For our latest investigation into the bourgeoning world of indie, vinyl releasing boutique labels, we turn our attention to LRK RECORDS – a new (ish) imprint that is steadily building up a strong reputation with collectors. We met up with label founder LIAM KENNY to learn his views but first we wanted to know about the label’s ethos….
So, LRK is based in St, Ives, Cambridgeshire (yes, the same place as the famous, St, Ives all-nighters!)) Our mission is to put out great new soul music with an old school feel but with a modern twist and help up and coming soul artists get their music out there. The label name? LRK is actually my initials Liam Robert Kenney!
…and what about your own music background?
Where to start? I’ve always been interested in music from an early age. We have a big music family. Basically, my mum, Karen and aunt, Sarah used to run SRT (Sound Recording Technology), a recording/mastering studio here in St, Ives, Cambs. My nan who was married to the original studio owner, David Richardson, was a big influence on me too. In her first marriage, her husband was the pop star Alan Klein who was the singer in The New Vaudeville Band who had a 60s hit with Winchester Cathedral. My nan worked at SRT and opened the first CD shop in St Ives! So, my mum and dad were always big into music and the whole family too, so I guess that’s where I get it from! When I was young, I got into a lot of Punk bands and used to go and watch a lot of them live. I have always liked a different kind of music to a lot of people my age, and a lot of my friends. I then got into a lot of Ska/Reggae, older rocksteady which is my favourite type. A lot of the early rocksteady stuff is super soulful like Pat Kelly, and a lot of old soul songs were covered by these artists so I guess that’s how I got interested in soul music.
So, that’s when you got the soul bug?
Well, my dad was into Northern Soul when he was young and I use to steal his CDs and later on, when I got into vinyl, I use to steal them too. He’d left them in the loft! (Yes I still have them!) I remember hearing the classic oldies, stuff like Moses Smith ‘Girl Across The Street’, The Contours ‘Just A Little Misunderstanding’, Dena Barnes ‘If You Ever Walk Out Of My Life’, stuff like that and I was hooked instantly and just wanted to know and hear more and that’s when I got really interested in soul. I remember finding the website Soul Source which really helped me get to know some people and find what events were on. Finally, I went to my first Northern soul, All-nighter- I actually remember the first one I went to. It was the old Middleton in Manchester, what a place! I went with my best mate Adam from school who also was really into music and he loved it so he use to come with me to a lot of places! He now lives back in the US and I go and visit him sometimes and go record hunting, of course! Getting into the soul scene really helped me and made me feel like I had a purpose and there was never ever any trouble at nighters and it was amazing to meet so many different people from all over. It kept me out of trouble and I would say it definitely changed me!
So, when did you start the label What were the first releases?
So, I got into vinyl from finding my dad’s old northern soul records and then getting into the soul scene, from then on, I was hooked. I started buying records wherever I could and sold some of them on, on online places like Discogs and E-bay. So, for many years, I would do this on and off for a bit of fun. I then met a great guy from St Ives, who had a whole vinyl collection from an old shop in his shed, so I set up a web page called LRK Records and a new Discogs store and I helped him sell them. Then one day I got sent a song by someone at work who was in a band and I thought it was really good so I had an idea of making a vinyl and putting it out on a 45. It didn’t happen though, so in December 2019 I thought why don’t I try with someone else and then I remembered the super-talented Freddie Hall, who is from the USA originally and has sung with the greats, like The Temptations, Aretha Franklin and The Three Degrees. Freddie now lives in St, Ives, so, I reached out to him to see if he was interested in doing a 45 and he agreed. The record – ‘Brand New’/’Lady In The City’ worked out well and started doing better than I expected. Then the next release was kind of an accident. I was liking some bands on Instagram and I got a message from Danny Toeman who had seen a playlist I had been making, a new soul playlist and he sent me his song. I absolutely loved it, from the first time hearing it I wanted to put it out on a 45 straight away! So, from then on it started and I’m hoping to be able to carry it on and grow more.
How do you decide what records to release?
As you can see, we are looking for mainly new soul music with a retro feel but with a modern twist as well. I set up LRK by myself but my family help me out now especially with the orders and my girlfriend, Savannah, is a big part of the LRK team and has helped from the start. If I get sent a track or hear one, I really love I normally send it to them all to get their general feedback and to see how it made them fee. But I’ll be honest, I normally just go with my gut feeling. If it gives me tingles and goosebumps or makes me feel something I’ll just know straight away that I’ll want to put it out there on a 45!
… and what about the complex issue of licensing and royalties?
That’s the hard bit, I’m still learning all that! We simply get in touch with the artists and try and make contact to see if they are interested and then we set up a deal with them.
What’s been your most successful release to date?
I’ve been so happy with all of them, everyone has done well. I know Natasha Watts ‘Love Who You Are’ is a hard one to find now as it goes for over £120-£150. I have one personal copy for myself that I will be keeping! The last few releases have sold out in the pre-order stage, we sold out of Laura Rain & The Caesars pre-orders of ‘Closer To The Win’ (400 copies) in two days and our most recent one from Claire Davis sold 300 in just over a day! But every single one has done well so far!
… and how difficult is it to run a record store and label (albeit online) these days?
I’ve always sold online mostly and now we use Bandcamp for our releases with the hope of setting up our own website in the future. It can be very time-consuming, stressful at times, packing all the orders, getting everything out on time, delays at the plant especially at the moment, getting down to the post office before they shut! But it’s my passion and I love it. I take pride in sending the orders out to everyone in a quick and timely manner and I take care in grading when I am selling used records from my Discogs store. I have 100% feedback on there which I am very proud of ! I used to always dream of having a record shop but now it seems everything has gone online especially since the pandemic. I think the pandemic actually helped online vinyl sales as people were at home with not much to do but buy stuff and that was the busiest time for our Discogs store. But yes, it is a very hard business to get into and it is hard to make money from selling old used records – unless you have a massive collection all in mint condition or you find a secret box full of Frank Wilsons!
What’s been your greatest achievement?
I think setting up the label, actually doing it and getting going with it. I’m very happy and proud of how all the releases have gone so far.
And what’s coming up next?
We have the big project next – a full-length LP with Laura Rain & The Caesars. 12″/CD/Digital and a 7″. It’s been tough sorting that but I want to say a massive thank you to Laura Rain and George Friend and the band for recording the songs so quickly and for all their hard work. The delays at the pressing plants have been a real issue and a big worry and it has been tough to get everything on track plus we still don’t know what’s totally going on at the plant regarding times and the price increase for next year but all we can do is wait and see what happens. We are super excited for the LP so lookout in the next couple of months!
There’s a bit of a debate at the moment about some vinyl reissue labels issuing “promo” copies of their singles and selling them at inflated prices… what’s your take on that?
Well, promos are supposed to be for exactly that, “PROMO”, simple as that. But I don’t think many small labels get proper promos done now. It is more, white label test pressings. We normally get 5x pressed to check the audio to see if we are happy with the sound. There is a big demand for them, people want them. We don’t get many pressed on each release but have sold a few to some of our close customers who love them so I don’t see a big problem. The demand is there.
Finally, if you had total free choice – no licensing issues etc – what record who you really love to reissue?