Cherry Red Records - The Basics:
- What: Indie label Cherry Red Records
- Where: London
- Founded by: Iain McNay and Richard Jones
- Founded: 1978
“Good Evening Malvern”:
The Cherry Red story starts in the unassuming market town of Great Malvern in South West England. In 1971, McNay was living in London with Malvern native Richard Jones, when Jones suggested they put on a show at the Malvern Winter Gardens. They booked space rockers Hawkwind, and when the show turned a small profit, Cherry Red Promotions was born - the company that eventually gave rise to the label. They continued putting on shows in Malvern every few weeks for the next ten years.
West Country Punk:
Excited by the emergence of Punk in 1977, Cherry Red Promotions put on string of what were to become classic punk gigs. The stars of Malvern's own punk scene were The Tights, and on New Years Eve 1977, Jones again persuaded McNay to expand the promotion company into a label by releasing The Tights' debut.
Run from McNay's bedroom, the label enjoyed early success, with legendary DJ John Peel and influential music paper Record Mirror championing their first single. This enabled McNay to secure national distribution. The Tights only went on to release one more single, but they'd put Cherry Red on the map.
Having worked at labels for the past 4 years, McNay knew the risks he faced when he decided to quit his job and run Cherry Red full time. He also know that he'd have to release more than just singles if the label was to be commercially viable. Noticing the success of major label compilations, McNay spotted an opportunity and began putting together a compilation of tracks from the burgeoning indie labels. In the late 70s, there was a strong camaraderie between the indie labels, and within days McNay had put together his first compilation. Business Unusual went on to sell over 10,000 copies.
Compilations have always been a part of Cherry Red's output, from the influential Pillows and Prayers compilation, which offered 17 tracks from Cherry Red's roster for only 99 pence, and the Punk and Disorderly collections to 1990s The Football Collectors Series, an on going series of albums featuring songs and chants from the terraces of many of the UK's professional soccer clubs. Whereas some labels had a 'song', 'images' or prominent band McNay always saw Cherry Red's versitility its strength, which perhaps explains the numerous compilation album's they've released.
The label enjoy great success with their first overseas signing The Dead Kennedys. The signing was helped along by an advance from Virgin Records owned export company Caroline Exports – this gave Cherry Red their first top 40 Hit. The label also enjoy success with The Monochrome Set, >Eyeless in Gaza, Laibach and Everything But The Girl.
Publishing, Reissues and Subsidiary Labels:
Early on McNay, realized there was money to be made from publishing – the way he saw it, if he could make some cash on the publishing side, he'd have more money to spend on putting out records. Any bands on the label whose publishing was available he signed to publishing deals, along with numerous other acts on other labels, and soon controlled a large publishing catalogue covering the whole range of independent music. The wisdom of signing bands to both the label and publishing paid off many time, perhaps most spectacularly with Jane's It's A Fine Day – a track McNay had originally heard on Peel's show. Released on Cherry Red, it became a minor hit, but almost ten years later it went on to be a worldwide smash for Opus 3.
After a 4 year sabbatical travel, McNay return in 1991 to find a vastly changed industry, where the term 'indie' had been hijacked by major label funded record companies. While they continued to work with their established acts like Momus and The Monochrome Set, McNay yet again spotted a gap in the market, a gap he could specialise in, re-issues from the late 70s and early 80s that were being largely ignored by the growing re-issues market.
Since then the Cherry Red family of labels has continued to grow, sometimes taking over labels, such as RPM in 1999, resurrecting labels such as The Televisions Personalities' Rev-Ola label, acquiring defunct labels back catalogue like punk labels Flicknife and No Future as well as running a series of new labels, such as Sidewinder Sounds. They've a publishing imprint and produced several music DVDs – over 30 years on from that first gig, Cherry Red continuing success should be an inspiration to all budding indie music entrepreneurs.