Proper Interview: Andy Votel, Finders Keepers

During quarantine our good mate Andy has recorded forthcoming remixes for Tim Burgess, The Lovely Eggs and Paul Weller (alongside Jane Weaver) as well as music for Jane Weaver’s 9th LP (Released on Fire Records). Alongside Andy’s virtual omni-presence on Instagram as @MrAndyVotel, he also has a new IG alter ego showcasing his expansive collection of Polish and Czech matchbox stamps as @VotelMatchStamps and is currently working on new shirt designs for Hikerdelic while simultaneously running out of his Granddad’s old shoe-shop in Marple Bridge. As if the poor bloke wasn’t busy enough we decided to pester him with some questions, see below for his entertaining and informative answers. He’s really raised the bar here has Mr Votel….

Proper: So Andy, how have you been during lockdown mate?

Andy: Thanks for asking, it’s good to talk. Personally, and initially I thought there hadn’t been a great deal of change but slowly morphing into a full-time eight legged monster has come as both a gift and a challenge. I don’t think anyone with a youthful family could have ever imagined what life would be like in a 24/7 quarantine environment. God bless the education system for a start, and also god bless all the 16 year olds who didn’t get a chance to finish school in 2020, unrewarded. I’ve never felt limbo like this before. On a social level we’re currently going through more emotions before midday than I’m used to in a whole non-lockdown month. We’ve learned a lot, so the short answer has to be “good”.

I’ve found that my vinyl collection and a mini coffee frother have managed to keep me relatively sane throughout isolation, are there any items that you’ve found similarly cathartic?

Well, at risk of sounding utterly pretentious I can tell you that painting and poetry have been my crutch and I already know I’m going to regret that sentence. Without being too dramatic I went a bit post-apocalyptic, and returned to my base instincts and skills without relying on technology and industry… and guess what, I survived! I think one of the hardest mental challenges for people has been motivation, most self employed people learn quickly how to survive outside of the matrix, but lockdown has been extra tricky. So I’ve clung to these things for dear life. I think that reconnecting and staying in touch with people from my “starting out” years has helped with this a lot too. Or did you mean booze?  

Which reminds me, what was that interesting looking wine you were quaffing like Marple Bridge’s answer to Bacchus the last time we met up (from a safe distance down the park I might add)?

You did mean booze. I’m not proud of the amount of alcohol I’ve consumed during lockdown, but luckily I’ve not put on any weight (due to my kids eating everything in site) and by drinking decent small-batch beers I’ve managed to evade the hangovers and depression. It would be ideal to not drink at all but best to keep all the mass produced chemicals and preservatives out of your system. You coincidentally caught me on a wine-day didn’t you? I was drinking some natural-wines (or nature-wines) of the orange variety (which means “full skin contact” as kinky as it sounds), it doesn’t come much more hipster, but they said the same about CRAFT beer and to be honest i’m more concerned about hangover dodging than street-cred. My latest rule is to only buy independent natural wine and not buy any wine with a barcode on, but to be honest I don’t think I can afford to seriously pursue this hobby. I recommend stockists Caroline Dubois or Wineboy in Stockport market, they have different angles but infinitely more knowledge than myself.

How has lockdown affected the running of Finders Keepers, have you missed out on a lot of record fairs in far flung locations?

Did you know that there was a huge irreplaceable shortage of vinyl pressing materials following a factory fire early this year? This is one part of the triple pronged assault on the UK vinyl industry at the moment alongside Covid and Brexit. The latter will minimise our ability to sell at global record fairs after January, so we are currently missing our last chance saloon on that front. Our regular vinyl-stag-dos couldn’t last forever lads. Sadly, over the past few months I’ve heard of maybe ten companies who are shutting-up-shop or considering career changes. I think F.K. is lucky because virtually everything we do is in-house so we don’t have costs for artwork, sleeve-notes and compiling etc but it is also hugely important that we are able to diversify outside of the usual realms of a classic “record label”. I’ve been running labels for 25 years now and I really think it’s twice as important for established labels to keep challenging the medium in order to stay relevant and passionate. All these things have allowed us to maintain a strong and supportive audience throughout the quarantine period with vibrant artwork and genuinely handmade products as well as regular radio broadcasts and mix-tape sharing. As you know Neil, we lost our close friend and FK Radio honcho Pete Mitchell just before lockdown, which was very difficult, but this has most certainly inspired me to push the medium twice as hard.  I also think social media has redeemed itself during this period, it found a genuine purpose, it would be stupid not to take advantage of this platform during this time… the global Finders Keepers community has never been so in-touch.    

There’s always some exciting stuff coming through the label can you talk us through some of of your latest finds/releases?

Thanks. As for reasons just discussed, we’ve had to be very careful which horses to back in this period. We have had to work closely with our trusted FK family who have all had a chance to dig deeper into their personal vaults in recent months. As the consistent custodians of Suzanne Ciani’s archive we are really happy to liberate an historic unreleased LP from her archive based on electronic music for pioneering Alaskan mountaineering expeditions from the early 1970’s. The music combines both sides of Suzanne’s disciplines as a modular synth pioneer and concerto pianist with a sound that comes closer to Eno and Tangerine Dream with a much needed feminine approach. We are also releasing Ciani’s sound effects to the Xenon pinball game on a 7″ single which is another way in which we are challenging the format. 

We also have two projects that coincidentally follow our Tove Jansson / Moomin discography. The first is a previously unreleased holy-grail recording of French Spiritual/ Free Jazz from the late 1960’s based on Lewis Carroll’s absurdist Hunting Of The Snark story, the personnel reads like a who’s-who of French Jazz  headed up by our good friend Francois Tusques and packaged in original embossed drawings by Tove Jansson from the 1950’s. The second is some very avant garde theatre music from a seminal post apocalyptic 1984 play called The Carrier Frequency which was devised by the two bedroom musicians who made the 1983 fuzzy-felt themes to The Moomins (which we released a few years ago). There are also some developments at Twisted Nerve Records concerning unreleased music from the earliest period alongside some ongoing Gruff Rhys collaborations.

I recently picked up the Martin Hannett release you did, which I have to say is a truly incredible piece of music, how did you come about this recording and what’s the story?

I think people, especially Mancunians, are very quick to call Martin a “genius” solely based on his hits with Joy Division (and his fabled tales of excess) without even bothering to scrape the surface of his own music. Hopefully the record you just picked up tells a different story. I think Martin’s work for lesser known artists on Rabid Records and his soundscapes made for John-Cooper Clarke are a good place to start if trying to dig a bit deeper and this early music made for a sci-fi animation short shows exactly how versatile he was. I’ve always maintained that the  Manchester music industry has always, and quite typically, celebrated the bands that shout loud enough which leaves many mild-mannered creative types lurking in the shadows. As a result Its naturally a great haven for unreleased recordings from its many small studio and domestic recording units which is why Finders Keepers have enjoyed liberating recordings by Steve Hopkins and people like John Scott who spearheaded 48 Chair and Gerry And The Holograms (a record that many regard as the BLUEprint for New Order’s biggest hit). 

Speaking of Hannett, as a fellow Stopfordian does it really annoy you that there hasn’t been a feature length documentary about Strawberry Studios? Cause I’ll be honest, it really gets my dander up! I actually pitched an idea to the BBC about 6 years ago but they sacked it off because it’s not a recording studio any more.

Well that’s the problem with a scene that celebrates itself. You could be fooled that Manchester only ever produced Oasis, Joy Division and The Smiths because those bands literally bulldoze to the front of the public vista. But within the fabric of Strawberry you have hundreds of smaller bands that create the foundation for the whole of the NorthWest music scene and beyond. The fact that huge samples on records by J Dilla, Big Daddy Kane and Ultramagnetic MC’s sat alongside electronic soundtracks for award winning American animations (like Billy Crystal and Harry Shearer’s Animalympics) while Neil Sedaka and potential Grace Jones demo tapes propped up the wonky desk proves that Strawberry tells a story that transcends obnoxious Mancy pop in less than a sentence. Finders Keepers Records released a compilation called Man Chest Hair which tells a small part of the story… and probably adds to the problem.  

The Hour of Bewilderbeast has celebrated its 20th anniversary this year and still sounds phenomenal, what are your memories of making this musical landmark?

I have a very good memory in both senses of the word. But as much as I know all the album tracks inside-out one thing that I realise now is that I’ve hardly ever, perhaps never, sat down and listened to it from start to finish after it was first compiled. I could never sit still for more than 20 minutes. So in some ways my relationship with the album is already lesser than all the people who have enjoyed it on regular repeat since it was made. I “attended” an episode of Tim Burgess’s Twitter Listening party a few weeks ago and it all came flooding back so quickly and I was very happily surprised with how genuinely experimental much of the LP was. I really hope that one day Damon will make an album which combines all those experimental elements, possibly an instrumental album on a very small budget. The lack of resources was what made us all genuinely experimental at the time, we almost didn’t notice, or care, that the 29 year old Damon was an incredible songwriter we were too busy trying to cram the best ever mix-tape into one hour in fear that we only had one chance before we all got sacked and told to get real jobs. I’m still doing the same thing today. 

Given your DEEP musical knowledge and the fact that the maestro Ennio Morricone has just passed away, can you recommend any of his work that we might not be quite as aware of as his bigger Hollywood scores?

There’s a trick with Morricone. It’s easy to go to a charity shop and buy a Morricone record or compilation and be utterly underwhelmed. But it’s usually the second time that he gets you. Firstly you have to leave your comfort zone, because Morricone is uncomfortable at his best. He was the greatest soundtrack composer, and soundtracks are supposed to be a bumpy ride, so Morricone wasn’t here to make chill-out music, in fact quite the opposite. The reason I’m telling you this is because I don’t want to say “Avoid all else and head straight for the Italian slasher films” but to be honest that’s the quickest and best advice… and you need to be prepared to have a bunch of gratuitously gory record sleeves propped up in your lounge before you find that one track of ASTONISHING BEAUTY or incredible angular freak-funk sandwiched in between relentless discordant strings of tension. Morricone was a workaholic, probably quite lonely, who rarely turned any jobs down but would work cheap in exchange for creative freedom, which is why his best work is on low budget horror films such as Vergogna Schifosi and Lizard In A Womans Skin which are my two favourites. My wife Jane Weaver performed the latter with an orchestra at Festival Number Six a few years ago.

If they made ‘Andy Votel’ the movie, which songs would have to be on the soundtrack?

Ha ha. Genuinely I’d love to see the first side of Salon de Musique by Su Tissue (from Suburban Lawns) played against a Stockport backdrop, but I can’t even find a copy for myself. So I’ll just take Nautilus by Bob James please, I’ve been listening to it my entire life and never ever once got bored, and I’ll be surprised if my biopic lasts longer than the 5minutes and 8 seconds running time. Oh, and it suits the Mancunian weather too.

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