n an industry dominated by the venal, the mediocre and the exploitative, just occasionally there comes along a label that seems to exist purely to celebrate the music itself. It shouldn't be rare but it seems to be. If you were to put together a dream brief for the kind of label that might ensure the continuance of music in hard formats like LP and CD, it might read something like London label Bo Weavil's statement of intent:
Bo Weavil Recordings is a new London based imprint dedicated to releasing on to vinyl and CD great music that has been long out of print, or never had a release before. The label's intention is to put out some lost gems from the wealth of traditional folk music and avant-garde / free music, while also releasing records cataloguing the current scene of avant folk music from around the globe.
Pretty ambitious, but a perusal of the label's prolific output between inception at the end of 2004 and now shows that they've pulled it off so far. Starting out with archival releases of old-timey goodness by maverick US musician, composer and philosopher Henry Flynt in deluxe vinyl editions, the label rapidly moved on to secure the LP release rights to several classic Shirley Collins LPs, as well as Anne Briggs' complete Topic recordings. Along side that, innovative acoustic guitar releases by the likes of Sir Richard Bishop and James Brayshaw solidified the label's reputation and they ventured into the avant-garde as well with "Free London" projects like The Eidetic Band, Ladywoodsman, Rob Mullender and Wooden Spoon. What makes the label really cohesive is that even their most outré offerings link back to some kind of folk tradition. The label has a massive 2007 planned, so we thought we might catch label owner Mark Morris between breaths and have a chat.
Terrascope-Online: Who is involved with Bo' Weavil and when did the label come into existence?
Bo' Weavil: Bo’ Weavil is just myself, and obviously the artists involved. It came into existence in November 2004 with the release of Henry Flynt’s records 'Back Porch Hillbilly Blues Vol 1 & 2' and 'I Don't Wanna'. The first idea for the label was to reissue the Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, but Folkways cannot license this material, as they have licensed the majority of it from smaller old 78 labels. So the Flynt records were next in line in my head, so I made contact with Locust and they were totally up for it.
It's quite unusual for a label to have a twin focus on the retrospective and the current. What led you to decide on that as the label's stated mission?
I basically wanted to run a label that dealt with the music I feel most passionately about, so for me that meant reissuing records that are hard to get on vinyl, and dealing with contemporary music as well. But also there are a few labels that also do the same today…Locust and Time-Lag spring to mind.
Can you explain your division of artists into "Avant Weavil", "Wooden Weavil" and "Folk Weavil"?!?
Well, really it’s only a way of making the catalogue a little more easily understandable. So one can see that the label deals with, more traditional folk (both from the revival period in the 60s and today), more avant-garde music…And Wooden Weavil, for acoustic guitarists of all forms. There soon will be a Psych Weavil…
That last bit of news will have Terrascope readers particularly excited I reckon. What was the biggest challenge in getting the label off the ground?
The biggest challenges have been getting the label known in a fairly large industry, and dealing with different problems that arise all the time, and as you probably know problems do arise.
How important has it been to be able to leverage the Internet to sell Bo' Weavil releases, versus the tradition means of using distributors. And what percentage of sales are direct (ie sold from your site or via other on-line outlets you control) versus through distributors?
Well as time goes by there are more sales via the internet, but these are still a fairly small percentage. Distribution is still very important…making sure the music gets into the right places. Although there will be fewer and fewer traditional record shops in the future (sadly), there will be more and more internet based shops. Today there is still a need for distribution, and even in the future I think there will be a need for distribution to certain places.
I think the future for mainstream music will be totally different. The new format will be downloads…this is an inevitable direction that the technology is dictating. But this does not mean there won’t be room for small labels that will deal with product. It may even make the majors move to exploit there catalogues anyway they can, so that small labels may be able to approach them for a small licensing deals…finger crossed.
Personally, I'm hoping that the digital download thing is a passing fad, but I'll probably go down with the ship! What attracted you to the avant-folk musician Henry Flynt as a means to kick off the label with your first two releases 'Back Porch Hillbilly Blues Vol. I and II' and 'I Don’t Wanna'?
Henry Flynt was a connection I had been looking for, for sometime. I grew up listening to jazz and this naturally led to free jazz and improvised music. But also in the last five or six years I had started to listen to a lot of old-timey music and British folk, but something inside me really wanted to hear avant-garde interpretations of folk music. Or rather free music that’s base was traditional forms of music. Henry’s music was the first of this kind I had come across. It turns out there was quite a lot out there, I was simply ignorant of it.
With Camera Obscura, we've found it increasingly difficult and uneconomical to do vinyl (and we miss it). But vinyl seemed to pose no problems for Bo'Weavil, right from the outset. What do you see as the benefits of releasing on the vinyl format, and what is most difficult about it?
Well to be honest it does pose a lot of problems for Bo’ Weavil on a number of levels. One is that it is a very expensive process, and this makes my LPs as they are such small runs very expensive outside of the UK, particularly in the US where there are a high percentage of sales, and this pains me a lot, as I don’t really want the LPs to be really expensive…but it’s kind of out of my hands.
Also the whole process can be painful getting the cut right…there are often problems with test pressing and you have to argue your corner with the vinyl manufacturer. For example the Anne Briggs double LP went through three cuts and a number of processings and it still never got to the quality I wanted. Also it takes time to find a vinyl manufacturer that you feel confident with. I have finally found a company that I have complete faith in to deliver top quality vinyl.
But I will continue to do vinyl, as it’s a format I love, and was the starting point for Bo’ Weavil. But I have started doing CDs and will continue with both. So far for next year I have five CDs to release and five LPs, so it will be 50/50 but I don’t know how long this will last for.
The whole finance thing I am a little conflicted over, as I started Bo’ Weavil without the intention of making a living from it, but as it has grown it obviously takes more and more of my time, which means I cannot get a full-time job now. I suppose, or rather I hope, that I can scrape a part-time salary from it at some point, and then work part-time elsewhere. That would be great.
This is a balance I had to struggle with doing Camera Obscura as well. I did it for a long time alongside a full-time job and it was brutal. So a move to part-time and diversification into collectables helped. Not working part-time at the moment so it's a struggle. Anyway, I digress…a notable part of your catalog is your vinyl releases of classic folk albums by Shirley Collins and Anne Briggs. How did those come about and was the process of licensing that material difficult?
There is quite a funny story to licensing these LPs. I had wanted to reissue some of Shirley’s music, as I was a fan, but knew that I was too naïve to approach the major labels like Universal and EMI that have a fair slab of her recordings. But I had noticed that Shirley’s 'False True Lovers' and 'Power of the True Love Knot' were recordings that belonged to Shirley herself. One day I decided to try and make contact with David Suff of Fledg’ling who had released these on CD. I left a message for a friend who had a lot of contact with people in the folk world to see if he could get me an email or something. The next day at work - I worked in a record shop at this point - I was buying some LPs from a customer, and was playing 'False True Lovers'. At the end of the transaction the customer said thank you for playing that CD, as it was his label (Fledg’ling). I was stunned… what serendipity! I explained to him what it was that I would like to do…He was sure it would not be a problem, and within two weeks we had signed a contract. And this led directly to contract with Topic for the Briggs’s double LP, so all in all it was pretty easy to get that stuff off the ground. It’s also really nice to work with a label like Fledg’ling that is not a huge major, only concerned about money.
Is there any prospect of licensing the CBS Briggs LP 'The Time Has Come', or would that be like banging your head on a brick wall?
Believe me, I have tried…but to no avail, I have been turned down with out explanation a number of times. It turns out that BMG are releasing a new CD version in 2007 and have licensed the CD for the US to Water Records. So it will be out there, just not on vinyl, which is a real shame as it's so rare in that form. This is also true for the Davey Graham Decca material. I would love to do these on vinyl but have been turned down without real explanation.
Yeah, that CBS album has pride of place in my collection, where it will stay despite the temptations of a nice sale figure! What has been the response to those Collins and Briggs reissues?
It has been really good. People seemed to really like the packaging and that it was available on vinyl. The Anne Briggs LP shot out in less than two months. I should have done a larger print run. But you learn from things like that. I am releasing 'Sing a Song for You' in the new year on vinyl, but a slightly larger run of 1000.
James Blackshaw's acoustic guitar releases are also a notable part of your catalog. How did the relationship between you and James come about?
James worked in a record shop around the corner from the shop I worked in. One day we started talking as he was buying a Flynt LP, and I said that I would be interested in hearing anything new he had. So very quickly he had some new material and gave it to me, and on one listening I knew that I wanted to put it out. James’ is a great musician and his new CD for Tomkins Square is excellent.
Can you elaborate a bit on the Free London project?
Free London was something that just came into my mind one day. I had been in contact with all these musicians, some are quite good friends of mine, and I just thought it was about time I put something out there, that was from almost completely unknown musicians (Duke Garwood was somewhat known). It was kind of meant to be a jumping off point for these musicians. Also, it kind of set out the intention of the label of dealing with contemporary musicians that are involved in improvisations and folk.
I will be doing solo CDs of Rob Mullender and Wooden Spoon in the New Year.
Your most recent CD - "Leaves From Off the Tree" (Sharron Kraus/Meg Baird/Helena Espevall) - contains some striking renditions of tradition material. Do you view artists like Sharron, Meg and Helena as modern day equivalents of the great female folk performers of the 60s?
Absolutely! When I had heard the CDs you had put out of Sharron Kraus on Camera Obscura I heard a continuation of the folk singers from the 60s revival period and knew that I wanted to work with Sharron at some point. And when she sent me this recording I was blown away by how strong their renditions were of these traditionals. In my mind it sits side by side to the best of the recordings from the 60s. I am so happy that I was given the chance to release this record.
The label seems to have quite a bit in the pipeline. Feel free to elaborate on some of your upcoming projects…
There is quite a lot slated for release in 2007. A reissue of Josephine Fosters’ 'Born Heller' on vinyl. an LP reissue of Danny Ben Israel’s 'Katamandu Session' (Israeli psychedelia), an LP of the experimental Australian guitarist Oren Ambarchi…two beautiful drone pieces, two free jazz releases, the previously mentioned LP reissue of Anne Briggs’ “Sing A Song For You”, that has never had a vinyl release before, and solo guitar CDs from Rob Mullender and Wooden Spoon.
There are a few more things that I am waiting before I mention publicly, as you never know if things will maybe not happen. As happened with an obscure private pressing of Acid Folk from Israel in the 70s, as when I (I should say we, as this was going to be a collaboration with an Israeli record label called Earsay) we finally tracked the artist down, what he wanted from us made it impossible to put this recording out, which was a real shame. Particularly when there are loads of psych labels that will happily do these sorts of releases without consent.
There are a few reissues that I would like to do, but am unable to track down the musicians. An example is one by a Yemenite singer who recorded a stunning record of Jewish Wedding Songs in the 60s. So if anybody reading this know where she is please put her in contact with Bo’ Weavil, her name is Shoshannah Tubi… you never know maybe someone knows her!
Interview by Tony Dale, © Terrascope Online November 2006
Henry Flynt, Back Porch Hillbilly Blues Double LP sold out Weavil02 Henry Flynt, I Don’t
Wanna LP Weavil03 Roscoe Holcomb, The High
Lonesome Sound LP Weavil04 Sir Richard Bishop,
Improvika LP sold out Weavil05 Shirley Collins, False
True Lovers LP sold out Weavil06 Shirley Collins, The
Power of the True Love Knot LP sold out Weavil07 Dale Berning, The Horse
Stories LP Weavil08 James Blackshaw,
Sunshrine / Celeste LP Sold out Weavil09 Shirley Collins, Sweet
Primeroses LP Weavil10 Anne Briggs, Complete
Topic Recordings Double LP Sold out Weavil11 Free London (Rob
Mullender / Wooden Spoon / The Eidetic Band / Ladyswoodsman) Double LP Weavil12 Tetuzi Akiyama and
Donald McPherson, Vinegar and Rum LP and CD Weavil13 James Blackshaw, O True
Believers LP Weavil14 Zadik Zechariah, Kurdish
Melodies on Zorna CD Weavil15 Tetuzi Akiyama,
Pre-Existence LP Weavil16 Sharron Kraus/Meg
Baird/Helena Espvall - Leaves From Off The Tree CD Coming Soon Weavil 17 - Born Heller - Born
Heller LP Weavil 18 - Tight Meat CD Weavil 19 - Oren Ambarchi - Lost
Like A Star LP Weavil 20 - Anne Briggs - Sing A
Song For You LP Weavil 21 - Rob Mullender CD Weavil 22 - Wooden Spoon CD
Weavil01 Henry Flynt, Back Porch Hillbilly Blues Double LP sold out
Weavil02 Henry Flynt, I Don’t Wanna LP
Weavil03 Roscoe Holcomb, The High Lonesome Sound LP
Weavil04 Sir Richard Bishop, Improvika LP sold out
Weavil05 Shirley Collins, False True Lovers LP sold out
Weavil06 Shirley Collins, The Power of the True Love Knot LP sold out
Weavil07 Dale Berning, The Horse Stories LP
Weavil08 James Blackshaw, Sunshrine / Celeste LP Sold out
Weavil09 Shirley Collins, Sweet Primeroses LP
Weavil10 Anne Briggs, Complete Topic Recordings Double LP Sold out
Weavil11 Free London (Rob Mullender / Wooden Spoon / The Eidetic Band /
Ladyswoodsman) Double LP
Weavil12 Tetuzi Akiyama and Donald McPherson, Vinegar and Rum LP and CD
Weavil13 James Blackshaw, O True Believers LP
Weavil14 Zadik Zechariah, Kurdish Melodies on Zorna CD
Weavil15 Tetuzi Akiyama, Pre-Existence LP
Weavil16 Sharron Kraus/Meg Baird/Helena Espvall - Leaves From Off The Tree CD
Weavil 17 - Born Heller - Born Heller LP
Weavil 18 - Tight Meat CD
Weavil 19 - Oren Ambarchi - Lost Like A Star LP
Weavil 20 - Anne Briggs - Sing A Song For You LP
Weavil 21 - Rob Mullender CD
Weavil 22 - Wooden Spoon CD
Bo' Weavil Website address: www.boweavilrecordings.com