Sarah Lay talks to founder Liam Nolan about the difference in the cost and value of music, running a music swap club via Twitter, founding the label and bringing Sheffield Britpop band Speedy’s debut album to the shelves 17 years later than planned.
There is music everywhere. Everywhere. Digital means that artists are self-releasing more than ever, but against a sad truth that these individual drops making up the vast ocean of available tunes may just sink without being heard by a soul.
Beyond this is even more music that at some point was destined to be fed to fans through the industry hype machine but then never made it. It’s sat gathering digital dust, or on degrading tape, without even getting its slim chance to make a wave on that ocean. In fact, Andrew Dubber, director of Music Tech Fest, author and founder of New Music Strategies, estimates that 95% of everything recorded by labels is unavailable to the public and is sat in a vault somewhere.
As he puts it in his article Deleting Music Revisted: “Most recorded music is not available for sale, is completely unavailable to listen to and does not generate income for anyone. It sits in vaults, unreleased. We’re talking decades of back catalogue master tapes. The history of both popular music culture and unpopular music culture.”
There are a few labels already working to bring these lost gems or released but forgotten classics, to a wider audience – Light in the Attic and Cherry Red Records both gaining fans with their catalogues.
Liam Nolan has been attacking it from a different angle for a while – realising there was huge numbers of what could be considered small-time classics available for just 1p through Amazon’s Maketplace he set up a sort of swap shop so people could introduce each other to bands they’d loved.
He said: “The 1p Album Club started a couple of years ago when a friend and I began buying each other 1p cds from Amazon as an affordable way of introducing each other to new, old, music.
“As more friends started doing it we thought we’d document it on a blog and so I set up the Twitter account (@1pAlbumClub) as a way to promote it. Twitter has been the perfect medium for the blog as it’s the quickest and easiest way to connect with other fans of what are sometimes quite niche albums.
“From a small group of friends swapping albums, it’s now grown to a whole load of strangers pairing up to swap albums – we had 50 people sign up to get paired off this Christmas when we did a big festive swap, we had our first US 1 cent album swap, and someone from Amazon even made us a custom 1p search filter.
“It’s essentially just a fun thing to do that highlights there’s a massive difference between ‘cost’ and ‘value’.”
But recently the idea has moved on. From drunken conversations with childhood friend Jack (who runs Alcopop! Records) to connecting with like-minded fans on Twitter the idea of a record label to finally release albums lost to the industry vault came. The Lost Music Club was born.
Liam said: “Twitter can be held responsible for so much – it’s started so many conversations with people about music that you end up discovering so much about bands that you thought most people had forgotten.
“I started hearing about apocryphal albums and demos for songs that were never released and people would occasionally send stuff over.
“I’ve known Jack from Alcopop! Records since we were 12 and so we’ve got a lot of similar affections for the bands of our youth – Jack was one of the earliest involved in swapping 1p albums.
“We always end up drunk and making grand plans that never amount to anything when sober, but the idea of a label bringing to light unreleased tracks has seemed to have stuck.”
And once the idea became a plan it was just a matter of finding that first release.
Liam explains how it came to be Speedy’s debut News from Nowhere that is scheduled to be 001 in The Lost Music Club catalogue: “I have very fond memories attached to Speedy the first time round. I ended up thinking of them one day and went to buy their album, only to discover it had never actually been released. I read about the album on Sean Hannam’s blog and got curious.”
Starting out as Blammo! in Sheffield in the early ’90s by the middle of the decade Speedy’s lyrically clever guitar driven pop got caught in the industry’s cash-flooded britpop gold rush.
With studio brass and a pop culture referencing lyric Boy Wonder is probably their best remembered ‘hit’ despite landing outside the top 40. However, it’s inclusion on indie compilation Shine 7 means it’s survived on the internal jukeboxes of music fans for the last 17 years.
Liam said: “Speedy were just an unfortunate victim of the mid/late 90’s music industry. Money was pumped into them, they quickly gained a following (helped by the fact they formed from the ashes of cult Sheffield band, Blammo!) and they appeared on the radio and tv lots, only to get dropped by their label.
“My understanding is that it was just a case of singles not performing as well as hoped in the charts and so they were dropped without prior warning.
“Thanks to the wonderful world of Twitter, I ended up in touch with Philip Watson, Speedy’s lead singer, and he put me in touch with someone who was able to email a copy of the album.
“Listening to it, it felt ridiculous that what sounded like a Britpop classic had never actually been released and so Jack and I started forming more drunken plans.”
Now re-mastered News for Nowhere, originally scheduled for release in 1997, will hit the shelves in CD format on 7 April 2014. After being dropped in the ’90s the band went in different directions, establishing careers outside the music industry but when Liam began talking to them about the release they were excited about the prospect of, as they put it, ‘a flashback rather than a comeback’.
Liam said: “When we began talking about releasing the album we put the idea of a live show to them and they went for it.
“It’s definitely not going to be a full reformation, but it should be good fun. They’ve been rehearsing for the first time in 17 years and there’s talk of getting a horn section in for the live shows.”
Plans are already afoot for more releases from The Lost Music Club. Liam enthuses: “As soon as we launched the label we got so many tip offs of other lost gems.
“While we don’t have anything concrete lined up yet, but there’s an album in our inbox that if we can pull off, we’ll be very excited about.
“We don’t plan on it being limited to a Britpop throwback label, but given where our passions lie, it’s likely to be mostly ’90s- ’00’s bands. We don’t want to limit ourselves to any genre – as long as something is good and we think there’s an audience for it, we’ll go for it.”
You can order Speedy’s debut from the Lost Music Club website. Speedy will play a free show at Birthdays in Dalston London on 4 April and The Leadmill in Sheffield on 5 April (tickets £5). Info about both gigs is on the label’s Facebook page.
If you fancy joining the 1p Album Club and swapping music with a stranger, get in touch on Twitter.