The man behind the BGP label talks Georgie Fame and the world of reissues.
First up Dean, tell us a bit about yourself, how did you end up doing your thing for Ace/BGP?
I’m a long term mod who took a detour into the world of jazz in the late 80s. This led me to working at Acid Jazz when I left university. Eddie Piller gave me a lot of lee-way (or just enough rope) and I ended up as the label’s general manager, meaning I was basically running the record side of things. At the same time as this I was introduced to a guy called Tony Harlow who was in charge of Blue Note in Europe and we started putting out a set of comps that became known as ‘The Blue Series’ which included the ridiculously successful ‘Blue Breaks Beats’ compilation and the dancefloor friendly ‘Blue Juice’.
This introduction into the world of back catalogue has allowed me to do all kinds of wonderful things including relaunching EMI’s Stateside label in the late 90s, working for Fania for a few years from 2005 and my favourite of the lot being an A&R consultant for Ace Records, running their BGP label.
I suspect a lot of people think putting together a compilation is as easy as burning a CDR and writing a few notes. Out of interest, on average, how long does it take to put together a compilation from start to finish?
It can take forever. The ‘Take Me To The River: A Southern Soul Story’ box set which we did in 2008 took three years to put together, had tens of thousands of words, tons of pictures and an amazing variety of tracks, legally licensed from all sorts of sources. Me and co-compiler Tony Rounce were incredibly proud when it won the Compilation of the Year award at last year’s Mojo Award ceremony. Especially as we collected the award with William Bell. However even a single CD compilation can take a lot of time tracking down whoever own the recordings, tracking down photographs for the booklets and making it sound just right both in running order and in mastering.
Looking specifically at the George Fame release, where did the idea for that album come from and why the need for another Fame collection?
Georgie has been incredibly badly treated in the reissue game. As far as I could see the only things that are available are his 20 Beat Classics which was a compilation done on vinyl for the mod revival in 1979 and one other budget greatest hits. The Japanese had re-issued all his Columbia albums back a couple of years back, but they were incredibly limited and hardly any got out of Japan. I felt there was real need to look at these recordings in a more in-depth way, and allow people who didn’t have the original albums to hear just how good Georgie was beyond his – rather wonderful – hits.
I’m guessing you had a fairly specific idea of what you wanted for the album. Where any tracks unavailable to you? Or indeed, did you have any surplus tracks?
There’s plenty of surplus tracks as virtually everything that Georgie did from this era was good. However the tracks were chosen as they were the ones that I loved the most and that made for a good listen. It was important to me that we featured tracks from ‘the Sound Venture’ album as this is a much overlooked release and has the track ‘Dawn Yawn’ with its’ story of another night clubbing until the early hours in Soho.
Did Georgie Fame have any involvement in or feedback on the release?
Georgie unfortunately has a lot of issues with the deals he did back when he recorded these records and refuses to have anything to do with the recordings. He was a total gent in his refusal to take part, but sadly for us it was a refusal just the same.
Without quoting specific sales numbers, has the collection been a success for the label?
It’s early days yet, but it’s shaping up to be very successful for us.
Ace releases always seem like a labour or love – well researched, excellent packaging and a real attention to detail. Is it still cost effective for Ace to release albums of such quality? Or are illegal downloads having an impact on their viability?
I think it is the only way to do them. We find that the better the package the more reason that people have to buy the CD. With Georgie for instance we had access to an incredible set of photographs from Val Wilmer many of which were previously unseen. We are always searching out all the aspects of a release to make it as unique a proposition as possible. From the best sound, to heavily reasearched notes, to scores of previously unreleased tracks. If physical releases are going to survive they will have to do so by being better than what is being offered by others.
In your opinion, what are the five finest albums that Ace has produced in its 30+ years history? You can, of course, include albums you’ve compile yourself!
You know what? This really is an impossible question to answer. There are just so many to chose from. From my releases ‘Take Me To The River’ and the Oscar Brown comp ‘Kicks’ spring to mind. But elsewhere my mind wanders across all time master pieces such as the great Arthur Alexander comp ‘The Greatest’ and an amazing Bobby Bland release, to recent releases such as ‘Thank You Friends: The Ardent Records Story’ with its mix of Garage, Memphis weirdness and Big Star. I could then spend a couple of days running down Kent’s greatest moments, though I have a long-term soft spot for the amazing vinyl comp ‘Cook-In With Kent’. Of course these are just off the top of my head and will have changed tomorrow.
From the past to the future – anything upcoming in 2010 we might get excited about?
So much to look forward to, but a recent deal to get inside the workings of FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, which has literally taken years to pull off, is about to bear fruit. Lots of unreleased southern soul should be able to escape.
Finally, if Ace closed tomorrow (and we hope that’s not the case!), what would be the label’s legacy?
I think it would be in showing that the great music of the past deserves not only to be recognised, but fostered, treated with respect, and given to the world with a high level of care and quality. I think that from blues through rock and roll, right up to the wonders of 80s garage and all the stop off points in the US and UK in-between Ace has done that. We are all richer from that.
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