Interview with the founder and owner of the UK's premier Progressive Rock label
VM: Dear Graham! Seizing an opportunity of our long and truly friendly partnership, I've lately asked you to give an interview for ProgressoR. So, thank you very much for your willingness to do it!
My first question is traditional. Though, taking into consideration that we are (not the priests, of course, but at least) the acolytes of Muse of Music, I find it essential. So please tell me of your first acquaintances with music.
GB: I had an appreciation for music at an early age, which covered all genres from pop and rock through to mainstream and classical. Most people do, I guess, but few end up in the privileged position I find myself today.
VM: What were your favourite performers at the time of your youth? And what is the music that you prefer to listen to today? Do you have the so-called all-time favourites? I mean the bands, performers, or just composers whose music made, makes, and will always make you happy...
GB: I was fortunate enough to spend my teenage years within the music explosion of the 60's. It was an exciting time, with so many new music trends developing. The birth of rock music, really. England was a happening scene and there were bands to see seven nights a week if you wanted to. It is these influences that shape my opinions today. I have such broad tastes: blues, folk, prog, psyche etc,etc. Clear Blue Sky, for example, were one of the very first innovators of heavy space rock. Now they are with me on the Aftermath label. Glyn Harvard and David Duhig from Jade Warrior are also about to have an album release on Aftermath too.
VM: Were you ever the member of some professional or at least non-professional music band(s)? If so, what were the musical styles that you played in?
GB: I did attempt to play piano at one time. But no, I never really made the grade. My ear for good music was forever criticizing my own work, so I gave up this up in pursuit of real geniuses. I would like to consider that I discovered a few along the way and hopefully there are many more to follow!
VM: How, when, and why did you form the idea of creating your own progressive music label?
GB: I was lucky in that my father had a genuine appreciation for the finer things of life, and transferred appreciation for quality things to me. In the course of time one of the great benefits of this was that I was to acquire a great knack of collecting great albums on vinyl. Eventually I accumulated a huge collection, and the knowledge that went with it. When the compact disc format was launched, I saw the need for some of these rare, precious gems to be released on CD. I started working with Hugo Chavez, a fellow collector/dealer, and Background Records was formed, the Aftermath label was launched and it all began to really take off from there. Eventually, Hugo moved on and I took everything over. Now there are six labels, and The Exotic Rock Underground, which is the live scene co-run with some of the extraordinarily talented musicians from the labels.
VM: Are you satisfied with having your very own label?
GB: Delighted! Who could not be happy giving a platform to the type of acts we currently have under our umbrella? The reviews tell us we must be doing it right. When you hear the manufactured crap that comes over the airwaves, together with people's criticisms, it gives you enormous pride knowing the albums on Hi-Note's labels are all so original and unique, and performed by truly accomplished musicians. The Headline label repeatedly has been heralded as one of the best progressive rock labels going. Other people's comments - not mine!
VM: Please, describe briefly how your label works and how you distribute your production? Which dealers do you supply in the USA?
GB: Most of our musicians have their own recording equipment, which is so accessible these days. It means you can have your own studio at home, or a portable one, and take all the time you need to create a masterpiece! Most acts come to us with ready - made albums and we collaborate together to get an excellent quality, finished product. The albums are all so individual, designer 'hand-made' so to speak, that it would be foolish for us to dictate on artwork and things like that. Our musicians have free artistic control. We are the rare kind of record company that loves to nurture and encourage talent, not crush it.
VM: It is very interesting to know what country and continent Hi-Note's ProGduction have had their greatest success? Also, which of the Hi-Note artists enjoy the greatest commercial success?
GB: Interest in our releases is world-wide but primarily Japan, America and Europe. We embrace the connoisseurs of good music, anywhere. That is the fantastic thing about music...it really can be such a unifying entity. Greatest commercial success? The Morrigan, Tantalus, Colin Masson, Clear Blue Sky, Jade Warrior to name a few. But then there are the new bands and artists who are making their mark, such as Terri B, The Ashqelon Quilt and so forth, as well as great new signings to the Headline label such as Paul Rose - what a guitarist! More albums from them all hopefully. Its true to say that many new buyers start with one or two releases, then buy a couple more and then before you know it are having the whole catalogue!
VM: Can you please explain more about Hi-Note Music's past activity? During a few of the first years of label's activity you released on CD a lot of obscure, yet, excellent albums, most of which, moreover, were (and are, though) real mega-rarities. Prog-lovers should know what treasures are kept behind Background, which is the oldest sub-label of Hi-Note Music.
GB: Well, yes...as I said that was where it all started, releasing albums from the 60's and 70's on CD: prog, psyche, folk-rock, space and so forth. That was where my collector's knowledge proved invaluable. This is ongoing and we are always on the look out for stuff to release. It is perhaps interesting to note that when we started re-issuing these CDs way back in the early 90s, 60s and 70s music of this kind was largely forgotten or unknown to the major media and general record buying public. From our first initial releases the response was ecstatic from our distributors and hitherto rare vinyl buying customers Suddenly some of our customers started to reissue titles themselves. This spread then to established companies and from then to the major labels. It wasn't long therefore before record buyers and more importantly musicians themselves were inspired by a whole new type of music. . So in the ever narrowing scope of finding material to reissue with everyone seemingly jumping on the reissue bandwagon we found that at the same time we were being approached by unestablished musicians with a view to release new material sympathetic to and incorporating these early styles. Hence our English Garden label incorporates both original and reissued titles in a folk-rock vein .The Aftermath label is devoted to bands and artists who started in this earlier era but are still making fine music. But then the logical conclusion was that there had to be a platform for those who wanted to continue and develop these styles of music. The answer was the Headline label, which admittedly was a big gamble at first. Now it is out there in the premier league, and I am very pleased for it to be so.
VM: Are you hoping to replenish the 'bins' of Background with new rarities in the future - at least from time to time?
GB: Yes, yes and YES! I suppose it is true to say that now most of the original rare vinyl titles from the 60s /70shave now seen the light of a reissue, but who knows what gems are still waiting to be discovered, you never know what people have lurking in their attics ! I am always on the hunt for such rare treasures, and the joy of finding such is indescribable! There is also a continuing possibility of re-releasing deleted re-issues.Of course, the years pass by, and we discover it is now quite hip to release material from the 80's. We have a wonderful new folk-rock album being released on English Garden this month. Recorded in the 80's, it features CP from Big Country, and the Wishart brothers. Check it out!
VM: Back in 1998, you had excellently reissued on CD all three of the first Jade Warrior albums. Also, I know that the second half of the band's double LP of 1973, which was rejected by the 'swirl' Vertigo label, was for the first time released on CD exactly by Hi-Note Music. Of course, you know that I am talking about the "Fifth Element" CD. Please explain why you did not (could not?) release on CD the first half of that double LP, currently known under the title of "Eclipse", which was released by the UK's semi-progressive label Voiceprint?
GB: Fifth Element came by way of an associate in the business who we were informed had plans to release Eclipse but at that time it had not appeared and we were expressing an interest in it. It was only at this time that we were made aware of the existence of Fifth Element as a separate unreleased album Unfortunately plans were already underway to release Eclipse but we jumped at the chance to release Fifth Element under licence. Later, we forged a direct relationship with Jon Field of Jade Warrior for a licensing deal of the first three albums. They were faithfully reproduced, but they were of course re-mastered to hugely enhance the sound quality from the original vinyl edition, something which earned us a lot of appreciative comments.
VM: Now, please tell me of the current activity of the label and the work of the other divisions of Hi-Note Music: Aftermath, English Garden, and Headline.
GB: We are actually more active than we have ever been. The sheer quality of albums speak for themselves, and this attracts other good musicians. This year we have had a schedule of 12 new releases, and many more to come. I am very excited to be working with David Duhig and Glyn Harvard from Jade Warrior. Their new album can only be likened to it's title ''Off Planet'', meaning, it really is out of this world! We were ecstatic when we heard the first mixes. Of course I would urge all to keep informed by tuning in to the updates very kindly posted by yourself on your excellent website
VM: What is the number (at least approximately) of the progressive web sites that the promotional aspect of your work is linked with? Do you send promo CDs to such established magazines as Exposure and, of course, Progression (which I sincerely regard as the Journal of the Genre)?
GB: Couldn't give you a figure off hand. But there are dozens, and it is a growing industry. I think that at last, people are beginning to get confidence in the Internet. Once TV goes compulsory digital, who knows what will happen? Magazines? We do the whole circuit! We are quite excited when we get a review. We keep every one in a review collection. Our bands get copies too, by the way! Progression magazine is great, and long may John Collinge reign! He is an unbelievably hard working guy. So dedicated to 'the cause'.
VM: In the beginning of the year you officially declared that now, you are going to produce not only Progressive Rock, but also... any kinds of contemporary music, including even a pop music (not in a general, but in a real sense of this combination of words). How did you reach such a decision? (I guess, why, but anyway...)
GB: I broach the word 'pop' with caution. We mean avant-garde pop, something really unusual. Also, we get sent so much good material that isn't suitable for our own labels but is actually great commercial music, that we felt we could offer a window for it, whether we distribute finished product, or highlight their excellence to other companies. This is all under development as we speak.
VM: Recently, I've read a very enthusiastic annotation of one of Hi-Note's forthcoming releases. Do you really regard Ambient as a progressive music?
GB: Well 'progressive' is such an infinite term and we'd like to think progressive is just that very thing - that it has room to grow onward and outward. Strictly speaking, we aren't just a progressive music record company, we embrace many other genres. Our philosophy is that good music is good music! We know that some critics have scorned us slightly because some albums do not fall entirely within a strict category, but that's their problem! 'Ambient' is a big feature of the Paul Rose press release, so I guess that's what you are talking about. Paul's album, 'Late Show', is a mellow, (and I quote) 'hauntingly beautiful' album for lovers of great guitarists. Paul was twice voted 'guitarist of the year' here in England, and loved and nurtured by the late great Rory Gallagher, there isn't anything he can't play. Next album will probably be heavy rock...or maybe progressive.... or blues... or... who knows? If we like it, we'll do it No prejudice here!
VM: By the way, in the new millennium, most of the known progressive labels put a 'new strategy' into practice even without any declarations. I am sure that their financial situation was the main reason to do so as well. So, the further commercialization of the current Progressive Music movement is inevitable? What are your thoughts on this matter?
GB: Commercialization? Well let's state the facts here and say that ultimately, any musician hopes people love the music they produce enough to buy the album, so that ultimately the musician can then do another album, and the punter is happy because they have something to really enjoy for many years. Commercialization isn't always such a bad thing as long as the individual talent isn't crushed in the process, which is what the majors have been accused of doing. The most destructive enemy, however, is the copying and free downloading. The mainstream industry has been sustained by back catalogue, but that is drying up now. The young generation is not an album buying generation on the whole and this is beginning to kick in now. The industry is creaking. Our market is with those who faithfully buy good albums thankfully. Sometimes out of a crisis comes new blood, and in this case maybe smaller record companies and their more individual sounds will come to fore...who knows?
VM: Finally, what are your plans concerning the near and relatively remote future of your label?
GB: As for the future...well, to sustain the high quality of albums we have been issuing. Also, we are seeking to become more visual with video footage and so forth. Cable and satellite has opened up so much more possibilities for the underground scene worldwide. We want to strive to take every opportunity for these fine and truly gifted musicians to be seen and HEARD!
VM: Thank you very much for your interview, Graham. I see that it proved to be not only very interesting, but also the most topical interview I've ever obtained. From the bottom of my heart, I wish you health and happiness, being surrounded by people who really love you and whom you love forever. Please also carry on making us fans happy with your work, which is inseparably linked with music, for years to come.