Another month goes by and another record label pops up, invariably accompanied by the rallying cry “physical music isn’t dead, maaaan!” Meanwhile, in the all-too static background this is mirrored by countless more labels disappearing in to inactivity and insolvency, painting a truer picture of where we stand right now. Let’s face it, things are fucked: if we have to resort to pedalling CDs at the checkouts of thrifty clothes retailers, and if some obscure Korean rapper can stream his way to the top of the charts by doing a bad impersonation of someone riding a horse, then there’s a major flaw in the plan somewhere. This is old news, of course: it’s been pretty evident for some time that the old model of the music industry sustaining itself on people actually paying for music is defunct. But does that mean we should give up hope on the realm of shellac, magnetic tape and polycarbonate plastics? Are us fuddy-duddy lovers of vinyl LPs and singles doomed to spend the rest of our lives trying to stem the tide of the digital age, like latter day King Canutes? Not so long as there are people like EIGHTIES VINYL RECORDS around we’re not.
Born out of a nostalgic love for the way things used to be done, Eighties Vinyl Records is the offshoot of clothing label Eighties Casuals, an independent brand formed in 2003 with the aim of providing the discerning terrace Gent with a modern range of sharp threads that give a sartorial doff of the cap to the past. The label’s founders Jason Montessori and Dave Hewitson bonded over a shared love of Adidas Gazelles and going to the match, and it was this passion that convinced them to build Eighties into a label that paid homage to the ‘football casual’ revolution in menswear, one they were both involved in first-hand (Hewitson traversing the continent in the 80s with Liverpool fans, and Montessori as a buyer for designer clothing store Tessuti). What started out as printing T-shirts with pictures of classic trainers on them has since blossomed in to a full clothing range with a respected reach across Europe, uniting a band of ‘casual’ brothers. So, a record label then? “Ha, I know!” laughs Hewitson as we sit down to a cuppa on a particularly blustery day on the Merseyterranean. “I should actually be sat at home with a signed Oasis poster on my bedroom wall, ha ha!” Eh? Let’s take it from the top, Dave.
The origin of Eighties Vinyl Records begins with The Sand Band’s Dave McDonnell, whose aforementioned signed Oasis poster took Hewitson’s fancy when they were both contributing lots to a mutual friend’s charity auction. Hewitson gave McDonnell £100 to start the bidding on the poster, and sat back to wait for the phone call telling him when and where to pick it up. “I couldn’t make it on the day,” he continues, “but I got a text off Dave around 11 at night saying ‘You’re not going to get the poster, but there’s a day in the studio available. We, The Sand Band, will go into the studio and record a single, and you put it out on Eighties Casuals.’ To which I thought: that’s brilliant!” That’s it? Had you mentioned to him anything about starting a record label? “No, nothing had ever been mentioned about me getting involved in music in that sense. But I thought this idea to put a single out was brilliant – it started my head spinning and I couldn’t sleep that night!”
So with the seed planted Hewitson set about making plans to get started on his new venture. “In terms of how to work it I thought the best bet would be to start it up as its own record label,” he explains with an obvious enthusiasm, “and run [the releases] as a series, rather than people seeing it come out of the blue and wondering where it fit in with Eighties Casuals. So I had a word with Dave Mc and proposed to run it as a not-for-profit record label, and to tie it in with that Eighties ethos, to keep it JUST vinyl, and do them all as limited edition runs on coloured vinyl. Because that was what it was like back in the day for me, going down to Probe and looking for the latest picture vinyl or coloured vinyl, something with that little bit extra. And it’s kind of snowballed from there really [laughs]!”
‘Snowballed’ is putting it mildly: as it stands now, Eighties Vinyl Records are set to release three singles by the end of the year, and Hewitson has spoken to a further eight bands about future projects, including the possibility of another band putting a full album out. For now, however, the focus is on getting things up and running with the singles currently in the pipeline. Fittingly, the label’s first release will be The Sand Band’s When We Kiss single (b/w Mistress) on white vinyl, and will be out by the end of October. The track, a typically gorgeous and moving slice of alt folk from the pen of one of the best songwriters Liverpool has ever churned out, was to feature on the band’s ill-fated third album; due to the recent announcement that The Sand Band have now split up this release seems unlikely, so Eighties Vinyl’s first release could consequentially be The Sand Band’s last. Late November will see the label’s second release, The Troubadours’ Con Edison (b/w Oh Mercy Me) on red vinyl. This one, a shifting breeze of country and western Americana, will be followed by the release of Sankofa’s Siren Song in late December/early January. Each release will be limited to a run of 250, and will get the Eighties Casuals seal of approval with an accompanying limited run of 25 T-shirts.
Evidence of how important the physical nature of the project is to Hewitson can be seen by the care taken with the visual representation of each release. “The artwork was something about vinyl releases as well,” he says. “There was something about sitting on the bus on the way home from town with this piece of artwork in your hands; it was all part of the experience, the package.” Graphic designer and filmmaker Dominic Foster has designed and laid out the artwork for the first two covers. Another designer, Alex Wynne, has devised the cover of the upcoming Sankofa single, which will be accompanied by a specially-commissioned video by Freakbeat Films, who have also recorded the companion video to The Troubadours’ Con Edison. Hewitson: “We’re not only showcasing the artist, we’re showcasing the designer or illustrator who does the artwork, the videographer who does the video, and anyone else involved, really. It’s a big collaboration between three or four groups of people, all of whom can benefit from it.” In doing this, Eighties Vinyl Records will be providing a much-needed platform for a host of creative types to show off their work to a substantially wider network through Eighties Casuals. Though the bands and collaborators won’t be receiving any monetary gain from the label releases, the whole collective will benefit from the shared profile of the project, and will have something tangible to show for their efforts.
All profits made from the project will be put back in to the label, to fund the next release and even stretch to funding session and studio time for future recordings. Though Hewitson and Eighties Casuals don’t need the record label to make them money, there is still a necessity to sell enough so that they’re not operating at a loss and the plan can continue. “It’s not just about Eighties Vinyl or the clothing label,” confesses Hewitson, “it’s about the bands and the people behind them who put in hours of hard work. Most bands out there haven’t got any money, so it’s nice to be able to help out.”
As Hewitson enthuses to me over his brand new 1982 Bang & Olufsen Beocenter 7002 sound system, and his recent discovery of Classic Album Sundays at a pub in London (“no phones, no mp3 players, no computers, no talking, just listening!”), it is clear that behind all these good intentions comes a genuine passion for the project, and physical music in general. In this transient, digital world, there’s still room for a physical record label that stretches beyond mere nostalgia. We just have to make room for it.