An enthusiasm for sounds lost, unknown, ignored or brain-meltingly weird is the principle behind Finders Keepers, the reissue label Andy Votel founded in 2005 with Doug Shipton. A mainstay of Manchester’s music scene, Votel made his name as an electronic musician, respected DJ and the man behind the Twisted Nerve label, which first brought Badly Drawn Boy to the public’s ears. Votel is a long-term enthusiastic crate-digger and his early love of hip-hop taught him to be interested in — and to buy — records wherever they came from, irrespective of the strictures of “youth culture.”
Finders Keepers is a horizon-broadening enterprise, the success of which relies not only on the interests of a curious record-buying public, but also on the passion, in-depth knowledge and deep love of its curators. The catalogue ranges far and wide — from Welsh folk music and ’70s horror-film scores to ’60s Turkish psych-punk and “Lollywood” (from Lahore, Pakistan) movie soundtracks. “Making global sound local” is the label’s motto, and Finders Keepers, which Votel describes as “pretty much genre-less” is supported in its aim by various sibling labels, each with their own focus: the on-going Twisted Nerve (contemporary releases only), Bird (music by female artists), Cache Cache (punk, new wave, ’80s electronic music), Battered Ornaments (Shipton’s own label) and a new imprint called Cacophonic (jazz — “but it’s almost like a noise label”). Votel is clearly committed to pressing forward — however much time he necessarily spends looking back.
Sharon O’Connell spoke with Andy Votel about running a true label of love.
What was the initial spur to launching Finders Keepers?
Working within the mainstream music industry got me down. It became very stringent. A lot of the records we put out on FK are 35-40 years past their sell-by date, so a desperate, four-week promotional campaign is not going to make any difference to sales. Most of the artists on FK now are — and I mean this in the most positive way possible — failed pop musicians, whether for political reasons, through a miscarriage of justice, the failure of the music industry or because they were ahead of their time, so you’re already creating a new music industry. When we set up FK, that’s exactly what it was. It was starting anew, so there was pretty much no rulebook. It was very, very refreshing.
What does the FK motto, “Making global sound local,” mean?
It’s making old records feel young, I suppose. These records were so ahead of their time that they’ve not dated, even after 40 years or so. They were never middle-of-the-road, so they still feel as fresh as the day they were created. It’s virtually impossible to be really experimental nowadays, because everybody knows you can make any sound you could possibly want, no problem. So it’s hard to experiment without restrictions. A lot of the records we’re releasing now are from the ’70s or ’80s, which was the heyday of experimental pop music.
Does a lot of the archive work you do involve playing detective?
For me, the most exciting thing about it all is meeting these artists and going round to their houses, spending time with them and meeting their families; the records are just the by product. But two things are insulting from the outset: one is when people say, “What are these weird records?” A lot of the time, they only think they’re weird because they’re sung in a foreign language, so that’s…almost racist. The other is people think that these records are from primitive industries, so you get a lot of bootlegging by various companies. And you can’t think like that. Everything that we do is on a very human level, and a lot of it is personal hero worship. Luckily, because I’d been working with Twisted Nerve when the internet was still in its infancy, I was able to contact people quite quickly and find a lot of my heroes. The question was what do you do from that point? So, we decided to reissue old records together.
What’s coming up next for FK?
Recently, I’ve been working with a tape engineer from Manchester called Andy Popplewell. He worked for the BBC for a short time, and has been baking [restoring] tapes for people in Manchester and London and all over the world, for a very long time. But it seems like I’m the only person to ever have asked him if he made music himself — and it turns out he did. He built his own synthesizer when he was 17. He has this unreleased album, TRASE and it’s the best thing I’ve heard in about five years. It’s amazing.
Andy Votel Shares Treasures from the Finders Keepers Trove
Orchestral, psych-rock concept album by Gainsbourg's right-hand man, and FK's first release.
When we set up Finders Keepers, I'd already had this record for about four years. There was a rumour going around that there was a sequel to Histoire de Melody Nelson by Serge Gainsbourg, who I'm a big fan of, but it soon became evident that I was more a fan of his arranger, Jean-Claude Vannier, as most of the stuff I like was between 1968-73 — their years together. Nobody could find this album because there's nothing written on the sleeve — no title or name — but after years and years, I just found a copy in a shop. Everybody in France put me off speaking to Vannier — they told me he was arrogant and that he couldn't speak English — but it was like they were protecting him, really. When I finally met him I discovered he was a polite, encouraging and influential man who has since become a good friend — and he can speak English better than I can. No one dared release this record in France, but I just thought, it has to be out there.
Spare and timeless, finger-picked folk-blues from John Renbourn-approved singer-songwriter.
One of the key attractions of music for me is its femininity and sadly, you don't get that much in Manchester. All I ever talk to Emma about is Italian horror films, because she's Italian. I never talk to her about music, because I'm really not qualified; she's almost like a genius. Jane [Weaver, recording artist and Votel's wife] and I saw her at the Green Man Festival in 2006 and couldn't believe how brilliant she was, but you could put her up a tree and she'd be amazing. Emma could have existed 300 years ago and she could exist in 300 years time. What she does is 100 per cent honest.
Polish composer's previously unreleased, experi-chestral OST for the 1981 horror classic.
Korzynski was a mainstay in my record collection for years, but I didn't know anything about him. It's hard to find out about anything Polish, really, but I've been collecting Polish records since I was about 18, when I went to there on an art-school trip. Soundtracks were never released as records in their own right in Poland, and as Korzynski was primarily a soundtrack artist, he wasn't a household name. But he did go to Paris in the late '60s and that explains everything about Korzynski's sound — people always say he's like the Polish Jean-Claude Vannier.
Debut Anatolian folk/psych-rock album from acclaimed Turkish singer/ songwriter and musician.
Selda's a folk heroine, but super-militant; she'll wear Gucci sunglasses and a Fendi handbag, with a parka and a bullet-belt. I discovered Turkish music when I was in Germany and there was a really heavy, fuzz guitar sound on this record that blew my mind. Then I realized it was actually a saz, put through a fuzz pedal. People say The Beatles are the most influential band in the world, but they're not. The Shadows are, because they're instrumental, so language isn't an issue. That's how the Andalou rock scene started and Selda was one of its earliest female musicians. She has this incredible voice, full of pain that's just unrivaled.
Compilation of hirsute and avowedly male '70s rock from the Mancunian underground.
Manchester has got a habit of approaching music with its elbows out, pushing to the front of the queue; it's very male-oriented. But the stuff that didn't force its way to the front got forgotten. It sickens me that people think music in Manchester just went straight from The Hollies to The Smiths, like the '70s didn't exist. In the '60s when all the clubs in the city centre got shut down, the music went to satellite towns like Bolton and Stockport. There was a German record I'd been after for years and years, and then I found out the band were from Stockport and that blew my mind.