry and I got a phone call from Cherry Red who asked me in for an interview. I got the role as office junior and the rest is history.” Adam rose through the ranks, taking on most roles in a skeletal Cherry Red office before becoming Managing Director several years later.
The music industry had changed a lot during Iain’s sabbatical. Iain elucidates: “It left me with a decision to make as to how to keep Cherry Red moving forward, and it was then that I had the idea of going into catalogue, and we started to acquire the rights to lots of independent labels. We also stripped the company back to just Adam around then, and I charged him with rebuilding it from scratch. I felt it wasn’t working as it was, I didn’t feel there was enough initiative and potential leadership. I didn’t want to drive and run it again, but I felt Adam could, so we had a clean sweep and pretty much started again.”
Adam explains: “Iain came back to the business around ’91 with the Flicknife deal and got in touch with Mark Brennan (Link Music). Iain continues: “Martin Costello invited Lol Pryor and Mark Brennan in and said you should talk to these guys about a label. Mark had the idea of the Punk Collector Series. That was our first Collector’s Series, which was quite significant because he started looking at our catalogue to see what could come out, in a slightly different form through repromotion, and then he also had ideas for licensing in from other sources. Mark was also partially responsible for helping secure the rights to Red Rhino, and I was at that point buying up Flicknife, No Future, Midnight and In Tape. The Punk Collectors Series went really well.” Adam: “The Punk Collectors Series gave us a start to build up our export business because suddenly people were interested in what we had. We decided to expand out and created a Goth series, British Steel, (the Metal Collectors Series), Pyschobilly and then later the Football Collector’s series. That was the start of the company expanding. Our release schedule when I first started was one per month, after a time we were releasing around 10 a month.”
Iain McNay: “The Football Collector’s series was a really good idea and it worked well right from the start. Mike Alway must take some credit because he was the one who put together a club compilation called Four-Two-Four which gave me the idea. We then started the Official Collector’s Series – the first was Arsenal, then Spurs, Newcastle, Liverpool, Everton and England. After that Tim Madgwick came on board to help; what was interesting is that they didn’t primarily go through traditional retail outlets – most shops didn’t know what to do with them. We sold direct to clubs, we shifted a lot through mail order, we publicised through the fanzines. It wasn’t until a couple of years down the line that retailers had a section for the football genre.” “We supplied the shops with the genre cards for the shops” remembers Adam. “It had a little football and our logo. They went out to all the music shops of the day. We really researched the football compilations, we got all the obvious tracks – the cup final songs etc, but we also researched the really obscure tracks which often came from the guys who edited the fanzines of the different clubs.” It was the attention to detail that built the Football Collector’s Series reputation. Finding the obscure and hard to find tracks were a necessity for the football fans, especially the real fans. Adam explains further: “The series kept going for about 60 releases, and with many of the clubs we revisited and released a second or third compilation. We worked closely with the clubs at that time and had a good relationship with them all. It was a success and people started copying us. We really were the first people to release football albums.” Iain continues: “It’s another example of Cherry Red not doing the obvious, and at the same time breaking new ground, because we created this genre of football records which didn’t really exist before that, apart from singles. It was something completely new.”
Around this time Cherry Red started to become involved in the world of non-league Football sponsorship. After becoming the shirt sponsor for Kingstonian FC, who were then playing in the Ryman League there were also deals to sponsor the Chiltonian League, the Helenic League and later the Combined Counties League, as well as various non-league cup competitions. For many years Cherry Red has been passionate about football, taking that passion further than the compilations. Iain describes:” In previous years we would go to Hyde Park on a Wednesday afternoon and play football. All the staff would go, and we’d invite various journalists and distributors, as well as artists. Both current and potential signings. It was fun. Mike Alway, our then A&R man, used to use these impromptu football matches as ways of determining the mettle of any prospective signings. Suddenly someone who came to the office to talk about signing to Cherry Red would be thrust into a quite competitive match with the staff and various others. Mike used to say: “Iain it’s got nothing to do with their footballing ability, I want to see how strong their character is. You need musical ability as well as strong character to be successful.” There used to be the odd competitive game where we would play Sounds or NME at 11 a-side, and it would all get a bit more serious! Most of the time it was a fun kick-about, for both the boys and the girls. One of the best players was Kate Jackanello, she was obviously a forerunner of women’s football.” In more recent years Cherry Red had developed a strong five aside team, made up of staff members. For several seasons they played in an indoor music business five-a-side football league. Iain continues: “We used to have the odd ringer, more for fun than anything else. One time we were a couple of players short so we drafted Chris White who had played centre half for Leeds and England U21s, and also Chris Kelly, the famous Leatherhead Lip, who was then manager of Kingstonian FC and had been famous Leatherhead’s extraordinary FA Cup run in 1975.” Mark Stratford of RPM fondly remembers his part in the team, even once scoring a goal: “Not long after RPM joined forces with Cherry Red, we were in the sports hall at the Oval. After a magnificent through ball by Jon Roberts (Production Manager) I smashed it into the top left hand corner. Probably truer was the time I got in the way of a pass from Jon to someone else, stumbled over the ball which shot out sideways, sufficiently confusing the keeper. Nonetheless I did once wear the colours and contributed a goal to the proud sporting history of Cherry Red.”
Iain McNay, Jah Wobble, Neil Ardley and Adam Velasco at the Cherry Red Records Stadium 2016
In the last few years Cherry Red has upped its support of football endeavours and currently sponsors the stadium for League One AFC Wimbledon, as well as the kit sponsors for League Two Wycombe Wanderers.
Cherry Red has amassed a burgeoning trophy cabinet over the years, not only from various sporting endeavours, but thanks to their in-depth musical knowledge. One night stands out vividly; the 2009 AIM Christmas Quiz. Held in central London it found the team pitted against a raft of independent labels and music journalists. After several grueling rounds of musical aptitude, the scores were level, leaving victory resting in the arms (literally) of Digital Marketing manager Ricky Martin. After tying neck and neck with the Independent newspaper Ricky valiantly won the prize by arm wrestling, in his words “the largest man I’ve ever seen.” Cherry Red still has an active music quiz team, and in recent years have started a fledgling cricket team, including members of the office and global music icons such as Anthony Phillips (Genesis).
Following the success of the Collector’s Series, the first breakthrough in terms of bringing an outside existing label to Cherry Red was RPM. “I got a tip off from Keith West” remembers Iain. “Keith said I should go visit Mark Stratford who ran RPM. I had a conversation with Mark and I could see there was a good synergy between the companies.” Adam continues: “He was bringing out a lot of releases because he had an established catalogue. I remember seeing Mark at the Pinnacle sales conferences as he always used to present there. It was a well-known, established reissue label and we took over the catalogue and to this day Mark continues to guide the label and look after all new releases. The next reissue label we became involved with was Rev-Ola and while that didn’t bring a catalogue along, it was an established name and we worked with Joe for many years to rebuild a very eclectic catalogue.”
Cherry Red was drastically changing its direction, finding something new that it could do well and was popular. As they ventured into different genres there was room to expand…in the unique Cherry Red way. No one else is as diverse as Cherry Red with regards to genres – most reissue labels are known for a certain type of music. Iain elaborates: “What was unique was how we had the active labels, like RPM and Rev-Ola and then Esoteric, and they all had a slightly different structure in terms of their relationship with Cherry Red. It’s about finding the optimum relationship for the different labels. We let them play to their strengths and we cover their weaknesses. It’s the analogy of a football team – you’ve got the great forwards but you make sure you have a good defence when needed.” Adam surmised: “We started licensing from major labels as well. There was a lot of catalogue that they owned which wasn’t being exploited and it was through RPM and Rev-Ola that we built up our relationship with them and started releasing a lot of lost catalogues and lost albums.” Iain continues: “It wasn’t easy to build a relationship with any of the major companies. They get so many different requests from lots of different parties to license material and obviously, their concerns are that the job is done properly and they’re paid on time. One of the things we have always done is pay our royalties on time, as well as involving the artist where appropriate. I remember it took about five years to get in the door at Universal, and it was because we were really keen to release the Runaways catalogue, that was how we finally got started and since then it’s been a very good relationship with them and indeed all the other major companies.”
In the true spirit of Cherry Red the next endeavour took on 1970s glam rock. Adam says: “We talked for many years about a ‘70s label, and the whole glam rock scene. Mark Brennan who was running the punk collector’s series, was a big fan of glam. One day we thought “let’s try it.” It’s very much our philosophy here, let’s give something a go. If it’s not going to put the company at risk, we like trying new ideas. Obviously, Mark is known for his Captain Oi label, but we would call him Captain Glam! The first release on the 7Ts label was the Glitter Band. Then we waited for the feedback from fans and collectors. Even before the internet we were always asking people to write in so we’ve always had a lot of great ideas from fans. Around this time, we started noticing a lot of requests for 80s pop. At first we a bit dismissive, we didn’t think there was a collector’s market for it. However we were getting campaigned a little by people and once again, in that spirit of trying something new we decided to give 80s pop a go. We soon found out there’s not a more fierce, loyal fan base than 80s pop fans. The label name Cherry Pop came through my friend Becky who was working with us. We were discussing it in the office and she shouted out “what about Cherry Pop” – she’s still asking about her royalties!”
From there the logical next phase has been the undertaking of genre-spanning boxsets and historic artist compilations such as Scared To Get Happy: A Story of Indie Pop 1980-89 and Close To The Noise Floor: Formative UK Electronica 1975-86. Adam explains: “The whole reissue market has evolved. Before most companies were doing single CD releases of albums with bonus tracks. The market has changed such a lot these days and people want more. A lot of albums have been done to death with as many bonus tracks as they can find. We’ve found people are interested in an artist who’s had a long career. It’s nice to try and catalogue all their music, especially if they have enough material for a boxset or an anthology. On the compilations side, there are a lot of budget market Best Of Punk, Best of Pop etc CDs, so we try and differentiate by finding an angle and describing a scene where we can go in-depth. We don’t want to only pick the obvious tracks. We include the bigger names but we also feel it’s the more obscure names and tracks that fans are interested in. They want a combination. As well as that we want to find the right angle, something that hasn’t been done before and we’re always conscious of how can we represent it in an interesting way for people. A lot of our compilations tell a story of a time or scene.
One of the most important boxsets released during Cherry Red’s history has been the genre defining progressive rock album by Hawkwind; Warrior On The Edge Of Time. Overcoming seemingly insurmountable hurdles, Adam tells us more: “We had to get over twenty signatures from current and ex band members for the majority of the catalogue. Obviously, that’s challenging. With the help of the band and the ex-manager Doug Smith we managed to track down all the members and got them to sign a contract. With regards to Warrior On The Edge Of Time, I’d like to think that we’ve presented it well. Mark Powell (Esoteric Recordings) has done a great job of presenting it in a way that has lifted the band to another level. Hawkwind are constantly working, touring all over the world and we have a good relationship with them. Hopefully we’ll be working with them for a long time.” Iain sums it up: “We don’t give up. It might take several years to clear a project but if that project is worth it and we feel the potential is there, we just keep going. With regards to the boxsets, the challenge is to keep producing physical product that people want to buy and it becomes increasingly difficult. Physical becomes more of an artefact over time. You’ve got to think ahead of what people may want and that has always been the Cherry Red way. We’ve always thought about where things are going and we try to be ahead of the game. Our boxsets are, in their own way, ground-breaking. They are very well thought out and presented. The way they combine the big names with the obscure makes it even more fascinating. There’s an intrigue about what’s on there. They become artefacts for years to come because they define a genre at that time in history.” Other boxsets released include Creation Artifact: The Dawn Of Creation Records 1983-1985, Millions Like Us: The Story of the Mod Revival 1977-1989, C86 – The Deluxe Edition, Action Time Vision: A Story of UK Independent Punk 1976-1979 and Still In A Dream: A Story Of Shoegaze 1988-1995.
Cherry Red returned to releasing new albums in 2009, the starting block coming from Marc Almond’s solo album Orpheus in Exile. Adam explains: “We were approached by Barney (Ashton, SFE Recordings) about possibly releasing Marc’s new album. We had concentrated on the reissues side for many years and we had artists approach us who we’d worked with, who had a new album and we’d always be a bit reluctant. We wanted to try it, and with Marc it felt right. There was definitely potential in a new album. It ended up working well for both of us. That gave us more confidence to speak to other bands. The majors were releasing less new albums and artists were getting dropped so there was a real pool of great artists who didn’t have a record deal but did have a solid fan base that could make it worthwhile. Once we dipped our toe in and it went well we expanded more.” The list now runs into the hundreds, including The Zombies, Hawkwind, Todd Rundgren, House of Love, Claudia Brücken, Swervedriver, Polyphonic Spree, Andy Bell, Bettye LaVette, Go-Kart Mozart and the Fall. Adam continues: “One of our biggest groups is the Fall – we enjoy our relationship with Mark E Smith. We relish working with enigmatic artists. Lawrence (Felt, Denim, Go-Kart Mozart) is a wonderful songwriter who is part of the family and we enjoy working with him. We’ll always work with Lawrence. We also had some chart hits, with the Fall, and a top 30 album with Hawkwind (The Machine Stops, 2016).”
These days Cherry Red is the home to over 26 active labels, all headed by an expert in their chosen genre and covering a wide range of music – from soul, funk and jazz to rock, prog and punk…and a good dose of pop, ska and country for good measure!
One of the stalwart labels during Cherry Red’s formative years was the el label, headed by former A&R man Mike Alway. El was re-formed in 1986 on Mike Alway’s return to the Cherry Red fold. Mike explains: “The initial conceptual phase of the label was my response to the contemporary scene. I tried to offer a fresh approach with emphasis on presentational continuity and art direction both within and without the music.” Taking a theatrical or cinematic approach Mike continues: “The pop art meets tradition Avengers television series and the kodachrome films of Michael Powell an Emeric Pressburger were particular inspirations.” Taking every possible opportunity to depart from the state protocols of the industry, Mike remembers one situation where El were about to release five 10″ EPs simultaneously with a press fanfare. “Although he had before him a beautiful set of colour sleeve proofs, the Melody Maker journalist in the chair that week had misplaced his preview cassette of the tracks. There was of course no internet in those days and deadline was almost upon him, so we suggested that he study the sleeves and review the records according to the sound the visuals seemed to him to suggest. The writer was a good sport and agreed to participate, writing that he considered this novel approach to be “a splendid game” and a week later we found we had been afforded a huge column of invaluable publicity.” It was a case of positive reviews encouraged by the playful attitude. From 2004, El moved more succinctly into the theatre and cinema world of music, including pop psychedelia, the lighter end of the jazz spectrum, musical impressionism, the 20th century avant-garde and Indian and Brazilian music. In short, the cultures and diversities which informed the original label, bringing everything, in a sense, full circle.
Mark Brennan has been involved with Cherry Red for many years now, and currently helms the 7Ts and Anagram labels which release hard to find and out of print glam rock and punk albums respectively. Mark describes his initial thoughts: “I first met Iain when I came into the office with my then business partner Lol Pryor, as Cherry Red were looking for a way to increase their album releases. I had an idea for the Punk Collector’s Series, they had a lot of really good punk catalogue and I knew I could help them license from the Link repertoire and other sources. After I started the series we began to get the release schedule up from one a month to three or four a month. Iain and I used to go to the cafe on the Fulham road, determined that we would come out with a decent release schedule; something which showed some initiative on new releases.” It was the inventiveness of the label that helped them stand out from the crowd, a good example being the time Cherry Red took Vinnie Jones to the MIDEM sales conference in Cannes (the real surprise was that it was a life size cardboard cut-out). Mark continues: “I remember one time Iain invited Martin Peters, who had scored one of the goals in the 1966 World Cup Final for England along to our then distributor Pinnacle’s sales conference. Martin was a surprise guest and told some stories about his days at West Ham and playing for England. Iain would also sometimes bore the assembled audience by showing them replays of goals scored by Kingstonian FC who they were sponsoring at the time!”
Tim Madgwick has been involved with Cherry Red for many years, and when he’s not putting together various pop related rarities for the Cherry Pop label he’s supporting Arsenal FC and raising sheep and lamb on his commercial farm in Teesdale. Tim was brought into the Cherry Red fold to work on the football compilations in the mid ‘90s. “It was all different then, it was all done through the football fanzines” remembers Tim. “I was managing various artists and Iain was looking to reactivate the football label. I walked into the office and got talking to Adam about Arsenal and that was it!” Gradually moving from football to music it was the early days of Cherry Red that were very football focussed and also the early days of Mark Stratford and Mark Brennan. Working with such a small team where football was at the heart of the business led to some entertaining days out. “Any England game at Wembley we would do the Cherry Red version of corporate entertaining – we’d would take everyone to Wembley Cottage – the curry house near the stadium! Mark Brennan would always order Tandoori Chicken and when we finally asked him why he told us he’d never trust anything you can’t put ketchup on!” Nowadays Tim produces more than just great music. His award winning lamb won the 2015 Great Taste award. This year he’s going for mutton.
The RPM label specialises in 1960’s -1980’s UK and US reissues and bespoke compilations. Many iconic releases have been created from ‘The Teenage Opera’ to Joe Meek’s ‘ I Hear A New World’ to The Aerovons to mod defining ‘Looking…’ box sets. Offshoot series include RPM International for 60’s/70’s recordings from outside the Uk and US / Frenzy – focusing on New Zealand and Australia / Shout – a heritage of classic soul and r’n’b. Mark Stratford, founder and head of the label remembers how the association with Cherry Red first started: “Iain came to see me in my office in Oxford to discuss licensing a collection of recordings we represented back then by the 1980’s post-punk band the Au Pairs for a Best Of.” He went away with a Best Of The Au Pairs and the seeds of RPM Records joining the Cherry Red label group.”
Wayne Dickson runs the Big Break Records label, specialising in classic black dance music from the sixties, seventies and eighties. A journey that starts with psychedelic soul and jazz though funk and philly soul, on to disco and then to street soul, pop dance and electro. Wayne got in touch with Cherry Red after several years putting together compilations at Sony. Wayne said: “In the end I got in touch with Adam because they put out a release that I really didn’t like! I felt I could do it better and our Gloria Gaynor album (Never Can Say Goodbye) proved to be a perfect starting point for the launch of the new label. The idea was to make it as broad as possible. To release black music that was, at one point or another, bought by a lot of people in the USA.” With just shy of 400 releases in the BBR discography, it shows there is still a big appetite for these classic genres.
Established in 2007 and label managed by Mark Powell, Esoteric Recordings is the home of progressive, psychedelic and classic rock, with all releases finely packaged and remastered from the best possible sources to ensure the highest possible audio quality. The releases of the label cover both catalogue and inspiring new works from artists with a fine history and heritage, including Barclay James Harvest, Van Der Graaf Generator, Anthony Phillips, The Moody Blues, Todd Rundgren and Vangelis. Esoteric’s sister labels include Esoteric Antenna (an imprint dedicated to new albums by established and new artists), Atomhenge (pioneering psychedelic and classic rock with a focus on Hawkwind’s catalogue and their side projects), Reactive (classic German prog, electronic, experimental and ambient albums like Tangerine Dream), Manticore (a revival of ELP’s classic ‘70s label featuring such artists as PFM and Pete Sinfield) and Cocteau Discs (catalogue reissues from the inimitable Bill Nelson).
Esoteric Antenna enjoyed its first major success with “A Life Within a Day” by Squackett, the collaboration between former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett and the much missed Yes member Chris Squire. Billboard chart placements followed with two acclaimed albums by Todd Rundgren, along with Jack Bruce’s final studio album “Silver Rails”. European success also came with the release of the albums “A Grounding in Numbers” & “Do Not Disturb” by Van Der Graaf Generator and “North” by John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest. In 2014 Antenna also issued the album “10,000 Light Years Ago” by Moody Blues member John Lodge (notable for also featuring appearances by Moody Blues former members Ray Thomas and Mike Pinder).
2017 sees Esoteric Recordings’ tenth anniversary and further success for the label with their reissues of catalogues by Procol Harum and The Move. The future promises more interesting projects for the label, thanks to the acquisition of the entire Be Bop Deluxe catalogue, the former Parlophone & Harvest catalogue of Barclay James Harvest (including the classic gold-selling Once Again album), Yes member Chris Squire’s legendary solo album Fish Out of Water and the first four albums by Curved Air. Another exciting catalogue due for reworking on Esoteric Recordings is the solo work of Procol Harum’s Gary Brooker and all of the Procol Harum catalogue from Broken Barricades onward.
With well over 100 titles already available 7T’s Records has become the label for all things ‘70s and beyond. From the art pop of 10cc to the glam stomp of The Glitter Band and the rock n roll of Showaddywaddy the ‘70s had it all… and 7T’s Records has it all too. The label is guided by veteran of the music industry Mark Brennan, who also runs the Captain Oi and Anagram record labels.
Managed by David Wells, Cherry Tree is Cherry Red’s bespoke folk/singer-songwriter imprint, devoted to issuing definitive versions of rare and/or classic albums from the late 60s/early 70s as well as hitherto-unissued material from the same timeframe. Artists reissued include Dave Swarbrick, Ian Campbell Folk Group, Julie Covington and Jan Dukes De Grey. David also oversees the Grapefruit label, an output for the bespoke psych/garage-era imprint, devoted to issuing single-artist career anthologies (The Herd, The Sorrows, The Knickerbockers) and definitive versions of rare and/or classic albums (Duncan Browne’s debut, Skip Bifferty, Tinkerbell’s Fairydust) dating from the 1966-70 timeframe, with all releases boasting sympathetic artwork, rare photos, detailed liner notes and from-the-masters sound quality.
Croydon Municipal is an attempt to make sense of the analogue pop era in a digital world. The label is curated by Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley, who loves to root through boxes of old 45s and 78s, give them a quick wash, package them together, and make them available again at a nice affordable price. Bob thinks of it as a public service. It’s also intended as a way of curating the past, the early years of pop.
HNE Recordings was created as a hard rock and heavy metal imprint with the mission to release the best classic reissues from the world of rock and metal. The releases have covered the likes of Motorhead, Uriah Heep, Diamond Head, Girlschool, Meat Loaf, Alice Cooper and more. Recently HNE has gone into partnership with Deep Purple’s record label Purple Records to release albums that were originally signed in 1968 to Parlophone Records in the UK, before switching to EMI’s progressive imprint, Harvest, the following year. Purple Records was set up in 1971, not just to release Deep Purple’s records but also the various side projects that the band members were developing, and artists that they were discovering and respected. The label would eventually become home to debut solo releases from Deep Purple’s Jon Lord, Roger Glover, David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes, as well as early releases from Yvonne Elliman and Ronnie James Dio with Elf. The label is overseen by Hugh Gilmour.
Hot Milk, a reggae re-issue label bringing lost classics back to life is run from the Cherry Red office by Eddy Ball (Business Affairs, Publishing). Releases include the treasured archive of producer Adrian Sherwood, lost albums from The Upsetters, Barry Brown and Keith Hudson and is released on CD and 12” vinyl.
Lemon Recordings is home to the best in classic rock and new wave albums from the 70s to the present – featuring rare archive classics, quality re-issues and previously unavailable albums from recognised bands. Established in 2003 and run by expert A&R man Steve Hammonds, Lemon Recordings goes from strength to strength, boasting some of the biggest names in rock history, such as Girlschool, City Boy, Humble Pie, Bachman Turner Overdrive and Mick Ronson.
Morello Records was launched in July 2012 and releases the best in country music reissues. Many of the releases have never been available on CD before and are popular with collectors all over the world. The label is steered by music expert Lee Simmonds and features the likes of Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, George Jones, Tammy Wynette and Mick Softley.
Now Sounds was established by Steve Stanley, who began by producing of over fifty Rev-Ola titles. The label is dedicated to exploring the untrodden sonic avenues of the creatively fertile West Coast music scene and beyond. They celebrate the golden era of popular music (1964-1972) via soft psychedelia, breezy harmony pop, girl groups, Spectorian sound (and his imitators), folk rock, downer folk psych and everything in-between. Releases include exclusive bonus tracks, lengthy liner notes and unpublished photos.
Phoenix City Records is run by Sean Flowerdew (Pama Intl/The Loafers). The label focuses on the finest ska, rocksteady, reggae, soul & dub from around the world, mixing classic reissues with blistering new sounds. Releases include new albums by Sonic Boom Six and Rhoda Dakar.
The Righteous label, run by respected Mojo journalist Dave Henderson, specializes in aching country, forgotten soul and other strange exotica. From George Jones to Hank Snow’s immortal ‘When Tragedy Struck’ through to the roots of Dylan’s twisted song writing inspiration, that’s the Righteous sound.
Robinsongs is the label that specialises in releasing some of the best jazz, funk & soul titles ever recorded and is run by Cherry Red’s licensing manager Paul Robinson. The bonus with Robinsongs releases is you usually get more than one album – they specialise in double albums and Best Of compilations. Artists to be found on Robinsongs include The Bar-Kays, Cameo, Jimmy Castor Bunch, Con Funk Shun & Johnny Guitar Watson to name but a few, and on the jazz funk scene Idris Muhammad, Bob James, Hank Crawford & Lee Ritnour. All titles are remastered and include sleeve notes by some of today’s best jazz, funk & soul journalists.
Strike Force Entertainment teamed up with Cherry Red to release new albums and reissues from a star-studded line up of 80s, 90s and contemporary pop acts. SFE has released new albums by Marc Almond, Andy Bell and Jimmy Somerville (amongst others) to critical acclaim as well as reissues and compilations by the likes of Wolfgang Flur (Kraftwerk), Dusty Springfield, Liza Minelli and Elaine Paige. SFE also releases the very best in specialist DVD titles. With historical documentaries on everything from The First World War to Swingin’ Sixties Rock N Roll plus a whole lot of cult & classic feature films.
SoulMusic Records was initially formed in 2008 as a logical outgrowth of the website bearing its name, considered one of the top sites for classic and contemporary R&B and soul music. The site was originally created in 2000 by David Nathan, renowned R&B historian, author, sleeve notes writer and music journalist. The label has grown exponentially since its partnership with Cherry Red and now boasts upwards of 150 reissues and new albums including global icons such as Nancy Wilson, The Temptations, George Duke, The Pointer Sisters and The Three Degrees. David Nathan said: “I’d been working with Clive Richardson (Shout Records, SOLAR Radio) for years and he put me in touch with Adam when I was looking to expand our wonderful website. Our love for the music and the rich history of soul in all its forms is what makes SoulMusic Records the place to go for soul.”
Over the past few years Cherry Red has been building their licensing catalogue, and now represents a vast index of recordings covering almost every popular music genre from the last fifty years, holding worldwide rights over much of the material. Through the publishing arm, Cherry Red Songs, they have control of nearly 18,000 copyrights, making them a one stop shop for many of the tracks where they also control the master. Cherry Red songs have featured on a wide range of films, TV and games, including Stranger Things and Call Of Duty. Matt Bristow (Business Affairs Manager) explains: “We often meet music supervisors who work with the director of a film or TV programme in a bid to match music to the scene they’re filming. Often, we have a case where there is a track which is of immediate use to them but they also have access to our database and incorporate it into their system. That way if they need a track about a certain subject they already know that we might have a song for them. We have built relationships with people where they know to come to us for a range of different styles and genres over many decades of music releases.”
Cherry Red TV is the label’s portal for delivering in-depth interviews with music artists, labels and authors. Interviews include the likes of Todd Rundgren, Big Country, Suzi Quatro and many more discussing their careers. Alongside artists and songwriters are interviews with the guiding figures behind some of the most influential independent record labels of all time including Creation Records, Bella Union and Cooking Vinyl. It is the vision of Iain who tells more: “We started Cherry Red TV with the idea of interviewing label bosses. We wanted to get the story of a label through an interview with the founder. We covered labels like Jungle, Midnight, Creation, Cooking Vinyl and many more. For us it was part of the way Cherry Red does things get these great stories out there for everyone to hear. Over the last few years that’s developed and we’ve interviewed a lot of artists we’ve worked with as well. We want to give further insight into their careers and the way we present their catalogue; a good example of that is Anthony Philips (Genesis). We see Cherry Red TV as an evolving process and we’ve started a new series called My Adventures in Music (including interviews with John Leckie, Phil Wainman, Martin Heath and Ged Doherty). This is a series where we talk to people who’ve had a lengthy career in the industry and provide insights for other people who are interested in starting out in the music industry.” Cherry Red TV is on Sky channel 212 and FreeSat channel 161.
In early 2017 Cherry Red started to obtain an exciting array of new catalogue acquisitions to add to their substantial roster. As well as buying the rights to the Fall’s back catalogue the label is now in partnership with The Residents and their management The Cryptic Corporation. Alongside the rights to T.K.O, Purple Records, Glenn Hughes and Theatre of Hate (deals done in late 2016), Cherry Red now own all or significant parts of the rights to Mel & Kim, Curved Air, Be-Bop Deluxe, Kim Wilde, Howard Jones and Arthur Brown catalogues.
The label celebrated their 40th Anniversary in 2018, where chairman Iain McNay was presented with the Special Recognition Award at the AIM Awards in September for his tireless efforts promoting and pushing the boundaries of independent UK music. Cherry Red was also proud to support (and had a formative role in) the UK’s first National Album Day (13th October 2018) – a day in which the whole country celebrated the album as an enduring format and a truly special way to enjoy music. The catalogue side of the business increased with the purchase of Witchwood Media – the home of The Strawbs vast back catalogue, as well as indie labels Native and Inevitable Records. Deals were also struck for more material from The Fall and the first Genesis album – From Genesis To Revelation.
Now in its 41st year the label has the enviable position of continuity and growth, and with over 400 releases a year, as one of the most prolific record labels in the world. Iain surmises: “There are only three independent labels left from the late ‘70s. The ABC; Ace, Beggars and Cherry Red. Everybody else has either closed down or been bought. We take people that can A&R well, in a historical way and then utilise what they’re good at and fit it into the Cherry Red framework. They can flourish at the elements they’re good at and we can cover the bits they’re not as good with. There’s an art to that. The constants here are a passion for what we do and a commitment to do the very best for the music and artists we represent. We dare to be different, we look for new opportunities and we’re willing to reinvent ourselves.”