Arts: Grapevine tastes the fruits of success

Sound investment: Festival is a celebration for independent record label that boasts established stars and bright new hopes

Today, one of the top rock events of the year, the Fleadh, takes place in Finsbury Park, north London. Many of the headlining acts have one thing in common. They are all signed up to a small independent record label which has come from nowhere to challenge the multi-national record labels.

Last night, the Grapevine label took over a London venue, the Borderline club, and threw a fifth birthday party for invited guests. They were treated to a concert featuring some of the label's most famous names - Emmylou Harris, Mary Black, Christy Moore and much acclaimed newcomer Sinead Lohan.

Black, Moore and Lohan will play at the Fleadh today, along with several lesser acts also on the Grapevine label. Emmylou Harris is about to start a British tour under the auspices of the National Music Festival. Other stars on the label include Sixties' heroes The Kinks and Joan Baez.

It is a remarkable success story, started by two disillusioned music industry workers who decided to "have fun and sign up some of our heroes".

Steve Fernie and Paddy Prendergast backed their hunch that, even though the artists had fallen out of favour with the major record companies because of changes in fashion, their creativity was bound to ensure future success.

The Kinks' last album on CBS sold 5,000 copies. Their first album with Grapevine sold 23,000. The current Emmylou Harris album has sold 100,000 in Britain. Fernie and Prendergast are now moving from signing established stars to bright new hopes. Sinead Lohan's debut album has been hailed in the music press as one of the best albums of the year.

"We are not afraid to take on people considered unhip," says Prendergast, who previously ran a record manufacturing brokerage company above Camden Market. He and Fernie, who used to work for EMI, use a personal touch with all their artists. They went to Nashville six times to sign country star Emmylou Harris, and still leave postage-paid cards on every seat at concertsto build up a database of fans.

The company now has a pounds 5m turnover and promotes and markets throughout Europe. Prendergast commented: "The difference between us and the major labels is that we will stand by our artists if they want to do something bold or something they feel a little bit unsure about. They can change direction as much as they like. We sign them because we believe in them."

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