Most people don't understand the love of records. It's not a fetish, a disease, a perversion or an addiction. It's a thrill.
It's the allure of shiny sleeves that jump with graphic cut and class, liner notes filled with curious information and a fan-like devotion to detail — who played what and when and why it was never released in this form before — stacks of records lined up waiting to be played, to be flicked through and selected according to mood. It's the genuine pleasure and excitement inspired by good music — loud, soft, fast, slow, old, new, smart or naive — but it must in someway be real and sincere ... perhaps this is the only true criterion.
Most people don't understand this. Even worse, most people in record companies don't understand it! They seem to labour under the misapprehension that records exist purely in terms of product and marketing. Drop this, sign that, release as much as possible and see what sticks to the charts. Sometimes (for these discerning people who enjoy sweeping generalisations) the record business seems like a giant advertising agency filled with upwardly mobile types dedicating considerable time and effort to creating an impression. (An impression on what or on whom? You may well ask, I haven't yet worked it out). Therefore it is a relief to hear Andrew Lauder, head of at least three record labels, say "I love records".
Mind you, a glance at the catalogue for his labels Demon and Edsel might tell you the same thing. Here are records lovingly selected and presented; artists like Screamin' Jay Hawkins, The Merseybeats, Julie London, Yardbirds, Del Shannon, Dr John, Mobey Grape, Loudon Wainright, James Booker, Lamont Dozier, Vivian Stanshall, not to mention Elvis Costello and the Attractions. Titles like Let's Stomp, Frenzy, Get Down With It, Surfin' Craze, Soul Deep, Five Cool Cats, Get A Buzz, Fame And Wealth, Classified, Drop Down And Get Me, Bigger Than Life, Check This Action, Six Of One And ... Half Dozen Of The Other. Covers that look like they have a life of their own. Notes that use the words and phrases "rare," "classic," "legendary," "long-overdue," "Underrated," "never before," "ultimate," "unique," "collectors item," "acclaimed" and "undiscovered" in great abundance. They are everything labels should be; witty, stylish, sincere with good taste and lots of personality.
Andrew Lauder is arguably everything a record company head should be. Not what you'd expect admittedly -- his walls aren't covered in gold discs. His intercom doesn't cackle with constant interruptions, he doesn't hold everything to place a long distance call to David Bowie in New York. He's tubby and balding, drinks tea (two sugars), wears a rock 'n' roll bootlace tie and is genuinely pleasant, friendly and enthusiastic.
He was head of Liberty and United Artists Records up until UA was swallowed up and digested by EMI in the late 70's. He then formed Radar, a semi-independent label associated with WEA that got off to a great start with Nick Lowe's hit single "I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass" and Elvis Costello's tour-de-force This Year's Model but became somewhat odd and diverse with acts as varied as the dubious Yachts, the disturbing Pop Group and the dismal Bram Tchaikovsky (never mind reviving old L.P.'s by the 13th Floor Elevators and The Electric Prunes). "It was probably a bit ill conceived," says Andrew Lauder with a smile. When Radar fell apart, he moved to Island to work in A&R. After a short spell there, he left to form F-Beat with Elvis and manager Jake Riviera.
"F-Beat is really the in-house management label. I suppose you could say I'm the head of F-Beat records," Andrew says uncertainly.
There are a number of companies looking after the interests of Elvis Costello (and to a lesser extent Nick Lowe) all sharing the same building and the same three directors, Elvis, Jake and Andrew. Andrew mainly takes care of the records. They are, after all, the things he loves. He loves them so much he couldn't wait to find ways to release more.
"We started up Demon and Edsel really as a bit of a hobby," he explains, "in as much as I was used to having a lot more records out and doing a lot more, having been at Liberty and UA for a long time. Between Elvis and Nick Lowe albums you were incredibly busy for short spaces of time when things were being released, and the rest of the time it was like you were looking for something to do almost. So Demon and Edsel we started very much as a hobby, home-made label. And originally it was new groups and singles."
Amongst their first one off singles were by NME journalist Nick Kent's group The Subterraneans and the Department S debut hit "Is Vic There?." "It was kind of fun for a bit," says Andrew. "But we ended up a bit like an A&R department for other record companies. Bananarama went before we even put the record out! Phonogram just brought all the copies and put it out themselves."
Things began to change with the success of an album compiled from the five singles and four previously unissued tracks by 60's London Mods The Action. "We started thinking there's a lot of stuff you can't buy it's just [not] available anymore, but if you put it out and put a good sleeve around it, people might be interested. So we started to do that and it probably was bit more rewarding, and the albums were easy to sell! There were too many singles coming out at that time (1982) through the independent network, and too many bad ones — it kind of screwed it up for all the other ones as well. You used to be able to sell quite a few thousand almost automatically but some of the import companies were buying too many too indiscriminately and being left with shelves of records. Not necessarily ours! So that kind of cooled off, and, without any great masterplan, we began to evolve into a more album-orientated company. The idea was too have a catalogue you weren't going to delete in six months and mix up good new things with old things people might not have heard before or that big companies might have deleted."
Although F-Beat remains the main company it's Demon and Edsel and their off-shoots H-D-H-D-H, Imp and Demon Verbals that now take up most of Andrew Lauder's time and require day to day involvement. "Their split into two because Demon tends to be new releases where Edsel is the old stuff. Occasionally Elvis has ideas for old releases — he's a record fan as well and says why can't we get so and so, the Curtis Mayfield catalogue or whatever, but he tends to so busy he doesn't have much time. So the selections for Edsel are almost purely my personal taste, the deciding factor almost is if they're records I would probably buy as a record collector for myself — though obviously you've got to feel there's going to be enough interested to make it worthwhile.
"There's a lot of detective work with these things which is great if you're a fan and collector! Like with Mobey Grape" (whose classic debut album with original censored cover design is a forthcoming release). "It could have been very easy except we were after the original mono tape which CBS don't have anywhere in the world now, so I got on to the original producer in San Francisco to look for it, and we got Jim Marshall their old photographer to send the original print 'cause we knew a lot of stuff had been airbrushed out though we didn't realise 'till we got the print quite how much!" (This was all over a rude finger! How life has changed). "So now we've got the original photo session and we're getting the original mono tape to go with it.
"Sometimes master tapes are easy to trace, but others have bee real hard work because you either get the wrong version where somebody overdubbed something or it's a fake stereo which sounds terrible and you want the original mono. Sam and Dave (the soul duo) we had a lot of problems with and we had to dub from disc on loads of them because no one where the tapes are. So rather than not use the track, we've dubbed. Sometimes dubbing works out fine, you know, you can't tell the difference, unless it's not a very good copy. And usually when I've done that I mention it on the sleeve as well just to be fair. One of Sam and Dave's tracks was never actually issued commercially at all, it was just an album they put out free to radio stations which was trying to tell young black kids in America to stay in school and take their exams and not end up with no qualifications: and they put on like Otis Redding and people like that talking and Sam and Dave singing "My Reasons For Living," a track that for some never got used anywhere else and it's fantastic. So we put that on the record. And "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" we couldn't find a tape of — it was just a lesser known B-side until Elvis covered it, so I think we found someone in Canada who had a good copy we could dub from!
"I don't know if it's always a good idea to try to track down the artist though!" he adds bemusedly. "Sometimes you feel you don't need to, you can get all the information you need and they're in America ... it starts to make it non-profitable if you start phoning America too many times! (laughs). But I sometimes deliberately haven't got too involved because I'm a bit worried sometimes that they might think there's a whole career blooming ahead and finally they're gonna be a star after all there years and you don't want to disappoint them! You tend to get people saying "Well actually I've got some new tapes that are much better than that" you know? Which isn't quite the point of doing it. We had some demos from Screaming Jay Hawkins this year actually! They weren't really songs but he's still got a great voice and he's still screaming.
"But some we do get in touch with. The Yardbirds have actually said they get far more involvement now from us, putting out old records, than they ever got at the time. Chris Dreja, the old Yardbirds guitarist did the artwork for their re-release and they get test-pressings — just things we would do normally they're quite surprised about! And The Action I believe are now earning money from record sales that they never did in the first place at all. I think they were probably showing a loss first time around. So basically we've covered their debt and now they've had royalties.
"Some people are still going, of course. Del Shannon is still very good — he's in great shape and his voice is great and he's pretty much on the ball, he's invested his money and owns his own tapes. He's in Nashville at the moment recording country stuff 'cause he's always had a yen to do that. And Holland-Dozier-Holland — we've got the H-D-H label which is recordings from Invictus and Hot Wax, two labels they had from the late 60's to the mid-70's after they left Motown. They contactually had a hard time 'cause they got into a position where they couldn't write or produce under their own names for a spell. In fact they wrote a lot of material that came out with other credits on. In the mid-70's they did a Jackson 5 album, and they've done the 4-Tops for Motown and recently started working with Lamont again. We've got a new production they sent us 'cause they're pleased with the way we're doing it, so they said here's a new record if you're interested in putting it out!".
Imp records, a subsidiary of Demon is Elvis' baby, comprising his back catalogue from This Years Model to Imperial Bedroom (which he owns) and things he wants to do or that are of interest to him, So far other projects have included Elvis impersonator The Imposter and Ireland's lost ex-Radiator son Philip Chevron's unique Elvis-produced interpretation of Brendan Behan's "The Captains And The Kings."
"That didn't sell huge amounts," Andrew reflects, "but it was talked about a lot! People either loved or hated it. It was one of those records. People either thought it was a long lost classic or just a dreadful record. I like it. Elvis was very fond of it. And Phil is producing an album now for Imp by Agnes Bernelle who he's known for a long time. It's a very interesting album, old words with more recent music in sort of Brecht's style. It'll be called Father's Lying Dead On The Ironing Board."
Demon mainly handles new releases picked up from American labels and reflects a contemporary taste very much akin to the classics feel exemplified by Edsel: blues, soul and rock'n'rollers, singers than can really sing, songwriters who know what songs are about. "Basically they're people I like. I always liked Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Johnny Copeland, Dr John has two new albums on Demon as well as one old one on Edsel. Loudon Wainright I had done one album with on Radar. Sometimes it seems amazing people like Loudon and Dr John don't have major deals. They're important artists and they've all been with a variety of majors, I think. There's more and more people like that who the major companies aren't really interested in because they feel they've been around and they're not gonna become million selling artists anymore, so they're not interested. Which means there's more and more scope for someone of our size".
Paul Brady, who has experienced almost unceasing record company blues, recently recorded a live album which, incredibly for a critically acclaimed and internationally covered songwriter, he couldn't get anyone to release, until Demon came over the hill like the 7th Cavalry at the eleventh hour: "We're going to put Paul's album out in October: I think Demon can provide a label for people like that who are probably more popular concert-wise that they've ever been, but at the same time they suddenly find themselves without a record company. So more and more we feel there is a need for someone like us whose more interested in those kind of people who're gonna be around making records for the next ten years or more. An they I think are starting to feel they're maybe better off with someone like us rather than looking in vain for some kind of fantastic new deal with someone who's really not gonna be interested."
Demon and Edsel are now being fully distributed in Ireland by WEA, who will be promoting such home acts as Paul Brady and Philip Chevron with their usual gusto, as well as making the full Demon catalogue available for the first time, so that record lovers won't have to search vainly through expensive import shops for almost legendary Californian group Kaleidescope's seminal psychedelic recordings (collected by Edsel on "Bacon From Mars" and "Rampe Rampe") and other such deserving curiosities.
"Our records find their way around the world," says Andrew. "Some of the material we have sells more on export than we do here. Elvis was just in Japan and he went into a record shop there and they had loads of Edsel and Demon things, and we don't sell to anyone direct in Japan! It's difficult to tell sometimes how they get to where they get to. But we're setting up in Ireland since Elvis roots are Irish roots anyway, and obviously it makes sense to promote Paul Brady in Ireland."
The wonder of it all is it really does make sense, sound economic as well as musical sense. When major companies constantly drop acts who don't make mega-sales with a too often disheartening disregard for the fact that they are dealing in people not just units, labels like Demon and Edsel, as well as the similarly structured Charlie, Ace, and Big Beat, survive and flourish on what the majors would probably consider far from worthwhile sales.
"Charlie, Ace and us, we've all got the same thing really. Firstly you run it very tightly, you don't really risk getting thousands of records and hoping they'll sell, we sometimes start with two or three thousand and then just press a thousand a time as we need them and just keep them in stock the whole time. Obviously sales vary because Demon now includes Elvis Costello's back catalogue and those sell in pretty large numbers. Some of the old stuff is in excess of 10,000 — The Action, The Yardbirds, Creation — you can probably figure out which ones sell the most. Some of the blues albums you put out only sell a couple of thousand, but that still makes sense for us 'cause they don't cost much to put out, most of the cost is in artwork and manufacturing 'cause we try and do very high quality sleeves. And they don't really stop, they just keep on ticking over. We've now got about 80 albums out and they all sell — we never get a month where one just doesn't sell at all. You find records two years after they've come out are still selling as much as they did when you put them out in the rust place, so it's a very different sort of pattern than a big company gets. Their computers tend to throw up the ones that don't sell quickly enough over a period of time, and they delete them. Whereas ours are always going to be available as long as we can and every month you sell quite a few thousand records from your catalogue. It's quite a healthy business and the bigger the catalogue gets, the healthier it gets."
Costs are kept to a minimum. "There's only a few of us and we do so much of it ourselves. I compile records at home in the evenings. We've got somebody in-house who does artwork. There's very few people and we share things. We have a van on the road so the management company pays towards it and we do and F-Beat records does and Elvis Costello Ltd does. We share secretaries and accounts department and the office is paid for by all those companies so it makes it a lot easier. Plus also I don't take any money out of Demon records! I work for F-Beat records so I've never earned a penny out of Demon! We're still ambitious, our list of new releases is probably longer than most big companies, but we don't want to become a big company, we're quite happy doing what we're doing.
"It's like having a hit record. Truthfully that's almost something you don't particularly want. As long as you keep it under control it's fine but one of the things that's affected small record companies over here. is trying to compete with large companies at their own game. So you start taking on some promotions man to cover the shops and try and ram free records into the chart shops and you employ a radio plugger and fake ads and give loads of free records away, and if the record doesn't happen, you've probably waved goodbye to about five grand. And you can't afford to do that very often. And we don't do it at all, basically. It doesn't mean to say we won't get a hit but at the same time the company is not set up on the premise of being interested in the charts, at all. And I don't think it's right that we should be. The catalogue — we know these things are gonna sell, we know we're gonna sell a couple of thousand which probably means we're gonna break even at the very worst, which is more than most large companies can say.
"I would never particularly want to go back and work with a big company again. There's a lot of good people there but I did it for long enough and ... it's really nice here! I really like records and I like being involved — like the warehouse is out there and you pack records up in the van and it feels a lot more like being in the record business! In the big companies you never used to go to the factory or the distribution plant. I think a lot of people who work there have no idea really what happens, they expect records come out and people go and buy them and there's lots of things they don't get involved with at all — manufacturing, dealing with printers and getting the sleeves to the pressing plant on time. I love all that!"
Who could refuse to buy a used record from this man?