Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Legendary labels: Fruits De Mer - Interview with Andy Bracken

They say small is beautiful and that’s certainly true of Fruits De Mer records. Co-run by Andy Bracken and Keith Jones the label has released only eight 7” singles since its inception in 1715 (at least that’s what their website says) yet their sheer quality control in both musical content and in packaging is second to none.

Specialising in the sort of acid folk and psych rock which are so in vogue right now they specialise in limited edition EPs of cover versions and have recorded artists as diverse as ‘lost’ folk troubadour Mark Fry and Cranium Pie (who have featured heavily on the critically acclaimed Monsterous Psychadelic Bubble compilations by Amorphous Androgynous). Artists covered include the Small Faces, Pink Floyd and (somewhat bizarrely) Mark Fry covering himself. The combination creates genuinely forward thinking versions that build on the original compositions. Furthermore, each volume comes with special inserts including posters and free gifts and each is pressed on beautiful coloured vinyl. Too good to be true? I caught up with Andy to find out more...

Why did you set Fruits de Mer up?

Andy Bracken - I was already running a label (Bracken Records), which focuses on original material by new artists. I’d known Keith for a decade or more, and, over many pints of bitter, we’d discussed the notion of starting a joint label for a while. But we wanted an angle. The initial idea was to re-release obscure 60s and early 70s stuff on vinyl, but it became clear the copyright owners of that material were never going to let us gain access to source material. So, I came up with the concept of getting contemporary bands to cover some of our favourite tracks. Keith grasped the potential, and a monster was born…and Keith’s missus, Liz, chose the name, because it’s her favourite dish (she loves a winkle or two…).

You have an eclectic approach – covering all styles from psych to folk to kraut – what is your label philosophy and how do you decide what to put out?

Andy Bracken - Yeah, I suppose we do. It comes about via the dynamic involved – ideas bounced around between Keith, the band and myself. Keith and I have a meeting of minds and tastes on psych stuff, really, and Kraut (anything on the Green Brain label gets us salivating). But beyond that, Keith is more the Prog side, and I’m more folk.

Take the US & THEM EP we’ve just done: the band suggested ‘Julia Dream’, and Keith loves his post-Syd Floyd. I recalled reading how Roger Waters had ‘borrowed’ the melody for ‘Julia Dream’ from the traditional lullaby ‘All The Pretty Little Horses’, so suggested the two tracks could be merged. Thankfully, Us & Them like the fuzzy-felt nursery-rhyme angle on records, so the concept was born…and they nailed it – a really beautiful record, that one. The point is - it was the dynamic that made it possible, if that makes sense. Kind of like that thing about ‘the whole being greater than the sum of its parts’.

The philosophy, I suppose, is to cover tracks from the era 66-73, but identify potential between the artist and the track. There’s no sense in banging out a reverential cover – it has to bring something to the party. Thus, the song has to be malleable, and the band has to be somewhat visionary. No real restrictions, though – who knows, maybe we’ll cover some old Blues stuff, or some obscure rockabilly tracks in the future…I’d like to.

Your packaging is always excellent – is that something you like to focus on?

Andy Bracken - Ha! Thank you. It simply came about because we had no budget for artwork. That always forces you to be creative. And we like to slip extra stuff in, such as posters and daft inserts and whathavya – anything we can get for next to nothing, seems to be the philosophy. The magic fish in Volume 3 were down to Jonesy – genius, that was!
We get help on design where we can – if a member of the band has an artistic thing, we encourage them to use it, and, if not, I pull something together. The artwork is the thing I worry about the most, so it’s nice to hear that. I do the labels most of the time, as well.

You focus heavily on cover versions – is this simply because they are songs the artists love or is it to create an entry point for artists other material?

Andy Bracken - Yep, that’s the idea behind the label. It was a bit nerve-racking at first. We’re like everyone else out there, and it’s almost sacrilegious to try to cover Nick Drake, for example. The only reason I let that track (Day Is Done) be done was because it was Alison O’Donnell (Mellow Candle), who was on the scene at the same time as Drake, and similarly struggled to find the recognition she deserved back then. It almost seemed kind of apt, in the end.

And yes, the hope is that customers might delve into the bands on the back of the covers they do for us. Also, I’ve noticed we have a healthy group of younger customers, who it would be nice to think are discovering exciting music from the past via these more contemporary bands.

What’s next for Fruits de Mer?

Andy Bracken - More releases, and we’re stepping up to albums soon, with some concept to them. Always vinyl. Always coloured. And I’m determined not to let things get out of hand. We’re getting bigger and bigger with every release, and have pretty much sold out of everything, but finding a balance between popular, and keeping it like a club or family, is paramount. We have some wonderful customers, and I’d hate to lose that interaction with them. You know, we’re not in this for money, quite frankly, and as long as we just about recover cost, we’re happy to carry on. Hope you’ll continue joining us on our merry trip…

So that’s it – except to say – if you want to check the label out, they have a great website at

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