Temple Records are the third recipients of Hands Up for Trad’s Business Limelight Award. The “Limelight’s” are a monthly initiative (launched in October 2012) that recognises the outstanding contributions made by businesses and organisations who contribute, shape and influence the arts and cultural sector in Scotland today. Temple Records have been releasing recordings since 1978 and have contunued at the forefront of technology ever since.
We asked Robin Morton of Temple Records the following questions.
What is your principle company activity?
Record Label mainly. Artist Management, Publishing and some event and concert promotion.
When and where did the company first start trading?
I came to Scotland in 1969 and in 1978 Temple Records became a company putting out vinyl records. A few years later (1983) we became a US company as well trading in the United States.
What made you want to work in Scottish culture?
How much time do you have Simon. Let me just do bullet points.
1. During the late 50s and 60s I worked and went to University in
2. I became involved in the folk music scene as a performer and over the years developed into organiser of clubs; worked with TV and radio; spent a year in England at London School of Economics where I sat on a committee of the first National Folk Festival at Keele University. The Chairman by the way was Rory McEwan. It was a great Festival – lots of
Scots – Jimmy MacBeath, a great character and Fred Jordan from England. The both became great friends, and I had to look after them at the Festival.
3. While I was in England I became involved with Ewan Mccoll and Bob Davenport, and I got to know a lot of other singers.
4. Went back to Ulster in the mid 60′s with fire burning, and started to organise concerts with Ewan Mccoll; Peggy Seeger and Bob Davenport and a number of others. I had them performing with local musicians and artists.
5. At the same time I started to collect songs; publish books. By the end of the 60′s had published two collections of Ulster songs and put out a number of albums on Irish labels, and I think a few on Topic Records.
6. Also at that point, I had formed a band with Tommy Gunn on fiddle and Cathal McConnell on flute, whistle and songs and I played bodhran, concertina a sang as well. Slowly but surely that became Boys of the Lough, as a request for a band name from the Aberdeen Folk Festival one year. We did various tours of England, organised initially by Ewan Mccoll and Peggy Seeger. I was deeply involved in this music, and this kind of music. During those tours we met a number of Scottish musicians, including Mike Whellans and Aly Bain who were playing together, which was to turn into something else. We also met all these great singers and musicians, in both Scotland and England, too many to mention really.
7. While I was at University I established the folk club which lasted a number of years; after coming back from England I organised with John Moulden and Dave Scott the rather grandly named Ulster Folk Music Society, which was pretty successful I have to say.
8. Right at the end of 1969 I finished my degree at Queens and came across supposedly to do a PHD in economic and social history department at Edinburgh University.
Sorry about all that preamble. I had to set the scene for you. I met up with Aly and Mike, and I arrived over and had a few pints in Bells; renewed acquaintances. I was invited to a Hogmannay party in Arthur Argo’s house in Glasgow. Aly and I went over together. It was a great party, the details become a bit confused as you can imagine. During the night a number of people played music and sang. A woman began to sing, the room went quiet, and she held everyone, as they stood and watched this lady sing a gaelic song. I could hardly wait to be introduced to her. I was told it was Flora MacNeil. I knew of her
through the BBC collections, which Hamish Henderson was involved in, there were Irish collectors and so on. Flora was now living in Glasgow, no longer on Barra, and was bringing up her family in Glasgow. My immediate response was were was I going to get a recording of her. I was shocked and horrified that there did not seem to be any
recordings of this wonderful singer. Being ‘young and enthusiastic’, I decided that I was going to have to put a recording out of Flora MacNeil, as people must hear this lady. I ended up doing a recording at REL, remember them, of Flora for an English company called Tangent.
I was lucky enough to get John MacInnes to do the translations of the songs. Tangent put it out, and it was very successful. I put it out on my label later, after they went out of business.
I noticed that there was no one emphasising traditional music, so I began to transpire how to get more of that stuff heard. That was the beginning.
I really was shocked how little traditional music was getting over to the public. This great tradition which was hidden away in back rooms.
So that was the beginning of it…
Can you tell us of any particular company highlights?
Let me talk about a personal highlight first. Tommy Gunn had decided he did not want to tour anymore, he was older than we were, and liked the comforts of home. Cathal and I kept touring, made many friends in Scotland. Cathal stayed here, and obviously Sandy Bells and all that stuff. One day I was offered, can’t remember the guys name, but he ran
the Newcastle Folk Festival, this would have been around 1971, and he offered us a gig. Cut a long story short, we had played a lot, and met Aly and Mike at various gigs, and I wondered if he would be interested in booking them, and we would do two duet sets and then join together for the second half for a band. I had not mentioned this to Aly and Mike, so I said I would suggest this, and that’s were Boys of the Lough came from. We named ourselves that for the night, and it took off from there. That took off, and the two boys were professional, so we had to decide to give up, as it was not fair on them, or Cathal and I had to turn professional as well. I gave up my studies, and Cathal was happy to do, and there is fully professional Boys of the Lough. A professional band before the Chieftans; Planxty and all that. Enough of that, it’s not about Boys of the Lough.
While I was working with Boys of the Lough, I was putting out field recordings of great Irish musicians on Topic. I hope to put these out on Temple in the near future.
Boys of the Lough were headlining a two band show at Durham Folk Festival in 1972/73 something like that. The opening band was Battlefield Band. I was impressed with their music and wondered if they would like to do an album. I sold the idea to Topic and Topic
took it on. That was a highlight, as still involved with the band. By the 1980′s I became their manager as well as their record label.
I had already met my wife Alison Kinnaird on Shetland, and had married her much to every ones surprise. There were mutterings of it will never last. Nah nah nah nah nah nah.
Finally got round to putting out an album of Alison, who’s music I still admire, so the second highlight came when I offered the album of Alison Kinnaird, which was to be called the Harp Key. For the first time they declined. They did not think harp music was what they wanted to do. By this stage I had left Boys of the Lough and was at home, and I decided to become a record company in the late 70′s early 80′s. The first release was The Harp Key.
The album was very well received nationally and internationally. There was a lot of mutterings about why do you want to put out harp music, and I pointed to the album itself and said listen to the music. You may have noticed a few more harp music albums since then, but Alison’s was the first one. I released it at the end of the 70′s, and there were no others until the mid 80′s when Alison released another. You may notice there are another few around now.
I think probably the next highlight would be hearing Christine Primrose singing on the radio in the early 1980′s and being completely entranced, finding out who she was and immediately going over to Glasgow and begging her to make an album. She agreed and we released ‘Aite Mo Ghaoil’ in 1982. Again mutterings of why do you want to put out Gaelic song albums, and again I just pointed to the album. Again can I just say there are a few
Gaelic song albums around now.
The next highlight I suppose was the Controversy of Pipers. This was an album made by all the young Folk pipers who were playing in bands and so on. They were being criticised by the establishment, and I thought this is ridiculous these are fine musicians and should be
heard. We did an album, I am not going to name names, but they were the top pipers playing in band and some pipers from pipe bands, and we put out an album which was well received. Again it was the same question asked and the same response by myself.
We have done a number of great piping albums since then.
We have continued to put out albums that I felt should be heard – Gordon Mooney on Lowland pipes.
Next highlight I supposed was Fiddlers Five – a lot of the fiddlers playing in various band. They came in played a session. It was all done in two days; not too much rehearsal, I wanted it to sound lively, and if you listen to that album you will see what I mean. It is still
a great album. Again mutterings why do you want to put out a fiddle orchestra album. My response was – Just listen to it, and see. By the second track the people that were listening were smiling. You may have noticed a few other fiddle bands around since then.
I must say that the albums I have put out are all highlights from my point of view. Most of them worked, and I had the arrogance of putting out albums of musicians that I really like and liked to work with. So we have had pipe band and so on. Those are the highlights. Mike Whellans playing his blues; a solo drumming album and so on.
I did not want to become trapped putting out albums for the sake of putting out albums. There were a number of other labels came along and put out albums as well.
What are your company’s plans for the future?
I have no idea, because most of the stuff I have done, has happened because I wanted it to, and because no one else was.
All of us, not just the specialist labels, but the major labels are in a state of crisis. Cd’s are not selling; the digital world we do not have any control over, in my opinion.
What the future holds I have no idea. Being a record company at the moment is a tough ask. You keep ticking on and thinking do this, that and the other in the hope of getting the music out there. Not an easy time, and not an easy question to answer about the future.
How will you celebrate receiving Hands Up for Trad’s Business Limelight award?
We will let people know about it. Will be very pleased to receive it, and I hope it will sell a few more album; draw attention to the label and more importantly the music. Still some great music out there, and I don’t think the Scottish Establishment understands what a cultural asset they have. When they do push music I do have certain reservations about what they are putting out there as important Scottish msuic. Everyone deserves to make a living. I really do want people to listen to music that is really steeped in the tradition. I do think that traditional music develops organically and I think these people that are pushing forward the image of Scotland should know that an interest in traditional music is backward looking by any definition. By any definition tradition is a living thing and it has been my privilege to work with a lot of people who really know and have chosen to play music steeped in that great tradition and know that carrying it forward is something that happens naturally and cannot be forced.
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