Category Archives: Music

Labelled With Love

ned‘Owning a record label’ is right up there alongside ‘professional footballer’ on the list of many peoples’ dream jobs – but it’s recently become reality for United fan, Rob Butler – who last year jacked in his day job to start Be With Records, a vinyl reissue imprint specialising in long-deleted and previously unavailable classic albums. Red News caught up with Rob to get the full lowdown on how he’s managed to leave the 9-5 behind and turn himself into a North London-based Berry Gordy/David Geffen instead.

RN: Hi Rob. Before we start, are you a top red or what?

RB: I’ve been getting to matches since I was 9. Sporadically at first, as I didn’t live near Manchester despite coming from (on my Mum’s side) a United-mad family. I was a member in my teens and got to a couple of games a season, then aged 20 I went to University in Manchester – United and the city’s music scene were both enormous draws for me. Alongside my my two older brothers we shared a couple of season tickets for about 5-6 years before I moved down to London in 2010 – so these days I’m back to going once or twice a season.

RN: You’ve passed, so we’re free to continue. Can you tell us how Be With began?

RB: I started working on the idea for the label towards the end of 2012. I wasn’t happy in my job and felt I needed a career change – ideally to something I was genuinely passionate about. Alongside United, it’s all about music for me – I’ve been a record lover and buyer for over 20 years. For a while I’d thought someone needed to be doing more high quality reissues of in demand vinyl records. There were numerous reissue labels I admired, but I still felt that lots of records were being overlooked.

My wanted list was already huge and full of prohibitively rare and expensive records, so I figured there was room for another label to do the releases I wanted to own. It definitely started out as something personal – I wanted these records so why didn’t I research how to license them and see if I could put them out myself? My thinking was if I want to own these, chances are there’ll be another 500 to 1000 people around the world who’ll want to own them too.

I spent about a year researching every last little thing that I could do in terms of starting a record label. Dealing with rights owners, running a small business and lots of competitive analysis – boring, I know – but I had to be very thorough. I released my first record in May last year – a Leon Ware album from 1982 – and it quickly sold out. A few more followed and then I signed off on another dozen releases towards the end of last year. That was the point where I realised I needed to go full time to do it justice, so I took the plunge and quit my day job.

RN: Did you see Neil Young quoted recently? Apparently the current vinyl revival is merely a “fashion statement.”

RB: Neil Young is one of my musical heroes so I find it hard to disagree with him on anything, but I do here! I think everyone can see where he’s coming from in one respect. Being seen as a ‘vinyl buyer’ or ‘crate digger’ is a fashion statement for a certain type of hipster in the digital age. So, in that regard, he’s probably not entirely wrong.

However, the desire to be seen as a ‘vinyl head’ is not relevant for any of the record buyers I know. For most vinyl lovers, the current resurgence can only be seen as a good thing. Aside the very obvious fact that I want people to buy more records to keep my head afloat; as a vinyl fan first and foremost, more people buying records means more labels will hopefully re-appraise their commitment to the format and start releasing their output on vinyl again. For me personally, and I know this opinion gets lampooned, it’s still the only format to hear music on.

RN: Aren’t you shooting yourself in the foot by not offering CDs and downloads as well?

RB: It just doesn’t interest me. Releasing under-heard music by those means would make more sense from a business perspective, but that’s not why I set the label up. Be With Records is entirely about love for vinyl and needing your favourite music on your favourite format. So yeah, although it’s an absolutely inflexible approach, it’s the right one for my label. I just couldn’t get excited about releasing music on any other format so that’s the end of the matter for me, really.

rob butler

RN: Fair enough. The releases you’ve done so far have featured a very eclectic mix of artists. What’s the selection process?

RB: I suppose the mix stems from my background. I’ve been – if you like – an ‘anything goes’ DJ for over 15 years. For the best part of my twenties I worked in Piccadilly Records on Oldham Street, a shop which epitomises an ‘all over the place’ approach to music. My tastes are extremely broad so hopefully Be With’s output will reflect that.

RN: What kind of response have you had so far?

RB: The reaction has been positive from all over the world. Social media has helped me get in front of vinyl lovers in a way that would’ve been impossible 10 years ago. I get messages every  day from people desperate for reissues of certain albums and singles. If I like the idea, it goes on ‘the list’  – which I’m determined to eventually work through – although that list is currently in excess of 1100 records!

It’s just me running the label at present, but the nice thing about being the sole decision maker is that I have complete creative control. I want people to suggest records to reissue as I think it’s important to be friendly and approachable – something that I know certain reissue labels don’t practice – but, at the same time, I’ll only ever release something that I’d want to own on vinyl myself.

RN: One of your artists, Ned Doheny is coming over for his first ever European tour next month. What’s the story there?

RB: I officially licensed Ned’s much sought-after, blue-eyed soul gem ‘Hard Candy’ for vinyl reissue in September and it quickly sold out. Demand for Ned’s music is so strong that a repress was ordered and I’ve just announced the reissue of his follow-up; the classic ‘Prone’ will be out in April.

In advance of that initial release, I wanted to contact him. I do this for every artist that I put out – it’s only right to involve the original artist and hopefully receive their blessing on top of the license from the rights owner. Over a series of calls between North London and Southern California I found out that Ned had recently been performing in LA, yet had never even toured  this side of the Atlantic. So I had to put that right – especially now a new generation has discovered his music for the first time. Ned was aware of some renewed interest in his work so I don’t think he was that shocked I got in touch – but he does seem a bit amused by it all. He’s remarked a couple of times that he’s not expecting a great response when he arrives in the UK but I think he’ll be surprised – there’s a small but ardent fanbase very eager to see this one-off tour.

be with

Thanks to Rob for his time. More info on past and future releases can found at bewithrecords.com 

Ned Doheny’s European tour begins next month. He will appear at Manchester’s Soup Kitchen on Friday 20th March.

Copyright Red News – February 2015

www.rednews.co.uk

Advertisements

Clap Your Hands

image

The story of Happy Mondays is one that’s been attempted a few times, with much that has been written regurgitating the same myths and half truths that made the band so tabloid friendly during their pomp. Whereas The Stone Roses projected an air of insouciant cool and are regularly awarded ‘greatest debut album of all time’ plaudits, any mention of the Mondays tends to prompt memories of the cartoonish Shaun and Bez double act rather than any appreciation of the group’s talents or their lasting musical legacy.

Happy Mondays Excess All Areas – A Biography by Simon Spence (Aurum Press, £20) attempts to delve behind the legend and hearsay surrounding the two frontmen and instead tell the definitive story of the band as a whole. The format here is the same as Spence’s previous effort, the excellent The Stone Roses – War and Peace that was released a couple of years ago. Like that book, this latest is meticulously researched and based on many hours of fresh interviews with band members, family, friends, associates and numerous industry faces.

These first hand accounts enable Spence to present a detailed history of the band and paint a vivid (and often laugh out loud funny) picture of greyed out, 1980’s Manchester undergoing its transformation into Day-Glo, early 90’s Madchester. The story of Factory and Tony Wilson has been done to death in recent years, almost becoming an industry in itself – so it’s to the author’s credit that he manages to put a fresh slant on proceedings here. Indeed, one senses that Wilson didn’t really have much time for the band until key earners New Order went into hiatus just as the Mondays suddenly and unexpectedly blossomed into the most exciting rock and roll band on the planet.

Alongside the usual tales of hedonism and excess (nothing you’ve heard previously was exaggerated), Spence’s major achievement is how he skilfully evokes the visceral thrill of the Mondays’ music on those first 3 seminal albums. In spite of being out of control and fronted by a pair of drug-fuelled nutters, the band produced a cosmic slop of sound that was miles ahead of its time then, and still sounds startlingly original now. It made me want to go back and listen properly for the first time in 20 odd years, so I’ll conclude by recommending you pick up this excellent book and then do the same.

Copyright Red News – October 2014

www.rednews.co.uk

Coming Up Roses


Forget the Jubilee, the Euros and the Olympics – the real story of this dismal summer has undoubtedly been the return of The Stone Roses. Just prior to the Heaton Park homecoming gigs arrived what looked like being the first potential Roses cash-in, a new book claiming to offer the ‘definitive story’ of the band based on 70 new interviews and promising 40 unseen photographs.

The Stone Roses – War and Peace by Simon Spence (Viking, £20) is anything but a rush-released piece of opportunism, I’m pleased to report. Spence’s previous books were Stoned and 2Stoned – the acclaimed memoirs of reclusive, former Stone’s impresario Andrew Loog Oldham and he boasts an impressive CV which includes work for the NME, i-D, Dazed & Confused and The Face – he penned the Spike Island feature on the band in the Kate Moss fronted, 3rd Summer of Love issue back in 1990.

The book was originally conceived in 2008 and took two years to research and write. It falls just short of the promised ‘definitive’ take due to the four band members bailing as the project reached its conclusion – but it’s as close as anyone is likely to get currently.  Accounts from both key and peripheral characters from all stages of their career are included – quite marvellously, the author even seeking out Toxin Toy, the support band from their 1985 Swedish tour (the Roses’ ‘Beatles in Hamburg’ period) for their recollections and memories.

I’ve read pretty much everything it’s possible to read on this band since first seeing them days after my 16th birthday in the summer of ’89, and whilst there’re no earth shattering revelations for time-served devotees  – there’s plenty of juicy morsels served up for anyone seeking fresh detail and new perspective. Recommended.

www.rednews.co.uk