Martina Cole - Woke up this morning, launched my own record label
Inspired by her love of the Sopranos theme tune, and the band who recorded it, the crime writer Martina Cole has gone into the music business. She explains how she came to back Alabama 3, and what she plans for her new company
Friday 07 May 2010
Music is a hard thing to express a meaning for, but I'm with Nietzsche when he said that, "without music life would be a mistake". And if it is also the "food of love", put me down as one hell of a greedy girl. It is the only explanation.
Last time they released an album, I was a fan of the dance-blues fusion outfit Alabama 3. Now, I am an investor. They are about to release their new album, Revolver Soul, on the label I have founded, Hostage Music. This is the story of why.
Throughout my life I have always had a soundtrack raging in my head. When I look through my record collection it's almost a diary of me and mine. So much music, so many memories; all precious and there at the flick of a switch. In terms of taste, I am broad-minded and inclusive, though drawn to those prepared to experiment with their ideas and influences. In terms of a tribute, it's the antithesis of the cover version; not just that you can do what they did, but that you can use it to a greater good Alabama 3 are one of my favourite bands. I love their music, I love the fact that they combine so many influences within a party paradigm. Lots of British artists who claim country or blues as an influence do so with a maudlin overtone – there's always heartache on every corner and teardrops all over town. But the Alabamas fuse the emotional punch of country with the vitality of dance music, and that's a winning combination where I come from.
I had come across their acid-house-country fusion when their song "Woke Up This Morning" was the theme to the TV series The Sopranos. It is one of my favourites. I was, and still am, a Godfather girl. Mario Puzo was a genius. I love stories influenced by real-life crime – especially crime families – as much as fiction. So I was instantly addicted to a series that took a new look at the Mafia. The Sopranos was legendary television. It was a series that instantly drew you in to an ingenious and authentic world. I think that the theme song had a lot to do with setting that tone and putting the viewer at the heart of that world with its symbolic refrain, "Woke up this morning, got myself a gun". I am all or nothing so, typically, I woke up the next morning and bought all of their records at once. I have been an avid fan ever since.
When I wrote The Take in 2005, I listened to a lot of music. I write at night generally. I have two children with 20 years between them, and so my writing time has always been when the kids have gone to bed and I can concentrate and let my imagination run. Music has always stimulated my imagination and I use it to help me relax when I have a break. When I wrote The Take I must have listened to everything from David Bowie to Shabba Ranks and back. And yet I found that Alabama 3 were at the top of the list. I found that their influence would not leave me alone.
Soundtrack is key when you are making TV and film drama. When I set up my production company Queens, I bonded with my business partner over a mutual love of music. Last year, when The Take was adapted as a TV series for Sky1, we were discussing the music for the series. I stressed how important the soundtrack would be, and that it should be true to the book. When we discussed the theme I said I wanted something like The Sopranos, a riff that would permeate the whole narrative and be synonymous with the story and instantly denote the characters in the public's imagination. Of course, Alabama 3 were at the top of my list.
I had just made a series about female serial killers for ITV and we had used their track Too Sick to Pray as the theme tune. Thanks to the efforts of the producer of that series and my publicist we were brought together. It was at the Camden Roundhouse when they played a brilliant acoustic gig. Needless to say I was a bit nervous at first – you know what they say about meeting heroes – but we hit it off instantly and we had a great night of music, laughter and revelry. We kept in touch and they played at the press launch for my book The Business. They rocked the room. I bonded easily with lead singer Larry Love and we started discussing ideas for tracks and soundtracks and all sorts. So when they invited me to get involved in their new album, Revolver Soul, it felt like the most natural thing in the world, a natural progression of our friendship.
Hostage Music is more a joint initiative than an investment. Lots of people have asked why I wanted a record label. For me it was a simple case of, "why would I not?" I love music and here is a band that is at the vanguard of the new and distinctive. The very thought of being part of it thrills and excites me and I trust my instincts.
Revolver Soul is the first release on the label. It is a remarkable album with guest appearances from Razorlight's Johnny Borrell, and Shane McGowan, and we have high hopes for it. "She Blessed Me" is a phenomenal tune; it's what they used to call a radio hit, the kind that you instantly can't get out of your head, to paraphrase Kylie. Yet, like most great albums, the single is merely scratching the surface. It's one song of 14 and there's something for everyone. Fans will be able to see for themselves when they hit the road this month. In the live setting they are more of an experience than a band.
People have asked me why I wanted to invest in the music business. You can see their logic, because it's hardly been the best of going concerns. But that is a product of who's involved, and every era brings a new generation of people who will contribute and change any industry and to be involved in that is exciting. I think you do what you're drawn to. Hell, I do anyway. I love music, so why wouldn't I take an opportunity to get involved? I've dabbled before with friends in bands and with people who wanted to get demos made and so it's a natural progression for me. I was a punk teenager so the DIY ethos has always worked for me: our methods will be through empowerment of people with a vision of what they want to achieve. We will facilitate rather than take them over.
In getting your own hands dirty, you help to stop great ideas from being diluted or dumbed down and for the odd, quirky, new and different to thrive on their own energy. It's sad how often people always think that there is only one way of doing things – just because someone had success this way or that way, then it becomes the accepted only way of doing it. I have never thought like that, and never will.
We have no intention for the label to begin and end with Revolver Soul. But neither do we have a prescriptive idea of what we are looking for. What we share at Hostage Music is an open mind. When it comes to music our church will be extremely broad. We'll be looking for the truly new and distinctive as well as those that the corporate labels would not necessarily get or take a risk on. We won't be that prescriptive because we won't know what's on until we hear it, which is also the beauty of it. It's exploratory and exciting, like explorers in a musical wilderness. We also like the collective approach, so its not just performers that we'll be interested in. We'd like to hear from songwriters, musicians, and producers are all welcome too.
I think that the most important thing that our people will need is passion. We're investing ours, so the minimum requirement will be for them to bring theirs to us and let us help them to make a difference. This difference will be key. Indifference is useless.
People always bring Simon Cowell up when they ask me about my involvement in music. But I am not setting out to be anyone other than myself. In fact, it's more interesting to me that they only mention this one name out of a million managers and moguls out there. No one seems to mention that there have been many women involved in the music business before.
I can say only that I will be doing it my way, for better or for worse, and can only promise to do my best on behalf of my label, my business colleagues and, most importantly, my artistes. The world of music is massive and there is room for everyone. Simon Cowell will be doing what he does while I do what I do. And the results will be very different.
Revolver Soul is out now. Alabama 3's tour ends on 16 May
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