Last Night From Glasgow on its unique way of working and free download of lockdown compilation, The Isolation Sessions

Ian Smith is part of the driving force behind Scottish record label, Last Night From Glasgow. We had a chat about what sets the label apart from the mainstream. He didn’t hold back.

Taking its name from a line in Abba’s Super Trouper, Last Night From Glasgow is a record label that’s hoping a different approach from the norm might shake the music industry around a bit.

Abba are probably as far away from their ethos as it’s possible to get.

Based largely on a subscription / patron model, Last Night From Glasgow is not like any record label model we’ve come across before.

The label was founded with the intention of assisting unsigned artists with the physical release and promotion of their music. Artists do not enter into any restrictive contract with the label, they retain the intellectual rights to their music and are paid fairly for their work.

All profits are reinvested back into the objectives of the label to fund future releases and so on.

We also have a free download of the label’s compilation album, The Isolation Sessions. Free, as in beer, as in free. Read on.

The album was released to raise funds to help Glasgow venues and record shops, and if you like what you hear, then we’d encourage you to support the label and the artists, but it was donated to us to help spread the word. You know the rest.

We caught up with co-founder Ian Smith to find out more.

P3dro: Where are you and what are you doing?

Ian: I’m in my living room in Glasgow, chatting to you, mate. Before that I was discussing the merits of a 12″ single release with Bis.

P3dro: And what are the merits of a 12″ single release with Bis?

Ian: Oh, there’s bloody none, other than the fact I’m a kid of the eighties. 12″s were a part of my life. It’s just the fact you don’t really get them anymore. And I was sitting talking to Steven of Bis, reminiscing about great 12″s from my youth and for some reason I was reminded about Ultravox’s ‘Reap The Wild Wind’ 12″ that I had when I was about 12 or 13. And that brilliant 80s thing of repeating the same rhythm, but scratching it so it sounded like it was different. So, I said to Steven we should definitely whip out a 12″ in an 80s style.

It’ll bomb. It will only sell about 25 copies and will cost us a fortune, but who cares?

P3dro: Well, you never know. Blue Monday sold ‘kin loads.

Ian: Yeah, it did, but it cost Factory more money than every one they sold, so it was a complete commercial disaster for them.

We’re in the process – we haven’t announced this just yet – of reissuing and re-releasing Bis‘ 2001 ‘Return to Central’ album. I think it was massively mis-understood when it came out, so our retrospective label Past Night From Glasgow is gonna release that next year. So, I was chatting to Steven and we decided to release a single and 80s the hell out of it as a 12″.

It will probably come out for the 20th anniversary next September.

P3dro: Tell me about Last Night From Glasgow, how it was formed and the motivation for doing it.

Ian: I’ve been telling this story for so many years, I’m trying to find interesting ways of changing the dynamic of the story. It was founded by 6 of us, although 4 of them are no longer involved and its now me and [Stephen Kelly]. But that’s the nature of any business, people with a lot of passion stick with it and the others come and go. It was founded in 2016.

The real driving force behind the label was nothing to do with music and nothing to do with even wanting to start a record label. It really came from my personal regret and annoyance that we hadn’t been smart enough as a nation to become independent. I had put a lot of work and effort into fighting for the independence movement. And that movement in Glasgow was very arts driven, so when we failed to extricate ourselves from the Union, it felt like all this creative work had been for nothing.

So, I found myself with time on my hands and a desire to do something creative and a desire to do something fundamentally socialist, because that was what the drive behind independence was for me – it was a drive to get back to a socialist ethos.

Those ideas burned about in my head for a while and I found myself sitting at night, thinking “What am I going to do?” I had friends who were KickStarter-ing an album, called Teen Canteen. They were doing that to start the process of getting the album recorded, but they had no plans to release a record and, as you can see, behind me, I like records. So, I thought about trying to find a way of funding the record. I started investigating costs of manufacture, I started talking to friends, saying: “Well, if 4 or 5 of us came in together, we could pay for this record, we could recover our costs and then re-invest the money”.

Through all of that, eventually over a period of 2 or 3 months and speaking to people in the music industry, like Joe McAlinden, (who has now signed to the label), we got to a point where we realised that having a patronage of 50 – 100 people, providing a financial contribution could generate enough money so that we could actually pay to get records made and not have to say to bands: “You’ve got to pay us back”.

The days of record labels funding bands on a 5 or 6 album trajectory and keeping them going, keeping them afloat, keeping them sustainable has gone. So now you’ve got bands being hammered with costs at the start of their career. They’re being asked to pay for promoters, for pluggers, for press, to make records, to make CDs.

We wanted to create a situation where we could help a band get off their feet and then not be sitting at the end of year 1, saying: “How much money do we owe you?”

So Last Night From Glasgow was founded on the principle that we invited 50 people to give us £50. And we said in return for that £50 we’ll give you 4 records and we’ll pay for everything.

As of today we have 10 times as many patrons, most of them volunteering 2 – 3 times that amount of money. Generally when we open up renewals at the start of the year, its the expensive options that get grabbed first.

Now, if you’re a member of LNFG, by the end of the year you’re gonna end up with something like 10 LPs. We’re producing an awful lot of product.

P3dro: And it’s run as a not for profit exercise.

Ian: Yes. We don’t just run it as a not for profit, we don’t draw any salaries. So the team that runs it are all volunteers. I spend, probably about 40 hours a week on LNFG and I don’t draw a cent. We do pay some outside parties, we’ve got a press officer who works for us, we’ve got a plugger and we’ve got some videographers and photographers, creatives who get paid. But the actual main staff who run LNFG and look after the artists don’t draw a cent.

P3dro: What do you get out of [the exercise]?

Ian: If I’m honest I’d say I didn’t do this to get anything out of it. I was raised, I believe, to have a very strong moral compass. And at the point I realised the record industry was set up unfairly and prejudicially to exploit people, I felt that was wrong.

So, maybe when this finishes, or I chuck it or maybe when it collapses, or whatever happens, then maybe I can look back with some sense of pride. But, just now, it’s getting a job done. I look around the industry and I get asked questions a lot from people asking me what’s my pleasure from this. I always say the same thing, if I’m deriving pleasure from it, then I’m not working hard enough. You know, it shouldn’t be unpleasant, it shouldn’t be something I hate doing, but if I’m sitting back, smoking a cigar with my feet up, admiring my achievements, then I’m kind of a waste of space.

We’re growing and more artists are coming and more people want support and we have to be able to deliver that.

P3dro: Does the label have a music policy? Or a particular style of band?

Ian: No. We have about 7 or 8 people involved in the editorial process and our general view is that if one of those people loves an artist enough, the others will back down and support it.

We think there’s nothing worse than trying to get 50% approval because what get’s through [then] is all the grey stuff. So we have a few bands on the label that some people will hate. But, if there’s enough passion from one person, then that will drive it. Our only real desire is to try and weed out anyone who doesn’t really understand what they’re getting engaged with.

We’re a working co-operative, a patronage and a family of people who should try and help each other. If we sense there are people coming into the label only for what they can get, then that doesn’t rest easy with us. That’s not to say there aren’t people coming in who are pretending to get it and then we discover [that’s the case] but at least they have the good grace to pretend they got it in the first place.

P3dro: Do you have a slant towards Scottish bands?

Ian: Well, we have a proximity towards Scottish bands which makes it more likely. But the most recent artist we signed was from British Columbia – Sarah May – an alt-folk singer in a kind of Laura Veirs style.

She came to us from a North American project we’d worked with. We decided, out of curiosity to make ourselves available to a website who operate as a market place for bands. In the space of 2 days we got something like 2,500 submissions. As a team, we sat and listened to [them all] and there were about 3 things we didn’t hate and one of the things we didn’t hate, that we actually loved, was Sarah.

So she will release with us, probably in 2022 and we’ll spend much of 2021 working on a plan and put some singles out there.

André Salvador and the Von Kings are from Brooklyn. Foundlings are from Brighton. Loudmammoth are from Newcastle.

So, we’re definitely spreading further afield. But for the first 2 or 3 years it was easier to work with Scottish bands. You could meet them for a pint. But Covid has taught us, when you can’t meet anyone for a pint, is that it doesn’t matter where you are. So, now we’ve realised that dealing with someone in Vancouver is no different from dealing with someone in Ipswich.

P3dro: You have the [three] offshoot labels.

Ian: Yeah. We have Past Night From Glasgow which will essentially take previous releases, not necessarily from Glasgow, and concentrate on re-releases. The Bluebells ‘Sisters’ will come out in November.

We have an electronica and kind of alt-classical label called Komponist. And for want of a better expression, it releases music that is probably commercially unviable. Music that no one’s ever get behind, but we think is worth releasing. So we fund this label, just to dig out interesting music. The most recent Komponist release was ‘Edit’ by Joe McAlinden, a 30 minute classical piece.

The one after that will be Tom Donnelley from Close Lobsters. His collected Krautrock musings. That will be coming out in December.

And, then the third label we have is Hive. An offshoot of LNFG. It became apparent about 18 months ago the demand for LNFG was greater than we could facilitate. And with our model being we pay for everything and we give you all the income, there’s only so much of that you can do. You can’t take £60 off a patron and then send them £200 worth of music. It’s clear the economics of that would be flawed. But we wanted to do more records and more releases, but we couldn’t do that within LNFG.

So we set up a second non-profit label, Hive. This doesn’t have a patronage element to it. So, if we release your record on Hive, the cost sets against the release, but 100% of the profits of the release go to the artist. So, it’s still a non-profit and it’s still generating all of the income for the artist, but it doesn’t have the element of us as a patronage picking up all the costs. About half the records we release go out on Hive and half go out on LFNG.

P3dro: So, with Hive, is it the artist paying for the cost of the record?

Ian: Not paying for it directly. They will pay for it indirectly through the proceeds of the sales. We front it all. So, if we put a record out on Hive and it costs £2k to make a record or a CD, then we’ll spend that £2k, we’ll sell the record and once it’s made that back, then every penny goes back to the artist. We take no cut at all.

They are as well off as if they had released it themselves, but they get the added clout of a label marketing it, press, plugging it, pushing them and advising them.

P3dro: We were looking at the website and we see The Isolation Sessions was announced pretty quick off the mark [as lockdown was imposed].

Ian: We actually announced it 5 days before [lockdown]. We knew it was coming and we thought: “We’ve gotta do something”. So I think we had it up for sale 3 nights before Nicola Sturgeon announced we were going into lockdown. We all knew it was happening. We could see it coming. It just seemed like the right thing to do.

P3dro: Basically, you were getting bands on the label to do covers of other bands on the label.

Ian: Yeah, that’s how it evolved. It didn’t start out as that idea. There were 4 or 5 of us in the team said: “Why don’t we do a compilation album to tide us over?” And then it was either Gary or Tim in the team who said: “Why don’t we do a covers album?”

I was pretty cynical and I was thinking there’s no way we’re gonna get people to do covers from their homes. How are they gonna do that? It’s not gonna work. But it was either Tim or Gary who said: ‘The Isolation Sessions’. And that conversation took about 10 minutes and as they were [talking] I was sending messages to artists and asking: “If we asked you to record a cover version at home, would you do it?” And, within an hour we had 10 or 15 artists saying they’d love to do it. We had our graphics guy, Andy, busy knocking up the graphics. I put it straight into the [online] shop and within an hour we’d sold £1,000 worth and £2,500 within 2 days. I think the running total of money raised for venues and record shops is about £10,000.

The Isolation Sessions are available as a free download from this Dropbox link.

Isolation Sessions

P3dro: That’s impressive.

Ian: Yeah, well people were sitting at home with money to spend. Clearly, not everyone, this Covid crisis has been very bad for people at the bottom of the tree. There’s no doubt about that. But there are a great many people who have not been able to go on holiday, not been able to go out for dinner, not been able to go to the pub as much as they wanted to.

I see it as our moral duty to go in and take money off them and give them records in return for it.

P3dro: Yeah, we’ve been spending quite a lot of money at BandCamp over the last 6 months.

Ian: A lot of people have. BandCamp have done a great job of making themselves look like the good guys by giving away their rather ropey 10-20% commission one day every couple of months. But they’ve managed to create a narrative and people have latched onto it.

I’m a little cynical about it. But. Hey.

P3dro: How do you see things in Glasgow just now?

Ian: Venue-wise, we’re stuffed. We managed to put on 2 shows about 3 weeks ago. We got the city council to give us a licence, in partnership with SWG3 to put on 2 shows in a marquee for 200 people. The venue would normally hold 800, so we really had to cut down the capacity. Everyone was seated, table service drinks only. It seemed to work and people seemed to like it.

But, 2 or 3 days later and the figures go through the roof again and we’re back in lockdown.

The problem we’ve got is that there are self serving people in this industry who don’t want to buckle in a way that would help everybody else. So, we have big venues refusing to open until they can have 75% capacity. And you have small venues that say: “Well frankly we’ll just do coffee mornings, we don’t care”.

Getting those 2 sides to reach some kind of common sense approach would be impossible. I think the solution’s out there, but until we can get a cohesive, trustworthy statement from the British that tells us what’s going on, then no one’s gonna pay any attention.

You’re from a ship building town in the north of of England [he knows I’m from Liverpool] and I’m from a ship building town in the west coast of Scotland and we both know the Tories are liars. That’s a really difficult thing to get over.

I think Sturgeon’s doing a decent job in Scotland, but anyone who wants to attack what she’s doing has got the contradictions of Westminster to throw at her. So, the British Unionists up here are happy throwing mud in her direction. I think we’ve got a twentieth of the problem England has got for a tenth of the population, which would suggest we’re handling it twice as well. But, still badly.

P3dro: Do you have any plans for the label in the future, how do you see it progressing?

Ian: I see it growing. It’s been growing exponentially. Next year we have the ludicrous plans over the 4 different labels to release 18 LPs next year. So, I haven’t quite done the sums, but it’s 3 every 2 months, or one every 3 weeks.

By anyone’s standard, that’s a stupid amount of music to be putting out. In terms of the work that’s involved in it.

But, you know, there’s 10,000 times that many things being released to Spotify every week. But if we do release 18 LPs next year and 10% resonate with 10% of the population

We very much believe, as long as we have the power to represent these records and properly deliver them into the market then it’s what we should be doing. It’s our duty to support artists and get their music out there.

P3dro: Recommend a band or an album that you think we should be listening to right now.

Ian: One is a spectacular super-star, commercial one. So, I’m not going to recommend that because I’d be laughed off the planet.

My second fave of the year is Jess WilliamsonSorceress.

Outstanding. If you want something new, then check it out.

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