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Thursday, November 15, 2012

There'll be more

The second and final part of the interview with Occultation chief and Distractions guitarist-songwriter, Nick Halliwell, by John Clarkson at Penny Black.  The Distractions' reunion is explained and a DVD release is mooted...




Occultation Recordings: Interview With Nick Halliwell 

Author: John Clarkson


PB: Your main release for this year is The Distractions’ second album and first album in thirty-two years, ‘The End of the Pier’.  Apparently you first made contact with Mike Finney after he sent you a thank you email after you published an article about The Distractions online.  How did you go from that to being their label boss, guitarist, co-songwriter with Steve Perrin, producer and presumably the prime instigator in their reformation and comeback?

NH: I’d say "facilitator” rather than “instigator”, Steve was the prime mover behind the direction taken in the songwriting, I just played a supporting role.  It started in late 2009 with me bemoaning the fact that Mike, one of the finest singers this country’s ever produced, had made so few records.  Steve said "stick him in a studio when the label makes you a million” but I suggested doing it straight away.  Steve was living in New Zealand (though he’s now in Australia), so I asked if he’d fancy writing a song or two, but he spoke to Mike then e-mailed back saying “I’ll be in the UK in June,” so I booked a studio and wrote ‘Oil Painting’, though at that point I had no idea it’d be a Distractions record.

Steve’s version of the story is that I thought I was commissioning a Mike Finney solo record but even I’m not that daft.  I hadn’t got as far as thinking what name it might go under, that had to come from them, but ultimately The Distractions is what happens when you put Mike and Steve together so it made perfect sense.  An album was the logical next step and we needed a bassist at short notice.  I’d worked with Arash Torabi on Granite Shore and June Brides records and knew he’d be perfect, then a mutual friend put us in touch with Mike Kellie of the Only Ones who did an amazing job on drums and has become part of the family. 

PB: Ian Henderson, your counterpart at Fishrider Records in New Zealand, has said in an online essay that the critical ingredients for running a small label, even more than money, are time, expertise and passion. Would you agree with him?

NH: Ian and I agree on a lot of things, which is why we work together so well.  Obviously some money’s required, and you need to be prepared not to see it again, otherwise I’d change the order to 1) time 2) passion and 3) expertise – if you have 1) and 2) you can pick 3) up as you go along and if you have enough of 2) people will often offer you 3) anyway.  1) poses the biggest problem, I find.




PB: On the subject of Ian and Fishrider Records, you have recently co-released an album together, the self-titled debut album of New Zealand band Opposite Sex.  You’re also selling some of Fishrider’s other albums through the Occultation website.  You met online after discussing the merits of Scritti Politti’s first EP.  Why did you decide to go into partnership together for this album and will there be other co-releases?

NH: Fishrider have now released Factory Star’s ‘New Sacral’.  We’re making releases by the Puddle and the Shifting Sands available in the Northern Hemisphere with Fishrider doing the same for Occultation material South of the Equator.  There are also plans for a joint label compilation of some kind, though that’s only at the discussion stage so far.  I see this as a key part of our long-term strategy; we may not be huge but, between us, Occultation and Fishrider genuinely do span the whole wide world.

PB: You’re about to release a June Brides record, ‘Between the Moon and the Clouds’, in another collaboration, this time with Slumberland Records.  How did that collaboration come out?  That album includes both tracks from the recent June Brides/Occultation 7”, and various Phil Wilson demos and acoustic tracks.  Do you see it as a rarities compilation and did it take a long time to put together?  Why also has the Granite Shore’s second single ‘Flood of Fortune’ crept onto there? 

NH: We released the June Brides single, ‘Moon / Cloud’ in June (the press release almost wrote itself...) and we always try to do something extra for people who buy directly from the label, so Phil went through his archives and we came up with ‘Between the Moon and the Clouds'.  For now, that’s only available to buy together with the 7" from us or Slumberland. 

‘Flood of Fortune’ is there simply because Phil, Arash and Andy are all on it.  Occultation is a family, so a lot of the same people crop up: The June Brides’ new drummer, Steve Beswick, was in The Wild Swans and played on the first Granite Shore single, The Wild Swans' keyboard player Richard Turvey has engineered Distractions and Factory Star records, Arash plays with The Distractions, a lot of the sleeves use photos by Jim Donnelly and most are laid out by Andy Chambers... We all work together.  I’ve always loved labels where you get that sense of a family.

Slumberland had released Phil’s solo album, ‘God Bless Jim Kennedy’, in the States a couple of years back, so they’re his US label, simple as that.  Phil put me in touch with Mike Schulman who’s a gentleman and everything went very smoothly.  I’m convinced that the only way forward is to work with other like-minded labels; with Fishrider it’s an ongoing, long-term thing, in other cases much more ad hoc, but I’d like to find partners in other countries – if anyone’s out there I speak French, Catalan and Spanish fluently and my Italian’s not too bad so please get in touch.




PB: The Granite Shore have taken something of a back seat over the last two years, and since the release of the ‘Flood of Fortune’ single.  Is this because things with The Distractions and the rest of Occultation have taken off?  Have you got more Granite Shore releases planned for the future?

NH: Oddly enough, the longer the Granite Shore spend in the back seat the higher the profile seems to rise.  Both singles are still selling and we get more e-mails asking when the album’s coming out than about anything else, which is nice for my ego.  Trouble is something else always seems to come along and, with my label hat on, I’m constantly trying to juggle everyone’s interests and it all takes up a lot of time. 

I did a version of Martin Bramah’s ‘When Sleep Won’t Come’ for the B-side of Factory Star’s ‘Lucybel’ single at Christmas but this year I’ve focused on The Distractions and running the label in general, but I hope this’ll prove to have been the right decision as I’ve learned a huge amount from working on all these other records.  I want the Granite Shore album to be a coherent, fully-rounded record, with the packaging as part of the concept from the start, so the whole thing needs thinking out properly and I’m planning to take a bit of time to do that over the next few weeks.  I think I know what the album's about now.  Once it’s all properly written I’ll aim to record it quickly as usual and I’m hoping for contributions from various Occultation family members.

PB: This year has been Occultation’s busiest year.  What other plans have you got for the immediate future?  Have you got more releases planned for the next few months?

NH: Realistically there probably won’t be anything major before Christmas – though you never know, things do come up unexpectedly.  Aside from the Granite Shore album, there’s The Wild Swans reissue, a DVD of the ‘End of the Pier’ shows featuring the Distractions, Factory Star and the June Brides, and that joint Occultation-Fishrider compilation album I mentioned earlier, but these are all still in the early stages.  Occultation is now larger than it was, we’ve got various partners.  Each release is ultimately down to the artist so I’m talking to Paul about The Wild Swans reissue, to Phil about another June Brides record, we’ve just done new Factory Star and Distractions records but there’ll be more from them too, I hope.  

We’re at something of a crossroads.  We were badly let down last year, although I can’t actually discuss what happened for now, it was touch and go for a while but we pulled through and, as you say, 2012's been our busiest year, punching well above our weight with four albums in as many months.  That’s a big investment, a lot of money sitting in boxes dotted around the planet.  Sometimes I wonder how on earth we managed it but it’s largely been by building partnerships with like-minded people and organisations and by everyone involved – artists, partners, the various people who help out behind the scenes – all pulling together.  As Ian says, if you've got the passion and can make the time there’s always a way. 



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