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Celebrating the 40th anniversary of the pioneering folk, roots and world music label.
Back during the lockdown years in September 2020, I did a Podwireless special celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first record label that I ran, The Village Thing. Now, as a bit of self-indulgence, here's another marking the 40th anniversary of the next one, Rogue Records, which flourished during the 1980s and ’90s with some notable firsts and big sellers.
Looking back, things become clear that weren't obvious when in the thick of them. One of those was that as the 1980s unfolded they became a golden age for folk, roots and what would eventually be called world music in the UK.
Following the boom years for folk music and connected things like blues in the 1960s, partly caused by the post-WW2 generation coming of age en masse with curiosity and freedoms that their parents had never enjoyed, the 1970s saw a steady decline. Audiences got set in their ways, began to age and fell away. Innovations like folk rock got stuck in stylistic dead-ends. The festival movement had barely begun. Folk clubs turned inwards, mostly rejecting any interest from the next generation, failing to see that the DIY and political aspects of mid '70s punk rock made for kindred spirits. Music from other cultures was hard to find in record shops and few non-Western artists came to the UK to play outside their own diaspora. But as the 1980s dawned, things began to change.
A new spirit of adventurousness filled the air. Artists from both within and without the established folk scene began to experiment and follow their instincts. People from the rejected punk scene who were turned off by the glossy pop music of the era came digging for something with more depth and integrity – and roots. Common opposition to the Thatcher regime helped. Artists from other countries – African, Latin and Asian in particular – began to appear more visibly in the UK and their records started to be released as independent labels multiplied, and open-eared musicians began to listen and be influenced by them.
The airwaves of the day had proper broadcasters like Alexis Korner, John Peel and later Andy Kershaw on Radio 1, questing enthusiasts with a free hand to pick what they wanted to play, unrestricted by computerised playlists – and they did. Festivals burgeoned, the GLC in London funded multi-cultural events, and organisations like Arts Worldwide and WOMAD were established. Later on, artists like Billy Bragg and the Pogues would achieve mass popularity and singles by Mory Kante and Ofra Haza would hit the UK charts.
On the folk scene, a big signpost was a cover feature by the late Colin Irwin in the autumn 1982 issue of The Southern Rag which christened an imaginary, probably non-existent movement as Rogue Folk, featuring artists like Moving Hearts, Andrew Cronshaw, Dick Gaughan, Oyster Band, De Danann… and The English Country Blues Band and Jumpleads…
That same year, a bewildering combination of factors involving the BBC's weekly folk show, massively popular radio presenter (Sir) Terry Wogan, and a bit of cheeky chance-taking by a little gang including myself, Maggie Holland, Andrew Cronshaw and a friend at the British Council with contacts in Sofia, resulted in a one-off minor hit single and album by Bulgarian singer Nadka Karadjova. To seize the day and get it out there, we created a one-off label branded FMS, which Polygram marketed.
decade away from running a label and wanting to reduce time on the road after
some 16 years of full-time gigging, the idea appealed again. It was mainly to
give a home to the band I was then playing in along with projects by its
individual members and our friends. Out there, others had even achieved actual
hits with folk-connected singles, so anything seemed possible. And so, in Farnham, Surrey, where we'd moved around the time of the closure of Village Thing, something stirred…
And thus, 40 years ago, on 11th March 1983, the first two singles were released on a new independent label, Rogue Records, by The English Country Blues Band and our Oxford-based friends Jumpleads. They were quickly followed by the debut solo LP of ECBB member Maggie Holland and then later that summer by what was supposed to be a one-off single of the anthem of the new wave of English country dance Bands, Speed The Plough by a specially created band called Tiger Moth – an expanded, electric ECBB with Jumpleads' Jon Moore on lead guitar and drummer John Maxwell. The interest it created meant that Tiger Moth became a real thing, eventually recording two albums and some 12" EP projects as Orchestre Super Moth, but not before the ECBB did their second LP.
There was very quickly a lightbulb moment saying "Ooh, we have a record label, we can put out anything we fancy" and so it was that we became one of the pioneers of what would eventually get christened "world music" some 4 years later, putting out lots of records from West Africa and eventually Madagascar in particular.
Our first step outside the "house band" was to license the first ever UK release by celebrated Texas-Mexican accordeon wizard Flaco Jimenez. The LP, which I'd picked up a copy of in Los Angeles in 1980, was originally released by small label DLB from San Antonio. After the complications of licensing Nadka from Bulgaria, surely getting something from Texas must be easier? Turned out they only spoke Spanish… but we got there! Our next one from Texas, a 12" EP by "nuclear polka" exponents Brave Combo (described by celebrated US rock critic Lester Bangs as "the only truly original band in the USA") was much easier to organise, and putting out the debut LP by England's own The Deighton Family (a multi-cultural family group of father, mother and five offspring based in Yorkshire) was easier still!
One of the biggest activists and influencers of the day was Lucy Duran, then working at the National Sound Archive, who organised a couple of winter trips to the Gambia and Senegal for music enthusiasts in 1986 and 1987. It was on the first of these that we recorded kora masters Dembo Konte & Kausu Kuyateh. Their resulting first album Tanante caused a sensation and their debut UK tour was a massive success during which we recorded their second, Simbomba. Lucy and I also produced an album by the Sidiki Diabate Ensemble from Mali (featuring Sidiki's son Toumani Diabate and celebrated singer Kandia Kouyate, both on their first UK releases) which came out in a pair of LPs in conjunction with the NSA. The other comprised field recordings of the Tukano & Cuna People Of Colombia from their collection.
things spun off from Lucy's influence. In Senegal she'd picked up a local
cassette by Baaba Maal & Mansour
Seck which entranced me. A long period of tracking down contacts resulted
in a licence for Rogue, for which engineer David Kenny and I had to remix the
original multi-tracks from scratch as the 2-track stereo master had gone
missing. Djam Leelii, Baaba's first
UK release, became one of our biggest sellers, a world music album of the year,
and launched his subsequent international career. And as I kept going back to
the region I managed to find and field record, on Lucy's recommendation, the
Balanta guitarist and singer Pascal
Diatta & Sona Mané in Casamance.
in there we also put out a nice album by Anglo-French group the Cock & Bull Band, a 12" by a one-off outfit calling themselves The Mighty Clouds Of Dust (comprising
members or ex-members of the Pogues, 3 Mustaphas 3, Horslips, Radiators From
Mars and Oyster Band), and the debut LP by what was widely acclaimed to be the
UK's best African band, Abdul Tee-Jay's
Rokoto, who would release several more on the label.
[All of this time I was also editing Folk Roots magazine, presenting on the radio – initially locally in Guildford and then on the BBC World Service – and producing festivals: seven Farnham Folk Days and three Bracknell Folk & Roots Festivals up until I left Farnham and moved to London in winter 1988/9. It was a very full-on busy time which eventually didn't leave much for gigging as well, which fell by the wayside until the new century.]
Our last big West African project was an adventurous one to put our kora masters into the studio with members of 3 Mustaphas 3, English squeeze box man John Kirkpatrick, myself and others as Dembo Konte, Kausu Kuyateh & The Jali Roll Orchestra. The resulting 1990 album Jali Roll, one of several of our releases produced by Ben Mandelson (a.k.a. Hijaz Mustapha) was another critically acclaimed big seller, World Music Album Of The Year in Q and Vox magazines.
Back in the house band, Tiger Moth had done their second album (this was the point where releases on vinyl LP and cassette changed to CD and much better sound) and then Moth melodeon player Rod Stradling recorded his solo album in 1991 and Maggie Holland's second one came out in '92, including the first fruits of her songwriting, as heard here in a song later covered by June Tabor.
At that point I got distracted by Madagascar. I'd started going there in 1990 and got deeply involved in the music. 1992 saw a trio of releases, by acoustic, traditionally-based group Tarika Sammy (again using the Mustaphas' rhythm section); by the king of the local dance music called salegy, Jaojoby (his first international release); and by Paris-based Malagasy-exile guitarist Freddy De Majunga who had got very involved in the Paris-Zairean soukous scene.
Tarika Sammy rapidly became successful internationally, touring and released in the USA, but just as quickly broke up. Leader Hanitra Rasoanaivo then put together a new band alongside herself and her sister Noro, simply called Tarika, who from then on regularly topped the World Music album charts on both sides of the Atlantic. By 1997 they had become one of the biggest names in their home country, bringing back national pride in their own roots music. We even created their own sub-label, Sakay.
Sadly, everything fell apart in 2001 when Tarika had just arrived in the USA for a major tour to promote the release of what turned out to be their final album Soul Makassar, recorded in London and Indonesia with local musicians guesting. Their first gig was at B.B. King's in Manhattan on 10th September. On the 11th, what the Americans call 9/11 happened. The tour collapsed, short-term xenophobia broke out, the band were stuck in the USA for several weeks as all international flights were halted, and with their and the label's finances completely decimated and the band severely traumatised, they never toured again.
And that was the end of Rogue Records too. On our subsidiary Weekend Beatnik imprint there was a short series of mid-price CD compilations and re-issues of older Rogue material, earlier recordings by the house team, some from other sources like an otherwise lost album by Al Jones and a few things from the old Village Thing catalogue. But nothing was newly recorded after the millennium.
There are a few Rogue/ Weekend Beatnik compilations still available as CDs and/or downloads in the Ghosts From The Basement shop on Bandcamp – Tiger Moth, the English Country Blues Band, Konte & Kuyateh, Diatta & Mané, Hot Vultures and yours truly…
And you can get a free (or pay what you like) download of that first Rogue single by the English Country Blues Band – Don't Take Love b/w Put Your Money In Your Shoes. Find it here
Here's the Playlist…
1. (Intro) Tiger Moth : Larousse from the LP Tiger Moth (Rogue FMSL 2006)
2. Nadka Karadjova : A Lambkin Has Commenced Bleating from the LP A Lambkin Has Commenced Bleating (FMS FMSL 1001)
3. The English Country Blues Band : Don't Take Love from the 7" single (Rogue FMSS 102) Free download.
4. Jumpleads : False Knight from the 7" single (Rogue FMSS 103)
5. Maggie Holland : Banks Of The Nile from the LP Still Pause (Rogue FMSL 2002)
6. Flaco Jiménez : La Piedrera from the LP Viva Seguin (Rogue FMSL 2003)
7. Tiger Moth : Speed The Plough from the 7" single (Rogue FMSS 104)
8. The English Country Blues Band : England's Power And Glory from the LP Home & Deranged (Rogue FMSL 2004)
9. Brave Combo : People Are Strange from the 12" EP (Rogue FMST 4007)
10. Maggie Holland & Jon Moore : If I Had A Rocket Launcher from the 12" EP (Rogue FMST4008)
11. The Deighton Family : Travelling Light from the LP Acoustic Music To Suit Most Occasions (Rogue FMSL 2010)
12. Dembo Konte & Kausu Kuyateh : Simbomba from the LP Simbomba (Rogue FMSL 2011)
13. The Sidiki Diabate Ensemble : Kounadi La Beno from the LP Ba Togoma (Rogue FMS/NSA 001)
14. Tukano Indians : Early Morning Birdsong & Deer Bone Flute from the LP Music Of The Tukano & Cuna People Of Colombia (Rogue FMS/NSA 002)
15. Tiger Moth : Sloe Benga from the LP/CD Howling Moth (Rogue FMSL 2012)
16. Baaba Maal & Mansour Seck : Djam Leelii from the LP/CD Djam Leelii (Rogue FMSL 2014)
17. Cock And Bull Band : Stony Brawl from the LP Concrete Routes, Sacred Cows (Rogue FMSL 2015)
18. Pascal Diatta & Sona Mané : Adjilabone from the LP/CD Simnadé (Rogue FMSL 2017)
19. Abdul Tee Jay’s Rokoto : Ro-Manké from the LP/CD Kanka Kuru (Rogue FMSL 2018)
20. The Mighty Clouds Of Dust : Champion The Wonder Horse from the 12" single (Rogue 12FMS 108)
21. Dembo Konte, Kausu Kuyateh & The Jali Roll Orchestra : Sana Diop from the LP/CD Jali Roll (Rogue FMSL 2020)
22. Rod Stradling : The Sportsman's Hornpipe from the CD Rhythms Of The Wold (Rogue FMSD 5021)
23. Maggie Holland : A Proper Sort Of Gardener from the CD Down To The Bone (Rogue FMSD 5022)
24. Freddy De Majunga's Tsinjaka : Tsinjaka Salegy from the CD Tsinjaka (Rogue FMSD 5023)
25. Tarika Sammy : Rabeza from the CD Fanafody (Rogue FMSD 5024)
26. Jaojoby : Tsaiky Joby from the CD Salegy (Rogue FMSD 5025)
27. Tarika : Retany from the CD D (Sakay SAKD 7034)
28. Tarika : Koba from the CD Soul Makassar (Sakay SAKD 7037)
29. Hot Vultures : South Coast Bound from the CD Vulturama! (Weekend Beatnik WEBE 9031)
30. Al Jones : I'm So Happy from the CD Swimming Pool (Weekend Beatnik WEBE 9033)
31. Ian A Anderson : Time Is Ripe from the CD Time Is Ripe (Weekend Beatnik WEBE 9045)
32. (Outro) Tiger Moth : The Belfast Poker (the B-side of the original Speed The Plough single) from the CD Mothballs Plus (Weekend Beatnik WEBE 9043)
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