A small but venerable list of record labels to have originated in Merseyside: Deltasonic, Probe Plus, Zoo (that issued the earliest Bunnymen and Teardrop Explodes releases) and, more recently, The Coral-founded Skeleton Key. Joining such illustrious company this year is Jacaranda Records: headed up by Liverpool-born producer and former Universal Music Group (UMG) Executive Vice President RAY MIA, the company has plans to create a cutting-edge recording studio, film and broadcast facilities in the city, along with the UK’s first major vinyl pressing plant in decades.
Re-established as a coffee shop, record store and venue along with a bar in 2014, a potted history of the legendary locale almost isn’t needed. Established in 1958 by Allan Williams – who, between 1960-62 managed a pop group of some import you may have heard of – the venue has been a stalwart of Liverpool city centre ever since.
An alumnus of Merchant Taylor’s School in Crosby, Ray Mia went on to study law at Oxford and film school at Canterbury and New York before starting in work in the music industry, going to become an Executive Vice President at Universal Music. For Ray, his introduction into the Liverpool music scene began early. “My dad owned a shop in Seaforth which had loads of second-hand music and amplifier equipment, disco and DJ equipment,” he explains, sat in the performance space of new Seel Street venue Phase One. “We had loads of records, eight-tracks, singles and records. You can’t name a single band in Liverpool that was coming through the ranks that didn’t have some kind of handprint of my dad’s shop in terms of equipment, because it was all dirt cheap. When you go into 69A and look at those counters, they were all from there. Trevor [69A owner/operator] bought them all from my dad when the shop closed down in 1990.”
A straightforward question, then, to someone recently re-located to the city after a successful career in the London-centric music industry: what does Ray feel are Liverpool’s main assets? “Talent,” he replies simply. “It’s a city of troubadours and poets and gobshites!” he laughs. “And attitude and authenticity, and they care about the music and the craft. It’s a city with an incredibly attuned bullshit detector. It’s unforgiving and relentless in its pursuit of straightforward talking. Liverpool’s one of the only places that doesn’t call itself a music city, ’cos it doesn’t need to. It’s a bit rubbish saying you’re a music city. If you have to say it, you aren’t.”
“I left UMG five months ago and set up a deal with The Jacaranda,” he explains. “We’re building up towards crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s on ten local artists, Liverpool first. At the same time, we’re working with a bunch of publishers, catalogue owners, producers and artists to work in Liverpool, too. Once we’ve got the footprint down of the studio, we’ll be bringing musicians to Liverpool to record and do mixing here. The entire business is based here in Liverpool, it ain’t moving anywhere. From a mathematics perspective it’s a good idea; from a talent perspective it’s a good idea; from a can-do attitude and people who give a shit about music perspective it’s a good place to put it here. What is there not to like about coming to Liverpool if you’re a musician to perform, to write, to get a deal? To go into a studio, to find the talent, to find a band?” The Bohos, one of the bands they have been working with under the Jacaranda Records banner, have just come off a national tour supporting Cast and have recently been recording in Parr Street Studios as part of their development.
Despite the doom and gloom forecasts about the state of physical music sales and Britain’s high street in general (news about HMV had been on earlier that day), Ray has a positive outlook about the business environment. “I know that all the data has been pointing towards 2018’s physical sales in the UK fell off a cliff. But the independent sector has been buoyed,” he states. “There are over 300 independent record stores across the UK, of which Jacaranda Records is two of them. Somebody’s got to stick up for the independent sector and that’s what Jacaranda Records is all about. In terms of artist discovery, development, recording it with the cutting-edge technology so we can get it out digitally and how you monetise it. The relationship between an artist and a label is changing; the very idea of a label is changing. What’s the definition of a label? Strip it all right down and it’s about good music. ’Cos wherever’s there’s good music there’s audiences. And you gotta find ’em –that’s our job.”
“There’s never been an infrastructure to support through-the-line independent sector, it’s never had a vinyl production facility. It lacks a sense of transparency,” Ray says of what Liverpool needs. “We’re buying a studio or we’re going to build a studio, we’re putting a physical production plant in, our record label is in The Jacaranda on Slater Street. There are venues here, there are record stores here, there’s artists here – we’re gonna link all of that together. Whether we sign people or not we want there to be a community of writers, performers, engineers and producers.”
“We’re not reinventing the wheel here,” he continues, warming to his theme. “There’s already a series of establishments: the original Jacaranda, Jac Phase One, EBGBS, which already put on artists. There’s an appetite for it, so we’re already doing it from that perspective. Will that grow? Yeh. Do we want the sound on the street to be, ‘We wanna be heard at The Jac’? Yeh. We’re gonna bring the best and the brightest we can bring together, we’re not focusing on our core which is four-piece guitar bands.”
“We’re re-evaluating the way deals are struck as well. We’re not offering standard label deals. We’re doing everything in a vey different, transparent way. Lots of people have been talking about these pro-artist deals. What’s the label’s relationship with the city that it’s based in? What we’re being is community-first. We’re working on an announcement for local artists and external ones we’re bringing into town. Working with the Mayor’s Office, the Liverpool City Region Music Board, building up connections there. Showing not telling basically,” Ray explains. “We’ve got some really interesting gigs we’re lining up. One in February here at The Jac that will be really cool.”
“We’re gonna have to invest in the city. Who’s gonna run the vinyl plant? We’re gonna have to train. Liverpool is favourably positioned geographically in the UK. We’re not just doing this ’cos we believe in a romantic idea of this steam-punk machine with some dude in a white coat with a clipboard seeing what lacquer smells and tastes like. It’s not gonna be a Charlie And The Chocolate Factory version of it, it’s gonna be an operational business that’s gonna hire people and then load on to trucks to go and deliver to shops,” Ray enthuses.
“We have independent labels larger than ours interested in the vinyl plant, are we gonna we gonna work with them? Course we bloody well are! It’s for the independent sector. We wanna build a community of people we’re talking to and build up rapport. We’ll tell you really transparently what we’re doing.” With the interview clock rapidly running down, Ray gets round to summing up Jacaranda Records’ ethos: “We’re reinvigorating the whole culture of what The Jacaranda was originally all about. Our lifeblood is the city. Our main audience, first and foremost, is the music of Liverpool and the people of Liverpool.”