MILESAGO - Industry
Larrikin Records was established by musician and music historian Warren Fahey
in 1974. Folkways Music, Warren's famous retail outlet, had been established
the year before. Both were small 'cottage' ventures sharing a small Paddington
shop front at 38a Oxford Street. It was never intended that the label would
develop into a large business and the first release of Australian mining songs
‘Man of the Earth’ (Larrikin LRF001) probably set the label’s fate.
Fahey ran the label, and its offshoot labels Rissole, Jarrah Hill and Green,
for twenty-two years until selling the company to Festival
Records in 1995.
Essentially the label was funded by Folkways, which had a daily cash-flow. In retrospect Fahey admits he should never released many of the albums released on the labels but "became consumed with the project and the need to issue Australian music when no one else appeared to care". Financially maintaining the label was always a struggle and this eventually spurred the desire to sell.
The two businesses moved from the original small two-room shop to a larger premises a block away at 82 Oxford Street. This was a three level building and provided room for the third area of the business which was the distribution of imported labels like Rounder, Folkways USA, Topic, Shanachie etc. The businesses moved a third and final time when premises in the main area of Paddington became available in the early 1980s ay 282 Oxford Street, where the retail store still operates.
Fahey saw Larrikin as a ‘small label for interesting music’ but it continued to pump out a flow of releases. The first few releases are a good indication of its eclecticism, although Warren ironically notes that it also indicates that the label was not headed for financial glory!
The label went on to release nearly 500 albums, mostly Australian, and the catalogue included releases by Eric Bogle, The Bushwackers, Phyl Lobl, Chris Duffy, Margret RoadKnight, Jeannie Lewis, Frances Paterson, John Kane, Danny Spooner, Gordon McIntyre, John Morris, Clem Parkinson, Lyell Sayer, John Dengate, Robyn Archer, Bernard Bolan, Redgum, Mike & Michelle Jackson, Mulga Bill and Mucky Duck.
There was also a jazz archive label which released music by Bob Sedergreen, Marie Wilson, Kerrie Biddell, Brian Brown, Serge Ermoll, Bruce Cale, and many others. Country music was an active part of the catalogue and an early collaboration with country historian Eric Watson saw over 25 albums of historic country released including the double ‘Country Music in Australia’ and ‘Country Radio Request’ series. There were also classical releases from Capelli Corelli, Flederman and others.
Eric Bogle, Sirocco, Mike Jackson, Kev Carmody, Flying Emus, Robyn Archer and Redgum were among the most successful releases for the label and, in many ways, their success paid for the ‘miserable but glorious failures’ like the field recordings of Sally Sloan and the many Indigenous releases.
Green Records was the rock label formed in partnership with Roger Grierson (now head of Festival Mushroom) and journalist Stuart Coupe (now head of Laughing Outlaw Records). Green issued some classic Australian independent 80s rock including Tactics, The Saints, Spy vs Spy, Naughty Rhythms, and Do Re Mi. The partnership was dissolved, says Warren " when we realised that rock needed more money than we had".
The Larrikin label was distributed by small distributors, starting with Missing Link, then M7, then Crest, but all three went out of business owing Larrikin considerable sums of money. After these disasters Fahey did a label deal with EMI, where he had originally produced three early LPs (Wild Colonial Boys and two recordings of his own Larrikins group). This was a successful relationship for three years, when EMI had a change of management.
Fahey then decided to handle his own distribution and from this point Larrikin grew at a fast rate. They picked up several important international labels, earned a reputation for paying their accounts and had endured to see a growing interest in Australian music. An approach to Virgin gave Larrikin distribution of their specialist labels, including Peter Gabriel’s RealWorld, a relationship that eventually lasted over a decade, including Virgin’s sale to EMI. The largest selling album was Michael Nyman’s hugely popular soundtrack to The Piano, of which Larrikin sold over 120,000 copies in two years.
In 1993 Fahey sold Folkways to its present owners, and in 1995, Larrikin to Festival. The label overheads had started to threaten the viability of the company and, besides, Fahey needed new challenges. Unfortunately the new owners have not reissued the label and its archive (like so much other Australian material) now languishes in the FMR vault, awaiting re-discovery.
Larrikin had an important influence on Australia’s musical landscape. Its idiosyncratic stance enabled the release of many artsists and genres that would never had normally been released – Australian bird song, indigenous traditional and contemporary music, bush sounds, folk songs, field recordings, vintage jazz, blues and, of course, a massive catalogue of singer-songwriters. There were many other Australian labels who used Larrikin for distribution and marketing – Move, Candle, Grevillea, AIAIS, Eureka, Walsingham, Score etc.
Reflecting on its history, Fahey now says that has never regretted a day of Larrikin but would never do it again.
Adapted from the label history at warrenfahey.com, with sincere thanks to
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|REFERENCES / LINKS|
Warren Fahey, AM