Records is the leading reissue record company in the UK,
specialising in Rock'n'Roll
, Soul, Funk, Blues, Jazz, R&B, Garage Rock and Punk.
asked the Managing Director of Ace Records, Roger Armstrong,
some questions about the company and its huge, varied and
impressive catalogue of artists.
is your background?
Social Secretary at Queens University in Belfast in the late 60s
early 70s and went from there to live in Dublin and work with
the Chieftains and later Horslips. Came to London in 1974 and
managed an ill-fated band called St Jamesís Gate who made
one unreleased album. The lead singer was Johnny Duhan (late
of Dublinís Grannyís Intentions) but he left and most of
the rest of the band went on to become the second version of
Ronnie Laneís Slim Chance. I then decided I wasnít cut out
for management and started to seek studio work.
Digger: Can you tell us how Ace Records started and how the
company has evolved into what it is today?
Before I was offered a studio job, my old friend Ted Carroll,
who had quit as manager of Thin Lizzy, had set-up a second market
stall selling collectable records. This was in Soho and I took
over managing until I got a job. Except I never did and soon
we started Chiswick Records. In 1975 I produced an EP of a
group called the Count Bishops, which Ted distributed from the
back of his old Peugeot. He soon opened a shop in Camden Ė
the legendary Rock On and we opened an office above the shop. Trevor Churchill, who actually had experience in Record
Companies, joined us.
Punk soon descended and we signed up some bands. However it
was records by Rocky Sharpe & the Replays and Sniff
Ďní the Tears that got us a distribution deal in 1978 with
EMI. We had hits with them and signed the Damned second time
around and had further hits with them. This all ran out of
steam in the early Ď80s as indeed did the music as far as we
were concerned. We had had a re-issue label from the early
days, but EMI did not want to distribute that and so we formed
Ace to handle that aspect of the business. When we stopped
going in search of hit records, we turned our attention to the
catalogue end of the business. Through the 80s recorded
and issued quite a few Garage Band records and also we were
key players on the World Music scene.
We started various other labels during this period like Kent
(60s soul) BGP (Acid Jazz then Funk) and Big Beat (mostly
rock). We took on more consultants and gradually the company
grew into what it is today.
Digger: How have you managed to bring together such a wide
catalogue of genres and styles?
Initially because of the broad taste of the directors but also
having a consultancy base of guys who are expert in different
fields. Itís a team effort really with most everyone in the
company having an input from time to time.
Digger: Why is retro and nostalgia so enduringly popular?
Roger: Iím not so
sure the terms apply universally to what we do. In some case
people are buying our CDs out of feelings of nostalgia, but
the fact is that we have many younger people buying our
records who werenít born early enough to be suffering
nostalgia. Also a lot of what we put out is either incredibly
obscure or previously unissued so to even the more mature in
years many of the tracks may as well be new ones. There are
also the various tribes Ė Rock-a-billy, Northern Soul, Mod
etc who are engaged in the music as part of a lifestyle issue.
We have first hand experience of our buyers and I am
constantly surprised at how broad their taste is, which is
down to the fact that they just like music Ė old or new. I
think that especially with the advent of The Internet and the
instant availability of just about everything, the line
between old and new is blurred now and I see us as part of any
intelligent music loverís needs.
I donít subscribe to the view that all new music is rubbish,
but there is a lot more of the old stuff to get through.
Digger: What are the best sellers?
are some records that have been in catalogue for 25 years now
so obviously they have sold well. In terms of relatively
recent releases we have done really well on Wanda Jackson, Lee
Hazelwood, Pet Projects (Brian Wilson productions), Jack
Nitzsche, Dion (Born to Be With You), James Carr, Doris Duke,
Sonics, Zombies, Chocolate Watchband, Damned and Motorhead
As for the compilation series we run, Golden Age of American
Rock Ďní Roll has been massively successful as has Dave
Godinís Deep Soul Treasures, Super Funk and of course the
recent Theme Time Radio Hour sets have done very well.
Digger: What customer feedback do you get?
Generally favourable but, as you might imagine, dealing with
obsessives can have its problems at times. But then as
obsessives ourselves we generally understand. The fact that
Bob Dylanís voice was not on the Theme Time CDs lead to some
of the more aggressive comments, even to threats of law suits.
Sometimes it is useful feedback pointing out mistakes we have
made. One chap noticed a bad edit on a blues CD we issued that
had passed us all by. We re-pressed and sent him a few free
CDs of his choice for pointing it out.
Digger: Why are Ace Records different?
Mostly because of the breadth of the musical genres that we
re-issue. Also we are the king of the compilers and I think
that in Golden Age, Deep Soul Treasures and Theme Time we have
set very high standards.
Also we are the only Indie catalogue company with our own
custom built studios and we care passionately about the sound
on our records, going to inordinate lengths to make it as good
as it can be.
The look and contents of the booklets has been directed by
Carol Fawcett for 30 years now and it shows in the quality and
attention to detail. I think we get the balance between
looking Ďof the periodí and yet having a freshness that
catches the eye now.
Finally our team of hand picked consultants bring their own
expertise as well as individual taste to the ideas and to the
are the best aspects of running Ace Records and what are your
answer to both Ė a vast amount of different kinds of music
to listen to and work with. Forced to pick one era and type of
music it would be late 50s early 60s RnB when it was heading
Digger: What does The Internet mean to the Ace Records
Roger: We are
revamping our website to be launched later in the year and
with, I hope a new approach to downloads among other things.
At the moment we sell quite well through the usual iTunes type
channels, but we feel that they merely provide the music and
not the accompanying mediated information that makes us what
we are and makes the experience of listening to our music so
Digger: What are your plans for Ace Records in the future?
Keep on doing what we are doing and constantly look for ways
to expand it. Personally I would like to see more broad brush
compilations like Theme Time where all sorts of music is
compiled onto one or two CDs without it losing coherence. The
3 CD box set Take Me to the River: A Southern Soul Story
1961-1977 has been very successful, both creatively and
commercially, so we are intending to do more in that format as
it enables us to tell a bigger story. Thatís what we do well
Ė tell stories.
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London NW10 7AS
020 8453 1311
Fax: 020 8961 8725