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Interview with Joe Murphy and Jules Dakin
I’m sure you know the annoyance or pleasure gained from a musical earworm. They usually penetrate the eardrums as a single recording. I’ve been attacked by a whole CD of them with ‘Lucky Dip’, which is a compilation of eighteen tracks to celebrate a decade of Blang Records (2005-2015),
The CD goes like this...I've a bloke telling me about his attraction to a sexy dentist...another geezer explaining how he drinks his wine...then the women join in asking where has Smiley Culture gone...and another explaining how her partner drinks, and drinks...someone who says he’s the king of Leyton...a song about Germans in space...then someone quoting Groucho Marx. They are all very different, all very good and all in my bloody head.
So who are the creators of this musical earworm? I tracked them down. Their names: Joe Murphy and Jules Dakin. They’ve agreed to gather around a table of alcohol in one of Hoxton’s music venues. Little do they know that I have visions of their flagellation on my mind as per Basil Fawlty beating his car with a tree branch. It’s my retribution for their earworm creation.
“Although Blang Records began life in 2005, I ran another label called Audio Gland from 2000,” Murphy explains. “Audio was a way to release my band Sergeant Buzfuz’s (which had formed in the 90s) material. We did two albums and one single through Audio. In the meantime I started setting up Blang nights at the 12 Bar Club in Denmark Street. We attracted all types of wonderful, diverse creative musicians. As we grew, Audio morphed into Blang and became a new label. We had become associated with Blang as a musical event. That’s how the label's name came to be, and we are still here ten years later.”
“I started by releasing a 26 track compilation album called ‘Fruit Machine’, the idea being just like a fruit machine you didn’t know what’s coming next. There was a slight John Peel connection, that being peel. Fruit, peel etc… I was learning about the business of music labels as I went along. Chris T-T, who is in Thee Cee Cees, came along with advice. He had a degree in Pop Music and knew more than I did about most things, which wasn’t difficult I guess. I gave him a demo of a 7” single. He liked it, and gave me plenty of advice on how to get the press involved and distribution of our music”
Within a year of start-up Blang Records was a partnership of two when Dakin joined the team.
“I met Joe. We came across each other at the Blang nights in the 12 Bar Club,” Dakin recalls. “I was impressed and surprised he was releasing albums, fronting his own band, putting the gigs on and working at a daytime job as well. We both liked the band David Cronenberg's Wife and thought that it would be cool to set up a company and release some of the band’s material. We decided to turn the idea into a proper business, set it up as a limited company and started to sign bands.”
The Blang duo are clearly at ease in each other’s company. They don’t agree on everything, but each understands the other's point of view. Murphy, discarding a jacket and sweater, is now at ease in tee shirt with a glass of red wine to hand. Dakin is more studious. A sip of lager allows him more time to answer questions with a more balanced approach. Ten years with Blang still has them both looking in pretty good nick. So much for a rock and roll lifestyle.
David Cronenberg ‘s Wife (who are still with the label) were their first signing. They both accept those early days were a matter of setting up the label, releasing singles/albums and seeing where it took them. Whilst they had the releases reviewed and subsequently played on various radio stations, they didn’t sell many copies. I wonder if the format has changed over the years when Murphy says, “The way to sell records was to set up a fan base and play live.”
I know it’s a broadly formatted question but I want to know if they believe the label has been successful. They respond quickly almost in tandem. There are two gauges to success, one's artistic, the other financial. “Our gauge of success is the quality of bands/artists we sign and how we raise their profile, always has been always will be,” Murphy continues. “If people deem a Top 40 hit or earning loads of money as success, that isn’t us. We aren’t set up for it. For an independent label we have done really well to get our artists music on the radio and recognised by the music press. We have put out some fabulous records and classic albums, although it’s fair to say not as many people have heard them as we wanted.”
In this day and age of instant success I ask does their business model still work?
“We are very honest with bands we sign as to what we can offer. Which is radio plays, press release and interviews,” says Dakin. “We do get bands who want more. Some move to other labels, some come back again. Our ideal situation under our current setup would be for one of our bands to be picked up by a larger label as we have back catalogue rights”
Dakin offers a wonderful pictorial metaphor: “To some degree it’s all about incubating bands, just waiting for them to be a success” Currently the incubation period is still on-going. They cite Milk Kan as being a model of success, by way of their recognition in various indie charts. None of their bands, however, has yet made that spectacular breakthrough you would have expected from artists of this quality, as heard on the ‘Lucky Dip’ CD.
Murphy is proud of the label’s indie tag. They aren’t affiliated to any overseas labels, distributors or franchise outlets. Dakin picks up on the business side. “We (he says pointing to Murphy) finance the label. To make smaller losses over the financial year is a success for us. We are getting to the stage of breaking even, but it is hard work.”
Murphy’s interest is in quality music. He strikes me a realist and pragmatist. Marketing plans, going to music seminars, plugging away on social media sites doesn’t really interest him. He wants to release the label’s music. “We’ve brought in Paul Finlay who helps fund the label but hasn’t yet been involved in the day to day business transactions. We also have Tim Britton who’s clued up on the workings of social media.” Murphy and Dakin both want to add people with different skills to the label’s mix. Murphy states two vital missing components. “What we are lacking is time and money. This is an operation run on a shoestring.”
Most of Blang’s turnover comes from PPL and PRS license returns. Dakin explains in more detail. “Milk Kan have a track played on Soccer AM each week, so that’s become a revenue generator. We recently had Thee Cee Cees ask if we could release their album. Obviously we said yes. It’s been a great boost allowing more hits on our website so people can buy CDs. That said we still have the frustration of not being able to get the likes of Sheepy out in front of a much wider audience.”
Back in the years of those Blang nights (up to 2012) they saw bands live every month. Murphy and Dakin could make an instant judgement if they were of the right quality for Blang Records. These days the mix has changed. “We still play plenty of gigs,” confirms Murphy. “So we get out and about seeing bands along the way. Other times it is people’s recommendations. We do get unsolicited tracks sent into us, which we always listen to. In terms of going out trawling the clubs for new talent, no, we don’t do that. You’ve got to remember we have about ten bands signed to Blang. We don't want the label to become too big, too unwieldy.”
If his plan comes together Murphy is going home, to Sheffield, during 2016. The geographical move offers the label new opportunities, Murphy explains, “Ideally I want the move to allow more time to work on the label. My work here in London along with the commuting takes up a lot of time. We will still run the business from here (London) but the move opens up options in and around Sheffield, which currently has a vibrant music scene.” Dakin adds his future thoughts from a business perspective “We are very proud of our ten years as Blang Records, the bands we’ve been involved with, album releases. Plus we are still here when many labels are no longer around.”
It’s been a theme running through the interview. What are they going to do with all the great music signed to the label and ideas they have bouncing around between them?
Dakin runs with the answer: “Look, we know it may be time to source other people's involvement, maybe those who can provide additional finance. We are aware of the importance of social media activity coupled with marketing the bands.”
Murphy adds his own thoughts: “We have no intention of losing our independence or musical integrity, but working with labels from abroad is another option we need to look at in more detail. Yes, it’s something we need to develop in the new year, so we can explain to interested ‘third parties’ our plans and ideas for the future.”
If a magical slug of money was made available, the Blang duo have no doubts on its use. ”We would get some of the label’s bands out on tour. As far and wide as possible. Give people a chance to see what they were missing.” Dakin’s comments on bands incubating comes to mind. They talk about an idea - A video, running with various bands talking about their music and ten year relationship with Blang. In the background music from various bands play as a montage of years roll by. It is a nice idea, but at this stage it could remain just an idea due to financial constraints.
Understandably when I ask for their favourite artists (past and present) on ‘Lucky Dip’ they take the diplomatic route saying, “They’ve all made a positive contribution over the past ten years.”
So let me all indulgent and select my personal favourites, or should that be most significant earworms?
Top Five: Thee Cee Cees (‘Soap Box’, 2015) - Emily Capell (‘Who Killed Smiley Culture ‘,2014) - Crash and the Disasters (‘King of Leyton’, 2015) - Malcolm Kaksois (‘Sexy Dentist ‘, 2007) - David Cronenberg's Wife (‘Jonny Bentham’s Dilemma’, 2008).
Blang Records’ eighteen-track compilation ‘Lucky Dip’ is made up of diverse artists, humorous, thought provoking, punky, acoustic singer songwriters, one off singles, best track from albums, roaring percussions, screaming electric guitar riffs, violins, mellow lyrics, political comment, laments on death, sexual conquests (and disappointments), remnants of violence, the apologies thereafter. Maybe it should come with an earworm health warning?
I hope the ideas and aspirations Murphy and Dakin have for the future of Blang Records come to fruition. They love their music and they love the label’s bands. If they can find a way to share and promote their musical passion, a wider audience would be grateful. Their CD ‘Lucky Dip’ is a testimony to the fact.
On a recent train journey up to the isles of Scotland a fellow passenger commented when knowing my destination, “Ah the lochs and mountains of Scotland. You can travel the world and when you come back what you were looking for was here all the time.”
They could have been commenting on Blang Records’ portfolio of talent.
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Owen Peters talks to Joe Murphy and Jules Dakin, the co-owners of London-based indie label Blang Records, about its recent tenth anniversary and 'Lucky Dip', a new celebratory compilation album which features acts from throughout its history
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