Over the past few years the demand for vinyl represses of hard-to-find gems and long-lost treasures has been enjoying an impressive boom. As a result some labels decided to include reissues as an integral part of their agenda, some dedicated a specific offshoot to this particular endeavour and others assigned themselves exclusively to the complicated art of unearthing highly sought-after records and the whole detective-friendly process it implies.
Kevin Griffiths’ Isle Of Jura belongs to the latter category. Having garnered a priceless experience during his time at Tsuba Records – to which he’s been an essential cog for over ten years, Griffiths decided to dedicate a greater part of his time to reviving the memory of some widely-praised classics and lesser-known platters, as attested by his first couple reissues: Escape From New York’s legendary 12″ ‘Fire In My Heart‘ and Chayell’s ‘It’s Never Too Hot‘.
With 2016 coming to a closure, we felt it was the perfect time to ask Kevin about his first year at the helm of Isle Of Jura and get some further insight on the reissue process, selection methods and future plans of his label.
Interview by Baptiste Girou
"I’ve collected records for 20 years...so its just been a question of making this my main focus and bringing it to the foreground."
Hey Kevin, you operate the newly-established Isle of Jura, which has for main goal to re-issue forgotten classics and hard-to- find gems. What drove you to set up the label? Was it about satisfying a demand or are you putting out records you’ve been looking for yourself?
Having released house music with Tsuba for 10 years I was bored and had always wanted to do something a bit more eclectic. I’ve collected records for 20 years – disco, dub, soundtracks and oddities, so its just been a question of making this my main focus and bringing it to the foreground.
I’m really enjoying being in this world, it’s been liberating to step away from the high turnover of releases that’s necessary for a more DJ orientated label like Tsuba. With Isle Of Jura, there will be 3-4 releases per year, so it’s a totally different approach.
To answer the second part of your question, I’d heard the man, the legend DJ Harvey play Escape From New York over the years and was surprised how hard it was to get hold of the original 12” at a sensible price. I spend quite a bit on Discogs but generally have a top end of £25 and am reluctant to feed the sharks. It’s simple supply and demand I suppose but it’s nice to be able to redress that with a timely reissue.
"I have quite a few records on my hit list that don’t have a buzz around them, but are missed gems that deserve to reach a new audience."
Do you take the current reality of second-hand market in consideration when putting out such in demand records?
Yeah it’s a factor and as a general rule the records I reissue need to be currently unavailable. The first release from EFNY was really sought after and Discogs is a good barometer for the level of interest, but they won’t all be like that. I have quite a few records on my hit list that don’t have a buzz around them, but are missed gems that deserve to reach a new audience.
In terms of digging, time is money and Discogs will get you that record quicker, but there are other great sources. eBay quite often has records you can’t get on Discogs and is often cheaper. If you’re willing to go to record fairs, charity shops and the like it’s possible to pick up a bargain and an unexpected gem. I’m doing a lot of this at the moment in Adelaide where I live so am picking up stuff I would never have come across online.
Escape From New York – Fire In My Heart
The reissue of Chayell’s ‘It’s Never Too Hot’ just came out. Please tell us more about this record and how you got to repress it?
I’m a big fan of Joel Martin and Gerry Rooney, aka Velvet Season & The Hearts Of Gold, so heard them play it sometime ago on their NTS Radio show. The process with this one was fairly straightforward, which I’m discovering is a rarity, and I managed to track down Peter, the original artist and rights holder who was totally into the idea of a reissue.
Like Escape From New York I worked closely with him to get the artwork spot on and we went through 3 different versions of it before he was happy. Same deal with the mastering, it’s very important the original artist is happy with the end result.
Re-issuing records is a totally different process than releasing fresh new material. How did you approach it? Did you get some help in learning the subtleties of the job?
I think in general to work in the label side of the music business these days you need to be slightly crazy! As a business model it just doesn’t work that well, so you need to pay great attention to detail and work within a strict budget.
My experience with Tsuba was invaluable before starting Isle Of Jura. It’s a very different process to releasing fresh material, the A&R aspect with a reissue is all at the front end of the process, the music side is complete. A lot more time is spent on other things like getting hold of a good quality master and working closely with the mastering engineer to get the best result for vinyl.
The Escape From New York release had to be recut as I wasn’t happy with the sound initially but it was worth doing it again to get it 100% right. The legal aspect generally takes longer to complete – for example for a forthcoming project we’ve been going back and forth for 6 months, so you need a certain level of persistence and patience.
Chayell – It’s Never Too Hot
What is your advice to people interested in reissuing vinyl but don’t know where to start?
Draw up a seizable list of potential reissues, something I’d been doing for the last couple of years before I did anything. Records I wanted on vinyl but couldn’t afford and also records that would benefit from a better quality pressing.
Also watch a series of Columbo to get some tips as there can be a lot of detective work involved in tracking down the original artists! Above all you need to be totally obsessive about music, I’m checking stuff out all day long, listening to a lot of radio shows and can get lost on YouTube for hours.
It’s time consuming stuff and it feels like I’m just at the tip of the iceberg, there’s a lot of great music to be unearthed.
I guess it can be tricky to track down the people involved at times but the investigation part must be just as interesting as it often reveals new dimensions to a record’s very own story.
Definitely, though lots of leads can ultimately lead to nothing. There’s an old Afrobeat album by Basa Basa I was keen to reissue from the 1970’s which lead me to go through all of the band members to try and source the rights holder.
I eventually got hold of the bassist, now a church minister in London, who lead me to the son of the now deceased main songwriter in Ghana. He has no email and I’m still trying to reach him on the phone pretty much every week. Patience and persistence are key to be in the reissue business.
"My experience with Tsuba was invaluable before starting Isle Of Jura."
As mentioned above the label’s first instalment was the highly sought-after, absolute classic ‘Fire In My Heart’ by Escape From New York, with original copies flying for insane amounts of money on Discogs prior to the repress. How did you proceed for this one?
I tracked down Tim Cox on Facebook from the original band and he put me in touch with Nigel Swanston the rights holder. It took a good month or so before we started an email dialogue, but we got a good rapport going and Nigel was excited that someone wanted to reissue the record. It was a great first release on the label and has started this new musical adventure off in wonderful style. To be honest I was a bit surprised that no-one had done it before me.
What’s planned next for the label?
The next release is the first album on the label from Brian Bennett ‘Voyage (A Journey Into Discoid Funk)’ that was originally released in 1978. I was keen to follow up the first two 12” with an LP and something a bit more left of centre. It’s a phenomenal concept album of cosmic tinged disco with live instrumentation throughout over a range of tempos.
Following Brian’s album there will be another 12”, a reissue of Holy Ghost Inc ‘Walk On Air’, a big David Mancuso favourite that was originally released in 1990 including an unreleased mix which is an exciting addition to the package.
I’d like Isle Of Jura to be as eclectic as possible so am looking at reissuing some dub in 2017 in addition to more balearic tinged records.
Isle Of Jura HQ