Topic

Three Score & Ten: Topic Records Box Set, 2009: 7 CDS

So far, the articles on record labels I’ve put up are on no longer functioning labels, which are easier to do as there’s a stop point. Topic is not only a fully-functioning independent label, but seems more popular than ever as time goes by. Over the last few years it is a little behind Ace as the label I’ve bought most. As I started, I realized it was impossible to do full justice to its scope, but I’ll try.

The heart-stirring folkie strains of We Shall Overcome wafted over many a late sixties student protest. At one 1968 sit-in, in Hull, the cadres called for The Red Flag to be sung by the assembled throng, only to discover that the only version anyone knew the words to was the filthy one (As I was passing Gibraltar’s Rock, I saw a maiden lying there, as she lay there in sweet repose, a gust of wind blew up her clothes…). At least everyone knew the tune and could hum along fervently. A subsequent appeal to sing The Internationale proved that no one knew either the words OR the tune.

I’m unconvinced that folk music provides the only or best political protest via narrative ballads of injustice, much as I love Deportees (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos).  Bob Dylan was at his best generalizing (Blowing In The Wind, The Times They Are A-Changin’) rather than recounting specific injustices (The Ballad of Hattie Carroll, Hurricane).

John Lennon’s Power to The People or Give Peace A Chance were more convincing vehicles. Add Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth, Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come.  Or Bob Marley on Get Up, Stand Up or War. In Britain, there was a strong link between folk and political protest, and Topic Records was a major part of it.

Topic reached its eightieth anniversary in 2019, making it Britain’s oldest independent label. It began as a branch of the Workers’ Music Association, an avowedly Communist organization, part of the British Marxist Party which had started in 1936. It relied in the early days on mail order sales of left wing political songs and Soviet Russian reissues. This is the 1930s, so Spanish Civil War, rise of Hitler and Mussolini and Franco. The natural place to be was the Marxist left. No one had any idea what Stalin had been doing.

They were certainly more fluid than the major labels. What were their contracts like? They didn’t seem to tie artists down, as they moved from Fontana (Vanguard) to Argo to CBS to Folkways to Transatlantic … and many more labels.

The Four Insurgent Generals: Paul Robeson: Topic shellac 78 rpm 10″ single

They probably didn’t sell many reissues of tales of trans-Ural mining disasters, but the money upfront subsidized the organization. The first release in September 1939, just as World War II started, was The Man Who Waters The Workers’ Beer by Paddy Ryan (actually Dr R.E.W. Fisher). It’s not a subtle song about capitalists.

The B-side was The Internationale by The Topic Singers.

The Internationale: The Topic Singers 1939, 78 rpm shellac 10″ disc

The war quietened down the overt nature of protest, but in the forties and fifties Alan Bush and Ewan MacColl kept it alive, and put it on a commercial footing when the Communist party funds died away once and for all, and in 1957 it broke from the WEA (Workers Educational Association NOT Warner Elektra Atlantic!)  Bush was a composer who released choral and orchestral music on Topic up to 1949. The label was run by Gerry Sharp until his death in 1972, then Tony Engle was the MD. It’s now run and distributed by Proper Records.

Mine’s bigger than yours

Irish Songs of Resistance (Pt 1): Patrick Galvin with Al Jeffrey, Topic 8″ LP
Woody Guthrie’s Blues: Jack Elliot, Topic 8″ LP

Topic did a series of 8″ 33 1.3 rpm  records. Big EPs? Or small LPs? They called them LPs. They were sold at an unusual 16/- (16 shillings or 80 p each) when most companies were selling EPs at 10/6d and LPs at £1.10s.0d.

These are rare. The only one I’ve seen myself is the Jack Elliot Talking Woody Guthrie’s Blues.

Gallery: 8″ LPs click to enlarge (the picture, not the LP)

Both The Blackball Line and Row Bullies Row are collaborations between A.L. Lloyd, Ewan MacColl and Alf Edwards. A.L. (Bert) Lloyd was an early stalwart of English folk, with many archive collaborations. He liked a theme too. Bold sportsmen All is NOT a rugby songs collection.

Bold Sportsmen All: Ewan MacColl & A.L. Lloyd, Topic 10″ LP, 1958

EPs rule

Topic followed the jazz and folk labels like Esquire and Collector in focussing heavily on EPs rather than singles. In the 7″ folk section, if you see a Topic record it will virtually always be an EP. Austere remained the design motif. They weren’t chasing chart success, but were aware that LPs were outside many of their customers’ budget. Also, folk tends to be longer than a 3 minute pop single.

Nancy Whiskey Sings: Topic 33 1/3 7″ EP, 1957 #7T.10

Round& Round With The Jeffersons, Topic 33 1/3 7″ EP, 1957 #7T.19

Early Topic EPs were 7″ diameter, but played at 33 1/3 and were described as “7” LPs”. It reminds me of a charity shop with two boxes, labelled “big LPs” and “small LPs” (7″ singles).

Topic 10″ LPs: gallery, click to enlarge

There are multiple album sleeve designs on several releases, often three UK versions of the same 10″ LP. I like the strong images and they had a sense of rugged style.

They also ventured into World Music with 10″ LP collections from Rumania, Israel and Greece.

They ventured into licensed records from Folkways, USA with Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot.

Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger

The late fifties and early sixties were a strict discipline period in British folk, where some clubs became so pure as to forbid ALL instruments. We’re not talking amplification here, we’re talking about anything so industrial as the manufacture of instruments. Maybe reed flutes were allowed. That led to the other folk tradition that to be truly authentic, songs had to be simple (as Woody Guthrie had always said) and that singing perfectly in tune was not a necessary part of the process. While they had a few of these hairy-shirted purists on board, Topic were also releasing records with Davy Graham and Alexis Korner. But what was this obsession with banjos?

Peggy Seger: Topic 10″ LP 1957 10T.9

Pete Seeger’s sister was Ewan MacColl’s partner from 1956 to 1989. They produced many albums together. Early Topic ones were 10″ 33 1/3 rpm size:

Second Shift: Ewan MaColl & Peggy Seeger. 10″ Topic LP 1958

Shuttle & Cage, Industrial Folk Ballads : Ewan MacColl Topic 10″ LP 1957

Note how important explanatory sleeve notes were. Where was the song collected, who by, when?

Barrack Room Ballads: Ewan MaColl & Peggy Seeger. 10″ Topic LP 1958 – the cover design changed

The Manchester Angel: Topic 12″ LP, 1966 (another first rate Topic sleeve)

The importance of track notes. What’s it about? Who collected it? Who was it collected from? When did she learn it? When did that happen? I rather like that in a concert (and on the LP).

Ewan MacColl, sleeve notes, The Manchester Angel

He was admirable on radio, talking about folk and the sleeve notes bear re-reading. He has apposite quotes, and I love the details such as :

I had been recording his mother Caroline Hughes singing The Famous Flower Among Serving Men on a piece of waste ground about twenty yards from the Wareham by-pass. At the conclusion of the song (Thomas) Hughes strode up to the microphone and said: ‘That song she just sung is five hundred year old. Now I’ll sing ee a song that’s a million year old.” His song was Georgie.

Ewan MacColl’s real name was Jimmie Miller, and he was the theatre director Joan Littlewood’s first husband, and founder of the Communist theatre group The Red Megaphones. The sleeve notes to The Manchester Angel suggests the listener may find it odd to hear MacColl singing English songs for a change rather than Scottish ones. Why would that be? Jimmy Miller was born in Salford, Lancashire, though his parents were Scottish.

Jimmie changed his name to Ewan MacColl, and it’s satisfying to know that Ewan MacColl’s studied authenticity was fake. I saw him perform po-faced in a folk club in the 1960s (and took an instant dislike to him). He ran the Critics Group, inventing strict guidelines for “a folk performance.” Fun was not included.

Ewan MacColl had founded the folk club Ballads and Blues in Soho in 1953 (later the Singers Club). He had huge disdain for “popular music” which he regarded as a capitalist plot, and formed a committee to define acceptable folk styles for his club. Some of it makes sense. Peggy Seeger says he got singers away from imitating Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, and encouraged the use of English accents. He also avoided the excruciatingly over-enunciated Advanced RP folk explorations of the 1930s by the likes of Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten.

MacColl’s rule book extended to clothing though, and make-up was banned. Shirley Collins, then aged 20, was told that she couldn’t wear nail varnish, and said:

 Shirley Collins: He was unpleasant to me, quite sexist and pretentious and pompous – words which should never be applied to a folk singer. He was self-invented, there was nothing truthful about him and that’s always concerned me greatly. He was an actor really, even as a singer. The way he’d turn his chair, sit astride it, put his hand to his ear … my heart would sink. 
(Guardian, 25 January 2015)

She is correct. He was an actor originally who increasingly became interested in folk music. Yes, he was a great folk archivist, and he also wrote the songs Dirty Old Town and Shoals of Herring. Yes, he had very good taste in record sleeves. But he was a pedant.

It’s also noticeable that while Peggy Seeger arranged the songs, and played guitar, dulcimer and concertina, she’s usually reduced to smaller print and second place and a “with … ” before her name.

MacColl dismissed Bob Dylan as “10th rate drivel” and complained of his “cultivated illiteracy”. His partner was Peggy Seeger, for whom he wrote The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face in 1957. In 1962 the Kingston Trio covered it, as did Peter, Paul & Mary, The Brothers Four and Gordon Lightfoot, all very popular. The Ian Campbell Folk Group did it in 1966 – they had decamped to Transatlantic.  Apparently, MacColl was an awful blinkered man, flying into a rage at the mention of his greatest composition as transformed and performed by Roberta Flack. In 1972 Roberta Flack covered it, slowed it down and had an international and US #1 hit with it.She tweaked the melody too, turning an excellent song into a masterpiece. He couldn’t forgive her. MacColl disliked all of the cover versions of the song (especially Elvis Presley’s version), saying they were travesties: bludgeoning, histrionic, and lacking in grace.

Rob Young: As a Marxist, he saw in the 50s the chance to seize the mood and use his platform to create some sort of revolutionary spirit in his audiences. As you get into the mid-60s, however, he is bumping up against the next generation of musical [performers] and listeners, who do want change but want it in way that is not so marked by party lines.
Rob Young: The Electric Eden

He wrote conscious protest songs, such as The Ballad of Ho Chi Minjhand The Ballad of Stalin (for the British Communist Party). When asked about it later he said, ‘It dealt with some of the good things Stalin did.’

One of MacColl’s major achievements was the BBC Radio Ballads series. His lifetime count runs to 300 songs, and around 100 albums, many of them recording and so preserving traditional songs for the first time ever.

Topic and proper EPs

By 1958, they settled on EP (or rather ep) and 45 rpm.

Peggy Seeger’s Come Along John: American Children’sSongs came in both EP speeds.

Come Along, John: American Children’s Songs (EP): Peggy Seeger TOP 18, 1958
Reissue of 1957 EP, originally 7T 18

EP gallery: click to enlarge

Shine Like A Star (EP): Peggy Seeger with Penny and Barbara Seeger TOP 38 late 1958
Songs and Dances of The Cameroons: Mouanagué And His Drummers TOP 45, 1959
Dominic Takes The Floor (EP): Dominic Beehan 1958 TOP 60
Songs Spun in Liverpool: The Spinners 1961 cheap soft card, good for recycling TOP 69

The Cameroons EP was licensed from Chant Du Monde – the French World Music label. They, in turn, reciprocated by issuing about 4 different Topic recordings by Ewan MacColl, A. L. Lloyd and Peggy Seeger onto 7″ EPs from the early 1960s.

The centre designed changed to match the new 45 rpm speed.

Pete Seeger

Peter & 5 Strings: Pete Seeger, Topic EP, TOP33, 1958
Hootenanny, N.Y.C.: Pete Seeger, Sonny Terry, Bob de Gormier, Jerry Silverman, Topic EP, TOP 37, 1958

Pete Seeger was licensed in from the equally serious Folkways label. Topic was the British Isles equivalent of Folkways (and to a lesser extent Vanguard), in that it was the label folk singers aspired to working with. It has retained that ambience.

Seeger did a full LP 5 string banjo tutor in 1959 with accompanying book. Fortunately few bought it. Sorry, that was a joke. I’m sure the banjo players in British trad jazz bands treasured their dog-eared copies. A year later he did a guitar tutor. Young wannabe rock stars stuck with Bert Weedon’s Play In A Day.

My dislike of Pete Seeger used to be extreme. American friends assured me of his heroism, his commitment, his tutoring of young musicians, his kindness, his compositions … but I couldn’t take the scoutmaster air, the banjo sound or the voice. It all started in 1963 with Sunday Night At The London Paladium on TV where he sang Little Boxes. No, he didn’t write this horribly patronising ditty, that sin belongs to Malvina Reynolds, but his is the famous version. I hated it then. I hate it more now (and it was on CBS, so Topic is not guilty either). Tom Lehrer described it as the most sanctimonious song ever written.

Vive la Canadienne: Perry Friedman TOP 56 EP 1958

Perry Friedman was another banjo playing singer and his EP had sleeve notes which look typewritten folded and inserted in the sleeve (which had a blank reverse):

It was while singing to a band of miners facing a closedown at Copper Mountain that (Friedman) realized that singing was a serious thing to him.

If you’d told me it was Pete Seeger, I’d have believed you, except he’s in better tune.

Leon Rosselson

Songs For Swinging Landlords: Stan Kelly / Leon Rosselson, 1961, TOP 60
Songs For City Squares: Leon Rosselson 1962 centre label with purchase tax stamp; smaller logo TOP 77

The Leon Rosselson’s Songs for City Squares (LINK to article on this site)is jocular comedy, what used to be called satire, for this was the satire mood. The Battle Hymn of the New Socialist Party should be revived today. The words are set to the Red Flag, and the chorus is “Never Fear. We’ll sing the Red Flag once a year.” 

Topic singles

Catalogue numbers time. EPs were TOP + a number. Singles were STOP + a number.

The Patriot Game: Dominic Behan, Topic 45 STOP115 1960
Sleeve is blank on the reverse

Topic singles, such as Dominic Behan’s The Patriot Game came in individualized sleeves with a standard basic design. The Patriot Game is the haunting melody (taken from The Merry Month of May) that Bob Dylan further lifted for With God On Our Side.  It trounces every subsequent cover version too. Most subsequent ones, such as The Clancy Brothers bowdlerized the lyrics. The original version is heard over the stage play The Lieutenant of Inishmore by Martin McDonagh. The Clancy Brothers chose to omit the verses on the killing of Irish police officers and those which criticised Éamon de Valera, much to Dominic Behan’s fury. Then The Clancy Brothers were on Columbia / CBS, singing Three cheers for the bold IRA! to wealthy Irish-Americans in Carnegie Hall on a best-selling LP with a glossy sleeve, rather than singing on the austere Topic label.

There is a political element of ‘the usual suspects’ with Paul Robeson and Vanessa Redgrave on singles. The Robeson single was taken from his Transatlantic Concert 10″ EP. Robeson was a natural mix with Topic politically.

Kevin Barry / Ol’ Man River: Paul Robeson STP 116 blank reverse

Hanging On A Tree: Vaness Redgrave STOP 111. Says 1964 on disc / Where have all the flowers gone? Vanessa Redgrave STOP 111 reverse sleeve

The Crow and The Cradle . The Sun Is Burning: The Ian Campbell Folk Group, STOP 102, 1963

Note the habit of changing designs:

Think the “Tesco Value” design style, but even more minimal, brutal and austere. There’s no flim-flammery or unnecessary decoration here!  Going back to that Hull student sit in, I recall sitting with an artist friend working on posters. A leading politico (he later became a journalist and writer) walked by and we asked what he thought of our splendid compositions. He paused, and said, ‘Total waste of time. Come the revolution the artists will be the first ones up against the wall.’ He wasn’t joking either. Like-minded people designed the Topic singles sleeve. 

Johnny Handle

Stottin’ Doon The Waal: Johnny Handle 1962 TOP 78

Mining was a preoccupation. Johnny Handle’s EP was subtitled ‘Songs of mining and miners.’ Johnny Handle is the centre of an argument on House of The Rising Sun. Back when The Animals released their UK #1 version, I read an Eric Burdon interview where he said they took both their first singles from the LP Bob Dylan (1961), changing the words of Baby Let Me Follow You Down to Baby Let Me Take You Home. In a very non-folky way, Eric Burdon couldn’t sing about himself as a ‘poor girl’ so changed it to ‘poor boy’ and hence the brothel to a gambling den. As time passed, it became most uncool to cover two songs from the same Dylan LP (not that Dylan wrote either) and forever after Eric Burdon swore they first heard House of the Rising Sun from Johnny Handle in a Newcastle folk club. I think not.

Ian Campbell Folk Group

Songs of Protest:  Ian Campbell Folk Group 1962 TOP82

Ceilidh at The Crown: The Ian Campbell Folk Group, EP, 1962, TOP 76

The Ian Campbell Folk Group EP Ceilidh At The Crown has this to say about the folk scene:

All over Britain folksong clubs are flourishing. Mostly held in pubs, where a filled glass soon abolishes inhibitions about joining in the chorus, these clubs feature resident singers, guests from other parts of the country and members of the club audience or ‘singers from the floor’ as they are so often called.

The Ian Cambell Folk Group were resident at The Crown in Birmingham and the EP features their most famous member, Dave Swarbrick, leading proceedings. Ian Campbell sings the Scots ballad Twa Corbies (Two crows) unaccompanied.

Major Topic albums

There are so many serious Topic archival albums, performing an important role in recording the depth and history of the folk music of the British Isles. There were also many 60s and 70s albums of exceptional quality as performances … Peter Bellamy, Nic Jones, Martin Carthy, The Watersons.

The Iron Muse: Various Artists, Topic LP 1963

In 1963, Topic released The Iron Muse an LP collection of songs from the north-east industrial towns, sung by Anne Briggs, Bob Davenport and Louis Killen. It’s highly rated as folk archive material and was compiled and arranged by A.L. Lloyd.

I’ve seen this LP more than once at £20 secondhand which is unusually high (Discogs median is £11, highest £18 and it doesn’t make Rare record Guide’s £12 cut off point), because secondhand shops seem fairly oblivious of Topic. I bought several EPs at £1 to £2 each.

They do know that Martin Carthy, Peter Bellamy and Nic Jones are collectable, but it doesn’t extend to the deep folk catalogue.

The Topic heritage inspired the likes of Martin Carthy, Billy Bragg, Joe Strummer and Paul Weller into political songs. Topic was also one of the earliest labels to release original American folk-blues in the UK.

NOT Paul Simon …

In 1964, Paul Simon met Bill Leader, Topic’s A&R man. Leader persuaded him to record an LP for Topic, and they recorded songs on a Revox in Leader’s back room. Paul Simon announced on his fliers that he was about to “cut an LP for Topic Records.” 

Peter Ames Carlin says in Homeward Bound, his Paul Simon biography:

The other Topic executives who heard the Revox tape shook their heads. How could an American songwriter possibly be a Topic artist?… the label had been created specifically to serve the British labour movement. Simon’s songs about American racism and civil rights had a spark of protest to them, but very little to do with Britain or British labourers and even less to with proper British folk music. So, no, thanks. Leader was less surprised than exasperated by his colleagues’ reactionary thinking. But that’s how the folk music world ran in Britain, where rules for what constituted a legitimate folk song, or an authentic folk performance of a song that was part of British folk culture were dictated almost entirely by songwriter, scholar and unapologetic Stalinist Ewan MacColl.

Actually Carlin fails to note that the Seegers were American and played instruments, but Paul Simon was “too modern” for them. 

Shirley Collins and Anne Briggs

Put together because of their pure tones.

The Sweet Primeroses: Shirley Collins, Topic LP, 1967
Adieu to Old England: Shirley Collins, Topic LP 1974

The Bird In The Bush- Traditional Erotic Songs: A.L. Lloyd, Anne Briggs, Frank Armstrong, Topic LP 1977
Anne Briggs, Topic LP, 1971

Peter Bellamy

Bellamy is one of the other great folk archivists, whose name you will hear mentioned if you go to a Bellowhead, Spiers and Boden or Fay Hield gig. His work with The Young Tradition was on the Transatlantic label, and he made just the two Topic LPs. Both classics of 70s folk releases.

The Fox Jumps Over The Parson’s Gate: Peter Bellamy, Topic LP 1970

Both Sides Then: Peter Bellamy, Topic LP, 1979

The Watersons

Green Fields: The Watersons, Topic LP 1981

A folk dynasty from Hull, which is where I first saw them. First we have Norma, Lal and Mike Waterson plus their cousin John Harrison. Then Norma Waterson married Martin Carthy who recorded as part of the group. They also did records as a duo. Their daughter is Eliza Carthy, who then did dups with both her mother, Norma and her father, Martin.

Martin Carthy

From Paul Simon to the man whose arrangement of Scarborough Fair that Paul Simon lifted. Martin Carthy’s earlier (and most collectable LPs) are on the Fontana label.

Crown of Horn: Martin Carthy, Topic 12″ LP 1976

Out of The Cut: Martin Carthy, Topic 12″ LP 1977

Nic Jones

Penguin Eggs: Nic Jons, Topic LP 1980. UK Album Chart #71

Mostly Nic Jones recorded for Trailer Records, but his Topic album in 1980 became one of the most sought after and cult Topic albums. That would be because it is brilliant, not simply good. It is also a key folk revival album, quoted by many artists as an inspiration. . It was his last album too, as he was injured severely in a car crash in 1982 and was unable to play or perform. The songs are traditional, and his muscular guitar playing is much in a Martin Carthy style.

A 2001 BBC2 poll named Penguin Eggs as the 2nd Best Folk Album of All Time (behind Leige and Lief). NicJones is more modest:

Nic Jones: It’s all right, but people only go on about it because I wasn’t around after that. I was interested in a more modern sound and I think I could have come up with a more interesting record after Penguin Eggs. Me having the smash-up made it more popular.
quoted by Colin Irwin, The Guardian 28 June 2012

Topic LP Samplers 1966-1972

Topic were into sampler LPs, and used the word ‘sampler’ well before CBS (The Rock Machine Turns You On) and Island (You Can All Join In) made sampler albums a major item.

Topic Sampler Number 2: Topic LP 1966

gallery – click to enlarge

It’s one of those little ironies of the muse that led Topic to focus on the expensive LP, rather than the crassness of the singles chart, or even many affordable EPs.

There are few Topic singles around, while LPs such as The Small Pipes of Northumbria’s Wild Hills O’wannie (1974), The Oldham Tinkers Oldham’s Burning Sands (1971), Earl Soham Slog’s Step Dance and Country Music From Suffolk or Fred Jordan’s The Frost is On The Pumpkin are rare, but still more likely finds. 

The Spinners, The Ian Campbell Folk Group, Davy Graham, Alexis Korner, The Battlefield Band, Shirley Collins, and Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick recorded on Topic, as did Linda Thompson for her Fashionably Late album.

The Topic box set (2009) competes with the Complete Motown Singles series for best-presented box set ever. There are facsimiles of 10” record labels (Topic also did 8” LPs!), all the labels, a complete catalogue of every release since 1939, including sub labels StringImpact and Special Delivery (the latter for CD albums), superb remastering and fascinating liner notes.

21st Century Topic

The Introduction Series

Topic Records: The Real Sound f Folk Music: 2 LP set 2017
Designed to introduce the “Introduction” series on vinyl and CD

The sleeve shows what Topic felt were the 20 influential tracks from its history in 2017. (The white band strip is removed to open the set). It is designed to showcase the INTRODUCTION series.

The Introduction series: inner LP sleeves in Topic Red Flag hue. Only the compilation has the retro centre design:

An Introduction to June Tabor: inner sleeve
Topic Records: The Real Sound f Folk Music: 2 CD 28 track compilation 2017

Note the CD version has a fake vinyl peep through scoop at the top.

June Tabor: Introduction Series 2 LPs
Martin Simpson: Introduction Series 2 LPs

Topic are still gong strong with the revived interest in psych-folk, Nu-folk, or Anglo-folk, call it what you will.  

An Introduction to CD series … 2017-2018

There were nearly twenty volumes in this series, all on CD, only some on vinyl too. They are a way of getting deeply into the label.

Eliza Carthy

Red / Rice: Eliza Carthy, simultaneous CD release 1998

Eliza Carthy (see above) is central to Topic from 1997 on. Her touring and recording band was a training ground for Bellowhead among others. Amplified modern folk.

So her father was an incredible guitarist, her mother an incredible singer. Eliza plays viola and sings. Vinyl purists look away, Eliza Carthy was achieving prominence in 1997, before the vinyl revival. I have all her albums on CD.

Gallery: click to enlarge

Later Topic hits …

At the end of October 2013 Topic had the #2 position in the Indie album charts with Linda Thompson’s Won’t Be Long Now, and the #19 position with The Full English’s The Full English release to celebrate the Cecil Sharp House online archive of 58,000 English folksongs.

Topic and Record Store Day

Record Store Day is Topic’s sort of thing. They focus on EPs and singles. Unlike some other labels, they strive for beautifully produced reissues of rare and collectable records.

Love Will Tear Us Apart (2012 remix): June Tabor & The Oysterband 2012

3/ 4 AD: Davy Graham, 2013 reissue of 1962 original EP

The Davy Graham / Alexis Korner reissue for Record Store Day 2013 of the 3/ 4 AD EP, notes that the original release went through three sleeve designs, all of them issued, which was a continuing Topic habit , and this release gives one as the new front, with the other two on an inner card liner. I’d forgotten the signatures over a stamp in those days.

The Hazards of Love (EP): Anne Briggs 2013 50th Anniversary reissue uses a retro centre design from 1963

Anne Briggs: Inner sleeve: you also get a booklet with notes on each song

Happiness: Martin & Eliza Carthy Record Store Day 2014, centre with Topic Records 75 design for 2014. This is the Molly Drake song, not the Ken Dodd one.

Canadee-I-O: Nic Jones 2014, shrink-wrapped with info sheet / The Flandyke Shore: Nic Jones 2014, B-side. From one of Topic’s greatest LPs, Penguin Eggs.

Green Onions: Martin Simpson, Andy Cutting, Tom Wright, Record Store Day 2016 / Reverse of STOP 2016: Willie Taylor: Martin Simpson, Andy Cutting, Nancy Kerr

Topic reissue EPs are as good as you get with a printed card inner sleeve, and often a booklet on thin paper with additional notes.

Modern Topic albums: Gallery click to enlarge

Topic embraced CD and have comprehensive reissue series, as well as the cream of current folk: Fay Hield, Eliza Carthy, Martin Simpson, June Tabor, Rachael McShane (of Bellowhead),

Fay Hield

Recommended:

This is the list of all seven CDs in the box set.


Topic Records: Three Score & Ten. A Voice To The People  (Topic 7 CD set 2009)

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1 thought on “Topic

  1. I did some statistics: there are ten banjos here, maybe eleven because most likely John Dunkerley has a banjo in his hands. Plus a banjo joke. I let it pass. We are not in Oscars Gala anyway. – If someone is interested in Peggy Seeger… there is an article in Toppermost.

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