You’ve got to be brave or stupid to start a record label in this decade. Well, that, or still in love with music as an art form and its expression of what it is to be human. Especially if it comes in a nice physical package you can treasure, as well as listen to. By Alan O’Hare. 

“A live presence or the way they sing – it’s rare to want to work with someone from a demo tape.” Steve Kinrade, head facilitator at Klee Music, is talking about what attracts him to artists. “I want to see meaning, depth and an interplay between music, vocal, melody and lyric which elevates the human condition.” Not much, then! Joking aside, it’s great to chat to someone with a deep connection to the art which drives (what’s left of) the commerce. Klee Music is a Merseyside-based record label that first found its feet in the early nineties. There was a charitable donation from Polydor Records – Kinrade has a background in management – to get them on their way, but the label never truly took off. Fast forward nearly three decades and Klee Music is back… as a boutique home for vinyl and cassette-only releases.

“Having been on a sabbatical for many years, and with the rise of digital platforms and the importance of social media, I realised the game had changed,” Kinrade reveals. “Where there was once a route to the majors – and a game plan which I had some success with – now that doesn’t exist. I don’t worry about the commercial aspect these days, it’s all about the art.” That philanthropic philosophy (well, almost, they’ll still take their twenty percent!) has helped put physical product out in 2018 for the likes of Esme Bridie, The Racket and Emilio Pinchi. “Music is a very broad church and an expansive art-form,” he says about the artists who have worked with Klee. “All genres should be respected and celebrated – but trust your own judgement and don’t try and second-guess. It’s art at the end of the day.”

He’s right. But, still, we’re going to dance around the architecture and try to find out what makes someone want to start a record label in a decade dominated by digital delivery. I remain fascinated by physical media, and our site stats suggest enough of you do too, but let’s have it right; all music fans are geeks these days. The mainstream no longer pays attention to us. So, we have to pay attention to each other…

Tell us about your background with music, Steve…
My earliest musical memory is listening to a The Spinners album in my parents front room and gazing at the photograph of these men in chunky knitwear. The big breakthrough in my musical education was watching a school rock band – Captain Scarlett & The Mysterons – blaze through a version of ‘Whole Lotta’ Rosie’… the guitarist, John Gillan, later played in Come In Tokio with the man who co-produced Thomas Lang’s latest album, ‘The German Alphabet’, for Klee. Funny how things are connected!

Indeed. How did you make the leap from being a fan to being involved?
Years later, when I was managing a friend’s band, I ran into a chap called Dave Fenlon and began helping him out around an office in Widnes. The role grew, I deferred my training for real life, and went on to work with differing bands and the likes of Polydor, MCA and Warner Chappell.

Some big names, there… any highlights?
Well, a UK tour with EMF at their zenith was, to excuse the pun, totally unbelievable! Meeting a 17 year-old from Widnes called Jane Weaver – whose voice, just as now, sent shivers down my spine – was also a highlight. She stuck at it and has won… a great example of how to build a career.

What do you want from an artist?
Integrity, dedication to their craft and the realisation that you can’t do it all yourself!

Is that Klee’s mission statement?
We’re an eclectic label and see ourselves as an art form. If we like something is all that matters. Art is subjective: some people love Damian Hirst, I see him as a post-modern chancer… but, so what? It’s all subjective and that’s what makes music brilliant.

Is there anything that connects the artists you work with?
Good question! I have to again say perhaps their live presence or the way they sing. That voice and/or presence is so important. Elijah James has it, Sophie Bernice has it, The Racket are brilliant live as well…

… the plugging has started!
No! We also see it in local artists such as Astles, Rachael Jean Harris, Karen Turley, White Little Lies, Mountainface… people need to realise how richly talented and diverse the local music scene is at the moment. And then support it!

And so say all of us. Tell me about the Klee Music acoustic nights…
A simple premise, but with a twist: three artists, each performing a thirty minute solo set, then they all come together for the final quarter of the night to perform two songs as a trio and then a cover of a song that their co-performer has written. That’s what makes the night so special. It’s been a great year and the trio of Nick Ellis, Steve Roberts and Thom Morecroft will be a fitting finale this weekend at 81 Renshaw – the venue also helps and is brilliant. Next year is already booked and I’m thinking about 2020…

What would your dream line-up be?
Nick Drake, David Sylvian and Cyndi Lauper. Over a whole year, it would probably include Ron Sexsmith, Jon Anderson, Tracey Chapman and Mick Head – especially if he played songs from ‘Zilch’!

Find out more about Klee Music here.

Collage by Seb