Trailer, Leader

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The Copper Family (Leader)

A Song For Every Season, The Copper Family, Leader 4 x LP, set 1971

Both the Leader and Trailer labels were run by Bill Leader, after he left Transatlantic. He had been a major authentic folk producer at Topic Records then at Transatlantic.

Leader and Trailer operated from 1969 to 1977. For five years, until 1974, the records were pressed by EMI, and distributed by Transatlantic. From 1974, the manufacturing and distribution were by Transatlantic. Leader Sound also moved from London to Halifax in 1973, not a usual move for a record label.

Bill Leader We were functioning in London on the first floor flat in Camden Square – two rooms, kitchen and bathroom – living space, working space, studio, where we packed the records, recorded the stuff, did everything else. We thought, we don’t need to be in London. We’re not at the sharp end of show business. So in 1973 we ended up in Halifax. Very modest studio. But we able to do what we needed to technically do for the label, and some local recording.
Sleeve notes to Never The Same CD, 2005

Discogs treats them as two separate labels, but they’re inextricably and confusingly linked. There is considerable crossover with Transatlantic too. Trailer and Leader share a catalogue number sequence (LEA / LER), then the number 2, 3 or 4 is a price code and the next three numbers are the sequential catalogue number.

Highway seems to be a sub-brand of Trailer, used on represses in the late 70s. In fsct Highway were a company that bought out Trailer, but only lasted briefly.

1977 reissue of Bright Phoebus

For example, Cyril Tawney’s Down Among The Barley Straw is labelled on the sleeve as Trailer LER 2095. The logo on the rear sleeve says TRAILER. The centre label is LEADER with the same catalogue number,

TRAILER on the rear logo, Trailer LER 2095
LEADER on the centre label, P. Transatlantic, still LER 2095

Then High Level by The High Level Ranters is Trailer LER 2030, and has a Trailer centre label, but a large LEADER SOUND logo on the rear.

Both labels were very traditional, though Leader seems even more older artist focussed. Online it suggests that Leader was annotated with historical notes, while Trailer was folk revival. OK, but a lot of Trailer releases had extensive notes on the songs.

Traditional with a capital T

An early Leader release. Seriously traditional? Remastered 1908 cylinder recordings.

Unto Brigg Fair: Leader LP 1972

These are the sleeve notes:

In the early years of the century a few enlightened folk song collectors took the revolutionary step of recording the actual performances of country singers and musicians, thus capturing all the idiosyncrasies of style, where before the words and music had been laboriously and relatively inaccurately transcribed on paper. The cylinder phonograph had made this huge step forward possible. Bartok’s collecting in eastern Europe is well known. Less well is the pioneer work in England by the Australian composer and pianist, Percy Grainger.

Grainger started recording on location in 1906. He visited various places in England including north Lincolnshire where he recorded several outstanding singers including Joseph Taylor whose singing of Brigg Fair was the inspiration of Delius’ English Rhapsody.

Grainger revisited Lincolnshire in 1908 and in the same year brought Joseph Taylor to the studios of the Gramophone Company to make commercial disc recordings of some of his songs.

It is from these two 1908 ventures that the recordings on this LP are taken. Carefully remastered to eliminate as far as possible the technical short-comings of the period, they are not just old and rare recordings of historic interest, they are amongst the very finest performances of English traditional singing ever to be permanently collected.

The Gramophone Company recordings were made in London on July 9 and 11, 1908.

Masters of Irish Music

This was a Leader series.

Seamus Tansey: Seamus Tansey with Eddie Corcoran, 1970

Music From The Coleman Country, The Coleman Country Traditional Society 1972

CD

There is a CD compilation of Trailer recordings with extensive sleeve notes from a 2005 interview with Bill Leader, Never The Same … the title track is by Lal Waterson.

My first reaction on listening through is that Bill Leader wanted to return to his earliest days of recording with Topic. Most have voice plus one instrument. The title track has chamber instruments too, so is the most elaborate track. Others have just voice, or just concertina or just fiddle. When guitar accompanies vocal, it’s decoration free, just a basic backing even when the guitarist is as brilliant as Martin Carthy or Nic Jones.

Nic Jones was a find, early in his career. However listening to Annachie Gordon, a fabulous singer and song. I wouldn’t have accepted the recording as it is. The thumb picked lower strings of the acoustic guitar are resonating and booming too much for my taste. I’d have moved the mics around and done a retake.

The Trailer / Leader recordings are very basic compared to the work Bill Leader was doing at the end of the Transatlantic era. Maybe that’s the point. Never the Same. Capturing the moment. The performance will never be the same again.

Did Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears have a reactive effect on British folk music? I can’t stand Pears tenor voice, and I may not be alone. The Bill Leader and Ewan MacColl / Cyril Tawney / The Young Tradition “authentic” school insisted on using regional accents and there was a dislike of piano that verged on obsessive. It was held that the amount of technology needed to create a piano made it unsuitable as a folk instrument (though a concertina was accepted, and a fretted acoustic guitar or a banjo is a long way technically from a reed whistle). Was that a reaction to Benjamin Britten at the piano accompanying Peter Pears carefully enunciated advanced RP renditions of folk songs?  The Trailer / Leader label’s authentic folk recordings from 1969-76 eschew keyboards almost entirely. The Unthanks use Adrian McNally’s piano extensively, and the argument is that few folk songs can be authentically traced back before its invention, and that every early 19th century school and pub had a piano, just as churches had organs, even if they were pump organs. So a folk singer in an 1840s pub is just as likely to have had someone banging it out on piano in the corner. Howard Goodall’s Big Bangs: Five Discoveries That Changed Musical History has a chapter (Accidents Will Happen) on the adoption of equal temperament, which he says was universal by 1840, when Victorian precision engineering could move from piano, and apply it to other instruments:

Howard Goodall: With the use of an industrial lathe, it was now possible to bore woodwind instruments with pinpoint accuracy and create beautifully even brass valves and moulded horns … the Victorian Empire of Equal Temperament set out to conquer the world, suffocating the gentler but less reliable systems.
Howard Goodall’s Big Bangs: Five Discoveries That Changed Musical History

Goodall adds that the piano accordion also spread equal temperament to parts pianos couldn’t reach.

The thing about English folk singing, which carries over to English prog, is the love of wavering notes especially at the end of lines. That’s perhaps why the violin family, without fixed intervals was popular with authentic folk movement players. Though as Goodall points out:

Howard Goodall: Even the instruments that don’t have to have a temperament, like the violin family, are obliged to play by the same rules and regulations obeyed by those that do. There’s no point playing a true perfect dominant (5th) on your violin if the pianist accompanying you can’t. He’s louder and more powerful than you, and he’s got hundreds of dominants tuned his way to your puny few. Consequently, you conform to his standard.
Howard Goodall’s Big Bangs: Five Discoveries That Changed Musical History

Samplers

The Folk Trailer: sampler compilation 1970
Our Folk Music Heritage: Various Artists, Trailer LP 1975
I’ll spare you the cover image of Morris Dancers

Back in 1969, they even had Barbara Dickson on Trailer for what could have ended up as a soundtrack to The Outlander TV series. But didn’t.

The Fate o’ Charlie: Songs of The Jacobite Rebellion: Archie Fisher, Barbara Dickson, JohnMcKinnon, Trailer LP 1969

Dave Burland

Dave Burland’s unaccompanied A Dalesman’s Litany is a striking song (rather than a song about strikes, but trailer has plenty of those too)… From Hull and Halifax and Hell, good Lord deliver me. That was a line that often came to mind when I lived in Hull. Doesn’t Dave Burland look the perfect folk musician too?

A Dalesman’s Litany 1971
Dave Burland, 1972

Dick Gaughan

Dick Gaughan was typical of the folk artist of the era, and I don’t just mean the beard. He recorded solo, and with others. He did two Trailer albums in 1972 and 1977, but three Topic albums in the same era. He recorded for Celtic Music, Greentrax, Impetus, Rubber record, Folk Freak, Highpoint. His career suggests that none of these people were on long contracts, but rather on single or limited album deals.

No More Forever, 1972
Kist o’ Gold 1977

Nic Jones

CD reissues of Nic Jones Trailer LPs are on Leader. Nic Jones in retrospect is the most collectable Trailer artist. OK, it’s because of the wonderful Penguin Eggs album which is on Topic Records. He also pops up on all sorts of Trailer albums, including Dave Burland above.

Bill Leader Most of the Nic Jones stuff was recorded in Halifax. Essex lad. He sought out very interesting versions of songs. He was always well-prepared. I suppose our most adventurous recording was when on one album we stretched the 8-track to its limits by trying to run one song into the next, making the outro from one the intro to the other.
Sleeve notes to Never The Same CD, 2005

Really? They needed 8 track for one voice and one guitar? I’d guess it was The Noah’s Ark Trap as at the time of the first two, Leader thought 4-track elaborate.

Ballads & Songs: Nic Jones, Trailer 1970
1970 copies have a beige centre label.
1972 represses have a red centre label

Nic Jones: Nic Jones Trailer LP 1971
Red labels are 1971 release, yellow labels are 1975 repress
This is an autographed copy

Songs of A Changing World: Jon Raven, Nic Jones, Tony Rose, Trailer LP 1973

So “Revival” material didn’t have sleeve notes? This has two sides of a 12″ x 12″ insert. e.g.

From Songs Of A Changing world

The Noah’s Ark Trap: Nic Jones, Trailer LP 1977

Lal & Mike Waterson: Bright Phoebus

Bright Phoebus: Lal & Mike Waterson, Trailer LP 1972

Bright Phoebus has a two page inner sleeve with detailed song notes which belies the “Leader is heavily annotated” story. Most of the various Watersons releases are Topic.

This one has group / chamber accompaniment. They had three of the Liege & Lief Fairport Convention: Richard Thompson, Dave Mattacks, Ashley Hutchings. Then they had Tim Hart, and Martin Carthy plus vocal from Norma Waterson and Maddy Prior. Bill Leader appeared on Jaw Harp on one song. This is approaching folk rock and it was reissued in 2017 on the Domino label.

The sleeve notes to the Never The Same CD sum up the issues with Leader / Trailer in general.

Bill Leader We decided we would do the LP, and we brought in all sorts of all-star cast people. Some stuff was done in a 4 track session in Livingstone. Most of it was done 2 track – early Beatles fashion – we recorded a backing track, bounced it across, dubbed the vocals to it, very crude. Quite a bit of it was done at Regents Park – we had a studio in the basement of Cecil Sharp House for a brief period. It got fairly elaborate. There are a couple of tracks with a Dixieland jazz band, a cello on some tracks, but that wasn’t from me. That was from them.
Sleeve notes to Never The Same CD, 2005

Cecil Sharp House is the headquarters of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. Cecil Sharp (1859-1924) was the great folk archivist, musician and composer. I have spoken there (though on English as a Foreign Language), and it’s a beautiful venue and setting. However things didn’t turn out perfectly.

Bill Leader The one that should have hit the high spots was Bright Phoebus … a beautiful record, way ahead of its time, but not that far off that people would ignore it. It was planned to come out around Christmas time, but was delayed. The major pressing – a couple of thousand, huge for us as an initial pressing – was done by RCA in Washington (County Durham) on Christmas Eve. Well you know what it’s like – these Geordies on Christmas Eve – anyway, it turned out, Christ knows how many had gone through after the stamper had moved. Nobody checked it. The run was pathetic, and it really did cut into the success of the record. It didn’t hit the Christmas rush, then it wasn’t pleasurable weeding through … we found out which stamper – taking each record out of the sleeve and reading the stamper number. Then we met ‘Mr Stone Wall’ himself up at Washington – “I hear no Wow. I hear no distortion.” We didn’t have the reserves to ride through that one, and we lost the impetus. I mean you see (Bright Phoebus) written about and talked about, but what should have been a major influence and major seller still really hasn’t hit.
Sleeve notes to Never The Same CD, 2005

This may be why they stopped pressing with RCA. I know the issue of ‘Mr Stone Wall’ confronted with a faulty recording. We spent a week in a spoken voice studio in Wembley. It was a new studio, and the session was memorable as we had Tony Robinson (Baldrick from Black Adder ) on the session. The studio was near the flight path to Northolt airport. On many play backs we said, ‘There’s a plane in the background.’ The engineer, who owned the studio, always said, ‘No, I can’t hear a plane!’ Everyone else could.

It’s also one where original red label pressings are worth three times as much as later yellow label pressings. everyone goes for the earliest pressing. In the case of this album, later issues may well be superior.

The single, Rubber Band was released on Transatlantic showing the complexity of the tie up. Trailer didn’t do singles. There’s an exception:

Lazlo Fehrer: Dave & Toni Arthur LER 1

High Level Ranters

The Lads of Northumbria: The High Level Ranters,1969

Keep Your Feet Still, Geordie Hinnie, The High Level Ranters 1970

High Level: The High Level Ranters, Trailer 1971

Robin & Barry Dransfield

These were unusual in actually composing some songs themselves, and combine acoustic guitar and fiddle. They recorded it playing the instruments. No separate tracks for folk! The accents are classic Mummerset, but they are rightly collectable. Note that the ‘blue’ in the rout of the blues are soldiers in blue uniforms who were routed. Nothing to do with the route of the blues from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago, though I suspect the misapprehension might enhance value. This is one that’s been reissued on vinyl and CD.

The Rout of The Blues 1970
Lord of All I Behold 1971

Martin Simpson

Golden Vanity: Martin Simpson, Trailer LP 1976

LP centre labels (Gallery: click to enlarge)

The end

The oil crisis of 1973 increased the price of vinyl. They’d had the Bright Phoebus issues with RCA in County Durham.

Bill Leader (The oil crisis) gave RCA the opportunity to say, ‘We’re not dealing with these piddling little people like you. Piss off! Assuring you of our best attention at all times. A little later, the deal we had with Transatlantic fell through because it got sold on to other people, Granada, then a couple of fellows just into the business.

Leader added that their 8 track set up was stuck between new mini 4-track systems people could use anywhere, and the move into 16 track by the professional studios. The studio work they were doing for other labels died out, and they went into bankruptcy.

Trailer, Leader and collectability

This arcane folk area is one where bargains can be picked up. In a week, I saw the Nic Jones LP at £50, and a few days later I saw Songs Of A Changing World for £3.50. I had remembered a shop had two boxes of arcane folk, much on Topic, Transatlantic or rare, tiny Scots and English folk labels at £3.50 to £5. I’d seen it four months earlier and bought a couple of LPs. I went back and the boxes looked untouched since the previous visit. Like Modern Jazz, this sort of album is worth a high price to a specialist collector, but they’d be found on line. Yet, I know of at least two specialists where they’d put £20 on any decent condition Trailer / Leader LP. They might wait to get it.

A few examples.I’d conclude that Rare Record Guide is weak on this specialist area, but then they rate The Fate o’ Charlie at twice to four times what Discogs have seen it sold for.

ArtistAlbum titleLabelRare Record Guide 2022Discogs:
Median sale / highest sale
Lal & Mike
Waterson
Bright PhoebusTrailerRed label £100
yellow label £30

£113 / £211
On sale £250
Archie Fisher, Barbara Dickson, John McKinnonThe Fate o’ Charlie: Songs of The Jacobite RebellionTrailer£60£15 / £30
Nic JonesBallads & SongsTrailer  beige label £60
Highway label £15
£ 50 / £75
Nic JonesNic JonesTrailer  Red label £50
yellow label £40
£50 /£150
Jon Raven, Nic Jones, Tony RoseSongs Of A Changing WorldTrailerRed label £30 with insert£24 / £50
on sale
£18 to £70
The Copper FamilyA Song For Every Season sampler LPTrailer£40£9.95 / £15
The Copper FamilyA Song For All Seasons 4 x LP setTrailer£50£35 / £65
High Level RantersHigh LevelTrailer
Leader
Not listed (less than £12)Never sold
on sale £5 to £13
Robin & Barry DransfieldThe Rout of The BluesTrailer£60 white label
£40 red label
£9 / £35
on sale to £50
£43 amazon
Robin & Barry DransfieldLord of All I BeholdTrailer£15£15 / £40
on sale £8 to £50
Martin SimpsonGolden VanityTrailer£20£23 / £30
on sale
£14 to £50
Cyril TawneyDown Among The Barley StrawLeaderNot listed (less than £12)
 
£6.56
£15
some at £30 for sale
Joseph Taylor etcUnto Brigg FairLeader£20£22 / £30
on sale £30 to £40

SEE LINKS:

Transatlantic

Xtra

Trailer and Leader

Audio Fidelity

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