Tony Cummings spoke to Keith Dixon to get the history of a tiny record label, PLANKTON RECORDS
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Tony: After 20 years you released a compilation called 'b. 6th May 1978: The First 20 Years'. That's a long title.
Keith: We like to cram information in.
Tony: Ben Okafor was Britain's best-known gospel reggae artist, although he preferred to be known as a world music artist because of his African influences. Plankton released some of his music.
Keith: We did. Ben had released something on his own label initially, a vinyl EP. Then he released something with one of the major Christian labels at the time, but he didn't feel happy. In 1992 he had a new album he wanted to put out, and he knew us from Greenbelt. Ben was one of those great artists who, although he was playing on the main festival programme, would always come down to the Fringe, do something with the bands there and encourage people to come to the Fringe. We got talking. He'd learnt about Plankton and through a series of conversations, spending time together, doing work together at various festivals and gigs, he said, 'Can I put my next album out with Plankton?' We went, 'Yeah, OK then.' That was the album 'Generation' in 1992, which went on to be licenced to an American label. Ben got a gig at Cornerstone festival and wowed them there. The only problem was, after that point, the label that took his album on in America went bust. He was on the cusp of doing something unique at the time in America. He's a wonderful musician, and the albums he did with us were fantastic.
Tony: The late Geoff Mann was known and respected in the mainstream. How did his involvement with Plankton come about?
Keith: We got to know Geoff through Marc Catley. Marc we got to know through Greenbelt - another Fringe regular. He had an album called 'Classic Acoustic Rock', because Marc's a fantastic classically trained guitarist, but he liked to fuse that with pop/rock music, and he had a unique style he called classic acoustic rock. Marc was actually a friend of Geoff's and they, out of the blue, came to see us and say, 'We've done this album together called 'Indifference'. Can we put it out through Plankton?' Geoff had a band at the time, and he wanted it to be a completely separate project to anything he was doing with the band or the major labels. Again, we said, 'We'd love to.'
Tony: Marc caused some controversy in the evangelical world, and indeed in the pages of Cross Rhythms. What would you call those recordings he did? Comedy releases?
Keith: He called them 'satirical worship albums'. He was not making fun of worshipping God, he was making observations of worship music and the like that was being released at the time.
Tony: To some extent by doing it badly?
Keith: Yeah. We're going back to the 1990s. What many people were putting out in the worship sphere was bad. He did it at Greenbelt as a one-off, and it went down a storm. It mushroomed. He did an album called 'Make The Tea' in the early '90s and that was picked up by Radio 4. He got radio interviews on that and they loved him for a while.
Tony: Did you ever hear the story about the disagreement he had with Cross Rhythms? I gave a thumbs-down review of one of his albums under the name Tina Matthews, and it really irritated him. He listed a track on one of his albums called "Tina Matthews" that had nothing on it.
Keith: Yes! I didn't get too involved in all of that. To show you what Marc was like, he did a song about me called "Keith". At the time he was making an album. This is the time before emails, so I'd ring him and get his answering machine, and I'd leave all this information. This song, "Keith", is about 40 seconds long, and it's just this nice, gentle acoustic guitar plucking away, then at the end Marc comes on and says, 'Keith, please don't leave any more messages on my answering machine.' And that was the track. So you and I are united in being the subject of Marc Catley songs. But mine had more music than yours did.
Tony: I meant to find out if he'd managed to copyright "Tina Matthews" - register a song that doesn't exist!
Keith: He had one song on one of his satirical albums that was 13 seconds long and it had a 45-word title. Registering that - because in those days it was typing forms on a typewriter - was just mindless. Then you'd put, 'Time: 13 seconds'.