A big birthday is being celebrated this autumn - one of the most wonderful folk music record companies in the world is becoming 25! To celebrate, FolkWorld is paying tribute to Greentrax, the home of the very best of Scottish music.
The Greentrax story starts with a retiring policeman who decides to found, with part of his pension, a small record company for Scottish folk music. Ian Green, already well known on the Scottish folk scene from various other folk ventures, thought it would be an interesting challenge to run a small label, releasing "two or three albums a year" - because there were not many good folk labels around and, as he reminiscents in his autobiography "Fuzz to Folk", "when major record labels did sign up Scottish folk artists, the albums were invariably quickly deleted".
And in 1986, the first three Greentrax albums took Scotland by storm. Clearly it helped that one of those was an album by the already then famous The McCalmans - as Ian Green writes "Ian McCalman contacted me and proposed an album by them to help the fledgling label get underway. That was so typical of The McCalmans: Always there to give a helping hand to a fellow folkie. Having someone with their clout join the label on the outset was a real boost (...)" The other two were excellent albums as well - one by fiddler Ian Hardy, the other by singer/songwriter Iain MacDonald.
So in those 25 years, what has happened? Well rather than 2 or 3 albums a year, Greentrax has released more than 400 albums (468 to be exact), and has become the leading Scottish record company (and in the meantime, several other Scottish labels that featured folk music have disappeared or virtually disappeared). The Greentrax catalogue is most impressive, featuring the whole breadth of Scottish folk and traditional music. Under Ian Green's wings, some major Scottish acts took off (and have since left Greentrax - but more often than not not signing up with a different record company, but to release the albums themselves) - such as Shogglenifty, Peat Bog Fairies, Salsa Celtica. More recently, some very well known stars found recently their way to Greentrax - such as Barbara Dickson and Donnie Munro. And beneath that more commercial layer, there is a catalogue full of treasures, from the archaeic to the contemporary, from piping via fiddling and trad bands to traditional singing and songwriting. Any album on the Greentrax catalogue is guaranteed to be of high quality and literally made with love.
So what's behind Greentrax' success? Well it must be the mixture of deep knowledge of the Scottish folk scene, with the Greens having always their ears "close the ground", their sheer dedication and commitment to Scottish music, and their integrity. Artists know they can fully trust Greentrax, and it is more like a very big family than a purely contractual relationship between musicians and Greentrax. Also importantly, it's not all about making profit, and some Greentrax albums are pure labours of love and will never really make any money. The best example for the latter are Greentrax' Scottish Traditions series, where Ian Green was approached by the School of Scottish Studies whether he was interested to release music from their archives of field recordings - and by now already 24 albums have been published in this series, all labours of love which commercially would not stack up, but which are real treasures and highly important to preserve the knowledge of the traditions.
So after 25 years of Greentrax, and Ian Green well into his seventies, a common question for Ian Green is "When will you retire Ian?" As he says in his autobiography - as long as health will allow, he will continue to be actively involved in Greentrax on a daily basis. And is that a surprise? With Greentrax being his passion rather than a job! So here's to the next 25 years Greentrax - no doubt by then we can expect the 1000th album!
Personal Greentrax "Desert Island Disc" collection
Over the years, Greentrax has released many many favourite albums. Certainly a good starting point to delve into the Greentrax catalogue are the jubilee compilations - most notably (in my opinion) the three CD set celebrating Greentrax' 20th birthday, but the freshly released double CD for the 25th anniversary is certainly another good one.
To give a flavour of the Greentrax catalogue, I have put together 15 of my very personal Greentrax favourite albums. Every single one of them I would class as Desert Island Disc, and I would not want to do without. So below just some 4% of the wealth of top quality recordings that Greentrax released in the last 25 years.
New band sounds: Always with the ear close to the ground, Ian Green managed to discover and sign up some of the most exciting new bands to have come out of Scotland over the last 25 years. Best known were probably Shooglenifty and Peatbog Fairies, but these are my personal favourites:
Scottish classics: As well as "new sounds", Greentrax could secure many trad all time favourites - the McCalmans probably the most famous of the lot. This is my small choice of these:
Soloists and duos: Greentrax has a long collection of solo and duo singers and instrumentalists, full of favourites.
Photo Credits: (1) Ian Green, 1985 (from website); (2) Paul McKenna, (3) Brian McNeill (by Walkin' Tom); (4) Chris Stout (by Lukas Traxler).