Friday, November 04, 2005

Other Fine albums from our Catalogue you may enjoy…..

I know its only a record company and record companies come and go but I feel the need to say something about the twinge of sadness I feel with the passing of Festival Records.....sorry… FMR…but I guess to those of us who have been around for a year or two, they will always be Festival.

Yep, a record company is just a record company, and this one has been controlled for most of its existence, at least in Australia, by the not-user-friendly Rupert Murdoch, who bled it for much of its life. But Festival, at least on this side of the pond, was something else. It was, for years, half locally owned (by Kerridge Odeon and before that by a series of entrepreneurs) and it had a freedom of spirit and a drive, by virtue of the people who worked there and the fact that it was small and relied on its deals with offshore indies and its suss in the local market to survive. In the eighties most of Festival’s major indies, Island, A&M, Arista, Jive, and Chrysalis, were bought and effectively turned into little more than names by multi-nationals. Whilst under the wing of Festival, all those companies enjoyed better success in New Zealand than anywhere else in the world. Even Mushroom jumped ship for a while, although its subsidiary, Flying Nun stayed in the fold. Things were tough after that and never, despite the best efforts of some pretty talented people, never really recovered. The surprise is that it took Murdoch so long to offload FMR…rumours having been rife for years.

Trips to several conferences in Australia over the years confirmed pretty much what had been obvious to many for a long time, that a&r was not a strength in the Australian operation, and hadn’t been since the golden years of the sixties. Indeed at one of those conferences, at some hellhole in Coffs Harbour, MD Roger Grierson stood up and announced that whoever had signed that “last piece of shit, was fired”. Sadly things didn’t improve much, and they even neutered pretty much Mushroom after they absorbed it. It’s a tough call trying to think of the last act signed by FMR in Australia that couldn’t be generously described as toss. Anything vaguely interesting on their books right now comes out of NZ.

And I would guess that if Warners are smart they have bought the company as much for these as its glorious catalogue.

New Zealand’s operation was different. For much of the past three decades Festival was a cornerstone of local music, giving a home to those that needed one, pressing and distribution facilities, and a place to store all those unsold discs. Much of the history of New Zealand’s popular music is tied to the company, especially in the era before the multi nationals showed much interest in NZ music (with a few exceptions, in real terms about six years ago).

The lineage of New Zealand labels and artists that owe their (often brief) careers to Festival is astounding. Think…Th’Dudes and Dave Dobbyn, The Exponents, Deep Grooves, Wildside, Mikey Havoc, Scribe, The Screaming Meemees, The Blams, Hello Sailor, The Chills, Tall Poppy, Headless Chickens, D4, Mar-ve-elle, Upper Hutt Posse, MC OJ and Rhythm Slave, Bats, Car Crash Set, Carly Binding, Coconut Rough, Ngaire, 3 The Hard Way, Look Blue Go Purple, The Clean…damn, the whole bloody Flying Nun catalogue…and that list took about 2 minutes..there are hundreds more, major and lesser….

I took Nice’n’Urlich to FMR and I doubt anyone else could’ve seen the potential in that. We sold over 40,000 albums across the series. It was a perfect FMR record. In a similar way, does anyone really think that Dirty, as talented as Callum is, would’ve had the success they had with Scribe without FMR’s talents and understanding of detail. Or with anyone else…..

With Festival, then FMR, every sale counted, it had to, and they took pleasure in taking a record to a few thousand sales. A Festival success would often be counted as a failure anywhere else. But it wasn’t.

When I had my clubs, it was Festival who turned up week in and week out with new records, with rare remixes. Thus Eric B & Rakim’s Paid in Full was a far bigger hit in NZ than anywhere else in the world. Likewise Womack & Womack’s Teardrops.

When I first when to Festival, at the instigation of Victor Stent, in 1980, I’d released a few singles, sold a few thousand, distributing effectively out of my flat and had several hits but had hit a brick wall. I found an independent synergy with Festival that I guess others did later.

The company, then, was run, like a fiefdom, by Ray Porter. It was Ray who used to put ads on the back of album covers for other records in his catalogue, without making any effort to consult the acts involved, so a an album for, say, Traffic might have four Shirley Bassey albums advertised on the back (in fact they always included Shirl…Ray had a thing about her). By the time I arrived these were, thankfully, in the company’s history. Although Ray did try and insist, when The Screaming Meemees’ See Me Go became the first NZ single to enter at number one, that we put the band in a club that week to quickly record a live album to add it to. I resisted. He also gave me a golden licensing deal with Propeller, offering me 25% of retail, a deal that was to cause Festival major headaches in the future after Ray left (he knew he was leaving when I signed) when it was realised that a most-favoured-nations clause in the A&M contract (they were on 20%) could cost the company millions.

That problem was covered with a side handshake deal between me and Ray’s successor, the large, in every sense of the word, Jerry Wise, a man who I still regard as a mentor and whom I miss to this day. Jerry was English and used to work as an accountant for The Who and as such I guess he really had seen it all and took everything in a gracious stride.

Jerry and I always got along fairly well and he saved my label’s and my bacon several times and took our dealings very personally. He was open, honest, generous, both in spirit and financially. We had a run in with a studio that had gone back on its word on a deal and Jerry took them to task over this, which was something he didn’t have to do. In fact Jerry, over the years, did an awful lot for a lot of people that he didn’t have to do, and there are many of us who owe a great deal to this giant of a man. Friday nights at Festival, with Jerry’s open door policy, became quite an institution, something which survived him to the end of the company. I respected him immensely and his, far too early, funeral, in Dominion Road, indicated that I was in no way alone.

I guess the personal side of Festival was what really made it what it was. There have been quite a few comments over the years about Festival being neither an independent or a major, sitting more or less in between. It wasn’t a major because, despite failed attempts over the years by the Australian office, it had no multinational operations supplying product. And yet it wasn’t an indie because it was owned by Newscorp. Rather, it was an indie trying hard to be a major.

But it was the independence of spirit that defined it and that spirit came from the staff and management over the years. There are too many to name one by one, but Festival and later FMR often had a team second to none and provided quite a training ground….the manager of a major US label started in Newmarket. I haven’t many business dealings with FMR in the past couple of years but, clearly, the tradition has continued through to the likes of Jonathan Hughes, Dylan Pellet and Darryl Parker, often regarded as the nicest guy in the industry, and the others at FMR at the end.

From Carlton Gore Road, where Jerry had to ring me to get the skinheads designing their album cover out of the stairway during a retailers conference, to the damp end of Nikau Street, to the rather odd offices in Scanlan Street, to the final resting place in Freeman’s Bay, Festival Records contributed something that was often un-catered for elsewhere. Over the past forty years, they provided something that no-one else did and it’s hard to see where the interesting little labels with something quirky and vital will go now. But then again, perhaps its time, like the record industry as we know it, is past. There is no doubt however, that without the support, drive and belief exhibited by the management and staff of this wannabe major, the indigenous NZ industry would not have been in the position it was in 2000 to make that jump to where it is now.

A minor but cruel irony….Flying Nun quickly ended a disastrous deal with Warners years ago and now end up owned by them, indeed such a large slice of our national musical heritage is now controlled by a listed American company. It’s like Coca Cola owning Bastion Point…..


aannnnd……The tunes that worked for me today…..

Donald Byrd-Love Has Come Around…pure of the happiest songs I know.

Darkman-Annihilating Rhythm..wild pitch, I love wild pitch

Patrick Chardronnet-Eve By Day..lovely sparse old school techy thing. Favourite new record…

Kerri Chandler- Sunset…Kerri’s on a roll…again…

Luther Vandross-Apologise (Quentin Harris mix) ..I guess it’s a bootleg, dunno, and I don’t even know where the original comes from and this is just on blank CD-R, and the new whizz kid takes no real risks however its kinda nice to hear Luther sound contemporary…even if he is dead

EPMD- Listen to my the second, quite frankly, brilliant album from Eric & Parrish, a wry rhyme about getting a deal, over Faze-O’s Riding High

Tyree Cooper-Acid Over (the Piano mix)..prototype acid house complete with an exquisite blue funk piano line (from Marshall Jefferson?)..

Patti Jo-Make Me Believe in You (BSO / Asher mix)…one of those songs, that, truly, unless you Kid Cremed it or something, it would be impossible to mess up. And they haven’t……

John Davis & The Monster Orchestra­-The Theme From Kojak..big band orchestral disco complete with a lollipop….not a million miles from….

Louie Ramírez-Do It Any Way You Wanna.. a sultry Latin spin on the T Connection tune,


grant Smithies said...

Nice piece on FMR, Simon.

Sad times, innit?

Grant Smithies

Simon Pound said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

brilliant piece

Anonymous said...

hi simon

yeah and they get the toylove album back...sigh

doug hood

graham reid said...

ray porter! that takes me back
real nice piece, much appreciated
graham reid

Anonymous said...

Glad to see them go, Australia deserves Mark Ashbridge.

Cheese on Toast said...

Yep, 'tis indeed a sad loss.

Nice piece.

- Andrew Tidball