Oak is a legendary early British independent with folk leanings, which was based at R.G. Jones Recording Studios, Surrey, where the Rolling Stones and Yardbirds cut their first demos. Others who committed themselves to acetate demos there include Sonny Boy Williamson, George Melly, David Bowie and The Moody Blues. The Rolling Stones cut three acetates at R.G. Jones which they used to sell their services to Decca.
The records made there range from two or three acetate copies for bands to use as show reels to runs of several hundred on vinyl – these included discs by school choirs, and discs by children’s entertainers. R.G. Jones introduced a very basic disc cutting machine in 1960, so those using the studio could walk out with a solid artefact.
The Oak label was started in 1962 by R. G. Jones and Derek Sarjeant, and named for the folk club Sarjeant ran in Surbiton at the Oak Hotel.
The first record, RGJ 101 was by Derek Sarjeant and was a folk EP, which was the aim of the enterprise, and the label continued into the early 70s. Derek released six EPs, and other folkies were The Malcolm Price Trio, Pat Nelson, Mick Wells , Lisa Turner and Jackie & Bridie. Sarjeant went on to sing as a trio, then as a duo with his wife Hazel.
1963 Oak EP folk releases
Oak as a folk label was intended to be a proper independent label. However, Oak’s worthy folk heritage is not the reason it’s collected.
They were best known for those acetates. This is a 1965 single-sided one which has a properly printed label, for Bunny Lewis’s Ritz production company (which released through Decca):
They often had pre-printed labels with DEMODISC and handwritten information.
Because of its location, Oak became popular with British bands of the early mod era, then the psych era, such as the Bo Street Runners and The Wild Oats. Their usual policy was to press 99 copies for bands and singers to sell at gigs, thus avoiding purchase tax which came in when you pressed 100 discs. These short runs were not done on the R.G. Jones acetate cutting machine, but custom pressed for Oak by Pye. They also did some reggae acetates for The Rudies and The Ethiopians.
Selling them to record labels could be successful. Note The Thyrds from 1964. Initially a run on Oak, followed by a major label release on Decca. It will not surprise ardent record collectors to discover that Rare Record Guide 2022 rates the Oak version at £300 in Mint condition, (Discogs: average £255, most recent £310, and those will not be mint) but the Decca one at a still significant £60.
These discs were necessarily rare, with the Bo Street Runners EP from 1964 being the most prized at at least £1000 for a mint copy. That had a picture sleeve and was a proper release designed to be sold. At various times (later) the band had Mick Fleetwood on drums, and Mike Patto on vocals. The Wild Oats EP also looks like a serious release.
Bo Street Runners EP: 1964, reissue on Beat Records
The copy shown here is a 21st century reissue disc by Beat Records. It’s not a replica, because every Oak Record has R.G. Jones of Morden writ large on the label. Some were white, but most are black or dark blue. So what does this thousand pound EP sound like? Reissue EPs are about £8. I paid £3 for this one. The seller said it was crap, and there was no picture of the girl singer. I took it home. It sounded like The Chipmunks. Then the penny dropped. 33 rpm, not 45 rpm. Excellent and very typical R&B of the period, well recorded too. Note to Beat Records: it is customary to print the speed somewhere, especially if it’s not the standard speed for the size.
Other beat groups from the era are The Kingpins, Peter & The Persuaders,The Spartans, Wild Oats, The Trendsetters, Thyrds, Velvet Frogs. They’re all great ones to find. I haven’t. Derek Sarjeant’s own EPs are in the £20 range, but still rare.
Some of these have been released on reissue vinyl and CD. First was The Story of Oak Records 1964-68. It focuses entirely on the beat group material.
Are these records designed for sale or are they private pressings? The folk material was sold in shops. I’m not sure that much if any beat group material was.
There’s also a Top Sounds CD compilation 17 From Morden which has a further selection of the beat groups material. They’re taken from acetates more often than final pressings and so mono.
There is a second volume From Morden to Wimbledon covering 1967-1970. This is out of print.
LPs were mainly cut for school choirs or stage shows – the sale would be to parents. Wilf Todd and His Music would be a self-commissioned LP, I’m sure. They have proper Oak labels whatever.
Ah. Now here comes a salutary story about record collecting in general, which was told to me at Bridport vinyl day.
A dealer had been invited to value a folk LP record collection at a house in the countryside. While there, he noticed several boxes of 7″ records. He asked to see them. They were all Oak. He asked if they were for sale. No, they weren’t. The owner was a singer and had them to sell at his gigs. (Would this be Derek Sargeant? He did six EPs on Oak) These were the unsold ones. Lots of them. All unsold after forty odd years, so mint, and he had no intention of ever selling them.
Were they worth much? As the dealer said, these things are so pricey because they’re rare. How many people worldwide are looking for them? Half a dozen? So put ninety on the market all at once …
I doubt that this was a member of the Bo Street Runners or The Wild Oats. If they were by Derek Sargeant, his folk EPs are rated at only £15 to £20 in Rare Record Guide 2022).