Classical Music: Ted's excellent adventure

Hyperion makes `high-quality records that need to be made, that no one else will make'. Then shifts them in abundance. Edward Seckerson meets founding father Ted Perry

You'll find Hyperion Records on a run-down trading estate in New Eltham, south-east London. If you're lucky. "Be careful of the dog-leg bend in the main road - that can take you into Sidcup... and look for white gates and a sign which says Stanleys." Well, at least I won't make the mistake of looking for a sign which reads "Hyperion". The pearl-white Cadillac is far more visible. You don't see too many of those in this part of the world. This one belongs to the company's founding father and managing director, Ted Perry. Find that and you're getting warm.

You'll most likely find Perry in amongst the product (old habits die hard for the man who used to pack up LPs on his kitchen table). At the very least he likes to keep an eye on its comings and goings. And in this set-up, it's hard to do otherwise. From his glass-fronted office - one of several running the length of this capacious warehouse - that's all you can see: mountains of product. "The discs come through that door from the factories," he tells me. "Celia tells the world about them, and out they go through the same door to our distributors." And onwards to some 45 countries as far-flung as Taiwan and Venezuela. Unlikely destinations, you may think, for the King's Consort's latest album of Purcell's Anthems and Services. But you'd be wrong.

Hyperion, as in "son of Uranus and Gaea, father of Helios (sun), Selene (moon), and Eos (dawn)", is a small company with a big influence. You could say that it got big by thinking small. A wall-chart in the sales manager's office chronicles the company's fortunes through its first 15 years. And you don't have to be a statistician to see at a glance that unit sales, which began back in 1980 at floor and skirting board level, are currently through the roof, or to be more precise, halfway across Mike Spring's ceiling. The label's share of the UK's classical market is way out of proportion to its size. Hyperion is a cottage industry with a corporate identity, still functioning on a basic staff of 11 (that's an increase of only one in recent times: Nick took charge of editorial matters - sleeve notes and the like - last year) and still with only one overriding purpose: "to make high quality records that need to be made, that no one else will make". So says Ted Perry.

"Ted", as he's universally known in the business, is among the last remaining dyed-in-the-wool enthusiasts making records for others like himself. He's a hearty, hail-fellow-well-met sort of chap with the bewildered air of a disorderly boffin. Don't you believe it. He knows exactly what he wants and how to get it. His enthusiasm is matched only by his single-mindedness, his instincts - musical and otherwise - by a natural sense of what might or might not gel. His nose, for artists, for repertoire, for the right combination of the two, is as sharp as any in the business. He describes his own musical tastes as "pretty indiscriminate", meaning eclectic, and that much is certainly reflected in Hyperion's extraordinary catalogue: some 750 titles (including nine Gramophone Award winners - the highest achieved by an independent classical label for different titles), the sacred, the profane, the beautiful and the arcane, the gamut of Early Music - with a special emphasis on English choral music and song; the great, the good, and the obscure of the Romantics (as witness the exhaustive exhumations of the "Romantic Piano Concerto" series: Bortkiewicz, Scharwenka, Sauer, Henselt, Hiller . .?); and modern masters like our own indefinable Constant Lambert. Perry insists that he's never formulated a "policy" concerning repertoire (he dislikes even the sound of the word), only that he wasn't about to record the 101st version of Dvorak's "New World" Symphony. It helps to know the market. Why buy into the Scandinavian repertoire when the Swedish label BIS is doing a perfectly fine job? Better to channel your resources into an English Nielsen or Sibelius, like Robert Simpson. The serious record-buying public applauds him for that.

Actually, Perry began his career catering for just such a public from behind the counter of the most famous London record store of the day: EMG "Handmade Gramophones" of Newman Street. This discerning institution published a "monthly letter": anonymous reviews "by committee" full of priceless declarations like "we are not enamoured of this record". After EMG, Ted's big adventure began in earnest. Stints at Deutsche Grammophon, a distribution outlet in Australia, and Saga Records convinced him that it was only a matter of time before he went it alone. In 1977, he came close, setting up the Meridian label with the engineer John Shuttleworth. Soon afterwards, Hyperion was born. His one-man show at last.

Perry borrowed pounds 12,000. "With that kind of money you don't go into Berkeley Square and buy your potted palms and electric typewriters," he says. So he set up shop in the backroom of his house, boosting his cash-flow with a spot of mini-cabbing at night. That was March 1980. Unbelievably, he launched in September - "a satisfactory opening salvo of eight titles". He didn't make them all - he couldn't afford to. So to supplement English Anthems from Ely Cathedral and an outlandish organ version of Pictures at an Exhibition, he had to buy in. Among his acquisitions was a winning coupling of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto and Quintet, played on the basset horn by Thea King. Now King had a thing about cows. So Perry found her a nice cow picture for the sleeve. He's convinced that won him the disc. It went on to become the second best-selling Hyperion release of all time.

Perry's only serious crisis came with the advent of CDs. He was too small to get into the European pressing-plants. He had to go to Japan - but at a price (minimum order of 3,000 per release at pounds 2 per disc, plus freight). He started with four releases - that's an outlay of pounds 25,000, up front. He hoped he'd chosen the right four. He had. One in particular can fair claim to have turned Hyperion around. That was something called A Feather on the Breath of God - The Music of Hildegard of Bingen.

Perry first heard this "ethereal music" on the radio one evening while doing the washing-up. It haunted him. A couple of weeks later, he got a call from Christopher Page of Gothic Voices. They met, but only after talking for a while did it dawn on Perry that this was the group behind the BBC's Hildegard programme. "Do you want a Hildegard record?" said Page. "Rather," came the reply. It was made in a day, the cheapest record Perry has ever made. Before it was even in the shops, someone kindly mentioned the number on Radio 3. Very soon Perry's distributor was asking - "What is A66039? It's on every single order." To date, Hildegard has clocked up sales of well over 250,000. Perry calls her the Patron Saint of Hyperion.

Independents like Hyperion are having their day right now. With lower overheads and proportionately lower break-even points, they can afford to be more adventurous, publicly to indulge their private passions - and those of their customers - and in so doing, steal a march on the "big boys". "My biggest advantage," says Perry, "is speed and flexibility. I don't have to go through an international planning committee to get a project the go-ahead. When an idea comes my way, I can make up my mind that minute. If I decide to record the Arriaga Symphony, Joanna can be on the phone to the ECO and I can be calling Sir Charles Mackerras in the time..." - in the time it would take someone at Sony to draft a memo?

Today's serious record-buyers are less interested in duplicating "core repertoire" (is that in itself a comment on the impersonal nature of so many recordings?) than embarking upon voyages of discovery. We live in the age of the series. Hyperion currently has several on the go: the Romantic Piano Concertos, Robert King's Purcell, Graham Johnson's Schubert Songs, Leslie Howard's Liszt (currently at volume 34). As a marketing concept, it's working - though more by accident than design. Each new release generates interest in earlier releases, each conspires to keep the whole series alive. But at the root of it all is trust. Right now there are Hyperion groupies, Hyperion junkies the world over. In Richmond, Virginia, one Dave Fox has logged the entire Hyperion catalogue on to the Internet: that's colour reproductions of the sleeves, content details, timings, notes, artist profiles, discographies - everything. Another satisfied customer? Idolatry, more like. They're awfully grateful to Dave over at New Eltham.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?