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Swine meets Bacon and Quarmby (No puns necessary)
By Ginger Rodgers
Kevin Bacon and Jonathan Quarmby have an established history and a bright future. With true punk attitude they do things their own way and continue to pioneer musical progress.
Bacon & Quarmby, as they have become known, have almost 20 years of artist development and record production - achieving both Grammy and Brit awards.
Kevin Bacon was bassist with inspirational Sheffield post punk band, The ComSat Angels, formed in the city in 1978. After releasing singles independently on their Junta Records label, the band soon moved on to make three albums with Polydor, followed by a move to Jive records, as Kevin recalls,
“We wanted to go pop like everyone else in the 80s but made a pigs ear of it. We made some poor decisions but left behind some good albums.”
Indeed, U2 cited The ComSat Angels as big influences, and so too did contemporary acts like Bloc Party and Editors. In fact, Culture Show presenter Mark Commode and poet Simon Armitage are also fans and serious talks are currently in place to reform the band for a Culture Show special.
After a further stint with Island records, Kevin called it a day with the Angels and concentrated on record production and artist development. This is when he met Jonathan Quarmby at Axis Studios. Quarmby, a songwriter, pianist and techno-wizard quickly struck a rapport with equally talented and technically minded Bacon and the musical magic began when they first worked together on an instrumental called ‘Our Earth.’
They were soon producing for Elektra Records and their first major project was with young singing sensation Ephraim Lewis. However, after helping Lewis secure a record contract he was killed in the US while recording his debut album. Lewis fell from a tower block after allegedly being chased and subsequently tasered by the LAPD (http://www.ephraimlewis.com/article.htm).
Working from Sheffield in the nineties, the pair became firm friends with steel city band The Longpigs and still remain close to the band’s guitarist, Richard Hawley. John remembers,
“Richard is the guitarist we call on to do our session stuff, we’ve grown tremendously close over the years.”
“It works so we try and keep it going. He’s the guitar stig! There’s never a need to over-describe anything to Richard because we just understand each other…we know what we mean…It’s good to be able to communicate in shorthand with some people.”
“Richard Hawley can be a bit of a handful at times though. Sometimes you’ll say to him, ‘Can you play this?’ and he’ll go ‘no, but what about this?’ and do something completely different,” laughs John.
Bacon and Quarmby have worked with the crème de la crème of musical artists. Choosing from an array of talent of which the two have been fortunate enough to share the studio with, Swine decides to pick a handful of stars from across the musical spectrum to discuss.
“David Bowie was very weird and disappointing because he was obsessed with telling jokes,” muses Kevin.
“Chrissie Hinds was interesting,” John recollects,
“If anyone cooked any kind of meat or came in with a bacon sandwich she would go mental. She was big on animal rights. In fact she wore leather shoes but I think people too scared to say anything about this to her face!”
“She was as controversial, feisty and as bloody-minded as a seventeen year-old,” smiled John.
“In my view the most talented was Finlay Quaye, he was a raw genius,” declares John.
Kevin adds, “Finlay Quaye was the most talented but also one of the most difficult artists I’ve ever worked… with which is usually the case. It’s the price you pay.”
“Ian Brown is the nicest guy you could ever meet,” continues Kevin,
“He’ll give you a big hug when you meet, he really is fantastic. I don’t understand why he gets this image as having a difficult persona. In fact he’s one of the only artists who thanked us properly by sending us a letter.”
Bacon and Quarmby are often dragged in to help new artists get their foot in the door to commercial success and have they were recently commissioned to assist Get Cape Wear Cape Fly and Plan B. Kevin explains,
“We did one track to get him [Get Cape Wear Cape Fly] on the radio. Him and John had to carefully tread the ground between left of centre and centre and this was the same mission statement with Plan B. I mean he [Plan B] had a reputation for being difficult but he was fantastic to work with. I’m surprised and quite upset he didn’t quite follow through.”
The success of these pioneering producers based in Sheffield soon came to an end as they hit a This Morning style location dilemma in 2004 culminating in a move down the M1 in order for the business to progress. John illustrates why the move was necessary,
“We became victims of our own success in a way. Artists just wouldn’t come to Sheffield and we began working more and more in London, so after 15 years at Axis we just couldn’t generate the workload in Sheffield anymore. We miss it because they were the best studios going.”
The pair ended up at Mickey Most’s Rak Studio complex in St. John’s Wood. But as Kevin told Swine, it seems like a corner of Sheffield now exists in St. John’s Wood,
“It’s weird, the Artic Monkeys did stuff at the place, Tony Christie as well. There’s also a mixer called Ritchie who did the Red Tape course [Sheffield Council run music production course] and he mixed the Last Shadow Puppets album.”
John reminisces about another corner of Sheffield they discovered, way out in Cannes,
“We ended up in Cannes at one point and met Richard Hawley, his manager Jeff and the Reverend sat in a café. It was like a little bit of Sheffield in Cannes…No-one could understand us; we all went reyt broad!
Three years ago Kevin and John began a new venture, AWAL (Artists without a label), along with a third running mate called Denzyl Feigelson. An American, Denzyl came over to the UK to launch I-tunes. I-tunes wanted new innovative artists and sources of music, not just commercial sounds from major record labels.
Denzyl became involved in the AWAL project following an initial 30-album agreement to provide I-tunes with music from a variety of talented artists. The firsts few months saw the Arctic Monkeys, Editors, Klaxons and even Eddie Izzard get in on the deal. John digresses,
“We found ourselves doing this for three years and thousands of bands have now signed to our ‘label.’ It might sound stupid and controversial but we were ridiculed at first about the 30 day sign-up.”
Swine compares the terms and conditions of the AWAL contracts to that of the Factory Records contract, written in Tony Wilson’s (RIP) blood, where all the artists in true punk spirit had the, “freedom to fuck off.” Ironically it’s this freedom that causes most artists to stay with AWAL.
“We’ve had acts ranging from Shirley Bassey to McFly,” notes Kevin, who is keen to show the variety of acts they deal with and how diverse the popularity of this idea truly is, “It provides an alternative to old-fashioned record label.”
AWAL has a team in both Sheffield and London. Kevin illustrates the clear divide of work between the two,
“In Sheffield they do the artists websites, accounts and admin, all that side really and in London we have parties.”
AWAL's industry experts offer guidance to musicians on everything from promotion, sponsorship opportunities, music publishing, A&R, playlists, custom compilations and podcasts. Furthermore, he secret to it’s success is in AWAL’s ability to spot good independent music from allover the globe, as the website states, “from a singer fresh out of a church choir and an indie band in the suburbs through to an African village group pulsing with a unique beat.”
With over twenty years of experience in producing and even more in the music industry in general, Bacon and Quarmby aspire to pioneer AWAL as a future model for record labels. It is hoped that this will replace, what Denzyl Feigelson describes as, “The traditional, antiquated channels that once characterised the music industry."
If you think you have what it takes, then check out their website at www.awal.com.
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