was established in October 1970 by independent music publisher David Platz and based at his ESSEX MUSIC offices at Dumbarton House, 68 Oxford Street, London W1.
Since the mid-sixties Platz had set up production companies in association with record producers and these production companies licensed their recordings to major record labels. The first such venture, New Breed Productions - an Essex Music company - was established in 1966 by Platz with record producer Denny Cordell. Cordell had scored a string of chart hits, including UK number ones for The Moody Blues ('Go Now') and Georgie Fame ('Getaway'); New Breed was enticed by DECCA records to lease their recordings to their new 'hip' imprint DERAM Records, ostensibly making Cordell an A&R / producer for the label and contracted to them for a year.
Straight Ahead Productions
Cordell and Platz set up a new production company Straight Ahead Productions, which transferred New Breed / Essex's roster, and a new deal was swiftly struck up with EMI Records, whereby Cordell & Platz would lease their recordings to EMI and EMI would allow them unfettered use of their Regal Zonophone imprint for their releases.
As Denny's workload reached uncontrollable proportions, juggling his A&R and production work for both the production company as well as commitments to other artists, he convinced a young artist / songwriter / arranger / engineer / producer called Tony Visconti to uproot himself from Brooklyn and relocate to Swingin' London in order to ease Cordell's workload.
Regal Zonophone's first single under this arrangement was The Move's 'Flowers In The Rain' and the first record ever played on BBC Radio 1. The release not only impacted on the charts (UK singles chart number 2) but also led the British Prime Minister to take the group to court, a situation that to this day forfeits the bands' recording and publishing income from the A and B side of the release.
The key EMI staff manager who liased with Straight Ahead/Regal Zonophone, was young university graduate Malcolm Jones. Jones later requested his own imprint, Harvest Records. Jones' role in coaxing an album out of his friend Syd Barrett is often overlooked. In 1982 Jones published 'The Making Of The Madcap Laughs' as a document of that period.
Renowned engineer and assistant producer at DECCA's studios, Gus Dudgeon set up a production company with Platz, Tuesday Productions, and from his office at Essex Music HQ, had been working with Brummie bands Bakerloo Blues Line, Black Sabbath, Tea & Symphony and a singer / songwriter from Hull called Michael Chapman. Chapman quickly recorded a 'solo' album, which Jones signed up for Harvest, and after re-recording most of it gave the production company its first album release, via Harvest. Somewhat ironically Essex Music writer/performer David Bowie, who had been recording for the production company with his short lived groups Turquoise and Feathers, cracked the charts with 'Space Oddity' which Visconti had bowed out of producing leaving it for Gus to produce for Tuesday Productions.
Cordell took Cocker to Woodstock and parted company from Platz / Essex Music whilst Visconti had just developed a brand new sound for Marc Bolan.
Fly/ OnwardFly Past : Original FLY releases
The deal with EMI over, Malcolm Jones left EMI to work with Platz as label manager. After a blink-and-miss-it attempt to start a label with Track Record's Kit Lambert & Chris Stamp, Jones christened the label 'Octopus' and acetate for 'Ride A White Swan' was cut. These are amongst the rarest records according to Record Collector. Unconfirmed reports suggest Jones took the name from his favourite Syd Barrett song, which seemed in tune with the name of Platz's overseas production company, Tarantula. As the label was hastily assembled on-the-fly, Kit Lambert is credited as proposing the name 'Fly Records'. It stuck. Such was the excitement created by T Rex's track that the original Fly logo was thrown together by Track's in-house designers and whatever paper stock was available found for the single record labels.
Fly launched in October 1970 with the T Rex debut single, 'Ride A White Swan' reaching number 2 in the UK singles chart, thrusting Bolan's entry to Pop stardom. T Rex's 'Electric Warrior' became the label’s first UK number one album and remains an all-time classic album.
Pop success however did not temper the eclectic nature of the label's management. Vivian Stanshall, proto-punk band Third World War, John Kongos ('He's Gonna Step On You', 'Tokoloshe Man'), theatre chanteuse Georgia Brown, TV composer John 'Oneidin Line' Keating, African-Caribbean singer/songwriter Richard Henry and classical guitarist John Willams were all housed by the label most notably known as the home of T Rex.
By February 1971 Jones had commissioned his friend Roger Dean to design an official logo for the label, which was presented on T Rex's UK number 1 single 'Hot Love'. For a number of singles and albums Dean handwrote the label copy.
In March 1972, FLY launched an ambitious back catalogue campaign with MAGNI-FLY 45s (eps of hits) and TOOFAs, (2 albums priced as a single album). This campaign led to both single and album chart success, and in some cases took albums into the charts that had missed charting when originally released on Regal Zonophone.
As T Rex's 'Bolan Boogie' hit the UK album chart number 1 spot, Fly was shelved and Jones announced the launch of CUBE RECORDS in May 1972, with a series of new albums from new artists (Joan Armatrading, Harvey Andrews, Rod Thomas & The Gasoline Band).
Visconti had stayed with Bolan, who left Fly to set up his own label at EMI, but productions continued at the label with Dudgeon's Tuesday Productions (Joan Armatrading, Michael Chapman, Spring, Magna Carta); Black Sabbath producer Rodger Bain's Hummingbird Productions (Budgie, John Peel's faves the JSD Band); John Worth (folk hero Harvey Andrews, Kestrel, Jimmy 'Gonna Make You An Offer' Helms); Don Paul's One Way Productions (Pete Atkin, Julie Covington); and film music legend, composer / producer Stanley Myers (John Williams).
By 1976 Cube’s label manager was Jeremy Thomas who set up the Electric Record label for new artists, leaving Cube for back catalogue releases. Electric had hits with Quantum Jump ('Lone Ranger') and Gordon Giltrap ('Heartsong'). Licensing deals were still maintained; Vic Maile and 77 Productions produced some classic Rock'n'Roll records for Sixties rockers The Pirates, who found themselves honoured by young punks as their high energy no frills, riff laden rock was toured up and down the land. Their records originally came out on Warner Brothers.
In 1979, soon after the commercial success of John Williams' 'Cavatina (Theme From The Deer Hunter)' on Cube Records & Rocky Burnette’s ‘Tired Of Toein The Line’ (via EMI America), Essex Music was split up. The company’s Joe Cocker and T Rex recordings are currently controlled by TRO Essex Ltd, under the Straight Ahead Productions name; all other recordings are controlled by Onward Music Ltd who continue to use the Fly, Cube and Electric labels. Onward Music Ltd is managed by David Platz’s son, Simon Platz.
2007 Archive Trawl
Since the new millennium Onward Music has recovered a large number of original tapes from various archives. Archive exploration has revealed a host of unreleased and forgotten recordings from unfinished or unreleased projects from the production companies’ long heritage. Recordings include, amongst many others, tapes by Beverly (including 1966 versions of songs later re-recorded such as ‘Sweet Honesty’ produced by Cordell), Junior’s Eyes (produced by Cordell), Procol Harum (lost recordings thought to have been ‘wiped’), The Gun (produced by Cordell), The Move (songs never released), The Tickle (produced by Visconti), Turquoise (‘Back To Where You’ve Never Been’), Tucker Zimmerman (produced by Visconti). Where session tapes have been located, new multi-tracks have been created using the original basic backing tracks, lovingly restored and delicately digitally transferred along with subsequent original session overdubs also transferred individually on separate channels. Back in the day they were all squashed and compressed to mono. Separating the original overdubs has illustrated the phenomenal skills of the sound engineers of the day, such as Gerald Chevin & Eddie Offord (Advision Studios); Keith Grant & George Chkiantz (Olympic Studios), whose recording expertise has allowed the potential for seminal recordings to be mixed afresh, with no modern day trickery or tampering, allowing the full splendour of the original recordings to be heard in a manner never before possible using the sophisticated new mastering technology available, resulting in music that sounds as close to 'being in the studio at the time' as possible. And the process would not be possible without a couple of splendid pairs of analogue, organic & never-out-of-fashion ears, courtesy of Rob Keyloch at Church Walk Studios (digital tape transfers and mixes) and Nick Robbins at Sound Mastering.