(This feature has been dragged out of the archives for you, back when downloads were a significant force in the industry, I think it retains relevance in these days of streaming – I hope you like it…)
“The revolution will not be downloadable,” is a line which, oddly enough, was not sung by Gil Scott Heron. He did sing, “The revolution will not be televised.” The latter line, from a poem set to music, provides a contrast between the irrelevance of television and the raw power of significant events, in all their reality. As for the former misquote? Read on
I was talking to indie outfit, Ace Records (acerecords.co.uk) recently. It’s managed to grab the Flying Dutchman record label license, responsible for several works by Gill Scott Heron, Gato Barbieri, Leon Thomas and Jan Garberek. Ace managed to wrest the control of Flying Dutchman from the hands of Sony that had largely neglected the label. Ace intends to release a whole host of Flying Dutchman records over the coming months, principally because it’s worth it for Ace to pursue and publish relative niche works. Not for Sony, though, which requires a far more bankable content to support its gigantic marketing structure.
“The majors don’t care,” said Dean Rudland, A&R consultant for Ace. “They have their hit artists and hit catalogue. They can go and release Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours again. We are a very different beast and we can do very different things. No-one at Sony was interested in Flying Dutchman, they were only interested in releasing The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, one more time.”
Critically, though, the capture of Flying Dutchman, as an entity, means that the source content of the archive will be taken and processed by Ace’s mastering engineers who have extensive knowledge of processing sources of all types, from master tapes to 16” acetates (via the outfit’s specially converted Pink Triangle turntable, incidentally). Much of this music will be processed and cleaned up for the first time. Don’t forget, this is a job that Sony refused to complete, it wasn’t worth its time.
While learning of this deal, I was made aware of a fascinating, modern day, production wrinkle that exposes a big problem with the download industry. You remember downloads, don’t you? They were (are?) supposed to take over the entire industry? Some might say that they already have. I have always been under the impression that, because downloads are so cheap to make and distribute (what…you copy and convert a file and post it to a web site? Where’s the work in that?) then we would see billions of tracks instantly available for download including many rare pieces of music. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, has it? Why? Because, unless a piece of music has already been digitised, as the majors have it, it will not appear as a download. That’s right, despite the relative simplicity of the entire download industry, it still takes money to mount and run a source, clean it up and make it viable for today’s public consumption and, if a major label sees no major profit in it, that music will stay in a dusty vault. Maybe I was wrong to make assumptions about downloads but, somehow, I feel hoodwinked.
Smaller independents, like Ace, are giving you, the music fan, quality music (on CD, not download) that hasn’t seen the light of day for many years. They should be lauded for the act.
As for Flying Dutchman? The label was created and run by star producer, Bob Thiele from 1969. This was the guy who signed Buddy Holly and Jackie Wilson to the Brunswick and Coral labels and he produced all of John Coltrane’s records in the 60s, “In the ranks of the great producers, he’s not in the front line but you almost certainly have a record produced by him in your collection,” said Rudland. “He fell out with the top brass at the Impulse record label, where he was working. The reason? Because the label wouldn’t sign free jazz legend, Pharaoh Sanders. They also wouldn’t run with the single, What A Wonderful World, sung by Louis Armstrong and co-written by Thiele (the label boss didn’t like it, apparently). When Thiele jumped ship, he immediately signed Gill Scott Heron and Leon Thomas.”
Thiele was a colourful figure, a wealthy New Yorker, a jazz fan from the late-30s and early-40s who started making records. He was a hustler. He was the publisher of Errol Garner’s Misty for a while, for example, because Garner gave him the song to publish. Thiele smelled a hit, found someone to write the words and bang, money started to flow.
Thiele had a conscience and was caught up in the liberal radicalism of the day, “You had Gill Scott Heron and Heron’s song-writing partner, Brian Jackson. Thiele signed up a pair of young, radical, politically aware, black kids. You look at Thiele: 48, slightly puffy, white, middle-class record executive. It seemed to be the most unlikely signing in history. Heron and Jackson exclaimed, though, that, “Anyone who’s recorded John Coltrane, has got to be alright.”
Yet, Gill Scott Heron and Thiele would surely have seen the irony. A revolution is supposed to be a force for change. What we are seeing with the download ‘upheaval’ is, in fact, a force for inertia.