Most bands, if they can’t find a label to release their music, would either keep searching or give up. Not many would simply set up their own label, but that’s exactly what Nigel Turner, the co-founder of Pickled Egg records, did when he couldn’t find a label for his then band, The Melons.

Pickled Egg records has now become one of the few British labels willing to take a risk on music purely because it is fresh and has something original. It has brought us bands like Pop-Off Tuesday, a Japanese experimental pop duo and it picked up Daniel Johnson after he found himself without a label in 1998.

The label is a saving grace for bands that want to create something different and a showcase for the label’s diverse talent has been way overdue. It has just released, as its fiftieth release, a double CD compilation, 'Jar', spanning seven years of the label’s history and which gives a glimpse of some future releases as well. Nigel Turner explains how it all started and why we need labels like Pickled Egg records.

PB: How did the label start and get up and running?

NT: I played bass guitar for a couple of years in the mid 90's with the indie pop band, The Melons, whose main claim to fame was that Mark Radcliffe was a fan. We were fortunate enough to be invited to play two sessions on his 'Out on Blue Six' evening show on Radio 1. Largely because of Radcliffe's patronage, the band had enjoyed a number of modestly successful 7" singles, on a variety of indie labels, including Damaged Goods. When we recorded what was to be the band's 'farewell' single, Damaged Goods, however, seemed to have lost interest, but having harboured ambitions to start my own label for some time, I saw this as an ideal opportunity to get a label off the ground. Starting the label with a group who'd already released several records, made it relatively easy for me to get distribution (through Cargo).

Although this first release didn't really reflect the kind of music I wanted to champion, it served its purpose of getting the label up and running, enabling me to persuade other artists that I had a ‘proper’ record label with ‘proper’ distribution. It was really the next two releases that in many ways defined the label. These were 7" singles by the Japanese experimental pop duo, Pop-Off Tuesday (whom I'd heard in session on John Peel, and were criminally without a label at the time) and Birmingham-based Francophile space-pop quartet, L'augmentation, both released in the summer of 1998.

PB: Was it difficult to get established as an independent English label?

NT: It depends what you mean by established. I was fortunate enough to have John Peel play several of my earliest releases, which culminated in Pickled Egg having as many as four entries in the 1998 Festive 50 (including Pop-Off Tuesday at no.5 – apparently the highest ever entry from a non British or US artist!). I also had some good press back in the late 90’s – astonishingly, the 'NME' reviewed both the debut Pop-Off Tuesday and Volcano the Bear albums! It’s inconceivable that such a thing would happen today. All of which undoubtedly gave the label an early boost. But sadly, for reasons best known to them, the likes of Peel and the mainstream music press chose to overlook pretty much everything I’ve put out since, and as a result, the label’s sales have remained pretty much stagnant, with many of those early releases being amongst the label’s best sellers.

PB: How did the idea to do a compilation CD come up?

NT: Really it was long overdue. Compilations are clearly a good shop window for record labels, enabling people to listen to artists they might otherwise not get to hear. I’d been meaning to put together a Pickled Egg compilation for at least two years, but with so many irons in the fire, it just kept getting put back. And with such a large number of great artists to cover, I had little choice but to make it a double CD. I like to think it’s fairly representative of the past 7 years of Pickled Egg, plus it contains a few bonus tracks and future releases, thrown in for good measure. I organised a launch party at the Phoenix Arts Theatre in Leicester, back in May this year, featuring the likes of George, Oddfellows Casino, Nalle (the new project of Chris and Hanna from Scatter (who sadly couldn’t make it)), James Green (Big Eyes) and Zukanican, which gave me a definite date to work towards for releasing the album, otherwise it may well have dragged on for another two years! It looks like this might become a regular annual event, under the adopted “Eggstock” moniker!

PB: Has the 'Jar' compilation been a success so far?

NT: It’s selling quite well, in spite of it being predictably shunned by the mainstream music press. Though it’s still early days, I suppose.

PB: What makes a band stand out to Pickled Egg?

NT: It’s difficult to generalise. I suppose I’m drawn towards musicians who exhibit some kind of artistic vision, who push the musical envelope. I like music with a bit of mystery, where it’s not immediately obvious what the influences are. So many bands simply play what I’d describe as ‘music by numbers’, where you can tell exactly where the music’s going from just the first couple of bars, and certainly, music like that doesn’t hold any interest for me. I guess, above all, I like music that sounds fresh.

PB: How do you go about signing a band to the label?

NT: Strictly speaking, I don’t ‘sign’ bands to the label. Deals are done purely on an album-by-album basis. For the most part, bands tend to find me - either by way of recommendation from other artists, or simply through sending me demos. I guess there aren't too many labels around nowadays that are prepared to take risks (certainly not in the UK), so it's perhaps not too surprising that so many leftfield artists have gravitated towards Pickled Egg.

PB: How did you get involved with Daniel Johnston and international bands like The Go Team?

NT: Well, of course, the Go! Team were complete unknowns when I put their first single out, back in August 2000. Ian Parton sent me a cassette tape of four songs which became the ‘Get it Together!’ EP. In fact, I seem to recall that the master was transferred directly from this cassette! I know that Ian was familiar with Pickled Egg through being a fan of Pop-Off Tuesday, who’d played the Brighton Crawl the following year. I also know that he sent this cassette to a number of other labels, who clearly weren’t as quick off the draw as Pickled Egg, but I won’t embarrass them by naming them! It’s fair to say that Ian and myself had a bit of a falling out over the way in which he dumped Pickled Egg for Memphis Industries. I was due to release the debut Go! Team album in 2002 – and still have the original master CD. This would have been a very different album from that which eventually came out, although I must confess that Thunder Lightning Strike is the more consistent recording. Anal retentives may have noticed the absence of a catalogue number Egg 38, which would have been the Go! Team LP.

As for Daniel Johnston… you could say this was a classic case of being in the right place at the right time. I spoke to Jad Fair after he’d played a gig in Leicester in 1998, just around the time I’d started the label, and being a long-time fan of Daniel’s, I asked Jad if he knew what Daniel was currently up to (Jad, of course, having recorded an LP with Daniel back in the late 80’s). It just so happened that he’d finished recording two albums worth of material, but was without a record label, having just been fired by Atlantic. So I seized my chance! It helped matters that I was acquainted with Daniel’s then manager, Jeff Tartakov (who also runs Stress Records, the label that released Daniel’s earliest recordings on home-made cassette tapes). Jeff spoke to Daniel, and the rest is history. I must say though, I would have been chuffed enough with being able to put out just the one single, let alone two singles and an album!

PB: If you could have anyone on your label who would it be and why?

NT: My dream release would be by an artist who I've never heard of (or indeed, anyone else has heard of), it would be their debut release, and it would be the greatest record ever made. You see, I don't go around looking at what other labels are releasing, with any desire to poach their artists. It's not like, "if only I could release a record by Stereolab, or Low, or Yo La Tengo, or whoever, then I could feel the label was successful." I'm very proud of the records I've released - which I believe are as good as anything released by any contemporary label - and also of the label's genuine independence. Though I guess if there is one contemporary artist (not already on Pickled Egg!) who I would most like to work with, it would have to be Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel), although from what I’ve heard, it’s most unlikely that he’d want to work with me (or anyone else, for that matter). By all accounts, Jeff is still recording some amazing music, but apparently has no desire to see it released.

PB: Does your own personal music taste come in to it when you sign a new band?

NT: Absolutely. That’s the only criteria there is. I would never release anything that I wasn’t 100 percent into. I suppose my tastes are pretty broad, which means that the label has a somewhat eclectic output. However, it’s all subject to the strictest of quality controls!

PB: How did you come up with the name ‘Pickled Egg’?

NT: As you can imagine, I get asked this question quite a lot! Essentially, I like the name, because it doesn't sound like a 'proper' record label, and therefore stands out. And what more can you ask of a name? I know that it's not to everyone's taste (much like pickled eggs), but who cares. People can read into it whatever they like. That's fine with me. It was label co-founder Colin Aluccini who came up with the name (we jointly ran the label for the first release, after which Colin got cold feet!), and when I heard it, I knew instantly that was the right name. (If you must know, I'd recently been on a camping holiday with some friends in Cornwall, during which, for reasons not too clear to me now, everyone developed an unhealthy interest in pickled eggs - possibly on account of their sheer abundance in that part of the world). Incidentally, I toyed with the idea of calling the label Little Gary Records, after my pet cat at the time (who sadly disappeared, but that's another story). That, however, didn't receive Colin's approval. But I think food is a good metaphor for music, and one that I've pursued through various endeavours, including occasional club nights, 'New Potatoes' and 'Red Leicester'.

PB: What is coming next for the label?

NT: I’ve recently released a limited vinyl edition (500 copies) of the new Need New Body album, ‘Where’s Black Ben?’, complete with fabulously garish gatefold sleeve. This is their craziest album to-date, and pushes the boundaries of ‘spazzcore’ to hitherto unknown extremes!

In September I’ll be releasing ‘A Week of Kindness’, the second full-length album from George. If anything, this album even manages to surpass the heights of the Manchester-based duo’s 2003 debut, ‘The Magic Lantern’, and should consign those half-baked Low comparisons to the history bin.

Around October or November time, there’ll be a new album from Farina, as well the debut from the aforementioned Nalle (the new folk/drone band of Chris and Hanna from Scatter). Early next year should see new albums from Zukanican and The Big Eyes Family Players, followed by the debut full-length from Hassle Hound, and a release (format tbc) from London-based krautfunk collective, Now.

PB: Thank you

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