Continuing our look at the growth of indie, boutique labels specialising in reissuing classic and in-demand soul on 7” vinyl, we turn the spotlight on SOUL DIRECTION RECORDS. Since last year the label has built up a solid reputation with soul collectors. Their back catalogue is small but impressive (most releases have sold out) and we believe there’s a lot more to come. To find out more we met up with label founder ALAN KITCHENER and started by asking him to briefly say a little bit about Soul Direction’s ethos …
Soul Direction is based in Nottingham UK. Our mission is to try and find the best in unreleased and rare soul tracks and release them on 7” Vinyl which is still one of the most popular formats for collectors of rare soul. As well as unissued tracks taken from Master Reels and acetates collected over the years, we compliment these with previously unreleased tracks that may have made a CD release or digital download only and bring them to another audience who might be completely unaware of their existence due do not collecting these formats.
…and what about your music background. When did you get into soul? What kind of records inspired you?
I first heard and fell in love with soul music at the age of 11 years old from my sister and after hearing Northern soul being played at the “School Disco” and watching the amazing dance moves I immediately caught the soul bug. I bought my first record at the age of 12 in 1977 and have never looked back. The journey you take being into Northern Soul and the other genres of soul music is a lifelong one. The people I have met and become friends with from all over the world is without question the best part of the path taken. Since then, I have embraced all genres of soul music in my collecting and for my listening pleasure, but I think of myself as eclectic in my taste and love other genres, but my first love is always soul music.
So, when did you start the label and what about the name? And how does it tie in with the “Man From Soul” thing. What were the first releases?
Man from soul Records is my record selling website. I buy soul 45s & LP’s from all parts of the world but mostly through visits to the USA several times a year digging through basements, warehouses, and record shows across the states. I had always considered the idea of releasing some of the unreleased material I had acquired at some point but given the quality of material being issued through the likes of Kent, Soul Junction, Cannonball, and various other labels I figured I had to find the right time to start. The pandemic of course bought everything to a grinding halt in terms of travelling and the USA was a “no go” for travelling so my attention was drawn back to the record label idea given the additional time to spare in lockdown. I started to do some research in terms of the material I had and if there were possibilities for licensing tracks. Then by chance I had a conversation with a fellow collector in Detroit. He had a fantastic unreleased track by Andrea Henry which I had tried to acquire via a well-known auction site but was beaten to it by him. He told me he was looking to do a limited release which he would distribute around the local area, and we agreed to do a joint release. I would distribute my label mostly within the UK and ROW. I did my research and got the appropriate licenses required (with the help of other label owners). Unfortunately, he tragically took his own life halfway through the project due to personal issues, but I was able to finish my project thanks to the help of his family to which I will be forever grateful. His release never really saw the light of day other than a few copies that they gave to friends and family members as only a tiny number were produced. That was the start of Soul Direction. The name of the label suggesting that we wanted the direction of what we were doing to be always forward and not looking back… R.I.P. Eric Silvenis.
How do you decide what records to try and reissue?
This can be a long process. The first aspect is the sound. Does this track touch me and will it have appeal? Can I license the tracks properly, which is vitally important. Can the reels or acetate be mastered to a high standard? I do take advice from friends and fellow collectors as it gives you a wider perspective. It can be all too easy to get lost in just the fact that it is unreleased and not concentrate on whether it’s as good as you think. Ultimately I would not put something out that I did not either like or believe in.
… and what about the thorny issue of licensing and royalties?
This part of the process is possibly the hardest and most complex of all. There have been several tracks that I have had to put aside due to licensing and royalty issues. It is important to me that all the tracks are licensed correctly to the absolute best they can be. It can take a lot of patience and hard work to track down the appropriate artists, writers, producers. Winning their trust is an important step and making sure they are looked after financially through tailored agreements. Dealing with licensing companies to secure a release can be a long process so patience is always a key factor, but it can also be extremely rewarding when you get to hear the stories behind the tracks and the extraordinary life’s these people have led. There are literally thousands of unissued tracks that have no credits either on the master reels or acetates and at Soul Direction we believe that paying the appropriate royalties is far more important than just releasing the tracks. I understand that when labels have purchased an entire label back catalogue there are “Un Named” tracks as part of the stable and so that is something that of course is perfectly legitimate to do, but our philosophy is to make sure we do the right thing as ultimately I believe that is what the label will be judged on as well as the quality of what we put out. The help of people such as Ady Croasdell (Kent Records), Dave Welding (Soul Junction), Alberto Zanini (Cannonball Records) Des Parker (MD Records) and others (You know who you are) have been invaluable and this is another opportunity to thank them.
What’s been you most successful release to date?
I suppose it is how you define success. For me they have all been successful for different reasons. Each of the releases have sold extremely well and continue to do so. It has been an absolute privilege to be involved in all the releases and being able to give the people involved in the songs the recognition and royalties they richly deserve is an ultimate success story. However, the latest release (The Decisions – “We’re In Love/I Love You” SD-005) has been off the scale in terms of the quality of the songs and the speed in which it has sold. That is in no small part to the Decisions themselves, the mastering from Swift and the design of the picture sleeve from Jordan Wilson. All these elements together have played a part in making it the best release so far. Look out in 2022 as there will be more from the Decisions to come.
… and how difficult is it run a record store and label (albeit online) these days?
How difficult is it to run a business selling the product you love? I spent 20+ years running a printing business at what seemed like breakneck speed every day I was doing it, so this is a little less stressful and easily as rewarding. It has its difficulties of course like every business. You might spend 2-4 weeks in the USA each trip trying to acquire as many good records as you can for a price that pays for your trip and gives you some profit. This can have its moments, but overall, the characters you meet along the way make it worthwhile. The good thing is that most collectors are pretty laid back when it comes to most things, and I offer a no quibble return policy which helps give customers piece of mind when buying as we all know grading can be the most subjective part of record collecting or buying. The Soul Direction and Manfromsoul websites both run independently of each other which make things a lot clearer from a buying and selling point of view as they both have different processes to them.
And what’s coming up next?
More of the same, I hope. The next release (The Summits – P’s and Q’s – SD-006) is out late September 2021 (see our news item) and with 2 releases currently in production plus the addition of “Soul Direction Origins label” (which is focusing on re-releases of rare and more obscure soul tracks but all fully licensed) which has tracks at the pressing plant as we speak, the future at least for a while looks good and I just hope people like what I am trying to do. If I can come even close to the record labels I have spoken about in this interview, plus the others Epsilon, Super Disco Edits, Hit & Run plus the other labels that are doing the right thing and putting out consistently good releases I will be a happy label owner.
… and is it all worth it?
Absolutely, but none of this would have been even close to happening if it wasn’t for the love and support of my wife Julia. She is the reason I am where I am right now, and this label is dedicated to her and her alone.
Finally, if you had absolute free choice – no licensing issues etc – what record who you really love to reissue?
I have two outstanding tracks, one a Virtue acetate and another similar acetate which I have had for many years, but since I have no idea who they are, for now, I cannot release them but take off the licensing shackles and I would put them out in a heartbeat whether it sold a single copy or not.
Where can we find out more?
We have two web site – for Soul Direction releases and a few other label releases from the labels mentioned go to www.soul-direction.co.uk. For the best in rare soul 45s and albums there’swww.manfromsoul.co.uk. You can sign up for notifications on each website for new releases and additions to the stores. I am currently working on a new format and look to the Man from Soul website which will be released later this year or early 2022 but the current website if fully working and operational.