THE MELODIC HARD ROCK LABELS
by PAUL JEROME SMITH
For our latest foray into the world of the record companies and their
labels I am delighted to be able to introduce a specialist British label
ANGEL AIR that mainly focuses upon heritage material, has been around
for over ten years and whose releases have recently started to be
reviewed in Fireworks on a regular basis.
They now have quite a formidable
catalogue (available in print and as a download) of material, some of
which is admittedly removed from the type of stuff that Fireworks
readers are likely to be seeking, while at the same time including much
that is likely to appeal.
So, it is my pleasure to introduce PETER
PURNELL who has initially answered the usual set of ten questions as
have appeared in each of the previous instalments of this series.
Angel Air's first release in February
Hello Peter. When did the label begin and
- briefly - how and why was it formed?
The label was formed back in 1997 after a discussion with one of our
artist management clients (we have an artist management company called
CeeDee Management with clients as diverse as Mott The Hoople members to
ex- Saxon members) JOHN McCOY, (who had been a member of GILLAN) who we
are proud to say licensed us our very first release (McCoy 'Think
Hard..Again') and remains a client still today.
Prior to 1997 we had been working on behalf of a number of artists
attempting to collect unpaid royalties on behalf of our clients and the
idea grew from John's initial suggestion of creating an independent
heritage record label where artists got paid and we split profits on a
50/50 basis after recouping initial costs which the label would fund.
My wife Shirley works with me in the business (and co owns it with me)
and I wanted to create a record label than began with "A". Shirley came
up with the label name and logo. Our initial mission was to release
around 20 titles per year and share all profits on a 50/50 basis with
artists. We already had a wealth of artist contacts and we were up and
running. Out of over 400 releases over the past 15 years only 4 to date
have never recouped and not made a profit.
The label just grew from there. We already had a publishing company (CeeDee
Music UK) and we now publish over 2,000 songs. As the market has changed
and evolved over the years our business model has changed to reflect
those changing circumstances and our income now comes from a number of
sources including sub licensing, sync licences, publishing, artist
management, downloads, streaming to sales of physical CDs. We are proud
to state that we have made a profit every year we have traded, have no
bank borrowings at all, cash in the bank and pay tens of thousands of
pounds every 6 months to artists as profit shares.
Our business model as indicated though has changed significantly over
the past five years with more each year of our gross income coming from
downloads, sync licences and sub licences. Quite fortuitously we entered
the digital download market as far back as 2003 with Napster and now
ITunes (the market leader) accounts for around 80% of our income from
that segment with a growing additional income from streaming via Spotify.
How would you describe the genres of music that you have issued on
In one word, Paul, eclectic!
Angel Air's roots are in metal, heritage rock and credible pop music and
our output over the years reflects that. We have though moved into blues
and country successfully over time.
We basically release heritage product or albums we like and we think
will sell and this reflects why over the past few years we have also
released albums from stunning new artists such as BLACKHEART .
How many people are employed by (or involved in) the label?
Our full time staff is three but we outsource as many services as we
possibly can as a policy to make sure we strictly control costs such as
web management, artwork, studio, filming and recording, DVD authoring,
promotion and freelance journalistic input for sleeve notes etc.
At our Stowmarket, Suffolk, England base we have a 4,000 sq ft warehouse
and offices from where we process and ship orders around the world to
our distributors, carry out all administration, marketing and sales. We
also carry out mail order back office for our web site
www.angelair.co.uk. Our web site provides vital information on each of
our releases, track samples, track listing and artist web site links and
we get worldwide hits every day.
We uniquely involve artists in every aspect of our releases including
having them oversee remastering as well as proof reading and approving
their own artwork/design. Our releases normally have 8 to 24 page CD
booklets with rare unseen photos, memorabilia and bonus tracks. Still to
this day I get a buzz when an artist hands over their personal scrap
book and allows us to "plunder" it for photos and press cuttings. Our
company slogan is Where The Artist Has A Voice
Although fundamentally a heritage label Angel Air does offer media/DJ's
the ability to interview artists or in some cases offer them to play
live in the studio to support their relevant album releases. Also and
uniquely for a heritage label we represent our artists for downloads,
sync and sub licensing rights for the 5,000 plus audio tracks we now
control. Our business model works and we also work closely with our
artists supplying them actual product for sale at their live
performances giving them a far greater financial return on their gig
sales of CDs than traditional record labels.
As a fan of music it is extremely satisfying to work with such great
artists. Not withstanding the changes that are taking place in the music
market there continues to be a rock solid demand for what we release
both physically and digitally and we just enjoy daily what we do.
By the end of December 2011, how many albums will the label have
We will have released approx 375 albums and 30 DVD's. We normally
release thee albums a month so our total output since 1997 has been over
400 releases. We have made the UK Top 30 twice: firstly with a CULTURE
CLUB 20th Anniversary Concert at The Royal Albert Hall DVD and a GO WEST
live DVD both of which we filmed.
We plan to release around 35 titles in 2012.
2012 is our fifteenth anniversary and we have some ideas as to how we
can celebrate that milestone achievement-watch this space!
Could you please select five releases on the label of which you are
especially pleased? Briefly explain your choices.
This is the hardest question you have asked me as we are pleased with
all of our releases - each and every one is special to us otherwise we
would not have released it
Those that have sold particularly well though are
MOTT THE HOOPLE - 'Two Miles from Live Heaven' 2CD set
McCOY - 'Think Hard Again?'
AFFINITY - 'Affinity'
STACKRIDGE - 'Extravaganza'
FOGHAT - 'Not Live At The BBC'
MAGGIE BELL - 'Queen of the Night'
Sorry, Paul, I know that is six?.!!
Are there any albums that caused unforeseen problems, which given
hindsight you might have handled differently?
BAD COMPANY - 'Live From Albuquerque' 2CD set. We sold out of the
initial pressing of 2,000 copies on the very first day of release. The
album was withdrawn for legal reasons even though we licensed in the
masters from Bad Co founder member Mick Ralphs who oversaw the mastering
and artwork. Any copies in circulation currently change hands on eBay
for £150 a time making it by far the rarest and most sought after Angel
How widely are your label's products distributed, and are you looking
to extend the coverage?
Overall we are pretty well covered all over the world with distributors
in USA, Canada, Japan, and Australia through to Europe and have some
distributors such as Fenn Music in Germany and Bertus in Benelux who
have traded with us from day one. Emerging territories such as India and
China we still find challenging, though, and currently rely on exporters
to service those markets for us.
As a policy we do not ourselves release our product on vinyl (UK market
for instance last year had in total only 200,000 vinyl sales and 10
Million CD's) but instead rely on our extensive network of sub licensees
in countries as far apart as Italy, Korea, Russia and Germany to service
that very important market segment. For example over the past 12 months
we have sub licensed vinyl albums from ATOMIC ROOSTER, MOTT THE HOOPLE,
AFFINITY, ANDROMEDA, STONE THE CROWS, to ANCIENT GREASE for release on
Please tell me about your forthcoming release schedule for the next
We normally work around three months in advance so as we are in
September replying to your questions we are currently planning for
January 2012 and have the following releases scheduled:
OLIVER DAWSON SAXON - 'Motorbiker' - absolutely stunning new album from
the band and which in my opinion is far better than anything the band
has ever released before
CHRISTIE - not yet titled - Jeff Christie is still working on it - but
tracks from the 70's that have never been released before from this much
loved chart topping band
JOHN DU CANN - 'The Many Styles of' which really is an anthology of
John's creative output over the past 40 years drawing tracks from his
bands ATOMIC ROOSTER, ATTACK, ANDROMEDA, BULLET, HARD STUFF and his own
solo career. This guy was a legendary guitarist/songwriter much lauded
around the world. Sadly John died suddenly in late September but not
before he had chosen his track listing and front cover artwork for this
release. He will be sorely missed
Are you able to reveal any longer-term plans for releases?
We really only work three to four months in advance so can not give you
many more details of our longer term release plan for 2012 apart from
details of the releases that are planned for February / March 2012:
AMMO - a 2CD set from legendary songwriters
ANDY COLLINS - 'Closure' first ever solo album from STORYS
TOMMY JAMES & The SHONDELLS - 'Live At The Bitter End, New York'
-classic live pop history
RUPERTS PEOPLE - '45 RPM' - much sought after pop tracks from the 60's
All other parts of our business have deals that will bear fruit in 2012
including vinyl licensing and album sub licensing.
What are your hopes and concerns for the next five years?
Having just reached the ripe old age personally of 60 - to stay alive,
be happy and for Angel Air to continue to grow and release some great
albums over the years ahead?
Do you have no abiding concerns, Peter?
No, Paul; none whatsoever!
Thank you for this fascinating insight
into your company, Peter. It is really wonderful to hear of a really
successful British label. Indeed, I think that ANGEL AIR is the first to
be covered in this series that has had a book written about it: 'Angel
Air Is Ten' by James McCarraher. To quote from this:
"Angel Air has earned itself a deserved
reputation as the Indiana Jones of the music world, rescuing classic
albums from a bygone era, dusting them off and releasing them with
copious sleeve notes and a wealth of bonus tracks.
Often however, the label can be found releasing recordings that have
never seen the light of day, including delightful demos and lost live
sessions, to the delirium of life long fans."
What is the key to setting about
performing your Indiana Jones rescue work?
Word of mouth and contacts are fundamental -
we receive approaches every week with release propositions. We "pass" on
over 70% of all submissions for a variety of reasons - too new or too
obscure are two basic reasons that spring to mind. We as a principle
release either known heritage product to which we can add bonus tracks
or new product from artists with a known pedigree and fanbase
One for Shirley to answer, please:
Peter has told me that you suggested the
label's name. It is very unusual? Can you still remember how and
why you came up with "Angel Air"?
Peter wanted a label beginning with "A" so
when he attended music industry events like Midem the label would be
listed at the top of all other labels. Angel Air is in my view an
ethereal name for music and once we had the name agreed it was
relatively simple to instruct our art studio to design the logo. To keep
the label personal we use my names as label prefixes for all releases -
I am Shirley Joy Purnell - hence all of our audio releases carry a "SJP"
To what extent do other UK-based
reissue/heritage labels such as BGO Records, Cherry Red, Esoteric,
Rev-Ola and Repertoire impinge upon the activities of Angel Air and of
your plans to release particular albums?
What Angel Air does in the market is fairly
unique in that we do not license in masters from the major record
companies (like the labels you have mentioned, Paul) instead we license
in from the actual rights owners and we then control all rights for the
world and solar system! Subsequently we control not only the masters for
CD production but also digital downloads, Sync licensing, ringtones and
sub licensing etc.
This simple business philosophy has allowed
us to grow and prosper in what is in my opinion now a very difficult
market if you are just selling CD's like most re issue labels. What we
are is an ant that operates like a beetle!
Blackheart are one of the few genuinely
"new" bands on the label
Are you hoping to release more completely
new albums from current artists such as Blackheart?
We are planning to release a brand new album
by Blackheart "Songs From A Satellite" in 2012 as well as the first ever
solo album from Andy Collins "Closure" which has a number of his
colleagues from The Storys guesting on. Quite simply in both cases the
tracks are great music that need to be heard and we are in the fortunate
position in that we have the vehicle in place to deliver to market.
However we have no plans at all to just release new product and will
continue to release rare gems from the past as the label's main source
Finally, Peter, your label seems to have
embraced digital media from a very early stage. Some of the other labels
that have been included in this series have really bemoaned the negative
effect of illegal downloading upon their trading position and
profitability. What is your view of this?
As stated earlier it is our business
philosophy of controlling the tracks we release for all income sources
that has underpinned the business especially over the past five years as
the market has changed and evolved to what it is today.
Take Spotify for example: we identified
straight away that there was a possible source of income from track
streaming and made available our catalogue for Spotify's customers. Over
the past month we have for example licensed tracks for ringtones in
Asia. (the "normal" reissue label does not the have the rights to do
this sort of business)
I see nothing negative happening in the
market today except possibly that we as a company have to work three
times as hard to achieve CD sales of a release say compared with five
years ago BUT all the other income streams now make up and exceed any
shortfall from declining CD sales.
The illegal download situation is
unfortunately part of business today. I focus on the things I can do
positively rather than reflect on the negative things I can not control.
Having said that we are members of trade organizations BPI and AIM and
we support 100% their efforts to ensure those who created the music get
Well, Peter, it has really been quite
refreshing talking with you about your label. You seem to have been
incredibly shrewd in the development of your particular business model
and have developed a fascinating array of CDs and DVDs.
This interview first appeared in
Fireworks magazine, issue 49.
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