SL Records Christmas Shindig
Scotland’s own SL Records have thrived under the radar for a decade, encouraging both individuality and camaraderie in a clinical musical world. Malcolm Jack reports
Except for booze, baked beans and the occasional book, can you remember what you spent your student loan on? Probably not. Ed Pybus is hardly likely to forget however: his spirited indie label SL Records was launched using funds from a student loan cheque – a detail that remains lovingly enshrined in the initials that comprise its monicker.
As a tenth calendar year of business winds down at the imprint, its one-man A&R/marketing/press/sales/ stamp licking team, who still largely runs the business from his Edinburgh kitchen, admits he never expected the venture to endure for so long.
‘The first thing we did was a compilation album (1997’s It’s a Life Sentence),’ says Pybus. ‘We really just did that and didn’t have any plans to make a label that would keep going. We did it just for fun. There’s never been much of a master plan. As long as there’s good music to put out, we’ve just sort of kept doing it.’
Literary popsters ballboy, melancholic indie dreamers Saint Judes Infirmary and jazz/lounge eccentrics Misty’s Big Adventure are among the most notable of a generation of bands whose material SL has released over the years. All three have since moved on, but new artists, including alt.folk alchemist Thomas Truax and psychedelic rockers Lords of Bastard, have recently been brought into the fold. It’s all part of SL’s fluid way of doing business.
‘Being a small label we don’t sign bands up for multi-album deals,’ Pybus explains. ‘We put albums out one at a time, and bands have always been free to work with other people. We don’t have huge resources so it’s always been a bit of a flux with the bands.’
The passing of John Peel was a blow for SL. Up until his death in 2004, the legendary Radio 1 DJ had played practically every release by the label on his show, and frequently had SL bands in for sessions. The growing power of the internet as a sales and promotion tool has helped fill that gap over the last few years at least. And plenty of other key figures in the industry continue to back the label, BBC Scotland’s Vic Galloway for one. SL were ‘Label of the Month’ on his radio show throughout November. Galloway cites the imprint’s ‘diversity and vision’ as its most impressive qualities.
‘Another reason for respecting SL, is their dedication to the underground,’ he continues. ‘It seems to me that they’re happy in this homogenous, celebrity-obsessed world to champion the underdog and stay independent. Scotland, and indeed the world, needs wee labels like them to keep music vital and alive.’
According to Paul Vickers, frontman of SL longtimers Dawn of the Replicants, as well as the label’s newest outfit Paul Vickers and The Leg (whose debut album Tropical Favourites will be out in February), working with SL is about much more than a business relationship, even after ten years.
‘For me personally it’s a good friendship that has the added element that he (Pybus) puts out my records,’ he explains. ‘You sit in Ed’s kitchen and do your mail outs, and it’s very much a cottage industry. It’s got a good feel about it.
‘It’s a gang,’ he adds. ‘We’re a gang.’
The annual SL Records Christmas Shindig is at Bongo Club, Edinburgh, Sun 16 Dec.