Hard News by Russell Brown


Flying Again

It was in a tiny brief in the music pages that the Sunday Star Times' Mike Alexander first reported big changes at New Zealand's most famous record label, Flying Nun. You may recall that in late 2009, its founder, Roger Shepherd, bought back the label from Warner Music, where it had been rotting in the basement.

Hopes were high, then. They haven't entirely been validated since. Although Flying Nun delivered the Bats' marvellous Free All The Monsters last year and Bruce Russell's grand, surprising Time To Go archive compilation this year, it was hard to to tell what was happening with new A&R, which was supposed to be a part of the plan.

In June, Simon Sweetman wrote a Stuff blog post which a sub unhelpfully headlined Flying Nun Records: has it disappeared - again? He wrote that he felt "conned" by the label's failure to deliver, declared "It's about to come crashing down, I reckon," and asked his readers whether "you think it's been an unrealistic dream and it's time to wrap it up?"

It seemed to be that if you're reporting someone's imminent demise in those terms, you have some responsibility to pick up the phone and call the victim. I said so in a comment on the blog, which I gather became part of a tiresome furore that spilled over onto Facebook (Gary Steel, why do you hate me so?).

But if Sweetman was remiss, he was right that things weren't going especially well. Die! Die! Die!, who apparently signed to Flying Nun and then departed were polite when interviewed by The Corner, but had clearly decided they'd be better off releasing their album themselves.

Meanwhile, in Auckland, Arch Hill Records operated a roster that included not only legendary Flying Nun acts like The Clean and BailterSpace, but the kind of younger acts (Surf City, Beach Pigs) you'd think a revived Flying Nun might sign.

The irony there, of course, is that until shortly before Flying Nun was bought back from Warner Music, Arch Hill founder Ben Howe was to be Roger Shepherd's partner in the deal. But he was cut out in what Roger described as a tough but necessary business decision. His other partners -- Neil Finn and Graham Cockroft -- could bring in the kind of capital that the label needed to thrive.

What has happened since -- as Peter McLennan writes in a very useful blog post -- is that the other shareholders have had to put additional capital into the business, Cockcroft has departed and then returned as a director and -- the big news -- Ben Howe has been appointed as general manager and will run the label in Auckland (it had been based in Wellington), alongside Arch Hill, with Roger remaining in Wellington as "consultant and shareholder," and local label manager Matt Davis coming up to work in Auckland.

A Flying Nun blog post confirming the news says the label "will continue re-presenting, re-packaging and re-discovering music worth caring about," which makes it sound a bit like a back-catalogue label. A matching post on the Arch Hill website says that for Arch Hill "it is business as usual. The current bands will stay on the label and we will continue to keep releasing the music we like!"

I'm pleased to say we have Ben Howe on Media3 this week. We'll discuss the changes and, if we get time, some of Ben's other gigs, including his status as chair of Independent Music NZ and joint promoter of Laneway Auckland.

You can join us for Thursday evening's Media3 recording. Come to the Villa Dalmcija, 10 New North Road, Auckland, at 5.30pm.

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