Denis Preston and the Record Supervision story
by Paul Adams, Lake Records
Denis Preston is one of the unsung heroes of the British Traditional Jazz Revival of the 1950s and 1960s.
As a producer, he was responsible for most of the classic records during that time and created two of most significant series of recordings: the Jazz Today Series (Pye) and The Lansdowne Jazz Series (Columbia) as well as a number of hit singles.
He was described by The Gramophone in May 1963 as "an impressario of near-genius". The Sunday Times on 10 June 1962 noted that he combined "considerable technical expertise with business flair and a flamboyant personality."
Denis was one of musics characters. A suave, dapper man, he considered himself something of an intellectual and had more than a touch of arrogance - even referring to himself as St. Denis but this possibly enabled him to make things happen when dealing with the rather staid major record companies at the time.
Deniss background is rather sketchy, but we know that he emerged on the jazz scene in the 1940s and became involved with Max Jones and Albert McCarthy and their pioneering magazine, Jazz Music (originally the official magazine of the Jazz Sociological Society for Students of Hot Music). He also became involved in the BBCs Radio Rhythm Club.
By the early 1950s, he was one of very few independent record producers. There were several independent producers who had started their own labels (e.g. Carlo Krahmer, Esquire), but all the major companies had their own in house producers.
Preston helped to change all that. Having been associated with IBC Studios, he built Lansdowne Studios in West London in 1956, which gave him a base. He surrounded himself with some very talented and innovative recording engineers including the legendary Joe Meek and Adrian Kerridge, the current owner of Lansdowne.
By 1954, Denis had set up Record Supervision Ltd, a production company. The idea was that he would contract the artists, produce a recording and then license it to one of the major companies.
In 1955 he entered into an extended licensing deal with Pye Records and thus created the Pye Nixa Jazz Today series, producing recordings by Chris Barber, Acker Bilk, Alex Welsh, Sandy Brown and Al Fairweather, Terry Lightfoot, Kenny Baker, amongst others. During this time he had also taken over Humphrey Lytteltons recordings for Parlophone.
In 1959 the deal with Pye came to an end and Denis entered into another with EMI for their Columbia label, in turn creating the Lansdowne Jazz Series. To this he brought the artists from the Pye deal and added Ken Colyer (from Decca), Humphrey Lyttelton (from Parlophone) and newer bands riding the crest of the Trad Boom such as Mike Cottons band.
Deniss tastes in jazz, and music in general, were much wider than this rather one-sided look at his career would indicate (in fact, he may well have been rather ambivalent about traditional jazz though he knew a commercial opportunity thing when he saw one!).
He produced albums by modernists such as Joe Harriott, American folk singer, Jack Elliot, guitar specialist, Wout Steenhuis and popular singer, Roger Whittaker. He made albums of flamenco guitar music and, at one time seemed to have cornered the market in West Indian recording artists one of the off-shoots of this being the Grant-Lyttelton Paseo Band.
Denis also master minded Lonnie Donegans early skiffle recordings.
In the middle 1960s, the EMI deal came to an end and eventually the whole catalogue was sold to Philips/Polygram, and then moved on to Universal.
The collection represents most of the major British traditional jazz bands of the era (the only significant artists not to have been part of Denis Prestons stable were Kenny Ball, Bob Wallis and The Clyde Valley Stompers) and represents an enormous slice of British popular music of the time.
Denis Preston died in 1979. Upon his death, the Sunday Times article cited him as "probably the most important figure to emerge from the British jazz business".
Prestons contribution to jazz is celebrated in 2004 with the first ever reissue of the Record Supervision catalogue by Lake Records.
Lake specialises in the reissue of classic albums from the 1950s and 60s as well as recording current working bands. Run by the husband and wife team of Paul & Linda Adams, the label is the UKs leading independent label for trad jazz.
The Lake/Record Supervision reissues commence with five great albums from the Record Supervision catalogue:
HUMPHREY LYTTELTON - I PLAY AS I PLEASE (LAKE LACD189)
CHRIS BARBERS JAZZ BAND - IN BARBERS CHAIR (LAKE LACD185)
MR ACKER BILK & HIS PARAMOUNT JAZZ BAND- ACKER (LAKE LACD186)
THE ARCHIE SEMPLE - ALEX WELSH BIG FOUR - NIGHT PEOPLE (LAKE LACD187)
KEN COLYERS JAZZMEN - This Is The Blues (LAKE LACD188)
Click here for further information and track listing
Issued December 2003 by Singsong Entertainment Publicity
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