The Decca Group

Each label within the Decca group will have an article (eventually)

The Official Opening of Decca House: one-sided EP,. 1958

Decca and EMI were the two largest and competing music groups in the UK. They were a gramophone manufacturer, a radio and TV manufacturer, as well as a major radar and navigation manufacturer.

The company started in 1914 manufacturing portable gramophones, originally called the Decca Dulcephone, from its dulcet tones. They made up the name Decca from’Mecca’ and ‘Dulcephone’.’ They were particularly successful in selling to the army. Their early advertising was directed at this market.

‘An abiding source of entertainment to troops at the Front – for both officers and men.’
Decca gramophone 1915

Sir Edward Lewis ran the company from 28 February 1929 until his death in 1980. He was brought in to advise on diversifying from their core gramophone business to other areas, failed to convince the board, so took over the company instead, and combined it with the Duophone record manufacturer.

A company manufacturing gramophones but not records is rather like one making razors but not consumable blades

Sir Edward Lewis, quoted in Gramophone, July 1979

Decca sold at a lower price, but also had excellent sleeves and promoted their gramophones. They promoted radio gramophones too, with advice to listen to Radio Paris every Sunday Afternoon from 2pm to 3pm, replete with a traditional Sunday lunch. BBC did not allow sponsored programmes. Paris did.

Click to enlarge

This disc by The Westminster Marching Band was a 1931 78 rpm shellac release.

World War Two and Decca Navigation Systems transformed the company. These are adverts from 1955.

Punch advert, October 1955

In music, they had an American arm from 1932, as well as distributing the Brunswick label. In the USA, British discs were sold as London and American discs as Decca. This was reversed in the UK, where Decca was mainly UK and European productions, and London was American licenses, also London Jazz and then London-American, London-Atlantic, London-Monument etc.

Felsted was a pet side label.

In 1948, Decca got the distribution for Capitol, then RCA, making Decca the largest group in the mid 50s. Other American labels were Coral, Vogue, Vocalion.

Capitol was owned by EMI and switched.

By 1960, they added Warner Brothers.

They thought of themselves as ‘The Decca-group‘. Both these are from Jazz Journal in 1960:

The advertised artists were on RCA, Brunswick and London. None were on Decca itself.

The centre advert from the same Jazz Journal has the Decca-group releases from RCA Victor, Warner Bros, London, RCA-Camden and Coral. Again, none are Decca itself.

Decca were on the ‘transistor radio boom’ with radios too. 17 guineas was two weeks wages for the average person.

This was the Decca-group circa 1960:

Irish labels were Emerald and Rex. Scottish was Beltona. Italian were Durium.

They distributed the French l’Oiseau-Lyre classical label, and the German Telefunken. Decca handled all the technical side for l’Oiseau-Lyre and in 1970 bought the company. They used the name for early music.

Teldec was a co-operative Telefunken / Decca company, combining their names. Discs were manufactured by Teldec then released as either Telefunken or Decca.

They took over the spoken voice / folk / sound effects label, Argo.

The progressive era saw appropriate acts shifted to the new Deram label.

Monument and Wand got their own imprints.

They then distributed Gull, M&M, Sugar, Chapter One

To get an idea of the balance of labels, these are the Radio Luxembourg proportions for 1960-1963 (from Paul F. Newman’s detailed and unique record books):

Tempo was a jazz label (not illustrated). Atlantic got its own imprint in 1964.

This a Decca new release / chart advert from December 1962, laden with bona-fide classics and celebrating its Top Three EPs. Four Decca, three London, and one each from Warner Bros and RCA. It’s an astonishing week, because most unusually for such an advert, all six were hits.

Move on to 1964, Vocalion and Atlantic are in there.

Contrast the 1966 new release advert From Decca. This time the labels on new release from the group are Decca, London, Atlantic, Emerald, Vocalion and Rex. So both Irish specialist labels are already evident. Atlantic is free-standing, and the Vocalion name has replaced Vogue-Coral.

New Musical Express advert, March 1966

This advert shows Atlantic’s growing importance, and that an English band, The Who, were placed on the Brunswick label … because their deal was with American Decca.

Disc advert, March 1966

Move on a year, and Decca’s centre spread new release advert  for May 1967 is one Decca, two Deram, one Emerald, two London, two RCA Victor. There are only two well-known tracks, and only one of them charted.

New Musical Express 13 May 1967

Repeated from the DECCA label article:

By 1970, cracks had appeared in the edifice. Sir Edward Lewis’s iron grip on the company left them ill-equipped to compete for US labels or younger bands. Going through music magazines, they stuck with what they knew … Melody Maker, New Musical Express, Disc. You don’t find them advertising in Zig Zag, Sounds, Strange Days or any of the newer music papers.

It was an ageing label, with ageing artists selling to an ageing public. In 1973, releases were switched to the MCA name.

Lewis resisted change and by 1979 the Navigator and Electronics divisions fell into loss, leaving them unable to prop up the ailing record labels any longer. 

Sir Edward Lewis, 1970

Like many who create, build, and retain close personal control over large enterprises, Lewis was unable to appoint a successor or relinquish control of the business. As a consequence, in 1980, days before his death, the business, then in the grip of a serious financial crisis, was sold.

Peter Martland, Oxford dictionary of national biography

In February 1980, three weeks after Lewis died, the record labels and name were absorbed into Polygram. In 1983, the name of the surviving sections was changed to London for popular music.

The name went on and has been revived in recent years. By 2012, DECCA was a group within Universal Music Group, comprising Decca, Deutsche Grammophon and ECM.

Now see the DECCA article.

Decca Group Identity: 45 sleeves from the different labels

Decca (UK)
Decca 45 sleeves and designs (UK)

London sleeves and centres (UK)
London-Calypso, Ducretet-Thomson, Globe
Felsted, Felsted-American

Coral, Vogue-Coral