There you go!
In the past few years I had the chance to talk a couple of times with Chris when in Venice, and every time he was spilling some anecdote about Fashion record, such and such artist, the odd dubplate and I told myself that I had to get back to him once again with a chunkier set of questions.
According to Wikipedia, you started back in 1980, during the summer to be precise.
Is there a particular date to it? I believe you were already active as a dub cutter by then, is that right?
Can’t remember the exact date offhand, but we released ‘Let’s Dub It Up’ in the middle of 1980 ….. I remember rehearsing the band the day before my son was born in late May of that year….
I bought the dub cutter the year before, around the time I recorded the Private I’s tracks (I’ll Be Around, Folk Song, Love Won’t Let Me Wait, Do I Worry… ) for Dave Hendley’s Cruise label…. I had it set up in my flat at first, then installed it in the basement of the Dub Vendor shop when John moved in there….
Looking at the discog, it appears that “Mikey Dread – Strictly Rockers”was unreleased. What’s the story behind that?
We recorded and mixed the track and were all set to master it and release it and then Mikey Dread went back on the agreement we had with him and demanded more money, etc…. we didn’t like being messed around so we refused to pay him anything and didn’t bother to release the tune…. it was a shame because Rodigan had already played it on his show off dub and there was a serious demand for it …. it could have been Mikey Dread’s biggest hit, but as often happens with these people, they get greedy and spoil things for themselves…
You can hear the tune on our You Tube page..
Any other unreleased material?
There’s a few bits and pieces, we’ve got some tracks with Alton Ellis that we were recording for an album that we didn’t finish, and we’ve got loads of rhythms that we didn’t voice, but to be honest we never had the money to voice artists and not make use of the tracks!
You had 4/5 tunes off Mr. Rocksteady Alton Ellis, how was working with him?
Do you have any unreleased material from that session(s) (collectors drooling…)?
Working with Alton was a dream…. he’s my all-time favourite singer, and he was a real artist with proper old-school mic technique and a great attitude in the studio…. like I said a few tracks from the unreleased album project but that’s it…..
Smiley’s Police Officer was probably one of the biggest hit on Fashion, reaching something like 160.000 copies.
How did you react to the increasing numbers of copies being sold? I mean, when did you think “This is REALLY happening!!”?
How did exposure impacted on the label and the artists?
Well, it didn’t sell quite that much…. just over 100,000 if I remember correctly….. it was a dream and a bit of a nightmare at the same time! You often used to hear about small labels having a hit and then going bust (through cashflow problems, overstocking, getting back tens of thousands of unsold returns, etc, etc… ) and I could see that Police Officer could have quite easily bankrupted us if we weren’t careful….. and then of course the artist thinks he did it all on his own and goes off and makes a flop album for a big record company and uses another producer….. the usual story, unfortunately!
Having said all that, it was a very exciting time, and I think everyone connected with Fashion was pleased and proud for us…. we had a bit of money to invest in the studio and we learnt a lot about the pop side of the music business as well….. and it was nice to get that exposure for the label and the other deejays and singers ….. this was filmed in the studio in Dub Vendor’s basement just prior to that….
Did you have a house band? If so who was in it?
We never got so big that we had to churn out records on a ‘production line’ basis (ie like Studio 1 or Motown), but I did have regular musicians that I liked to use ….. some of them because they had a certain style or sound, some of them because they were easy to work with, some of them because they were cheap…. hopefully a good combination of all of those things!
On the first tunes we used the Investigators for rhythm and harmonies, then One Blood for rhythm, then we tried out Angus and Tony from Aswad with Clifton Morrison, then we used John Kpyaie ( and later on Ciyo Brown) on guitars (and then I started playing guitar as well as percussion regularly)…. I would also use Reg and Spy from the Investigators, or Errol and Ewan from One Blood in combination with other musicians….. I was always trying to get something a bit different from the other labels, I really wanted our own sound and identity …. when I started using the drum machines it became easier because I could do a lot of the rhythms all on my own, or just use one or two other musicians to get a certain style on the bass or keys…. and I can’t forget the Massive Horns, especially Tim Sanders, Al Deval, Barbara Snow and the wonderful Annie Whitehead on trombone….
We also used Steely & Clevie, and later on Sly and Herbie as well as Danny Brownie ….. we did a session with the Firehouse Crew in Penthouse one day but I have to say we never pleased with the results …. we even got Augustus Pablo to play on a couple of the Junior Delgado tracks. One big disappointment was not getting hold of Ernest Ranglin to play on our cut of Alton’s ‘If I Follow My Heart’ ….. he priced himself out of our range, a real pity!
Why did you use two main imprints to release the tracks?
Any record label will tell you the same thing…. once you have more than two or three records out on the same label, the deejays stop playing your tunes, the shops get confused and don’t order like they should…. everyone thinks you’re trying to dominate the business, which of course you’re not really, but you still want to put out as many tunes as you think you can sell…. so by using different labels (Fashion, Fine Style, Top Notch and then later on Hi-Fashion and Dub Organiser) you make things look better, and it’s nice if you have a separate sound for each label as well…
JA: I seem to remember you telling me about co-writing/playing a song with Bob Marley or Lee Perry.
Am I correct? Tell us more please.
Well, Bob came to visit Scratch at the Black Ark and they started to make up a song on a old rhythm …. I got a bit carried away and sang a line or two and they got accepted! That’s it really, the song was ‘Turn Me Loose’ (on the old ‘Kaya’ rhythm) …. I also stuck a line in Leo Graham’s ‘Doctor Demon’…. it was a lot of fun in that studio!
Lee Perry: genius or madman? Did you get to meet him in JA?
I had already met Scratch in the UK when I interviewed him for my column in ‘Blues & Soul’… he invited me to stay at his house when I mentioned visiting Jamaica, so I took him up on it! I stayed with him for a month, and although I’d say he was always a bit eccentric, you wouldn’t really call him mad….. but I’d say he was a genius, especially in the early 70’s, which is definitely my favourite Upsetter era…
And as we’re talking production, which are the 3 most important skills a studio producer has to master?
That’s a difficult question to answer, a producer has to juggle a lot of balls at the same time… and one producer’s style will be different from another’s.
Personally I’d say that you have to have a good idea of what the market wants (or have someone who can reliably tell you..), then you have to be able to get what you want done in the studio (or have someone that can translate your ideas to the musicians and singers for you ….. )…. plus you have to be able to get the radio deejays and sounds systems to want to play and promote your tunes, and sell them to the distributors and stores….. and then you have to be able to pay everyone properly, and also collect the money from the distributors and stores,etc….. and deal with the artists and musicians and everyone else…. so that’s a lot more than 3 skills – and they’re all important!
Fashion record has been revived and you are releasing material both on digital and on CD.
How are the sales going? Any plans for “press” unreleased material? And most importantly, any plans for NEW releases?
Sales are going ok, the record business is nothing like it was but it’s nice that there has been so much interest in the catalogue and that we’ve had some good remixes done as well ….. like I said before, there’s not really any amount of unreleased material so our focus will always be on making the released catalogue available either as Digital or CD – or hopefully both. We’re also planning some vinyl releases in the near future…. and the only ‘new’ releases will be some more remixes that are in the pipeline…..
I’d also would like to thank Dave Hendley for the picture of Chris Lane & I, taken in Venice during 2011 Carnival). The event took place at the now defunct Torino@Notte: here’s the flyer for the night
If you are interested, you can read more about the David Hendley in my post here.