Tony Kostrzewa: Founder of Red Rhino Records
Friday 09 May 2008
The post-punk scene of the late Seventies saw an explosion of independent labels linked to record shops. Beggars Banquet, Rough Trade and Small Wonder all started as backroom operations in London stores and respectively launched Tubeway Army, Stiff Little Fingers and The Cure.
Just as significant was Red Rhino Records which grew out of the shop started by Tony Kostrzewa in York in June 1977 and helped put groups such as Pulp, Chumbawamba, the Wedding Present and the Shamen on the John Peel show and on the map in the Eighties. Known as "Tony K", Kostrzewa always had his finger on the pulse and introduced me to many a new band when I used to visit his shop in the late Seventies to pick up the latest releases.
It therefore came as no surprise to see Kostrzewa branch out with his own label and distribution company in 1979. The second release on Red Rhino, "Spiderman" by Akrylykz, a ska revival band from Hull, made enough of an impact for its singer, Roland Gift, to be spotted by Andy Cox and David Steele of the Beat, who subsequently recruited him to form Fine Young Cannibals in 1983. Red Rhino played an important role in the emergence of both the goth and the industrial music genres, as Kostrzewa nurtured groups such as Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, Skeletal Family and the Belgian outfit Front 242, as well as distributing records by Sisters of Mercy and the March Violets.
Red Rhino Distribution Ltd scored an unlikely hit with the Sunderland cartoon punks Toy Dolls, whose version of "Nellie the Elephant" sold half a million copies in December 1984. Red Rhino became an essential part of the network of British independents then known as "The Cartel" and issued over 125 singles and albums of its own before going into voluntary liquidation in 1989.
Born in 1949, in Bradford, Julian Anthony Kostrzewa was the eldest of four children born to a Polish father and a Yorkshire mother. His father's origins meant that Tony's attempt to join the RAF in 1966 was given short shrift by government officials. By then, he had become a smartly turned-out mod obsessed with soul music, Tamla Motown in particular. He spent nine months as a trainee bank manager, but realised this wasn't the right career choice for him and moved to London where he had a succession of accounting and shipping jobs, including a junior role in shipping London Bridge to Arizona when it was purchased by an American entrepreneur in 1968.
For a time, he helped Chris Panayiotou and Chris Carter (later a member of Throbbing Gristle) run the psychedelic light-show Orpheus Lites. In 1973, he moved to Norwich, as his girlfriend Gerri (who later became his wife) was studying at the University of East Anglia, and struck up a friendship with Robin Watson, who ran Robin's Records in the city.
Inspired by Watson, Kostrzewa set up Red Rhino Records in York. Originally located in Gillygate, the small shop, crammed with albums and singles and decorated with posters and sleeves from floor to ceiling, became a favourite haunt of students and budding local musicians. Kostrzewa welcomed everyone with a smile and always had a new record to enthuse about. The shop eventually relocated to bigger premises in Goodramgate, with the later addition of a warehouse in Eldon Street, where the distribution operation was located.
The broadcaster Marc Riley, who was then fronting the Creepers, remembers. "Red Rhino was a brilliant place to be. The warehouse was full of enthusiastic kids bouncing around, with records everywhere and bands industriously putting records in sleeves."
Kostrzewa was also the business manager of The Catalogue, Europe's first independent monthly music magazine. After the record shop closed in 1992, he and his family moved to Leeds, where he was a manager for Laser Quest, a laser tag-game business. In 2004, he started 10 X Better Music, a promotion, marketing and management company and in 2000, with his friend Richard Watson, launched the company Illustrious Creative Education.
Julian Anthony Kostrzewa, record label and shop owner: born Bradford, Yorkshire 18 October 1949; married 1977 Gerri Palmer (one son, one daughter); died Leeds 1 May 2008.
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