Tell us about your record label, Symbol Records. How did it all start?
“It was 1999. I’d known Geoff Simkins for a few years so we got together in a pub by the Dome, we were chatting. I’d decided not to go to music college because I couldn’t afford it, basically. I could get a place but I couldn’t afford it. So I thought the next best thing is to set up a small label. At the time I thought ‘all I need to do is do one album and then the sales of that album will pay for the next album. That’s the business model. Super! That would work’. It’s never worked. So when I first started off I paid for absolutely everything. I paid the musicians’ time, I paid the studio time, pressing, everything. We even had to register the artwork with a French company because the album cover was by a Belgian artist and it cost a lot of money, and they also wanted 100 CDs. I said no, you’re having ten. We only pressed a thousand.”
“So then I thought, ‘I’m now in the music industry. I’ll learn about it and maybe in the near future I’ll do my own album’ but that’s never happened.”
“We’ve done 11 albums so far. I have had help from a few people. The first album I had a lot of artwork help from a bass player friend of mine called Jim Bunker.”
“Just finding out things like barcodes. All these things you are learning all the time. You think that you will make money on the next album but it got to the point where it was the equivalent to three pints a night of beer, that it was costing me. After ten years it was still the same equivalent. It’s quite a lot, but I wasn’t drinking beer so my liver was doing quite well but my bank balance wasn’t.”
Where did the idea for each album come from?
“It was mainly people that I knew and chatting to people at workshops where the next album came from. The second album was Theo Travis, Berlin Vibe. A couple of German players came over. Again, that was expensive as we had to get them accommodated. It was a very good album but early on I didn’t realise that you have to spend as much money on publicity as you do on the album. If the album costs £5000 then you have to spend £5000 on publicity. But there’s no way that I’ll ever get my money back by spending that money. If you press 1000 then 750 are for sale and 250 are promotional. You have to pay the rights, for the copyrighted material, which most of them were earlier on. You can’t even break even on 750 CDs. It’s just not possible.”
“In the end I’ve ended up doing it because I like doing it, not because I have any grand ideas of becoming ECM or Sony or EMI. It’s just a nice thing to do, going to a studio, getting musicians and meeting great people like Kenny Wheeler and Stan Sulzmann. The trio album that I did with them, Kenny Wheeler, Stan Sulzmann and John Parricelli is called Ordesa. They performed at a jazz festival in North Germany. We were staying in the same hotel. They did their set and it was wonderful, and it was televised so I have a video somewhere of that concert. We went back to the hotel before the other gigs went on. I came down to breakfast and John Parricelli was there, so I sat with him. And then Kenny Wheeler came and sat with us, followed by Dave Holland, who was also performing with his band at the festival. So I was sat there with all these amazing people. And Dave and Kenny, all they did was talk about their family. It was brilliant. Sometimes you’re in that world. Everybody’s a normal person, I’m probably the only abnormal person in the room when we get together with musicians. So carrying on with the label was just to be in the world of music.”
Tell us about the albums that have been released on Symbol Records.
“I’ve done some really wonderful albums. I’ve spent a lot of money but I think there’s lots of companies that do this and put in a lot of their own money. Right up to about five years ago we were doing about one or two a year and then I stopped. I just didn’t have the time and circumstances changed in my life. Now, this year, I’ve started again.”
Tell us about the new releases for this year.
“There’s two in the pipeline. Both have been recorded. One is fully mixed and mastered, the other one is nearly there. One is the third album by Geoff Simkins, he’s done two others with me. Strangely enough, these are the only albums that he’s ever done in his own name. He’s collaborated with other people but only done these three under his own name. It will probably be March or April when that gets going.”
“The other one is Terry Pack’s Trees. I’m involved musically with that. I’ve never been involved musically in the other albums, only in the sense of having a little idea about something but mainly with all the albums, it’s the musicians who decide what they want to do, how they want to do it, what order they want to do it, what they want to put out or not put out.”
Tell us about the albums in the back catalogue. How many are there?
“There are eleven. Two by Geoff, two by Terry [Pack], the Theo Travis one, there’s a re-release of one of Julian Nicholas with Emil Viklicky. There’s one by Anita Wardell, that was our bestseller. Jan Ponsford, which is with Terry Pack. About a third of my albums are with Terry. Nikki Iles did a quintet album with Stan Sulzmann and a Canadian drummer Anthony Michelli and Mike Outram on guitar and Mick Hutton on bass. There’s also one album that I did with Brighton Jazz Club years back called Digital Directions, which has nine songs by nine different people, such as Gilad Atzmon and Julian Arguelles.”
“If people don’t like the style of the album covers then blame me! Since the first one, I’ve done all the album covers. They’re all my photographs except for Terry Pack’s Palimpsest which was Jim Bunker. All the artwork is done by me. The music is the ultimate but the artwork for me is the fun thing.”
“My other thing is ‘don’t duplicate information’. So most of the information is on the back cover: song titles, authors, track times, musicians, producer, engineer etc. and that’s not repeated inside. If there’s anything on the inside then it’s all about the music, what they’ve done and why they’ve done it. And again, I’ve never done that. I don’t presume to speak for musicians so they organise that.”
Antony Durrant regularly performs with Terry Pack’s Trees.
For more information on Symbol Records:
[photo of Antony Durrant by Neil Garrett]