The Cherry Red Story

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The Cherry Red Story


Iain McNay, Founder & Chairman of Cherry Red Records

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!

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!

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.

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 2015

Iain McNay returned to Cherry Red in 1991 with the intention to re-align the company in what was a much-changed music industry. A significant first step came with the acquisition of material from many of the significant independent labels of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Flicknife, Red Rhino, No Future, Rondelet, Midnight, Temple and In Tape among them.

“Then I was approached by Mark Brennan who we’d known through Link Music,” says McNay. “He came up with the idea of us doing the Collectors Series – the first being the Punk Collectors Series – which he’d run on our behalf.”

That was to prove the turning point, giving Cherry Red a more focused identity for releases. Next came the Psychobilly Collectors Series, a British Steel (metal) Series and a Goth Collectors Series. Cherry Red was becoming an umbrella for a collection of themed labels, a situation that remains true today.

The Football Collectors Series started in 1995, the brainchild of an office full of avid football fans. There had been many releases by clubs, players or supporters, but no-one had put all these tracks, obvious and obscure, on a CD. It was a success, but wasn’t Cherry Red’s first sporting venture; Jim Phelan’s Exotica label had (when not compiling Beatles cover versions) been exploring obscure and remarkable links between football and music since 1991.

To underline Cherry Red Records’ continuing commitment to the beautiful game, they currently sponsor the Combined Counties League at grass-roots non-league level, an association that dates from season 2005-06, and have the naming rights to League Two side AFC Wimbledon’s stadium.

1999 saw Cherry Red bring the much-respected RPM label into the fold. This specialist collector’s imprint concentrating on the music of the 1960s and 1970s was seeking a partner to look after marketing, promotion, distribution and production, leaving founder Mark Stratford to concentrate on A&R. This gave Cherry Red another unique catalogue of releases in areas they weren’t covering. RPM has since developed a classic soul & R&B label offshoot, Shout Records, steered by veteran writer/broadcaster Clive Richardson, while critics’ favourite RPM International, with Kieron Tyler at the helm, has focused successfully on European (most notably Scandinavian) pop.

When Mark Brennan came up with the idea of the 7Ts (1970s) Collectors label, it was a subject close to Iain McNay’s heart. “I’d worked at Bell Records in the 1970s when it was a singles label and had great success with artists such as Showaddywaddy, Glitter Band, Hello and Barry Blue. Although at the time they were considered teenybop acts, they are now collectable.”

Cherry Red started to license the rights to these and put them out with deluxe packaging to make the releases as definitive as possible. The response from the collectors’ market was unanimously favourable, Brennan believing “The secret is in the presentation.” The label’s attention to detail has continued to attract big names like Suzi Quatro; her back catalogue has been restored to the racks in its entirety, while her 50 years in showbiz were celebrated in late 2014 by a four-CD box, ‘The Girl From Detroit City’.

The Cherry Red label itself remains as active as ever and now augments reissues with new work by established artists. The Fall, fronted as ever by Mark E Smith, are arguably the highest-profile act, the association beginning with 2011 album ‘Ersatz GB’. They have been followed by established artists like Hazel O’Connor, Big Country and the Blow Monkeys, while PiL’s Jah Wobble and House of Love have cut new albums.

Paul ‘Bonehead’ Arthurs, formerly of Oasis, and ex-Auteurs frontman Luke Haines recently launched projects on the parent label, while 1980s acts the Woodentops and Blancmange have used Cherry Red to relaunch and rejuvenate their recording careers.

The Lemon Recordings label was formed in 2003 to release hard-to-find and/or unreleased albums by classic rock acts from the 1970s to the present. Releases combine original artwork with comprehensive sleevenotes – and the catalogue is now beyond 200 releases, suggesting Lemon has located artists with lasting appeal, from Girlschool to Sad Café.

While it’s well established compared with the newcomers, the groundbreaking, highly stylised él records label remains an important member of the Cherry Red stable. Mike Alway, the man who discovered Matt Johnson (The The) and Everything But The Girl during his spell in A&R in 1980-83, continues in his aim “to transcend popular music to affect design and fashion and the cultural attitudes of a generation.”

The label enjoyed a resurgence in the 2000s, with a number of interesting releases in different genres. A deal with Italy’s renowned Bella Casa soundtrack label accessed two of the biggest Italian soundtrack catalogues, while Alway has released music from Brazil and India, as well as guitar music.

Cherry Pop, an imprint tasked with reissuing pop from the 1980s, opened for business in 2006 with LaToya Jackson, Sheena Easton and Haysi Fantayzee and swiftly moved into electro-pop courtesy of Visage, Red Box and A Flock of Seagulls. The label’s catalogue and reputation has built over time in a similar way to the 7Ts.

In its first few years of operation Cherry Pop established an unique niche for itself in giving so-called ‘manufactured’ pop acts the level of packaging and attention they deserved. It has reissued many iconic dance discs produced by PWL, the company behind Sam Fox, Hazell Dean and others, and in 2014, Kylie Minogue, queen of the Stock Aitken Waterman catalogue, had her chart-topping late-Eighties albums added to the Cherry Red catalogue under the PWL banner.

‘Sunshine pop’ was and remains the speciality of Now Sounds, the brainchild of US-based producer Steve Stanley. The label began in 2008 with releases by the Parade and Tina Mason, both prominent on the mid-1960s West Coast scene, and by 2014 had hit the half-century mark with Paul Parrish and the Cryan Shames.

Esoteric Recordings joined the stable in 2007, adding a progressive music string to Cherry Red’s bow. Run by respected catalogue consultant Mark Powell, they hit the ground running with multiple reissues from the likes of Barclay James Harvest and Man. Highlight of the first year was ‘Can You Follow’, a six-CD box set from Cream bass icon Jack Bruce. “Working with Jack was an absolute joy,” said Powell, who like all CR label bosses believes that “to do what is essentially your hobby as a job is wonderful.”

Esoteric have since released a new album by Bruce, 2014’s ‘Silver Rails’, and added such big names from the progressive world to their roster as American multi-instrumentalist Todd Rundgren, the Moody Blues’ John Lodge and ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett.

They have also developed ongoing relationships with several major artists to handle their back catalogues with appropriate remastering and attention to detail. Sub-labels Atomhenge, Erea and Cocteau are reserved for Hawkwind, Tangerine Dream and Bill Nelson titles respectively, the Manticore label founded by Emerson Lake and Palmer has been revived, while keyboard giants Vangelis and Rick Wakeman are also represented.

The year of 2012 saw the Esoteric Antenna sub-label activated to release new albums by contemporary acts. As well as albums from Squackett (Chris Squire and Steve Hackett) Soft Machine Legacy and Van Der Graaf Generator (and their singer-guitarist Peter Hammill), it has presented other, younger bands like Panic Room, Lifesigns, Tin Spirits (ex-XTC) and Hi Fiction Science.

Reggae and ska have proved enduring musical genres, and Cherry Red offer labels that cater for fans of the music through several labels. Badfish, run by Laurie Pryor, joined in 2013, while similarly ska-fixated Pressure drop and reggae reissue label Hot Milk are the babies of Laurence Cane-Honeysett and Eddie Ball respectively.

Radio and television promotion of Cherry Red products is expertly handled by industry veteran Ron McCreight. “Cherry Red releases fit many different broadcasting niches,” says McCreight, “and we’ve seen the exposure Cherry Red gets in the media reflected in sales.” The label’s titles have enjoyed notable exposure on BBC 6 Music and Radio 2, as well as national station Absolute Radio.

Cherry Red’s book division, which opened in 1997 with Indie Hits 1980-1989, has, in past years, covered such subjects as Syd Barrett (Random Precision, Record Collector magazine’s 2002 Book of the Year), Apple Records, Mott the Hoople and Jeff Beck, as well as definitive books on anarcho punk (No More Heroes and The Day The Country Died) and the punk-new wave period of 1976-1980 (No More Heroes). More recent titles include tomes on Sparks, Glam-Rock, the Specials and Led Zeppelin, while the updated Rolling Stones: The Complete Recording Sessions was reprinted several times during the band’s 50th anniversary activity.

Cherry Red is receptive to new ideas, and will use all possible means to make sure people can get hold of their records. Their website, updated daily, is a very important part of the business, while an online television channel, cherryred.tv, began broadcasting in late 2007. The station boasts an exclusive interview section featuring in-depth histories of many interesting artists and independent labels. Last but far from least is in-house magazine My Favourite Flavour, launched that same year and published three times annually.

The label’s music-publishing arm, Cherry Red Songs, based its catalogue on a foundation of 7,000 titles retained when affiliated company Complete Music was sold in 2006. The following year’s acquisition of Link Music’s catalogue added 1,800 more songs, including classics from the Exploited and Anti-Nowhere League. Cherry Red Songs currently represents work by over 900 artists and writers, from Adam Ant to Zounds, and over 10,000 songs are available for licensing.

A major loss to Cherry Red came in October 2007 with the death of Gina Harp, founder of the Arrivederci Baby! imprint which successfully licensed in overseas acts from America and Japan. Her enthusiasm for music is much missed.

Cherry Red has released an increasing number of multi-disc box sets since the augmented ‘Pillows & Prayers’ label sampler won Mojo magazine’s catalogue release of the year award. High-profile releases that have followed include ‘Scared To Get Happy’, the first set ever to document the explosion of indie-pop in Britain across the 1980s, and ‘C86’, a three-disc expansion of the New Musical Express cassette release that created a guitar-rock genre. The man behind these impressive offerings is catalogue consultant John Reed.

Individuals starting labels to reflect their own musical passions has long been a hallmark of Cherry Red’s development. When Dave Henderson, best known for his writings in Mojo magazine and responsible for its cover-mounted CDs, came up with the concept for Righteous in 2009, he found the perfect home. His mission statement, “We believe music should affect your emotions,” disguised some weird, wacky and downright obscure music, mostly country, novelty pop and gospel from American 1950s sources.

Grapefruit similarly harnesses the talents of British ‘sike’ expert David Wells, author of the book 100 Greatest Psychedelic Records, while industry veteran Lee Simmonds, who has worked with some of the biggest names in country, has been running his Morello imprint since 2012 to critical acclaim. Other labels to have graced the Cherry Red family in recent years include FiveFour, Analog Baroque, Mortarhate, Giant Steps, Rev-Ola, ArTpOp!, IronBird, SuperBird and T-Bird.

Formed in 2008 by the charismatic Barney Ashton, Strike Force Entertainment brought two very different audio and visual strands to the stable. Historical DVDs with transport and warfare themes were accompanied by new and reissued CD titles from the likes of Marc Almond, Erasure’s Andy Bell, Holly Johnson and more.

Heavy metal, traditionally underrepresented in Cherry Red’s output, made its presence felt in 2012 in the shape of Hear No Evil. Hugh Gilmour has released material from such respected names as Alice Cooper, Motörhead, Deep Purple and Uriah Heep in his first two years, benefiting from the contacts made in his earlier career as a sleeve designer.

BBR (Big Break Records) broke cover in 2010 and, in the hands of Wayne Dickson, quickly became Cherry Red’s most prolific label. Its remit is “classic soul and funk from the Seventies and Eighties”, mining such catalogues as Salsoul, Philadelphia International, Total Experience (Gap Band) and De-Lite (Kool & the Gang). A side label, Hot Shot Records, has released titles by Carly Simon and JoBoxers, among others.

SoulMusic Records is the brainchild of writer David Nathan, for many years US correspondent/contributing editor of Blues & Soul magazine. They have licensed classic music from Motown, Atlantic and other legendary Stateside labels, bringing iconic names like Dionne Warwick and Billy Preston to the Cherry Red stable.

St Etienne’s Bob Stanley launched themed compilation specialists Croydon Municipal in 2013 in-between writing best-selling books on popular culture, while the also new-found 3 Loop Music, run by Julian Fernandez and Tim Clements, has unleashed lauded indie reissues from the Auteurs to Beth Orton.

While still firmly committed to physical product, Cherry Red have also embraced the digital revolution over the last decade. The company are working hard to make all their back catalogue available for digital sale across all major retailers, even digging up some gems that never made it to a CD release. They have also developed a following across the major social media platforms, with their Facebook and Twitter pages active on a daily basis, and a wealth of original video material available to view via their YouTube channel.

Cherry Red stands today as a unique mixture of the contemporary and the classic. Once described as “a post-punk indie label so fey it made Rough Trade look like a Pit Bull,” it has toughened up its act, representing such happening acts as Bruce Springsteen-approved singer-songwriter Pete Molinari while still retaining links with Lawrence, the eccentric ex-Felt frontman now releasing music as Go Kart Mozart through his own West Midlands imprint.

Current Managing Director Adam Velasco joined in 1992 “as office junior, packing orders and making cups of tea” when the label’s release rate was scarcely more than one vinyl long-player a month. They may now be a proudly multi-media company releasing fifty titles in that self-same timespan, but Cherry Red remains firmly committed to the physical sound-carrying medium – currently the compact disc – and that looks set to be a continuing factor regardless of stylistic developments and new ventures.

Michael Heatley, October 2014

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