M meets… Ralph Tee from Expansion Records

Ralph TeeAhead of Record Store Day on 21 April, we speak to label boss Ralph Tee about what the day means to him, and hear the story behind two limited releases he’s prepared to mark the event.

UK based Expansion Records specialises in both classic and new soul music, offering a platform for veteran and emerging artists to release their material.

The award-winning label’s very first releases in the 80s were through Richard Searling and John Anderson from Soul Bowl Records in Kings Lynn. Ralph joined in 1989, around the time Ronnie McNeir released his Life & Love album. Early success came with the singles Give Me the Sunshine by Leo’s Sunshipp and James King’s Memory.

In 2008 Expansion Records joined forces with Jazz FM for joint venture label Jazz FM Records, creating a series of compilations including The Sound of Jazz FM, The Soul of Smooth Jazz and Funky Sensation. Ralph also presents a Sunday afternoon show on Jazz FM from 4pm.

Ralph TeeHow important is Record Store Day to businesses like yours?
Anything that brings people into record stores is good news for us. It’s an opportunity not only for Record Store Day releases, but for sales of our general releases in an environment where customers can see, feel and hear the music with the service and sales experience of a store. Record Store Day also allows us to be adventurous with releases, experiment with formats and titles where interest is marginal but we know will be appreciated by the limited audience who ordinarily we couldn’t afford to serve. The higher revenue return makes this possible as a more expensive selling price is regarded as acceptable for Record Store Day releases, and there’s also the benefit from the profile given to the releases that comes through being part of the day.

Is this the first time you’ve prepared releases for it?
No, last year was the first time. We issued a hand numbered Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson single in conjunction with a participating record store, Soul Brother Records. It was a great success.

There seems to be a growing number of reissues and remixes released on Record Store Day each year. Do you think it reflects the changing market for vinyl?
From looking at the Record Store Day website there are clearly more releases this year than ever before. Hopefully there are not so many to take away the special nature of the occasion. There is also now a second Record Store Day in America each year called Black Friday! I’m guessing when the day started some people would collect everything. Now I think that’s impossible, but I do agree there is a changing market towards vinyl, especially seven inch singles and high quality LP vinyl and box sets – heavy weight vinyl in special packaging. There’s still nowhere near the volume of the glory years of vinyl, but fans of the format are prepared to pay more for what they want. These days, consumers demand so much discount on CD albums that we are seeing a two-sided seven inch single in a plain paper sleeve retail for the same price as a CD album with ten or more tracks complete with a 12 page full colour booklet…

Here is the story behind Expansion’s two unique Record Store Day 2012 releases…

Gregory Porter 1960 What?Gregory Porter 1960 What?
In the eighteen months since exploding onto the international music scene with his debut album Water, Gregory Porter has racked up a stream of awards including a Best Jazz Vocal Grammy nomination. To me, 1960 What? is the most significant vocal jazz hit in years and very much on my radar from the start at Jazz FM where I am a presenter.

At the tail end of last year the song was remixed by Germany’s Peter Major, aka dance music producer Opolopo and in my A&R capacity for Jazz FM Records I tried to secure it for a 2011 CD collection. I was told it was too soon as Opolopo’s own album featuring the mix had not been officially released – it was still being promoted. I had known Peter since 2007 when my own label Expansion released his mix of Tall Green Grass by Karl Frierson. His mix of 1960 What is amazing and has transformed the song from a radio hit into a dance floor smash. It was actually the suggestion of my friend Steve Cole, a DJ/vinyl enthusiast, that both the original and Opolopo Kick & Bass Rerub mixes back to back would make a fantastic 12 inch release. My original concern was that 12 inch singles don’t sell enough, and the mixes are too long for the seven inch vinyl format which is currently enjoying a resurgence. So Record Store Day became a wonderful solution as it allowed Expansion to put out a superb record on 12 inch single, hand numbered for vinyl fans and collectors with some guaranteed in support. Though actually we only pressed 500 and I’m already wishing we had run a few more.

 

Future Sound of London Papua New GuineaFuture Sound of London Papua New Guinea
It’s back: the iconic hit record that pushed the boundaries of dance music and created a whole new genre. Papua New Guinea by The Future Sound of London gets its first 10 inch release! The limited edition hand numbered 500 press is being made available for Record Store Day complete with brand new track Murmurations.

The first promotional copies of Papua New Guinea surfaced in 1991, but such was the impact of the record it was rescheduled for 1992 so not to get lost at Christmas and was promo’d again. Since then it has been re-pressed and remixed regularly. Future Sound of London’s Brian and Gary have been back in the studio working on a new album collection Environments 4 and are collaborators on a new solo album for Noel Gallagher due next year. The 10 inch is also a joint venture with Vinyl Factory, the old EMI pressing plant currently promoting the format and involved in a campaign to promote British manufacturing.

 

Read our exclusive interview with Record Store Day’s UK founder and Rough Trade East boss Spencer Hickman