It may be a long way to Tipperary, but it's nearly as far to Cockenzie - when you're starting from Tasmania that is. But how could I visit Scotland and not call in at the offices of that great Scottish folk institution - Greentrax Recordings in Cockenzie, near Edinburgh?
Music has the power to create its own mystique, and for years there's been an aura around the name "Greentrax" because of the consistently wonderful Scottish music that has poured out on that label. Think of groups like Ceolbeg, Shooglenifty, Ossian or Deaf Shepherd; or artists such as Dick Gaughan, Jean Redpath, Brian McNeill or Jennifer and Hazel Wrigley. It's a roster of young and old; traditional and progressive; hard-hitting and mellow, that exemplifies much of what is right with the Scottish folk scene at the moment.
Of course that scene wasn't always so healthy. And that's where the early retirement of a Scottish cop comes into the story. Ian D. Green was that policeman - a police Inspector actually - and a Scot who loved his pipes. He lamented the poor availability of pipe band recordings in his own country. In these days of business plans, fiscal projections and tightening bottom lines, that mightn't seem sufficient reason to start your own record company, but back in 1986 it was good enough for Ian Green.
Thankfully passion and enthusiasm count for something in the music industry, and Ian Green has those by the spade-full. What began as a garage-based family business, with Ian's wife June and son Andrew helping out, has grown into a thriving small business. Having out-grown the garage, they took over an old school house in Cockenzie, on the outskirts of Edinburgh.
Apart from clocking up good sales and expanding their artist roster, the people at Greentrax were obviously doing a few other things right. For instance they became involved in various ventures aimed at enlivening the traditional Scottish music scene, including "The Nineties Collection" (a competition to find new Scottish tunes) and the more contemporary "Songhunter" (a similar competition in search of Scottish songs). Between 1995 and 1999, Greentrax released three CDs as a result of these competitions.
When in 1997 they were awarded a Business Achievement Award for the "high standard of product, good business practices and export achievements", it wouldn't have surprised anyone in the business. Nor is it surprising that they are consistently voted Scotland's favourite record label. Their recent venture into alternative music - via the G2 label - has added impetus to their growing reputation.
We arrive in Cockenzie to find the open-plan office abuzz with activity. Phones are ringing, orders being taken and despatches being prepared. We've known each other only via email, but the Greentrax team is more than happy to pause and chat with strangers from far away. I persuade Ian, Andrew and Brenda McCulloch, their admin. and promotions person, to pose for a photograph in front of the office wall, which is lined with some of the nearly 200 different recordings that have come out on the label.
As we continue chatting, it becomes clear that the recording artists are more than mere numbers to this company. Ian speaks of the artists as though they are his friends … no, more like his family. He is proud of the achievements of one; concerned for the health of another; glad to see a third is getting on well even though they have changed record companies. For all the rip-off stories you hear about in the music industry, Greentrax seems to stand out as a genuine exception. See how many times Ian Green is acknowledged on non-Greentrax folk CDs and you get some measure of the respect he has earned in the industry.
Several days and hundreds of kilometres later we are in Portree, a delightful port town on the Isle of Skye. Somehow (!) I find myself in Blair Douglas' record store, checking out some of the local music when who should turn up but Andrew Green. He greets us like long-lost friends, though we'd only met for an hour or so more than a week before. Andrew is out pounding the beat for Greentrax - selling a product he obviously takes great pride in. Skye is a stronghold of traditional music, and you get the feeling that for Greentrax servicing such places has as much to do with keeping the tradition alive as it does with assuring sales.
When we finally return Down Under, I am surprised and delighted to receive an email from Brenda McCulloch of Greentrax thanking us for our visit. They seem as delighted as we to have finally put some faces to names. It's the kind of personal touch that gives you the feeling that Scottish folk is in good hands as long as the good people of Greentrax stay on the scene. Well done Greentrax - "lang may yer lum reek!"
Peter Grant, Hobart, Tasmania, AustraliaFurther infos/contact: Greentrax homepage e-mail Brenda @ Greentrax.
Photo Credit: all photographs by Peter Grant:
(1) The old Cockenzie Schoolhouse, home of Greentrax Recordings
(2) Ian, Andrew and Brenda in front of the Greentrax "Wall of Sound"
(3) Edinburgh, Scotland's beautiful capital
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