Transatlantic Group

Transatlantic was an early British independent which set the template for so many other British start up labels. It was also a key distributor for many niche American independent labels. These are the ones it distributed in the UK:

FOLK: Folkways, Leader, Trailer, Rubber, Village Thing, Tangent, Big Ben
JAZZ: Blue Note, Milestone, Prestige, Black Lion, Improv, Audio-Fidelity, Matchbox
BLUES/RAGTIME: Arhoolie, Blue Goose, Yazoo, Big Bear, Douglas
CLASSICAL: Nonesuch, Unicorn, Everest,

Transatlantic licenses

Transatlantic LPs had inner sleeves advertising Transatlantic and its Xtra sub-label, and the labels they distributed: Folkways (the world’s most authoritative catalogue for folk, blues and educational records), Prestige (jazz) from the USA, Audio Fidelity (jazz, easy listening, classical), MK Records for ‘Soviet Classical LP Records” and last but not least, Conversaphone Language Courses, and also Dr Keith Cammeron’s American label.

From the Transatlantic website:

Nathan Joseph’s Transatlantic Records – with its adventurous tastes in music, its innovative marketing and its philosophy of supportive commitment to cutting-edge artists who had been missed or passed-over by the major labels – became the prototype for the many independent UK record companies that followed in its footsteps later in the 1960s and 1970s – companies such as Island, Virgin, Chysalis, Charisma, Immediate, Track, Blue Horizon, Radar, Demon, Stiff, Mute, Beggars Banquet and Rough Trade.

Transatlantic grew from small beginnings in 1961 as the primary UK importer of the otherwise unobtainable American folk, blues, ragtime, zydeco and jazz recordings that would influence a generation of future British rock musicians – to become the largest independently owned and distributed record company in the UK.

Having started primarily as an importer of hard-to-find American music, Joseph’s Transatlantic rapidly became a fully-fledged record label in its own right. The company discovered and recorded many seminal British artists in a broad range of genres – including rock, pop, folk, blues, jazz, ragtime, country, classical, comedy, spoken-word and more. The company grew to be Britain’s first and leading “mini-major” with a turnover that eventually rivalled some of the majors.

The company’s back catalogue ended up being distributed by Cherry Red in the CD era. Yet in Independence Days: The Story of the UK’s Independent Record Labels by Alex Ogg (published by Cherry Red), they’re missed altogether, though Topic, Polygon, Oriole, and Ember are all included. An oversight.

Profile was difficult for independents. I trawled through a large pile of New Musical Express and found only one Transatlantic advert, for Big T singles. The prime slots were pre-booked by the majors in these magazines. They advertised in Record Retailer though. So when Zig Zag magazine came out in 1970, you find three full page Transatlantic adverts.

Prestige licensed discs included Miles Davis, Mose Allison, Richard “Groove” Holmes, Roland Kirk, John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk.

Distribution included Elektra’s Nonesuch label, Everest, Unicorn, Prestige and Blue Note. Nonesuch been formed by Elektra in 1964, and then had a Transatlantic label for a brief time before shifting to WEA.

Maple Leaf Rag / The Entertainer: Joshua Rifkin 1974 single on Nonesuch (P 1970)

Laurence Aston recounts the expansion of the company:

In 1971 the company moved to larger premises in Marylebone High Street where it stayed until the ed of the decade, by then under new ownership. With the move came an expansion in staffing and the consolidation of its position as a ‘minor major.’ One of the most important factors behind the company’s growth was its creation of the first independent national sales and distribution network.

Long before Rough Trade and the indie network of today, Transatlantic had car and van salesmen on the road, selling and delivering Transatlantic Group releases and back catalogue to retailers and wholesalers all over the country. At the start, it had an embryonic telephone sales operation (one girl, one phone line and an order pad). The Transatlantic van even carried Rolling Stone magazine, when the UK edition was first published in 1969, although the economics of magazine distribution to record shops were not well enough understood and the relationship did not last long.
Laurence Aston, The Transatlantic Story CD box set, 1998

It had two main labels, Transatlantic and Xtra, and was closely involved with Bill Leader’s two labels, Trailer and Leader.




Trailer and Leader

Audio Fidelity