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Fire Records still trailblazing after 30 years

PUBLISHED: 15:57 16 May 2014 | UPDATED: 15:57 16 May 2014

James Nicholls

James Nicholls

Archant

Thirty years ago, a 26-year-old music fan called Clive Solomon became fed up that none of his favourite new bands – like Pulp, Teenage Fanclub and Spaceman Three – were being signed. His ­solution was to set up his own ­label, Fire Records, from his bedroom in Highbury and fund the small business out of his back pocket.

Pulp star Jarvis Cocker sings to more than 35,000 pop fans at Hylands Park in Chelmsford, Essex, this evening (Sat). Country roads around the two-day festival site in the Essex market town were jammed as crowds braved the heat at the latest summer outdoor music extravaganza.Pulp star Jarvis Cocker sings to more than 35,000 pop fans at Hylands Park in Chelmsford, Essex, this evening (Sat). Country roads around the two-day festival site in the Essex market town were jammed as crowds braved the heat at the latest summer outdoor music extravaganza.

Today, the likes of Jarvis Cocker are now household names, but Fire Records are still self-funded and operating with the same independent spirit that has produced wavering fortunes since their inception in 1984.

“I think Clive just wanted to put out records that weren’t getting any attention in the mainstream – a lot of art punk like Blue Aeroplanes and Pulp,” explains 36-year-old James Nicholls, who now runs and co-directs the label alongside Solomon.

“This kind of music wasn’t ­experimental, but it was avant pop that wasn’t selling, so we were swimming against the tide a bit.

“I don’t think it’s changed that much as well; we tend to put out what we want and manage to survive that way, which is quite unique really in an era when many record labels are having to scale back. “

Indeed, while the music industry is often portrayed as in decline, the future of Fire Records – now based in Stoke Newington – has never looked so secure.

It is this longevity which is being celebrated in a series of local 30th anniversary shows throughout this month, which start tonight when Las Kellies plays Hackney’s Olso. The outlook hasn’t always been so bright. By the late nineties, spiralling costs forced closure and it wasn’t until 1998, when Nicholls took over, that it ­relaunched to r­enewed success.

“The only way to make money was to sell records and to do that you had to spend a lot.

Ploughing

“So it went from a label that ran from Clive’s bedroom while he also ran a record shop back in the eighties to one which relied on ploughing money into bands and trying to break them.

“They had a couple of bands in the top 30, like the Gigolo Aunts and Libido, before it closed down, but to do that cost an absolute fortune and I think he fell a bit out of love with the type of music needed to get into the charts as well.”

Part of the reason the label has stabilised in recent years is ­because of its dedication to older artists as well as newer entries.

Acts like the Lemonheads and Wreckless Eric – who have perhaps struggled to maintain momentum after previous success – have found their careers rejuvenated by Fire Records and the re-issuing of back-catalogues and carefully orchestrated live events.

Meticulous promotion of their roster through online music services like SoundCloud have ­ensured that Nicholls and co have not just survived the internet, but thrived from it.

“I think we’re successful in our own little bubble. It’s more through structure and hard work that we’ve been able to exist and make sure that our records got out there – as well as through other means like publishing, placement in films and TV and re-issuing the catalogues slowly.

“We’re most probably lifers now. All of us just want to make it a success and outlive other ­labels. It’s great being able to wake up and do a job you love; there’s still plenty of stress and intensity, but you can’t help feel lucky and grateful that this is what you’re doing with your life.”

Fire Records are celebrating their anniversary with shows at the following: Tonight, Las Kellies, Oslo; Tomorrow, Scott & Charlene’s Wedding at The Lexington; Saturday, Wreckless Erics 60th Birthday Party at The Lexington; Sunday, Guided by Voices album release party with Stewart Lee compering at The Lexington, with a further show on May 26, Hospitality at Sebright Arms. Visit firerecords.com


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